James Ewan Tait has been steadily making a name for himself as one of the most creative songwriters in the region.
Last autumn saw the release of his long-awaited EP, Everything, Loads, All the Time, Forever. He’s just put out a live video of the beautiful and experimental Lime Grove. And there are whisperings of another EP to be released within the year.
I managed to catch him before he heads out for a few gigs down South.
Tell me about your vocal style. I’ve seen you live and it seemed fairly restrained. On the new EP, it’s pretty wild.
Yeah, I think it’s dependent on context. If you see me in a café I’m not gonna be as wild as if I’m playing, you know, somewhere like The Audacious Art Experiment, with my band.
As a teenager, I sang in screamo and grunge bands, so I did a lot of shouting and screaming.
I started messing around with singing falsetto when I was a little bit older. Trying to sing like Sam Cooke.
Another big influence was Bright Eyes. You know, a lot of vibrato – that big, quivering voice.
Let’s talk about Sheffield, where you’re based. Is there anything going on there musically that you’re especially into at the moment?
Before Breakfast are the band in Sheffield that I’m most excited about right now.
Blood Sport – they were my favourite Sheffield band before they split up last month.
Robbie Thompson is an incredible lyricist, great tone in his voice, and just a great guy.
And Bethan Robinson is writing some really strong new songs, and coming into her own as a solo performer.
What’s it like being a musician in Sheffield?
It’s good. There’s a lot of musicians around, and the atmosphere is very supportive.
People are often up for jamming, trying things out, and helping each other out with gigs.
It’s very relaxed. But I think sometimes a bit of competition can be a good thing.
Do you mean that more competition would be a good thing?
Just like in terms of bands pushing each other – pushing each other to get better at what they do.
The thing with being a musician in Sheffield is you have to try not to become complacent because everybody is so nice.
People are rarely critical, which is not always a good thing. But it’s very encouraging.
So what do you think is the balance between raw energy and feeling, and proficiency and practice?
It takes more than technical proficiency for music to be interesting and worth listening to.
I think sometimes if the writing is good and the performance is genuine and the passion is there then you can forgive a couple of bum notes.
What are the most important ingredients in your music?
I don’t know how successful I’ve been at this, but I try to avoid falling into the singer-songwriter pigeonhole.
I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and not a lot of it is just one person with a guitar.
Recently I’ve been messing around with a lot of pedal noise and feedback loops, and playing through a few different amps.
If you had to share the best lyrics you’ve written, what would they be?
Probably the last few lines of Peace in the Dark, which is on the EP.
“Ebb and flow / the moon moves through the sky / invisible in the daytime / ever faithful, moves the tide.”
It’s about how you can’t always be expressing – especially in a relationship that’s lasted a long time – big romantic exclamations and displays of affection. But you know that love is still there, even if you can’t see it.
The sea is always pulled back and forth around the planet, whether or not we can see the moon or not – we can still see its effects.
Those sound like wise words. Do you always sing about love?
I realised that my songs were largely about romantic relationships, and about love. Maybe that’s true of a lot of songs.
But I didn’t want that to be all I sang about. Since then, I’ve written some songs about death. I’m looking to expand beyond that, too.
Get Everything, Loads, All the Time, Forever on James Ewan Tait’s Bandcamp.
Header image credit: Duncan Stafford