English-born, Scottish-raised alternative singer-songwriter James Gillespie is poised to become a huge name in British music at the moment. With a combined 25 million streams on Spotify, and attention from and collaborations with artists such as P!nk, it’s hard to not see him as a star in the making.
Releasing his first single ‘What You Do’ for streaming only last year, Gillespie’s rapid career growth is impressive. With a dark, Electro-Soul sound and impressive voice, reminiscent of contemporaries such as Hozier, James Blake, and Rag’n’Bone Man, it also isn’t surprising. We spoke to Gillespie after a busy June of shows, releasing new music, and being featured on Love Island.
For anyone who hasn’t listened to you before, how would you describe your music in three words?
It’s so hard not to sound like a dick when doing this. I guess – Soul, Energy, and Raw.
How was it performing P!nk’s track ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’ with her during the tail-end of last year?
It was sick, the coolest thing ever. The whole thing was super natural. She was so chill, she was like “let’s practice once and then just jam it live on stage”, and I was just like “shit… well this is going to be interesting”. We went through it literally once before performing in front of 22,000 people.
Performing to a crowd that size, selling out the Lexington, and ‘What You Do’ nearly at 15 million Spotify streams – those are some big achievements before even releasing an album. How have you taken this insanely fast growth in stride?
It has been quite unexpected to get to this point so quickly, but they are really just numbers on lines, you know? And I’m always too excited about the nextthing. It is difficult not to number-watch these days, but as soon as one of my songs comes out or gets a lot of traction, within an hour I’m like “right, which one’s coming out next? What are we going to do now?”
Before all this, how did you initially get started making music, on the production side and all?
I was living on the Canary Islands, with no real intention of releasing stuff to the public. I was invited by someone to come and play in London, and from there I just happened to meet people. Mine is one of those ‘right place, right time stories’. And in terms of production, I’d been doing it by myself for a while before I released anything; it’s so easy these days, every mac comes with GarageBand, and you can download Logic so simply.
What is your creative process when constructing your music from its bare bones to the finished product, in particular with your producer, Andy Hall Hall?
I would sit and write in my living room quite late at night, record it on my computer, and agonise over it for about a minute before sending it or taking it to Andy. We then go to recording, and usually end up using the first takes for most of the final products because we like them better. We tend to use non-electronic sounds too, for example putting a microphone on the floor and stamping on the floor next to it. I don’t like to use downloaded samples. You miss out on uniqueness when you use those.
You can hear a lot of Soul and Blues influences in your music, which also share your desire for, and use of, authenticity. Would you say you take direct influence from these?
They definitely used to. A few years ago I was listening to a lot of Blues and Soul. I do jam along to a lot of Blues instrumental backing tracks for hours at a time though. Citizen Cope is super special to me, I’m a big fan of him.
Who do you listen to a lot of in terms of your contemporaries?
I absolutely love James Blake. And Bon Iver is killer! I saw him live and he was extremely inspiring. I also listen to a lot of Lil Pump and Action Bronson. You’ve got to be open to everything these days though – I’ll put on some Grime or Drum and Bass after listening to Aerosmith. You can pull inspiration from everything. I also love Frank Ocean, he inspires me on every level.
Q: You describe ‘Good Life’ as “getting a taste of everything you’ve ever wanted and never wanting to let it go” – could you elaborate?
A: I don’t want to say too much, because I like how people can interpret it how they want. I will say that the meaning of ‘Good Life’ can be taken to either end of the spectrum though. The ‘Good Life’ could be the glimpse of a life with someone after she looks a certain way at you for a few seconds in the street. However, that girl can be substituted for money, drugs, or success. Once people get a taste of the good life, they don’t want to let it go, and that’s where the dark-Waltz edge to the song comes from.
Your website and the visualiser for ‘Dead in the Water’ are very unique and intricate, who created those?
I drew everything. Somebody else took my drawings and animated them for my visualiser. I did all my single artwork too. The label saw my doodles whilst I was listening to my own stuff and decided to use them!
What can we expect from you in the near (and far) future?
In the very near future, I’ve got a track called ‘Lost’ that I’m going to bring out. I’m also excited to be releasing a music video which I’ve been working on with a couple of people soon.
Listen to Good Life here: