Following the collaboration with Polly Scattergood as ON DEAD WAVES, ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ sees Chapman hooking up with the string / brass players of ECHO COLLECTIVE, who had previously worked on ERASURE’s ‘World Beyond’ album, for a far more organic-sounding work.
James Chapman kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about the new MAPS album and also his fruitful ongoing relationship with Mute…
For listeners of the last MAPS record ‘Vicissitude’, the new album is going to be a huge contrast, were you nervous to committing to making such a different sounding record?
The whole idea of this album was to try new things and I think “being bold” was one of the themes of the record, so I just went for it. I think it’s the same with every album, you tend to second guess yourself, you’re not quite sure sometimes. In the end, if I like it, I hope other people do as well! *laughs*
How important was the making of the ON DEAD WAVES album on ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’, it’s a kind of a stepping stone between the two isn’t it?
I think it was in a lot of ways, that was obviously a collaboration. I think it took me out of my comfort zone in a way because I was so used to working on my own for so many years. Working with Polly Scattergood was a new experience and because it went so well, I guess it opened me up to the idea of working with other people. With the new album I took that a step further. It got me back into playing my guitar a lot more because I’d kind of sidelined that with some of the albums and plunged straight into electronic stuff.
What were the challenges of going from a one man band MAPS to the involvement of a multitude of live musicians on ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’?
I still worked a lot on the songs before I got to that point, so I still managed to have a lot of control. I’m still a bit of control freak! *laughs*
I got the songs to a certain point and then I really just thought I could take it further and so that’s when I got ECHO COLLECTIVE involved. Because it was that way of doing it, there was less anxiety about involving other people, so it was another step really.
The big challenge for me was doing the arrangements, I’d never really done that before. So when they all sat down and played the scores, there was a part of me that was very relieved that the notes they were playing were what I’d written!
That was great, the whole process was a big learning experience for me, I feel like I’ve progressed a bit with what I know I can do.
The Electricity Club recently interviewed Mark White and Stephen Singleton from ABC and we were discussing the ‘Lexicon of Love’ album. Mark said that it was a “profoundly moving experience” hearing the strings recorded for his songs. How was the overall experience for you?
There was a sense of relief! You’re never totally sure that things are going to work out, so when things slot into place and things are going well, you get a feeling of “wow”, it’s actually worked. I can understand what they’re saying, it’s a whole different experience, a different way of doing music when the notes are on the page. It’s all there but you never quite know what the sound that comes out will be like, so it was an interesting way of working.
I committed a bit more because we did six tracks in the first session and originally that was what was planned. I hadn’t planned to do the whole album with arrangements. But it worked out so well that I decided to just go for it in the end, just do the whole album. So when I got home after the first session, I thought, ah, I should have done them all! There were two sessions in the end, we did six tracks in the first and four in the second one. It was never the complete plan to do them all in one go.
Is it true you blew the record company advance on involving live musicians for the projects?
Yeah it is true! *laughs*
Because I’d worked on the album on my own, there was not a lot of expense in the way I would do it and I wouldn’t involve other people until the end stage. But yes, I spent the advance on the first session and then I actually applied for PRS funding for the second session and I actually got that…
I didn’t realise they did that kind of thing?
I didn’t either! So that was amazing, because that meant I could go back and finish the album; it was just a lot of things nicely slotted into place in that process which was really nice.
At what point did you make the decision to ditch the electronic drums on the new album as ‘Vicissitude’ was 100% programmed percussion?
The idea with this album was to have more of a human sound, so the answer to that was get more humans involved in the making of it! *laughs*
All the drums were already there programmed, I asked Matt to do his thing on the tracks. There’s still a lot of programming weaved in as well, so it’s not entirely all live, there’s a lot of electronic elements that were left in. He played on all of the songs, again it just really worked for me because I think that it does add a human element when there’s live playing involved.
The promo video for ‘Just Reflecting’ (with its stop motion footage) is reminiscent of the Philip Glass soundtracked ‘Koyaanisqatsi’, was that film an influence?
It wasn’t consciously, I know the music to that rather than the film itself. The visuals worked out really well; I had a lot of visual ideas in my head and a lot of it was sweeping cityscapes and was drawn from memories from childhood. That sense of wonder when you’re seeing huge cityscapes for the first time. There were a lot of memories I was drawing on, Jonathan Irwin who did the visuals did a great job!
‘Both Sides’ has a real Krautrock motorik feel to it, are you a fan of the genre?
Yes, totally, it’s really cool that you said that! That song especially, it was a bit of a tribute to that sound. A lot of those songs are very rhythm based, the drums will just stay almost quite hypnotic…
Jaki Liebezeit, he pioneered that kind of consistent drum rhythm…
The music weaves around the drums and that was what I was going for with ‘Both Sides’.
I think you succeeded! You are very open about ‘Pet Sounds’ being an important landmark for you, are there any other albums that you hold in equally high esteem?
Oh yeah, totally, that was an obvious reference for me, ‘Pet Sounds’; but I was listening to a lot of Sixties and Seventies soundtracks as well, like Morricone. I love horror soundtracks as well like the Giallo stuff….
Like GOBLIN, the Dario Argento stuff?
Yes, I love the way the instrumentation is all played for real and sometimes things go slightly out of time. There’s a very human feel to those soundtracks.
Although ‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is a far more organic album than ‘Vicissitude’, there are still some electronics and sequencers on it, did you invest in any new synth tech for it?
Yes I did, I got a new crazy guitar FX pedal which I love, one of the Helix multi-FX things which is insane which I’ve used quite a bit. I used the Moog which Polly Scattergood left here…
That’s very kind of her!
I gave it back eventually! I think it was a Moog Little Phatty which I used quite a bit…..
There is, some of the sequencers I don’t realise they’re vintage but they are! *laughs*
I still use my Yamaha RM1X, the Korg Electribe quite a bit and there’s a bit of Korg Volca Beats drum machine on there. Mainly just things which are around, I tend to just have a fiddle and see what happens. I’ve also got a little dulcimer which I used quite a bit which has a strange tuning. I played it on the opening to ‘You Exist In Everything’ and it sounds great drenched in reverb and stuff. So there was quite a bit of experimenting and the usual fiddling!
I was on Spotify recently and came across the MAPS remix playlist, I had no idea you’d done so many! There’s 35 on there… what do you enjoy most about remixing other artists?
I do enjoy it, firstly you are seeing “behind the curtain” a bit when you get the parts for the songs; I enjoy seeing how it was made and that it’s a different take. I think that I like the freedom of it the most, the way that you can do what you want.
You can take an outsider’s perspective, there’s less pressure in having to write because the song is there…
Yes, the recording’s done, but it’s what you add to that. But I have done a lot, I think I’ve done 64?! But they’re not all on Spotify, I’ve done fair few!
You’re signed to Mute and have remixed a lot of their roster including DEPECHE MODE, MOBY, ERASURE and GOLDFRAPP… do you have a favourite?
I’m not sure if I do, I suppose the DEPECHE MODE one was amazing, the honour of doing things like that is amazing to me and obviously like MOBY as well. There’s been a few when I’m blown away that I’ve been even asked! It’s great to have that link with Mute because you get things passed your way that would never happen.
Is there anyone on the Mute roster that you would still like to remix? NEW ORDER?
That would be amazing! When they signed to Mute I was hoping…their roster is so amazing, that anyone on Mute would be an honour…
It’ll be a five piece band. I was really happy because a lot of the people that played on the album are the band now. We’ve got Cecilia who does a lot of those choral type vocals on the album, she’s singing in the band and Matt is going to play drums, plus Rachel who was also on the album is going to play keys and sing.
We’ve been rehearsing quite a bit, there’ll be a mixture of the new album with songs from the previous albums as well, it’ll be a bit of a MAPS celebration!
I guess it helps having people who have played on the album doing the live work as you don’t have to teach them the parts?
Yes and also the fact they’re into it. It’s great when people are enjoying the music and are up for being involved and that’s a big part of it, it should be good man!
With the earlier material, have you had to adapt that to suit the new line-up?
A little bit, I guess there were certain songs that suit the new sound better, but then there’s ones that I wanted to play that I’ve adapted slightly. But there’s still going to be electronic stuff as well, it’ll just be in a slightly different set-up to how it was formed, I’ll still have stuff to twiddle on stage!
It’ll be a longer set probably, we’ve got the run of the venue that evening and have rehearsed a lot of songs, a lot of it’ll depend how long people will want us to play! *laughs*
Have you had any thoughts about the next MAPS project or is there any possibility of another ON DEAD WAVES album?
I haven’t thought too much to be honest, when you do an album, it becomes so much a part of your life that I’m still in the middle of it at the moment.
I feel like I’d like to try something different again and push a bit further. I think I’ve learned a lot from making this album, like doing arrangements and things like that, now that I know I can do it, that’s something I’d like to explore more. So maybe that could be involved in the next part of the journey.
The music industry is a now an extremely challenging one to try and make a living in, what drives you and keeps you going?
I still enjoy doing it, which I’ve always thought is a big part of what keeps people going. It sounds a bit of a cliché, but I still feel like I’d be doing this if I wasn’t signed and stuff like that. It’s like an outlet, I still enjoy making music. But it has got more challenging because of the internet and all that stuff. I sometimes feel for new bands that are starting out, because there’s so much out there, so much choice and it’s hard to get noticed. I guess that there are pros and cons to everything.
Totally, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been doing it for a fair few years now, I never take it for granted that relationship. They’ve stood by me through thick and thin, so to have a relationship with such an amazing label like that is something that means the world to me.
It’s almost like an old school approach as to how it was back in the day where labels were prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
It might take two or three albums before an artist can develop to a point where they are successful. It’s really good to hear that there’s still a label around that is still doing that which is quite encouraging.
I do think that’s the way Mute has always worked, that they sign things that they truly like. I think that’s why I love the label so much, it’s very much about the music rather than the current trends or whatever.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to James Chapman
Special thanks to Sarah Pearson at Wasted Youth PR
‘Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss.’ is released on 10th May 2019 by Mute Artists in CD, white vinyl LP and digital formats
MAPS play The Purcell Room at Southbank Centre in London on Wednesday 3rd July 2019
Text and Interview by Paul Boddy
1st May April 2019