Interview on Cult Montreal

Read the full interview by Erik Leijon at CultMontreal.com 

James Irwin Transports Himself Out of Introspection


James Irwin

Although not a believer in this Friday’s Mayan apocalypse, local songwriter James Irwin is looking forward to the day nonetheless. Coinciding with his performance at the Passovah Holiday Special 2012, it’s also the somewhat arbitrary date he’s given himself to end one musical calendar and begin another. So it’s no wonder that when I called him at his at Mile End apartment, he was practising a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Irwin will be leaving behind Western Transport, his self-released, year-and-a-half-old solo debut that once existed asBlue Dust, by finally putting out a limited run of physical copies. He’s also got a backlog of tunes dating to his time with his old band, My People Sleeping, which he’ll make available as an EP at the Holiday Special.

So what does Year 1 A.P. (after Passovah) have in store for Irwin? The 31-year-old Orangeville, Ont. native is working on two albums: an energetic and cooperative one with his new band, the Moment, and another solo record, which he considers more of a headphone listen. “I picture people listening to it alone, and me conceiving of it alone,” he says. “It’s more of a personal interaction than an activity.”

I spoke to Irwin about the introspective Western Transport, double-dipping with the Moment and letting people in.

Erik Leijon: How do you feel about Western Transport these days, now that it’s been out for some time?
James Irwin: I feel like I’ve changed a lot since I made it. I’m working on other stuff now, and I’m trying to distance myself from the headspace that it came from, but I’m really proud of it. By the time I finished, I had spent three years working on it.

EL: What was that headspace?
JI: Very introspective. A lot of the themes were based on conflict that was going on in my life at the time, and there’s a lot of anger and dwelling. It has a haunted atmosphere to it, of isolation and guilt, and that headspace was good fodder for songs, but since then I’ve tried to immerse myself in more active things. I spend a lot of time writing and reflecting in my own head, and so I’ve made a conscious effort in the past year to spend more time in action, and in groups, playing my music more intuitively than in a calculated, individual way, which was how Western Transportwas made.

EL: How did you attain that haunted atmosphere in the music?
JI: The reason why it took so long to finish and was specific in the way it sounded is I always thought about making the formal elements disappear as much as possible. I wanted to use sounds that swell and move in waves, that are indistinguishable from one thing to the next, so you don’t quite know what’s making the sound. It’s what I like on an aesthetic level, but it also suited the emotions. I had a strong sense of what the emotion was in each song because that was what they were created from, so I waited until the sounds felt right. There’s very few distinguishable melodies or riffs in the music; it’s ambient and meant to make you not too aware of the form. They’re folk songs, essentially, but I didn’t want to call attention to the genre. You can use recognizable forms and musical themes to give people a way in with a familiar element.

EL: Did you not want to give people a way in?
JI: One of the things I’m realizing now is I wasn’t making it easy for people, and I don’t know if that was really the case, but I am interested in communicating in a musical language that gives people a root in. I didn’t intend to not let people in, but I didn’t want the songs to be immediately identifiable or comparable. I wanted the emotions to be believable. Now I’m trying to compose all the elements at the same time, because for Western Transport I wrote all the songs solo, mostly on guitar, and in a lot of cases recorded them like that and then did a lot of overdubs.

EL: Who’s in the Moment?
JI: Myself, Nick Scribner, Adam Waito [of Adam & the Amethysts] on bass, Jeffrey Malecki on drums and Julia Lewandoski on keyboards.

EL: Are you working on an album?
JI: We’ve recorded all the bed tracks for an album, but there’s no telling how long it’s going to take. Hope to have it done by the spring; we recorded very quickly together as a group, but Nick and I have been working on overdubs. I don’t think anyone wants it to be something we’re sitting on too long. We want it to be good, but we don’t want it to be overworked, so I hope we have a few more intensive sessions and then have something ready for the spring.

EL: How does it compare to what you’re doing as James Irwin?
JI: The main thing is my stuff is conceived more for you to listen to by yourself, recorded music you have more of a personal relationship to, while the Moment is more about collective energy, about being fun to play in front of people, and for people to get into it. That’s something I didn’t get before, but there’s quite a big difference. We’re working on things as a group, so it’s about coming up with active parts for everyone to play. ■

The third annual Passovah Holiday Special, with UN, Alexander Chow, James Irwin, David McLeod and more, happens at Casa del Popolo, (4873 St-Laurent) on Friday, Dec. 21, 9 p.m., free

Review & Interview by French Blog J’ai Tout Lu, Tout Vu, Tout Bu

Image

Read the full review here at J’ai Tout Lu, Tout Vu, Tout Bu

Read the full interview here at J’ai Tout Lu, Tou Vu, Tout Bu

Highlights:

Western Transport, de James Irwin, est peut-être le plus beau disque de l’année 2012.”

“Aucun disque, selon moi, n’avait jamais aussi superbement exprimé la mélancolie moderne. James Irwin est, osons la comparaison, le Baudelaire de la pop.”

Release of My People Sleeping EP for 12/21/12

This is a reissue of my songs from My People Sleeping as an EP for the solstice apocalypse 12/21/12.

It’s available on CD and as a digital download here

Tracks 1, 3, 4 are from My People Sleeping’s album Feye recorded in the glory year, 2009 at the Pines in Montreal by David Bryant.
Track 2 is from My People Sleeping’s self-titled EP recorded in 2007 in an apartment on Fairmount, Montreal by Tyler Rauman.This 12/21/12 reissue is dedicated to Ruby, Katherine, John, Pat and Logan.

MPS COVER FINAL

credits

released 21 December 2012
James Irwin – vocals, guitar, mellotron
Ruby Kato Attwood – vocals, keyboards
Katherine Peacock – vocals, keyboards
John Ancheta – guitars, bass on 1, 3, 4
Patrick Bastedo – Drums
Logan Laird – guitars on 2
(Joe Grass guests on pedal steel)

Reviews

The first review of the EP came in on InYourSpeakers. Check it out here
and on Hoedaaenger. Check that out here.

Western Transport Album of the Year at Bandcamp Hunter

Bodie

I’m so much happier than Bodie with the cone on his head. My album is the album of the year at Bandcamp Hunter, an Australian site posting about Bandcamp discoveries. Thank you James Baker. Here is the article -

 

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel-it is, before all, to make you see.” 

Joseph Conrad

Rock and roll can save, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Those who scoff at the power of music simply haven’t been listening to the correct things. When an album comes along that gently places a key in your heart, turns it slowly, opens a reservoir of understanding and feelings that you thought had long gone, colours your world in the prettiest of colours, then you know you are listening to music of real power. Music produced by someone creating something magical, created by someone that deserves to be classed as something higher than an artist. James Irwin is magical.

I’ll admit it, it’s a rare thing these days for me to listen to a full album from beginning to end and truly appreciate every nuance, every subtlety. To appreciate the structuring and sequencing of songs that contribute to said album becoming a cohesive whole. An entire work, ten songs that fit together beautifully and offer something you can sit and listen to and become completely engaged with. A collection of songs that offer something new and fascinating with each listen. I probably don’t appreciate lyrics quite so much anymore either, I don’t obsessively analyse metaphors and messages in songs like I used to. Where these confessions are leading, of course, is to Western Transport. An album that reignited my love of well crafted lyrics and the album as an art from.

Thrown out on the burning road, 

where the wind was moving stones, 

blood pools around my throat, 

like river mud between my toes. 

Let it sink it in. Give it space.

You are on my mind. Are you in my body too? 

When the need goes away will the wanting stay? 

Will you sit seven days hanging on guilty dreams? 

Are you halfway here? Are you halfway to Mexico? 

There’s no way for me to do the quality of these songs justice outside of quoting the lyric. You can listen yourself and read, as these are lyrics that can be read and appreciated on a poetic level. What I can do is expand a little on how they make me feel and what are some of the ideas that lurk within their gently crushing haze.

The reflective quality of these songs from Iriwn are not navel gazing, are not overtly introspective, they are the concise capturing of a vague existential ache that lurks in us all. Music that captures the sad and beautiful feeling of gazing at a glorious sunset, of walking an empty street in the middle of a foggy night and considering it all and nothing at all. Of feeling brutal heartache and wishing it would be gone but understanding this is what we all endure, that this is being alive. “Hearts Like Old Cars” is one of the finest songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s a seemingly simple metaphor that Iriwn uses yet-like the entire album-it is filled with a brilliant swirling depth. The hardening of the heart comes not from cholesterol or double down burgers, but is generated gradually from disappointment, from unrequited love, from too much of life.

Without you I’d be out on a prairie, under a plain blue sky 

with my steady eyes, steady mind, steady rolling, steady engine. I’d drive all night. 

Hearts like old cars, breaking down, breaking down. 

Everybody is haunted, and you cry and cry, never satisfied. Never satisfied.

The longing here is bittersweet and real but there is more to these songs than heartache borne of love gone wrong. These are songs that of an artist that is looking at people, looking at how we live, considering how we all think and feel. It is songwriting that posses a power that I rarely find in music, a power usually found only in the greatest literature.

Tie my friends down to their beds 

Tie my loves down to their beds 

Let these crazy birds fly from their heads 

Put me back in old orange town where we drink alone and go home 

Cause we are up in the middle of the night 

Ringing bells, shining searchlights 

The master asked for a word to pass, 

We don’t have it anymore 

They are words that stop me, that slow time and gently shift gears in my head to different places. To better places. There’s humour in these songs too, quite often I find myself smirking at some of the wonderful, strange imagery within the lyrics. The meandering, otherworldly ”Anyone To Serve” is a softly flowing spring of enchanting words, backed by peculiar sounds that sound something like a passing of miniature steam ships.

Now you’re lying on a lion fur, telling me what you deserve. You wrap your lips around a blur of words, strangest thing I ever heard. 

How can anyone, listen to anyone, who’s got their luggage lying all around the room. Love somebody like a child would do. 

As if anybody’s blind with faith. As if there’s anyone to serve. 

Irwin alludes to big questions of faith here but the disarming humour of “How can anyone, listen to anyone, who’s got their luggage lying all around the room” is the work of an artist at play, of a supreme lyricist. Then there’s the (non) appearance of Alice…

Everyone this is Alice, Alice this is everyone. She came all the way from Baltimore with me, and the only one who can see her is me. 

Though they tell me she was never even there, I will carry clothes for Alice to wear, as if anybody’s blind with faith, as if there’s anyone to serve. 


I find these lines so funny and fascinating. They are some of the final words of the album and they leave you confused, exuberant and utterly delighted. In these songs Irwin has created a work of art that can be returned to time and time again. An album that you can pick up like that old paper back you love so much and be transported, be given faith in life, be gently reassured that everything is ok and find affirmation that the world is-despite it all-a terribly beautiful place.

Don’t waste your mind. We die all the time. 

 

W/T Review On Danish Blog Regnsky

I’m posting this in it’s Google translated glory, for those, (most), of us who don’t read Danish. If you do, the original review can be found here.

Thanks to Eva Lakso, my new favourite Danish music writer…and many apologies for Google’s (goofy/surprisingly still impressive) machine-translation.

James Irwin Review

I am so glad that I discovered James Irwin at 23 and not at 11, that it was a very dark blue sky and not a damned light gray as a company. That the world was quiet, so there was time to slow canadierens numbers could find their place.

But now James Irwin here. He hardly even. I imagine at least that he is right now sitting in front of a hut far away in the Canadian wilderness. The perfect scenario for the melancholic sounding, folk influenced album lo-fi-singer/songwriter Western Transport, which came online in early May. Not that many people have figured it out. I think otherwise well that“Ringing Bells” could be played at The Electric Barometer and the home of anyone with a penchant for Bill Callahan ‘s story and evocative texts,  The Zephyrs yellowish color and Cuddle Magic ‘s intimacy – or present itself right next to The New Spring , which Dane’s country-oriented neighbour.

The instrumentation is strikingly confident. It embraces both the indiepop’ede and almost The Morning Benders-wide orchestrated “Nothing At All” , “Needleye” ‘s successful embrace of tradition, people (I would not dream of Cohen) and just after, as if it were not already enough, collectors ‘Boys And Girls Together “ ‘s finger games and tortured, but eternally beautiful vocal harmonies on my imagined heart and squeezes together. Not hard, but noticeably. The grip is loosened by the straightforward melodic “Halfway To Mexico” , stressing that James Irwin despite lo-fi approach hopes that his music is pleasant to hear.Which it is. Especially after the first few numbers. I need to get familiar with the half-husky, half nasal, while insanely endearing vokals often stumbling melody lines. James Irwin momentary tonal groping gives me so much pleasure to read this text, find out why it’s worth beating knot on the tongue to sing words like “prairie” and “pillage”.

Listening to Western Transportation ‘s like staring into the fire and seems an uncomfortable world is okay, because you just now just looking into the fire because there is absolutely quiet and because you are there, the rest of the world is far away. Western Transport takes me out of any situation and replaces it with a static, hot vacuum outside of time and place.As the opening track “Bluedust” ‘s referent initially makes it clear: I’m going to Disappear .

James Irwin lives in Montreal and playing in My People Sleeping , Paradise , Poor William andThe Coal Choir , which I probably will read about here. Western Transportation is his first solo album, and it can be purchased digitally through Band Camp as the only place . Here you can also read the lyrics and listen for free. A vinyl would love to come this fall.

Western Transport Review

Check it out here or read below

JAMES IRWIN – “WESTERN TRANSPORT”

Western Transport

James Irwin is not a typical singer/songwriter.  Perhaps this is obvious, given his giant melting face.  This image, the album cover of his debut Western Transport, is fitting: the James Irwin we hear on this album is no person, but a voice seemingly severed from its source; a flat, tempered force that invokes, directs, and sustains.

With Western Transport, Irwin presents a cohesive tribute to the overwhelmed and underfed: the lost lovers and consumed; roles rarely acknowledged, often too close for comfort. With this delicate context, Irwin chooses to emphasize the holding of moments over their resolve, using striking imagery and artful nuance to powerful, distilling effect.

It’s a wonderfully lyrical album, far outside what I might expect from an unknown voice.  But Irwin is not exactly an unknown artist: attentive readers may recognize his unique cadence and tone from a decade of published stories and poems.

As a collection of songs, Western Transport shows influence from folk, pop, country, and poetry.  Considered arrangements create uncannily familiar moods, elevating lyrical themes and ultimately showing an impressive and effective sonic pallet.  Also present is a spatial and temporal awareness: Irwin displays a prowess in opening spaces for words to come to life and narratives to unfold (“Hearts Like Old Cars”,  ”Anyone to Serve”).

A rich yet directed production reminiscent of Bill Callahan or Will Oldham makes Western Transport well-suited for easy listening and atmosphere, but it absolutely shines when given full attention.  It is a rare debut: one that not only marks the entrance of a new voice, but broadens what I look for in an album.

How much do I like this album?  A whole lot.  You will, too.  Check out:

  • “Blue Dust”
  • “Halfway to Mexico”

Other James Irwins

This guy named James Irwin wrote to me on my myspace. I just responded now…13 months later…he rules!

Mar 10, 2011 

JAMES says



:

hey james,

I typed my name in an found you. So I thought I would just say hey man way to rock our name out.  Good luck with it I hope to make it huge someday with a book, and you are on your way with music. Just remember that we both have a long way to go because a James Irwin already took it to the moon so we both have a long way to take our name. So anyway good luck to you with our name.  Your name sharing friend James.

——–

This guy named James Irwin saw Jesus while walking on the moon: