Interview: James Blackshaw

·         A lot of times, when I listen to your music, Elliott Smith - one of my fav artists of all time - comes to mind. How do feel about his work? 
I’ve been a big fan of Elliott Smith’s music for the last fifteen years, he’s one of my favourite artists of all time too, so I’m flattered to hear you say that. He was an incredible songwriter. Something about the melodies and chord changes of his songs, his words, his voice… I honestly can’t think of anybody else who has come close to expressing emotions I’ve felt on a daily basis in such a way. His music genuinely changed my life and has been a great (not so) secret influence on my own work.

·         Michael Gira wrote that he cried to your music, while driving his car. Now that is impressive, making Gira cry. Have you talked about this? 
Haha, now there’s something to put on my CV. I was pretty taken aback when I heard that, of course. I think he did mention that to me in person once, but we didn’t exactly have a heart-to-heart about it. Maybe he got something in his eye.

·         Have you listened to the new Swans album "The Seer"? A bunch of people I know will have it on top of their 2012 list. What's your take on it?  
I’ll be honest – I haven’t heard it yet!

·         For the Myrninerest project, you recorded an album with David Tibet (of Current 93), to honor Jhonn Balance (of Coil). You provided the music and David the lyrics. How was it working with David? What did Johnn's work mean to you, as an artist?   
 David has been one of my closest friends for the last four years and it’s always equally fun and challenging working with him, although he gave me almost completely free rein to write the music I wanted to write for the project. That’s not necessarily the case with Current 93, so it was very different in many regards to how we’ve worked together before.

My favourite memory is of us both being insanely drunk the first time we attempted to record David vocals, with David lying down on the floor of my home studio. It really felt to me like it was this huge cathartic release for him, doing the ‘Jhonn, Uttered Babylon’. We were both sad, overjoyed and slightly hysterical by the end of the recording.

I didn’t know Jhonn personally and am not massively familiar with Coil’s body of work (sorry!), but upon listening to their music quite recently, I can see just how and why their music is so important and influential to many people. It’s powerful stuff.

·         You make so much music and release so many records and work with a lot of people. What are the signs that make feel that a work is complete and you can move on to another project? 
I work quickly and intensively; I just can’t seem to work in any other way. I think some people write and play music a little each day, everyday. I don’t feel like I want to work on anything for months and then when I feel inspired, I can hardly think of anything else and I’ll spend all my time for a couple of months writing and recording. When I feel completely exhausted and sick of hearing whatever it is I’m working on, I usually know it’s time to move on.

·         People worship your 12-string skills. I'd like to focus on the production of your music. You have been using different instruments and various techniques, like overdubbing the piano etc. Would you say that you are moving towards a more production-based outcome in your albums of late? Or is catching the spur of the moment your no1 goal?  
I think it’s just about trying to keep myself engaged with my own music. I don’t sit around listening to solo guitar albums all day. I like different the different timbres, tones and dynamics of different instruments. I think if I didn’t try something new on each album, I’d become very bored. But I also try to only overdub other instruments if it suits the needs of the songs, if I hear a melody or sound that seems like it should be played by violin, piano, vibraphone, voice – whatever.

·         What is it about the guitar sound that bedazzles people? Do you feel that there is sth special in this instrument? 
It’s special in the sense that, apart from piano and other stringed instruments in the same family such as lute, it’s one of the only instruments where you can play chords, you can play a bass line and a melody line at the same time. It’s flexible and doesn’t need to be accompanied by other instruments, unlike (for the most part) drums or saxophone etc. So it’s a very universal instrument. It’s used in almost all kinds of music and yet it’s not necessarily tapped for it’s full potential. Maybe it’s cool for people to hear an instrument they hear all the time, used in a way they might not hear that much.

·         How come you haven't been involved in film soundtracks? Your music provokes so many images.  
Thanks. I’d love to do music for film - people just need to ask. But nobody’s asked!

·         If you were to write an OST, what directors would you choose to work with? What is the movie that you'd kill to have written the OST to?  
I’d love to work with Nicholas Winding Refn, Nicholas Roeg, Werner Herzog, Sion Sono, Francis Ford Coppola. But most of the director’ films I truly love already have amazing scores. I’d be insanely happy to score a sci-fi, horror or fantasy film, even a bad one. It would be a childhood dream come true.

·         How does an artist like you cope with the current state of the music industry (itunes era, piracy, streaming, etc)? Is touring the only way to stay active? 
Pretty much. Either tour or be incredibly business savvy – release your own albums, personalize them, make limited editions, connect with your fan base etc.  And I am not at all business savvy, so touring is almost entirely how I am able to make music for a living.

·         As a hardcore child, please name your top-5 hardcore albums of all time. 
I find most hardcore punk stuff pretty generic and unlistenable now, to be truthful. But here’s two  albums that I heard during that period which I still think are great: Drive Like Jehu ‘Yank Crimes’ and Clikatat Ikatowi ‘Orchestrated and Conducted’.

·         You'll be touring Greece in December for the first time. What have you got prepared for the Greek crowds? 
I’ve played in Athens – once solo a few years ago and once as part of Current 93 fairly recently, but nowhere else in the country. I’m excited about it. I had a great time on both occasions. Audiences can expect that I’ll be playing guitar with my hands.

James Blackshaw will perform in Greece, 6/12 in Athens (Six Dogs), 8/12 in Larissa (Nikodimos), 9/12 in Thessaloniki (Les Yper Yper). 

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