James Radcliffe is an independent musician, writer and artist. He has released two albums and also a single, entitled Invocation.
I became of aware of James about a year ago, and have been a fan of both his music and his writing ever since.
Thanks for meeting with me, James. So, you’ve been writing and performing since you were 8 years old. I started writing when I was 13, so in comparison I’m a late bloomer…! What was it about music that attracted you at such a young age?
Music and words just always seemed to come easily to me. I always felt that I understood how they worked. I’m not sure if I registered any kind of special attraction to them; at least, no more than any child feels towards the things that they enjoy playing with. Music and writing were just things that I liked to do – my two favourite kinds of ‘everyday magic’.
That’s a nice term, ‘everday magic’. So did it feel like a natural progression from enjoying music and writing to then creating your first album, ‘I’? How did that come about?
It was really organic. I had been writing and playing live forever, but recordings just didn’t seem to be happening, which was fine. Then I found myself in a position where I’d saved, borrowed, begged, and hustled enough money that I could focus down for a full year without distractions.
I knew that I wanted to make something from scratch, and I knew that I wanted it to be 100% my own effort. So I wrote all the pieces within the year, and made the record in my home studio, teaching myself to engineer, mix, and master as I went.
I had set a release date, and started the blog at jamesradcliffe.com to document the process in it’s entirety. In the week leading up to the deadline I slept 6 hours in total (on the floor of my studio) and I was still finalling mixes on the day of release (which gives you an idea of how hard I was working). The process was brutal, and I would work differently if I made it today, but the results were good. The record is honest, I can still listen to it, and it sold well allowing me to do this for a living.
That’s amazing. I think most people would love to spend a full year focusing on something they love, although it obviously involves making a lot of sacrifices. I found ‘I’ to be quite haunting in places, and a few times found it as emotive as the work of Lisa Gerrard (who I think is incredible). How would you describe the particular sound of your music?
First, thank you for the compliments, I am a big fan of some of Gerrard’s work. And I agree, sacrifices are definitely the price of admission here.
As for my own music, I have no idea how to describe it other to say that it is honest and lives in the moment. I have very little say or control over how it comes out. To me, the work of being an artist is much more like that of a gardener. You plant the seed, then do the work demanded to nurture it. What happens beyond that is really out of my hands.
I think a lot of creative people feel that way – like writers saying a book “writes itself”. In an odd way, the artist almost just starts the process, then guides it here and there. In saying that, you are obviously both very hardworking and very talented. What does a ‘typical’ day look like for you?
I always try and get enough sleep so my wake up time varies, but once I’m up my day is pretty uniform. I’ll hit the shower, make coffee, then sit down and meditate for around an hour. When I finish the meditation, I’ll work on art for 4 hours, do my physical workout for the day, and then eat something. In the afternoons I’ll deal with whatever business stuff I have, hang out on the internet to connect with my audience, and do email.
In the evenings I relax – which is generally reading or listen to music / podcasts, then I hit the sack.
That sounds like a good balance. You mentioned meditation, and I know that your album ‘Present:Reflections’ was originally created for backing tracks for guided meditations. How did that come about?
Present:Reflections was a kind of meeting of preparation and opportunity. Back in the day, whilst I was putting myself thru my kind of self imposed musical apprenticeship, one of the things I would do was play on the street.
When I lived in London I played mostly jazz and blues guitar, when I got to Edinburgh I started making loops of ambient sound using: acoustic guitar, Ebow, a loop pedal and anything else that I wanted to experiment with. I was just doing this to learn how to make beautiful things in the moment, I never really thought about recording any of them.
Mid 2014, I’d just finished a project, when a lady got in touch from the USA and asked me if she could commission a collection of ambient drones for use in guided meditations. I was feeling like doing something more free form, the fee was good, and she was happy with me having complete creative control (which is the only way I work).
It took me a little longer than I anticipated to feel my way into the pieces, the real breakthrough came when I started adding the looped sounds I was making with acoustic cello into the mix – after that point everything came together really fast.
At the end of the day, I love that little record, and the entire thing was made with just an acoustic cello, an acoustic guitar, and a loop pedal. Like everything I do, I recorded, mixed, and mastered the whole thing myself with absolutely zero auto-tuning or studio f*ckery.
I get the feeling you place a very high importance in retaining creative control over the things you do (as do I, and as do pretty much all of the other creative people I know). So, what advice would you give to any aspiring musicians, writers, or anybody wanting to undertake a creative project?
I think the most important thing to make sure of at the outset, is that you are undertaking it for the correct reasons.
When you are creating something you must be creating it for the thing itself, and the process of creating it.
If you are making something because of what you think it will get you, then you will surely fail. The work has to be it’s own reward. There are much better ways to achieve fame, significance and riches than by being an artist. To be fulfilled (and succesful) you must ensure you are doing what you are doing for the right reasons.
I love what you said about doing it for the thing itself. I gave a talk about creativity the other day and that was one of the things I really wanted to get across, that it should be an end in itself. So what can you tell me about your new project? Is there a specific sound you are going for, or is it still evolving?
The main project that I am currently working on is an E.P. containing 4 tracks of music that seems to be better than anything else I have done. It feels like many disparate elements are coming together to make something that is greater than it’s component parts. I am really excited to be working on it, and can’t wait to hear it when it’s finished. I think it’s going to be epic 😉
As for the sound, it is always evolving. Everything is a work in progress and change is the only constant.
That’s really great, and I look forward to hearing it. Well, thank you for a very interesting interview, James. It’s been great to find out a bit more about your process.
Thanks a lot.
You can find James at: