Musician James Vincent McMorrow has been busy. Since the release of his lauded debut album, Early in the Morning, in 2010, the Irish artist has made three more records — Post Tropical (2013), We Move (2016), and True Care (2017) — has toured internationally, and was introduced to tens of thousands of folks when HBO used his delicate, haunting cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” in the full-length trailer for the sixth season of Game of Thrones. He is currently on tour for True Care — which he will play in its entirety — with a stop at the Lobero on Saturday, August 12. I caught up with McMorrow recently over the phone from his home in Ireland. Amiable, quick to laugh, and introspective, the singer spoke of being a solo artist, defying genres, and following his musical muse.
Your music is hard to sum up in one genre, which I think keeps it interesting, but I suppose people want an easy definition sometimes. It’s definitely made my life a little bit more difficult in the sort of label sense of things. When people are trying to sell my music, there’s always that inevitable conversation we have where they’re like, “Well, where will we place it? … I’ve always considered myself as singer/songwriter. … I think that it sort of covers a great multitude of things and makes it easy for me to describe it like that.
How’s it being a solo artist? Have you ever wanted to have a band? No, I much prefer [working solo]. … I’m kind of a closed musical loop. I start the idea, and I finish the idea myself. I always have. As the years have gone on and I’ve made other records and I’ve expanded on that element of it, I bring people in to serve [roles] … The great thing about being a solo musician is that you can pick and choose when you involve people and for what specific reason. I love that because it’s still important that I have my process as a songwriter and my process as a producer. Then if I’m hitting roadblocks, I’m humble enough — I would like to think at this point in my life — to know when I’m on the wrong track, and I can take that back and go, “I need help with this.”
Fortunately, you’ve got a skill set that incorporates all the things you need to complete a product. I guess so, yeah. I guess we develop whatever suits our personalities, and I think that’s true. I like playing instruments, and I like learning things also. Like I said, when I was a kid, I realized quite early that I wasn’t going be able to be in a band with other people very easily, so learning all those instruments was a necessity as much as anything else. I wanted to make the ideas that I had in my head; I kind of had to learn.
What’s your musical background? Did you ever study formally? No, no, I’m not a good student. … I can learn; I can absorb material; but I think the thing I always struggled with was having to absorb material at a speed that was doled out by my teachers. … I want to learn as much as I can as soon as I can, so the idea of having to wait a week to learn more things seems ridiculous to me. It still does …. So [as a kid] I just bought all the instruments and just put myself into it headlong. You could argue that maybe some structure would have made sense at some point, but I just didn’t do it, because I’m introspective and I don’t think I’d be able to articulate myself very well to a teacher.
Your singing style is the falsetto, and it’s lovely and delicate. Is that just what comes out naturally when you sing? I’ve always thought … that you sing the way that you’re supposed to sing … I open my mouth and I sing, and that’s the way it is. I don’t want to say that in a passive way, that it’s just like I wake up and I sing like that. I spent years sitting in a room in my parents’ house singing songs and my voice improving, but if it didn’t want to sound the way it ultimately sounded, it wouldn’t have. If that makes any sense…. As the years have gone by and my voice has gotten better, it’s stronger and I can do more things, and that’s a huge part of how I think about music as well. I wouldn’t ever rest on my laurels and then just be like, “Oh, that’s my voice now; I’ve got it figured out.” I’m always trying to discover new aspects to it, and I think that there’s a challenge in that that I quite enjoy.
4·1·1 James Vincent McMorrow plays Saturday, August 12, at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call (805) 963-0761 or see lobero.org.