Gavin James is a super talented Irish singer songwriter who was heading down to Cheriton Bishop to play a headline set for The Loft Live Sessions. We arrived early, watched him soundcheck and managed to grab some time with him afterwards to chat about his career, influences and most importantly, WHO would make it into his very own Super-Group, read on to see how we got on....
Gavin, we know that your birthday is July 6th and that your debut album ‘Bitter Pill’ has been awarded Platinum status in Ireland, please tell me a fascinating fact about you that not many people know
My birthday is actually July 5th, I’m not sure what happened but someone added it incorrectly to Wikipedia and since then I’ve always received greetings and cards a day late, I must get on to them and get it changed! A fascinating fact?……I can twist my ankle round the whole way, not that fascinating to be honest but not many people know that, I can do very weird voices, the only other thing I’m really interested in is cinema, other than that, I’m just a laid back kind of guy, nothing mental about me, I don’t own a zoo anywhere or have 7 toes or 3 nipples, that would be weird!
I read that you grew up in a very musical household, your dad playing the likes of Cat Stephens, Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan, were your folks into playing instruments too?
My mum played guitar for a short while when I was a kid, they’re both really good singers and I guess that my love for music was from them playing all sorts over the years and I picked up on that. My sister is a gospel singer and has an absolutely crazy vocal range and I’d say that it’s down to her that I started singing. I used to sing as a kid and I think at the time, I felt more like a guitar player as I was in various bands and wanted to be Jimi Hendrix with my Robert Plant hair, I really wanted to be Jimmy Page too but I had the Robert Plant hair, it was proper ginger and I had to tie it back for school, I ended up looking like a goldfish! My brother is into some mad music and he just fed me everything that he was listening to, we shared the same room and he always had the radio on which I hated initially but eventually I loved it and couldn’t get to sleep unless there was music playing.
What’s the age difference between you and your brother?
Oh loads, I was the ‘accident’, well, more a ‘surprise’, ‘accident’ is a little bit harsh! He is 10 years older than me and my sister is 7 years older so quite a gap.
I guess he moved out when you were quite young?
Yes, he had a girlfriend from when he was 15 years old and was shacked up with her, he has a daughter who is more like my little sister as she was born when I was younger.
You started out playing in a rock band when you were just 14, what was it called and how come it never lasted?
I was in a couple of different bands but we kept on sacking people, it was always left to me to do the honours though. I was probably in a band from when I was 12 through to 17, the first was a band alongside 2 of my best mates and it was a great craic, one of them wasn’t taking it very seriously so the drummer and I decided that he had to go! We had to let him down gently so the drummer told me that he would come to my place and we would tell him together, he never showed….there was me, sat there with the lad we were ‘firing’ and having to make small talk knowing that the drummer wasn’t gonna show up! The last band I was in was really good, we were really tight but then I left school and decided that I had better go and make some money so I did a load of cover gigs in Temple Bar for 4 years, 7 nights a week, probably 2 shows a day so that’s 14 shows a week and we’re talking 3 hour sets here, sometimes 3 shows on a Saturday.
Your album ‘Bitter Pill’ was recorded in London and LA with Fraser T Smith and Cam Blackwood, you said that you wanted to hear what your songs properly produced but without losing the edge that they had when performed live, do you feel that you achieved this?
Yeah totally, it took a long time to get there but I feel that we achieved everything we set out to do. I used to be afraid of a recording studio as I’d only been in a few times before and they were these short term deals, in there for say a weekend at a time and the pressure on you to perform and come out with something is really high, I was never happy with the results so this was really the first time other than recording EP’s that I was in for a while. The first song that we got that sounded great was ‘For You’, this just clicked and the vocal sounded great, I find it quite hard to achieve my live vocal sound in a studio so when this one was recorded, it just felt good that I was working with people who knew what I wanted. My first full length recording was live so it’s rough and super raw and it’s so nice when it captures the half notes on the recording, they’re meant to be there but in a studio you probably wouldn’t capture them.
Did you have to compromise on anything for the album?
Not really, it just took me some time to be comfortable being in a booth and singing into a microphone rather than being on stage and playing at the same time, some people are different and prefer the studio to playing live, but for me, it’s always the other way round but I’m glad that I managed to get the album recorded and released. Towards the end, I felt quite chuffed, the majority of the vocals were recorded in the last week as it took me so long to get used to the studio setup, it all turned out really well.
If you were to put together your own ‘supergroup’ who'd be in the lineup?
I’d have Jimmy Page on guitar, on drums, it would have to be Pearl Jam’s Dave Krusen and on bass guitar it would have to be Flea from the Chili Peppers, he seems like a great crac, on piano it would have to be Stevie Wonder, that'll do it!
You appeared live on James Cordon’s late late show and also Jimmy Kimmel in 2015 and the BBC One Show earlier this year, how did you find the whole experience of playing on TV shows?
I had a great time at all of them, it usually involves a lot of waiting around, we did some interview shows in Paris and Holland but these were simply me performing. I appeared twice on James Cordon’s Late late Show, the first time we did it, we got on really well and I invited him along to a gig that I did at The Troubadour in West Hollywood which took place a couple of nights after I did the show, he came along and we had a great night, we exchanged numbers and we were texting each other a while, I happened to be back in L.A. for a week around Halloween and I messaged him when I was a little tipsy and invited him out for a beer but he was having a night in, he asked me if I wanted to appear on the show the next night and I was chuffed to bits so I had an early(ish) night and woke up the next day and thought about it and called him and agreed to appear that night, it was so nice that he can just ask and it all fell into place. Jimmy Kimmel is a great bloke too, a lovely man and the shows are so big!
Have you played much in America?
I did one of my own tours, I sold out The Troubadour in L.A. The Mercury Lounge in New York was an amazing place, they were great shows, loads of people, which surprised me as I never thought that I would have attracted that many in a place so far away but it was great. I’m heading back in September for another tour and I’m already really excited about it.
You're playing here at The Loft Live Sessions this evening, you've just completed your soundcheck, is this the first time that you've played in a medieval barn in the middle of the country?
Funnily enough it is, it's a beautiful venue and the sound is so good, I bet it'll sound even better with a room full of people in there but yes, the torches were being lit earlier on and the candles, such an intimate atmosphere, I hope I can do it justice!
If you could name just one act or band that made you want to start playing music and more importantly, writing songs, who would it be?
Bob Dylan, definitely, I think when I was younger, it was the likes of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin as these were the bands I was listening to when I was a guitarist n a band, I was just emulating what they were into. As I matured, I think it was more the words that interested me, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, great songwriters so rather than the music, it was the words that attracted me, what they had to say and how they said it. Before that, my songs were pretty much written around guitar riffs with random words thrown in to make it work, I always struggled trying to rhyme anything with ‘Orange’ and we usually lost the plot and scrapped the whole song as a result!
You’ve supported some big names in the industry such as Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Kodaline, what did you learn from them?
I’ve done a couple of tours with the lads from Kodaline and they’re Dublin boys too so a few weeks away with them is like a stag night in magaluf….I went to the States with them, they were actually the first band to take me there and we had a blast, I did a month with them and they are amazing people. I did their first ever UK tour with them years ago and we played in some really tiny venues, I remember playing at the Green Door Store in Brighton and there were literally 100 people there (sold out) and I was so excited that we’d managed to sell out a venue. Then a month later, they were playing arenas and it was so different. I also toured with Tori Kelly in the States, she’s lovely and her voice is immense and she really looks after her voice so I guess I learned a bit about how to take care of your most valuable assets though saying that, I come from a very ‘rough and ready’ kind of background so I take it as it is from day to day but yes, you’ve got to look after it the best you can! Sam Smith was great, he’s a really lovely man, we chatted a lot, he’d invite me in and we would just shoot the shit, what was funny was that every time I went into his room, there’d be a different bouncer on the door and I’d have to be like super nice to him at the start of the day and then he’d remember who I was later on when I wanted to get into his room again.
Desert island disc time….. Which 3 albums would you take away with you and why?
If you could choose the 3 headline acts for a major festival, let's say Glastonbury, which 3 would you select and why?
Coldplay are on this year and I'm a MASSIVE fan so I’d have them back again, The Killers because I’ve been to loads of their festival shows and they always deliver live, so good! And finally Bruce Springsteen, he’s amazing!
You're set to headline at ‘Live at the Marquee’ in Cork in June, looking back, there's been some pretty impressive acts there over the years, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, are you nervous about playing?
Not sure about nervous now..... it’s certainly the biggest thing I’ve ever done as my own headline show and I guess it’ll be like a homecoming show so yes, it’ll be great, I’m not worried about it now but an hour before showtime, I’ll certainly be nervous!
Do you find that audiences differ from country to country or even north to south within the same country?
Massively, you get a totally different show depending on where you are, in Ireland, they’re normally always crazy and I always seem to attract Irish people at my shows so with them there, it’s easier to loosen up. In Holland, they seem to sing along a lot better, they just love music, throw a few Irish in there and BOOM! In the States, people tend to ‘Whoo’ a lot more, you’re on stage and you do something crazy and they ‘Whoo’, then you go back to Ireland and copy it and they don’t ‘Whoo’ so yes, you definitely get a different reaction depending on where you are. London seems a little more tame but by the end of the show, they’re on your side and everything’s good. I think it’s since I started doing headline gigs, they’ve all been really well attended and, well, just great, I’m blessed to have such a strong following.
Who is lighting up YOUR 2016 in respect of music?
At the moment, I’m loving the new Macklemore album (Ben Haggerty & Ryan Lewis), the tracks on it are just amazing, I’ll check on my iPhone playlist and see who’s at the top (gets his phone out and starts to reel off band after band of who he's been listening to a lot lately)…. I’ve got some good shit for you on here, lots of R Kelly for some reason, lots of older stuff, I listen to a lot of Lauren Hill, Randy Newman, Muddy Waters, I can’t listen to everyone but I try! Tobias Jesso Jr, he’s on there so I’ll include him as well!
You’re from Dublin, if we wanted to go for a night out there, where should we eat, drink and go to watch a live band?
Food – you should go to the Elephant and Castle for chicken wings, these are by far the BEST wings I’ve had in a LONG time, every time I visit a new place, I always seek out a place that does chicken wings and this place is gonna take some beating I can tell you!
Drinks – The Old Storehouse which is literally around the corner from the Elephant and Castle and it has lovely Guinness and it was a place that I’ve played at a LOT, the staff are great, I always go back in and they’re always trying to get me to play a pop up show and I have to tell them that I’m not allowed to anymore, If I did, my manager would be all over it! Temple Bar is great.
Live music - I’d head up to Whelans, it’s always a great night there and they always have lock in’s after the act has finished….always the best way to end a night, have a little session and see what occurs!
You're playing a number of festivals this year, which ones are you particularly excited about?
What are your top three tips for surviving a music festival?
Bog roll, baby wipes and don’t go too mad on the first night! (saying that, I ALWAYS go mental on the first night....)
Gavin was talking far too much so in order to keep his answers a bit shorter and save me 3 hours of transcribing, we decided to throw some quickfire questions at him to see how he would manage, he was getting on RAELLY well until one question, see if you can spot which one it was.....
Beer or whisky? Whisky
CD or Vinyl? Vinyl
Summer or Winter? Winter
Camping or Hotel? Hotel
Beach or Pool? Beach
Flip flops or sandals? Sandals
The Porterhouse or The Temple Bar? The Temple Bar
Al Pacino or Robert de Niro? Al Pacino….NO……ARRGH!.....I'm thinking Scarface but then I'm thinking Robert de Niro because of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and then I'm NOT thinking Robert de Niro because of that lame spell he had making films like 'Meet the Parents' which wasn't that bad but was such a diversion from what he normally does......and there was that crap movie that Al Pacino was in a while back and OH MY GOD I don't know, I'm gonna have to say (60 second delay)...........Robert de Niro!
Coach or Train? Train
Pancakes - lemon and sugar or Nutella and Banana? Nutella and Banana!
God or Google? Google
You can catch Gavin live all over the place, details below
We'd like to thank Gavin for sparing the time to chat to us and answer so many questions (sorry, my fault, I got a little carried away!) We wish him every success for the future and hope the American tour in September is a success. Please spare a few minutes and check out his social media channels below and if you're yet to own his new album, there's a link at the bottom of the feature.
Just before we go and as a special treat for reading this far into the feature, here's a video of Gavin playing live at The Loft Live Sessions, enjoy!