James talks songwriting and DIY
We meet James P Honey on the day new single Dim Half Light is released (as a free download) and he is getting ready to go on a UK tour, following a series of shows around Europe.
James has a background in rap, and for him, words are key. When Buriers play live, he will rap as well as sing - it’s a a compelling mix that makes it hard for him to describe the band’s music.
I’d say that it’s probably sort of folky, melancholic, anti-dance, chant music, kind of dark but not doom. It’s like aggravating commentary, social commentary music. Very word heavy - that’s really the foundation of the music, words first.
When you find an artist that speaks to you directly and you understand, you’re like ‘ yes and that is what I think, but I hadn’t worded it’. Like with Silver Jews, an amazing band and the singer has got that line where he says, ‘the snow falls down so beautiful and stupid’, when I heard that I was like ‘that’s exactly how snow falls!’ That’s why I love words so much, you don’t even need to see snow again because you’ve heard that line, you remember that line, you know what snow is.
Guitar and cello for songwriting
So how do Buriers write their songs, does it always start with James?
It’s quite clean actually. If you hear a song and predominantly the foundation of the song is guitar-based, the guitar starts the song, the guitar ends the song, then normally it’s been written wherever I was, with a guitar.
What I do is I take it to Jamie, the cellist, who’s my comrade, my wingman in all things Buriers. I leave it with him - he’s a really good cellist and I trust him entirely. Then I come back, or he sends it to me, and invariably I say yeah, it’s better than it was.
Then we meet with the rest of the band, which is now Laura the violinist - Laura’s great too - and Ramon the drummer. And then Jamie normally has an idea in his head for the strings with the violin and we all have an idea of the drums.
We’re lucky because Ramon’s an incredible drummer. You know, if we want him to double pedal for 30 minutes he’ll be able to do that easy peasy so he can do whatever we want. Everything we ask him seems just ridiculously easy, to be honest. I can see the pain. He’s like, honestly, please let me smash it out.
Some of the songs start in a different, more unusual way, with strings.
For the ones that are cello-based, then it’s vice versa, Jamie composes a loop. That is when the hip hop comes into it, rap influence comes into it. I used to do a lot of rap, people used to send me loops, send me beats, that were just the bare bones, then I’d compose the track - I’d rant all over it.
Then we meet and finalize the structure and that’s your song. So that’s how we write. If it’s on the guitar, I wrote it and then Jamie makes it a million times better. If it’s on the cello, he wrote it and I ruin it!
Buriers have a strong DIY ethos, from making hand-printed CD covers for their album Filth, to putting on gigs in unusual places.
I really love it. Just the subtle nuances of receiving a really limited press of something and knowing that the artist was involved in the creation from start to finish. Opening up a 10-inch vinyl, pulling it out and some handwritten text falls out. Just little things like that I think are really important. Especially in the ongoing revolt against digital, and this sort of diminishing preciousness of music in general.
Most of the good shows you go to in your life, you’ll probably find they’ll be DIY shows in garages, in art galleries, in coffee shops.
Recording in a wardrobe
The DIY ethos includes the band’s recordings, and James has a pretty unusual way of laying down his vocals.
I normally record the vocals in my wardrobe, just a duvet over the top. I’ve got my mic stand, a normal condenser mic, a Behringer, it’s good, it’s cool, and I’ve done that for loads of records. Dry as you can, no natural reverb at all. In my boxer shorts, in my wardrobe, on my own. Cursing the fact that I’ve got to climb out from under the duvet cover to push stop and record again to load the track!
The first demo was recorded in Jamie’s flat, and it was proper rookie stuff, everything just with a condenser, recorded into Adobe Audition mixed really crudely, by me. The second one was recorded in a really nice studio in Oxford, Granny Flat Studios.
I love that a lot of the stuff I’ve recorded has been totally DIY, you can hear doors in the background and things like that. There are a lot of good records that I’ve listened to that have that element in them as well. Jason Molina, that lead singer of Songs: Ohia, there are solo releases and songs that people have found and you can hear all sorts of stuff going on in the background. It just totally adds to it, makes it better. Especially if you’re listening to music where the fragility of the music is an important element, then the atmosphere you’re in just embellishes it. Except for police sirens. They’re a really bad noise.
James says that he is inspired by great lyricists, both well known and more underground artists.
Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen is the master though, he’s undoubtedly a massive influence. Every time that someone says I or Buriers sound a little bit like Leonard Cohen, which does happen quite a lot, then I am pretty pleased, put it that way. Because it wasn’t an intention but certainly I knew he was killing it so I knew that I wanted to kill it too.
In terms of really small artists, they’re my main influences, people like Babel Fish, who’s this guy from Texas who’s just the king of rant-rap, chewing, absolutely destroying the words. There are whole books in his albums, you can just shut your eyes and tune in and you just hear a whole collage of a world.
James Reindeer, I’ve done projects with before, he’s a great great lyricist, a big big influence. There’s this bloke called Adrian Orange, who’s also known as Thanksgiving, definitely one of the best I’ve ever heard.
When you get really good at using words, the composition of the words and the way they sound together and the rhyming patterns all of that stuff you never think about. Ever. All you think about is writing about what you want to say. So you just try and write what you say, and when you’re good, it just works. It’s weird. I swear these people are exactly like that. They just go for it and they’re just masters!