It was a lovely day at the end of June, 2016. I had just spent my first weekend in Cardiff since my last visit in 1998, in order to see the newly developped Bay area that I have only known from television shows like Dr. Who. I felt the Welsh did not change much over the last few decades. I had taken home with me two major experiences (and from that: impressions) from my prolongued visits in the Nineties:
Firstly I imagine that there seems to be some kind of a party going on behind every door that I see - except that today they do not stop at eleven o'clock any more. But wait a minute – that's only the pubs and clubs I am talking about. I remember vividly that I used to be awakened quite regularly by some neighbour suddenly starting to play Bob Dylan songs at full volume in the middle of the night, which I used to enjoy very much - because it was kind of weird.
And secondly: Whenever I sit down in a park to read my book, I expect to soon find myself surrounded by people, because the next person coming to the park will sit down right next to me for a nice chat – and not miles away, alone by him- or herself, as is customary in Germany. I really fell in love with Wales and the Welsh back then and I still cannot believe it took me so long to come back. But I found out now that this spirit I encountered then does still seem to live on, and this is what inspired this blog post. So let‘s go back to 2016.
The night before I had just been planning to enter the Live Lounge to get a meal, only to find out that all the tables are carried away at 10 pm, so that I had suddenly found myself dancing through the night. Again. Even on my short way back to the Hotel long past midnight, I kind of ended up singing along to a street band saxophone. The Welsh still seem to me to be open and kind, chatty and - to the highest degree - very feisty people.
The following day I had done all the necessary sightseeing at Cardiff Bay:
- taking a glimpse at the Extreme Sailing Series and Triathlon
- because of all the road closures due to those events: a very long walk
- a visit to the Dr. Who Experience
- a silent minute spent at Ianto's Shrine including a failed attempt to explain Torchwood to an Italian family: „It was founded by Queen Victoria against possible alien threats“ must have sounded terribly strange - and hopefully a bit funny - to them, because at first they did not know that I was talking about a TV series - and that no actual person had died
- a visit to the Millennium Centre
- a lovely and fulfilling chat with some artist ladies at their exhibition in the Norwegian Church.
The evening air was filled with hooting and jubilation. Apparently, Wales was winning a football match. Tonight, the ever ongoing celebrations did not stop behind doors – they were everywhere. I took a bus to the City Centre in order to catch the night train to London, because my flight back to Hamburg would be taking off early next morning. But first I felt the urge to level with the crowd that was waving and wearing Dragon Flags: I needed to get a beer.
Here I was, happy and ready to go to the station, but now, with a beer in my hand, the security guards would not let me leave the pub area. So I took the opportunity to ask a young man, if I might take the free seat next to him. „Only for a price“, was his smiling answer: „Conversation!“ Then he added a friendly: „Conversation is free“.
And I sat down. And this was just the invitation to the first of many chats that we were to enjoy since, either that one time in person, and online via Facebook or Skype. It turned out that I was talking to Olly James, funny, charming, honest to the core, witty and easy to talk to (I could keep going on here...) lead singer of Indie Folk Pop Country band Vince James. He named it after his grandfather Vincent, which is also Olly's middle name.
Being a part time student of „Arts & Change Coaching“ preparing for my master thesis, I am in the habit of talking to various artists at the moment, and it is the best thing ever. So in the end I could not resist to ask Olly James for an interview, which he gave me in September. Much to my surprise he told me he has not been asked for a big interview before, and so - with his kind permission - I decided to blog about our conversation.
And here is what he told me about the release of his first single:
„I just launched „Forget Last Night“, which is the name of the new single. It is about being a bit reckless the night before and then waking up the next morning, thinking: Oh damn, what‘s just happened? We can all get into those kind of reckless states – and then wake up the next morning and think: Oah! You know: That could have gone a lot better. But there is always next time. If you listen to the lyrics, it says: Even though this has just happened and it might be bad, it can always be rectified next time.“
You can watch the video here:
He told me about the start of his career:
„It was just opportunities: Opportunities came and I just took them, really. It was just: When I wrote these songs I had the opportunity to play some gigs, and I did. And when I did play those gigs I realized that people actually liked my songs. So why not carry on? Yeah and I just have been doing that ever since, really. You know, I have always had the dream of playing to like thousands of people … in Glastonbury … of course I have. And I still have that dream now.
There is going to be an album coming up. We are building towards making an album. So that is kind of what we are doing at the moment: Getting demos down. And then we are going to make those demos into an album. It‘s kind of a work in progress. I mean we will probably have twelve songs that we want to put on there, but they could change within a week or a month, because if you are always creating, then you always want to try and better yourself. No, not better yourself, but, you know: If you get attached to a certain song then you want it to be heard more than other songs.“
You can see one of the gigs Vince James did here. You just have to be patient for a bit, the music will start at minute 3:47:
How did he come to be a Singer/Songwriter?
„I had my first guitar when I was about six. It was about six or seven, I was really young. And it was a Fender Strat, it was an amazing guitar. Sadly it is not here anymore. I was a bit reckless and I lost it, but I started playing other people‘s songs and then all of a sudden I found myself writing my own. So I think that‘s what really triggered something inside of me, to say: I have got to do this now, because I am actually quite good at it. And I like it, you know I actually really enjoy it. I think in a way, when people say: „That‘s completely honest music you‘re doing“, they‘re right. I try not to take it for granted at all, because I believe it is a gift. Gift from God.
We all want different things out of it. Some money, some fame, and some just complete enjoyment. I am not the most technically established musician. My technicality isn‘t amazing, my musicianship, that‘s not that great. I wouldn‘t even say I am a musician. I just write songs. And I sing. If I casted as something else, I‘d be taking it for granted. And it wouldn‘t be true. I honestly think like it is just something that was made inside of me.“
How does he compose his songs?
„I'm always writing. Obviously I spend a lot of time on my own, you know, writing music and just generally being on my own anyway. Because I think that‘s where most inspiration comes from. For some people – I mean everyone is different - but for me, inspiration generally comes when I am on my own and locked away from everything. That‘s just the way I work.
First of all it varies very much. I take a feeling and then I put it into a song. So it is pretty much as simple as that. It‘s just a feeling or a thought at that present time. And it just goes into a song. I will find myself playing on my guitar, and all of a sudden a melody will just come out of it. And then normally the lyrics follow after, unless I am writing about something that needs to be written about at that certain time. Sometimes inspiration comes and sometimes it doesn't. That's what I think that‘s why it‘s so special. I mean you got to take it while you can. But mostly, the main thing is to actually be interested. I think if you are always interested in what you do, you will always find a way to write a song or paint a piece or whatever sort of art you are doing. That's how I do it anyway.
It‘s just general situations that you find yourself to be in that could be bizarre. It could be funny. It could be all sorts of things. But normally those things happen and then I go away and think about them - and that‘s generally when I am on my own. So these things will happen but I won‘t think about it at the time and then I‘ll go away and then find myself on my own and then I‘ll think more in depth about it. And that‘s probably where it all comes from really. It might be a day after it happened, a month or a year. But it always seems to come out in the wash. So to speak, it will always come out, because we are humans at the end of the day, even if we push it down as far as possible, it will always come out. But sometimes it is against your own will. I mean all of the time, actually, I have never perviously put myself in an bad situation. But it just tends to happen in life, I am sure you have been there, I am sure everyone‘s been there.
And it is quite difficult to explain. And I think that is why it is so interesting really, because there is not a real a definition you can give it. Creating a song: There is no real formula. I think if there was, then I would probably be searching for the rest of my life. Just like everyone else. I think it just comes from the passion, the love and the interest for the music. That's what I think anyway.
Maybe I'll be fiddling on the guitar and some times it just happens by accident. But if there is something that I need to write about, then you know, I make damn sure that I write about it because it is just a good story to tell. And it gets everything that I'm thinking and feeling off my chest. It is quite as simple as that really.
It isn't really political. I am not trying to send a political message, I am not trying to take something out the newspaper and make it my own. By any means, it is all personal to me. I mean, that might seem quite selfish to some people, but it is all what I am thinking and feeling and what personal experiences that I have been through. That is kind of what my music represents. I think it needs to be personal. If you are writing about something that you do not know about: How can you actually give a proper description? And how can you actually give your true feelings if you don't know exactly what you are talking about? So I always tend to go with things that I know about and I am confident speaking about and then I put them into a song. If it is not honest, then no one is going to pay attention. It needs to be something that you really believe in, otherwise I don‘t think there is any point in doing it.
I mean it's just a way of releasing whatever you don't want to release in a general conversation. Or maybe something you're embarrassed about, something that you really don't want to say out loud. It just helps to put it in a song. And then maybe make it not so obvious. You know, 'cause if you put it in words in a conversation, then it comes across as quite obvious and plain - but if you put it in a song, maybe it leaves it up to the listener to figure out what you're trying to say.
So sometimes you need to go to the darkest places to get them, of course you do, which is quite painful sometimes. And then I go to these lovely places to play them, and it is just so ironic really‚ 'cause I don‘t know anyone can appreciate where you have to go to get these songs. It is like you are coming from the worst place possible and then playing it to these people who maybe are in the best place possible in their life. So it‘s quite ironic.
At first I was a little bit nervous, of course. I didn‘t want to give too much away of myself, you know at the end of the day you are sensitive and it is sensitive stuff that I am singing about. It is all about how I feel and what I was going through at a particular time, but as soon as I got over that and realized that there‘s a million other people in the world that were probably feeling the same way I was back then, it was all fine from there.
I mean, we are our own protectors at the end of the day, I know we have family and friends to support, but at the end of the day it is down to you to make sure that you are okay. And that you feel okay in front of whoever it is. I am vulnerable, of course I am. But so is everyone else. And I think if we can all come to some sort of an understanding, then I think, you know, we are in a good place - It took a long time to get there.“
And what about the audience and his reception?
„And then all off a sudden it‘s being played to these different sorts of people. And I think the main thing is to make them feel a part of it in the biggest way possible. If you can‘t do that, I don‘t think people are going to embrace you and come and pay an interest. Because I think the main thing that I try to do when I am playing at a show is to make them feel like I am there on stage with me. I believe that is why people go to Football matches and Rugby matches or whatever sport, you know, you go to a big stadium to watch. Those people are there to watch that game and try to feel a part of it. Like those players on the pitch. And that is what I want the audience to feel everytime they come and see me play.
And that‘s probably the best gift to give someone, I think. And it‘s a gift for me at the end of the day, because if I can make someone a bit happier, even if it‘s just for an hour or a day, that‘s just great, you know? That‘s something I definitely wish to achieve. I think that‘s what all artists strive for. I don‘t know. That makes sense to me anyway.
And I try to do it as best as I can, I don‘t know if I do a good job, but people have come up to me and said, you know: I like your lyrics. They listen to lyrics and they relate to them. And that‘s the best thing, really, because I do try hard to put good lyrics, like meaningful lyrics in a song. So that describes exactly how I am feeling at that point and it describes what they might be feeling at that point, so I think, I couldn‘t ask for a better reception than coming up to me and say: You know, that‘s what I‘ve been feeling. I can actually relate to what you are saying - That to me is probably the best feeling, you know?“
What are his musical influences?
„It was always music in general, it was no particular band that I wanted. There‘s never been a band that I‘ve been truly obsessed with. So I‘ve never been to all their gigs, I‘ve never bought their records. I think, I went through phases, of course. I mean: Like there was a band that I loved one week and then next week another. It is like Offspring one week, Green Day the next. Yeah sure, I am a fan of a lot of bands. That goes without saying, I mean there is so many bands out there. When I was growing up, I was listening to all sorts, I was listening to Eminem. The rapper - but that all changed. That‘s what I grew up listening to. I listened to Robbie Williams. But I couldn‘t relate to them now, because things change. But maybe music did have an influence on my writing, but I can say primarily it is to do with experiences and just things I needed to get off my chest at that time.
I don‘t know if it is to do with music as such. It‘s weird because I think the music that I play comes from within, it‘s not just from listening to other people‘s music. Simply because I am inspired by most things that happened in my life, including my family, friends and just experiences in life. Obviously music that I have listened to has helped, of course it has, but the things that I write about, you know the message, that I put in my songs, doesn‘t come from other bands. It normally comes from experiences that I‘ve had to endure. I think if you listen to my music it just doesn‘t have any reference to any artist that I‘ve listened to. Maybe it does a little bit, maybe it does to some people but I think the course it truly became, it came from within myself and not from any other bands or artists. But maybe you can‘t pidgeonhole that.
Honestly people have a tendency to relate me to other bands because that‘s what we do, humans: We see a face and then we kind of relate it to something we‘ve seen before. So that‘s always what happens. But it‘s all different ones. If it was one band in particular, I‘d be like maybe: Hang on, I‘m not doing something right here, but because everyone says different things, so someone will say: You sound like this band! And another person will say: You sound like this one! So I think that‘s quite good in a way, because you are not really being pigeonholed like I said before. It‘s all varied. I think it‘s really important these days to have a variation.“
You can read the actual interview here. I had to write it down in order to start my research anyway.
In my opinion there will be nothing to stand in the way between Olly and his vision of a Glastonbury gig some day - with his depth, personality and talent, he has just got what it takes.
So please, listen to him at Soundcloud,
feel invited to like his Facebook Fanpage and follow him on Twitter and instagram - so you will not miss the release of his first album!
... updated April 2017: I gladly inform you that Vince James has released two more singles, "Show Me Love" and "Bernadette", and that he as agreed to do a gig on my SLT-practice's 10th Anniversary, which will take place Sunday 30th of April! Come and watch!