James Duncan

James Duncan

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 21st May, 2012 9:28AM

James Duncan has returned to his solo work this year after a hiatus to focus on other projects Punches and Dimmer. UTR caught up with James Duncan to discuss the writing, recording and inspiration for his new album, Vanishing.

Hey James. You went to Berlin to record your forthcoming album right?

Yep, pretty much. I mean it's the same kind of thing as with Punches: I had a room that I was very kindly gifted for six months, so I kind of got to do heaps of recording there and then Berlin was just tiding everything up and mixing it and finishing things off.

Was there a reason you chose Berlin in particular?

I had heaps of mates there and thought it was going to be the promised land. I had also become extremely allergic to life here. It was one of those things where it’s like ‘I’m going to escape all of this’ and you find out the one thing you’re trying to escape has come with you, which is yourself. It’s like ‘who invited that guy?’

So was writing and recording this album a cathartic process?

There was a little bit of that, but I don’t know. I didn’t want to dive around in the kind of stuff that was happening because it would just do my head in. A lot of the songs are really weird spur-of-the-moment songs - little ideas and moments of brightness during darkness. So I wrote these songs that didn’t relate to how I was feeling, or related in the sense that they were the opposite of how I was feeling.

And is that how you usually work; by creating tiny fragments that end up forming a whole song?

Yeah pretty much.

You don't sit down and focus on concepts?

No I’m really bad at concepts or using my brain at all, really. I’ll just be twittering away and have a little tiny idea and it will turn into something bigger.

When the album is finished do you reflect on what it means and do overall ideas become apparent then?

I guess so yeah, it's got to mean something right. It’s a timeframe in my life and that’s kind of the only thing that unites it. I guess it's that and whatever tricks I was using at the time. Or whoever who I was trying to rip off.

Who were you trying to rip off for this album?

It’s top secret.

After Hello Fi, was there anything you wanted to do similarly or differently?

I just wanted to write better tunes. Also, it's a little bit hidden but all the songs except for maybe one are just loops; really short repetitions that songs are hung from - that’s what I wanted to do with this album. I wanted small loops that became hypnotic; so the listener forgets they're occurring in the song but they’re still there. I guess that's a kind of concept.

Does the album have a title yet?

It’s bad, I’m not good at titles. We’ve called it Vanishing. I don’t know why really.

Vanishing relates to the ideas of looping and repition and forgetting, no?

(Sarcastically.) That’s totally it, that is exactly what I set out to do.

You're in Dimmer and Punches as well. Do you prefer working solo or being in a band? What do you like about each?

I don’t know if I prefer either of them. I think for the next one I definitely want to involve other people a lot more. This one was massively insular. I’ve got some people on some songs but a lot of it was up to me making decisions. Basically I’m sick of being alone.

Hello Fi was more collaborative, yeah?

Yeah there’s more people on it but it was just as un-collaborative. When you work with other people you care less. I’ve got to learn to care less and let other people bring their flavour to the table.

What are your plans after the record is released?

It’s just going to go off basically, trajectory-wise. I’ll get a band together and play some shows. Everything’s kind of been angling towards this idea of releasing this record and I don’t really have much planned after that, so we’ll see what gets spat out the other end.

In the next few years are there any particular goals you want to tick off - any big picture stuff?

Not really I’m not very good at that stuff. I’m just on the search for a really good song that touches somebody somehow or touches me. In writing there’s this great honeymoon period where the tunes are coming together and you get really soppy over it because the emotion is still raw in the tunes. I want to experience that again, but more so - make it bigger, or when that’s happening call it finished and stop fussing over it.

When I interview bands they often don’t want to hear their record once they’ve recorded and released it because they’ve spent such a long, intense amount of time on it. Are you like that or do you embrace it?

It’s been about a year writing most of these tunes. It’s a long time but it’s also kind of quick, which sounds terrible. I definitely want to get onto the next thing and find out what it is. I’m also kind of fascinated about how these songs will be received - I haven’t shown anyone so I’m interested to see how they’ll go down.

Do you think we'll notice an obvious change in tact from Hello Fi?

It’s a little bit more caustic and a little less poppy I think. It’s also a lot less electronic because I decided to play drums on this one, which actually wasn’t a good idea.

You were saying before that you were in search of writing 'the perfect song'. Is there any track on the album that, in your opinion, comes close to this?

I think that most of them were at some point and then I changed my mind. I thought ‘Mickey’ was going to be it and I thought ‘Galactic Screen Saviour’ was going to be the best song I ever wrote.

I’m interested in your isolated process of songwriting. Have you always worked in quite an isolated way?

Yeah, it’s just your average Kiwi male not being able to talk about their feelings so I made these songs and these are sort of how I feel. It’s not always the sunshiniest stuff so you don’t want to show anyone else because you don’t want to make them sad.

And does removing yourself from outside distractions allows you to be more honest?

Yeah, I had a ‘good’ period when I first started which was three weeks or a month during which I was going in to the studio for 12 hours a day. I would turn off my phone and work really hard. But I wasn’t very good socially at that moment so people started worrying about me. People would come round and knock on the door asking if I was there and I wouldn’t answer the door. But yeah, I got heaps of work done, which is great.


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