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Lawrence Arabia

Lawrence Arabia

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Friday 29th June, 2012 10:13AM

James Milne A.K.A Lawrence Arabia released critically acclaimed and Taite-prize winning album Chant Darling back in 2009. He returns this year with his third studio album, The Sparrow, and UnderTheRadar caught up with Milne to find out how he approached this record, how it feels to be releasing an album on the back of such critical success, and who exactly is Lawrence Arabia.

Hey James, how’s it all going?

It’s going good, I’ve got a lot on my mind.

Because you’re preparing for a nationwide tour at bigger venues than you’ve ever played before right?

To be honest I’ve been so busy mainly just talking about myself actually. I’ve been doing so much of that that I haven’t had a chance to dwell on the gravity of the situation, which has been quite good actually because it is a little scary.

How does it feel to release this album after Chant Darling gained so much critical acclaim? Were you nervous putting this one out?

Coming up to the record I wasn’t worried about it at all. I was just really excited about the process of recording again – I never really got the chance to dwell on it that way. I actually found Chant Darling really hard to make and I think that was the album that had all that pressure of following something up. Not that the first album set the world on fire or anything but for some reason it coincided with a lot of pressure I put on myself. So the way I planned the process of making this record was to remove some of the options in making it and try to enjoy he process of making it rather than stressing out about it: I wanted to liberate myself to be able to make it.

Tell me about writing and recording The Sparrow: what were those constraints?

It was mainly in the production sense. Something I found difficult about Chant Darling was playing everything myself. Most of the basic instruments on the album are played by me and I didn’t want to be playing all of the instruments this time around: I didn’t want to have to base the writing along those lines. So I got Connan Mockasin and Elroy Finn to play as my band. I knew they were going to have interesting ideas and we recording most of the tracks live. So that was the first limitation I put on it that was gearing myself up to not have to worry about making decisions: you had to live with the performances that you got.

Was it nice having a couple of band members around to bounce ideas off as opposed to being quite isolated?

Yeah it was great because it allowed me to get past certain songs that were unfinished. Some of the songs were almost written on the spot and also sometimes if I’ve been writing a song I’ll just think ‘Oh it’s not working it’s not worth it’ but when you’re playing it with other people they bring an energy to it so you can get new ideas and a new perspective about the worth of a song. So they injected a lot of stuff into tracks that were incomplete: not much of it but a few songs were and it was a matter of coming up with things on the spot with them.

Going into The Sparrow you thought about how you were going to make it. Did you think about what you wanted to do on it?

Yeah definitely. I wanted it to be a cooler record than Chant Darling: I wanted it to have more atmosphere and more sense of a mood. I think Chant Darling in its own way was sort of all over the place so I wanted The Sparrow to have a cohesive atmosphere in place and time.

What was the atmosphere that you were going for: it seems a lot more morose and lilting than Chant Darling?

Yeah it was definitely the mood at the time. The music I was gravitating towards was more minimal and yeah it’s difficult to say. I think I thought I was making a very morose record and I don’t think it’s turned out quite as morose as I thought it was.

Why is it called The Sparrow?

I just wrote the sparrow on the notebook I was using to write the songs in. It wasn’t just a random word I was thinking it was the working title of the album. It’s very hard to describe the significance of it but somehow I imagined the sparrow as a kind of unbelievable character that was going around and ruining things. A somewhat mystical creature – not that sparrows are mystical or mythical – that was an outsider, giving you bad decisions and secretly whispering bad decisions into your ear.

Are there any other stories on the album? Is it a narrative-based album?

It’s a little bit narrative-based. It’s definitely not at the level of concept album but I did order it a little bit in a narrative order in a sense, because it starts with ‘Travelling Shoes’ which is like a 19 year old kid leaving his home town. ‘The 03’ is possibly that same character having a mental breakdown and having to come back and live with his mum. 'The Bisexual’ is a song about parties and about parties going too late and weird things happening at parties. It’s sort of narrative but it definitely wasn’t written as a whole piece.

Tell me a little bit about the difference between you as James Milne and Lawrence Arabia. With each album the character Lawrence Arabia seems to become more distinct...

When I’m posing for these ridiculous photos I’ve got something in my mind about a character and yeah, it’s constantly morphing as a character but – I want to say something that just illuminates this question but it’s almost something easier to analyse from the outside than within. It’s something that I’ve used to be able to have pretentious and pompous video shoots than if it was just me if I was just a songwriter, so it allows a lot of license to be a slightly more pompous 20th Century alter-ego. He jumps from decade to decade and I guess he’s kind of like my ideal character in history.

You sound like you’re super busy and frantic preparing for everything at the moment. Does it feel like an important time for you as Lawrence Arabia. Does it feel like that?

It does a little bit. It’s the nature of the promotional cycle that it ends up making everything feel like it’s make or break. If I was a little bit more scared I’d start feeling a little bit superstitious about this cycle because it’s self-defeating when things don’t work out. Without the pressure of expectation you don’t have the disappointment of failure. I try to suppress the fear.

And so what are you looking forward to achieving this year?

I’m going to go to New York and live there for the rest of the year. I’ve got a festival in the UK at the end of August and then I’m doing a smallish European tour. We’ll be playing more shows in the US in October: there’s lots being planned but at the moment it’s somewhat in the open but it’s going to happen.