It’s hard to pin multi-instrumentalist Follow The Sun (aka James Thornton) down to one genre, he takes influence from the dream-pop stylings of Beach House, mixing it up with the Neo Classical of Nils Frahm to create something innovative, emotive and exciting. As he prepares to release his second EP, Across it All, he debuts new track, Never Alone and discusses the creative experience with GIGsoup’s Jessica Otterwell.
Hi James, thanks very much for speaking with us. You’re releasing a new EP soon, Across it All, what was the decision behind calling it that?
It’s a fairly open minded ambiguous title, to let anyone put their experience into it. It does have a personal connection to me, it’s just about previous experiences with various people that across it all life goes on and sometimes you have just get through things and move on. It’s open enough though that people can view it how they wish.
If there’s one track that people can listen to that really describes your sound, which one would it be and why?
I would say the last one, Never Alone because it’s probably where I’m heading a bit more, it’s got elements of drums, piano and guitar and there’s a clear structure to that song and it is a song it’s not just a piece of music that builds, it’s trying to be quite subtle. It’s not a verse chorus format but there are quite clear melodies in it, which are often quite strong in what I do, so quite specific melodies.
What influences do you have?
Originally I was into indie rock and then I got into shoe gaze so bands like Ride, My Bloody Valentine and quite a lot of psychedelic stuff, such as Brian Jonestown Massacre. Recently I’ve got into Neo Classical, people like Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds or contemporary classical composers like Max Richter. Nils Frahm mixes that classical sound with a new approach so a lot of synthesisers. I think the newer stuff I’m doing at the moment has elements of Dream Pop, especially with my guitar, which is clean guitar and quite reverb heavy. The piano side is much more of a classically influenced sound.
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So you’re not classically trained on the piano?
No, I’m self-taught, I find my own way through it. I’ve always really liked the piano as an instrument, it’s so different to the guitar as well, that it’s a new challenge, it’s a totally different way of writing music than the way you write it on a guitar, so it’s just given me a new approach to writing music
When you’re going to write music, how do you approach it? What’s the first thing you do?
There’s two ways, I either set up as I would in a live situation and I start creating loops, various sounds and work through those, or I’ll sit down on just the piano, just with the guitar and I’ll record various loops and sounds and work through the recording process. Perhaps I’ll start off with simple sounds and then I’ll add in layers and work through different ideas, piecing together lots of little ideas. It could be a minutes worth of something and then I’ll bring other little fragments together to make the piece. Or I’ll record using a live set up, where I sit and record and start layering lots of different sounds.
With your live set up, that’s just you?
Yeah and I guess it is a gimmick, the fact that it’s just me and I think if I added more people it would lose something, it’s an intimate experience as the attention is on just me but it’s the fact that it’s not just a one person sound. In a way I want to create experiences, so playing concerts rather than gigs. Everyone should get a different experience because they can attach their own meaning to my work.
How would you say the experience of seeing you live differs from the EP?
As much as the EP should be an engaging experience, live it’s more about pulling people in, letting them soak up the atmosphere and lose themselves in the music a little more. The live set up is a slower process because I’m adding layers of sound, so you just have to let yourself become part of that, it’s not an instant thing. While building that sound though, I want it to feel as though it’s going somewhere, rather than just building a building in a wide circle.
When you’re creating are you drawing upon your own experiences?
Sometimes, yeah. I think that all comes out though as it’s mainly what I am feeling and experiencing at the time. I tend to just let that happen, rather than think about it too much. It’s almost letting the music come out, rather than thinking of a theme to write about. It’s an emotive thing.
You say you work mainly on guitar and piano and a loop station but would you bring other lesser known instruments into the mix?
Yeah, yeah, I mean I’ve just started working on a Mac for recording and it’s given me access to lots of sounds that I didn’t have before, so that has influenced the new recordings. I like taking fairly traditional instruments and changing the sounds from them, so I like to warp them or distort them and add a lot of reverb and effects, so you might recognise it as the original but it’s not obvious. An example of that would be using a flute, which I recorded then warped and distorted so they sort of sound like a mellotron and sort of sound like flutes but neither one or the other and I actually I really enjoyed using that sound now. I’ve stumbled across something that is more my sound. It’s certainly made me use sound in a different way. It’s like working with your limitations.
Lastly, what have you got coming up in the next six months?
Mainly playing gigs and I want to finish the EP and push that and get that out there to as wide an audience as possible.
Follow The Sun – Across it All is released in September.
This Follow The Sun article was written by Jessica Otterwell, a GIGsoup contributor