With J R Harbridge revving up to his debut album release on the 5th October called “First Ray of Light” GIGsoup were able to catch him before Harbridge and Absolute Label Services release it to the public. Harbridge has spent time in numerous recording spaces across the UK and this fluidity in his musical career has allowed him amass plenty of experience and knowledge ultimately allowing him to collaborate a sound that draws upon styles ranging from Jackson Browne to Bob Dylan.
What inspirations were the driving force behind your debut record ‘First Ray of Light’?
Politics, Depression, Hope, Loss, Anger, Love and Nostalgia, were all thrown in to the mix when it came to the writing of the album “First Ray Of Light”.
There are two political/protest songs on the album. The first track and first single “Turn the Screw” was written as a considered response to the financial collapse a few years ago. That whole episode shook me to the core and after a few years meditating on it I came to the realisation that ALL “institutions” were bullshit and not to be trusted. That’s really the basis of that song.
“I Wont Support Your Wars” is the other political song on the album, as I am a pacifist. The killing of one human being by another is abhorrent to me and a country waging war on another should be a war crime in itself. Politicians or “War Pigs” have a lot to answer for, the illegal war in Iraq for a start.
The title track “First Ray Of Light” has a theme of overcoming, hope, rehabilitation. It’s a really positive sounding track musically and melodically but its lyrics are a little dark. I like that juxtaposition.
There are many songs where depression was the driving force. That is a subject that is very close to home and without going too deep, something I have only just begun to understand and writing these songs has been very therapeutic.
Equal to the music, your recent releases seem to have a pacifistic undertone, are there are other political elements incorporated in your album?
Other than “Turn The Screw” and “I Wont Support Your Wars”, the most overtly political tracks, there is “I Know You Know I Know” which although not an ‘in your face’ political song it was inspired by the cover up of the so called “Dutroux Affair” in Belgium. It’s probably the darkest subject matter I have written about and I am still not that comfortable talking about it, it was such a shocking case of child abuse that went to the highest levels in Belgium. The song was actually getting me down whilst writing so I started to fictionalise it and even changed the meaning of the song just so I could finish writing it and perform it. The song ended up being about something else but the genesis of it was rooted in that horrific story.
To what extent has The Twang’s recording space contributed to the album and the development of your music career on a whole?
That’s a great question. I used that studio for three or more years and recorded many great bands from the area, JAWS, Thieves, Wide Eyed, Only Shadows and even demoed some Twang songs. I jumped in to that studio with very little experience, it was a trial by fire and hard work, when things went wrong or you had a really bad band that wanted to sound like Blur or U2 and they couldn’t play a note. It was an incredible eye opener for me and my music.
On the plus side I had plenty of time to hone my craft and probably recorded 70% of “First Ray Of Light” there.
I also learned a lot about the business from the Twang and JAWS’ manager and not to mention JAWS’ producer for the first album, Dreamtrack.
In addition to this, what is Birmingham like for an up and coming musician, is there lots of opportunities?
The scene has changed a lot over the last 6 or so years. There seems to be plenty of opportunities in the city but all of the iconic venues from the 90s and early 2000s have disappeared and been replaced by some substandard venues. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great new venues but none with the feel of the old places, that could just be me getting older and looking back through rose tinted glasses.
I have been living in Derby now for a number of years and, although there aren’t many venues there is always something creative happening in the city, it’s a very artistic city, something Derby doesn’t get much credit for.
Are you currently on a record label, or are you releasing music by yourself? How are you finding the process?
For this album, “First Ray Of Light”, I am releasing my album through Absolute Label Services and the record will be distributed by Universal/Sony. This is the first time I have had my music released through a label. The best thing about releasing through a label is the planning and the knowledge they bring to the table. They take care of all the things that would usually take up a lot of your time so you can concentrate on other things like writing or playing live. I also have a great PR team in EMMS Publicity, again they are getting my music out there and to people I could never reach If I was handling PR myself.
There is a cost element to this way of releasing material but I feel it’s the best way to get your music to a wider audience and I wanted this album in particular to reach as many ears as possible.
On the whole, so far, I am happy with how things are going. It is still early days in the campaign but I am hopeful that by the end of it I will have had significant gains, whether it be a larger fan-base, more people listening to the record, more people coming to gigs.
Again, how do you feel that your previous bands and collectives have contributed to you and your desire to continue in a more solo fashion?
I have been in a lot of bands and have learned a great deal from all of them. I was in a great grunge band called “Third Bullet”, you can hear our album “Revelations Revisited” on Spotify. We recorded that album with Gavin Monaghan. We had some fantastic reviews, played to loads of people and had Harley Davidson license a song for a European campaign. Looking back, we didn’t have the knowledge or expertise to launch the album in the correct way. Maybe if we had gone down this route with a label you may be asking me a whole lot of different questions right now.
I also joined a band called Powder Finger, they had gotten an advance or development deal from Phonogram. They were very professional and I recorded a lot with them all over the country. I also learned a bit about song writing in that band.
The reason for going solo is about creative control. I love being able to do what I want without any compromises on the way. I have already written the second album but am looking to get the band more involved in writing on the third album.
Tell us about your live set up, what can people expect if they come and see you live? And do you have any live shows coming up?
I have a great band around me, Mark Bates on drums, he’s a professional drummer from Nottingham, I have a fabulous keys player in Pete Larkin, he’s a natural talent and can play anything and 99% of the time its perfect. My guitarist is the youngest member of the band, Alex Dengate, he’s from Derby and the bass player is one of my oldest friends, Andrew Hill.
I think we are pretty true to the recordings so you can expect to hear the songs as they are on the record.
I am playing numerous Café Nero shows across England throughout October:
10/09/18 Cafe Nero Newgate Street London EC1A 7AE 12 midday
13/09/18 Cafe Nero Bull Ring Birmingham 12 midday
14/09/18 Cafe Nero Loughbourgh 12 midday17/08/18 Cafe Nero London SW1 4EN 12 midday
20/09/18 Cafe Nero Nottingham Kings Street 12 midday
24/09/18 Cafe Nero Picadilly W1J 0DJ 12 midday
28/09/18 Cafe Nero Portland Street Manchester 12 midday
05/10/18 Cafe Nero Lower Temple Street Birmingham (Album release day) 12 midday
05/10/18 The Malt Aston-on-Trent Derby (Album night launch gig full band free entry) 9pm
06/10/18 Cafe Nero Corn Market Derby 12 midday
06/10/18 HMV Derby 3pm