Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Archive Interview #15 - James Skelly

As part of an occasional series I'll be posting archive interviews, pieces and reviews I've done for other sites over the years. This is a short but sweet interview I did with James Skelly (The Coral) centred around the release of his Love Undercover LP back in 2013. The Interview originally appeared on Subba-Cultcha.


June 3rd sees the release of Love Undercover, the debut album by James Skelly & The Intenders. Skelly is best known as the main vocalist and songwriter in The Coral, a band that have released a string of critically acclaimed albums, gaining Mercury nominations and the respect of their peers along the way. It's now three years since the last album Butterfly House. With no new Coral material on the horizon, having abandoned sessions with producer John Leckie for a sixth album half way through, the various members have kept themselves busy with side projects and solo albums. James' brother (and Coral drummer) Ian recently released his his album Cut From A Star, a record that maintains the Coral's gentle psychedelia. Hot on its heels comes older brother James' effort with new backing band The Intenders. It's an altogether more soulful, rootsy affair. though with just enough of The Coral's folk-rock to keep the faithful happy. Keen to point out that it's a group effort, the band will be touring throughout the summer (dates below). We caught up with James prior to the album's release to talk soul music, psych bands and gap years.


Harmonic Distortion – The album's opening track “You've Got It All” was co-written with Paul Weller. How did that come about and what's he like to work with?

James Skelly - He sent me a demo, but it had no words on it. He asked me if I could finish it, so I wrote the words and the chorus, and then we finished it in his studio. Ian loved the song and thought it would be right for the album, so I rang Weller and asked him if I could use it. He said yes.                                              
HD – There's are real live band dynamic on the album, and I know you're keen to point out the rest of the band's input on the album. Who have you got playing on the record and was there an instant chemistry when you all first got together in the rehearsal room?

JS - I played guitar & vocals, Paul Duffy - guitar, organ, & vocals, Alfie Skelly - guitar, Nick Power-piano, Ian Skelly - drums, James Redmond -bass. We've all played with each other before and we're all close friends, so it was very natural.                                                                                                                                                                                        
HD – You've worked with some big name producers in the past, whereas this record is self-produced. You obviously feel at home in the studio, are there any plans to do any more production work either for yourself for other artists?

JS - Yes, I love being in the studio and I've been working with a couple of young bands, Sundowners and The Circles, It's something I’d like to get into.                                                                                                                              
HD – Without going as far as to call Love Undercover a soul album, there's a definite Northern Soul/R&B vibe going on. Would that be an indication of what you've been listening to recently?

JS - I've always loved blues and soul music, I go through phases but that’s what I always go back to.                                    
HD – I'm really enjoying your song “Searching For The Sun”, could you tell us a little bit about how you wrote the song and what inspired it.

JS - I've had that song for a while, we demoed it with The Coral, then I demoed it. I ended up with something inbetween the two versions.               

HD – The songs on Love Undercover come across as less oblique than your songs for The Coral, there's a tenderness and warmth to a lot of the songs too. It seems to me these songs are a lot more personal than much of your previous work, would that be a fair observation?

JS - I'd say the songs are more direct. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter. I thought the lyrics on Butterfly House were as good as I was going to get in that style, so I felt it was time for a change.   
                                                            
HD – I'd say there's a good case to be made for having one of the most instantly recognisable male voices from the last decade with Love Undercover containing some of your best vocal performances, there seems to be a real sense of spontaneity and joy in them. Who would you say were your main influences as a vocalist?

JS - Van Morrison, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Spector, Dion DiMucci, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Ben E. King, Robert Johnson, Willie Deville, I could go on, but I'll leave it there.                                                                                                                                                            
HD - Would you say there was less pressure and expectation on this record than say there would be on a Coral album?

JS - In a way, because I only had to answer to myself, but I'm my harshest critic, so it didn’t make a big difference.              

HD – Sorry to bring up the C-word but I have to ask, it's three years since Butterfly House was released, is there likely to be another Coral album or tour at any time in the near future?

JS - Yes, I hope so, it has to be right though, I wouldn’t want to do it just for the sake of it.                                                          
HD – Your song “I'm A Man” has that Arthur Lee-style Mariachi vibe on it, I'm assuming you still dig Love, Beefheart and all? Do you keep up with any of the current crop of psychedelic flavoured acts such Temples or Jacco Gardner?

JS - I've heard Temples, it's good but there's a lot of lo-fi stuff around, I’m waiting for a young band to come and smash it.

HD – The song “Darkest Days” is a sublime ending to the record, with warm sentiments that characterise much of the album. Do you find yourself getting more drawn towards introspection as you get older?

JS - I've always been like that, I'm just hiding it less these days.                                                                                          
HD – You've been releasing critically acclaimed music for over twelve years. So many flavour-of-the-month bands have come and gone, yet you're still around, without courting the gossip columns, and still making great music. What do you put this longevity down to?

JS - I'd still be doing it even if no one was listening. It's all I know. I get the impression a lot of bands are just on a gap year.