JAMES HERSEY; THE CREATION OF WATERCOLOUR MELODIES words Hugo Fernandes - photography Joe Magowan - fashion Sophie Emmett
Born in Austria and currently based in Berlin, singer-songwriter James Hersey is the kind of artist you should most definitely get to know. With heartwarming and soul-grabbing lyrics and a hypnotising voice, this contemporary storyteller has the ability to seemingly effortlessly hook you by the heart through his watercolour melodies. His creative process is somewhat unique as Hersey allows himself to navigate his own experiences and surroundings to create truly heartfelt songs that can be categorised as quirky hits. James is one of a kind as he brings together the freshness of synths and gentle beats with his old-romantic soul.
After supporting huge Canadian band Metric on their latest European tour” - which ended just a few weeks ago - we had the opportunity to meet with this brilliant and captivating young man for a chat about coming-of-age, music, and much more.
Hugo Fernandes: Hi James. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to us. We know you've been touring recently and with a packed schedule. Let's start from the beginning; tell us a bit about you. Where are you originally from? James Hersey: I was raised in and around Vienna, Austria.
H.F: Are you still based there? J.H: I left Vienna in 2011 to travel and find a home for myself - first around the US, then around Europe, where I’ve been based out of Berlin since 2016.
H.F: How did you get into music? Was it something that happened at an early age? J.H: I started playing in bands when I was eleven years old. I did alright in school but took a year off to study jazz guitar at seventeen where I learned the skills to arrange and produce my first self-released EP in 2010. A couple songs on local alternative radio meant I was able to further pursue my dream, and, I’ve pretty much stayed the course since then.
H.F: How was it growing up for you? Any interesting or fun story you could share with us? J.H: My parents pushed my siblings and me to play instruments from a young age, and I started recording myself on cassette tape as soon as I could sing. I remember making literal mix-tapes for my girlfriend when I was fourteen years old, recording mini-covers between actual recordings of our favourite songs. I’m sure it was so bad, but I loved it anyway.
James wears jacket SCOTCH & SODA; t-shirt and trousers JAMES' OWN
H.F: Where does your love for music come from? What were your influences growing up? J.H: My family was very musical. My dad played a lot of guitar at home, mostly folk and pop songs from his youth, and my mom (she’s Austrian) would sing songs in German with us. I’m sure those two are my biggest influences in becoming a musician. Beyond that I listened to so much different music growing up, everything from melodic punk-rock to lo-fi hip-hop, I loved it all.
H.F: Can you describe your music in a few words? J.H: I tell stories from an angle that a lot of people recognise in their own lives and i try my best to package them in interesting ways. Right now I’m calling it watercolour music, because influences and ideas flow naturally into one another without boundaries.
H.F: You’ve just finished a pretty lengthy European tour. How has it been? J.H: The tour was great. I was very lucky to play in front of so many people on my first tour back since Miss You (2016). It’s not easy to live in such close quarters for that amount of time - 19 shows in just over three weeks - but I pride myself on choosing the right team for those situations, and this time it worked out almost perfectly.
H.F: Which city has been the most memorable to you this time around? J.H: I think the city I’d most likely come back to visit on my own time would be Glasgow. The gentle-rolling-hills and people, coupled with the drama of the low-lying sun. It was romantic in just the right way.
James wears jacket R.M.WILLIAMS; denim trousers JAMES' OWN
H.F: Do you have any music icons? J.H: As a kid, I was obsessed with Michael and Freddie, later on, it was Paul and John. A lot of people, but especially their songs, moved me to do what I do.
H.F: Where do you find your inspiration when writing? J.H: I have a lot of long conversations with friends, and when I’m in a writing mood I’ll ask a lot of detailed questions. I’m a curious guy, and love to make music that people enjoy, so it all plays into itself pretty well. Also a great chord progression or drum beat can move me to write almost immediately.
H.F: Do you have any particular thing you do when creating your music? Like a ritual. J.H: As a rule, I’ll never work on a song without picking up an acoustic guitar. It’s my kind of quality control. If it works with just a few chords and a voice, it’s a tune.
H.F: 'Real For You' is just beautiful and captivating. Can you tell us a bit about it? The process behind it and the response so far? J.H: Thank you. I wrote it in Spain over many cups of coffee and conversations with my good friend Narou. I started the beat and chord progression, and he took over to let me start writing lyrics with a guitar. It sounded more and more like a big record quickly, and when the chorus idea came around it was clear this one could open the door for the next chapter.
H.F: What are your plans like now that your tour is over? J.H: I was back in the studio pretty much right off the plane, and I’ll be back on tour again in January/February supporting Jeremy Loops. We’re releasing my second EP in March, and I’ll be alternating shows and studio-time through summer.
H.F: That sounds so exciting! Are you working on anything new at the moment? J.H: It’s my full intention to release my first worldwide album at the end of 2019, so I’m already putting together demos now as we go into full gear for the EP. It’s strange to be working on even newer music before this next body of work comes out, but once you’ve found a direction it’s important not to lose momentum.
James wears jacket ULLAC
H.F: Is there another musician in which you would love to collaborate with? J.H: I think if I could choose anyone to work with right now it would still first be Paul, even if we just wrote a goofy country tune. In terms of modern artists I would say; Frank Ocean, Alessia Cara, Tom Misch, Billie Eilish. There’s so much good music out there now it’s hard to pin down, honestly.
H.F: Can you tell us something about you people don’t know yet? J.H: I’m an aspiring online chess player and intend to start playing live tournaments within the next year, so look out Magnus, I’m coming for you. [Laughs]
H.F: Last but not least, we have a signature questions we always ask: What is your favourite F-word? J.H: Filter. So many layers to this word and its importance, especially nowadays.
Words: Hugo Fernandes
Photography: Joe Magowan
Fashion: Sophie Emmett
James wears jacket ULLAC; denim trousers JAMES' OWN; sneakers PUMA