Tuesday, October 02, 2007
An Interview with James Chapman
MAPS is the one-man project of Northampton-bred electro genius James Chapman, a modest and insular man, who is as shell-shocked by his recent success as any hard line critic would be. After the recent nomination for the coveted Nationwide Mercury Music Prize (controversially won by KLAXONS for their extravagant debut “Myths of the Near Future”), Chapman, 28, finds himself at the center of a media frenzy as he briefly tours the States for the first time in his career, making select stops in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
I had the amazing opportunity, along with a few other music journalists, to sit down with Chapman for a roundtable discussion at Mute Records in Manhattan for a fairly intimate conversation about, among other things, his background, the U.S. tour, and “We Can Create”, the album that got him shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize.
James Chapman was not the typical kid growing up in the large market town of Northampton, England. While other boys were outside playing football, James was squeaking away at the violin, starting at the age of 6. In his teens he started playing in a band that, according to Chapman, was in the vein of The Stone Roses, though the lead singer was apparently tone deaf, hindering the band’s prolonged success. The demise of the band led to Chapman writing songs on his own, along the way adding percussion, keyboards, guitar, drums and the recorder to his musical palette.
Chapman sites many influences, beginning with the obvious - My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized and The Stone Roses, but finds most of his current sonic stimulation in more electronic acts, such as The Field, M83 and Fourtet. As of late he has also been quite taken with acts like Deerhunter, Animal Collective and Caribou.
The debut album “We Can Create” was recorded alone in Chapman’s bedroom onto a 16-track recorder. After sending demos out to a couple of record labels, Chapman was stunned to find out that Mute Records were profoundly impressed with the homemade CD.
James says, “Mute were really interested, just from these really primitive demos. I was just lucky for them to get to listen to it. Daniel Miller (founder of Mute Records) came to my house on the strength of these CD’s that he heard. He was checking out my little studio and stuff. [It was] pretty intense.”
Miller quickly summoned Chapman to London, where he met with critically acclaimed producer Valgeir Sigurdsson, who has over the years worked heavily with Bjork, as well as Bonnie Prince Billy and Sigur Ros just to name a few. Discovering a common musical dialogue, the pair quickly hit it off and fled to an isolated studio in Iceland to add more cinematic layers to the homemade recordings.
“We basically took what I had done in my bedroom and just added to it. We kind of played around with the instrumentation and beats and things. We did stuff I could have never done on my own in my bedroom, like adding live strings and live brass. It’d be hard to fit that in my bedroom. It could have been weird, but he was so cool and so nice to work with, it just worked out really well. We were into the same kind of music. Just chatting with him, I think we just really clicked.
Iceland was amazing as well. It was amazing to wake up and see all these snowy mountains. It was quite different from Northampton. I was in Reykjavik. It was just outside the main city, so we were kind of still pretty isolated. We could just lock ourselves away. It was kind of similar to how I work at home. I like to just disconnect from everything and not have the phone ringing. It was just right.”
When asked what it was like to perform at the Mercury Music Prize award show, which was hosted by Jools Holland and televised on the BBC, James comes clean.
“It was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my entire life. I was shaking backstage. Since being nominated, I don’t think it ever truly really sunk in until the day that I actually got there. I saw all the tables set out and the massive video screens, I was like, whoa! This is really happening. And that’s when the nerves started to really kick in. But it turned out okay.”
It may be jumping the gun a bit, but with all the acclaim surrounding the debut, it feels only natural to look ahead at what we can expect from Maps in the future.
“With the second record, I definitely want to go along the same lines as I did with the first. I find that’s the best way I work. I’ve tried writing with bands before and it just doesn’t work. I definitely just- I love to lock myself away, stay up all night and immerse myself in it. I think it’s going to be more electronic and probably harder sounding. (jokingly) It could be a hardcore trance album. We’ll wait and see.”
Later that evening I caught Maps’ live show at The Bowery Ballroom. Joined by a full band, Chapman’s isolated bedroom recordings take on a more rigorous and primal feel, at times truly rocking the house. I was really intrigued as to how the album would be translated in a live setting.
Chapman explains, “It took awhile to get it right, really. I had been doing it in my bedroom for so long. I’ve never even sung anywhere apart from my bedroom, so it was quite a big step to get up on stage and sing. But I had to make a decision whether to go with a laptop and just me or get a band. I really wanted to get a band because I thought it was more interesting for everyone. For the audience and just us playing as well. It took awhile. It’s taken a few different line-ups. But I think we’ve got a really solid unit now. It’s the best it’s ever been. It’s quite a different experience.”
Maps’ latest single ‘To the Sky’ is out this month on Mute Records. The album “We Can Create” is available now worldwide.
All photos by Scot Bowman