James Beau Barclay describes himself as a zany guy with an eye for style and an ear for melody. We second that – at least the part about the eye and the ear. When he’s not busking the streets of London he’s busy producing music and creating his own artwork.
We had an in-depth interview with James Beau Barclay about his production process, staying zen at live shows, the symbiosis of design & music and much more. Read on!
What made you get into making music? What was your biggest influence when starting out?
I first started playing guitar at 9 years old, however I coasted through lessons for years without any real enthusiasm. I only really developed a love for music when I started singing as well as playing . The first time I remember getting really excited is when I learned to play and sing “Failure” by Laura Marling. I must have been about 13 and I played it non stop for weeks. Following that I got really into finger-style guitar playing, learning songs by José Gonzales, Fleet Foxes and Ben Howard. I enjoyed the challenge of mastering the complex guitar parts then learning to sing the melody on top! I aim to return to this style with my next single – just me and an acoustic guitar.
When you look back to your first release: In regards of how you produce and release music, what would you say changed the most since then?
Well, I originally released my new single ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ over 4 years ago, so you can listen to the difference yourself! (Listen to the old version here and new version below.) It’s nice to hear how much my music has developed since then. Back then I wasn’t yet working with drum samples, I was using garage band and had little to no production skills.
I now have a much more developed process, I spend a lot more time working out what kind of sound I want to achieve on each track. I use reference tracks to inspire and guide my sound, and seek advice and support from my musical friends and network. There is so much to learn and I still have a long way to go in terms of making my songs sound how I want them to! I have realized there are certain levels of production I won’t be able to reach alone so I will be producing a few upcoming singles with help from some producer friends.
You have released an EP and 3 Singles so far – are you planning on doing an album or did streaming really kill the album format?
So, this year I am planning to release a new song each month. I have a backlog of half finished songs that i’ve been sitting on for a couple of years and for me the only way to get them finished was to set regular deadlines. When I realized my debut EP with WhiteBedroomRecords in 2016, I was doing all nighters to get stuff finished – sometimes that’s what is needed to create good stuff and it doesn’t happen without a target! Having regular releases also keeps me inspired and continual feedback helps me work on my sound and continue to improve my work for each new release. If the song a month thing goes to plan I should have 12 songs by the end of the year – I will then compile them and release an album in 2020!
I will also be producing a new album artwork each month, editing the same photo for each new tune. I am a designer and illustrator. Design and music have always worked in a kind of symbiosis for me, without one the other becomes stale and sometimes overwhelming.
I do find it a little sad that people are more likely to be listening to music on a playlist than an album these days. When you really love an album you feel a really personal connection to the artist. I believe one of the most beautiful aspects of music listening is the indirect relationships we form with an artist, their albums creating their own narrative in our lives. I still make a point of trying to listen to an artist’s full album, however it can be really difficult to stay committed when there is an endless stream of new music at your fingertips!
In my first year of university I actually designed an app that was aimed at increasing listeners loyalty to artists using audiovisuals that grow the more you listen to an artist and especially to a full album. If you are interested in learning more about this project then check it out.
Do you have some insights on conducting an efficient music production?
I have found myself being very inefficient while creating as I get stuck trying to get one part of a song completely perfect. To remedy this I started giving myself mini deadlines to stick to within creating a track, for example record guitar for 45 mins, EQ / compress guitar 15 mins, write lyrics 30 mins etc. Without this, I will spend way too long on one section and not make any real progress – this also keeps the production process interesting and enjoyable!
I saw on your Instagram that you’re also busking. Can you tell us more about that? Any anecdotes you’d like to share?
Yeah! I used to do a lot of busking – I love it, leaving the house in the morning with my guitar, being outdoors singing all day, then returning home with money in your pocket is great! I spent the summer after I finished at uni busking 4 or 5 times a week and was pleasantly surprised I could live off what I was earning (much to the annoyance of my friends with less bohemian jobs). Although I found that I improved hugely as a performer, singing for up to 6 hours a day, day after day was not sustainable for my voice and busking is no longer such a big commitment for me. That said, I still get back to it from time to time – so keep an eye out for me on the streets this summer!
One time while busking at Paddington Station Will Young came to say hello! I didn’t recognize him at first, but then realized and exclaimed: ‘Will Young!?!’ He replied, ’Haha yes.. I love your music mate, I will show my manager!’, He then bought two CDs off me for £20 (double the asking price). I never did hear back though…
My final project whilst studying design at Goldsmiths was actually based around busking and mental health. I went out busking for anxieties instead of money and I then created songs from the anxieties to give back to the people who donated them. My aim was to present anxiety as a public issue not a personal one and used music as vehicle to address the taboo surrounding anxiety. You can find out more about this project here.
What are the most important factors in keeping a show hassle-free?
I can get very stressed out at a big show but I have learned to accept the show is never going to be perfect. There will always be things that will go wrong and once you accept that you can relax, this will then lead to a better performance!
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