Sivu (aka James Page) traces the familiar with a distinct flavour of his own merit – shaped from experience, wrought by matters of a greater existence and expressed as emotional burrows into the essence of the human condition. Born in St Ives, relocation has seen the singer/songwriter move between the city and the further reaches of the countryside. Where we find the artist today is in a place of security and truth, launching this new period is a short run of intimate UK shows and a reflective keepsake to times gone by, the recently released single ‘Childhood Home’, taken from Sivu’s sophomore album ‘Sweet Sweet Silent’ due 7th July.
We talk to the artist in depth about what went into the making of his upcoming release, working alongside his creative partner, producer and friend Charlie Andrew, re-evaluating how he approached his artistry and why Matt Maltese is a genius.
Charlotte Holroyd: Firstly, I wanted to say welcome back to Manchester.
James Page: “Thank you very much.”
CH: How are you feeling about today’s show?
JP: “Yeah I’m feeling really excited actually. Do you know I haven’t played here in like two years so [this is] the first headline show again, and I was quite nervous about if anyone [would] come but we’ll see. The venue’s really nice and it’s an acoustic set so it should be fine. So yeah it’ll be good, I’m excited.”
CH: ‘Childhood House’ was the first track you released of your new material, why was this the track to lead with?
JP: “I felt like because it had been so long [between releases] … the album’s quite diverse but I wanted to start with something quite intimate because the whole record is quite live and performed, and I just felt that that song was quite a subtle way to introduce it. [‘Childhood House’ is] very unassuming, it’s not flashy in any way, and I just thought that would be a nice way to bring everything back. Then with the video, we had this idea of using photos from [the] making [of] the record and past photos, it just seemed quite nostalgic … it seemed to sum up the last two years nicely, I think. We were looking at the tracks and we were like ‘Well, do we go with the big single first or perhaps, a bigger song on the record?”, but we just decided to start small. Which I think has worked.”
CH: The first album is a crucial point in your story; when you reflect upon ‘Something On High’, today. What are your thoughts and feelings towards the record?
JP: “It’s so strange because thinking back to that record now … I’m really proud of it. I was definitely sure of what I was doing, I was really excited about it but as an artist, as a writer, I think I was very insecure maybe, perhaps I was looking around at everyone else a little more. I was looking at it more for approval I think; I guess that comes with age and things as well but I definitely wasn’t 100% sure of myself, I think. I made the record I wanted to make, I worked with the people I wanted to but I feel a lot more confident, more assured now of my writing. I’m really proud of [‘Something on High’] all the same, but time has made me look back on it and think ‘Yeah that’s how I was feeling then’ but now I think the things I was worried about before, I’m not so much worried about [now]. Does that make sense?”
CH: “Yeah like older and wiser?”
JP: “Yeah I think that’s exactly what it is. I’m older now, I’m sure everyone feels like that, but I think now I just look back and think, the things I cared about before, I don’t really care about anymore but obviously you just have to go through that.”
CH: You’ve mentioned in other interviews, that you took some time out to really focus on what you wanted to convey with this new album before you launched into production. What changed to prompt this contemplation?
JP: “So what happened was I put [‘Something on High’] out in 2014 and I had a band with me; I used to play with a band and it made the album very produced. That first album was built in the studio, so I went into the studio with an acoustic guitar and we built up from that. Then I toured for six weeks with my guitar player Lucy in 2015, we did six weeks just the two of us and it was all stripped back, just acoustic, just because of the size of the venues so it made sense.
“I think after playing those really intimate shows and everything really pulled back, I think I felt like the songs connected more with an audience, the response was a lot more positive, more than anything else we’d done perhaps with the band, and I kind of thought that maybe we were dressing things up a bit too much. I think in the studio its fine but I just thought maybe the songs weren’t connecting as well [in the live context].
“I just had this urge to pull everything back; I was signed to Atlantic at the time and I left there so I didn’t have a label, I didn’t know what I was going to do to be honest, I was kind of out on a limb so I just decided to pull everything back and I just wrote. I didn’t even know if there was going to be another Sivu record, I just wrote and then Charlie [Andrew] heard some tracks and was like ‘Look, let’s record’ and we both really felt like it had to be live. We didn’t want to over think this record, like vocal and guitar we just track it all live, so everything was less considered which was a really refreshing way to be, when before everything was so considered (including artwork, videos, everything).”
CH: So how does the current live show reflect you as an artist today?
JP: “I think it’s very much me and a guitar. I would love to get more of us back again [on stage] but I think this is definitely like how the songs were wrote and very much true to how they are on the record. There’s more orchestral stuff on this album than ever before, there’s drums and guitar but I think the core of the songs are very much there. With the first record, perhaps that wasn’t so much the case, we tweaked things in the studio, where this, this is very much how they were intended. So I think it’s quite an audience refection of the record at a gig.”
CH: Do you ever set parameters when working on a new Sivu track?
JP: “Not really. I think perhaps we might have a goal or an example of things that we’d like it to be in line with but not really. Working with Charlie Andrew, there’s never parameters because everything you say, he’ll go ‘No, try this’ because he just comes at things in such an interesting way that sometimes you might have an idea in your mind and he’ll be like ‘Well have you thought about this…’ and flips everything on your head. So whenever you go in [to the studio] with Charlie, any parameters get broken quite quickly.”
CH: “That’s great!”
JP: “Yeah exactly, it’s the best.”
CH: When needling together a lyric or a melody, is there a point in the process where you realise that what you’ve just written will be the starter for a new song?
JP: “I think you get a feel when something feels really right. I have a tendency; I’m sure other people feel the same, but you can over think things and when you start to over think it that’s when the excitement goes. If something comes together quite quickly for me, I think I kinda feel that that feels right, if it’s come together and I’m excited by it, that’s always a real treat. Whether it’s a good song or not, if it’s exciting to write I think it’s worth pursuing.”
CH: What is a good song, in your opinion? I know it’s a loaded question, I’m thinking about the qualities that influence your work or the elements that draw you in when hearing another artist’s song…
JP: “Wow that’s such a good question. For me, it has to do something visually, it has to take me somewhere else and I think someone like Richard Hawley or you know, someone like a real romantic kind of thing. Have you heard of Matt Maltese before?”
JP: “He’s got that song ‘When the World Caves In’ and that song to me is like perfection. I heard that and I was like ‘He’s a genius’, and you know how that song is so romantic and so beautiful, it’s the same thing like an Elbow song, it’s just so simple and I think that for me at the moment is … perhaps in the past, production is what I was really drawn towards, like ‘Oh that’s a cool drum sound or a cool synth’. Now it’s about the song, I don’t know again if that’s just an age thing but that’s what draws me in more.”
CH: Was there a specific day that you can pinpoint when you realised you were working on album number two?
JP: “Yeah [there is] actually because I went into the studio with Charlie [Andrew] and we started working on a song called ‘Flies’ which is on the album, and that song was quite heavily produced, it was going in very much the same vein as the first album. We then spent three days in the studio and I had a song called ‘Blood Clots and Pheromones’ which is a new song on the album and I said to Charlie, ‘Can we just do it live?’ with him on the drums and me on the guitar, we literally just performed it, vocals, guitars, drums live in like an hour and we just added a little keyboard line on it, and that was it.
“We were both really more excited about that than this song we had spend two days working on, and we said ‘This is how the album needs to be made’, there was a six month gap between that and starting the album but I think we lived with that for ages and we both just said that ‘This just feels right’. The two days we spent on another track, it did end up going on the album but we pulled everything off it and that just seemed more exciting. So that was like the bed for the rest of the album.”
CH: You work very closely with producer Charlie Andrew, he is well known for his work with alt-J. You also have a connection to alt-J yourself, having featured on ‘Warm Foothills’ from their previous album. Now you both have a new record on the way – have you each been able to peak a listen at the other’s new material?
JP: “I’m sure they probably haven’t heard mine but I haven’t actually heard any of alt-J’s. As soon as we finished my album, Charlie went straight into the alt-J one and I know he’s excited about it. I’ve heard little bits, you know what actually I’ve only heard the songs that are out now [‘3WW’ and ‘In Cold Blood’], so I heard them two and they’re the only ones I heard before but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. Charlie’s really proud of it, and if Charlie’s really excited about it, then it means it’s probably going to be really really good. But no, I’m sure alt-J probably haven’t heard mine, I don’t think they would of. The best thing about Charlie is everything he works on, he’s really passionate about so I’m sure he would’ve mentioned it and same as Marika Hackman, he always wants to show you things because that’s just the way he is. It’s great.”
CH: You talk very openly about the struggle to break old habits and the drastic changes you made in an attempt to regain your sense of perspective when launching into this new album. What would be your advice to others who are struggling with similar issues?
JP: “I think just shaking things up was really important. I literally had to take a complete break from everything; I think it’s really easy to get wrapped up in yourself maybe a little bit. There’s this guy called Paul Thomas Saunders who I really love, and he does the exact same thing. He said that he spent all of his time listening to his own music, because you can become so over thought in it, it’s just not healthy. Like you have no reference for it, I was confused whether I was doing it because I loved it or because it was routine. I think just taking a step back sometimes is really important because you reflect on things.
“I didn’t pick up my guitar for a month and a half, I made myself listen to music I’ve never listened to, probably every day I would listen to something new, and that was what I found more exciting. Like this sounds really stupid but I used to hate the idea of a singer/songwriter but now I listen to that more than anything now. I would say just shake things up, listen to different things; I think definitely sometimes taking a step back is really important. Sometimes it’s frustrating or seems scary to take a step back but sometimes it’s really important. I would definitely do that again if I lost focus again.”
CH: Finally before I let you go, can we gloss over what you have coming up for the rest of the year?
JP: “Yeah absolutely. We’re doing this until tomorrow, this tour. Then the album is coming out in July so I think there will be another single coming out before then and we’ll hopefully be doing some shows around July. I think we’ll be doing like little in-stores maybe … so again same as this tour really, small little things. A tour in the autumn, I don’t know too much about that but we might be doing a co-headline tour with another artist but I’m not 100% confirmed on that yet, but definitely touring in the autumn.
“And then festivals, I’m doing Secret Garden Party and Barn on the Farm. That’s actually it, to be honest, because the live performance is so intimate and stripped back, I don’t really think I would really go down well at festivals [laughs] so we’re just keeping it quite small. That’s honestly it at the moment. I would like to tour again in the new year, maybe do some stuff in Europe and America but do you know what? Like now I just have no idea what’s going to happen, we’ll just see how the album goes down and see what people think, and if people want me to play, I’ll play. So we’ll see.”
The sophomore record ‘Sweet Sweet Silent’ from Sivu will be released on 7th July 2017 via Square Leg Records. Pre-order on iTunes now.