Ahead of his Leadmill show on Tuesday, rising star Jamie Woon talks to us about his stunning début album Mirrorwriting
Did your album turn out how you expected it might when you began the journey?
“Making a record was something I always wanted to do so in a way I’d been preparing for it for a while but mainly I had a sense I wanted to do a set of the best songs I had and I would try and produce it myself. I was making my living playing acoustic gigs, I didn’t have a deal when I started. There wasn’t a clear stylistic direction apart from a feeling I wanted to make a very produced, layered record, not a voice and guitar. I kept trying different things until I found a process and a set of sounds I thought fit the songs and complemented my voice.” Three years is a long time to make a record – are you indecisive or easily distracted? “I always thought it would take as long as it takes and I would know when it was finished. I wanted to have enough songs and a style which felt my own. It definitely took longer than I would have planned, but I wanted to feel I’d put everything into it and hadn’t compromised ideals.” In hindsight, was trying to make music this in depth in a shared house possibly not the best MO? “I don’t regret the way I made the record even if it was difficult at times. I loved living in that house so no regrets about that. There are distractions working at home, but on the plus side you have the luxury of time to experiment in different ways and not spending £400 a day on studios and engineers. I don’t think there are any completely perfect conditions for recording.”
You did hundreds of takes on some songs. How did you know when something was right? “I was doing hundreds of takes of vocals when I started... by the end I was doing one or two. Technology allows you to keep going forever before you commit the finished track. I would go until I wore myself out, splicing some takes together syllable by syllable, correcting the tuning of notes, trying to perfect something imperfect. I don’t know exactly why, but imperfections really bugged me to begin with. Perhaps there was a sense of wanting to find my own edges and match what I think my voice sounds like with what it actually sounds like on record. I got bored of working like that eventually – it’s definitely more satisfying to put something down and commit faster.” You brought the outside in by recording the sound of a stream. What was the thinking behind using non-instruments such as wicker chairs to make music? “I love how democratically computers treat sounds. You can do the same thing to any sample whether it’s a snare drum or a wicker chair being smacked by a spatula. Two years into making the album, the first thing I did when I got my deal is rent a cottage in Cornwall by the sea for two months. That place was so beautiful, I was quite prolific there. I liked recording the surroundings and sinking the place into the soundscape as well as into the lyrics and got excited by the layers of meaning you can inject.” Some musicians claim their music echoes what’s happening inside their head. What would you say Mirrorwriting says of you? “I find it difficult to disassociate myself from the music. I can see my record says something about the extremes of where my head can go, positive and negative, of the kind of things that move me, my anxieties, things I strive for and things I find beautiful. I’d say it’s reads like a self-aware person, aiming to become less self-obsessed.” Was there a commercial consideration or was it a case of finally let go and see where it takes you? “I’ve always liked pop music and consider what I do pop. I wanted to make the best record on my own terms and then release it, to see what happens. I wanted it to have a chance to be heard. Releasing it was a great feeling, it could be quite addictive. The charts don’t really interest me, though – they don’t mean as much as when I was young.” Bearing in mind how long it has taken to make the record, how do you go about recreating it on stage? “I’m now playing in a four-piece band with a drummer and two synth player/guitarists using the sounds I think are important from the record. I’d say we’ve beefed up the grooves and play funkier live... the record as it is is a little too fragile, I think.”