Working on the last two tracks of his debut album, the R&B artist gives advice on how to finish songs
The release of EPs Overture and Until Morning earned South London R&B artist James Vickery plenty of plaudits (not to mention more than 80 million streams) and that hot streak continued on his recent single Somewhere Out There, the first glimpse of his debut album.
Once again showcasing his raw and organic sound, as well as his unmistakable voice, both deeply rich and floaty light, the song is something of a beacon for anyone currently missing friends and loved ones. Enamoured with his music, we were keen to find out a little more about the magic under the hood of this fast-rising singer and songwriter…
WEEK COMMENCING 1 FEBRUARY 2021
I’m writing this a week after the release of the first single off my debut album. I used to find it weird writing a song so soon after releasing one. Releasing music as an artist feels like a form of completion almost but being a songwriter feels like there never is an end goal – although not something I’m complaining about at all.
At the time of writing this, there are two spots left on my album. I’ve written about 150 demos/full songs in the build-up to this debut album (yes I’ve counted). I think the problem is I’m such a perfectionist and even getting to where I am now and being happy with what I have currently is quite amazing.
This week I’m gonna talk to you about finishing songs. I feel like as a songwriter people don’t talk about this enough, people are quick to dismiss demos after a writing session and never develop the idea(s) to give them their full potential if they don’t land straight away. I think I have quite a good perception of what song has potential and what isn’t in my own project.
Pressure is a song I wrote with SG Lewis in 2019. It was a song born of something directly affecting my life at that time, and the lyrics in the song are a direct transcript of the conversation me and Sam (SG) were having prior to this, one of my favourite pieces of songwriting I’ve ever done. The song has performed so well and I’d be lying if there wasn’t a certain ‘pressure’ to live up to that (forgive the pun).
We have this song called Finally that we’re trying to finish. It’s completely different instrumentation and style to our previous song. It has a building synth in the verses and is very downtempo, an 85bpm drive, and I’m toying with the idea of leaving the drums out until the chorus which is over a minute into the song. The problem these days is that people’s attention spans don’t last long and streaming platform’s are curating playlists based on people’s engagement on staying on the song for a certain length of time. I quite enjoy the challenge of keeping people interested, as it teaches me to be better and more interesting melodically, and also give my lyrics more meaning, although it does mean the era of a two-minute swirling intro with a subtle tease of the filtered chorus motifs may be behind us.
Then there’s another song I’ve been trying to get right for a while. I’ve had it for well over a year. I realise I’m contradicting what I’m saying about having a good perception of a good demo…but this one is different. The reason I’m believing in it and holding onto is because of who I wrote it with. I can’t say who the co-writer is on it but it’s a female UK Alt-R&B singer – and also one of my favourite artists ever.
I was lucky enough to get a session with her due to a producer I work with a lot and the song is absolutely beautiful… but something isn’t quite right so far. It’s actually called Different and the concept is having a different type of love that no one else understands, and people think against it but the only people that need to worry are the two that are involved – and in that situation, it is about me.
I write near enough all my songs from a personal perspective and usually base them off my real-life experiences when I can, that’s when I feel I’m at my best as a songwriter. I’d encourage aspiring songwriters to follow that suit. You’d be surprised what beauty can be born from torrid heartbreak, it’s extremely therapeutic too. People always ask me about writer’s block, and I always say the same thing, it’s all very well going to a four-walled box room studio in Kings Cross and cramming out four songs in a day to pitch, but how are you ever going to write a song that matters? How are you going to write a song that stands the test of time? A song that you can look back at the end of your life and be like, ‘I am so proud of that’. There’s more to music than getting the bag in my eyes. Ultimately you want a song that can tell your story better than you can, words and music that speak for themselves.
Don’t be too hard on yourself as a songwriter, remember, fabricating stories is harder than telling stories that have already been lived. My advice to anyone struggling is… go out and live your life, go and get your heart broken, go sky-diving (if that floats your boat) whatever it is you need to go and feel something. Put yourself out there and do something that you can talk about later, I promise you, the words will flow on the paper and the chords will speak for themselves.
I’m not saying I have by any means created a timeless piece of art that will stand the test of time but I’m confident that there are songs on my debut album that will make people, at least some people, feel something and I can be extremely proud of.