Collection: JAMES ELKINGTON
In 2020 I released an album called ‘Ever-Roving Eye’ which I was pretty happy with. I’d set out to make a record that was representative of me, and that also reflected my adoration of British folk heroes like Davy Graham and Bert Jansch, and that’s what I’d done. I had an idea of what I should do after that, and got to work on a record of solo guitar instrumentals and songs which I code-named Me Neither. Pretty funny title for a solo guitar record, right? Maybe not, I suppose. Anyway, it was not good. Even after a year of tweaking, editing and rewriting, I still had a fairly ponderous and dull collection on my hands. It didn’t have much to do with why I started making music in the first place, and I was very, very bored with it. At that time, Covid was also digging its heels in, I was about to turn 50, and I wasn’t sure how to un-paint myself out of the corner I had painted myself into. So I took a break and started listening to music again just for the joy of listening to it.
What music did I listen to? Not that important. What was important was that in all the music I was enjoying, I could tell the musicians involved didn’t care whether I liked it or not. It seemed to be mostly made for them. The records were filled with mistakes, happy accidents, excursions, experiments, failed experiments, pretension, honesty, technical difficulty, in-jokes, wonder and joy. It wasn’t as if I’d purposefully left these qualities out of what I was doing, but I was frequently skipping a lot of them, so I thought I’d start over and make a record that had a different approach, reached for a different sound, and tapped into some of the qualities I’d always loved about people making music.
That all sounds great, Jim, you’re no doubt thinking. Let’s have a listen to that! Well, this record isn’t that record. That record was started in 2021 and is still being worked on in 2023. It’ll get there, but who knows when. In the meantime, my friend Nathan Salsburg made good on the promise that he’d make another duo record with me, so at the end of 2022 we wrote and recorded one in my studio, Nada Studio (named by Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab who noticed I didn’t have any good recording equipment - ‘it’s not a studio’, she observed). This isn’t that record either. That one is done and it’s coming out next year. Turned out great.
No, what we’re talking about here is the record I made after everything I just told you about, and I wouldn’t have been able to make it without making the others.
Earlier this year I started writing music for which there was no purpose, as far as I could tell. The first piece I wrote was called ‘No-Shows’ and, fittingly, it’s the first song on the new record. It had an improvised herky-jerky melody with a finger-style guitar accompaniment, a recording of a train going past my house, and Morricone-esque fuzz-wah guitar at the end. I didn’t know what it was other than I liked doing it and I hadn’t tried it before. ‘No-Shows’ became the model for a new way of working for me: I’d improvise and record the first thing that came into my head, quickly record something else on top of that, try to add some random elements, edit it and mix it, then stop before it had the chance to get stale. The only rules I gave myself were that I should make most of the sounds with a guitar, changing the speed or processing the recordings afterwards to get the effect I was looking for. I think I was hoping it would sound more like how electronic music sounded when it was mostly made from tape-manipulation in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Sometimes the pieces would work, sometimes they would crash and burn, but as I was working this way I started remembering little bits of guitar music I’d written that I’d never been able to use, and they started to find their way in. Ideas for possible cover versions (Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All”) and different ways of recording also found their way in. I was making a record for an audience of one, and it felt completely liberating.
After a month of mornings spent like this I had a short album (disc one of the two) but I felt like there was more exploration to be done, so I continued and made another shortly after. About halfway through the second record I was wondering who could use music like this, and it occurred to me that it could be something like library music, even though it didn’t sound much like it. Library music is written and performed to be a resource for companies who can use it how they like. And if you’re writing this library music, you don’t have to know what it’s for - that can be someone else’s job. Even more liberating. Then I noticed that this was the first solo record I hadn’t sung on, and that I’d swapped a lot of my usual writing habits for hasty improvisations, in the hopes that I could be less the person making the music, and more the person that was listening to it for the first time. If I allowed my subconscious to take over, there would be more space for me to be surprised at the end if it - as if I wasn’t even there in the music. And then I remembered I had a pretty funny title I could use for a record like that, right? Maybe not, I suppose…
- James Elkington, October 2023
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