With a nationwide tour kicking off this week, and a new EP out next month, Taranaki indie-folk artist Graeme James, mentioned by Rolling Stone in the same sentence as Nathaniel Rateliff and Phoebe Bridgers, is back from Europe and ready to reconnect with fans. But first he faces our 10 questions.
Describe your sound in one sentence.
Indie folk with deep roots in various folk music traditions.
How did the events of the past year or so affect your music-making?
While it hasn't been easy being a musician during the many European lockdowns I can honestly say that it has been such a wonderfully transformative time for me as an artist.
Attempting to capture the essence of each season by writing, recording and releasing 24 songs over the course of a year was a huge creative challenge - and it certainly pushed me to my limits.
But to have had the time and space to work on my craft as a recording artist for a whole year was an incredible privilege and one that I am so thankful for.
What inspired your seasons project - and which season best fits your own emotional landscape?
Upon moving to The Netherlands in 2018 I was immediately struck by how much more distinct the Northern European seasons are than they are in most of New Zealand. I've always thought that the seasons are particularly rich with metaphors for human existence, and the experience of being there ended up inspiring a very rich period of songwriting which formed the backbone of the whole project.
My favourite season is winter but I think that my emotional landscape is probably best matched to spring. I'm always on the lookout for new possibilities and ideas. I certainly have my "winter moments" but in general my outlook on life tends to be pretty positive and hopeful.
What one song do you most enjoy playing live and why?
Though I've been touring for some time now, the performer in me still loves connecting with the audience and for that reason I really love playing some of my older material. If I had to pick one song it would probably be my first ever original single Alive which I have probably performed a couple of thousand times by now!
How does tour life in Europe compare to being on the road back home?
Europe is really quite condensed so you might cross through four or five countries in the same time it takes to drive from Auckland to Wellington.
I love touring New Zealand for the absolutely gorgeous geographic variations and I love touring Europe for the cultural variations and the deep sense of history.
What advice would you give to a young musician starting out?
Do do do! Don't think too much - just do. Fear is the thing that kills most artistic dreams. You can feel like the whole world is looking at you and judging your every move - but the liberating truth is that no one really cares that much. Turn off the critic in your own mind and just get on with making things you enjoy listening to. If you create something you truly like then there's a good chance you'll find an audience for that thing - but if you're only trying to find an audience you'll end up chasing the wind and creating nothing of real value.
What one change would you make to the NZ music scene if you could?
More participation and exposure for women in literally every area of the industry. As a testament to the talent in this country, all our biggest music exports in recent years have been women - but there is still so so much talent that is going unrecognised and is unsupported. I feel like New Zealand deserves to hear all of the best music we can make.
If you could only own and play one instrument which would it be and why?
Even though I'm fairly competent on some reasonably exotic instruments like the violin - I think I'd go with the humble guitar. There's nothing like having a good ol' strum.
What one song by another artist do you wish you'd written and why?
Harvest Moon by Neil Young. It's a profoundly simple song but it completely captures how I'd like to feel in 20 years' time.
You're curating a music festival - who's on the bill, alive or dead?
I'm going to presume it's while the borders are still closed so I'm just gonna pick all my favourite NZ folk(-ish) artists and put them all in one place and make them jam together. The first announcement would have to include Aldous Harding, Marlon Williams, Nadia Reid, Tiny Ruins, French for Rabbits & Delaney Davidson. More to be announced soon!
• Graeme James Seasons Tour: Nelson - June 25, Wanaka - July 3, Christchurch - July 10, Picton - July 11, Wellington - July 17, Palmerston North - July 23, Queenstown - July 24, Tauranga - July 29, New Plymouth - July 31, Taupo - August 1, Hamilton - August 6 and Auckland - August 13. EP Field Notes on an Endless Day is out July 30.