- 28 Jul 18
As he prepares for his massive summer series headliner, Gavin James tells Max Freebern about recording in Abbey Road, his soon-to-be-released new album Ð and how he deals with rude fans.
Gavin James is having a rough old day.
Despite his rising fame and recognition, Gavin isn't exempt from kind of travel inconveniences that afflict ordinary mortals. He's flown into London on a sweltering summer day, picked up a taxi and is now driving around searching for an ATM so that he can pay the irate cabbie his fare. At least he has his 27th birthday in a few days to look forward to.
"Oh, yeah, jeez, it's my 27th," he laughs. "I thought it was my 26th for a second. But, yeah, I'm joining the "27 Club" on July 5th!
"I'm going away for a little trip to St. Lucia, to get me tan," he continues. "I think I'm gonna have a nice drink from a coconut, a drink from a pineapple, write a few songs and just chill out really."
And what about a birthday cake?
"I'll see if I can can get one with my face on it... It'll have to be a massive one to fit me all in," he adds with a laugh. Before Gavin can enjoy his short respite, he has a brand new album to finish off - like, tonight!
He mentions this so casually that it seems like a joke at first, but no. It's true.
"It's 99.9% finished," he says cheerily. "I'm heading to the studio now and we're literally going to tweak all the last bits. I'm going to go get some sort of a drink, that maybe has rum in it, then come back here and finish it up. Then make a track list and, yeah, by tomorrow it should be finished."
Since his 2015 debut album, Bitter Pill, Gavin has released several singles that fans and critics alike have gobbled up. They will all feature on the eagerly-awaited follow-up.
In November 2017, he diverged from his usual soulful ballads with upbeat banger, 'Hearts On Fire'. He doesn't mind us comparing it to the work of a certain Asbury Park, New Jersey native.
"I went to go see Bruce Springsteen twice in Croke Park and kind of lost my mind a bit," he concurs. "I went through a bit - well, a lot - of a Springsteen phase that I couldn't get out of (laughs). I have a lot of ballads and wanted to have one song that people are guaranteed to bounce around to at gigs.
'Hearts On Fire' was followed in May of this year by 'Always', a return to his more melancholic roots. Gavin says it was his lack of skill as a pianist that led to the song's crucial chords. I don't believe him! He is actually quite a dexterous tickler of the ivories!
"I kind of fucked it up," he insists, "but somehow it actually sounded good. Subject-wise, I kind of wrote about making a big mistake in a relationship, which everyone does - ending it and then trying to get the person back. I've heard people think it's about a relative that's passed. I like to keep it open for others to interpret."
Gavin is still on a major high following a visit earlier in the week to the legendary Abbey Road recording studio.
"It was amazing," he enthuses. "I got to play on the 'Penny Lane' piano. I'm a massive Beatles fan. I watched Eight Days A Week just before we went in. So when I walked in I saw that not much had changed, like the Paul McCartney mic. I was using that and was like, 'Oh my god, I can't even touch it!' It was epic."
His favourite Fab Four track is 'A Day In The Life', which he played in his Temple Bar busking and open mic days. He busts out a quick, growly bar and laughs, "I don't know why I'm singing it like fuckin' James Brown! I just love the huge chord at the end. There's no combination of notes that can make that sound on the piano. I was talking to one of the lads in Abbey Road, who told me they had four pianos in the room, when they were recording, and they all played a different version of that chord with a mic in the middle and on each piano. So that's how the chord came together. It's the best ending to a record ever, I think. It's pretty unbelievable."
Digressions aside, Gavin was delighted to finally release 'The Middle' last month. He'd had that particular gem tucked away for nearly two years, polishing it until it was finally ready for release.
"It's about not rushing things and not stressing. It's definitely one of the nicer, and lyrically happier songs I've written. It's a reflection on my mum and dad's relationship: they've had 39 years together. So it's kind of finding something like that and just being genuinely over-the-top happy about it. But it still sounds kind of sad (laughs)."
When can the fans expect this highly anticipated new record?
"I'm aiming for October but it could possibly be early November. There's a new single coming out at the end of next month, which is definitely going to be a bit of a surprise for people. It's a lot different from the tracks IÕ'e already released. I think we're going to shoot the music video in Dublin, which should be hilarious because I have a quirky idea for it. Then I'm back at it again, touring for ages: it'll be sick!"
So how does this record differ, artistically? In a nutshell, please!
"It's a bit less wrought, production wise. I wanted to go less for a wall of sound, and focus more on all the instruments doing the right thing. If you listen to a Van Morrison album, you can hear that every instrument is doing the right thing instead of just being there for no reason. Instead of having, like, 10 bass drums, I just have one. It's kind of a mix between the live album I released first and the studio album I released second. Since I love singing live, I wanted to incorporate that sound, with two live tracks that we produced afterwards."
It's been a wild ride for the rising Dublin star. Only five years ago he was playing to 15 die-hard fans in Temple Bar. He reminisced over the, ahem, most memorable gigs of his early days.
"There were definitely a lot of bad gigs," he laughs, "and a lot of really good ones. More of the latter, fortunately! The first one I did was in a hotel - I think it was in Buskers, actually - and there was no one there. There was a person, actually, with a dog and that was it. There wasn't even anyone at the bar! After that, my favourite place to play was the Old Storehouse. At the time, the manager there was called Rob. He always ended up letting us play for five hours every Saturday and Sunday night and it was always fantastic. It was pretty mental. But it was hard playing in front of a crowd, especially if that crowd really don't want to listen to you."
Slowly, though, Gavin amassed a sizeable following, gigging up and down the country. He was completely broke, until he got his big break and signed with a label. Now, he rubs shoulders with the likes of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran. How has that impacted on his approach to life?
"I'd say I'm more or less the same as I was," he offers. "I have all the same mates still. It's been a balance between the family, music and real life stuff. I always say my favourite place to be is on tour. The fact that I get to do it around the world has been epic. But if I came home, and was a bit of a dick, my mum would kill me."
Fame can bring misfortune as well. Gavin recently had to deal with an insulting tweet, following an unpleasant fan interaction at a restaurant.
"I was eating food, and she called me a ginger dog and I was like, "Oh my god, did you just call me a ginger dog?" Afterwards I was like, "You need to go back and eat your food, I think you're a bit drunk". Then she took a picture of me and said I was the rudest person in the world. I never usually tweet back anybody, but I'm definitely not the rudest person in the world. I like meeting new people I just don't like meeting... assholes, really."
Looking towards the future, Gavin is excited about headlining at this year's Summer Series at Trinity College.
"The one in Dublin is going to be gas, because me whole family is coming over. At the gig we did in Cork, literally my whole family flew over from Australia and Canada and we all met up beforehand. Then they all ran up on stage at the end and it was actually fuckin' chaos. I'm hoping for a repeat performance at Trinity. I can't fuckin' wait: it's going to be awesome. I've never even been through the gates, so I'm excited to see what its like."