- 19 Jun 20
The Dublin-based multi-instrumentalist sat down with Hot Press to chat about songwriting.
When James Cramer released his last single 'Simple Man' in March – a song Hot Press called "soulful" and "powerful" – the world was a very different place. Now he's back with another soulful new offering.
This one is called 'My Darkest Hour,' and sees the multi-instrumentalist step further into the limelight as a solo artist. "I think, even if the story doesn't resonate with people, the title of this song will. Considering what everyone is going through at the moment," Cramer tells me down the line from his home in Dublin.
A member of alt-folk band Tupelo, Cramer is a veteran songwriter who has been penning hits for many different artists from the beginning of his already storied career. The release of 'My Darkest Hour' truly marks an exciting new chapter for Cramer.
How did writing 'My Darkest Hour' come about?
It's a true story, because a friend of mine told me what he was going through with his long-term girlfriend. He said he was still madly in love with her, but the relationship had kind of run aground. It was kind of very sad, but I thought it was a very interesting thing that, although I hadn't gone through it myself, a lot of other people probably have. So when I hear stuff like that – maybe five minutes beforehand I wouldn't necessarily be thinking 'I'll write a song,' – but as soon as he said it, it was like 'someone get me a guitar, quick'! When I was travelling a couple weeks later, I heard two girls in a coffee shop in Heathrow airport talking about exactly the same thing. So I earwigged in on that conversation from a woman's point of view. What was interesting was that it was so similar. I was like, 'God, there must be a load of people who go through this.' And the song came quite easily after that.
Does it usually take a long time to write something from a perspective that isn't your own?
No, I write quickly and I write a lot. I wouldn't be one for going back and refining things over and over again. It's like anything in life, I suppose...the quick and easy process is normally the best. Whereas if you slave over it, it's not really going to connect with other people. Like if you meet someone and you get on with them, it's not going to be forced. It's the ame kind of thing with songwriting – if you get along with the song quickly, it's going to get along with other people.
What was behind the decision to release this as a solo record, rather than with your band?
I've written for other people, and I had so many stored songs, but I basically just started recording songs – we were finishing our last album – without a plan, and then the record company liked them and we started working toward releasing them solo. They're all my songs, whether I'm with the band or solo or someone else is singing them. First and foremost, I'm a songwriter, so any avenue I can get the song out, I'll go for it. Now that we want to do well with it, there's a bigger plan. I really am excited for this song to be released.
And I think that if you can get it out, get it out. People do have more time to sit and listen now. That was our attitude, anyway. Whereas if you wait to release a song, how is anyone ever going to get to all of them. The title of this song, too, I think suits people and this time. You can take the song in multiple ways. Not just about the obvious story behind the song, which people will – I hope – connect with. But you can take your own meaning, which we all do.
Do you like when people take their own interpretations of your songs?
Yeah, I love that! That's why I like to do flip-sided music videos, to turn the lyric on its head. Sometimes I've written a song and thought it was about one thing, and then five years later it's actually about something else. You don't realise but as time goes on, it changes. So if it changes with the songwriter, the listener is definitely going to have their own ideas.
Do you play all the instruments on every track you write?
Yeah, I've always been very into instruments. As a songwriter, they're vehicles for me. I have friends who are piano players, banjo players, guitar players...I wouldn't consider myself any of those things. I'm not too attached to any specific instrument, I just go in and figure my way around them.
Is it liberating to be able to do that?
Absolutely. What's that saying John Lennon has? "Give me a tuba and I'll make a song out of it." That's the way I think of things. If someone gives me an instrument that I've never played before, I will – within the first 20 minutes, if I figure out my way around it – write songs on it pretty quickly. Instead of just a standard guitar tuning, which can get a bit old sometimes.
That definitely adds more texture to a track much quicker...
Exactly! Even from a writing perspective, if you wrote on an interesting synth or a ukelele or a harp, they're all going to bring you different elements you wouldn't have noticed if you had another instrument in your hand.
Listen to 'My Darkest Hour' below.