James White, from journo, comedian to singer-songwriter.
Mr. White, has stopped intermittently joking around with his tunes, and settled on…for lack of a better phrase, a more ‘serious’ tone. Of course, as you will note later on he has promised to entertain us to the full, with camaraderie between songs, busting out his recently penned soulful lyrics.
Finding him in his local digs of Saffron Walden, we engaged in the following conversation, to see what drives this admirable fellow, to give everything he earns from music back to those that need it more.
When you’re not picking up the guitar, you’re usually on the campaign trail for many good causes, can you name a few and your involvement?
There are a lot! When I was a kid I got so badly bullied and music was my escape. It saved me and gave me a reason to live. I get everything I could ever want from music by writing, recording and playing it. Because of that I decided that when I made an EP I would donate all the money to charity, giving back just makes sense to me.
When I started recording, the Syrian crisis was just beginning. The widespread xenophobia I have witnessed despite this being the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation really haunted me. So last year I released a mini EP for that and put on a charity show with the help of my awesome local football club in Saffron Walden and we raised over £500.
This year I’m releasing my full, debut EP and all the proceeds from that will go to MIND, the mental health charity. I’ve suffered with depression since I was 14, attempted suicide at 15 and had lengthy counselling at 21. MIND changed my life and I want to help challenge the ridiculous stigma around mental health.
At my first paid gig, I was given about £80. I thought “well I don’t want this” so I asked the promoter to keep it but he wouldn’t. The next day I walked by someone collecting for MacMillan. My Dad, who does a lot for charity, always said they were amazing to him. So I chucked all the money in their collection pot – the woman collecting was pretty surprised. Other than that, I am a through and through feminist, environmentalist and adore animals. I also love the NHS more than anything material – it needs to be saved.
What was the last gig you went to and how was it?
I’ve been to see a couple of my mates’ bands recently. My old bandmate and legendary musical journeyman Ben Smith’s new band Canons. They were awesome! Reminds me of how unbelievably crap our old band 3 Significant Figures were. The same tour included Hunter Kill Hunter with Charlie Robery from another of Ben’s previous line-ups on drums – everyone wants this guy as a drummer! They were heavy as fuck but awesome at it. As were Calls Landing!
Where do the roots of your music come from? In terms of small venues, are there any particular locations you’ve been to in the last year that really stood out?
It breaks my heart seeing small venues that I grew up with close down. The X Factor culture and local councils have murdered the small venues in the UK and music is becoming closer to glorified karaoke. It kills me. Even in Cambridge there is such a gap between each of the venues you can play. I think if Cambridge lost The Portland Arms we would be in big trouble. We’ve already lost the Man on the Moon [its replacement, The Blue Moon is however doing more live music now], The Square in Harlow is all but gone, the Owl Sanctuary in Norwich is gone… Screw you, Simon Cowell.
My musical roots spread far and wide. I picked up the guitar because I wanted to be like Angus Young of AC/DC and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. I was called Slash the whole way through college because of my hair, love of guitar and adoration of Guns N’ Roses. But you know, I flew to America to see Blink-182, the last gig I went to in London was Katie Melua or Stephen Lynch. I’ve seen Metallica three times, I saw Rage Against the Machine twice in a week, I’ve seen The Subways more times than I’ve had hot dinners. Music is in my blood.
Recently you decided so shy away from the comedy style to focus more on new material as a song-writer, there’s still going to be jokes between songs though right?
I don’t think my heart would be beating if I’m not taking the piss out of myself or cracking dick jokes. Rage Against Genital Herpes may be dead, but the guy who spent nine years singing songs about constipation certainly isn’t!
There’s quite an amusing story about your Twitter handle…
Oh dear… when my mini EP got uploaded to Spotify it was uploaded under another James White, which was a kick in the balls! I’m cursed with a common name. So I thought, “what about The James White Project?” Well, typed that into Twitter – I am trying really hard to push social media now after being so unbelievably lazy with it for my music – and it said it was fine. Pressed publish: @TheJamesWhitePr. That still works though, right?
Music first, but I know you’re a football fanatic and have even been posted on a few blogs, how did that happen?
I was born into a family of Arsenal fans. I’ve been going with my Dad for years and share a season ticket – my Dad has two! So I was born into frustration by genetics. All my Dad’s side of the family are red and white blooded cockneys. It’s a shame that I was the first in generations to not be born in London, but Arsenal is my heritage. But since I moved to Saffron Walden I fell head over heels for the local non-league club – #UpTheBloods! I go home and away when I’m not at The Arsenal. There is a great picture from April last year that made the front page of the Local People of me going mad with the team. Subzero temperatures and tail ends of hurricanes haven’t stopped me from going to The Lane to see the mighty Bloods! So a guy who runs the blog “Bloods, Sweat and Cheers” interviewed me. The legend.
Currently you’re located in Saffron Walden, where did you grow up?
Where DIDN’T I grow up?! Born in Ipswich, moved to Wales almost immediately until I was four! Then lived in a tiny village in Hertfordshire until 1998! I then became an Essex boy living between Cambridge and London in a small village in the middle of nowhere… Went to college in Cambridge, university in Lincoln, came back to Essex, worked in Cambridge, did my archaeology qualifications at Cambridge University and moved to Saffron Walden! All via spending weeks and months in many other parts of the world like Egypt and the USA!
Who around you supports ‘The James White Project’ most?
My fiance! 100%. She has a t-shirt with my face on it and threatens to embarrass me by wearing it to a show! She always says how proud of me she is. She is my muse. Other than that, has to be either Aliki Rodgers. Without him ‘Don’t Look Back’ (my debut demo) or the #SaveTheRefugees Mini EP would have just been an idea! He invested his time and effort into it for the same idea as I did – charity. Without Fred Bambridge at Its All Indie ‘Don’t Look Back’ wouldn’t have hit 1000 plays, let alone the 11,500 it has hit as of today in just over a year! I also have a great circle of mates that attend most shows, so shout outs to Paul Gloyne – who is far more talented than I – Rob McBride, Jack Hedges, Dave Hughes and Holly Keith. Y’all rule!
Tell us about your dog, will he feature in any recordings?
Ha! Mr Bear! I love him, he is my boy! I waited all my life to get my own dog, so he is literally a dream come true. He is also HUGE. He is a mountain dog from Corfu and is claiming back his lost puppyhood. His favourite activities include; belly rubs, eating cat poo and throwing up on my sofa. And no, he will not feature on the EP. Maybe on the back of it as a picture with me.
What’s the plan for the EP?
To make it sound as little like verbal diarrhoea as possible and give people as much aural pleasure as possible *winks*. I’m buzzing for it, man. The songs aren’t 100% finished but they are certainly getting there. Nine new songs since 1st January! None of them are perfect, but they are far better than any music I have ever made – and I’m the first person to criticize my own work, but I guess most of us aspire to be perfectionists (or something that sounds less cliché).
Have you got any titles for the tracks or EP yet, what inspired you?
I do! The first track is called ‘Take Me Home’. It is about getting too pissed to pull a bird! The second is called “Fourteen Old Me”, it is a window into my mental state from fourteen to twenty-one and how I couldn’t deal with life. It’s very personal! The third is “Don’t Look Back”, but it is a much slower, stripped down version than the demo. The fourth is called “Starry Nights & Streetlights”, that’s about loads. Again, really personal and covers stuff like leaving home for uni, leaving uni for home and how I felt during my lowest point in 2010 to 2011. It’s laying to bed my demons from then.
The fifth is called “Friday Night (Shed Life)”, I was determined to try and write a happy song. So nothing makes me happier than getting smashed with my boys Paul and Rob on a Friday. So that one is about what we get up to. I tried to make it kinda 50s style rock. I think that lyrically it is probably my weakest and needs the most work on! The sixth is called “Democracy Hypocrisy”, and it is about the bullshit we are fed day in day out, about the burial of the poor, the NHS, the refugee stuff and how the government does not represent me.
The final song is called “Can We Come Back To This One”, this was the second song on the #SaveTheRefugees Mini EP and I hated it! My vocals were so, so bad! It was rushed out to try and make money for the British Red Cross’ appeal for the refugee crisis. I mean, we raised over £500 through stuff to do with it which was great, but my vocals were so, so bad! That wasn’t Aliki’s fault – I just turned up like a dying cat. So I’m making amends. It’s also a love song and is about my fiance.
How do you envisage any music videos for said tracks?
I like this question! Well… As a keen urbexer, I want to use Don’t Look Back or Democracy Hypocrisy and go to an abandoned RAF and USAF base up north. The guy who owns it lets anyone go on there! I want to use it for one last push for the refugee crisis – which hasn’t and won’t go away indefinitely! It’s hard to find a place that looks war torn, but that is the place! And that can drum in a bit more awareness than anywhere else I know.
Where can we see you next…
Friday 11th March at CB2 in Cambridge for Love Music, Hate Racism (info here). After that, I’ll be finishing up with my EP and will aim to do a tour.
Follow James on Facebook and Twitter
Interview by Thom Talibudeen