Behind the Music: Interview with James Arlington

‘Although I might be screaming with nerves on the inside, I’m bursting with excitement for everyone to hear it!’

Ahead of his debut single ‘Alone’ ft. Beth Skillings arriving 14th May, we chatted to James Arlington about how two strangers came together for the release, the importance of music education, and why this signals the start of a new sonic direction. 

Hi James, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Introduce yourself to your future listeners. Thank you for having me! My name is James Arlington and I’m a seventeen-year-old singer-songwriter and producer based in Norwich who has been making music for just over six years across various different genres.

When did you know music would be an important part of your life? I was raised on a mix of 70s and 80s pop, soul and funk music, and from a young age it has always been an integral part of my life. My interest in making my own started when I began to learn the piano – I found the process of studying classical music to be a bit limiting to say the least!

Who are your musical heroes? My musical heroes change all the time but I’ve got a solid few that I alternate between. I’ve found myself coming back to artists like Jamiroquai and Pharrell Williams for their distinct production styles, but at the same time I love how artists like Tom Misch and FKJ are breathing a new air into modern soul and alternative pop music.

Your debut single ‘Alone’ is out very soon (14th May). What made now the right time to release it? Since the beginning of the first lockdown last year I’ve become more confident with my singing voice, and this is the first track of mine to feature my vocals. Although I might be screaming with nerves on the inside, I’m bursting with excitement for everyone to hear it!

‘It’s so important for students to have music as a creative outlet.’

What was the concept of the track when you started writing it? Beth and I knew from the start that we wanted to write a song about relationships and the state that couples return to when they end. To me, the song holds a great sense of uniqueness as it acts as the antithesis to the cliché break-up song. On paper, the lyrics contain an air of melancholy, yet the track celebrates solitude and being able to hold your own through an uplifting 80s-influenced instrumental accompaniment. It’s actually like nothing I’ve ever written before.

So how did this collaboration with Beth come about? I stumbled across Beth’s Instagram admittedly by accident, but when I saw that she had a link to some demo tracks in her bio, I knew I had to check it out. Despite her page saying that she was new to producing, the tracks that she’d written and produced sounded amazing; I knew I wanted to work with her straight away!

I understand you barely knew each other beforehand. How did this impact the musical process and do you plan on working together again? It was something of a miracle that two strangers were able to create together with such ease. Beth and I had only known each other a week before we wrote the song, so it holds a particular sense of sentimentality to me, and captures a moment that could never be replicated. We’ve already been working on other bits and pieces since we wrote ‘Alone’, so I’m sure you’ll hear some of these things in the future…

A sense of authentic 80’s disco feel really comes through in the release. What drew you to writing it in this genre? We spent almost the entirety of the first session (which happened over Zoom) choosing songs that we thought each other would like, and as time went on we realised the similarities in our music tastes. My previous musical endeavours have all been of an electronic influence, so it was really refreshing to write something that encapsulates a more celebrated sound. 

So were there any direct points of inspiration? We snowballed ideas of a disco theme, incorporating several production techniques from the songs that we were inspired by. For instance, a ‘Forget Me Nots’ inspired clap and a Nile Rodgers-esque guitar part made the song a lot of fun to produce. I’d never properly played the guitar before the start of this year, so it became a bit of a learning curve for me throughout the recording process.

What was your approach with the recording process of the track? We wrote and produced the track in its entirety in just shy of six hours in a Zoom session. It was the quickest six hours of my life! Our ideas seemed to flow so well together and even before we recorded any sort of demo vocals, we were already in love with the track. A couple of weeks later we got in the studio and got the final vocals down, then I mixed and mastered the track over the following weeks.

Reflecting on your previous project as JBXM, how do you think that has helped your development as singer-songwriter? I started the JBXM project in 2017 through posting electronic and alternative hip-hop beats on Soundcloud. I was incredibly lucky to work with some extremely talented local artists and songwriters at the time (Finn Doherty, COLL and Millie Manders to name a few), some of whom I’m still writing new material with today. Fourteen-year-old me would go red all over if he knew that I’d be singing on my own songs in 2021 so I’ve definitely changed since then!

Being a young artist, to what extent has music education shaped your life? I studied Music GCSE and I can’t emphasise enough just how important arts education is for students. I hope that Music continues to be a subject that’s taught in schools across the globe for many years to come as it’s so important for students to have it as a creative outlet.

Similarly, what are the blessing or curses of being an independent artist? I’ve been quite lucky to stay clear of any particularly negative experiences in the industry so far, but I think that because of my age a lot of professionals can fail to take me seriously which is disappointing. I’ve known that I’ve wanted to be a musician for many years, and I find the blessing of being an independent artist is the level of creative freedom that I’ve had throughout.

And finally, what other musical plans do you have for 2021? ‘Alone’ is the first of many releases and I’ve got some exciting things lined up for you to hear. I can’t wait for you to share my excitement and hope you stick around for the ride!

James Arlington‘s debut single ‘ALONE’ ft. Beth Skillings is out 14th May and can be pre-saved here.

Thanks James Arlington for chatting with Listen to Discover

Photography Credit: Henry Bush

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