Interview: Singer & Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow Announces New Album 'Wide Open, Horses'

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Written by Michelle Ritter, Photography by Rich Gilligan

In an age of digital, where music can be listened to on-demand by simply pressing a button, it can be easy to forget the intent behind these works: an artist’s intense desire to communicate a message, express themselves, and provoke feelings among others in the hopes of leading them to a new level of understanding, whether it be external or internal. For Irish singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist James Vincent McMorrow, the connection, exploration, and intention found in music is a vital part of the art that is devastatingly often overlooked these days. Coming out of a two-year hiatus, McMorrow’s seventh full-length studio album Wide Open, Horses, is scheduled for release on June 14th, 2024. Consisting of thirteen tracks with titles that anticipate hard-hitting, intense subject matter, such as “Day all the lights went out” and “Things we tell ourselves,” it is clearly an album that will demand careful attention in order to grasp it in all of its intended glory. I was kindly granted the opportunity to ask him some questions about the album and his experience creating it. 

Michelle: Your new album, Wide Open, Horses is scheduled to be released on June 14th; what is this album about? 

James: Honestly I have no true clue; it changes day to day. I know why I made the album. I know I made it because I felt incredibly lost and depressed, and I wanted to find my way back to a version of myself that made sense, not as a songwriter but as a human being. So within it that narrative definitely exists, in the lyrics and in the fiber of the songs. I know I wanted to make something that had light and air in it, even when it was dealing with intense subject matter. I wanted to make an album worthy of people’s time and connection. So there’s a lot I wanted to achieve, and when I listen, I’m proud of how close I got to it.

Michelle: Both “Never gone” and “Stay cool” have both been pre-released. Any particular reason why you chose these two pieces first? 

James: I wanted to start from a quiet place and move from there. “Stay cool” felt just like the opening of a conversation. “Never gone” I think will be one of those songs that ends every set I play live for the next 5 years. It’s pretty foundational to the album, so it felt like the right place to go next.

Michelle: Do you have a favorite track on the album? 

James: I think the title track has a journey to it that for me personally just makes me happy every time I listen to it. I love beautiful pastoral textures, and I also love huge skyscraping synths…I don’t want to exist in a universe where I can’t pivot mid-song from a mid-tempo folk tune into a sunny wall of sounds for 16 bars then flip it again into something else. The challenge of making those ideas coherent and flow, that’s the reason I make music and the reason it all got a bit blurry for me for a couple of years. Because I was making it too easy for myself, convincing myself the easiest path was the right one. And sometimes it is, but also a lot of times you have to grapple with the thing, at least I have to.

Michelle: How would you say this album is different from previous works? 

James: I think there’s a real lineage between it and my first two albums. If I was being pretentious, and sometimes, a lot of the time, am, I’d call it the third in a trilogy of records. I think there was so much I loved about those first two albums. I was literally hanging on for dear life as a producer. I had all these ideas, and I just kept smashing up against the roof of my limitations. It was frustrating beyond belief but also the naivety of it all, when I look back, was so pure and lovely…I believe time has been very kind to those albums. Now I’m in a situation where I have a lot more ability and means to throw at the process, but I’m entirely focused on removing all the lazy crutches and finding ways to push up against my limitations again. I can hear that in this record, and I really love it. Comfort isn’t my favorite mode. I think discomfort is palpable and can propel you through an album. I hear that in albums one and two very overtly, and I hear it in this one as well. You can’t regrow naivety, once you’ve seen a thing you’ve seen it, but I believed I could discard a lot of the pointless noise that exists within the music world, and I feel as though I did.

Michelle: What do you love most about this album? 

James: That it exists. Because there was a moment after Electric Picnic in 2022 where I really considered just stopping. I felt like music, for me and maybe for others, had become this weird devalued thing. It happens so slowly and organically you don’t even realize. Then the next thing you know, you’re standing on stage at a big festival like that, and it feels like you’re just going through the motions. The audience didn’t seem engaged - and honestly who can blame them - because I wasn’t connected at all. It broke my heart. I got off stage and was back at my house 40 minutes later. I had to sit with myself for a minute and see if I could figure it out. What I understood was that I’m beyond lucky, but that I had been going through the motions for a while. I didn’t get into this to go through the motions or to achieve anything other than making music I loved. So I built fresh challenges for myself that I’d need to rise to. I love that those challenges existed for me again in this album.

Michelle: How did this album change you as a songwriter? 

James: I lost a lot of confidence in my process and…just life in general around 2018-2019. What I realized was that the happiest and best version of me was the one that kept themselves to themselves, that didn’t give a fuck about anything other than listening to those instinctual voices in my head. In those years around 2018, I got very caught on this idea of evolution and change, pressure to switch it up and make things different. Turns out that was all absolute nonsense. It’s not that I needed to go forwards or backwards, it was that I needed to realize that the person I’d been all that time was more than good enough, more than worthy, and then figure out how to become that person again in a way that made sense in 2024. The songwriting was always the thing that fixed me and made life make sense to me, so connecting back to that energy while beginning to bear all of that shit swirling around in my head these last few years, it felt like another door had opened up for me as a songwriter.

Michelle: If you could tell your past self one thing you learned from this album, what would it be? 

James: I identified my process within this album more than I ever have before, like “oh, that’s what I do when I’m constructing my rhythm section.” I’ve always been aware that I have specific methods - everyone does - but it’s only after an album is done that I kind of reflect and take it in. With this one it was more in real time, and seeing it in real time just opened up the scope and scale of the ambition. So I’d go back and tell myself to see in real time what was happening and identify it as my process rather than just me kind of freewheeling through the process like I used to think it was. It’s definitely that imposter syndrome Irish thing that I have in spades. I undersell everything I’ve done and everything I do. I’d tell him to fucking throw that shite in the sea and realize that he actually knows what he’s doing. 

Michelle: What message do you want listeners to get out of this album the most? 

James: Without sounding like a smug arse, I’d like to be part of a process that reinvigorates the idea of the album and the worth of music…yeah there’s no way to say that without sounding like a bit of a prick. But hopefully people get what I mean. Everything over the last few years has been about devaluing music as an artform, even the wording. A song isn’t successful anymore; it’s viral, in the same way a video of a panda rolling down a hill is viral. Music is my obsession, and I’ll be making it when they roll me into the grave. I allowed myself to buy into the devaluation for a while, but I’m fucked if I’m gonna entertain it anymore. I believe in albums, and I believe in songs as things that should take you away and bring you somewhere else, wherever you need to be. So that’s my message: believe in magic. Also wear sunscreen, just sound, logical advice.


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