Chris James: Stateless


by Joanna Orland

Chris James is best known as the singer and songwriter of the band Stateless.  He’s currently releasing a solo album which includes the new song The Force (Song for Dylan), which is a musical adaptation of the Dylan Thomas poem The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower.  The song was released on November 9th, 2013 in honour of the 60th anniversary of the poet’s death.  We sat down with Chris far too early on a Saturday afternoon to discuss poetry, music, and a potential word to sum him up:

Let’s start at the beginning – you formed Stateless in 2002.  How did you end up forming the band?

I met kidkanevel who was DJing around.  Then I met Rod at uni doing a production course and we formed in Leeds.  We were just writing together to begin with, then playing gigs, and it grew from there.

Are you guys on hiatus now while you focus on your solo career, or is this the end of Stateless?

No, no, no, not at all.  Basically we just finished recording an EP which is also going to form part of a multimedia project with a producer called Blue Daisy.  The music is done now pretty much. Well, the first part of it is done, so that’s good.  And we’re working with Damian Taylor for the next LP for Stateless.  He is the guy who produced Matilda and he is really really good. He does stuff with Björk and people like that.

How do you balance a solo career with being in a band?

It sort of happens quite organically, I don’t really think about it too much.  I suppose it goes in waves.  I’ve been away recording my solo stuff recently, so I was focused on that.  Now I’m back, and I’m writing Stateless again while my solo album is being mixed.

How do you decide if you want to keep a song for yourself or share it with the band?

Stateless is like my experimental and more louder kind of side.  And the solo stuff is more intimate, quiet and folky.  I love Bob Dylan, but I also love electronic music, so the solo stuff is the folk kind of thing, and the electronic stuff goes into Stateless.  So it’s pretty obvious when a song comes along which one it’s going to be used for.

How does working solo differ for you creatively to being in a band?

I guess the band is more collaborative, there are more people involved.  There are five creative voices in Stateless, so from that point of view it’s more interactive.   The solo stuff is most often just writing on a guitar on my own or with my piano player.  I’ve got an amazing piano player called Nick Ramm who used to play with Cinematic Orchestra and people like that.  We write a lot together, so it is quite different.

You wrote The Force in honour of poet Dylan Thomas’ memory – how did you come up with the idea for this tribute?

I’ve loved the poem for a long time, and Nick and I were just writing and came up with this piece of music. It just kind of happened.  I didn’t really plan it.  I didn’t sit down and think I’m  going to write a dedication to Dylan Thomas.  I just wrote the music first and it felt very naturally that the poem fit with the music.  It just fit.  It’s quite weird.

What is it about the poet’s work that inspires you?

I guess his use of words is very different.  His voice is so different to anyone else’s.  He uses language in a way I find very interesting and very unusual, and I kind of try to take inspiration from that for my lyrics – you know, make it a bit different.

Who are some other poets or lyricists that you admire?

Recently I’ve been reading a guy called Michael Symmons Roberts, he’s a new guy.  I love one of his poems. I read Blake quite a lot.  Ted Hughes as well.  Yeah, but mostly Dylan Thomas really.

What about musical influences, who has influenced your sound?

Obviously Stateless and the solo stuff are so different.  But talking about the solo stuff, Bob Dylan’s a huge inspiration.  John Martyn – I love.  Nick Drake – I’m a big fan.  They’re probably the big three.  Classical stuff as well.  Arvo Pärt – I’m a big fan of his.

What about for your Stateless musical influences?

I guess Björk.  We’re huge fans of Björk.  Obviously working with Damian who works with her, that’s amazing to be sort of connected through him and his experience with her which influences the way we work.  Radiohead – I’m a huge Radiohead fan.  I listen to loads of electronic music, so that’s an endless ocean of stuff really.

How did your collaboration with Damian come about?

I think our manager, ages ago, sent him some demos and then he responded saying he loved the demos.  And then when we signed with Ninja Tune, Ninja made the budget available for us to work with him.  So he’d produced Matilda with us, and I went over to Vancouver to work with him in the studio. It was amazing.  Damian’s very talented, good to work with, and I think he brings something to Stateless which is very important.  It’s good to have that objective outside person to have a view on what you’re doing, because you’re so involved.

What has the writing and recording process been like for your solo album?

Well the writing process was me on the guitar mostly just writing songs and then writing with Nick Ramm.  Then the recording process was interesting.  We went to the North Yorkshire Moors to a farm and just took a load of mics, and our idea was to record outside in nature, but it was October so it was cold and rainy and windy and awful.  But it was good, we kind of recorded in this barn.  It was amazing and beautiful and bleak at the same time.  I liked it.  It was a very English album, with an English process of being out in the cold making a record.  We did the piano in London obviously, because the piano is here, but we did everything else in the barn with a guy called Suneil Pusari who’s done Rufus Wainwright and DJ Shadow and people like that.  He was recording it with me, just the two of us.

The Force is taken from your latest solo project.  What can we expect from the rest of the album?

It’s very minimal in terms of the instrumentation.  Like I say, my inspiration is people like John Martyn and Nick Drake, and people like this, so I kept the instruments to a minimum.  But then I did interesting things with layers of vocals and atmospherics, and it’s kind of soundscapey, and I think quite cinematic.

If there were only one word to sum up “Chris James” what would that word be?

Tired…. Today I’m tired.

What about for life?  Still tired?

Not always tired, but just on Saturday mornings.

It’s 2:45pm.

Well, it feels like the morning.

Ok, I’ll give you that.

Ok… That’s a tough ask really.  I don’t know what to say to that.  Yeah, I’ve got nothing.  One word to describe yourself?  I don’t know what to say to that!  Can you do it?

I don’t have to, I’ve asked the question.  And I’ve asked it of everybody.

What do they say?  What’s a good one?

Boyz II Men said “music”.

Can I get back to you on that?  I’ll have a think.  I’ll text you.  I’ll text you a word.



For a free download of The Force (Song for Dylan), please visit Chris James’ web site:

One Response to “Chris James: Stateless”

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