Alistair James has had a name change, toured with the likes of Miles Kane and The Enemy, and gone off to New York to record an album. I caught up with him to talk about his new single, ‘Saturday Shoppers’, and to see what could be next for the Middlesbrough singer.
MusicDash: It’s hard to find information about you when searching ‘Alistair James’ – why the name change from Sheerin?
Alistair: I just felt the time was right. Throughout my whole time of gigging and playing and meeting new people, they always ask the same question; “oh are you related to Ed?” Obviously I’m not because the spellings aren’t even the same, and eventually you run out of jokes like “why yes I’m his uncle actually, a very young uncle”, but it was something that I’d thought about for a long time, and then when I went to New York to make the record I felt it was the right time to go with “Alistair James” and have my own identity completely, and not be tied to anyone else. The good thing is it’s still my real name because “James” is my middle name. Thankfully, it hasn’t taken people long to catch on either; I’ve had messages and comments from people saying they prefer it, which is nice to hear. To me it sounds a bit more rock n roll too haha.
MusicDash: I love your track ‘Saturday Shoppers’ – the opening riff is very happy go lucky pop, and then it gravitates into more Jake Bugg-esque songwriting. What were the inspirations for the song, and what artists would you say have most greatly influenced your work?
Alistair: Thank you, glad you like it. The inspirations behind that song came from a number of places, the lyrics are very much inspired by the style of Ray Davies of The Kinks – the way I wanted to put it across with the characters who are all everyday people in an English setting. I suppose you can hear that in the music too with the way it’s performed, it’s got an aggression in there even though it can sound, like you say, “happy go lucky”. I love a great deal of music, I listen to a ton of stuff, there’s so much out there to take in and all you have to do is turn on the radio or search YouTube. But the people that were the main source of inspiration behind my writing for this record you could say, are The Kinks, The Who, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie. Whenever I was looking for a way to go or an idea to try, those artists and bands always seemed to show me the way for these songs and seemed to come to mind. Bands and artists like that are always going to be a constant source of inspiration too, they have such a legacy and there’s always something different to hear each time you put one of their records on.
MusicDash: Are you finished recording your debut album? Can we expect more songs similar to ‘Saturday Shoppers’?
Alistair: I am, we wrapped up a couple of weeks of ago in New York City, I’m back in the UK now. There are some songs like Saturday Shoppers, there are also a couple of ballads on there and some different kind of songs that have their own groove I suppose. There’s a good mix on there but the main thing is it flows as a record and each song has a good chorus and a message to go with it that delivers, in my opinion. There was a number of ways the record could have gone; I had a lot of songs written and it was a big debate for a while whether to make it more ballad based, more acoustic based, more piano led, or out and out rock n roll. I think for a first record we got the balance right and luckily I’ve had really good reactions to it so far. I’m super excited about it!
MusicDash: What are the differences between working in New York and England? Any difference in writing inspirations?
Alistair: Well I wrote all of the record in England, however I did do some writing in New York when we had a few days off and the songs just seemed to pour out of me, but I never like to look into that too much because it’s something I never want to go away. All I can say is that there are a lot more people in New York than where I live in England so there are more characters to write about, but saying that, you find that people’s lives are very similar – everyone goes to work, play their parts and want to live their lives no matter if that’s here or New York. Making the record was a breeze as it should be! It didn’t take us long to record and mixing was under way before we knew it. Being in New York was exciting because it was my first time there and the fact that on my first time I’d gone to make a record made it even more exciting. I think you can hear that in the songs too, a small town kid going to the big apple and being amongst the thick of it, it was great! The people around me had a great work ethic and delivered to the highest degree; not that we would have let them do anything less haha! It would be interesting to make a record in England one time and see how the two differ, but for now I’m just enjoying the ride, and the experience carries on being exciting.
MusicDash: What was touring with Miles Kane and The Enemy like? Any stories, or anything you’ve learnt about the music business or touring in general?
Alistair: It was great, I think every band and artist longs to tour with the bands they love as a support act. I will say that I had some of the best gigs whilst on tour with Miles Kane. Birmingham O2 Academy has been my favourite gig to date, I was completely unknown but I think word had spread about me supporting and then walking on early the venue was full; it was a trip that I never wanted to come down from. I don’t think I heard any stories, but I learnt a lot from Tom Clarke of The Enemy because I’d been working with him before I toured with The Enemy. He’s a nice guy and loves music and took a big interest in my songwriting, we had a good laugh and working with him helped me with my craft. The music business is just a business you learn from everyday, it goes on and on and it’s exciting and frustrating. The one thing I’ve learnt from it all is you only get out of it what you put in. In other words, you have to get off your arse and go out there and do stuff for yourself and make a record, play to people etc. It all spirals into something else and you’ve got to play each show like it’s your last and writing only improves the more you do it. Eventually you meet the people you are meant to be with and they get you to the places you need to be. But, it takes time – a lot of time – and you can’t rush or be impatient. Just enjoy the ride!
MusicDash: What’s next for you after the release of your album? Any tours on the cards?
Alistair: Well the album won’t be released for a little while, but there will be another release which involves Saturday Shoppers from the album. There’s going to be an EP with 3 tracks on it, two of which aren’t on the album. I don’t believe in trying to sell a song over and over, people need value for money and as an artist you owe it to people to give them more material. I will be playing gigs too, me and my band are rehearsing and getting everything right before we go out on the road. It must be right! All I will say like I say everywhere is keep an eye on my Facebook for info regarding releases and gigs. Coming very soon!
Check out a teaser for Alistair’s single ‘Saturday Shoppers’ here.
Article by Amy Eskenazi