Henry James is a musician, producer and songwriter based in and around London, UK. Working as a session musician, Henry has worked with artists and producers such as Mike Stock (and associated acts), James Woodrow, Db Clifford, Harry Marshall, Joe Slater, Lisa Canny and more. Henry’s music is a blend of funk, jazz, rock and latin, and employs an open minded approach towards genres and styles. Main influences include Marcus Miller, Muse, Nile Rogers (Chic), Miles Davis, Anderson Paak and more.
Thank you for taking this interview! How has the New Year been for you so far as an artist?
No problem at all! It’s been good so far, thank you. Not much has happened on the face of it, but behind the scenes, I feel I’ve developed a lot, as a musician and artist, but also as a person.
Can you tell us how you've transformed from the beginning to now as an artist?
Well, in the early days I was a bit of a rocker. I used to love nothing more than jumping around on stage like a crazy person, expressing all that teenage angst! I’ve mellowed out a little since then, but still enjoy a riff or two. Along with amassing more knowledge of techniques and styles of music etc, I’ve also enjoyed taking inspiration from other people (in general, not just artists), and this has definitely influenced my thinking. I spend an awful lot of time with people from all over the world, and I try and take that with me as much as I can. My direction as an artist (I still find it weird calling myself that) has changed to a more ‘feel good’ vibe in recent times. I used to write a lot to explain the inevitable angst and anguish of growing up, but now I feel it’s more escapism - I don’t want to spend too much time moaning anymore, let’s just dance and be merry!
How did you come up with your latest project?
So with MMT, the first part was the music itself. I was obsessed with Tower of Power’s 40th anniversary gig, so I took huge inspiration from that for the bass and vocal, but in all honesty, Ryan Barnes (drums), Andreas Epaminonda (lead guitar), David Knight (horns and arrangements) and Ashley Garfitt (horns) need to take the credit for this one. I sent the song to them and just said ‘do your thing’. I should have done that before, their ideas were far better than anything I could come up with!
Lyrically, the song is a bit of a take on office life, with particular reference to the fashionable ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ type lifestyle that people seem to be wanting to lead (which of course, there’s nothing wrong with). The idea is that you’ve spent the weekend getting up to God knows what, and now it’s time to hit the office again. I’ve been in enough office jobs to know it isn’t the lifestyle for me, so I find it humorous to imagine myself in that situation. To be hideously self indulgent and quote myself, I don’t fancy ‘choking on reality’ anytime soon!
With ‘El Fuego’, the inspiration came from two predominant sources. The first was Marcus Miller’s ‘Hylife’ - a song incorporating African rhythms with Western harmony (as does the whole album - it’s so good. People often associate Miller just with slapping, but he’s got so much more than that). That was the A section, the B section is a fun take on Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Come on, Come Over’ (with Sam and Dave - another great tune). I love that Afro-Cuban and Latin-esque vibe to music, and, though I’m not particularly well-versed in those genres (I’ve always taken a more Motown, rock or bebop approach predominantly), I really enjoy having a crack at them.
Where are you from originally?
I always say London, but I was born in Lewisham and raised in a sleepy town called Orpington (I have to say London, as nobody knows where Orpington is!). Apparently it has the biggest Tescos in Europe and a Honda ad was once shot there. Claim to fame right there.
Where do you live now?
In an equally unheard of place just outside of Croydon, called Oxted. It’s quiet, so I can basically live like a hermit while I write and work.
Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made?
Inevitably, growing up with London on your doorstep was particularly eye-opening. It’s easy to take that for granted. I remember in the early naughties there was a particular emphasis on inclusion and diversity, which helped to define our generation’s attitude, I feel. You only have to look at politics (with New Labour) and sports such as football (foreign managers and players like Arsène Wenger) to see that shift in attitude. I think, as a result, a lot of my generation often feel more European than British. We grew up able to freely travel throughout Europe, and others were very much welcome. As a result, the music becomes more diverse too, and it’s hard not to be influenced by that.
In terms of the actual process, I think the place you live perhaps had a little more impact years ago, as obviously, we live in a much smaller world now, with more at our fingertips. However, I would say the pace of the environment can affect your mindset at the time, and, in turn, both the kind of music and the process in which it is made. You see this a lot with the different scenes in America from years ago. You have the hustle and bustle of New York, which would often be reflected in music processes, then the calm of L.A., in which time wasn’t such a heavily battled and contested thing. Take that and social and political issues (I mean, just look at bebop for that) and you’ve got inescapable influence.
In terms of today, I think you can hear the frantic and diverse nature of being a musician in London in my music. You feel like you have a lot to say and not much time to say it, but I’m looking forward to seeing how that changes over time. I plan to move around a fair bit now, so we will see what changes. There’s also the process of using a home studio setup and the costs and benefits of that, but that’s a whole other conversation!
What was the inspiration to make music your career?
Aha! So I would love to say I always had this burning desire in me or it was my destiny and all that corny stuff, but no. In reality I was absolutely awful with girls as a kid. My mate was cool, and he played bass, so I tried it and it stuck. From there, it became a real passion, as I enjoyed sharing the fun with others, through performing, teaching and the like. It didn’t make me cool to the girls, though, I probably should have played guitar or drums!
Today, the real inspiration comes from the feeling that I haven’t worked since becoming a full-time musician. To give you an example, this week I’ve just come off days starting at 8:30am and finishing at 3-4 am, and I still say to myself ‘man, you get paid for that?!’. I might be tired and seeing two screens right now, but I feel like I’m getting away with having fun for a living.
How do you want to shape your career?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I am cool with pretty much anything these days. After the pandemic and everything, if I can keep making money and not have to get a normal job anytime soon, I’m happy. What shape that will take, who knows? Part of the fun of life is not knowing what’s next, eh?
Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music?
For everything else, deadlines. For my own music, none at all. It’s the side of my work where I get pretty much total say over everything, so I like to keep it loose.
How did your latest title of your music come to be?
Observing the counting and worshipping the pennies (Mass Math Trend).
Is it hard to let go of the music when it is done?
Not at all, I dislike most of the things I create, ha! I used to be extremely precious over releasing music, ironing out all the little imperfections (or attempting to, at least), but now I just think ‘ah, I’ll do better next time’. My mate Joe would say to me ‘the pursuit perfection is the enemy of achievement’, and besides, everything I love and admire has flaws, whether that’s music, art, sport or people - without flaws it’s not human.
Do you feel an emotional attachment with your music?
Maybe it’ll remind me of a period of time or something. ‘El Fuego’ reminds me of my masters degree, ‘The Boss of Me’ reminds me of an incredibly sweaty home studio start up during the pandemic, but nothing too emotional. I have more of a connection with something by Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Matt Bellamy, Esperanza Spalding, Coltrane or Guy Garvey. Those guys have been there at important times of my life. What I create is just a product of listening to them.
How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet?
Can I use expletives here? Ha! I kid. Erm, I can’t think of a word, but I can use a phrase my old band’s producer (Justin Saban) used to use -‘It’s alright, if you like that sorta thing’.
Where do they go to listen NOW?
Spotify, Apple, all those things. I would say come see me live, but you’ll just catch me playing Stevie Wonder Covers instead (which is probably more fun, right?). Soon, though.
What has been the best fan reaction to your music?
Erotic poetry has got to be up there, but that was my bass, more than my music. Someone got a tattoo of some Exit Black (my old band) lyrics once, that was pretty cool.
Is there anything exciting coming up for you?
I wanna go to see the Moto GP (anyone who follows my socials will know I’m obsessed) , but I’m guessing you mean musically? Ha! Lots of cool projects. I’m working with James Woodrow at the moment. He’s insanely good, and the music is pretty audacious to say the least, so that should be fun. Other than that, I’m doing a lot of producing. The Aim’s album should be cool as hell, and a great tribute to the much loved Jamie Tongue (rest in peace, mate).
Are you performing the song anywhere LIVE?
In short, no! Not yet anyway, I think the first performances will be in China, of all places, but more of that to come. If the demand is there, I’ll play the gigs, but right now it isn’t economically viable. I’m super keen to keep the music loose and not use any backing tracks (not that it’s a bad thing, I just want it to feel organic and improvised, rather than to click track), so I’d be using a big old band, with guest singers and the like, and they ain’t cheap!
Give us all your socials and links so fans can link up with you! Thank you for this interview!
It’s an absolute pleasure, thank you!
Instagram - @henryjames.music
Facebook - /henryjamesbass
Twitter - @henryjamesgreen
TikTok - @henryjames.music