20 Questions: James Morrison

James Morrison
Songs for You, Truths for Me

On the last page of the CD booklet for Songs for You, Truths for Me, James Morrison thanks a host of artists for “creative inspiration”. The names include Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Levi Stubbs, and The Beatles. Morrison’s follow-up to his UK chart-topping debut, Undiscovered (2006), is an amalgamation of those influences yet he is very much his own artist. More than just a collection of songs, Songs for You, Truths for Me is tuneful and soulful, an impressively honest reflection of Morrison’s thoughts about life and love.

As he prepares for an extensive tour with Adele beginning in 2009 to support the album, Morrison also looks forward to celebrating his first Christmas with his newborn daughter. Fatherhood agrees with the Brighton-based artist and, and on the morning I speak with him, so does a pair of Diesel jeans!

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Wow. That is tough. I’m a softie when it comes to stuff like that. I read this book on Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s mum. She wrote a book about his life. Obviously, I knew a little bit about Bob Marley and I love his music but I didn’t really know too much about how he was brought up or anything like that. There are bits in that book that make you kind of think, “Fuckin’ hell” but I didn’t full-on start wailing.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Oh man, this is hard! I’d say Huckleberry Finn. I have no clue, man. I just thought of him because he played guitar!

3. The greatest album, ever?

I’d have to say my all-time favorite is Songs in the Key of Life (1976). I just love it. Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist, anyway. I remember the first time I listened to that album I was just blown away. I never heard music like that before. I love all of it. It’s got everything you want.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars definitely. I always hated Star Trek, which was just a bit boring. I like Star Wars, man. The bad guys are much better and plus being a Jedi is so much cooler than being Spock or something. The Millennium Falcon looks much cooler than the Starship Enterprise (it looks like some sort of massage device).

5. Your ideal brain food?

Fish is always really good to wake up your brain. Fresh fruit and porridge is always good as well.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Getting a Brit Award was pretty cool. That was a couple of years ago. Personally, for me, it was through my music and doing what I’m doing that I got to meet Stevie Wonder so that, for me, was the highlight of my whole career. He’s my idol. I love Stevie. He did a charity gig in London and I managed to get to see him. His booking agent is Creative Arts Agency in America and they’re my agency as well so I got tickets through that connection. It was amazing. I sat in the dressing room with him and watched him warm up and crack jokes. Even if that was the end of my career, that moment, I’d be happy. It’s not very often that you get to meet your idols.

7. You want to be remembered for…??

For being true. I just want to be remembered for being who I am. I’m not trying to be anybody other than myself. It is hard actually to do that because you get so many things happening in your career that make you question who you are and you change yourself to fit the business. I’m really proud that I’m still the same as I was.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

In my head, there’s only probably about six or seven, maybe eight people in the world. Stevie Wonder is one of them, for me. Michael Jackson, even though he’s weird now and he lost it all, he’s still a cool genius. Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Kurt Cobain, and Bob Marley. They’ve got something about them that just works. Nobody needs to question it. It’s just good and it means what it says.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

There’s loads. What’s Going On (1971) by Marvin Gaye. It’s an amazing album. The sound of it is brilliant. Class! It still sounds just as meaningful, just as good. All the parts sound contemporary still. He’s one of the best singers as well. He doesn’t even have to push and it’s just genius. He sings really soft but it’s so powerful.

10. Your hidden talents…?

I used to be pretty good at impressions of other singers and cartoon characters. I’m pretty good with voices. I used to draw a lot, as well. That’s about it. Other than…I’m crap at sports.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

To make it, you’ve got to be prepared for any opportunity. It’s simple but it does kind of make sense. If you haven’t got any of your own songs and then you get approached by somebody and they’re like, “Right, I want you to drop off five songs tomorrow of your own and we will think about signing you” and you haven’t got your own songs then you’re going to be screwed. You just need to be prepared for any opportunity that comes your way. Another piece of advice was do it because you love it and do it to enjoy as part of your life rather than letting the career and all the things that come with it take over the reason why you’re doing it.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The best thing I bought is my house. I was real poor when I was growing up so the fact that I’ve got my own house already, I’m just really stoked about it. I’ve not really borrowed stuff from people because I usually break it!

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

I used to like Levis and I do wear Levis but Diesel, at the moment, are the best jeans I’ve found. They just fit really good and they’re not too expensive but they’re good quality.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I’d have to pick a couple of my friends to come with me just to back me up so I don’t feel stupid through the quiet parts of the conversation. That is tough. I wonder if God would be around, that would be pretty cool. If God was around, I’d get Him at the dinner table and ask him loads of questions.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I always wondered what it’d be like to go back to the times of dinosaurs but then you’d probably just get eaten straight away. I’m fascinated by when the Egyptians were around. They were so ahead of their time back then. I think it’d be a very nice life.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Oh definitely the spa vacation. Screw the hit man! I have no qualms about going to a spa.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

I’m a cigarette smoker but I hate cigarettes. I think they’re fucking evil and I wish I didn’t smoke so I’m not going to say that. I’d say sex is essential to life. It’s probably the best thing that feels good…and it creates life.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I’d say by the sea or in the country, definitely. I love being in nature. I live near Brighton, myself, so I’m near the sea and where I used to live in Cornwall was right by the sea. I went to West Ireland the other day to a little village that was like in the middle of nowhere but it was just so beautiful. It’s full of life even though it’s a tiny little village.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I don’t know man, I’m just a hippie! Let’s just love each other, be a bit more patient, and help each other. I reckon that there should be a law that you have to help out a person at least once a day, even if it’s just opening the door or letting them out of a lane. We need to trust each other again.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?

I’ll be coming to America in early January with Adele, actually. I’ll be all over Europe in the spring and then a big tour in England, then maybe looking at going to Australia and Japan. It’s going to be pretty full-on, and then all the festivals in the summer. It’s going to be a big gigging year next year, which is great.