Interviews MiloMc

James Yorkston – Is He Haarving a Laugh?

This month
James Yorkston releases ‘When The Haar Rolls In’, his follow-up to
2006’s sublime ‘The Year of the Leopard’. Whilst that album was
beautifully produced by Rustin Man, this time Yorkston has taken the
helm himself and the result is a rich and full sound – tempered, of
course, with his usual wry lyricism. His label Domino are also
releasing a limited edition box-set which will include loads of extra
goodies including an exclusive covers CD – and one lucky punter will
find a special ‘Golden Ticket’ which will entitle them to a James
Yorkston track written especially for them – and performed in their own
house (geography permitting). As gently spoken and beguiling in person
as he is on record, the most famous member of the Fence Collective chatted to me over the phone from his home in Anstruther, Fife, about the ever-present haar, being stalked by
nutcases and doing ‘a Willy Wonka’.

So is the title of the album an attempt to educate people outside of Scotland about the meaning of the word ‘haar’?

funny you say that, because no one seemed to know what it was at all,
in fact they still don’t! The guy from Domino, when I first told him it
was going to be called ‘When the Haar rolls in’, he thought I said when
the hare rolls in, as in the rabbit-like creature, and I thought, well
if he was going to let me call it that, then it means that I’ve pretty
much got free reign to call it what I want!”

This time round you produced yourself – did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do?

both Just Beyond the River and ‘Leopard’ we’d had one problem or
another which meant that something hadn’t quite gone right, so it was
like an unfinished business thing. I’m 36 years old, and if you know
what it is you want to do there’s no need to have a producer there. 
And I thought I want to go in there and make it as beautiful as
possible, and that’s why it’s sounding really lush; there’s a lot of
different instruments there and it’s really varied, which is what I
like. With the last record I was quite aware I could have gone on to
make another dark acoustic record along the lines of Just Beyond the
River, but i wanted to do something different because I thought I’d end
up painting myself into a corner if I repeated that. so that’s why Year
of the Leopard’s got electronica on it and it’s got me singing falsetto
and stuff, I was trying to do something a wee bit different. So when I
got to this one, I don’t really think about whether I should or
shouldn’t do something anymore.”

Would you say Year of the Leopard was something of a breakthrough album for you?

– people talk about second album syndrome and I had it for Year of the
Leopard, I was really worried about it, but it was a record I just felt
that, well I’ve done this now, and now I can do anything. So it was a
breakthrough album, but in a way it was because i realised that
whatever I did the oceans were never going to boil, i was just going to
release another record. Magazines like Q and Mojo, they must review
over 100 albums every month, and they’re the lucky ones that get in the
magazines and get the publicity. So there must be a thousand albums
released a month at least. But ‘Leopard’ is a great record, I”m really
fond of it, and people call out for songs from that the whole time.”

the current album you do a very powerful cover of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast
– and you’re joined by Norma and Mike Waterson and others – how did
that come about?

Lal Waterson is one of
my favourite songwriters, she’s up in the top three or something. And I
got asked to be one of the musical directors for the BBC concert that
we did last year. Lal died ten years ago – so it was me and her son
Olly who did it, and we had loads of people such as Kathryn Williams,
Eliza Carthy, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, so it was a big show. I
did two songs, that and ‘At First She Starts’ and I just thought it
sounded amazing – and I thought why don’t I chance my arm and ask them
to record it and they just said yes straight away.”

How did it feel to have all those great artists cover your songs for the bonus covers CD?

was mad because they all started arriving at much the same time, and
I’d just click on my inbox and pretty much everyone was saying “here’s
the song James, I don’t think I’ve done it very well, and you don’t
have to use it if you don’t want”. I listened to them and I just
thought they were brilliant, there’s some amazing versions on it. 
There’s quite a few them, like Adrian Crowley’s and Charlotte Greig’s
versions which I think are better than the originals. I was also
delighted when David Thomas Broughton said yes, he did a few different
versions of my songs and some of them were just crazy, but the version
of St. Patrick he’s done is one of my favourites.”

And you are also doing ‘a Willy Wonka’?

Yes, that was Domino’s idea! They put a lot of money into my albums,
they give me money to go to the studio, they pay my musicians to
record, etc and they came up with this idea to promote the album and I
just thought well it’s the least I can do, so long as I’m lucky and
it’s not a nutcase!  Without going into details there have been a few
nutcases in the past, and you can print that. In fact, it got to 5 I
think, but they were different kinds of nutcases. I was going to say
it’s flattering, but it’s not, it’s just annoying!

How important is to you to be part of the Fence Collective?

Very important. Fence has been a real help quite a few
times in my musical career, one way or another. When I first started
out there would be gigs in St. Andrews and they released my first album
and individual tracks of mine on their samplers, and they were just
great fun to jam with and to play gigs with. And then, again, after
Moving Up Country, I kind of retired back to Fife, because it went down
really well and I ended up touring for ages and ages all around the
world, and I was exhausted, and when I came home Fence was a lovely
thing to come back to musically, because it was all very relaxed. And
now,  since I’ve just moved back to Fife, again it’s proving to be a
great thing, it’s really nice to be among people who can understand the
kind of irrational but crazy love that we have for music – they don’t
question, they just do it; they don’t say ‘shouldn’t you just get a job
in a bank?’

Finally, are you happy to be back in Fife?

although Edinburgh’s a lovely city and I was extremely happy there,
when I moved out it was like a heavy weight had left my shoulders, it’s
a strange thing to understand, but living back here at the moment feels
100% right. The only thing I miss is that it takes me an extra 2 hours
to get down to London, and I have to go reasonably frequently so those
extra two hours are a pain in the arse.

You need a private helicopter!

I need The Skinny to put me on the front, and give it your first ever 6
star review, and get all your punters to go out and buy it and a copy
for their mum and dads, then I’ll go and buy myself a helicopter!

the Haar Rolls In is out on 1st September 2008. You can hear songs from
it and the ltd edition covers album on this month’s I Hear a New World
James Yorkston plays the Fence Club on 17 September at The
Caves, Edinburgh.

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