James Rivers Duff has been writing solo songs for years without ever putting them out for public consumption. During that time he’s been a key figure in the Future Dub Project and a number of other projects around the world. However, today see’s Brighton-based James release his first ever solo record titled Lighthouse. “I’ve been writing songs for a long time but never felt fully confident in my vocal abilities,” says James. “But I’ve played my songs to various people, who’ve enjoyed it and pushed me to put them out.” And it’s a good job they did. Lighthouse is a beautiful, enchanting EP that’s filled with pretty folksy roots, intricate acoustic guitar and, despite James’ initial concerns, lovely and charming vocals.
The stand out track on the EP is the second song, titled ‘Already Gone’. A deep, aching tribute to a good friend of James’ who sadly passed away last year. This beautiful and moving tribute was recently played on BBC Introducing and was their track of the day for the south of England.
“Already Gone is about my friend Jack who decided to end his life prematurely last year,” continues James. “It was very sad and a massive shock to everyone, and this is just a tribute, almost a homage to him really. He was a great musician and an amazing person and I just wanted to remember him. I felt moved to write a song at the time.”
The EP is earthy and organic throughout, but no more so than in the title track ‘Lighthouse’ where James sings of nature and love, conjuring images of beachside campfires and setting suns. “Lighthouse didn’t have a particular inspiration, it was more of a dreamed up idea I had when I was travelling in Malawi,” he says. “It was based on an imaginary vision of spending time with someone that you’re into and enjoying nature and real things.”
It was as he was browsing the internet, searching for interesting song lyrics that James stumbled upon the idea for the final track on his EP, a cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Let Me Love You’. This may feel like a rather odd choice at first, and seems as if, on paper, it wouldn’t fit with the themes and nature of the other two tracks. However, James has completely reworked it using only the lyrics and the final product is an upbeat, fun, summery folk tune. Along with the EP, today also saw James release a music video for the song.
“I chose Bieber because in my head it was quite a comedy thing to do: a song from an artist that, I guess a lot of people would despise. I didn’t listen to the song to start with, I was just looking at the lyrics. I quite like the lyrics for that song. Some of them are slightly odd, but I quite liked them. And I just came up with the music and put the words to it.”
It was after he had initially written his version that James decided to give the original a spin and see what it sounded like. “I listened to the original and there was a catchy synth hook that comes in after the chorus. So I sort of used part of that idea for my chorus melody. But other than that the music is all my own creation.”
James recorded and mixed his EP himself and pulled in the help of some close friends who featured on the record. Mike Pockett, also from the Future Dub Project plays bass; Adam Wilkens from The Rambling Roots plays electric guitar; Ed Gallimore plays drums on the record; and Jess Burnett-Wain sings backing vocals on ‘Lighthouse’.
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“The band came together naturally,” begins James. “I’ve played with Mike in the Future Dub Project and various bands for about 12 years. He’s the best bass player I know and one of the best in the country. Similarly, I’ve known the drummer Ed for a while. I met him through a friend Phil who runs a studio and he linked us up a long time ago. We did some demos together back then and the rest is history.” James met Adam, who also plays additional guitars and sings backing vocals in the live shows, through Mike.
“Lighthouse features vocals from my good friend Jess. We used to be in a choir together and we’ve written lots of music together. As she lives in Yorkshire it gave me an excuse to go up to the Lake District where we recorded her vocals.”
James is performing on the 22nd June, supporting GAPS at their album launch show at Birthdays in Dalston. He’s also been spending more time in the studio working on yet more new material, and there’s also a video in the pipeline for ‘Lighthouse’ which has been partly shot on the Isle of Skye in the outer Hebrides.
With regards to the new music James says: “I’m working on a real mixture of music. Some of the songs are old. I just feel that I need to get them out. But I need to record them first. Then I can start to work on lots of new stuff. There’s some electronic stuff, some acoustic. I am probably going to put some more chilled sleep music out too. A real mixed bag of songs. I’m also writing lots and taking it steady. Not rushing to do anything.”
Check out James’ debut Lighthouse EP below…