Interview: Canon Blue
Published on August 23rd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Daniel James, aka Canon Blue, could not be on a more aptly-named label than Temporary Residence.
Originally from Virginia, he moved to New Orleans in 2005 to play guitar in a band before returning to his home state mere weeks before Hurricane Katrina. Although now a resident of Nashville, Tennessee, James spent much of the last few years touring the world as a live band member of Danish adventure-pop collective and Rocksucker darlings Efterklang while writing and recording in their Copenhagen studio during off-time.
What’s more, he then headed to Iceland to record orchestral arrangements with Amiina, string quartet to Sigur Rós no less and recording artists in their own right.
The result of all these sessions is Rumspringa, a dazzling and majestic flight of fancy which is, quite frankly, one of the finest albums we’ve heard this year.
Blending soaring orchestration with electronic beats and a folk-pop sensibility, Rumspringa gets around as much as its creator yet still manages to sound cohesive and unified enough to confirm the arrival of all the lovely potential displayed on James’ 2007 debut Colonies – which, incidentally, was mixed by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor and released on Efterklang’s Rumraket label.
With Rumspringa looking well-placed to chart highly amongst Rocksucker’s Albums O’2011, we were keen as mustard to peg yer man down for an interview and are delighted to reproduce it for you below. First, though, check him out tune-wise…
Congratulations on a wonderful second album. Are you hopeful of more commercial success and/or critical recognition this time around, or does that kind of thing not bother you?
Thanks. Things like commercial success or critical recognition are always nice. I definitely spent a lot of time and investment in this album, but I think what would be the most meaningful for me would be for it to be able to connect with people and for people to enjoy it. I’m always going to be making music and writing songs regardless of how many people hear it, so anything else is a nice bonus.
Listening to your music, one of the first reference points that came into my mind was Efterklang so I was gratified to then discover that not only did you tour with them but that your 2007 debut album Colonies was released through their Rumraket label and that Rumspringa was produced by Mads and Casper from the band! Aside from this level of involvement, has their music been an influence on you? Have you seen An Island, their short film with Vincent Moon?
Efterklang have had a huge impact on me and this album. I spent a lot of time touring with them and being with them over the past couple of years, so I think its only natural, especially with them producing, that their influence would be heard. There is a certain ambitiousness to what they do that’s really inspiring to be around. Also, I think their willingness to explore collaboration and experimentation played a key role in making this album.
I’ve seen the film many times and absolutely love it. I think it captures their spirit and what they value about art and music so well. It’s a beautiful film.
How have you found working with Sigur Rós
‘ string section Amiina? They must be pretty darn polished by now!
It was pretty surreal getting to work with them. I’d been a Sigur Rós fan since high school so getting to not only record with them, but to do it in Sigur Rós’ studio where some of my favourite albums were recorded, was amazing. They were so great to work with and I’m in awe of what they’re able to do. We had a limited time to record but they were totally up for it and I’m really happy with what we got.
Do you still have close ties with Grizzly Bear? I read somewhere that Chris Taylor from the band mixed your first album Colonies. What do you think of their music?
I still see them from time to time. My initial connection with them was through Efterklang, so that tends to be when I run into them the most. Rasmus from Efterklang put me in touch with Chris when I finished up my record and Rumraket was going to put it out. I absolutely love Grizzly Bear and in particular Chris’s production. Even the things he’s done since have such a distinct and unique sound that is unmistakeable and I think that’s a sign of a really great producer.
What’s the significance of the name Canon Blue? And indeed of the album title Rumspringa?
Canon Blue comes from a record I had as a kid by a band named Annie from Chattanooga, TN. I had a really strict upbringing and was only allowed to listen to specific types of music. Luckily, this record was one of them and it was the first record that really opened my eyes to a new way of making music and what it could be. So the band name is representative of that feeling of escape and discovery.
Rumspringa came from a documentary I saw about Amish teenagers called The Devil’s Playground. Basically, when Amish kids come of age they are allowed to spend a season living on their own and doing whatever they want, with the idea being that after doing so they can decide if they want to return to the community for good or leave. I was really drawn to the idea of someone in a really restricted environment being suddenly released into complete freedom and how that plays on our drives and desires, both good and bad, as human beings.
How was your tour with Foster The People? What do you think of their stuff?
The tour with Foster was great. I met Mark last year when I was out in LA and he played me some of the songs he was working on for the album. I think he’s a really great songwriter and knows how to write those melodies that get stuck in your head, which is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do. They were really great to tour with and couldn’t have been nicer.
How do you perform live? Do you have a backing band?
Right now we’re playing as a 4 piece with a couple of samplers to handle all the more orchestral stuff. Ideally, down the road I’d love to have a violinist and/or a trombonist, but it’s working pretty well as it is.
Do you still write songs on your grandmother’s piano?
I actually just brought one of her other pianos back to Nashville in a U-Haul. I’ve yet to write anything on it but I’m sure it will be a part of the next album.
Which is your favourite album by The Dismemberment Plan? You list them as an influence and in my opinion they are one of the most underrated bands of all time.
Yes! I couldn’t agree more. I love The Dismemberment Plan and wish they got more credit than they do. Emergency & I is the record people always bring up, but for me Change was the record I had on repeat. They went to college in my hometown, so I always felt a special affinity with them.
Congratulations also on a quite splendid beard. How much upkeep does it require? Any particular products?
Ha. It comes and goes. I was on the road and decided to let it grow ’til the end of the tour. That photo was actually taken right before I shaved it all off, so it’s a bit of a sad reminder of what once was.
Are there any up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout out to?
I’ve really been enjoying Wild Beasts and Timber Timbre lately, though I don’t know if they count as up-and-coming as they already have a few records out.
Finally, could you name – as of this very moment – your top three albums of all time?
I’m so bad at this, but I guess at the moment a few I always come back to are Laughing Stock by Talk Talk, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Kid A by Radiohead.
Daniel, thank you.
Rumspringa is out now on Temporary Residence Limited. For more information and a list of live dates, please visit canonblue.com