Interview by Adrian Hextall
Pictures of Nathan James; Copyright Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
A year on from the release of the excellent debut album from Brit rockers Inglorious and the band return the month with their sophomore release, “II”. An album launch show in London at the Islington Assembly Hall on May 19th will see the band perform to another sell out crowd and begin the next phase of an already high profile career.
MGM caught up with Nathan James to talk about the music, the change in line-up and a desire to perform front and centre in Whitesnake, if only for a single night.
The typical set from Inglorious often sees the band perform a few cover songs including a stunning rendition of Russ Ballad’s ‘I Surrender’ made famous by Rainbow and Jpe Lynn Tuner. It’s something we may not see the band doing in future however as two albums worth of original material suggests quite a change to the live performances.
NJ: Yeah, we’re not fucking about, trying to get music out there sooner rather than later. We want to be able to do longer sets of our own material, that’s why we’re going to move the covers from the set.
MGM: So ‘I Surrender’ is likely to go? It’s been a popular choice for some time now.
NJ: Yeah, it’ll probably go out of the set, yeah. We are looking at a couple of covers that are a bit more, definitely more unexpected but aren’t necessarily even by rock bands. Hopefully at the album launch we’ll be able to do one of those new, very different kind of modern covers.
MGM: Fantastic, so a little bit of a curve-ball for the fans that will make them step back and go, “Oh, wow, that was different.”
NJ: Yeah. And I want the opportunity to sing, to show people a different side of my voice. I think you can hear that on this album with songs like ‘Far Away’, etc, but I really want…I’m a singer first and foremost, that’s what I’ve done to my stuff over the last 15 years, so I want to be able to really sing for these people and have a moment like when everyone stops what they are doing. I want to have one of those vocal moments.
MGM: That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about the album as well. You’ve got so much variety on this album in terms of the way you approach it vocally, you could almost take the band in any direction and deliver an album that could be as heavy as hell for the entire duration or is soft and gentle as you want it to be.
NJ: Yeah, and that’s what, I think going forward after this album, we will probably try and do. I think we could record very successfully a very heavy album, an almost metal album and I think we’d get away with that. I think people would enjoy it. Yes, our influences are very vast, it’s not just the holy grail of British blues rock, it’s very expansive as a group. Yeah, we would love to explore that more.
MGM: In terms of the way you’ve approached this particular album, it’s obviously different in content, it’s different in the presentation. Was the approach markedly different in pulling it all together? I’m guessing you had far more control this time round over how you wanted to approach the writing and the content on the album.
NJ: This was all us. We have no co-writers on this album. We, again, recorded it live because that’s the way that we feel suits us the most, and also we produced it ourselves. I also chose the songs for this one myself. The last time we had an A&R guy selecting the whole thing from top to bottom. So, it was a very different experience and I was a little scared at first because I thought, “Oh God, we had such great success for the first album,” but you can’t put out a carbon copy, you have to mix it up, you have to change people.
And we spent a bit more money this time on the set and studio and on obviously the mighty Kevin Shirley who just made it sound fantastic. We write best as a group, so we keep the key things. We keep the music the same. We are all in one room together when we write it and we are all in one room together when we record it, and that way anything else after that is kind of set, I suppose fairy dust on top. The core of this music is the fact that we write the songs together and we play them together.
MGM: You’ve got what I would class a stand out moment with this as well. For me, with the first album, ‘Holy Water’ was the one that sent shivers down my spine every time I heard it. You’ve done it to me again with ‘Tell Me Why’. What does that particular song mean to you?
NJ: That song actually came about because of my brother. He was having a bit of a crisis in a relationship. I was getting so frustrated for him, because he’s a really hard working bloke. My brother is a plumber, my whole family…I’m pretty much the only one in the family who is not a plumber. He works long days. He had a kid with this girl and it all just went so sour, and she was just a horrible, ungrateful, lazy person and I got so pissed off with it that I wrote a song about it, and that is ‘Tell Me Why’.
MGM: It’s not just the typical approach to songwriting that one, that’s got a real personal edge for it with you then?
NJ: Yeah. There’s a couple on it too, and the other one is ‘Far Away’. I wrote that about my Granddad who is…he’s really ill. He’s got cancer and he’s just…he’s in his eighties, and my Nan who’s been with him for 40 years or so, she’s got MS. They’re just…they get thrown everything, my Nan has had cancer. They’ve had everything but they still…they love and they care about each other so much. And I find that so rare in 2017, to see such like pure devoted love through thick and thin. They’ve been doing it for years, and they’re getting old. My Granddad is really sick, and that’s what I kind of wrote that song about. There’s a couple of really personal moments on there. In the first album in just kind of…I was so new at writing that I was almost scared to fully commit my emotions to something.
MGM: Now presumably, given that you feel more comfortable with it, it gives you more scope for writing in the future as well, and presumably to different approaches to writing as well.
NJ: Yeah, and also writing for different things. Andreas, the guitarist, writes for a couple of other people and he does a lot in Nashville. So, it would be interesting for us to do that this year. I like writing, and we really like writing together. And also our summer at the moment, after our first tour, is looking pretty bare until later in the year, so what I think we are actually going to do is get into the studio straight away this summer and start writing the third album because we have the time, we enjoy doing it, and it’s such a stress-free thing for us to do. It’s really enjoyable. We are all very comfortable with each other now, and we’ve sorted out the problems that we did have. So, everything is looking very positive for this year.
MGM: And of course your lineup is settled again, you’ve got Drew, your original guitarist back in the ranks.
NJ: Yes, if you watch the video of ‘Burn’ that’s on YouTube, which is the video that pretty much got us our record deal actually, it’s the video that Frontiers saw then flew to London to see us live, so in that video, Drew is playing in that video. I met him on a job that I did, I did the Queen theatre show like four or five years ago. He was the original guitarist in the band and then due to an A&R decision very early on, before we recorded the album, A&R decided to get rid of Drew and brought in Andreas. It was all very awkward and very sour because Drew is Colin’s, our bass player’s cousin.
Drew got Colin in the band originally and Drew also used to live with our drummer Phil, so it’s a very…it felt really right to get him back now that the decision was with me to do so. And with the band, we weren’t happy as we were, some of that’s changed and we needed someone who was really, really good. And Drew is a phenomenal musician, so talented and a really nice guy, really easy to get along with, and he’s family pretty much. So, it made perfect sense.
MGM: I was going to say he’s not got that issue with the remaining four of you, all knowing each other inside out and this new guy walks in not knowing anybody…he’s already there, isn’t he?
NJ: Yeah, Drew’s known Colin for thirty something years, so he’s…yeah, it’s all very good and everyone was very happy that he’s back and back on the stage as well.
MGM: With all you all going back into the studio as you say relaxed, calm, very much a family atmosphere, aside from the third album that set up has to lend itself to maybe some additional material, maybe E.P.s as well?
NJ: That would be nice, but Frontier don’t tend to do then, which I would well be up for because even…every time we go into the studio, we tend write about 30 songs, 30 ideas and then record 20 and then pick the ones for the album. So, there’s a couple of tracks, this time round that are great songs we could use.
One is really heavy, almost like Black Sabbath which is pretty much good to go, just not mixed. That would be something that’s interesting this year, but that’s how we write. As a collective, we’ve written nearly 60 songs already.
MGM: You don’t need to go back and write anything, you just need to record it then.
NJ: There’s things that we’ve changed, you get something back and you listen and you go, “Actually that could be better,” or, “Let’s put those two songs together.” We’ve got a lot of ideas and that people are constantly writing. I get sent things from the boys every other day, a new list that they send on what’s there, put something in there, listen to it, that would be good. I can’t believe we write so much, but we really do and we love doing it.
MGM: 30 years down the line when you’re releasing all of these again as extended editions or whatever, all of these are going to see light of day, aren’t they, if you don’t record them now?
NJ: Yeah, I hope so.
MGM: Definitely. Now, in terms of this release, ‘II’, the limited edition has a DVD with it as well, what made the Donington set so special that you decided to bundle that one with it?
NJ: It was our first outdoor festival ever, and it was the biggest UK festival for rock. So, it seemed to make perfect sense. Also, the setup that they have at Download is just amazing, all the cameras are incredible and it sounded great. Our management actually said, “Oh, do we need to have this mixed?” and I said, “No.” One thing that we’ve always said from day one is that we try not to hide anything. We’re not about audio tuning and overdubbing and multi-tracking guitars and stuff. What you’ll hear on there is exactly what happened on the day. There’s a few duff notes, I’m a bit sweaty, but it’s real. That’s what happened, and I’m really, really proud of how it came out and I’m looking forward to people seeing it and enjoying that moment. For us as a band that was like when we realised that we were making a bit of a difference. And to see 10,000 people, 15,000 people, whatever it was, singing ‘Holy Water’ back at you only a couple of months after it came out was just unbelievable.
MGM: I told you that track was the one. You’re always going to get the crowd singing that one back.
Now, we got to see you most recently at the Stables up in Milton Keynes, myself and one of our reviewers came up to see that. It was quite a confident gamble to be able to slot an acoustic set partway through on the back of, say, your debut album as well. That takes a bit of nerve when you’re on the back of your first release, doesn’t it?
NJ: Yeah, it does. I’ve got to try and work this out without sounding like a twat. We are all…that’s the way we write our songs, is on acoustic guitars. It makes perfect sense for us to perform one or two of them that way. We did it for Bob Harris on his Radio 2 show and we’ve done it with a lot of other bits and pieces and we really enjoy playing like that. Also, it gives people a proper chance to hear everyone’s harmonies, which is one thing that I’m really proud of in this band. Everyone sings great. And it’s nice to acoustically be able to hear everyone singing and sing in a nice chord together. And also it gives you a bit of a rest.
It’s really high intensity what we do and we’re very energetic performers, so it’s nice to have a bit of a moment to like, to almost chill out and then start off again. And I have every confidence that the crowd won’t lose momentum and that we will be able to get them back in. And…yeah, it’s just nice. It’s fun for us and I hope people enjoy even us being on those covers. It seemed to go down really well. And with songs like ‘Far Away’ on this second album there will be that acoustic element for the shows hopefully this year and later on when we talk.
MGM: With the tour coming up, you’ve also got the launch show in Islington on the 19th of May, you’ve picked the same venue again. Was that deliberate?
NJ: Yeah, we want more people in there. I want to see it full, and it’s very nearly full. So, it paid off.
Also, I like people to go to a nice venue. I’m so fed up with going to city venues, especially in the capital. And I think for an event like an album launch it should be an occasion, it should be something that people talk about for a long time and something that people enjoy. And in a sticky club or a dark dingy room you just don’t get that. So, people can come to Islington Assembly Hall, it’s such a beautiful room, sound is great, big stage for us to perform on, two good openers, and we’re bringing a lot of lights this time. We’re going to make it a proper show. We’ve got to…it’s going to be an event as opposed to just a show at a rock club.
MGM: Definitely. Now, in terms of reviews for the album everything I’ve seen has been very, very positive. i recall when we spoke before you were disappointed with the Classic Rock magazine score for the debut. What did Classic Rock do for you this time.
NJ: They gave us a really great feature which is a double page, which is amazing. So, I’m very grateful for that. And they’re premiering our video on Wednesday, our new video for our new single. We will see what happens. I think the first album deserves way more than a seven, and I definitely think this album deserves way more than a seven or an eight. I think this is a different link sonically and songwriting-wise, so hopefully they will pick up on that and get behind something young, British, and that’s actually classic rock.
MGM: It’s interesting you use the word classic there, because I think with this particular album you’ve actually managed to tick off all the boxes that would suggest people will still refer to this as a classic in years to come. It genuinely feels like a real classic rock album, as in the record that people refer to in the same sentence as potentially things like ‘Back In Black’ or ‘In Rock’ in 20 years’ time. Did you really strive to go for that classic sound that everybody will be able to remember for so long?
NJ: I think that’s…well, firstly, thank you. I genuinely believe that’s a lot to do with Kevin Shirley. I feel like he’s mixed so many of the greats that he just knows what to do. And we sent him our raw files and he sent them back mixed in about four days I think, the whole album, and it was just perfect straight away. He’s the perfect man. He got us right away, he knew what we’re about, respected us as musicians, respected that we produced it ourselves, and he just did the most incredible job.
MGM: Did Kevin really manage to make it so different from what you sent to him or was it just expanding enough on what you’d actually delivered?
NJ: It’s just whatever equipment he uses, it makes it so warm and it makes it sound like, especially the albums that I’ve enjoyed recently like the Black Country Communion records I think sound fantastic. And that as a singer is what I wanted. I wanted a guy who mixes my hero to mix me. And he just…he knows, he knows exactly where to put things. It’s a no bullshit kind of approach to mixing which I think is brilliant.
MGM: That’s fair enough. And given you mention Black Country Communion, as and when Glenn Hughes ever does decide to retire, you’re going to step up to the plate, you think? I think you could.
NJ: I don’t think he will. He’s still good. I actually want Coverdale’s job.
MGM: It’s funny, I’ve actually got that written down, that as and when David does finally give up you could easily take over as the front man of Whitesnake.
NJ: That’s the job I want, that or…Rainbow but Ritchie, he’s got Ronnie Romero now, so I think…yeah I want Whitesnake basically.
NJ: I’ve worked with so many of the guitarists now as well, which is really amazing. Doug Aldrich, co-wrote with Joel Hoekstra, recorded with Mickey Moody, I’m friends with Bernie Marsden. So, it kind of makes perfect sense actually.
MGM: So if we start a campaign on the side then to…
NJ: …start a campaign…
Just one night, I’d love to sing all the classics, the Whitesnake Band, with Neil Murray and Mickey and Bernie and all those guys. It would be incredible to do something like that, to get to actually be in for one night.
MGM: That would be one of those events that everybody would swear that years later they were at, wouldn’t it?
NJ: I think so as well. Let’s say it hopefully it will happen one day.
With the upcoming elections in the UK, the impending exit from the EU, it feels like now is the time for a YouGov petition for something that will really pique the interest of the British people. James for Whitesnake has its first signature.
Inglorious II is out at the end of May and the album launch show is May 19th in London. A tour follows.