James Marriott is the biggest dork we know

With a new track, ‘Romanticise This’, out now, and a debut album set to follow, JAMES MARRIOTT is set to be the name on everyone’s lips this summer

Words: Abigail Firth.
Photos: Em Marcovecchio

A tweet pops up underneath our Lovejoy cover announcement: “Biggest dorks I know fr”. It’s from James Marriott, a fellow YouTuber turned Twitch streamer turned musician who’s just been on tour with the band across the UK.

With an almost equal level of hype to his band buddies – indicated by the fact that it’s barely midday, there are already queues of fans waiting to watch his performance in Jubilee Square for The Great Escape – and we’re advised to keep our shoot in the studio rather than on location for that very reason. James’ musical career has been on a steady rise since his first single release in 2020.

So we sit in the back of a café in Brighton, where James currently lives, to catch up about it all. “Oddly, I kind of made a name for myself taking the piss out of other YouTubers’ music,” he says about the transition between careers. “So I knew there was going to be pressure there. But there was no point in my mind where it feels like I doubted myself.”

Embarking on his musical journey in the depths of the UK lockdown of May 2020, James released his debut single ‘Slow Down’ (which he dubs “horrendous”) back then, quite publicly finding his musical feet. It’s a very different soundscape to the one he dabbles in now, veering into a synthetic 80s sound rather than his current mid-2000s indie references.

“I wanted to write something which people would respect,” he says, talking about where he wanted to go from there. “I’ve always been a bit of a people pleaser, so I wanted to write things where people would be like, ‘Oh, he can do it’. I think people were surprised when I released [follow up] ‘Him’ because it was like, he’s not just a guy that someone has sent an instrumental to, and he’s put some shit lyrics on top; it’s like, no, he actually wrote this, which I did.”

He continues, “Ever since that I caught a bug for it, I love writing music, even if it’s in a really emotional point in my life, where I’m trying to write about something completely irrelevant from myself, I find it really cathartic regardless, to explore my own views or my own emotions. That’s my best way to do it. I have therapy, and a lot of time, we talk about my lyrics because that seems to be my most honest version of myself.”

James was a self-proclaimed theatre kid, pursuing singing, dancing and acting (an aura that he still has today, according to a fan’s mum who called him out on it after watching him perform at a gig), and was always interested in being on stage. Initially, that desire for an audience manifested itself online, where he earned himself over two million subscribers on his YouTube commentary channel, but his dreams of becoming a musician remained in the back of his mind.

“I kind of made a name for myself taking the piss out of other YouTubers’ music”

James marriott

Growing up, James’ dad was a pianist, which led to him and his sister taking piano lessons, too, although he quit after getting too competitive. An unlikely family outing then led to James picking up the guitar.

“I went to an Abba tribute concert,” he explains, “and I pointed to the bassist and went ‘I want to do that’. My dad was like, no chance, and bought me a guitar instead. So I bought a Beatles book and went through it almost immediately. It was quite natural for me, playing guitar. After I got through that book, I just started writing my own music; there was no in-between.”

With the first of those songs making their way into the world in 2020, he’s since followed that up with a steady stream of singles and EPs, including the ‘No Left Brain’ EP in 2021 and last year’s ‘Bitter Tongues’. With each release, he’s been pushing himself to be more ambitious, but it’s proving a little hard because he’s still so new to this.

“The limitations of my writing are the limitations of my playing, so I have to improve in order to write more complex things, which, I don’t know, there are times where I’ll hear a melody in my head, and I can’t play, but I have to work it out and get better and learn the technique to do it. So it’s kind of a backwards way of approaching music, but I love it. People can tell if you’re releasing music to sell out or to just have another platform where you’re earning money, or if you’re making music because you want to do it for yourself. I like writing music and putting it out there because I like connecting with people. People can tell that even in my first song, which was trash,” he reiterates.

Acknowledging he’s come on leaps and bounds since he’s now sonically closer to where he wants to be as he gears up to release new material this summer. A child of the internet, James’ reference book plays out like an Inbetweeners soundtrack, shouting out The Strokes, Bloc Party, Foals and, erm, Kelly Clarkson (“Her vocal production is great! It’s just in your fucking face all the time,” he says) as his main inspirations.

“I’m so terminally online. Can’t help it, unfortunately. But I was a big gamer, so a lot of the music I’m inspired by is stuff that I played on a console. I love nostalgia; I am somewhere between Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock and any FIFA soundtrack between ‘06 and ‘13. The number of artists I found from FIFA soundtracks; that’s how I found The 1975, which is so weird to think about.”

With an album on its way, he’s just released the first couple of singles from it. First up was ‘So Long’, which in stark contrast to how he talks about his older tracks, calls it the best thing he’s ever made. Next is the deeply personal affair, ‘Romanticise This’.

“It’s essentially a song about suicidal ideation,” he explains. “So what I find interesting about the song is every time I’ve shown it to someone, and I’ve gone, what do you think it’s about, they’ve said something different. For me, it’s a story about how you romanticise when you’re feeling in a really dark place. You hear a lot of stories about people going through breakups and then someone threatening to hurt themselves because of it. Or, in my case, feeling like sometimes when I’m in a really dark place, someone in my life attempts to romanticise it and be like, ‘Call me one more time’, so that’s what that song is about. It’s a hard-hitting emotional banger that means a lot to me.”

With his first tour in the bag this past February and a support slot with Lovejoy already ticked off, James’ first festival season is now in full swing, beginning right after our chat today at The Great Escape and winding up in August with a massive slot opening Reading Festival’s Saturday main stage. Not bad for a lad still figuring out the guitar. ■

Taken from the August 2023 edition of Dork.


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