Interview: Five minutes with Marcus James

Marcus James, a rising collaborative producer from Canada, has just released his latest single, Honest (with RYYZN)’ via Physical Presents. The single explores the space in between two people as they drift apart from one another but provides a thrumming bassline to counteract the sober topic. In addition to a busy tour schedule, Marcus James can be found maintaining a residency at Celebrities Nightclub in Vancouver and currently sits at over 6 million streams across online platforms.

Find out more in the exclusive interview below

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

I don’t think there was ever really a question of doing anything else. I’d go crazy without music. 

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

I feel like I’m a little different than most producers in the sense that my ideas often start with a lyric. I write as a sort of cathartic response to past and present life events, and from there the ideas begin to get flushed out into full productions. 

Does your material feature any collaborations?

I’m doing a bunch of stuff with RYYZN right now. They’re a Canadian indie duo that I found on youtube around a year ago. Since then we’ve written an entire EP, recorded acoustic b-sides, and done Over U and Honest together. I think one of the coolest things about music is how close it brings you to the people you write with, we end up having conversations that I’d never have with some people I’ve known my whole life. 

What’s on your current playlist?

Lane 8, Machine Gun Kelly, Lontalius, Snow Patrol, Lil Lotus, Sasha Sloan, Verzache, Nothing Nowhere, Taska Black, Yoe Mase, Neck Deep, Luna Shadows, 

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

One of my favourite things about performing is interacting with the crowd both during my set and after. I like to think that a Marcus James show is something special and unique that everyone takes part in, rather than something a fan is observing from an audience standpoint. Also, you can always catch me hanging around meeting people after the club lights turn on. 

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I think the main thing separating me from a lot of dance acts is that I’m a songwriter as well as a producer. In a lot of dance music there just isn’t that sense of intimacy between a producer and a vocalist which ends up in a lot of songs being written that aren’t really about anything. I try and be in the room writing with the vocalists I work with as much as possible or sending voice memos back and forth. As a songwriter, one of the most freeing things I can do is to allow myself to be vulnerable, and hopefully, in turn, I can help others feel comfortable starting a dialogue about things that so many of us go through but not enough people talk about. Leaning into the honesty in my songs by pulling from real-life experiences, as well as the emo inspired guitar and vocal elements really helped me find my niche. 

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

I usually sleep in and try to get a workout and a healthy breakfast in before I leave the house. I’ll take the bus downtown and get a coffee and some studio snacks, then it’s usually 4 – 8 hours in the studio. If I’m starting a new idea it usually starts with myself and another songwriter playing around on guitar and tossing lyrics back and forth for an hour or two and then tracking a bunch of rough ideas. I don’t take enough breaks but if I get stuck or get a headache I like to go on a walk. 

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

I’ve definitely had a few of those. Tons lately in the studio writing my debut EP with RYYZN. There’s nothing quite like that moment when the lyric clicks and you stumble into the world of the song you’re writing. The first time I had that moment though, was probably the first show I ever played. I was 18 and had a sprained ankle so I played the whole set on crutches, I went so hard that I sprained my other ankle. 

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

Flow water. I drink way too much water during my sets and always have to pee so badly when I’m done. 

Any emerging artists on your radar?

I’m really grateful to be surrounded by incredibly talented inspiring friends. 

What gets your creative juices flowing?

I need coffee daily and I need to get my heart broken at least 1x annually to get any work done. 

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

I’m an Ableton guy and I feel like most of the plugins and I use, most producers have access to. It’s just a question of getting to know your tools and how you use them. I use a lot of the Waves and fab filter stuff. When I’m writing chords I usually just use some Kontakt keys or even the Ableton stock piano. 

Any side projects you’re working on?

First singles are coming out really soon under my side project GOODLYFE. It’s a duo project with one of my best friends Josh Martinovic. 

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

In the past two years, I’ve really come into my own sound by combining more emo vocals and melodic structures with the music that I love playing in my club sets. I basically consider all my music before 2018 a ‘practice run.’

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

Debut EP, remixes for some of my favourite artists, acoustic stuff, my first full-scale music video, and more dope projects with my talented friends. 

Famous last words?

Work hard, love the process, surround yourself with inspiring people, support your friends, and have fun! 

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