Interview: Yakobo

James Currey YakoboMusical polymath and multi-instrumentalist James Currey released the second part of his current trilogy of EPs under his Yakobo moniker last month.

We had a chat with him about the crowd funded release, how he sees the local scene in Derby and his work as a composer on film and video game scores.

“There’s some really exciting music happening in Derby at the moment.  I’m incredibly blessed to be doing what I love. I get to make music every day and I don’t know what could be more rewarding than that.”

James Currey is a singer-songwriter, composer, music teacher and more; a full time musician embedded in the Derby scene and excited not only by the music around him in the city but about his own releases too. Under his Yakobo moniker he is two thirds of the way through a trilogy of EPs, begun in 2015 following a Kickstarter to fund the recording and release.

It came off the back of Yakobo‘s debut release, 2012’s self-produced mini-album Glimpses, and a diversification into composition for film and video game. But in early 2015 it was to crowd funding that Currey looked, securing £4,600 which went toward his current trilogy.

And with the second part released last week the listener can begin to piece together the emerging reflective arc, mirroring the times in his life at which each part was recorded. And it was the staged journey which the tracks reflect that convinced Currey this was a set of EPs, each with a different sound and theme, rather than a singular album.

“The first EP, Wander In The Wilderness, spoke a lot about setting off on a journey; it was full of optimism, hubris and faith. Musically it was probably closest to what you would expect from singer-songwriter indie-folk-pop; it’s kinda bright and catchy. The Passage of Time is more rooted in the grind of going through life, love, heartbreak, disappointment etc. The songs are less upbeat but I think they are more mature. The third EP is on its way, it’s going to be a little bit darker with slightly more inspiration from jazz and prog. There’s a certain amount of doubt and disillusionment in there. I won’t give away too many spoilers for now though.”

Through the recording his sound as an artist has developed, taking him from acoustic indie songwriter to a broader, deeper sound.

Yakobo has always been an eclectic mixture of pop, folk, soul, indie and all sorts. The sound can transform from one song to the next, or within a song. But the golden thread for me should always be honest songwriting and a heartfelt delivery. Sometimes there are elaborate arrangements and production, sometimes it’s just the sound of people playing music together in a room. The song and the vocal come first, everything else serves that.

“I try to listen to as broad a range of music as I can and it all feeds into my writing. I grew up listening to my parents’ vinyl collection which mainly consisted of Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, classic ’60s and ’70s singer-songwriters like that. And I also used to borrow my big brother’s Britpop and grunge collection.

“I grew up playing music in church, that’s where I learned to sing and play guitar, but I’ve also played the violin since I was a wee lad, so classical music has always been central too. More recently I’ve been listening to jazz, soul and hip hop as well as the music I’m most familiar with. Whenever I hear something that I like it leaves an imprint on the way I create music.”

The funding for the EPs went toward recording, done by Chris D’adda at Vale Studios (London Grammar, Kodaline, The 1975), and mixing, done by Dave Sanderson (Reverend and the Makers, Hey Sholay).

“Nearly all of the songs are written just on an acoustic guitar, but there’s usually a whole sound world in my head. The recording process for me is about capturing an honest performance as well as teasing out that sonic picture in my mind’s ear, experimenting with different ways of doing things to achieve the desired effect.

“I went away to a residential studio in an old manor house to record the bulk of the EPs, just to get away from distractions and live in that creative space for a little while. But some of the overdubs like horns and extra guitars have been laid down in local studios.”


But as a solo performer, even as a multi-instrumentalist, the challenge can be in getting the rich soundscape of a recording to translate to a live setting.

“The majority of Yakobo gigs are solo, just me and a guitar or two. Those shows are great because there’s nothing to hide behind, and when you get in front of the right audience there can be some beautiful, intimate moments where you could hear a pin drop. But with the full band everything is like it sounds in my head, there’s so much more room to play.

“Whatever context I’m performing in my main focus is on singing my guts out and performing as if it could be the last time I get to do it. The contrast between delicate, whispered falsetto through to growling, belting, throat-shredding moments of passion becomes even more pronounced live than it is on the record.”

Yakobo is just one part of Currey’s life as a full-time musician with other strings to his bow including composing original scores for film and video games. This has included Xbox One/PS4/PC game Pneuma: Breath Of Life and feature documentary L’eglise Sur L’ocean, as well as the critically acclaimed score for game The Turing Test, widely regarded as one of the high points of the overall game.

“The two aspects of music are so different, but they inform each other. It’s really satisfying to be able to write something that sounds nothing like a singer-songwriter when my influences come from so many divergent sources.

“The latest Xbox/PC game I scored – The Turing Test – was done in collaboration with my good friend Sam Houghton, it was great to work closely with someone else seeing as most of what I write is done in isolation. He brought a totally different perspective but it worked very naturally.”

But with the arts under ever greater threat as a viable livelihood, while Currey feels blessed to be able to call music his profession it is not without challenge.

“The obvious challenge is paying the bills! The fact is that less people are paying for music these days, but more people than ever are trying to make a career out of it.

“I could moan about that, but I would rather let the competitive nature of the industry be a driving force to keep getting better at what I do, and find ways to make my music connect with people on a deeper level in an age when so much music is treated like a throwaway commodity. Of course you have to diversify, I couldn’t keep a roof over my head on the $0.0001 or whatever per Spotify stream. I teach music lessons and I’m involved with all sorts of other projects, but I love all of it. Not going back to the desk job any time soon.”

Part of facing that challenge is in the support of a community and Currey is positive about the current scene in Derby.

“I used to get a bit downhearted about it sometimes, but I think it was at 2Q Festival earlier this year where I realised we do have a pretty good thing going on. And the way the music community has come together since the Dubrek flood has been massively encouraging too.

“There are lots of good artists about. I keep finding myself on a bill with Scribble Victory, those guys are ace and they always put on a great show. There’s some really exciting music happening in Derby at the moment.”

The second in the trilogy of Yakobo EPs, The Passage of Time, was released in September and is available now on Bandcamp. The final instalment is set for release early next year.

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