SOMETIMES she is known as ‘January Thompson’ but…
on a warm and bright day (had to get the corny weather/time-of-year joke done); I get to connect with January. She was born in the U.S. but is based in Britain – recording at her studio in Brighton. I ask about her album, Whelmed, and shooting the video for Too Soon.
She talks to me about the themes explored in her songs and some of the albums/artists that guide her work; what she has planned for the coming months and whether her musical upbringing – listening to Classical and Electronic sounds – has impacted her now.
Hi, January. How are you? How has your week been?
Heloo! Great, thanks.
I’ve started writing again: recording at my studio in Brighton.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Yes, of course, it would be my pleasure:
My name is January Thompson. I grew up in a household saturated with music - as my mother is a Classical pianist. I’ve always loved and wanted to be a part of the world of sound and one way was through singing - which has led me on the road less travelled: collaborating and working with different Electronic producers and D.J.s – and now, in releasing my first album, it has quite a bit of Classical influence mixed with subtle Electronic overtones.
The nominations for our very own Mercury Prize have been revealed. Did you catch the list and what is your view on the nominations?
Happy to see Kate Tempest getting some proper acknowledgement – also, love The XX and alt-J.
These are people that wouldn't normally get nominated for anything big in the States so happy to see that they are.
Before addressing your album; can you tell me about the song, Too Soon, and shooting its video?
The inspiration came from the feeling of a relationship coming but having to wait for it - because it’s too soon - “What’s too soon for us, too soon to find we’re not alone/we echo in time/I’ve questioned why It’s later/isn’t this our time and place?”
So it’s a so-close-but-so-far-away kind of scenario.
The video was shot in Ojai, California - sort of giving the lost-and-waiting-in-the-wilderness feel.
Whelmed is your latest album. What kind of stories and events compelled the songs on the album?
The title is an old sea term for when a ship would capsize. In this sense, the album is very much about being immersed in feelings.
Each song has a very distinct emotional correlation to an event or person in my life.
My world is built on my relationships with other people. Every time I start writing, it is with someone in mind: not always romantic, but mostly, of course (it is).
Romantic love always has highs and lows and twists and turns that need to be expressed; to better understand. Music and writing songs have always been cathartic for me in dealing with the good, and yes, some bad – or I’d like to say, ‘challenging relationships’.
Romantic love is never easy.
Is there a song on the album that is especially meaningful and personal?
I’d say Whelmed - the second single. It really sets the tone for the whole album, being immersed in feeling for the other person.
How would you say this album differs from your earliest work in terms of sounds and the song subjects one can discover?
I’d say it’s much more developed: mainly because of the calibre of musicians and the producers that worked on it. I also had co-writes on a few of the songs - which was a first for me. I quite enjoyed the process.
I believe you grew up listening to a lot of Classical music. Your music has elements of Electronic and Alternative. Who are the artists you take inspiration from?
I love her layering of vocals and the synths and, of course, Björk and Chopin (to name a few).
In a lot of ways, you remind me of innovators like Björk. Is she someone you take guidance from?
She’s groundbreaking and bold; her voice and how she emotes are incredible. She’s a hero for sure.
How important was your time collaborating with British D.J.s when it comes to your music? What did you take from them?
From finding my actual ‘sound’ to recording vocals and learning how to record - and produce myself and use Pro Tools and Logic.
I was really lucky with my teachers.
Any plans for later in the year? Do you already have more music in your head?
I do, actually, yes.
I’ve started writing again after a year-long hiatus. Feels lovely and am starting to work with some new musicians - which is always a source of inspiration, collaboration.
PHOTO CREDIT: Adeline Sumney
What sort of tour dates do you have approaching?
Nothing set, yet. T.B.A.
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
If you had to select the three albums that mean most to you; which would it be and why?
Arthur Rubinstein – Chopin: Nocturnes
I grew up listening to my mother play Nocturnes (and this album). They really express the sentiment of my heart and inspired me learning the piano.
Björk – Homogenic
The Electronic elements blew my mind and she managed to mix in Classical instrumentation with great songs - in a way no one had before that. Groundbreaking. Set the musical bar for me.
Linda Ronstadt – Greatest Hits
Another one my mother would play all of the time when I was a little girl – through her split with my father. We would sing it at the top of our lungs. I think it’s safe to say Linda taught me to sing: “Love is a rose but you never can pick it, only grows when it’s on the vine/Handful of thorns and you know you’ve missed it/Lose your love when you say the word mine.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Adeline Sumne
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Just keep writing what’s in your heart.
It’s good to learn and borrow sometimes from the giants before us – but try to stay as true as you can to your vision and your sound.
Never give up…ever.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Hyperballard by Björk