I often find “it’s a whole mood” a really weird statement that teens use, but I when I spin Cyrano’s ‘White Wine’, I get exactly what it means. The soft synth hooks, piano keys and jazz notes from the saxophone create, well, a whole mood indeed. It’s been a matter of days since first hearing the debut single and arranging an interview with James, the brains behind the one-man Cyrano outfit. Here we go…
RECORD WEEKLY’S INTERVIEW WITH CYRANO
Hiya James, how are you doing?
I’m good thanks! Currently living in Edinburgh and enjoying the pace here and space to focus on my music.
What’s your general vibe about 2021 at the moment?
So far, I’m feeling really positive. We’ve seen some really important political decisions being made, with the UK looking to accelerate cutting its carbon emissions, progress around the George Floyd trial and people proving that, by coming together, we can force large corporations to reverse their decisions of self-interest. Not least with the recent U-turn made by the big six English football clubs to form a European Super League!
It also feels great to see businesses opening back up and being able to see family and friends again. I hope we’re at the tail end of the pandemic now.
From a personal point of view, it’s been incredible to see a lot of my close friends releasing music and I’m proud to have shared my first single ‘White Wine’ last month too. I know how much it takes to get to this point, and the time and effort involved that no one else sees. A few mentions need to go to Kit Monteith’s debut album ‘Rise & Fall’, CJ Pandit’s first EP ‘Just Before You Disappear’ and Drew Jodi’s single ‘Coward’.
You’re just breaking into the music scene, but when and how did it all begin for you? And can you talk us through your stage name being influenced by the play, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’?
Releasing music has been a long time coming for me. Aside from my stubborn desire for perfection, and the severe demoitis I had during the recording process, I also fell into a time/money conundrum. A lot of the EP was recorded throughout my degree, and being a broke student in Edinburgh meant most of the sessions were spread across several months. Straight after uni, I started working full-time and it’s been my goal since to finish this body of work.
For the past eight years, I’ve dedicated my mind to my music, but always struggled to understand how I wanted to present it. I’ve wanted this project to have a name with meaning, which complemented my sound and would feel timeless.
Last year, I went to see the play you mentioned, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, which is centred around the lead character Cyrano’s desire for a girl. Despite his talents as a writer and poet, he’s overcome by his own insecurities and writes to her through the alias of another man. Sitting in the theatre and watching the events unfold, I began drawing the parallels between Cyrano and my connection with music, so that’s how the name stuck.
Your debut single, ‘White Wine’, is DREAMY. You collaborated with Jazzi Bobbi too — how did that come about?
Thanks so much, it’s great to hear you like it!
‘White Wine’ felt like the prime place for me to start, as it’s written about friendships and made for sharing. The original demo was born out of my frustration from not being able to play ‘Spit It Out’ by The Maccabees on piano. I chopped up a drum break onto my MPC, sent it through some delays and reverb to give it that swing and just started jamming along in my bedroom. I took it into my studio and started throwing down some vocal lines to get a fully formed demo in place.
I sent my demo to Oli Barton-Wood, after being blown away by his production on Nilüfer Yanya’s ‘Miss Universe’ back in 2019, especially on tracks like ‘Melt’ and ‘Tears’. That’s when we got Jazzi Bobbi involved, who also plays in Nilüfer Yanya’s live band and makes great music of her own. I was so pleased she was up for being on the track, as the addition of her sax and backing vocals really took ‘White Wine’ to the next level for me.
After my sessions with Oli, I also shared the track with Sam Johnston from Leif Erikson, who added some Nelly-inspired acoustic guitar and helped me shape the lyrics and structure. I did my final post-production tinkering and added the “Dad Chord” – taken from a voicenote of a chord my Dad came up with when I first showed him. It’s my favourite element.
I ought to give Jamie Ward a shout-out here, as he applied his magic to make the mix really smooth and cohesive, before Felix Davis mastered it at Metropolis Studios, London.
Ah fantastic stuff! It sounds like it’s been a really exciting process. Now, which artists have you been most inspired by?
Definitely Arlo Parks, Frank Ocean and Nilüfer Yanya, when it comes to ‘White Wine’. While writing, I tend to build a playlist of tracks, old and new, that have great vibes, production or lyrical concepts. This playlist is actually on my Spotify, if you want to hear some of this inspiration.
Eric Clapton made me fall into music, while Foals have been one of the most important bands for me. I’m very much into Arthur Russell, Bill Evans and D’Angelo, too. Most recently, I’ve been a bit addicted to Westerman’s debut album ‘Your Hero Is Not Dead’, which combines crafted songwriting and meaningful production.
Are you part of any projects outside the music circles?
Over the past year, I’ve been volunteering in my local community and with Age UK as a telephone friend, which has been really rewarding. I managed to get my friend a tablet and help her access the internet for the first time, so she could stay in touch with her family during the pandemic, order her food shops online and keep up with learning Spanish. She’s currently got an insane streak on Duolingo, which is pretty amazing!
That’s ace! Your help will have made such a difference, for sure. So, what’s on the agenda for the rest of the year with gigs and releases?
In the coming months, I’ll be releasing my debut EP, ‘Consolations’. It’s definitely deeper and heavier lyrically, as well as sonically more atmospheric and diverse than ‘White Wine’.
‘Consolations’ was inspired by Alain de Botton’s book ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’, and it follows the arc of a night. It was written over several years and took me a long time to find the right meaningful words for the tracks, but I’m really proud to have finished it and it feels like a real step up in production, writing and style. I think there’s something for everyone on it!
I’ll also be touring with Leif Erikson at the end of the year, plus I’m currently working on more material, alongside a live EP. I’ve got some exciting things planned for each track to help personify them, which I can’t wait to share!