On his first solo album, James Kelly aka WIFE flits between extremes like a pendulum in human form. He’ll pen excitable, joyous numbers as easily as he will a smile-conquering angry feast. All of this is captured under his depth-exploring electronic aesthetic, but there isn’t a single song on ‘What’s Between’ that shares a musical sibling - these all come from different mindsets, families, planets.
One certainty throughout this first work is that it’s a far cry from Kelly’s time fronting metal band Altar of Plagues. Like anyone with this kind of ferocity being a staple of their past, moments of sonic rage flicker in and out of the foreground, but above anything else ‘What’s Between’ is an oddly beautiful record.
Out today (9th June) on Tri Angle, James has kindly given DIY an exclusive track-by-track guide to his new album.
There are a couple of tracks on the album which went though various different forms before being complete. ‘Like Chrome’ was the first track that I demoed for the album, and was also one of the final tracks to be completed. I think that the final track wound up being ‘Version 32’ or something like that. Often with a track I’ll think that I need to keep pushing it, when really its already there. Also, I played in Edinburgh some time early last year and I met a talented lady called Ana. She obliged my request for some backing vocals on this one.
I wrote the instrumental of ‘Tongue’ on a day when I went to one of London’s music universities, posed as a student, and took one of their cellos home to do some recording. It was the first time in my life that I had played or even touched a cello so I had no idea what the outcome would be. I tracked a tonne of material, some of which was structured, and some of which was reckless improvisation. The structured material formed what was to become ‘Tongue’ , a track that I put on the back burner for quite a while. When I began working with Bobby (Haxan Cloak), this was the first track that he worked on and I was totally floored when I heard what he had done. My long time friend and sometimes musical companion Nathan Jones came on board to track some vocals for this one too. Lyrically this is definitely the pissed off track. It’s about the fact that we’re all full of shit, and we all know it too.
Heart is a Far Light
‘Heart is a Far Light’ was written much later in the album recording process. I had been including a cover track in my live set when I first began playing, as I only really had four finished songs that I was willing to play out live. I figured I should at least play for longer than 15 minutes if people are going to fly me around and pay me what, to a guy who is used to being paid €80 between four people who drove 500 miles, is an absurd amount of money. I wound up pulling the percussion out of this cover track and building something completely new with it. My approach to ‘Heart… ’ was to strip things back to bare basics. As I was at the end of a long writing process, I felt overloaded and exhausted with big sound and heavy dynamics. ‘Heart… ’ is intended to be more subtle. Also, it is named after one of my favourite film scenes.
This was the final song to be written for the record, and was by far the most quickly executed (a conscious decision). This was made at the very final recording sessions, which took place on Osea Island - a remote, virtually empty and definitely haunted island off the East cost of the UK. Bobby (Haxan Cloak) Robin (Tri Angle) and I spent a week there where we ate, slept and got drunk on the album. When the record was almost done we felt like there was a gap which we wanted to fill with something violent and reckless - the anthesis to “Heart is a Far Light”. We tracked all of this over a couple of hours and they quickly found out that I always record my vocals naked - a practice which both shocks and delights.
This was one of the earlier tracks that I recorded and was a milestone for me in terms of vocals. When I decided that I would be making a vocal record, I enrolled in a singing class so as to improve various aspects of my performance. It helped take me out of my comfort zone and the first recorded examples of this are on ‘Dans Ce’. I was actually extremely wary of sharing it with people at all but when I finally did, they were really into it. I recorded during a trip home to Ireland which I took for a couple of weeks to immerse myself in writing. It was an afternoon in the middle of May and the hills outside my parents house were covered in dense winter fog (a typical Irish summer scene). I set up my mic up facing this view and recorded this track. After that, like some of the other tracks, this went on the back burner for a while because I knew exactly how I wanted the track to end up and I knew the kind of work it would take. Bobby, Robin and I finally finished it on Osea Island in what became a studio that would put Blue Oyster Cult to shame. Elephants, swords, gun shots, chains, and exploding water sounds all found their way into ‘Dans Ce’. Roly Porter composed the strings in this one too.
“I think it’s fucking great that I finally have some tracks that my folks can get into.”
A Nature (Shards)
‘A Nature (Shards)’ is a revision of the track ‘Shards’ from my EP. It was actually the first WIFE track that I ever finished, and is about three years old at this point. I finished it when I had first moved to London and it is also the source of my one and only generic London producer story - which is that I burned the track to cd and brought it down to Plastic People in Shoreditch, and asked the DJ to play it out on the system. He did. It sounded like shit and I was smiling like a goon.
I always wanted to revisit this track and record live strings (the original version used samples) and so the aforementioned “borrowed” cello makes another appearance on this track. Bobby had a heavy hand in the production on this track and he made it sound F U C K I N G H U G E. Seriously, listen to is loud and you will feel how good it is. And some trivia - the guitar sound that you hear throughout is an iPhone recording of a busker I saw in Beijing, which I later chopped up and messed with in the studio.
Last year I experienced a loss to suicide. It was something that I had never experienced and I reacted by writing a song. ‘Living Joy’ is a celebratory tribute to that person.
‘Fruit Tree’ is an unapologetically happy song and I think its probably my favourite thing that I have ever written. I want people to feel good when they hear it and I like it to evoke a feeling of ecstasy, because what I feel when I listen to it. My Mom loves it, and as a guy who spent years in a band that was difficult for parents to appreciate, I think it’s fucking great that I finally have some tracks that my folks can get into and dance around to when they get hammered. Nathan handles the lead vocals on this and Roly Porter fans will be shocked to hear that this is the track that he had the heaviest stamp on.
Further Not Better
‘Further Not Better’ was one of the early demos for the album (I made about 50 ‘sketches’ before narrowing things down) and I had completely forgotten about it until Robin revived it. We finished it on Osea Island, and similar to “Heart is a Far Light” we wanted to hold back on the instrumentation and really let the vocals breathe. At mastering Bobby described this tracks as sounding like “the last episode of the OC, except everyone dies”.