Interview: Sivu: “You think a label’s going to walk in and sign you the first time you play a gig”

Sivu: “You think a label’s going to walk in and sign you the first time you play a gig”

Sivu’s debut album is the product of freedom, friends and serious hard work. Now James Page is ready for the next step.

From the moment he stepped out with 2013’s breakthrough ‘Better Man Than He’ single, London musician James Page announced Sivu as an album-ready artist. These songs flow, often without interruption. Instead of bursting out from the seams and demanding attention, he made music to exist in quiet corners. In his words, “some things come out and set the world on fire, but we’d prefer people to stumble across everything.” 

Debut album ‘Something On High’ is produced by Alt-J deskman Charlie Andrew, who also happens to be the very person that encouraged Page to go further with his sweet, brittle songwriting. Two years in the making - and completed at the very beginning of 2014 - it’s finally ready to be unveiled to the world.

It’s still very early stages for you, which seems weird given the album’s coming out. This still feels like a first step.
It really does. It’s weird. For me it feels like a long process. We did the album in January. But I think we all realised it was never gonna be one of those things that, you know, smashed the charts. We thought, ‘Let’s just put it out and let people hear it’. The album says it how it is - it tells the story of Sivu. And hopefully people will like it. That’s the main thing.

So you wanted to make a record without compromises?
We tried to do that from the start. Everyone around me has been so amazing - they’ve let me do what I want, which is so good. And nobody put any expectations on it either. We didn’t want to put any pressure on this. Everyone was kind of unsure about signing to a major, but when I signed to Atlantic, I was already working with my own producer, Charlie [Andrew]. They helped everything, they pushed things a bit harder, but they’ve been cool.

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You’re on the new Alt-J album - how did that come about?
Warm Foothills’ is amazing. Joe from Alt-J said, ‘Just come down’. And it’s unreal. To be able to sing on it is so good. I went in with Marika [Hackman] - we went together, and it was ridiculous. They’re such an inspiring band. They just do what the fuck they want. They’re the only real band now that I feel can do that. People will love it, either way.

Have you always surrounded yourself with certain musicians?
I’ve been so lucky. Again, when I first started with Charlie, the Alt-J debut was just in the middle of being recorded. I met them, I met Marika, and we all had the same ethos. Everyone did what they wanted. And Charlie’s so good at that - he approaches things in an interesting way. You have to be quite open to stuff, it’s all left-field. He’s the best. I’m sure anyone who’s worked with him will say the same. If something sounds like anything else, he’ll be like, ‘No, we can’t do it. Let’s scrap this’. He hates the conventional. It’s great for me. I wrote all my songs on an acoustic guitar and neither of us wanted to have a standard singer-songwriter thing.

What’s the strangest thing that appears on the album?
No-one would ever know it, but on the track ‘Bodies’ there’s this weird “woo” sound that’s literally a baked bean can, with a nail on it, attached to a battery. His mate made it. You hold it and it makes this crazy sound, which we had to auto-tune! We never got any pictures or recordings of it. The whole time we were just having fun, even though the record is quite downbeat.

Sivu: “You think a label’s going to walk in and sign you the first time you play a gig”

“Everyone around me has been so amazing - they’ve let me do what I want, which is so good.”

Lyrically, are you always gravitating towards downbeat stuff?
I try to get a balance. The writing of this record was in a strange time of transition for me. Moving from a small town to London, being surrounded by people. And even being out there and playing music, that changed me a lot. When you first start meeting and talking people, you think the pavements are paved with gold. You think a label’s going to walk in and sign you the first time you play a gig. It’s not obviously how it works. I discovered that it’s brutal and tough. I wasn’t really prepared for that.

Was there a turning point in any way?
It was actually when I met Charlie. I used to do session work, so I met him on a session. And he gave me the confidence to do this. I never thought I’d write songs that people would pay attention to. ‘Better Man Than He’ took a life of its own, which is strange, because it’s the bleakest lyrically. People can relate to sadder stuff - it’s what connects.

Taken from the October issue of DIY, out now. Sivu’s debut album ‘Something On High’ is out 13th October on Atlantic.

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