“I feel like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable,” says James Chapman, aka Maps. He’s talking about earlier in the year when a lorry smashed into the back of his and his touring band’s van at 80mph, on the way back from a gig in Nottingham. “We were all drunk in the back and falling asleep, and then I thought, ‘I wonder what that was’, took my headphones out, and there was total devastation all around me.” Drummer Ben broke some ribs, and after surveying various other injuries within the group, the decision was made to cancel the rest of the tour. “It could have been so much worse though…” he ponders.
Northampton’s Maps achieves what very few have managed to convincingly pull off in the past. Fusing his electronic sensibilites with a shoe-gazing ethic, he manages to pull off both musical angles with aplomb, and then fuses them together with ease. The result is music that sends you to a completely different time and place, while lyrically, there is also room for both the simple and the complex.
“Once I get going on a song, I can stay up all night. I can’t help it. I can’t stop.”
The aforementioned bus crash was a minor setback in what has been, in Chapman’s words, a long journey. “I was in bands in my teens, and when they split up I just carried on playing. I’ve been writing songs since I was 16.” Fast forward a few years, via an unsuccessful stint at university; “I hated it. I was studying English, and all I wanted to do was write and play music. Although I did get into some cool Lo-fi and American stuff while I was there”, he found himself with a handful of limited edition 10-inch singles under his belt on his own label, and signed to the quite brilliant Mute Records (“I can’t think of a better label to be on”).
Next thing he knew, he was in Iceland with legendary producer Valgeir Sigurdsson. “It’s weird, I’ve always had this fascination with Iceland. I just always thought I’d go there. When I was younger, I was writing songs with Icelandic lyrics. I would take words out of holiday brochures. Then I met Valgeir and he was really cool. We bounced a lot of ideas off each other and he had loads of gadgets I’d never seen before. I was like a kid in a sweet shop.”
What came out of that session is an album of ethereal, soaring music from another world, at times Spiritualized’s space-rock, and at others Sigur Ros meets Massive Attack meets Daft Punk; and a far cry from Northampton where Chapman first recorded on his battered 16-track in his bedroom, and where he still currently resides. Another thing that stands out about Chapman is that he refuses to use any computers in his sometimes arduous recording process. “I use a 16-track, a sequencer with a drum machine and synths. It’s more precise that way. Once I get going on a song, I can stay up all night. I can’t help it. I can’t stop.”
Maps’ debut album, entitled ‘We Can Create’, is out on May 14th, preceded by lead single ‘It Will Find You’ on April 30th, and if initial reaction is to be believed, is an early contender for album of the year. There are plans to tour around the end of May, and is he worried about any further bus accidents? “Well, Bruce Willis was alright…” he says, mischievously.