When Clash phoned James Hersey he is wandering around his adopted home of Berlin. It’s something he does often – the long streets helping him to unwind, to decrease stress and boost creativity. Equally, he just likes the view.
“I love this city,” he explains. “If you’ve been here before then you know what it’s like to walk down these streets and know the real feeling of freedom.”
It slightly more relaxed than London, we admit.
“It doesn’t have that ridiculous cost-point that puts people under pressure to be very competitive with each other. It’s a gentle flow that still pushes you forward.”
A gentle flow is a good way of describing James’ own music. Brought up in Vienna, his classical background gradually gave way to a trenchant desire to explore self-expression, to write his own songs, his own material. Since that decision was made traffic has only been one-way, with his mature, ethereal, infectious pop music storming the web.
“The first song I wrote... I was like 11 or 12 years old and I had a girlfriend, Roxanne, who’s now married with a child… we’re still friends. And I wrote a song called ‘If Only’ - it was was beginning to stir, that love thing, and it would be interesting to me for the rest of my life. And still is today.”
“A lot of the stuff I write is about connection. Especially now that people are connecting online, digitally, I’m just curious to see where we’re going to find that middle ground of pure connection.”
Breakout cut ‘Miss You’ isn’t too far away from those themes – it’s about love, desire, longing, and acceptance, yet it communicates these well-worn ideas in such a fresh way it can feel as though you’re hearing this for the very first time.
“That was one that just flowed right out and made a lot of sense,” he says. “I knew I wanted to have space in the lyrics, for people to have their own idea what’s happening. And I didn’t need to be super obvious about the lyrics, it just needed to make sense to me.”
Racking up some astonishing streaming figures, the success of ‘Miss You’ is part of the songwriter’s wider desire to fully interact with other people. “I’ve been doing this for a couple of years already, trying to find a way to connect,” he explains. “I think it feels really great that people can understand me on a level of songwriting that’s not just like ‘oh this is a great pop song on the radio’ but that really has something to do with a deeper meaning. A real artist.”
Continually working on new material, James Hersey has huge plans for the year ahead. Right now, though, he’s content to sit back a little, to walk along the streets of Berlin and let the music come to him. “I think a lot of songwriters put themselves under pressure, putting themselves in the studio three, four days a week trying to write some hit songs... and that’s never how I’ve been about creating music. I think it’s important to live your life.”
“I like the club scene here, too. It’s quite nice that there’s an openness to electronic music that doesn’t necessarily have to be forced into a pop element. It’s more about just enjoying the atmosphere and what this could potentially be. And using that is going to be central to my new music.”
Drawn to one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities, James Hersey refuses to place boundaries on his music – one day he might sit at the piano, the next he may be working alongside a techno producer. Replying with typical nonchalance, he might just accidentally define his entire creative ethos.
“It sounds really corny but I think that for me music is a universal language…”
With songwriting this strong, James Hersey may just be truly universal.
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