Lawrence Arabia must be a real gent. From his graceful debut album Chant Darling to press shots that show him suited, tied, and dashing, there’s something of a rather proper aura around the man. He seems like the kind of chap who’d charm your Nan, and signed to all too lovely Bella Union, we couldn’t imagine a better home for him.
Second record The Sparrow, fresh on shelves now, is a delicate and beautiful affair that takes all too normal narratives and magics them into stories that sound fairytale. The Line of Best Fit caught up with Mr Arabia, real name James Milne, via messenger pigeon to learn a little more.
It’s been a few years since Chant Darling, what have you been up to?
Apart from recording this album, in the last couple of years I’ve been getting hugely distracted by various collaborative projects in New Zealand – the kind of things that never really happened when I was living in the UK. A friend called Mike Fabulous and I made a vintage lounge/funk record called Fabulous/Arabia. James Dansey (who used to play with Lawrence Arabia) and I made a soundtrack for a local sitcom called Hounds. I’ve been creating, performing in, and writing music for a radio comedy saga called ‘The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium’. The Sparrow had to fit into the gaps between all this carry on.
How did you write The Sparrow? Was it over a period of time or quite a fast process?
It was a relatively fast process actually. I’d accumulated quite a bit of fodder while touring in the States and Europe, little ideas, visual notations. The sort of atmosphere of the album I guess. When I got back to the UK in September I borrowed my label manager Mark’s house for a few days and locked myself in until I’d written a bunch of songs. I bought a microphone for my iPod and walked around London discreetly muttering phrases under my breath. I found a cheap rehearsal space in King’s Cross with a piano in it. I had a date booked to start recording so songs had to be written.
When you write, is it just you? Is the band just for live?
Just me. But Connan and Elroy who played on this record definitely influenced the feel and sound of it a lot. We went into the recording not having rehearsed these new songs and I had no preconceptions about the feels of the songs.
What is the music scene like in NZ? Does it make you want to stay or move away?
It’s full of irreverent, perverse characters. Iconoclasts. There’s a great heritage of piss takers – Chris Knox especially typifies that disrespect for authority and self-seriousness which is a strong strand through the music culture there. The music scene itself does make me want to stay in NZ – the lack of career pressure leads people to collaborate a lot and do a lot of very silly, enjoyable stuff. It’s not necessarily going to lead to hits, but it leaves you happy and inspired doing it. I’m ambitious though, and the isolation does lead me to want to escape from time to time.
Do you still play in Barb?
Barb are currently on mothballs, but who knows!
There are a lot of quite Belle & Sebastian moments on the new album. Are there any artists in particular you feel excited/inspired by?
For this album my main excitations were Broadcast, Kevin Ayers, Gonzales, Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg and Connan Mockasin.
Are you looking forward to taking the new record on tour?
Greatly. Looking forward to having to re-evaluate the approaches to the songs all the time, meeting new musicians, eating and drinking to excess in magnificent medieval towns.
Is there anywhere you like playing most?
Italy’s pretty wonderful. Anywhere in Europe tends to be a rather lovely and gratifyng experience.
What special items do you ask for on your rider? Or is just bread and hummus?
I fear I’m not at the stage of my career where I can make outlandish demands. Single malt scotch is something I yearn for.
If Lawrence Arabia was a TV show, what TV show would it be?
Mork and Mindy.
The Sparrow is available now through Bella Union.