It was back in 2014 that James Machin, the man behind the musical moniker Grawl!x embarked on his ambitious solo career. It was that year that James shared his debut record, and first part of his trilogy of albums, Good Grief. Three records that were designed to chart the different aspects of grief, the last of which, Appendix is out this week on Reckless Yes.
What’s arguably most remarkable about this album trilogy, is the sheer ambition and variety on show. While we often think of grief as a maudlin, lonely, difficult time, in many ways Grawl!x’s work seems to seek to express the sheer array of feelings that come with loss. Appendix is perhaps James’ finest expression to date, initially envisioned as a solo piano record, the album ballooned into something with a far greater scope. Featuring collaboration with the excellent Haiku Salut and label-mates Pet Crow, the album is a masterclass in clever layering, stunning melodies and perfectly judged production.
Today James has taken some time out to talk film soundtracks, collaboration and what on earth you do next when you’ve just finished a trilogy of records.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Grawl!x?
Grawl!x is me; that is James Michael Machin, a sorta singer-songwriter from the Derbyshire hinterlands located in the UK. Alternately it is also a band, involving predominately Robin Newman, Rich Collins & Leigh Dawber.
FTR: You’re about to release your new album, Appendix, what can you tell us about recording the album?
Mostly it was recorded at Snug in Derby, the name of which more or less sums up the studio atmosphere.
It started out as a piano based record, so we did all that on a lovely upright above a photography studio in Belper owned at the time by Richard J. Birkin. (Who incidentally, also composed/conducted the strings on the album)
The whole process took about a year & a half what with trying to organize varying aspects. Reet fun.
FTR: It feels a very collaborative album, how did that come about? Had you planned to have so many guests on the record?
Not really. We’d always intended Danielle to sing on the single (‘Don’t do it to yourself’) but apart from that it just snowballed so to speak. As I say, it started out as a solo piano record essentially that just ballooned into this big thing involving lots of people. Which is always bonza!
There is always a slight ulterior motive I find in collaborating in that it’s always a great excuse to just hang out with people you like. It just so happens that those lovely people happen to be amazing musicians too. All an elaborate means of staving off chronic loneliness! (Not really; but kinda)
FTR: Appendix is accompanied by a film release, Fleeting. How do the two link together?
So the instrumental version of ‘Appendix’ essentially served as the soundtrack to ‘Fleeting’, which was an idea I borrowed from somewhere I’m sure!
They’re thematically quite similar too, both being about endings, grief & such.
FTR: As a filmmaker as well as a musician, do you feel the two outlets offer you ways to express different emotions and ideas? Are there some things you can say with film you can’t say with music and vice versa?
I were talking about this just the other day as it happens. Ultimately, I would argue that all art is storytelling in one way or another. (Which includes movies & music)
What’s so great about music is that it can be much more cerebral & therefore you can be more suggestive in eliciting thoughts/imagery from a potential listener (hopefully!) Much in the same way as a great writer can give you sparing information about a person or location. Just enough to push you in the right direction but also leave it open to personal interpretation.
With film I find you have to be much explicit in the information you wish to convey. Not so much room for ambiguity traditionally. That can be great if you have a clear linear narrative you wish to express but when like me you prefer utilizing ambiguity it can be surprisingly restrictive. Film is great though in that it’s so sensory & immersive. It really is pretty much every human creative medium to date splodged together & that’s a very exciting thing to make use of.
FTR: You’ve spoke of Appendix as the closing part of a trilogy of albums about grief. Does this feel like the end of a particular chapter in your music?
Not to sound too pretentious but it certainly feels like the end of a chapter in my life, for what that’s worth! These records have all been rather personal & it does feel in some vague way like having brought some things a bit of the ol’ closure like.
Musically, it doesn’t seem necessary to make any drastic detour from what we’ve been doing. Deffo gonna keep trying new things of course. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up a electro-polka band in a few albums time. (I just watched ‘The Man Who Would Be Polka King’ FYI)
FTR: All three records are very different sonically, was it a conscious decision to make the music versatile despite the related subject matter?
Totes; or at least that’s how it turned out by the time we got to the 2nd one. ‘Good Grief’ were meant to be kinda nostalgic & bittersweet; ‘Aye’ was always meant to be deceptively upbeat & ‘Appendix’ was intended to be much more of a solemn affair. All of which were certainly inclinations I’ve experienced when mourning the loss of something.
FTR: What we’ve really enjoyed about the album’s is that you’ve avoided a lot of the clichés of obviously sad music about grief. Was it a conscious effort to avoid what people might expect?
I kinda hope so. Grief takes many forms & can come out in whatever way it wants to, so we deffo wanted to reflect that in the music. One certainly runs the risk of being too maudlin or sentimental when handling such delicate subject matter. (Which tbh we probs fell into on occasion!)
Being that the principal theme for ‘Appendix’ is death & dying I was very much aware of trying to incorporate some element of almost gallows humour into proceedings Having watched a lot of ‘Six Feet Under’ when I was younger that became a sort of reference point.
FTR: What are your plans for touring this record? What can people expect from the Grawl!x live show?
Currently putting together a mini-tour in early June, hopefully with some accompanying record store shows (Given that the record is on lovely, lovely vinyl)
Also, got am album launch at JT Soar in Nottingham on April 7th to any lovely person who fancies that. Got Natalie Evans supporting. She’s rate good.
FTR: What are your ambitions for music? Do you see it as a viable career?
I suppose at this point, just plough on making records until we realise my personal ambition which is to make the greatest record of all time! (& also to meet Jay-Z).
Seriously though, I certainly hope so! Honestly, it can be somewhat discouraging given the modern trend of having listenership statistics intrinsically linked with any online music. Comparatively, one can certainly feel like something of a failure against the pop behemoths of the moment.
I guess all you can do is just plodding away, doing the best work one can do. Then wait to see if lady luck takes a shit in your mouth or not.
FTR: What’s next for Grawl!x?
Already made a start on album number four, tentatively titled ‘Peeps’ which is gonna be aboot the joys immense of platonic love. Much more electronic-y. Should have a single by the end of the year probs.
Also, doing a video for the Haiku Salut which should be out spring-ish sorta time. All very exciting!
Appendix is out April 6th via Reckless Yes. Click HERE for more information on Grawl!x.