James Rees | 'Normal People' EP

Our BA Creative Music Production Programme Leader on the release of his new EP, ‘Normal People’...


ICMP’s tutors are not only active in our classrooms but lead the way in the wider industry with their own ventures, projects and music. 

James Rees, ICMP’s BA Creative Music Production Programme Leader, is among them, currently gearing up to release his new EP, ‘Normal People’. 

Made in collaboration with fellow ICMP tutor Dan Green, the idea for the project started through James teaching the Professional Project module and wanting to undertake a project alongside students with the idea of developing a more collaborative learning culture.

Here we find out more about the making of the EP. You can also catch James performing live at the Harrison in London to help launch the release...  

Is this new project going to be under your own name? What is it all about?

Yes it's coming out under James Rees, however, the project has been very much a collaborative process, I've been lucky enough to work with the very talented Dan Green on the project and he has been instrumental in defining the final sound of the EP. 

Dan has been co-producer, performer and arranger on the project and it's been so much fun to collaborate as I'm normally used to working on my own. 

What was the idea with the new EP? 

For a while now I've been wanting to create a more meaningful body of work. Recording and releasing singles is fun but I wanted to take on something a little more ambitious. It seemed like an EP would be the logical next step.

For an EP to be cohesive there needs to be some sort of theme or an aesthetic that ties it all together, so the idea was to record all the songs without the use of a computer to explore what it might have been like to have been a DIY/unsigned artist before the advent of the modern DAW." 

I'm very much inspired by DIY artists/producers, those particularly working with limited resources, artists like Mac DeMarco, who recorded his first album on a four-track. Paul McCartney, (who I'm sure could have secured any of the best studios in the world to record his debut album, but did it all at home), and Daniel Johnston who used to work in McDonalds and hand out his albums to customers. When he ran out of tapes to hand out he used to go home and record it all again!

Dan and I bonded over our love of Paul McCartney and recorded a cover of his song 'Teddy Boy' last year which I guess was the start of this journey. You can listen to it on Bandcamp below.

I'm interested to hear about the influence of the Professional Project module - what is this and how has it informed this new music? 

Last academic year was the first time I had taught on this module, I was very excited but also a little unsure how to approach the teaching. 

Our final year production students have such a diverse array of interests and styles and so all of their project ideas were so different that there was no 'one size fits all' method of teaching. I decided to conduct my own project alongside the students, essentially pretending I was a student on the module as well.

I hoped that this would develop a collaborative learning culture with the students I was teaching. I have to say that the students were very supportive, and their own projects were very inspiring, and undertaking my own project certainly helped me to understand the pressure students experience in their final year.

I'm also interested to hear more about the recording of this new music - could you talk a little about this and how it came together? 

As I mentioned our rule was that we couldn't use a computer when recording. We used a Tascam 424 Mkiii Portastudio, and recorded straight to cassette tape.

Whilst this is a brilliant machine, it has many limitations, lots of the techniques I'm used to using within a modern DAW are impossible, for instance editing. On a DAW you can record multiple takes of a performance and splice them together, however that's not really possible on cassette so we had to focus on getting the performance right, and if a performance is generally great but there is a small mistake, learning to live with that! 

Only having four tracks is also a big restriction, so we used to record drums, bass and then bounce them together to a spare track to free up space to record other things, a technique known as 'ping-ponging'." 

One of the fun things we tried was vari-speed. The Tascam has a speed control so you can speed up or slow down recordings. The Beatles used this a lot, when they recorded 'Rain' they performed it really quickly and slowed it down later. Dan and I tried this when recording 'Sleeper Train', we deliberately recorded it at a faster tempo, and in a higher key, so that when we slowed it down it was in the correct key and at the correct speed, this really helped to fatten up the drum sound.

Overall, it was a cool experience, it's taught me lots of things that I will keep using, things like getting the sound correct at source, and committing to your ideas. 

What is the secret to an effective collaboration?

Well, I really enjoyed working with Dan, he's such a great musician, and so from my point of view, it was really important that I listened to his ideas. I guess there isn't any point in collaborating if you're not willing to lose too much control.

Having Dan's energy and input was crucial, everything we recorded ended up sounding wildly different to any demos that I had done. I'm sure that if I had done this project on my own I probably would have run out of steam, so having Dan to keep me motivated was really great, and of course, the beautiful thing about collaboration, you never really know what you're going to end up with. 

We also collaborated with Lucy Bernstein who's backing vocals added an extra dimension to the title track, and David Hornberger played cello on the first and last track. Again, they added something that we couldn't and the end result is better for it!

Find out more about the 'Normal People' EP out on 24th March.

Get tickets to the EP launch gig on 23rd March. Listen to the intro from the forthcoming release. 

Take the first steps in your music career with ICMP

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To completely immerse yourself in your music career, chat with our friendly Admissions Team via email enquiries@icmp.ac.uk or give them a call on 020 7328 0222.

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by ICMP staff writer
March 7, 2023
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