Loraine James on Emo, Starfield, and Finding the Voice That Fits

Loraine James on Emo, Starfield, and Finding the Voice That Fits
Photo by Ivor Alice

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Loraine James has a great new album out, Gentle Confrontation, that feels like the culmination of what she's been doing the last few years under her own name as well as under her Whatever the Weather alias. She's been quickly building an estimable catalogue as a songwriter and producer, and we hopped on a call last month to talk about her musical journey and, of course, gaming.

Tell me about the story behind "2003," which is a really striking song on this record.
It was 20 years since my dad passed this year. I wasn't planning on talking about it or anything, it's just something that was on my mind because of the anniversary. I wrote more words than I usually do, and it was nice to engage with more songwriting—putting thoughts to paper. I did a lot more of that on this album than I've done on any album.

There's a certain level of vulnerability that comes with exposing what's inside of you, songwriting-wise. You just mentioned that was relatively new territory for you. What was it like to explore that side of yourself, creatively?
It was a reward to get stuff off my chest. I keep a lot of things bottled in. I do talk to my friends about stuff, but the way of putting it through music is easier for me. It also reveals stuff to me that I didn't realize before. There was a lot of stuff on this album about being a child, and the ability to process heavy stuff when you're 7 is impossible. Revisiting that as an adult has been really interesting—confronting stuff—and it's growth in that respect. In some ways, I'm a bit more shy about people listening to this record, but there were no regrets about expressing what I did.

Tell me about how you discovered music when you were younger. Hearing things for the first time as a teenager can be life-changing.
I definitely went through phases—the indie rock stuff of Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Two Door Cinema Club. I associate that music with bus rides and summer. Then it changed towards the post-hardcore stuff—Circa Survive, Thursday, Thrice. I changed different types of rock music, then I really got into math-rock through browsing YouTube. Discovering TTNG on there opened up this massive world to me when it came to time signatures. Watching the music channels when I was 11 was another gateway to discovering my music taste. Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park were the first rock bands I really liked. I was drawn to nü-metal because of playing a bunch of video games like Smackdown that had a lot of rap and rock stuff—the Tony Hawk games as well. So the fusion that Linkin Park represented was perfect me.

You still game now?
Yeah, I've been playing Starfield. There's so much to do that I feel a bit lost.

I'm also playing Starfield. Are you typically a Bethesda person?
Yeah, I've played Fallout 3 and New Vegas. I like Starfield because it's a Bethesda game. I know what it does. Yeah, it's a bit janky, but there's comfort and familiarity with the facial animations. It's easy to get stuck into. [Laughs]

Yeah, I read all the reviews and while I'm playing it, I'm like, "There's 18,000 things wrong with this game. I'm gonna play this for 100 hours." I felt the same way about Fallout 4.
Yeah, same, even though I liked Fallout 3 more. I'm very overwhelmed whenever I take another mission from someone. I already have, like, 50 missions to do. It's very daunting.

I read that the main quest doesn't take long to do, which makes the endless supply of things to do less stressful. Apparently doing it opens up the game, too? But I'm kind of just doing my own thing anyway.
Yeah, I did a few of the main quest missions and I gained this thing that I forgot I could use until I saw a video today. I was like, "Oh yeah, you can do that." I'm not even bothered, I'm just trying to play it however. I'm still trying to figure out how to steal a ship. I still have the default ship that is really shit. The ship play, I'm not good at it. That's the only drawback.

I wanted to talk to you about emo. A lot of the post-hardcore stuff you mentioned I also listened to when I was younger, and as I got older—like, six or seven years ago—I came back to all of it. Tell me about what emo as a musical art form means to you.
I dabble in it from time to time, because I associate it with being depressed in my late teenage years. [Laughs] I've been listening to a lot more of the math-rock stuff because it's instrumental, but a lot of the emo I listen to isn't on Spotify. I bought an MP3 player, which I still haven't opened, to put my Bandcamp stuff on it. But I love the DIY sound before all those bands got signed. I was really drawn to the guitars, which I'd try to replicate on the keyboard that my mom bought me when I was young. I'm most drawn to Midwest emo, which influences how I play the keys.

You use your own vocals on your music, but you work with vocalists on occasion, too. Tell me about deciding what you want to sing over, versus what you might want to collaborate with others on instead.
With "2003," I was listening to the loop for ages, and I thought, "It'd be cool to have a rapper on there." Then, words started to develop in my head and I was like, "You know what? I'm gonna sing on this instead." Otherwise, I usually have an idea of who I want on an album—and, obviously, sometimes we make stuff together that doesn't fit the narrative, which is cool too. What tends to help me is making something and not even knowing if any kind of vocal can even fit in there. Maybe I'll stick a rap a cappella in there to see if it's more of a rapping thing, or I'll see if a pop or R&B singer would fit more. Then I'll be like, "Oh yeah, I could imagine George Riley on this." Sticking in a ripped YouTube a cappella in the end really helps me figure out what to do next. It's very important in my work process.

I wanted to hear you talk about studying commercial music at university. Tell me about what that experience was like.
That whole period is a blur. I remember it a lot, but I also don't. I met some friends for life there, which was cool. It wasn't so much about music for UK/US Billboard top bangers in the literal sense, because you could choose to be on the business side of the course or the musical side. I chose the musical side. You'd learn about being in a group and making music together, performing live, how you'd market yourself with a band name, et cetera. The live aspect was the thing that really helped me, because I didn't really know much about electronic music played live. That module forced me to learn about that, which helped me a lot in what I do now. I'm pretty grateful for that.

You quit your teaching job a few years ago. What's it been like to focus on music full-time, as well as surviving as an artist?
I'm grateful to be doing this full-time for a few years. I'll never feel comfortable or settled. I'm always like, "What if, one year, they don't want to listen anymore?" I know it can change at the drop of the hat. At the end of the day, it's like freelance work. I've been going with the flow, I don't have plans. If I'm in the mood to make an album, I'll do one. I want to do other stuff next year. Maybe try to make music for other people. Just something different—I don't want to just be making albums forever. But I never even imagined this, even with this commercial music degree—which is very useless, it doesn't help you with anything—and I'm grateful to be doing what I'm doing now.

I was really taken by Building Something Beautiful For Me from last year. Talk to me about making a record inspired by Julius Eastman.
I was approached by the label to make an album in response with his work, which I wasn't familiar with before. It was really interesting to learn about him, and it enabled me to make something very different from what I'd made before. I brought some of that energy to this new album as well, and it helped me move out of my comfort zone. I'm really glad I did that album. It changed the way I made music. Seeing that you can do different and bigger things was very eye-opening.

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Jamie Larson