When a friend passed us James Tillman‘s debut EP Shangri-La, we had one of those breeze-of-fresh-air moments that this First Look Fridays column was created for. the first chords inspired an instant lift in mood, combined with the joy of discovery, combined with the simple but profound pay-off of a gift received; kind of like making somebody homemade food and being repaid with an original painting or one-person concert. It was a bit like the first time we heard KING, the first time we heard Moses Sumney…incredible music made even more singular by the human exchange with only the smallest and best kind of mediation by technology.
The friend in question was frequent Okayafrica contributor and homie Chief Boima, who caught James’ show at The New School and then ran into him again in Brazil for a Rio recording session. Those first chords were the opening strains of “Love Within” (listen below via OKP world premiere!) which combine quietly intricate, samba-inflected guitar work with James’ whispery voice, developing from an intimate folk-pop soliloquy into something deeper, an impromptu symphony fleshed out with soulful string arrangements.
Now that Shangri-La is almost ready to meet the world (the 4-track EP hits iTunes on April 29th. For now fans can get updates via James’ facebook page) Okayplayer is extremely proud to premiere both “Love Within” and the inaugural single and video “And Then” in conjunction with this First Look profile. Scroll down to get to know James a little with this introductory conversation and experience the song and video. Meanwhile to get that human connection yourself, catch James on April 30th when he plays an intimate show at Rockwood Stage 3 (60-seat capacity, $8 advance, $10 at the door) to launch the EP release. We recommend you take advantage of the chance while he’s still (mostly) unknown!
OKP: How did the Brazil studio sessions come about—do you have roots there or travel there independent of music?
James Tillman: The Brazil studio sessions were the result of befriending Sergio Sayeg here at school. He’s from Brazil and used to play guitar for the group Garotas Suecas. We started collaborating and I gave him some of my old home-recorded demos. A little while after, he informed me that he sent them to his friend Nick Graham-Smith in Brazil, who had produced his first record with Garotas. He said that Nick liked the music, so much so that he offered to help me record a project if I could make it down to Brazil.
I immediately laughed at the whimsical idea, but then all the pieces started to fall into place. I already had a good amount of songs written. The airline my stepmom worked for started a new flight directly to Sao Paulo a month earlier, so I was able to get a cheap plane ticket. Sergio also wanted to make the trip and offered me a spare room at his parent’s place, so I had a place to stay. Nick was able to get Curumin and a group of amazing musicians on board for the sessions, and then my boss graciously gave me time off to make the trip.
OKP: How the environment affected the songwriting or recording, if at all?—there’s no one element that’s specifically Brazilian (maybe the guitar work on “Love Within”) but the whole project does have a very light samba-ish touch or mood—is it something in the water?
>>>Turn the page to Read More + Watch “And Then” Video Premiere