INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
James Currey, aka Yakobo, is a solo singer-songwriter from Derby.
Originally from rural Norfolk, he came to the Midlands city seven years ago to study music at the local university.
Deciding to remain in Derby after graduation, he has made a name for himself on the local music scene as an emerging talent appealing to a wide audience with his eclectic sound.
The first of what is to be a trilogy of EPs, “Wander in the Wilderness”, was released towards the end of last year and has had an overwhelmingly positive reaction so far.
With the second and third parts to come later this year and having played a brilliant set at the 2Q Festival last month, I decided to have a chat with him about his career so far and what the future holds.
Yakobo, it’s quite an interesting name. How did it come about?
That’s a good question. I went to Uganda once, I met some people out there, and that’s what they kept calling me.
I found out later that it comes from Ancient Hebrew, I think.
How did you end up in Uganda?
It was a voluntary thing with a church group.
With them, I’ve had some amazing opportunities to go to a few different places in the world and see some of the projects that the church has worked on, such as in orphanages, communities and hospitals, which has served as good inspiration for my music.
Does your faith play a big role in what you are?
Yeah, I suppose you could say that.
I’m part of a church here in Derby, which is really cool.
They do some stuff, for example a food bank, that sort of thing.
It does feed in my music, even though the themes aren’t overtly religious, but I try to write songs that are honest and reflect my life and experiences up to now.
What made you want to become a musician?
I grew up listening to everything from classical music to Britpop and grunge, which my elder brother was very into, so I listened to a lot of the albums he had, and I would often get them and listen to them while he was out.
One of the albums my brother had was ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana and the first time I heard it, it blew me away.
I was also learning the violin from a young age, so I’ve always had an interest in classical music.
My mum plays a bit of piano, and one of the reasons why I picked up a guitar in the first place was when I was around ten or eleven, my dad went through a mid-life crisis phase.
He brought an acoustic guitar and taught me a few chords, and that’s what started me off playing the guitar, putting me on the road to where I am now.
What’s the inspiration behind your music?
I tend to have an eclectic style.
I’m a singer-songwriter who mainly plays acoustic, but there is a whole range of influences.
I try to absorb as much music as I can, and it does seem to all filter through in a small way.
Definitely some of the Californian singer-songwriters from the 70’s, like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor have influenced me, and I suppose their modern-day equivalents have too, like Surfjan Stevens, people like that.
Recently, I’ve been getting into jazz, soul and funk.
I do try to keep my musical tastes as broad as possible, because I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself, there’s so much good music out there, and everything I listen to, I seem to go ‘I want to play that music’.
Obviously, I have a sound and voice that is Yakobo, but it’s a very fluid concept.
You’ve lived in Derby for a while now. How do you find the local music scene?
It’s not bad, there are some really talented musicians here, and there are certain venues on certain nights which have great vibes to them.
I think the 2Q Festival was good for the city, it had six venues, sold out and was great, plus there were a team of volunteers who worked hard behind the scenes to make it all happen.
At the end of the day, it’s a small city, so there isn’t really an infinite amount of audience, but it’s in a good place geographically, with Nottingham, Leicester and Sheffield all in close proximity, I try to go to those places as much as I can to play gigs.
Your first EP of a planned trilogy was released not long ago. Why do a trilogy of EPs when you could put them all together into an album?
Well, partly because I’m slightly commitment-phobe and didn’t want to go straight into doing a full album, because I feel it’s a big thing.
To me, it made more sense to break things up a bit into different sections.
They vaguely follow a theme, they’re all a collection of songs that I have written over the past six years, so it didn’t feel like a cohesive album unit.
The trilogy, I feel , will give me a chance to explore different things, and then build up from there hopefully.
How was the recording process for the EP?
It was really good fun, and I love the process of recording in the studio.
Last year, I started up a Kickstarter campaign, which raised a few thousand pounds, which enabled me to have more studio time, which I was so grateful for.
I went to a place called Vale Studios in Worcestershire, which is a really cool place.
It’s an old country manor house, which you can stay in while you record.
I worked with a great producer and engineer called Chris, and it was fun to have that extra time and space in the studio.
We picked the songs apart, and developed the songs by trying out different ideas.
When I listened back, I was really pleased with the outcome because the songs seemed to sound better than they were in my head.
How has the reaction been so far?
It’s been really positive, some very good comments and reviews, and it has been picked up by a few blogs and YouTube channels.
At the moment, it’s rather a difficult climate in which to sell your music, with streaming and what not.
Do you think that streaming is damaging or maybe even killing off the music industry?
It’s changing it, you can kill some parts of the music industry, but you will never kill off music, because people will always want to create it and consume it.
You just have to be more inventive in how you do things now as a musician.
I do feel you need to stand out more, because more and more people are trying it.
In some ways, it makes people try harder and do their best.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Good question. Sometimes, you can bogged down in the same day-to-day stuff, so I want to take Yakobo as far as I can, reach a wider audience, hone my sound, develop as an artist and write songs that speak to an audience more.
I do want to find an audience that gets more of what I’m doing with my music, but I’m really proud of my work so far and I’d like to think that my best work is yet to come.
YAKOBO’S EP, “WANDER IN THE WILDERNESS” IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE TO BUY OR DOWNLOAD FROM HIS OFFICIAL BANDCAMP PAGE AT http://www.yakobo.bandcamp.com