James Osler Interview

Tell us about how you got into playing guitar.

I started playing when I was 17. Because I had a good friend of mine who was into jazz and he was already quite good at guitar by then. He started when he 10 and spent a lot of time listening to Django. I loved playing it and listening to it so I started picking up the guitar then. 

 

How did you get into music in the first place?

I was really into music from a really young age. I still listened to bands when I was in my early teens. I just listened to loads of stuff but I didn’t really start following it until I was 17. 

 

Tell us about your quartet.

I set it up early this year just to do some different playing. It’s all original music. It’s a string quartet and it’s sort of moody neo-classical with elements of folk and improvisation. We’re all excited about the material and we get to record an EP. 

We had our first gig at the Blue Man, which is a little venue in Brighton. We went down really well and we’ve now got another one booked on 27th September at the Rose Hill Tavern, followed (hopefully) by some more gigs in churches towards the end of the year, which we’re hoping to record. 

We’re still developing the material but we just want to show it to people now. 

 

Tell us about the material that you’ll be playing.

It’s all original material. I’ve written everything, most of it is notated but it does have elements of improvisation, other than that everything is original. 

 

Tell us about some of the other bands that you play in.

I was in Trees for a while, then I left about a year ago. I’m currently in Cloggz and we’re about to have lots of stuff coming up, a double bill at The Brunswick and a gig at the 606 club in London and then the Under Ground theatre in Eastbourne as well. 

 

How do you find playing in Cloggz. Is it a bit different to what you usually do?

It’s totally different! I’ve never played anything like it. Mark got me involved with numerous  over a year ago now. And it was hard because I’d never heard or played music that was anything like it. So it was a real challenging challenge. But it’s been great. Mark’s such an interesting. He’s great to be around, it’s helped me along. 

I play lots of gigs around town. The Paris House and the Royal Sovereign. I do currently play in Lucy Pickering’s band but I’m leaving that after the next gig. It gives me more time to focus on my own project. 

 

In terms of composing, how do you go about it? Does a tunes just come into your head or do you sit down with your instrument?

It depends. The first tune that I sat down to write, I had loads of ideas, it was quite difficult and I put a lot of time into it, formulating how it was going to work. I’d never written for four strings before. It took a lot of time at first and then gradually it just became a bit more natural. I’d have an idea before I’d even sat down with my guitar. And then I’d sit down and it would come out. Other times I just sit down and it may take a few hours or something before an idea comes out. It’s a mix but certainly I feel like I’m developing my writing technique whereas before it was quite a new thing for me. It took a long time for anything to really come out but now it feels more natural now. I think if you keep on doing it then you can be walking along the street and an idea you can go home and you can let it out. Or you can just sit down with no idea and eventually something comes out. 

 

Have you ever studied composition formally, or done any courses?

I’ve only done some terms at university, at Middlesex. You look at composing. I wouldn’t say you study composing, you mainly look at just performing jazz and learning jazz and advanced music theory. You do look at composing and writing for slightly bigger ensembles. We learnt some techniques there which have been really helpful. I can do it all myself, writing it myself instead of looking for some help to do that so that’s been really helpful. But one thing university did teach me was harmony, denser harmony. I realised that in my third year. I was trying to learn loads of bebop for a while and I’m a big fan of bebop stuff but I was beginning to realise that I was a bigger fan of denser harmony and darker soundscape type jazz music, like Bill Frisell plays. He’s one of my favourite composers and I was really heavily into him at university. So I was consciously trying to find weird sounds and weird chords and see what you can do with them. So I’m basically trying to take those ideas and put them into this context. 

 

The James Osler String Quartet perform at The Rose Hill Tavern, Brighton on Wednesday 27th September

[Interview conducted by Charlie Anderson]


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