With his new album Grapefruit Season just released, James Vincent McMorrow takes Harry Guerin through ten key songs from his career to date.

"I guess I'm gravitating toward the 'more objectively bigger' songs on these albums," he says, "But they're bigger for a reason. They were the ones that kind of became the template."

We Don't Eat - Early in the Morning (2010)

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I guess that song is the one that's probably most responsible for my career. When we put out that album, it wasn't the one that the labels necessarily gravitated towards as a single because it's quite a strange piece of music. It just became that song. I would describe it as probably one of the five or six songs that I would stand over to my dying day that I've written. I can't imagine a world in which I would ever get tired of playing it. It still feels very prescient to me whenever I get at it. It works on a lot of different levels. I've never really articulated the intention behind the song - not that I even could if I tried! I think it just has that thing that a few songs that I've written have. I put that album out 10 years ago - the inception point of streaming and stuff like that - but that song has become a very big song in the streaming world. I think that speaks to the levels it has to move through the 10 years pretty seamlessly.

And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop - Early in the Morning (2010)

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I just love that song. It's not a complex song. I guess it's very like 'in the lane' of what people would expect from me - a sort-of 6/8, waltzy, quite earthy ballad. I stopped playing it for a while and it's come back into my life. I think that this is a thing as well: musicians, you should love what you do. I know that sounds ridiculous, but there's a lot of people out there making music that they wouldn't really stand over but it's commercially successful or it does a thing. I've always endeavoured to make stuff that I genuinely believe in, and I think I've stayed true to that. I love that song because it is kind of in that ballpark of what people would expect from someone that, you know, looks like me or sings like me - something on the earthier side of the alternative scale. But I love it. It just makes me really happy every time I sing that chorus. It holds a little special place in my heart, that song, for sure.

Cavalier - Post Tropical (2014)

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If I'm talking about reasons why I would choose songs, I would be picking them because A) They're songs that I love - but also songs that did something for me in terms of the trajectory of my career or gave me something that then led to the wider career that I ended up having. Cavalier was that song. The first album came out, people reviewed it like yourself, and it did really well. I loved that period of time, but coming into that second record I wanted to make music that really ticked all the boxes for me, pushed me creatively on every level and in every facet that was possible. Cavalier was that song. When I did it I was like, 'Ok, I think I have something here. I can hang an album on it.' And then when it came out, and the response to it was so far beyond anything that I've probably ever had since... In the aftermath of that, I think people expected me to do the strange thing. I think up to that point people were like, 'Oh, you're the guy with the guitar.' And then when I put out Cavalier, people were like, 'We need to reassess this.' Ever since then, I think it's been this assumption that what I do next is going to be not markedly different, but always that there's going to be an evolution and a progression. Cavalier was that moment of dramatic evolution. The song came out and did its thing in this really profound way that took me by surprise. Seeing the potential in that really gave me heart.

Red Dust - Post Tropical (2014)

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If Cavalier was the song that launched Post Tropical and launched me into the next zone, I think Red Dust was the precursor to it, an outlier track that I had between the two albums. One of my best friends, James Brown, owns a record label called Any Other City. We put out 500 copies of Red Dust as a single in around 2011. I put Early in the Morning out in 2010 and no one gave a f***! So, we were like, 'We need other things out.' I had Red Dust and I loved it so James was just like, 'Let's just release it.' Then, all of a sudden in 2011, Early in the Morning started taking off. And so Red Dust was kind of sitting out there as a song on vinyl that I always wanted to get back to and do the full version of it. It was the song that when I did it, I was like, 'Oh f***! I can have a career in this!' Music isn't necessarily the most career-orientated [pursuit]. I've always been mindful of the poetry and how to unfold it, but it's still kind of a nihilistic process so you have to see the markers when they show up. With Red Dust, I saw something. 'If I can keep doing this, then I think there is something here that might be maybe more profound than even I anticipated.'

Rising Water - We Move (2016)

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Make sure the horizon doesn't narrow - that's always been my thing. I started spending a lot of time with other producers and other writers between Post Tropical and We Move. It became less and less about what I just wanted and it became about trying to find the middle of the Venn diagram - what I want versus what the audience needs from me, or what I want the audience to need from me. I started working with this producer called Nineteen85, who I'd become really close friends with and who does a lot of Drake stuff. He became almost like my spiritual guide through the idea of reduction in the studio - 'Is there a specific point to that sound or are you just in the studio trying to impress yourself?' He had that in my head full-time and, again, it became quite revelatory. There was a version of Rising Water when I went to Toronto to make those songs with Nineteen85 with layers of guitar, layers of drums, probably 20 or 30 extra pieces - a lot going on. He pulled it all the way back. My process changed around Rising Water - give yourself one of those sort-of 'frillier' musical moments per song, don't overegg it. It makes you really fight for the sounds, and fight for the song. The song then has to stand up; the music has to get better because there's less place for me to hide.

Get Low - We Move (2016)

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I'm a singer-songwriter at heart. I've always loved my Neil Young and that idea of the earthiness of sounds when you listen to, like, On the Beach by Neil Young and you hear the fabric of it. I've always wanted to do that, but I've never wanted to be a nostalgist. I always try to think, 'What would they do if it was now?' I grew up listening to The Neptunes; it's been electronic for me. My inception point in my career as a producer was a laptop. Trying to get those types of drums, trying to get 808s to sit on top of electric guitars that kind of had that earthy Tonight's the Night [Neil Young album] kind of feel - that's what I was going for with Get Low. I think that I succeeded, and I love the fact that 85 again gave me that template that then set a lot of boats in the water. I probably get more response to Get Low as a song from within the music industry than I've ever got for any [other] song. I'm really proud of that song, I'm really proud of what it did. I'm really proud of every time I got a mail or I ran into someone in a studio and they were like, 'We used Get Low as that idea of 'How can we get that in-your-ear songwriter-type ethos while also making it relatively ratchet?' Again, it was that song where I had this vision in my mind.

National and True Care - True Care (2017)

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The next album is a funny one. True Care was something I made in the room I'm sitting in right now over Christmastime with the third album having been out basically like three or four months. It happens me sometimes - I get these bursts and I can just make something with freedom because I'm still under the cover of the previous album! The whole True Care album became not a concept, but very free-flowing. I didn't need to have big choruses or anything. My lyric writing at that point got a lot more literal, which I was grateful for. So, off that album, there's a song called National that is one of the ones I play live. A lot. National is the only song really that has carried forward into the normal set. I think it's because I love singing that lyric. It just makes me really happy - a lyric about just literally sitting in a car listening to The National and what a profound moment that was in my life. I used to wrap myself up in such riddle and rhyme. The idea of being that open in music, while it might seem obvious to people, at that point in my life wasn't really obvious. I was still caught in this, 'Ok, how do I find the metaphor to say what I want to say?' With that album, with National and then the other song I would pick off it, True Care - those two songs literally are my life. You read them and it's like, 'Ok, they are moments. They are things that happened.'

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True Care is about meeting the person I ended up getting married to. Being at a party and not knowing a single person there and she walked in. There is a specificity to it and a reality to it while also having a musicality that I love. True Care and National are the two songs I would pick off that album and I would group them together. They just did a thing that really helped me again to broaden the horizon. All things happen for a reason. Like I said earlier, you have to see the signposts when they come up. With songs like Rising Water and Get Low being more ostensibly radio songs - they were streamy songs. They were doing their thing, the shows were all sold out. We were under this cover of not security - because there's nothing secure in music - but the signposts popped up and I thought, 'I can just do what I want to do.' There was an ease to that album that I can hear when I listen back to it. Literally, it was three weeks and it was done.

We Don't Kiss Under Umbrellas Like We Used To - Grapefruit Season (2021)

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With the new album, it's the fifth album, you're trying to draw all these things [together]. I'm very mindful of what I've done and what it means internally. And also, I'm much more at ease with the idea of my chaotic nature and that being probably my greatest asset. The thing that I can do is I can draw on all these things because I've done it all and I've put in the work and I understand the things that are happening at the time. With this new album, I wanted it to be chaotic in the most beautiful way because my life is chaos and there's nothing linear about it. I think this last year-and-a-half, even if you worked in a world where you felt a certain trajectory or surety of purpose in your life - it's all gone out the window. So, everybody can appreciate that sense of chaos. Maybe chaos is more of the norm. With songs like Kiss Under Umbrellas, that is me moving back to the start while also pulling all of those things from those different albums. When people hear that song, it is acoustic, it's me and a vocal. Lyrically, it's very much of the True Care idea. It's a very literal song about a very literal aspect of my life. And it harks back to all of these different visions of myself that people might have.

Planes in the Sky - Grapefruit Season (2021)

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I think it's probably the thing I enjoy playing live more than anything I've ever played in my entire life. I wrote it in LA; it was really late at night and someone in the studio started playing this bassline and I started playing guitar. Before we knew it, four hours had passed and we were still playing this thing and I hadn't written any lyrics or anything! We just kind of knew that if I didn't f*** it up, if I didn't get it wrong, it was going to be something really special. It's simple and it's not overly thought-out. Lyrically, it has this line at the start which is - again, if we're talking about the organic progression and the evolution - 'I said I'd meet you there, the line was forming so I went home instead.' When I wrote that lyric, I was like, 'Ok, this is going to be a good song' because, again, you have to write from a personal place. You have to write from the thing that means something to you, but also being relatable to your crowd and to your audience. Who can't relate to the idea of wanting to go and do something, going, and seeing a crowd or a line forming and you're just like, 'F*** it, I'm just going to go home!'? That to me is like a perfect summation of a big aspect of my life. That song just has a thing that I've always been looking for, and it does a thing that I've always been looking for.

Grapefruit Season is out now on Columbia Records. James Vincent McMorrow is among the guests on the new RTÉ One series Soundtrack to My Life - Saturdays after the 9 News. He plays Irish shows next April.

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