James Hill – True Love Don’t Weep: Interview

James Hill’s long awaited new album True Love Don’t Weep is out tomorrow. It’s a collaboration between him and his partner, dancing cellist, Anne Davison. You can listen to clips of it here and read him answering some of my impertinent questions about it right here:

It’s been more than two and a half years since A Flying Leap, how has playing developed in that time?

Yeah, it’s been a while. My deal with myself has always been: “don’t record a new album until you have something new to say.” It just took me a while to figure out what I had to get off my chest this time around. Lots of things changed in my life, too. We moved to the country, we started hanging with a lot more folk musicians, I grew a beard, and so on. It’s been three years but it feels like more.

How does duetting with a cello change how you are playing?

The cello is a good match for the uke. “Low and bowed” is a perfect complement to “high and plucky”! It was so obvious that we almost missed it; we were together for two or three years before we even considered playing as a duo. And it’s come a long way from it being “my thing” with Anne accompanying. Now she’s an integral part of the sound, vocally and instrumentally.

You’ve got a great voice. How come we haven’t heard it before?

Thanks. “Great voice” is too kind but I’ll take it. The point is this: if you want a certain depth of connection with your audience, you gotta speak to them. You have to open up. It’s hard to write instrumental songs “about stuff.” I mean, I tried. I still try and I’ll keep trying. But, you know, the stuff I’m talking about in Obedience Blues or in Travelin’ On… the only way to say it is, well, to say it. It took me a long time to get comfortable with that because it felt like I was “giving up” on instrumental music.

Your version of Sakura Sakura is bound to prompt comparisons with Jake Shimabukuro’s version. As the two titans of the ukulele, how closely do you follow what each other does? Is there any friendly rivalry between you?

That really wasn’t the point of me recording that song. I just love the melody and the “spaciousness” of the tune. Jake and I keep in touch but we haven’t been in the same room at the same time for years. He’s off doing his thing and I do my best to keep busy. The way I see it we’re both still cutting our teeth and finding our way.

What are your top ukulele practice tips?

For technical stuff, practice with a purpose and stop once you’ve done what you set out to do, whether it takes 10 minutes or 2 hours. For creative stuff, noodle constantly and don’t get too attached to your first inspiration!

Are you ever going to come to the UK?

I’d love to. When’s the first Ukulele Hunt Festival?

When I raised the subject of the sexiest ukulelist, you were the clear winner. How does it feel being a ukulele sex symbol?

“Ukulele Sex Appeal” would make a good uke workshop, don’t you think? Or maybe even a DVD…

True Love Don’t Weep is out on the 24th March on Borealis. Listen to extracts here.

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