James Vettese, known professionally and creatively as Cyrano, Scottish born and London based music producer has teamed up with Foals’ Kit Monteith to bring us ‘Tundra’, a fantastic follow up to debut single ‘White Wine’, as he gets ready to release his EP and embark on an Autumn UK tour.
An outstanding newcomer, who has been working on his music for a long time just to make sure it’s as good as it can be, Cyrano took the time to answer a few questions so that we can start to get to know someone who I’m sure will be your new favourite discovery.
EP: You are a Scottish born, London grown musician, producer so what is the significance of the name Cyrano? Is there a literary nod towards the romantic hiding in the shadows created by Edmond Rostand? After all, the play introduced not only Cyrano de Bergerac but also the word ‘panache’ to the English language and this is a word that sits very well with your music?
C: Yes, exactly – last year I went to see the play Cyrano de Bergerac, which centres around the lead character Cyrano’s love for a girl. Despite his talents as a writer and poet, he is overcome by his insecurities and writes to her through the alias of another man. I began to notice the parallels between the character Cyrano and my relationship with my own music, and loved the idea of using Cyrano as my method for sharing the music and words that for years have been only for myself.
EP: You describe your music as something for the late night overthinkers. What’s the motivation behind that? I’m guessing you are one of life’s overthinkers?
C: It’s kind of a tongue and cheek acknowledgement of how long I’ve spent working on my music, as well as giving people a flavour for the vibe. For those who know me, know that whilst I’m only starting to share my music now, I’ve been working on them for several years and I always overthought what that they should sound like, trying to perfect each song.
I’ve always been more drawn to melancholic, laid back music like The National and The War on Drugs, which seem to carry more weight. I’m certainly one to overthink things and feel like sonically my music sits best alongside those artists. I hope that people are able to be consoled by my music and feel lifted from it.
EP: The new single ‘Tundra’ is part of a newly released EP and lyrically is quite a probing exploration into social anxiety. The lyrics are almost at odds with the soulful musicality, is that a conscious effort to convey the chaos of anxiety and the feeling that for many it goes so unnoticed unless you scrape below the surface….the music is the calm skin to the anxiety laying just below?
C: When creating Tundra, Kit Monteith and I were really focused on reflecting these feelings in the production and the lyrics, and hence why the track takes off after 3 minutes. I find at times these feelings can rush into you after feeling steady and really wanted the track to be dynamic to personify this.
We wanted the track to have no two sections the same, keeping things unpredictable and dynamic. I love the almost grime-like snare drum at the beginning which cuts through the synths as a sort of sonic slap trying to shift your ears from the synth strings of the intro.
Lyrically, I wanted to keep things a bit abstract. In the second chorus, I wanted the end of one line to work with the start of the next – for example ‘It’s not that I’m a heart / who has to be cared for / when we were apart”.
Likewise in the first chorus, I reference my favourite number 12 in the line “counting on a number, I know I’m hard to find”. Growing up I really found patterns emerging around the number 12, from dates to table numbers and tokens etc and I always felt like it guided me home. I couldn’t control when it would appear but I felt safe when it did, and it really carried me through. I know not everyone has that kind of relationship with a number and you could argue I was looking out for it, but I always feel connected to 12 in a way I can’t explain but am just grateful to have.
EP: The EP ‘Consolations’ is inspired by Alain de Botton’s book ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’. Is your background in Philosophy or is that something that has been a source of comfort and inspiration personally?
C: While I studied Maths & Philosophy as my degree, I actually read ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ before going, and found it really uplifting, as well as being a great source of inspiration. My EP Consolations is really paying homage to Alain de Botton, while creating my own set of consolations for others to take something from. Just before lockdown I was fortunate enough to see him speak live and it really renewed my sense of purpose to finish this EP, which has been a long journey for me to get to this point.
I’d really recommend checking out ‘The School of Life’ for some great reads. It’s such a great place to go to for lyrical ideas and themes, and I love philosophy for making you think about things you have never considered before.
EP: Your music, the way you sing is hugely uplifting and calming at the same time. The vocals move effortlessly through the continual growth of the track and glide over the content in a beautiful way despite the theme of anxiety. It’s almost a chaotic tranquillity that is incredibly beguiling in its style. Who are your musical and life inspirations?
C: Thank you very much! My vocals are certainly where I feel most vulnerable as an artist so I really appreciate your kind words.
It’s probably no surprise that Alain de Botton is up there as one of my life inspirations – he’s just so charismatic and knowledgeable, and makes you want to know more about everything!
A lot of my personal inspirations come from the people I’ve met and worked with both in and out of music, who are really accomplished in their fields. While they might not be celebrities or household names, when you meet someone at the top of their game I think it’s hard not to be in awe of their capabilities.
Right now, I’m really drawn to the music of Westerman and Fred again… though growing up my staples were up Eric Clapton, Talk Talk and D’Angelo as well as indie bands like Foals, The Maccabees and Bloc Party. I’m a big fan of artists like Arlo Parks, Nilüfer Yanya and Frank Ocean too.
EP: It feels to me like there is an almost Indian musical undercurrent to the single. Do you like to introduce World music to your writing? Will this be a theme for the EP?
C: I’m really grateful to have had my best mate (and former band mate) play tabla (Indian percussion) on ‘Tundra’. I love delving into other sounds and without giving too much away, there’s definitely some other sounds from around the world that feature quite prominently on my EP.
EP: Your debut single ‘White Wine’ has a completely different feel for me with an almost late night jazz feel to it, especially with the sax. Was that a conscious effort not to be pigeon holed into any specific genre, and do you like to keep your audiences guessing as to what direction you might lead them?
C: I’m not sure it was a conscious decision, but more a reflection on my tastes and desire to never rewrite the same song. While my EP feels lyrically and tonally quite consistent, I’m always searching for new structures, lyrics, sounds and ways to start a song to keep things feeling fresh and expansive. I love the idea of having a broad sonic palette, and a song for everyone and every mood.
EP: The pandemic and the various lockdowns have enabled many artists to take stock without the pressure of having to hit deadlines; has the unexpected time richness enabled you to really perfect your music or has it presented a frustrating delay and allowed too much time to over think?
C: For me, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to say no to so many commitments and distractions that can take you away from your goals without you even realising it. I’m certainly a perfectionist and there’s so much involved in planning each release to ensure they all have the best chance of being heard and presented in the way I want them to be, but that really requires so much time which the pandemic gave me. I found myself able to tackle each song at a time and make a list of all that I needed to do to get them over the line, from the writing, recording, production and mixing, to the artwork and all the creatives around to support the release. For my debut single ‘White Wine’ I produced my own bottle with Garçon Wines which certainly would’ve been harder to do without the time I’d had to plan that.
On the other hand, I’m really excited for other things to open up again and to be able to meet and collaborate with other musicians, and enjoy what it’s all about.
EP: Your music feels like it would perform incredibly well live with its layers and the development and sectional quality it has. Have you any plans for live gigs now that things are slowly getting back to normal, and can we expect to see you in London anytime soon?
C: Right now, I’m in the midst of planning my live show and can’t wait to be hitting the road with my mates Leif Erikson this autumn! I’m certainly hoping to play in London this year or next too, so stay tuned…
EP: With the EP not far off, and I guess you have pretty much decided what that will include, do you have plans for the next EP and will it be similarly thematic? Does that mean that when we see an album we can expect something akin to a play with several thematic acts? Thank you so much for your time and good luck with the music.
C: I already have demos for my next two EPs and have focused on developing lyrical and musical themes to them both. I feel like a theme really anchors a body of work and gives it more context. Both EPs are going to be pretty contrasting to both each other and Consolations, but I believe there will still be something for everyone. Right now though, I can’t wait to share my full EP, which will be released in October this year.