James Chapman of MAPS

QRO talked with Maps' James Chapman....
James Chapman of MAPS : Q&A
James Chapman of MAPS : Q&A

“This intensely coloured light transports me even farther than the sight of exotic plants. It carries me up to other worlds where the stars, dazzling and more numerous than ours, reveal in their radiance landscapes that are indescribable.” When George Sand penned this pearl, she was doing her best to describe the way that the elaborate scene paintings of operas and panto theatres inspired her to dream anew about the living features in her everyday life, such as gardens. It is borrowed here in what will ultimately result in a vain attempt to fulsomely characterize MAPS – word-defying wunderkind-producer and composer – as well as the breathing body of living architecture he has been sonically scene painting since the halcyon days when car stereos could still smell like warm electronics.

When the English use the word “class,” it is generally intended as a social slang connoting “quality,” in the most complimentary sense, about any given item at hand. When the Americans use the same word, it is nearly exclusively done in a clinical kind of reference to one’s placement within the moral echelons of humanity. Though he is categorically and marvelously British, MAPS, or James Chapman as he will be called upon his formal knighting someday, is one of precious few musicians this well-toured writer could name who fully embodies the pinnacle of both definitions of the word, and to a degree that elevates a redefinition of each – one of many transatlanticisms to be endlessly admired in both his character and his career.

Inclusive dichotomy and universality shine forth in every corner of MAPS’ work. Like an envoy from an imaginary country, he displays educated tastes that contain the power to, say, transform an industrial indie clang into a system of green spaces and ravishing ivy-screened grottos, full of fidelity and secrets not initially native to the paved soundscape he was given. He is especially proficient at making every song take on the potency of wine aged underwater, but he always shoots sounds through with the equivalent of blowfish neurotoxins for the ears as well. A MAPS song can be distinguished for the soft-spoken danger that will be present within it, in that same way.


Many producers, albeit even some of the most iconic and gifted ones in the world, are mere manufacturers of starlight. It is definitely not every audio pioneer that has the mastering impulse, for the calculated spontaneity and Kremlinologist’s degree of precision required for that are not always paired in one person. MAPS, by contrast, is a scion of sonic scenography, much of which appears to root in his extended experience within the gypsum quarries and overland gold rush trails of the original U.K. electro landscape of the Nineties, in combination with his natural bent toward classical music.

From his earliest days when he was releasing music as Short Break Operator, an introverted kid making tapes in his bedroom, MAPS’ music has been called cinematic, optimistic, full of wonder, and escapist. All of this is true, but none of it is comprehensive. It might be closer to completion to say that MAPS produces choral codes and electro-cascades that are so simultaneously corporeal and osmotic as to almost need to be absorbed trans-dermally to be fully experienced. In the 20-odd years that he has been cultivating vibrant musical manifestos, MAPS has also been lovingly referred to as everything from “shoe-tronica” to “electro-gaze” to “Kraut-twiddly” and a number of other twilit terminologies that may have no available English hybridizations and must be read from runes by one or both members of Daft Punk in order to be at all interpreted by terrestrial Earthlings. All would be accurate; but all would still likewise fall monstrously short of defining his professional resume in any exhaustive way.

There are those who do not understand the divide between fiction and falsehood – that sometimes a poetic rendering of a thing can be much more true to its inherent nature than a perfectly framed photograph of its accepted “reality.” What MAPS does is highlight and underscore the veracity in both, but turn the color-volume all the way up on the poetry. At every turn, MAPS demonstrates a rare grasp of the internal logic of any given song under his current care, whether it is his own composition or one belonging to a creative colleague. Without fail or any regard for its original size, he immediately proceeds to make that song palatial, somehow capturing all of life’s wild losses in the spaces he excavates out of echoes.


Perhaps most pertinent as an introduction to his work is that one can always tell when the MAPS musical thumbprint adorns a song, and yet there is nothing recursive in anything he has ever produced, for himself or on behalf of other artists. If he puts a MAPSian decoration on something, it is to alert you to that item’s sonic substrata in a way you would not have seen without the additional beat or bauble. This is a grammar of dreams you come to speak fluently the deeper you delve into his colossal canon. You also quickly recognize that he has the personal amplitude to understand and actively appreciate that dreaming is a luxury, inside and outside of art.

MAPS has developed what amounts to an audiovisual lingua franca utterly unique to him, and one that functions a bit like kinetic phantasmagorias. His remixes are often closed inquiries into finding the beauty inherent in being past the Cinderella stage of the night. Tracks like his rendition of “Restore Us” by Permafrost, the redo of “Regenesis” he executed to pure video-game glory for Porsche Majeure, or the sky-dipped disquisition he made out of “Lighthouse” by Before Breakfast illustrate how easily he can take a song from cheerful milieu to eerie correspondence within the space of a bar or less.

Producers often function like professional anglers, pulling participles of market-worthy pop and trap from the riptides of another’s genius. Much more like an impossibly hip antiquarian book dealer, trading in audio interfusions and annexations only he could have procured, MAPS humbly attracts no attention to himself whatsoever but leaves Goliath-sized signatures across every piece of audio he touches. An equally apt analogy would be to explain him as the pentatonic parallel of a musical diamond mogul, having dug out of his own creative ground and that of others incommensurable audio-gemstones of a clarity and carat that no one else could have located, largely because no one else would think to look where MAPS does for the sounds. If anyone is even remotely singing from the same hymnal of harmonics, the nearest like-lighthouse in music today might be Belfast’s David Holmes and the Disco Evangelists.

In keeping with that subterranean, unearthing sort of theme, the actual music that MAPS makes for himself tend to be topographic surveys of sounds with mysterious etiologies. To execute all of this without ever becoming the dreaded audio-autocrat is not just a fabulous feat of self-effacing character, but borders on an example of human intellectual evolution that we could all take several LPs’ worth of lessons from.

As Charles Darwin was incisively correct about most things he observed in nature, would that he were here to visit the vital truth in his statement, “A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth,” as it bears out in the reputation of James Chapman in both his professional and his personal life. Speak to anyone who knows MAPS, about any subject concerning him, and you will receive a barrage of eager, glowing insights reminiscent in size and scope to one of the artist’s own voluminous vistas. QRO spoke directly to quite a number of MAPS’ collaborators, and all were overjoyed to share magical memories and sentimental stories of working with him in every capacity. Their well-considered words say far more than any of ours ever could about what the MAPS mark is, and why it matters:


“I have worked with James multiple times but one of the most precious, meaningful collaborations with him was on the single “Better Than Electric.” His approach to both songwriting and production is so intuitive yet effective. It really felt to me like our sonic landscapes blended into one with this track.”

 – Kid Moxie

“James’s remix of “Get A Grip” is immense and like going on a journey through the Himalayas followed by a trip to The Amazon Jungle. He was the first person to submit his remix for Loco Remezclada and when we heard it we thought he had certainly set the standard by which we would measure the others. We did a remix of one of James’s songs called “The Plans we Made,” which is a beautiful song and we really enjoyed working on it.”

 – A Certain Ratio

“I was given a free choice of songs from [Colours.Reflect.Time.Loss] to remix and I just felt an immediate connection with “Wildfire.” There were elements I heard on first listen that I wanted to bring out. I find his music in general thoughtful, sonically beautiful, and rewarding on repeated listening. I was really happy with how the remix turned out, it’s one of my best, and I think that really highlights how good the source material was. James created an epic, gorgeous take on “Pulsing” for my GLOK remix album in return. He’s just a totally sweet guy! A lovely person. He has a thoughtful nature that shines through his music as well. There’s an attention to detail and a sense of direction to all of it.”

 – Andy Bell (Ride, Oasis, Beady Eye, GLOK)

There can be no overstating the manifest fact that MAPS is a musical tetrachromat, seeing and drawing out technicolors within tunes most cannot discern. For this and the fact “Liquid Sugar” should be placed on every comedown playlist ever made forevermore, his is the kind of dharma-of-the-decibel-world electronic music will always need. Naturally, when it was QRO’s turn to sit across from MAPS and talk all things artful and electro-opulent until we were quite sure we had kept him a solid sixty minutes past whatever other plans he had, we had trouble even feeling properly ashamed of that. It is not every day that one gets to have a protracted conversation with a person that can paint an oil-slick sky over a sparkling jade lake, all using nothing more than the colors he’s conjured in the sound.

When someone connects to a song and takes the lyrics in a different way, it kind of becomes their song because they’ve read their own meaning into it.

QRO: Hi, James! I am the envy of all my audiophilic friends today because I get to speak with you. Full disclosure: I have a snob-scroll of dream producers on my Interview Wish List and you’ve been right up there for a very long time next to folks like Nick Littlemore, Diplo, Butch Vig, Steve Albini, Mark Ronson, Brian Eno, and Rick Rubin – so this is monumental for me!

James Chapman: Oh wow! I’m feeling some pressure now and worried the bubble will burst quite soon…[laughs]

QRO: Never in a zillion years, sir! I’ve been onboard with you since Short Break Operator. You’re talking to an old-skool, Orlando breaks, Freestylers-esque, first-wave rave girl, really.

JC: No way! You probably know more than me at this point, honestly. I’ve been so lucky to have been doing this for such a long time, and sometimes I can’t call a project to mind until someone reminds me.

QRO: I totally understand what you mean. I sometimes encounter things I wrote ten years ago and I can’t believe I wrote them, and it takes the sight of them again to re-Frankenstein them in my mind. But yours, I think, has got to be because you’re so prolific! Out there in Northamptonshire just doing everything in the world!

JC: I am a sort of village boy. I’ve never lived in the city. I live in a little village called Finedon that is just about big enough to be a town. I’m quite happy living a bit more out in the sticks!

QRO: That part of you sounds like one half of me; I’m a beast of a binary. I’m extremely out in the wilds when I’m at my cottage and then I’m right in the center of the cosmopolitan city when I’m in Atlanta. My family is five generations Atlanta-bred so I have long roots in the city and I do require both in equal measure because, if I get too much of one or the other, it imbalances me in a sensory way. I’m weird in this and much else! [laughs]

JC: Not at all, there’s no such thing as weird!

QRO: Oh, I so agree! And I would even take it one notch louder and align with what Karl Lagerfeld said: “I see no beauty where I see no oddity.” That’s exactly how I feel. If something isn’t a little off-kilter, while I can still appreciate it for its symmetrical little self, I’ll never call it beautiful. Something that is impossibly, inordinately beautiful by any definition is your bespoke way with sonic landscapes. In what way would you say your actual environment parlays into the sonic vistas you create?

JC: I’ve thought about this more with the last album. Because I’ve never lived in the city, or in that kind of hustle-and-bustle environment, it is very quiet, and it always has been, where I make music. I think that gives the mind more time to wander, maybe. I definitely think it’s all subconscious, but it does affect the kind of music you make. There are a few artists I can think of that live in the Midlands rather than in London or someplace like that, and they’re all quite eccentric… [laughs] I’ve never felt like I fit in. I was never really part of a scene, apart from when I first started out in music and was somewhat put into the shoegaze pigeonhole, but an electronic kind.

QRO: Shoe-tronica! How I dance at the mere existence of that word!

JC: Yeah, shoe-tronica! [laughs] Apart from that, I’ve always just plowed my own path, really, and I think that is related to where I live because you don’t get caught up in trying to be trendy or fit in with the latest scene.

The MAPS sound really came about by accident and extreme limitation of equipment.

QRO: I call that “productively out of the loop,” James! Stay that way. I have long argued that all the best art in the world comes out of nowhere. Kurt Cobain out of Aberdeen, Björk from the natural wilderness of Iceland. Iconic artists, to my observation, will very rarely come from the true center of the melee. As you say, being removed does make you think differently. In your case, as is borne out most recently with your inclusion in the new television-adapted Brave New World, it gives you a unique panoramic scope and you make very cinematic songs. Turning the Mind turned twelve last year and there goes your “Love Will Come” on a new dystopian adventure! How do you feel about the way your creations go out there and live lives all their own?

JC: That one was brilliant! I love the way they used it as well. I’ve had music used in television and films before, but sometimes it will be ten seconds on a car radio or something. With Brave New World, they created the whole scene – and it was the orgy scene–around the song, so it was quite integral to the plot! [laughs] I thought it was really cool, and I love seeing my music used in different ways and seeing people appreciating it. I don’t go into lyrics that much because I like to keep them quite universal in a way. When someone connects to a song and takes the lyrics in a different way, it kind of becomes their song because they’ve read their own meaning into it.

QRO: As a woman who lives rather winsomely in the word world, that’s fascinating for me to hear from you because I do pay acute attention to lyrics and there are places in yours where I feel that you are quite vulnerable regarding your own life, a lot of autobiographical things.

JC: Definitely. I don’t like to make them too specific because I like people to read their own interpretations and take them away. I think if you make things too specific and about yourself, less people are likely to connect with it in a way.

QRO: I actually think you are a master at making meaningful connections, James, in all parts of your artistic abilities. One of the quieter avenues of that is your sideline DJing, which I maintain is its own language. People like myself look to people like you, producers and DJs, to teach us about bands and artists that might not otherwise have been encountered. How do you go about deciding what goes into those mood-making sets and what are your roadmaps to unearthing some of those unsung gems?

JC: Oh, that’s extremely kind of you to say. I do DJ but I would not call myself a DJ in the traditional sense. My sets are quite eclectic and I really just play what I like and hope that it fits the mood. It’s certainly about the choice of tracks for me, rather than the use of things like flanger effects.

QRO: What do you make of the contemporary EDM scene? Obviously, it’s very different from what you and I experienced in the nineties.

JC: I think it’s all really well-produced and slick-sounding, but I’ve never quite got into that sound; it’s quite a digital sound and I’ve always been into the warmth of the older stuff. The current EDM scene is a bit harsh.

QRO: That’s a perfect word to use because mine would be “abrasive.” Now, I am a girl who likes to have her face melted off by some high-decibel guitars or heaviness of that order, so it’s not even the volume so much for me as it is the lack of a trajectory. I find an unfortunate degree of the gratingly repetitious in the sounds coming out of that scene today.

JC: It’s interesting how that has all kind of evolved into a new scene because, in this country, we’ve had dance music for a long time and then you guys suddenly invented it again with EDM… [laughs] I was always puzzled by that, but it is a different sound, isn’t it? So, I guess it does classify as a different genre.

I came to it all in a strange way, and by a different route. That’s a good thing, I suppose, because you get your own sound. For me, it’s always about avoiding any copying and following your own path.

QRO: That’s what’s odd to me because, in the nineties, you had people like DJ Shadow here that were a lot more on the page with what was going on in England and Europe at the time. Of course, the Orlando breaks scene was entirely its own thing, and supercool because it was all melodic. Operatic breakbeat, if you will! [laughs] It just makes me wonder with a bit of worry about where we are going next in the electro-fields….

JC: There are just so many different genres now. I do think that is a product of the digital way of consuming music. People listen to music by genre now and not as much by artists. Do you remember IDM?

QRO: Oh my gosh, yes! “Intelligent Dance Music!” Smart people only on the dancefloor, please and thank you. [laughs]

JC: That was always a strange name as well! It always made you feel a bit better that you were listening to “intelligent” dance music. [laughs] I did like that Warp Records sound. People were only just figuring out how to use samplers and things so it was quite glitchy but bedroom-y as well. That kind of sound was a big influence on me. So, there’s intelligent dance music, and electronic dance music, but it’s all just music, really, isn’t it?

QRO: That’s one of my bigger peeves in life. People are forever asking me what “kind” of music I like. My response is always that I like all good music. Good music is simply music that has heart, authenticity, and truth in it. Keep it real, keep it regal, right? I have never cared about genre. It could be anything from a country singer to an electro artist to a grunge rocker as long as they’re telling me the truth. Other people are as tribalistic about what they will listen to as they are ignorant of what they’re not hearing when they live that way. But that does lead to me asking you about Uncut Magazine including you in their “Top 20 Nugaze Artists” last year, “nugaze” being yet another of those terms we’re giggling about. What name would you give to your own sound?

JC: I always used to just call it “electronica,” but then that’s not quite specific enough now. There’s always been a slight psychedelic element to what I do just because, influence-wise, I was always into guitar music as much as electronic music, so there’s that crossover. When I was making the first album, I was just a kid in a bedroom fiddling around and I just had the one sequencer. That was all I had, and a 16-track hard-disc recorder. I was so limited.

The sound came about because I was trying to use that sequencer that was made for Nineties trance music, really, but I was trying to use it to sound like My Bloody Valentine. The MAPS sound really came about by accident and extreme limitation of equipment. I was never in that room thinking, “I’m going to make a shoegaze sound.” When you release something, other people want to put it into a genre, I suppose. It wasn’t until other people told me what I was that I ever thought about genre and then I just thought, “As long as you’re listening to me, I don’t mind!” [laughs]

QRO: Sure! And you’ve got the kinder element of society that is just trying to call it something accurate, in order to describe it to someone who hadn’t heard it. Then, you’ve got the militant ones who think everything must have a label. I think any artist knows there’s really no such thing. Everything cross-pollinates, in every direction, and some things appear to see into the future a bit. For instance, your most recent release, Colours.Reflect.Time.Loss, now seems prophetically titled in the COVID era. What were the motivating themes and emotions of that record at the time? PS: I have that one on speckled vinyl!

JC: Ah, that’s lovely! I think I was kind of looking back to childhood and trying to create a sound that had a kind of innocence and joyousness to it. There was a lot of drawing on memories. At the same time, the lyrics were quite introspective. I just wanted to make a huge sound! [laughs] I had a fair ambition for that album and wanted to do whatever I could to make it happen. Themes-wise, there were a lot of fragmented memories and looking back to a time when things seemed much simpler. Like you, I find the whole digital age quite an onslaught. So, I was trying to find a sound from that unplugged place of childlike wonder.

QRO: You absolutely found it! I think that’s why I love that record so much. I’m a nostalgia queen anyway and always move from a memories-based place, but I even do this thing once a month that I call my “Jane Austen Saturday” where nothing is allowed in my day that she couldn’t have had. So, no electronics, no makeup, everything done by lamp. Just trying to let my brain be the way hers would have been because that is how I want to be able to think, not in this fractured, no-attention-span model of the now. When I heard Colours, I thought, “Oh, he’s gone to that place of my Jane Austen Saturdays! He’s gone to the last place we all saw the really good stuff!” [laughs]

JC: That’s incredible. I’m thrilled you got that out of the album; thank you so much for telling me.

QRO: It’s particolored rock candy for the ears, James, and shows so many of your varied angles as an artist. Talk to me a little bit about production, if you will. A powerful producer, to my mind, is a highly specialized kind of musical jack-of-all-trades. You have to be able to wear a lot of hats and you have to always think with what we would call in America “quarterback field-vision.” What do you feel are your signature strengths as a producer and where do you feel the most challenged in that role?

JC: Everything I’ve done has always been from a DIY approach. I never had training or lessons. It’s all been self-taught, which sounds really cool but can be a double-edged sword because it’s all just through experience. I made the first albums just using hardware like 16-track recorders, 24-track recorders, hardware synthesizers – all analog stuff.

I came to use software quite late so there was that crossover period where I was using things I’d learned from hardware synths and applying it to software. There are certain tricks and things I learned along the way by accident that I have then kept doing in my production. I came to it all in a strange way, and by a different route. That’s a good thing, I suppose, because you get your own sound. For me, it’s always about avoiding any copying and following your own path.

You learn so much by working with other people when you’re just opening up and appreciating each other’s music. The end result is always a different and positive experience.

QRO: I can always tell when you’ve had your hand on something because you have a sonic signature, an engulfing one. What other producers do you admire and why? I know you worked with Tim Holmes for Turning The Mind; he’s a genius!

JC: The name I always mention is Andrew Weatherall because he was just such an amazing all-round talent. You know how there are those people that, when they release something, you are immediately interested in what they’re doing? He was one of those people because you never quite knew what he was going to do but you always knew it was going to be quality.

QRO: You do realize that the sentence you just finished is the exact sentence myself, nearly all of my friends, and who knows how many countless others would say about you, right? You’re that to many. See “MAPS” on something? Buy it. Don’t need to hear it first. Click!

JC: Stop it! Thank you so much. I really appreciate you saying that.

QRO: I speak the unadorned truth! Some love me outlandishly for it and others would like me killed with pain for the same, but onwards I truth-trundle! [laughs] Okay, so let’s kill those audible blushes then with some “boring” shop talk. Demystify your artistic Olympus for us by taking me through a typical work week for you. We can’t have these readers thinking it’s all glamour and red carpets! I do know that, in the arts, there are no “typical” weeks, but give us a run-down of the general structure of your days if you can because I think a lot of people may not realize how intensive and time-consuming your job can be.

JC: Oh my god, now the bubble will well and truly burst! [laughs] It really does depend on what I’m working on. COVID obviously changed everything and I’m fortunate that I can do my work from home. At the moment, I’m working on several different projects and I try to schedule a day to work on each one. I have begun to spin quite a few plates at the same time. It used to be all about just making MAPS stuff and I had a very tunnel-vision approach to that. I haven’t answered your question at all, have I? [laughs]

QRO: No, you have, actually! Do you go into the vortex like me with it though? Because I, like you, always have between five and seven projects going at a time, and I can drop into the zone to a degree that I’ll laser-focus on just one for days on end. I’m wondering, would your time frames even allow you to do that?

JC: Yeah, that’s what I found hard at first because I do tend to obsess about what I’m working on. I like to follow things through until they’re finished, especially if it’s a song, say. I don’t even like going to bed and leaving something in a place that isn’t to my liking! [Laugher] But you can’t really do that when you’re working on multiple things at once, so you’ve got to find a way to devote a certain amount of time to each and try to know that you will get it finished. With the MAPS material, I am a bit of a perfectionist. That can be a bad thing. You have to tame that a bit. Keeping yourself in check, knowing when things are finished.

QRO: Oh, you are preaching to the choir that wrote the hymnal, my good man! As a person who prints her grocery list on card stock. Yes, I’m that kind of an organizational psycho about things being done to the nth order of right and best because I look at those who don’t have it together and I don’t see anything but wasted time and dropped stitches in the scramble that inevitably ensues. I’m like, “Where’s that going exactly?” and “nowhere fast” is generally the unspoken reply. There’s a way to do it that doesn’t interfere with your life, fun, and sanity, don’t you think? So, I feel you to my marrow on finding that sweet spot in perfectionism, and I can hear in the music and production that you are meticulous.

JC: I think when you work completely on your own, as you’ll know with your writing, you’re the judge and the jury for everything that you do. Occasionally, I’ll let people listen to stuff, but I’m a bit cagey about letting people hear things until I feel it’s listenable. I think that comes from a place of lack of confidence because I want things to be as good as they can be before I let someone else listen.

When you work on your own, you can go a bit mad, second-guessing things, and you can go down a rabbit hole where you don’t ever finish anything. Knowing when something is done also gives you the opportunity to aim for perfection on the next album. If you made something perfect, you’d just never make anything else because you’ll have achieved perfection! [laughs]

QRO: I think that’s the nature of an artist, don’t you? Any artist – it could be fine art, photography, music, or anything else – and your whole goal is just to do better than you did the last time. That’s certainly all I can say for my own endless ink-efforts.

JC: Yes, and I’ve never really changed that mindset from when I started out. When I was younger, you know, you put pressure on yourself to try to make something as good as you can make. If I feel that it’s not there, I can get quite annoyed with myself. It’s a weird process, and it can be a process of ups and downs.

QRO: No question. I do feel like you have a super supportive label in Mute. They’re incredible for having let you develop in that old-school way, whereas labels today really do shoot themselves in the foot with regard to mountains of talent just because they are in such a mad hurry to produce a profit on anybody. Can you talk a little about your experience with the magic of Mute through the years?

JC: Oh definitely. Going back to 2003 and 2004, I mean I had put out the Short Break Operator EP, which I’m amazed that you know about! [laughs]

QRO: Yep! Know about? I have it! [laughs] I’m going to send you a picture when I get back home.

JC: That’s amazing. But when I put that out, I thought I’d arrived. I thought that was it! I’d released something. You know, I never thought I’d do that. When I did get interest from Mute, it was beyond my wildest dreams. It completely changed my life, and saved my life in a lot of ways because I’m not very good at other things! I’m good at making music, but I had no real life plan. I never saw music as an option because it was such a dream to get signed to a label.

I was sending out demos, but you can only dream that someone like Mute is going to be interested. After that, everything changed. It’s like a family. It’s a very artist-friendly label and they’ve stuck with me for all these years of ups and downs. Like you say, there are no labels that do that now. It’s very much a short-term kind of deal. I’ve seen things from both sides of the coin, from the excesses of 2007-2008 to the birth of Spotify and digital music and how that changed everything. I feel very honored to be with Mute and they’ve been really good to me.

QRO: They’re one of those dream labels on that incredibly short list today of labels that actually matter in the big way. And what you’re saying, I think, is concurrent with anyone that is producing with longevity. There’s a word nobody likes in 2022! They will call a song “old” if it came out in 2019, for Mab’s sake.

For an artist with integrity to have longevity today and not become the bitch of the blogosphere, I think you’ve got to have the attitude that you just described, “I’m just going to work on this one thing, then this, then this” and stay focused on building your own world. This also makes me think to ask you about figures in life such as the late and totally irreplaceable Janice Long, whom I know was a great supporter of your work, and the work of so many other wonderful artists. For those who may not know the inner workings of the music industry’s rocky terrain, can you say a few words about the importance of people like Janice in a career like yours?

JC: Her loss was such a terrible shock. She was such a lovely, bubbly person, and so supportive as well. Along the way, there are certain people that are genuine music lovers that can really support, and she was one of them. People like Janice are so important because you can put music out, but if no one ever hears it, what’s the point? You need champions like her as an artist.

QRO: I see it and say it almost every day: you could write the White Album today, and if you didn’t have the right PR or the right radio station to put that out? The sad reality now is that it doesn’t matter if you’re John Lennon. Janice was a great hero of my own, and a woman on whom I’ve modeled much of my own career’s energy, because she was all about just mutual appreciation.

JC: Yes, I can tell. I can tell that you actually care about music and are genuinely interested. That’s not always the case! [laughs]

QRO: If you and I had met in the grocery store, we’d be having this exact same conversation, I can guarantee! [laughs] Just fellow appreciators and creators. Speaking of, it’s time for me to fully geek out on you regarding your recent work with Wolfgang Flur, a Kraftwerk king, on his latest record called Magazine 1. Please tell me everything about joining forces with that living legend for the ear-dessert that is “Say No!

JC: That was quite a random connection because there’s a guy called Peter Duggal that does a lot with Wolfgang Flur. I know him and he’s a really nice guy, a really cool guy. He’s been putting together some things working with Wolfgang Flur and he approached me about getting involved. I was like, “Yes, of course!” [laughs] It was a very natural thing; I just sent a track and they worked on it. Wolfgang did his thing and it’s epic.

QRO: It is! And the fact that he named that record Magazine 1. I mean, Wolfgang doesn’t have to show off for me like that because I’m never not going to be impressed! [laughs] The whole thing is seriously perfect, James, and when I first heard that you were collaborating with him I knew it would be. Now, that brings me to another Captain Obvious corner: my status as the Aussie acolyte of all time and your recent work with Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell on the astonishing astral experience that is their shared album, Burn, which is sensational by any definition of the word. That record and Chet Baker is all I have drafted to for months.

JC: Wow, that’s so cool to hear. Yeah, that was an amazing experience. I got introduced to Jules by a guy who works for Schubert. Jules had been touring with Dead Can Dance, and he and Lisa had been working on these ideas in their downtime. For my part, it started with one track and then Jules asked me if I’d like to have a go at the whole thing, and they gave me complete freedom as well, which was amazing, just to be able to try ideas and experiment. I sent it back and he loved it! It was a really natural collaboration even though we were all in different countries. The main takeaway is not worrying too much about what was expected, but following a path and seeing where it led, and making expansive soundscapes. Lisa has an unbelievable voice so it was all just really special.

QRO: Oh, it’s not even a voice per se, is it? It’s a laser beam from some heavenly planet I will likely never see! [laughs] She’s next-ten-levels divine, in every way, and your work with those two really showcases that very particular polish you put on everything you do. You turned that record into an atmospheric novella full of low-angle winter light and suspended waterfalls, honestly.

I feel like we could and should do an entire book on just your indelible remixes, James, and the unbelievable roster of artists you’ve done them with, but let’s highlight a few of the latest ones here. First of all, you released “Horratia” for Cobalt Chapel on my birthday last year and I took that to mean it was a gift especially for me! Then, you did “Get a Grip” for Manchester’s own A Certain Ratio – what a freakin’ band! And then, I adored what you did for Flecks in “Last Gasp” because doesn’t that song originally have a 9/4 time signature on the awesome Hibernate to Accumulate album? That takes my head right off. Tell me stories of these colorful adventures in sound.

JC: Oh wow, thank you! It’s lovely to hear that you enjoyed those. But oh my god, that time signature! [laughs] It was unreal. Well, I love doing remixes, as you can probably tell. I just like seeing behind the curtain on how a track was made and then bringing my own take on it. People tend to let you get on with whatever you want to do with remixes as well, and I enjoy that. Working with Cobalt Chapel, that was the first time that I met Cecilia Fage, who sings for them, and through that she started singing in the MAPS band at the gigs that we did. She’s got an amazing voice as well.

The Certain Ratio one was a dream come true for me because they’re just an incredible band. We did a remix swap so they remixed one of my tracks from Colours into this really groovy, dubby, cool thing that they play live as well. On my return remix to them, I just went to town because if a remix isn’t over six minutes, it isn’t really a remix, is it? [laughs] I tend to go full epic.

QRO: There’s no other way to go unless you’re straight-up lame! [laughs] Since you mention the swaps, of which there is a whole secondary world of symbiotic sounds for listeners to discover, I would be horribly remiss if I didn’t mention your work with Stephen Morris from New Order. Stephen and Gillian Gilbert, aka The Other Two, redid your “Something New” and Stephen also repainted your “Both Sides” on his own. That had to have felt otherworldly.

JC: Yes, it did! To find out that those people like my music….it’s just a huge honor. Another one for me was doing a swap remix with Andy Bell, from Ride, under his GLOK moniker. The 15-year-old boy in me was very happy about that!

QRO: I can’t even imagine! I revere him too. He’s absolutely immortal and jaw-droppingly prolific. My Dad does say that “when your heroes become your friends, that’s when you’ve arrived,” so you’ve certainly pulled into the station! Another personal favorite is what you did with “The Box of Delights” for Mark Peters and he did “Surveil” for you. The Box of Delights is a serious piece of my childhood, so talk about oceans of nostalgia…

JC: Oh, that’s a favorite of mine too. When you watch it now, it’s very dark for a kid’s television show! I was happy with the way that one came out as well, almost with the Tom Petty guitars and big chords in there. Mark is a really cool guy as well. We met years ago when he was in a band called The Engineers, around the time that my first album was out. His stuff is really big and open and widescreen. Talk about soundscapes!

QRO: It takes you someplace else entirely. As does your work with so many cool women! You co-wrote “Rush” with Emily Soon and did “Better Than Electric” for Kid Moxie, which is like being submerged in the most heavenly ocean in outer space. I can look at any male artist and tell just by the women he has or hasn’t worked with every single thing I need to know about him, and I make no bones about stating aloud what that delineation means! [laughs]

JC: Oooh, tell me more! [laughs]

QRO: Well, I’ll give you an American example, an artist I love so much it splits my chest: Pete Yorn. One of our very best singer/songwriters. The women that have asked to and agreed to work with Pete Yorn don’t have to work with anybody. He’s very like you in that he’s emotionally open, personally warm, an artistic egalitarian, and very obviously not a misogynist.

That may all seem par for the course for you, dear James, but trust me when I tell you that it’s not always in place in this industry. I look at the caliber of women you’ve worked with – Lisa Gerrard, Emily Soon, Kid Moxie, Goldfrapp–and I know exactly why they wanted to work with you when any of them could have worked with anybody.

JC: That’s so very kind of you to say and I feel very privileged to have been a part of all of these projects by these ladies. They were all very different collaborations as well. You learn so much by working with other people when you’re just opening up and appreciating each other’s music. The end result is always a different and positive experience.

QRO: For every party, including we listeners! There is some misconception, I feel, in the mass populace about what comprises a true “remix” versus a “cover,” and what either one should or can be. Can you define the term from your professional standpoint?

JC: I think it has changed so much because when I was younger, remixes were just the same song but with a four-to-the-floor beat, and they were mostly all dreadful! [laughs] But then people like Andrew Weatherall came out and proved that you could do something incredible. With my own remixes, I do try to make a new song.

I really enjoy changing out the chords underneath. You can create a whole new song if you’ve got a different chord progression but the same melody. I do spend a lot of time on them, too, because then it’s much more of a true collaboration rather than just putting a dirty house beat on something that already exists. [laughs]It’s pleasing like a jigsaw puzzle when it all comes together.

QRO: You’ve been integral in demonstrating that remixes are singular art forms that should be acknowledged as such. In our teenage years, they were a lot more to the front of alternative culture even where people were, effectively, just putting an amber glass pane in a harmonic house that was pre-fabricated. You conjure a lot of contour lines and create little city-states in songs where other producers would hear only flat space!

I think this comes from the fact that you really are a composer, James, in the classical sense. I know that you’ve been hugely influenced by Vaughan Williams and have always had this idea that all great producers are a form of inverted composers. If a composer is meant to see a blank page and fill it with musical notation intended to be played by others but attributed always to the composer, a producer is brought musical notation written by others and is meant to fill those existing sounds written by another out into a cohesive whole that will forever be largely ascribed to those others but is built on the bedrock of the blank page that was the producer, absorbing it.

JC: That’s a really cool way of looking at it! I haven’t talked about this at all, but I started off playing the violin and I followed it until I got to about 17 or 18, as you do, and then rock-n-roll became the defining force in my life! [laughs] I did learn how to read music through that, which has helped me tremendously. When I made the last album, I did all of the arrangements for the orchestra on actual scores. Also, you have the joy of MIDI now and you can create a score on a mini keyboard. I was very happy when all the notes worked out because I was really nervous when the orchestra sat down! [laughs] I felt a bit like Brian Wilson as well because there I am in the control room and suddenly you’re in the hot seat. It gave me more confidence as well because that world is all about technique.

QRO: I knew you had done those arrangements, but I had no idea you actually wrote the scores yourself….literally the coolest thing I’ve heard this year! Very unique and I hope you keep doing it because it’s unlike anything else out there then or now. Flipping it over then from the total opposite of precisely-placed notes on a page, you contributed some pretty glorious guerilla gloss to Mute’s John Cage-inspired Stumm433 box set collection, proceeds for which I believe went to the British Tinnitus Association and Help Musicians UK in honor of Craig Gill, from Inspiral Carpets. I need to know more about that special recording experience.

JC: Did you open it? Did you get the gloves? [laughs]

QRO: Instantly! Absolutely without hesitation, but you know I always run in Doc Martens where others tiptoe in ballet slippers. [laughs]

JC: And the candles as well, wow! That’s amazing. Yes, I did one with Polly Scattergood and one by myself sat in this very room. People say it’s an album of nothing, but it’s not. It’s an album of the sounds that were happening at the time you recorded it. You hear things you wouldn’t normally hear. Like, I heard my blinds clattering and birds.

I rarely just sit. The exercise was about listening to the sounds you wouldn’t normally listen to. The whole project was just a package of gorgeousness, not talking about myself, just the experience! [laughs] You rarely get a box set that is that luxurious these days. It’s one of those “I’ve got to have it” moments.

QRO: As a purebred tangibility girl, I personally could not click the “purchase” button fast enough on that one, that’s all I can say! It’s a freestanding work of art even if someone didn’t know who John Cage is. And, as I’m sure you’d beg for 4:33 of quiet time after spending so much of this afternoon so graciously allowing me to chirp at top volume in your ear, let’s send everyone off with what to expect from you in 2022. What fresh MAPS magic is on ye ole horizon?

JC: There is a new MAPS album on the way. It’s not finished, but I can say that it’s going to be very different from the last one. It’s what I’ve been up to for the past couple of years and it’s really exciting for me. I say this every album, but it’s just the truth: I’ve never lost that gratitude that I felt when I first signed to Mute. I feel lucky to have been doing it as long as I have and that electricity never goes away.

QRO: Nor should it! I think that attitude is the only bedrock of any respectable artist. When someone has no awareness of who put them where they are or why that should be their motor, or that none of it ever had to go that way, it’s generally a rather fast fall down the mountain for them, I notice. I cannot wait to hear your forthcoming frontiers of sound as I know they will, once again, redefine quiet-cool for everyone. Thank you as wide as your sound-worlds for doing this today. I could unapologetically talk to you the rest of the weekend but will release my quill-talons now and let you get on with yours!

JC: I can’t thank you enough for doing this. I’m so glad you think I’m cool and hope I didn’t destroy the dream! [laughs] I’ve really enjoyed speaking to you so much. You’ve made this really easy and it’s been a pleasure. Have a lovely weekend!

The author of this article would like to extend a most heartfelt and sparkling satchel of gratitude to the superstar Scouser of them all, Mr. Richard Fitz-Thomas, a man whose moral might has saved many days and dreams that had nothing to do with writing, but without whom, in this instance, the writing never would have taken place at all. Some collaborations that one has wished into existence for a lifetime can bring nothing but permanent, unnecessary, and devastating scars. Others that one never anticipated at all can drop the keys to whole cloud-bound Emerald Cities right into one’s lap. Thank you ever so much, Richard, for all that you have instinctively rescued, reclaimed, transmuted, and stood for here, there, and everywhere in our friendship.

-photos: Phil Sharp