Interview: Sivu – ‘I wrote my music in a Harry Potter cupboard’

Rob Stockton 16 October 2014

James Page, also known as his stage name Sivu, released his debut album Something On High on Monday. I chatted to him this week about the where and why of his writing, finding creative freedom, and growing up in the Cambridge music scene.

Hey James! Your album comes out on the 13th October – how are you feeling about the album launch?

It's terrifying (laughs) – but in a good way. I often wonder if this is even happening to me. Obviously this has been coming for a long time, it's nearly two years it's been in the pipeline, so it's all like – a bit scary. I'm a bit scared. I want people to hear it though, hopefully they'll think it's as good as I do

What would you say your influences are? What did you listen to growing up?

My influences do vary massively. When I was growing up I was sort of listening to heavier stuff really – At the Drive In – but I also love guys like Beck,  I think he's amazing. And from a production point of view I've always admired Bjork – the way she fuses electronic and sort of rootsy, real sounds. I've always had her music in mind, especially when putting Something On High together definitely.

I started in my first band when I was fourteen – I first started playing guitar when my cousin came home with a guitar. He was a couple of years older than me and, you know, one of those 'cool cousins' who you kind of look up to. Him turning up at my house with a guitar found me basically going 'oh my GOD I have to get one' (laughs). I was never really a massive fan of music before. I remember him showing me Nirvana, Nevermind – that was one of the first albums I ever heard. He got me listening to Dookie by Greenday too which I remember loving. He introduced me to loads of stuff and it all just developed from there really! I listened to all the traditional pop punk stuff that people listen to when they're growing up  – Blink 182 and that sort of thing, but then I got into electronicy side of things as well – Chemical Brothers were a big one for me.

How have you been working in the studio? Did you get the creative freedom you wanted in production and with the people you were playing alongside?

I got to make the album I wanted to make, and I got to choose the direction it went it, which was amazing. The creative freedom was brilliant – I worked with a producer called Charlie Andrew from the very start, so it was kinda like I worked with the one person I got on really well with.  He helped me take my songs from just the acoustic guitar to the bigger sounds you get on this album – we understood each other really well, and though we had some differences, we both had the same goal, which really helped.

In the studio it was Charlie and I that played most of the instruments. He's a great drummer and his wife is an excellent violinist – she and her friends arranged and played all the strings on the album for us. Ultimately everyone who played on the album were friends of mine, which is lovely in the sense you get an album with a real cohesive, communal vibe to it in the end.

The current band that I play with now works that way too: all of the guys are people I've met through touring and through playing music, which again is lovely to have – I've got a really nice bunch of people around me. It never feels like a session band, which is a feeling that I really wanted to avoid both for people who come to see me and myself.

What would you say the ultimate goal behind the record was?

You know what? I genuinely think it was to make this record, the Something On High we've ended up with! I'm really happy with it and as a songwriter I was conscious that I didn't want to make an album that was just me and one guitar. Not that there's anything wrong with that, obviously – but personally I wanted to try and be a bit more experimental and really push myself, and I'm so happy with what we've ended up doing.

Sivu's MRI scan music video found viral success         Image: Cdn.Visualnews

A lot of your lyrics talk about elements of spirituality – you've got loads of religious imagery thrown about in there. In what sense is religion a thing you have in your life, and how does it work for you thematically?

I think the album is definitely linked up with me growing up as a person. There was a massive transitional period for me at the time I was writing it – I wrote this as I grew up, basically, and the album, I hope, reflects that. It's a musical embodiment of the process whereby I get to the point I'm at now. People do comment on the religious side of the lyrics, but I wouldn't  say I was a religious person, or have ever been.  I reckon religion is definitely a thing that I find really interesting about the world and culture as a whole, and obviously it's a really great theme to write about to convey the sense of, you know, movement and growth, which is what I really wanted to get. I think your word, spirituality, is the best way to sum what I'm talking about in the lyrics really.

I'm always interested to hear about where a musician writes – where do you pen most of your stuff?

When I moved to London I lived in a towerblock with my friend Adam. We had this small three-bedroom flat, and I shared the bedroom with my girlfriend, so I needed somewhere more cut off that I could go and write bits of music. We had this tiny little cupboard thing that we used as a rubbish room, as a storage type kind of place, and I used to go and shut myself in it. Especially at night when there was loads of stuff going on I could just kind of go in there and cut myself off from the world – the cupboard aspect sounds really very Harry Potter and I did write in what was basically a cupboard under the stairs sort of thing, but it was just the best place for finding inspiration for me. I did effectively write in a Harry Potter cupboard. I could go in there in the late night/early morning sort of time and it'd be so quiet, so lovely for writing.

How about Cambridge, did growing up here have an impact on you?

Man I miss Cambridge so much, it has such a place in my heart. I had just the best, best time growing up in Cambridge. The first bands I was in we used to play at the Portland Arms – I used to love playing in there, and watching my friends' bands play Portland you know – just a brilliant place to learn to play music. It felt like a real community, and I grew up in that scene, creating bands and making music and it was just amazing – I was really lucky. I love Cambridge and I'm so upset that I don't get to play it as often as I'd like to now really.

Have you always been a lead singer? 

(Laughs) no no! I used to be the bass player in most of these bands I played in when I was younger. I'd do backing vocals and that sort of thing, but it wasn't until just after I left to go to London really that I started writing songs properly. I'd always do bits and pieces with the rest of the band but it wasn't til I moved into London and got my acoustic guitar that I started writing just for myself.  There was a while where everyone was off doing their own thing, and I'd be doing session stuff and bits for other bands, but I eventually realised that I want to write for myself and try my own project – and that's where Sivu comes from really. I ended up doing loads of pub gigs – really, really, awful pub gigs (laughs) but yeah, that's where it all kicked off from!

Sivu can be seen supporting Nick Mulvey at the Junction this Friday, before embarking on a headline tour of his own next year.