INTERVIEW: RJ Thompson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Prolific local singer-songwriter RJ Thompson has a new album on the horizon and he’s excited to get back on the road for his first headline shows in three years. Born out of isolation and wishful thinking during the pandemic, some songs on Yearbook began with Thompson imagining places, people and social events while stuck indoors.

Because most of it was written during lockdowns, I was romanticising a much bigger world outside of my window. On tracks like Feel Alive, Super 8 and Rescue You I was dreaming of Californian road trips; on Cutting Room Floor I was dreaming of New Orleans brass bands and street parties; on Skywriter, a world where everyone communicates by writing messages in the sky. You can hear all of those bigger ideas. What started as simple songs have been built up into something that I view as a cinematic album, with string sections and brass bands. There’s so much to see and hear.”

Perhaps unconsciously this wish to be back amongst the outside world also fed into his continuing fascination with using apps and modern technology to fully immerse the listener. “I’m a firm believer in creating an experience around the music, to extend the world around an album.” He agrees. “On [previous album] Lifeline I came up with a concept whereby, using my augmented reality app, the record sleeve would change depending on where you are in the world and the time of day or weather. It really seemed to capture people’s imagination. It was quite a simple thing to do, but it was all done retrospectively. We had an old photo of me as a child on the front cover, and had to create about 15 alternative versions of the same image to display.”

What started as simple songs have been built up into something that I view as a cinematic album, with string sections and brass bands. There’s so much to see and hear

This time around, he’s taken things one step further by developing the music and the artwork together, in order to provide a much deeper experience. “We built a room and spent a week filming over 300 versions of the front cover, simulating different times of the day, weathers and times of the year. So when people view the record sleeve through the app, it will show a cover that is relevant to where they are in the world, and everyone should have a different experience.”

These unique visuals are the perfect accompaniment to the new songs which are bursting with life and colour, from the Springsteen-style sounds and saxophone in Super 8 to the irresistible synths which open latest single Rescue You and give a Killers-esque vibe which continues right through to its immediately memorable chorus.

As well as working on the new album, Thompson recently took time out to record some live songs at Abbey Road studios, the videos for which can be found online. Unsurprisingly, he describes it as an unbelievable experience. “To stand on the spot where Lennon sang Strawberry Fields, or play the piano that McCartney played on Lady Madonna, it doesn’t get much better than that. The band felt so relaxed the moment we got there. It felt natural and, as cheesy as it sounds, it felt like the room pulled some of that history into the recordings we made.”

Thompson’s upcoming dates include a show at Sage Gateshead on Friday 16th September which will feature his full, seven-piece band. “I’m really looking forward to the whole tour, but Gateshead will be special. It was our last live performance before lockdown, three years ago now! I’m going to be previewing most of the new album and also it will be my first chance to play tracks from Lifeline live too.”

RJ Thompson plays Sage Gateshead on Friday 16th September. Yearbook is released on 7th October.


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