My Inspiration: Maria & James – Ex Animo | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Ex Animo is the first EP release by new North-East duo, Maria & James that is set for release on Sunday 25th October. The duo are both music students at Newcastle University and wrote the EP when they found themselves in lockdown together earlier in the year. Unbelievably, one of the tracks (Alice) features Steely Dan’s Keith Carlock on drums, who the pair reached out to when he was on lockdown in his New York home. Apart from Keith’s contribution, all other instruments on the EP were played or programmed by James with Maria providing lead vocals on all tracks and piano on the track Daydreaming.

Here, the duo tell us what inspired each track on the EP…

Girl in the City  
James: ’Girl in the City’ started out with the drum beat and the bass line and from there we tried to make it as funky as possible. I ended up adding various guitar parts, a clavi part and some synth parts. When writing the middle section I added a Joe Walsh inspired guitar solo as I felt the song needed a grittier feel as well as an added flavour to disrupt the song. Maria’s lyrics detail a story of a girl who has moved to a bustling city where she tries to find her feet, and together with the music, it helps to imagine it. Personally, I imagine New York City. 

The Right Thing 
Maria: ‘The Right Thing’ was the first song we wrote and released. Originally having a more upbeat, pop sound with influences such as Dua Lipa, I really wanted to hear the song stripped back, completely acoustic. The lyrics emulate the fears and anxiety surrounding personal growth or change, emphasising that there will always be someone going through a similar phase. We found the simplistic sound of just acoustic guitar and voice to be better suited to the lyrical content, whilst similarly bringing out the musical qualities. After making these changes, we ended up with a final product we were incredibly happy with.  

James: ’Alice’ was musically inspired by the works of Steely Dan and lyrically by the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. We were extremely lucky to collaborate with Steely Dan’s current touring drummer, Keith Carlock on this record and his groove helped elevate the song to a place we could  never have dreamed of. Harmonically this is our most complex song and the jazz-influenced chords were again, inspired by the works of Steely Dan and Jacob Collier.  

Maria: ‘Daydreaming’ is a song I wrote a few months ago, simply depicting the feeling of easily drifting off into a daydream. In terms of songwriting, I am often inspired by artists such as Imogen Heap, and Taylor Swift, due to their intense storytelling abilities. I always try to create an image for the listener to imagine whilst targeting particular emotions, which ‘Daydreaming’ emulates. Focusing primarily on the lyricism, the piano accompaniment and backing vocals provide a simple melodic base, overall capturing the lyrical qualities of the ballad. 

Spanish Sunset 
James: Like with ‘Girl in the City’, ‘Spanish Sunset’ started off with just the Afro-Cubano drum beat and then the chords came later. Like with ‘Girl in the City’, ‘Alice’ and this, I wrote the music and delivered it for Maria to think of lyrics and a story to match the theme. I really struggle with writing words to songs but Maria has the amazing talent of painting pictures with her melodies and lyrics, and with ‘Spanish Sunset’ she encapsulated a theme that is perfectly matched with the feel of the song. 

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