Remember the anti-hero? He was the unassuming bloke in the corner that probably had more to say than Russell fucking Brand. With the advent of celebrity shining a light on all of the nasty bits of modern culture, the anti-hero should be the part of us we cherish and escape to when the remote control for the television set breaks down. Well, here’s one we made earlier. The one-man noise syndicate that has spent more time in his bedroom working (not sleeping) than most people spend at school. Not that living in Northampton makes you want to stay in your room, but James Chapman decided that the key to making noises that could be distilled into songs wasn’t something that could be achieved overnight. In essence, Maps wasn’t born overnight either. He is Maps and Maps is he, and it’s this lone vision that has mutated into the debut album We Can Create.
“The usual route to here occurred,” he understates. “I wanted to work alone after being in bands that weren’t going anywhere – I had a 16-track and a load of ideas, so it seemed daft to involve others when I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted.”
The more alert amongst you may recall James’ first foray into the world of recorded music, with the critically sublime Short Break Operator EP released on Virgin Records offshoot Radiate. This was four tracks of lower–fi pop that stands up well against its more perfectly formed elder brother.
“The EP was a learning curve: on that I had no help, unlike the album. But I was keen to get the point across that I can write songs and not be afraid to try things out. ‘Glory Verse’ made the album because I thought it was re-workable based on what I had leaned since recording the first time around.”
James cuts a quiet figure. He carries a sly grin that suggests a man at ease with himself and comfortable with the glorious lack of celebrity that surrounds him. For those that have witnessed the embryonic live show, it veers between sullen and enveloping. Once Maps have identified how to realise the strength of We Can Create live, we’re all in for a treat. It’s so close you can almost touch it…
“I don’t use computers when I’m creating. It’s a 16-track, a few beats and nothing else. My love of noises more then melody has been the backbone for a lot of what I do…”
DiS has to intrude. Is Maps, then, a blockbuster film without CGI?
“Um, yeah. I suppose.” James tugs disinterestedly on his Coke and, with a hint of reluctance adds, “That’s why the live element is taking a while. To get a proper Maps experience is hard to create live, but I know what’s needed and we are closer to how I see it becoming.”
Fear not: the recent ICA performance (review) showed that the Maps live experience is defiantly getting there. And James certainly doesn’t feel happy staying in the studio.
“I never wanted it to be my bedroom experiment in pop!” His smile returns.
But maybe it’s turned out that way. There’s no denying that the album fizzes with pop sensibilities, born out of a self indulgence that time offers. There’s also the fact that the album came together in Reykjavík after an offer of help came in from someone who had heard the first two singles and put a call in. His name is Valgeir Sigurdsson.
“He’d done Björk and very early Sigur Rós. He’d also produced Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy. Add on to that my slight fascination with Iceland, and it became quite a surreal experience.”
Surreal? We’re only making records here…
“I was away from everything. All of the shit that goes with your daily life didn’t exist there. No distractions. Couple that with the actual place and the characters that roam about there and you have a country that doubles as a village. I loved the fact that everything was so, er, desolate.”
It could be argued that there are parallels to be drawn with Von (Sigur Rós’ first album) as that too is a collage of sound and ideas that meld together furiously. We Can Create is almost psychedelic in its outlook – there’s a nod to Jason Pierce, a handshake from Eno, and a pat on the head from Kevin Shields. Even Phil Spector gets a wave.
“I love the fact that a sound can do certain things to the listener. Take trance: I like the elements that go to make trance what it is. I’ve tried to take some of those elements and let them influence the music.”
James has put the hours in at various clubs with various mates to garner a little bit of knowledge and try to make his bedroom ideas somewhat bigger. It’s a euphoric drone that doesn’t veer off the road and is pretty awe inspiring, on account of its vastness. It fills your ears and your head. Even wrecked ones…
“I didn’t really leave the house for an entire summer due to anxiety and all of the stuff that goes with that. Putting this together was a great release. Now I’ve calmed I know which direction I’m going in.”
Maps are now plotting their own course after a period of random staggering that has seen We Can Create become anticipated and welcomed. Not that you need telling, but go look at the Maps: the journey is as wonderful as the arrival.
We Can Create is out now on Mute