James Chapman is a man on a mission. Better known by his creative alter ego Maps, he could have chosen the ready made path towards generic predictability after the success of 2007’s debut long player We Can Create, Mercury nomination and all. Instead, he’s replaced his entire band, turned his back on the guitar completely and embraced a more synthesised direction with new record Turning The Mind. So far, having received mixed reviews ranging from those heralding his brave change in direction to the more damning indictment of career suicide at the other end of the scale, Chapman has at least ensured no one can ever accuse him of standing still or churning out repetitive clones of past glories.
With a three-week tour of the UK imminent, DiS caught up with Maps’ main man in a buoyant, forward-thinking mood only too happy to sever ties with that celebrated his rise to prominence two years ago…
DiS: Hello James, what are you up to today?
James Chapman: I’m just waking up…
DiS: A bit of a heavy night then I take it?
JC: No not really. I didn’t sleep too well last night. I kept having nightmares and woke up all sweaty and horrible...I’ve just had some Weetabix and hopefully that’s sorted me out!
DiS: Your new album Turning The Mind, out last week (28th September), has received mixed reviews so far.
JC: I’ve not really seen many bad ones to be honest apart from in the NME, and even then it wasn’t a complete annihilation or anything. I don’t read too many reviews if I’m honest. The label [Mute] tend to send me the good ones. I didn’t even read the NME one. I just looked at the score on the bottom and thought there’s no point really. It just knocks you back a bit...
DiS: I was surprised at that particular one though bearing in mind NME have been fairly supportive of your work in the past.
JC: I dunno...I really don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t know the guy who wrote the piece, but from what people have told me it doesn’t sound like he actually bothered to listen to the record.
DiS: To me, Turning The Mind represents a bold move after We Can Create. What was different about the way you approached making this album compared to its predecessor?
JC: This album is quite different from the first in many ways. For We Can Create, I had a huge back catalogue of around fifty or sixty old demos to choose from, some of which dated back to when I was eighteen or nineteen years old. We were quite spoiled for choice but eventually narrowed it down to what we thought were the best of the bunch. With Turning The Mind I wanted to start from scratch. I wrote everything on the record after we’d finished touring We Can Create…there was no way I was going to use any leftovers that didn’t make the first album on the new one. After all, there’s a reason why they weren’t considered good enough for We Can Create! All the songs on the new album reflect what I’m doing now and I find that quite exciting because it shows exactly where Maps are at this point in time.
Video:Maps ‘I Dream Of Crystal’
DiS: You worked with Tim Holmes from Death In Vegas on this record. How did that come about and what was he like to work with?
JC: He was fantastic to work with. He’s always been someone I’ve been fascinated by. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to reading through credits and stuff on albums and I always saw his name on things like Chemical Brothers albums and wondered who he was, and then Death In Vegas came around and I started to pay more attention to his work. He always seemed to take the back seat behind Richard Fearless, but when I met him I thought he was such a nice guy, and we’re into exactly the same music so we ended up making mixtapes for each other and generally had a great time.
DiS: Do you see yourself collaborating with him again in the future?
JC: I’d love to, if he wants to of course! We became really good friends during the making of Turning The Mind and I can honestly say he’s the best person I’ve ever worked with. Its not often you click with someone straight away but me and Tim seemed to strike up that bond instantly, so if the opportunity came I’d definitely like to do something with him again.
DiS: Turning The Mind seems to be a much darker album lyrically than We Can Create.
JC: Yeah, I’d go along with that. It's definitely a lot more personal. The lyrics on the first album were quite abstract and there wasn’t really a lot of me in there. Most of the songs had an ambiguity about them so they could be read in a lot of different ways whereas here the lyrics are a lot more to the point. Mind you, even though the lyrics have a darker side I still seem to keep on writing happy music! I guess that’s something I’ll always do, regardless of the subject matter.
DiS: Is it difficult to listen back to the record now particularly if certain songs represent an unhappy or unsettled period in your life?
JC: I don’t find it hard to listen to at all. The song ‘Chemeleon’ for example is like...psychological bullying. Its like that Bob Dylan song ‘Positively 4th Street’ where he’s just slating this guy. I just wanted to get it all out of my system, and ‘Chemeleon’ is a really cathartic song for me. I’d had enough of putting up with shit from a certain person and listening back is actually a fairly enjoyable experience! A lot of the songs are about mental states not just from my perspective, but other people around me too, so again I see them as being edgy rather than difficult to listen to.
DiS: Does it concern you that people are going to analyse the lyrics more on Turning The Mind than your first record?
JC: It doesn’t bother me. I’m always happy to talk about the lyrics. I knew I’d be doing interviews around the album’s release date and I knew this would keep cropping up, but at the end of the day if I didn’t want to talk about the songs I wouldn’t have written them like that in the first place. People are always going to read or hear lyrics and wonder what I was thinking or who a certain song is about, so I’m not worried about that at all really.
DiS: Was it a conscious decision to make a record without any guitars on it whatsoever, or did that just develop naturally over time?
JC: It was a conscious decision really because I felt the whole thing was getting to a point where I didn’t want it to be, especially with the live band. It was almost like we were perceived as being just another indie guitar band which is something I never wanted or expected Maps to be seen as. I had to be a bit of a bastard and lose a few people from within the band and start over again, because I wanted to get back to what I originally set out to do, which was to make electronic music. I’m a lot happier with the live set up now because it's more in line with how I’d visualised Maps to sound. I’m not saying it always will be like this, but it fits in with what I’m listening to musically at present, more techno-based music than guitars for starters.
Video:Maps 'Don't Fear'
DiS: I have to say, having seen your performance at this year’s Dot-To-Dot Festival in May it almost felt like I was watching a different band to the one I saw on the We Can Create tour a year or so earlier.
JC: That was one of our first shows in our current format actually, so apologies if we didn’t seem like we knew what we were doing back then! Now though, we’ve really upped our game. We’re playing as a two-piece, just me and August Jakobsen. I think we were playing as a three-piece when you saw us in May, right?
DiS: Yeah that’s right.
JC: Well Sefa (Steer) the other keyboard player left soon after, and we played several festivals just with me and August and the response was really good. Places like Latitude and Bestival. The stuff that influenced the album is coming across in our live shows now, so I’m pleased people are finally getting to see what Maps is really all about. We’ve been working hard to put together a really tight set and it's sounding really good now.
DiS: In terms of the live set, will it be purely Turning The Mind based or will there be a mix of material from both records?
JC: No, we’ve put a fair few of the older songs in there, but they’ve been revamped a bit to make them fit in with the newer stuff. They’re not unrecognisable – that would be just silly. I find it really annoying when bands play their old material in a new style, almost as if to say we’ve changed for the sake of change. We’re still doing ‘It Will Find You’, ‘Back And Forth’, ‘You Don’t Know Her Name’ and one or two others. I mean, the main reason for this tour is to promote the new record so the set will be heavier with Turning The Mind material.
DiS: It's interesting that you mentioned earlier about techno being a major influence on Turning The Mind, whereas We Can Create seemed to be welcomed with open arms by the shoegaze contingent. Do you see the new record as a deliberate attempt to distance yourself from that genre?
JC: I want to get away from the whole shoegaze field if I’m honest. I got pretty tired of it after a while. I never understood why we were thrown in with all that...I guess it comes down to the live show again really. When I was recording We Can Create I never thought of it as a shoegaze record. I know people like to pigeonhole everything but to me it was nothing more than music that was coming out of my head at that time. I do love a lot of stuff from that whole shoegaze era and it was cool to be linked with some of it for a while but I really don’t want Maps to be linked with that any more as it isn’t what I’m about. I don’t really listen to that kind of thing much these days.
DiS: Your last album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Do you feel under any pressure to have to repeat similar levels of acclaim with this one?
JC: I’d love to be nominated again to be honest! To me, this album is far superior to We Can Create, and obviously the record company want it to sell – so do I actually as that would give me the opportunity to make a third album – and I suppose anything that can contribute towards that is great. I guess it's just a case of wait and see really…
DiS: Finally, you’re also renowned for remixing other artists. Do you have any plans to remix anyone in the future?
JC: Not at the moment, but there’s a lot of great remixes coming out soon of my stuff. The next single is going to be ‘Die Happy’, and Maxime Dangles has done an amazing job remixing it, almost like DFA in fact. A Place To Bury Strangers have also done one that’s quite wild. It sounds like The House Of Love only faster. There are plenty of people I want to work with, a whole list I guess, so we’ll see what happens.
DiS: Who would be at the top of your wishlist?
JC: At the moment I’d have to say Deadmau5. I’m probably a bit of a latecomer to his work but I’m loving his recent album, so he’d definitely be at the top of any wishlist.
Maps will be touring the UK in October and November, calling in at the following venues:-
17 Oxford Shelter show (venue TBC)
22 Edinburgh Electric Circus
23 Manchester The Warehouse Project
24 Southampton Joiners
25 Birmingham Hare & Hounds
26 London Cargo
28 Bristol Start The Bus
29 Cambridge Portland
30 Brighton Digital
31 Nottingham Bodega
1 Norwich Arts Centre
4 Sheffield Fusion
5 Newcastle Other Rooms
6 Glasgow Nice N Sleazy
7 Liverpool Bumper
The album Turning The Mind is out now on Mute Records.