An interview with Jamie McDermott of The Irrepressibles.

New contributor Andrew Lockwood managed to track down the incredibly talented Jamie McDermott, the man behind The Irrepressibles, a long time favourite band for Amelia's Magazine. Images by Helmetgirl.

Written by Andrew Lockwood

The_Irrepressibles_by_Helmetgirl
The Irrepressibles by Helmetgirl.

If Amelia’s Magazine had a wish list of character traits that would perfectly encapsulate its personality then you would struggle to surpass those of Jamie McDermott, one of the magazines favourite performers. The founding member, and centre piece of The Irrepressibles, could have tailored his CV to fit the remit of Amelia’s Magazine. The Irrepressibles’ creator, composer, arranger and avant garde curator wears his heart firmly on his sleeve and is intensely protective and proud of his conception, and rightly so. Their mix of love and lust, longing and tragedy is often borne out as cathartic confessionals. Jamie’s vision and passion, which he so effectively channels through his ‘performance orchestra’, were captured brilliantly, earlier this year on his bands debut album Mirror Mirror.
 
The Irrepressibles, Jamie’s very personal labour of love, have been a regular source of fascination for the Amelia’s Magazine, having been previously featured both in print and on-line. Their very original and ground breaking approach continues to push the boundaries of live popular music, as their choice of venue can also testify to. Having performed in places as diverse as Latitude Festival and the V&A, and from the Hackney Empire to a recent guest appearance at London Fashion Week you are unlikely to experience the norm.
 
It was shortly after their recent LFW performance that I managed to hook up with Jamie. With a little trepidation, a youthful excitement and a great deal of pleasure I tracked him down and interrupted his very busy schedule. I was not only hoping to get a little insight into the world of The Irrepressibles but also an idea of who Jamie really is. I wasn’t to be disappointed. Jamie talked vividly and most candidly about how it all began, where his influences have come from and above all what an incredible journey it has all been. (Just don’t mention the Pope, you’ll only be greeted with silence!) Here is Jamie McDermott from The Irrepressibles.

The_Irrepressibles_Cello_Bass_by_Helmetgirl
Cello and Bass by Helmetgirl.

Way back before the formation of The Irrepressibles was there a pivotal moment in your life where you decided that you would be a performer, a musician, a composer? What lead to your epiphany?
I had fallen in love with my best friend – another boy – and we were inseparable. He had a band and I wanted to be around him so I began to sing in it. But one night I explained how I felt. We fell apart as friends. I felt alone, I knew that I was gay and that people didn’t feel it was right… I wanted to throw myself of the cliffs of the seaside town where I lived. But when stood there in the air I heard music. My own. Instead of jumping I decided to explain to the world through music the beauty of being in love with another man in a way that everyone would understand. 

How did you go about creating The Irrepressibles, did you have a defined vision of how you were going to express yourself? Has it changed at all? Do you see it as an evolutionary process and if so what are the triggers to change? How did you all meet?
I had been writing music focused on what I wanted to say and the emotions I needed to express. I wanted to surround this emotion with a world, a soundscape that could explain the depth of feeling, so I began to work with orchestral instrumentation as they could offer the abrasive and the sublime the surreal and the polyphonic. Initially it was me and four others on a course in popular music studies. I had discovered the library and as a working class boy from North Yorkshire I was starving for the words and pictures. I read about Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren, Andy Warhol and the KLF’s work with pop music subculture, about the political force of music in the words of Atalli and Eisler and fell in love with the iconic imagery of film makers Fasbinder and Kenneth Anger. I also read about the work with spectacle by Dali, Meredith Monk with The House and Laurie Anderson amongst others. I had been seeing visions since I was a child that accompanied the music in my head, I wanted to create something and these people gave me the confidence to make my visions real. I was irritated by the manufactured pop music and it’s lack of real emotion but also the boring visual aesthetics of indie music at the time and I wanted to create something fresh and reactionary. 

 The_Irrepressibles_Fluteplayer_by_Helmetgi
Fluteplayer by Helmetgirl.

What do you see as your main influences and inspirations, both musically and personally?
The sounds of the world around me. I am most influenced by non musical elements. The world itself is musical everything from the sounds of laughter to the hum of the bus I’m sitting on now are singing. The movement of people and machines all have a complexity of nature a kind of polyphony in their interaction. My music has this interaction. As do my spectacles where movement meets light installation meets interactive set meets music meets movement to create one being of emotion – one machine of emotion. 
 
Of your contemporaries, are there any that you are listening to, any that you are finding particularly creative or challenging?
Yes Simon Bookish is incredible, I adore Peaches, Broadcast are consistently inspirational, The Knife are wonderful…

Many people have tried to capture the essence of your performance and creation without necessarily being able to convey the whole experience adequately on paper. How would you describe your music and performance?
It is an organic machine of emotion. 

The drama and theatre within your music and shows is clearly crucial and only serves to heighten the experience for the audience. At what point in the creative process does this become a consideration? Do you have a structured way of writing a song? How does it all work for you as the writer/composer?
I write automatically i.e. from my subconscious. I let my decisions be as spontanious and uncontrived as possible in order to explain fully the depths of my subconsious. I then see visions of how I can present the music in a space working with the parameters of lighting and set installation, movement and feeling. 

The_Irrepressibles_Violin_by_Helmetgirl
Violin player by Helmetgirl.

There have been comparisons drawn with your style of music to Antony Hegarty and David Bowie among others. For me there is are also the theatrics of early Marc Almond solo work such as Vermin In Ermine as well as a sympathy and empathy with a lot of New Romantic sensibilities. Where do you see your musical style?
I am very much influenced by what I would call the leneage of gay artists. I also believe that gay artists create a slightly different aesthetic of sound and visual generally – a very varied one when you consider Grizzly Bear, Owen Pallet, Patrick Wolf and Me at this time – but there is an aesthetic. I am also massively influenced by female artists like Meredith Monk and Kate Bush of course. I believe like Kate I see music and performance as innately another world a fantasy world were emotions can be better expressed – a dream. 

Many of your songs, such as In This Shirt, are very personal and clearly connect with your audience. Do you find that laying yourself bare, so to speak, gives a song more truth, depth and sincerity and as such it is more credible and infinitely more appreciated? Is that what you strive for?   
I only ever write honestly and cathartically – I am completely open but I was bullied throughout all of my schooling you get to the point were you feel pretty much naked to everyone anyway. Sometimes you wont believe it as the songs sound melodramatic but when you consider that My Friend Jo was in fact about looking in the face suicide at a time of hysterical emotions it does make sense. Why does everything have to be simple in music? Life of course is complex and polyphonic and so I believe music should be too. Sometimes my music is more simplistic because the emotion is, other times it’s like a mad person you can’t understand. We are all mentally ill in some way. 
 
Both the 2009 release, From The Circus To The Sea, and this years album, Mirror Mirror, have been very well received garnering much critical acclaim. Do you now feel the swell of expectation and public consciousness rising as your audience grows ever bigger?
It’s been nothing short of incredible. I spend most of my time talking to fans all over the world. I always feel awful when people complement my work and I don’t get back to them. I have become a whore to Facebook and Myspace… ha ha! 

You have played some decidedly different venues this year from The Roundhouse and The V&A to three shows at Latitude. How were they for you and what can everyone expect from the forthcoming shows that are due to start at the end of this month? 
At the Roundhouse the orchestra performed 10 meters in the air on moving seats, at Latitude we opened the festival with ‘Gathering Songs’ which consisted of several pieces for different parts of the orchestra that were performed desperately all over the forest over 2 and a half hours which accumulated in a spectacle on the water, the year after I created the Light and Shadow spectacle with lighting installation. The V&A commissioned me in 2009 to create a spectacle for their Baroque Exhibition then came the chance to create my Human Music Box installation which was then taken to Latitude the same year. This year I created the Mirror Mirror Spectacle which began with a commission for the Queen Elizabeth Hall. We are touring this internationally now and present it again in London at the Scala tomorrow.  

The Irrepressibles are touring into 2011, are there plans after that to record any new material or are you working on other projects, if so what are they?
I am working on my new AIR spectacle which will be premiered in Modena Italy next week. I am then going to begin work on music for a Manga Opera with Hotel Pro Forma who famously created the opera with The Knife. The next album is now half written and we should begin recording this soon. 

Thank you so much for this, I really appreciate you taking the time. Best of luck for your forthcoming shows.

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