Loraine James’ Vulnerability Surprised Her on New Album ‘Gentle Confrontation’

The London-based producer/singer talked to Jezebel about futuristic R&B influences, surviving off gigs, and whether her music qualifies as queer.

Loraine James’ Vulnerability Surprised Her on New Album ‘Gentle Confrontation’

There appears to be a contradiction regarding how British electronic producer/singer Loraine James views her work. She’s extremely prolific and works fast—sometimes spending just 30 minutes on a track. She trusts her gut to determine when a song is done and often doesn’t like the results of her more belabored productions. “The feeling is lost, even if the production really sounds better,” she told Jezebel recently regarding songs she’s picked back up to tweak.

And though this bespeaks a certain confidence, she also had a tendency in the 30 or so minutes in which we talked to downplay her work. She practically apologized for making the sequel to “Glitch Bitch” from 2019’s For You and I that appears on her new album, Gentle Confrontation (out Friday). She denigrated her beat boxing that appears on Gentle Confrontation’s collaboration with alt-neo-soul artist KeiyaA, “Let U Go.” She described her beats as being “not as full” sounding as other producers’. When she discussed songs of hers she liked—like Confrontation single “2003,” which is about the death of her father and the uncertainty in her it created—she did so with qualification: “It’s a song that I like, if that’s the right word to say: ‘like.’”

James’ music, on the other hand, is rarely anything less than assertive. Her stew of sounds sometimes contains recognizable styles like techno, jungle, footwork, and IDM, all filtered through her typically jagged aesthetic. (Some of the beats on Gentle Confrontation have a scratchy texture that reminds me of those on Björk’s Homogenic.) There are some overt references to emo and electronic-indie that James listened to in her youth (like American Football and Dntel), and Gentle Confrontation also takes on a futuristic R&B feel in several key tracks (like the collaboration with KeiyaA and the single “Déjà Vu” with RiTchie). It all adds up to one of the most consistently surprising, challenging, and rewarding albums of the year, in my opinion, and that’s why I wanted to talk to its creator. An edited and condensed transcript of our conversation is below.

JEZEBEL: When you start working on an album, do you have a concept in mind or is the finished product ultimately reflective of what you’ve been working on?

LORAINE JAMES: I never approach an album with an idea. I always just sort of wake up and decide, “Everything from this day for the next few months will be [used] towards an album.” I never know what it’s about until I feel like I’ve done enough tracks, and then that’s when I start naming them, and then all the pieces start to fit together, which is fun. It’s fun and interesting to see it sort of reveal itself to me.

How did Gentle Confrontation show itself thematically as you were making it?

I didn’t expect to be as vulnerable on it. I didn’t know what to expect. It was just nice putting words down on paper. I usually keep a lot of thoughts bottled in, and it was nice to have songs that had more words to them than I usually write. It made me understand things about myself a bit better. I ended up feeling a bit lighter after I finished the album.

In “2003,” you sing about your father dying 20 years ago. Was it a difficult subject to approach for you?

Yeah. I don’t really talk about my dad generally and even the song lyrics are kind of vague, so I want to keep it that way. I guess the 20-year mark was on my mind. I’m kind of glad I did it. It’s a song that I like, if that’s the right word to say: “like.”

In the song, you sing of the uncertainty you have had as to whether he went to heaven. Death is often presented in more severe or concrete terms. Your framing is unique.

I was only 7. Of course, grief would hit me much differently than if I wasn’t a child. When you’re a child, you don’t understand everything. And sometimes the stuff from your childhood hits you later as you see it from an adult view with more life experience, etc.

How do you know when a track is something you’ll sing on versus a track a guest will sing on? How do you divide them up?

I don’t necessarily know. Even “2003,” just the instrumental, I kind of envisioned a rapper on it and then was listening to it on a loop a lot and the lyrics sort of came to mind. There’s some songs I’d make and be like, “Yeah, I want this person to be on it.” Sometimes I make tracks too busy and [vocals] don’t fit. The thing that helps me a lot is when I make something and I just shove an a cappella of some sort on it. That helps me see if vocals can fit on something I’ve made or not. I just find a random a cappella from YouTube, and then it goes from there.

The press release for this album mentions you paying tribute to your “teenage favorites: math rock and emo-electronic,” but I hear a lot of futuristic R&B throughout. Do you think of this album as being R&B adjacent?

Yeah, yeah. I was listening to a lot of Timbaland and Darkchild. I was listening to a lot of Brandy and Amerie’s first album. I was definitely trying to make it R&B adjacent, in a way. In the past few years I have been listening to more of that. I don’t think I really appreciated it when I was younger. It’s been nice just realizing how futuristic those beats were. Nothing sounds like that today, which is kind of depressing.

It’s funny that you mentioned Brandy, because the autotune effect that you put on KeiyaA reminds me of Brandy’s vibrato, like a robotic version of it.

KeiyaA sent it with the autotune and I was pleasantly surprised, because KeiyaA’s work doesn’t use autotune. So it was cool that they tried something different. I also don’t really use autotune myself, but it was cool, interesting to work with. I thought it worked really well.

What’s the composition process like for you? Do you write in your head and come to your gear with ideas, or do you make it up as you go?

There’s the odd time where I come with ideas, like I’ve listened to something recently or I heard a really cool drum pattern of some sort but I can never put pen to paper, so to speak. I get frustrated, so I just try and give up on that. Most of the time I would just sit and then whatever happens happens. Then there’s no expectation that way. There’s more freedom in your mind.

Is there any way to qualify how you know when a track is done? Like, is it something that you feel in your gut or is there something more kind of literal or cerebral there?

You know, a lot of the time I don’t take that long on a track. Sometimes I have this thing where I compare myself to other producers and I listen to my stuff and it doesn’t fit as, like, full as other people’s. So sometimes I’m like, “Awww, my production is less than,” or whatever that means. But yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes I’ll just make something very quickly. I really love a demo thing, so it’s like, “That’s it, that’s done.”

“I usually keep a lot of thoughts bottled in, and it was nice to have songs that had more words to them than I usually write.”

When you say you’ll make a track “very quickly,” how long are you actually talking?

Oh, it depends. It could be anything from like 30, 40 minutes to a couple of hours. Then there’s the random Bandcamp things, ‘cause that’ll take less than an hour for all of them and I’ll just put it out. Then I’m not overthinking, which is nice. When I have tried to consciously change things, it just moves so far from the original idea, and I feel like the feeling is lost, even if the production really sounds better. I just like to keep it to first one or two versions of that song that I made.

What prompted the “Glitch Bitch” sequel?

I don’t know. That’s one where I’m like, “Yeah, you can like the original more—I’ll understand.” I think I was just browsing through synth sounds or something, and I came across the sounds I used for “Glitch Bitch,” the first one. I was like, “Maybe it’ll be funny to do a second version,” even though I know everyone hates a Part 2. I put it to the side for a while because I just thought it was dumb. And then I was like, “Well, the first one was kind of dumb.” It was like, a fun song. It’s a guilty pleasure song or something.

What’s your relationship with dance music? In other words, do you want to make people dance with your music?

Yes and no? Sometimes I like to purposely throw them off, like make a beat a bit complicated in a way. Like, it’s a bit hard to catch initially, but you can catch it. When I play live, sometimes if I’m in a funky mood, I like to really glitch something up so people stop moving for a second and then they figure it out. But sometimes it’s good to straight-up dance. A lot of electronic music I listen to isn’t dancey, per se. I’m more drawn to the less dancey stuff.

You quit teaching in 2020. How has that been? Was it a good decision for you?

I’m grateful to be still doing music full time, three years later. I really loved the teaching job, actually. I don’t know, if something happens, whatever whatever, I would probably try and go back into that. Sometimes, I get a bit self-conscious because I feel like I quote-unquote put out too much, or something. I worry about this oversaturation thing. I make stuff quickly and, I don’t like to sit on it, so it’s like if I do make an album at the end of the year, for example, I couldn’t sit on it for two years.

What is it like to be a musician of your scale? Do you feel like you have job security or are you making a good living wage?

Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m the most comfortable ever. I definitely survive off gigs. I don’t really get any of that brand this and that, I don’t think I’m quite fashion-looking for that stuff, which is fine. At the end of the day, you’re a freelancer, so yeah, people like the last album or whatever, but one year they can just not care, innit? And like, then what? So I’m really never comfortable, which I don’t love, but I’m good in terms of living. Every album I put out is because I want to. I don’t want it to be a thing of, “Oh, I need to put out something.” But also I want to do other stuff. Try and make music for like a short film or something. That’s not the easiest thing to get into. But I definitely want to not just make an album every couple of years or so.

A Guardian piece in 2021 described you as a “queer Black woman.” And I wondered if queer is the word that you use to identify.


There have been explicit references to queerness in your music, like in “Queer Spaces.” But do you think of your music otherwise as kind of inherently queer? Do you think your queerness comes out in your music when it isn’t explicit?

When there’s queer parites, I’m never asked to play them. That makes me think: Is my music not quote-unquote gay enough? But then I’m also like: What does that even mean, necessarily? I guess if I’m influenced by Squarepusher or something, then I guess it’s not really queer, is it? Bloody American Football is not very queer, is it? I don’t really know how my music sits in all of it.

Is there a difference in your head between Loraine James, the musician and performer, and Loraine James the person? Do you feel that duality?

Not really. It’s just all one. I feel like I kind of show my cards. Sometimes when I’m on stage, I can feel more shy or more confident. But then when I get off the stage, I revert back to my default. But generally, yeah, it’s just me. There isn’t really a different side.

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