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Arabian Knight

James Milnes aka Lawrence Arabia is out capturing hearts with catchy pop melodies

Coming up with catchy pop melodies like there’s no tomorrow, Lawrence Arabia – the heroic moniker of James Milnes – now makes a living from roaming between countries, adopting noble male archetypes, and stealing hearts. Making a triumphant return to the United Kingdom with 'Chant Darling', his second album, Milnes’ most recent undertaking has all the charm you’d expect from one of New Zealand’s most promising exports; the ten tracks are awash with gleeful falsetto harmonies, melancholic instrumentals and earnest tales of boys looking silly in front of nice girls. Speaking to Dazed Digital at the start of his British tour, James Milnes describes the mechanics of 'Chant Darling' and the invention of his many guises.

Dazed Digital: 'Chant Darling' involved a much greater spirit of collaboration – you’ve said yourself that it was only seventy per cent you this time. Was that out of necessity?
James Milnes: It was my reaction to being so protective and doing everything myself. With the first album I was buzzing and it was all a new experience but with 'Chant Darling', I was quite sick of that. And I lacked inspiration sometimes and if you’re there on your own, you end up doing nothing because you’re busy beating yourself up about minor failings that no one else has noticed. With someone else around, you can’t be such a moaning little bitch.

DD: So were you drawing on old resources or new ones? It can’t be easy to set yourself up in a new place and then hunt around for trumpet players.
James Milnes: No, no. I ended up recapitulating and drawing on old resources. I was excited about going home and seeing those people again – and that was what stimulated finishing off the album.

DD: There was so much development in the sound – what happened? Did something change for you?
James Milnes: Well, no. It was an accident! But quite deliberate. The first album was made of all of the cast-off songs that didn’t fit The Reduction Agents. It was all esoteric weird bits.

DD: Was there an exact idea of what you were trying to produce this time?
James Milnes: I do aim for things, but I think that it’s a bad habit. You get caught up in these ideas of what the final product will be; it’s an atrocious thing to do. That’s why I found it so difficult to do 'Chant Darling' – I was so aware of what I wanted it to sound like.

DD: Did the Lawrence Arabia aesthetic come about quite naturally? I know you said once before that it gave you an opportunity to adopt guises.
James Milnes: It was definitely an excuse to not be myself because I never felt like I could be a successful musician as myself.

DD: The whole singer-songerwriter gig can get quite depressing.
James Milnes: Yeah! And you just become invisible. It wasn’t deliberate to go through all of those iconic images, but it quickly became clear that the main thing was just to enjoy the process of creating these stories around the characters – all of these noble archetypes.

DD: To go back when you were making music far before Lawrence Arabia: were you aware of hints at everything that’s happening for you now?
James Milnes: I’ve never thought about that before. I don’t think I was. When I started The Reduction Agents, I had this idea of being a Big Star-esque powerpop band but at some point I yearned to be a bit more freaky than I actually was. I am inherently quite a boring person. So I realised the attractiveness of freakiness and pursued it, but when I had this epiphany to become Lawrence Arabia, it all grew a life of its own. It was a slow process – I don’t think I ever imagined being this pseudo-flamboyant character.

DD: Shit happens!
James Milnes: Yeah, doesn’t it?

'Chant Darling' was released in the United Kingdom and Europe in January 2010