It’s almost 2012?! Jesus. That means I’ve known Wintercoats, aka James Wallace, for over a decade now. It’s a weird thing, growing up with someone. Even weirder reflecting upon it. In Year 4 we’d spend each balmy spring afternoon plotting ways to steal Mr Van Blommestein’s prized axolotls from the classroom, in Year 5 we shared a joint account on Neopets, not that we’d let anyone know, and in Year 6 I knocked him out on his birthday with a rock. Nice guy, eh? I could go on, year by year, day by day, but I’m sure the picture is painted quite clearly, even if somewhat esoteric. The point is, now, it’s amazing to listen to his music. I mean really listen. Of course everyone will interpret, feel and emote to music differently, but to have such grandeur aural artworks, and knowing their bare essence, their deepest underlying passions and obsessions, it’s something of ineffable magnificence.
In 2009, armed with a $100 violin that he purchased from ALDI, Wallace recorded his debut EP Cathedral in the bedroom of his modest two bedroom Ballarat apartment. Having only self-taught himself to play the violin over the previous year, what he produced, what he created, was outstanding. “I have a habit of learning instruments and losing interest with them at a certain point and start to learn something new” he laughs whilst taking a gentle sip of an overpriced cider upon the Rooftop Bar of the Curtin House, a common meeting place, “I did the whole guitar thing whilst I was in high school, but I sort of grew tired of it when the only ensemble performances people wanted to do were just covers. The violin was the next logical step since I’d always written tracks with string arrangements in mind, but never had anyone to perform with. So I figured if no one else was going to do it, I’d just learn it myself.”
In contemporary day, in this technological age, it’s a tough gig getting your name out there. Getting noticed? It’s hard, man. For Wallace, it was a gradual and viral progress. “Without FBi Radio up in Sydney, I think I’d be playing shows to maybe ten people up there” he chuckles carefully, “and without blogs like Life Aquatic and No Fear of Pop, Cascine [Wallace's international record label] probably would have had no idea I existed. There seems to be this community between a lot of the music bloggers internationally, so if one finds something they like, they share it with each other and eventually it begins to spread. Both are pretty much just two mediums that will support you if they like what they hear regardless of how established you are and really are essential to really progressing.” He pauses to contemplate briefly, “All of the main moments I can pinpoint I really owe to Sophie and Ash from Mistletone. They’re two people that have done a lot of me, and I’m very grateful to have there support. They gave me my first international support a year ago with Mirah, and then another earlier this year with Beach House. Now I’m fortunate to be a part of the Mistletone roster which I couldn’t be happier about.”
Later this week, Wallace will launch his sophomore EP Sketches. It’s a wonderful progression; whilst remaining both delicate and ethereal, deceptively bold and opulent, it’s adolescent tenderness is underpinned by his definitive artistic sequence and growth. “I think in terms of performance ability, and my grasp and knowledge of electronics, I’ve taken a much bigger leap forward compared to where I was at when Cathedral came out” he tells self-effacingly, “The tracks still run fairly linear, but I think there’s a lot more thought behind how the recurring sections are used than before. The ambience on Cathedral was structured completely out of one to eight bar loops, whilst Sketches interchanges and layers various loops filtering in and out to make the subtleties more intricate than before. Having the year in between releases really helped with working out how to improve the production, so I think though it still has a familiar sound, it’s more advanced than before.”
“Sketches was a bit of an ordeal to make to be honest, and it took around a year longer than I had planned" sighs Wallace, "I completed the first version of it just after the first EP came out, but ended up scrapping it entirely and starting again. Basically I kept recording EPs or getting half way through ones and just kept shelving material. It got to the point where it just felt like I was writing songs purely for the sake of it. So I ended up stepping back and didn’t write for a while and decided to go back into fresh and when I was ready. A lot of the melodies and sections from Sketches actually came from the earlier sessions, but I think I was in a much better frame of mind to figure out how to utilise them after stepping away from it for a while.”
Alongside his composition, structural and production development, Wallace’s stunning live shows are in a state of constant evolving maturity. “It’s a lot more refined now than it was when I started. The setup is still the same as before, but the structuring of all the different loops has changed to make the build-ups a lot quicker, and the arrangements more logical. I had the problem for a while that the songs took far too long to perform, so in a 30 minute set I might only play 4 or 5 tracks, so the rearrangement have let me fit a lot more into sets.”
Undoubtedly, Wallace is one of this grand city's most accomplished talents, a city which cherishes it's musical culture, a city that he feels blessed to be a part of. “Everyone [in the Melbourne music scene] is incredibly welcoming and really offer a lot of support in so many different capacities. Everyone seems to hold a really high interested in what each other is doing and it feels like we’re all taking note. I mean, if I hadn’t been around The Townhouses or Guerre, I don’t think Sketches would have been the same record that came out now. There’s just ideas, production elements, or whatever, that everyone seems to offer and it’s fairly inspiring. I really couldn’t be more grateful for the people I’ve been able to spend my time with."
As it begins to trickle gently, we take our cue to leave, but not before I quiz Wallace on his future ambitions. “The plan is to have the album out in the first half of next year,” he divulges, “then [I'm] heading over to the US and Europe for a few shows. There’s a few other things in the works, but it looks like things are going to get a lot busier from now until the end of next year. There’s a lot to be done first, but it’s exciting.” And, perhaps most importantly, whatever happened to that $100 violin? “Surprisingly I still use it” he shares, unable to hold back a smile, “I’ve looked at getting a new one for years, but it has this certain warmness to it that I can’t find in any other violin I’ve tried. It’s not an incredibly well built, or what would be considered a high standard violin, but it just has the sound I want.”
Wintercoats launches Sketches at The Workers Club this Friday November 4. He’ll also perform as part of Mistletone’s Labels Live Melbourne Music Week concert at St. Michaels Uniting Church alongside HTRK, The Orbweavers, Beaches and Montero on Friday November 25 and will support How To Dress Well at the Phoenix Public House on Saturday December 3. Sketches is out now through Mistletone.