James Grim Woodcutters (Chopped)

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James Grim Woodcutters (Chopped)

James Grim is one charismatic, fire-and-brimstone frontman, as anyone who has seen him fronting Brothers Grim will attest. He’s also one of the hardest working guys around who, through six years of intense gigging and writing, has built a reputation as a musician whose songs are almost brutally honest. With his latest incarnation, Woodcutters, Grim is once again pursuing songs of depth and sincerity, but this time the barnstorming bravado has been supplanted by a bevy of dark-country tunes that feature some of the most evocative lyrics you’ll be hearing any time soon.
“The simple truth is, I just didn’t want anything to do with Brothers Grim when it ended,” Grim says. “We spent years in a van together, we know everything about each other. And I love those guys, but it takes it out of you being a touring band, and those boys sacrificed their lives to do it. They were barely paying rent, starving. Six years, that’s a lot to ask of anyone, so the fact they did that means I have nothing but respect for them. I loved the chaos of Brothers Grim. It was more of a party than a show. I mean, by the end it was kind of a race. Who would end up in the underwear first, the band or the audience? I loved it.”
When he came out of that process, Grim wanted to get back to loving music for music’s sake. “Woodcutters set out to be the antithesis of Brothers Grim,” he says. “It wasn’t about touring intensely, it wasn’t about smashing out an album. It was about sitting down with musicians that I love and writing tunes that I feel tell the story I want to tell. Keep it simple. See, Brothers Grim was very complicated music, whereas Woodcutters is what it sounds like. It’s whittling down an idea until it tells the basic truth.”
Though yet to unveil an official release, several demo recordings have begun to connect with audiences, such as the bittersweet sing-along Dancing Shoes. In spite of the more stripped-back sound, the exciting promise of their demos suggests Woodcutters will find the same passionate audience that Brothers Grim enjoyed.
“Something like Dancing Shoes, you only have to hear that song once to know how to sing-along. That’s what I like about all of these Woodcutters tunes. You’ll catch on to what it’s about in a moment. That song, I’ve never not had a room screaming along with the chorus. That was what I wanted when I wrote it of course, but to actually hear that happen when a room catches on, singing ‘The road might be long but baby we’re going to go far’, it just raises the hair on the back of your neck. Obviously the change of pace makes for a different kind of performance from Brothers Grim. I doubt I will be hanging from the ceiling in my Y-fronts for Woodcutters, but you know, I’m not ruling it out either.”
The distinction between the two bands is immediately apparent. While Grim’s distinct, gravelly vocals are immediately recognisable, the context has shifted significantly. The raucous blues-rock has been pared down to a sombre, but no less catchy sound that emphasises the lyrics of Grim and Dan Waters, his writing partner. Though the songs are full of vivid imagery, of hope and despair, they’re hardly autobiographical. Instead, Grim and Waters pull their inspirations from a multitude of sources.
“Someone once told me you should always be careful about how honest your songs are, because at the end of the day you’re going to have to sing that song over, and over, and over. So, in one song there will be around three different stories that have contributed. They’re rarely about one specific, certain event. In fact, some have been written over the course of two years. I spend a lot of time on lyrics, and fine-tuning them to say more with less. I cram a lot of ideas in, but I want them to at first appear quite straightforward and simple. I want that honesty to be beautiful in its transparency.
“Whatever song I write, I want you to identify that moment, that predicament I’m talking about. I want it to be real, I want the audience to question their own worlds. If it’s just about me they don’t have to. They just go, ‘Oh, well, James was having a bad week when he wrote that.’ I want someone to listen to these and think, ‘Fuck. He’s singing about me’.”
Soon, James Grim Woodcutters will be taking the stage at Chopped, a festival he has strong roots with both as Brothers Grim and as a punter. Of the multitude of festivals that litter the country, it’s Chopped that fuels his anticipation year by year.
“I’m really excited to get back and play to this crowd that I just love. I’ve been a supporter of Chopped since its beginnings, when it was a football field with a little hay shed for a stage. It’s the festival I’m always hanging out for, and the vibe they have is really how a festival should be. You really shouldn’t miss it.”
Written by Adam Norris
When & Where: Newstead Racecourse – October 2-4