James Atkin was the singer in EMF, the early '90s indie-dance UK act who had a massive worldwide hit with 'Unbelievable' in 1990. EMF formed in Gloucestershire in 1989 and rode the crest of the indie-dance wave for a while alongside bands like Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Stereo MCs, Jesus Jones and the Stone Roses.
EMF's debut album 'Schubert Dip', so-called because of the band's propensity for stealing chord sequences from the classical composer, reached No.3 in the UK charts, but they spent a lot of time trying to crack America and their second album 'Stigma' was less well received.
Splitting in 1995, James formed beat-driven dance act Cooler, joined big beat marauders Bentley Rhythm Ace for a while and then, a few years ago, kick-started the beats & breaks-driven Asbo Kid electro project with Justin Walsh from Elastica. Now he's about to release his first solo album, 'A Country Mile' on ATK Records. Stuffed full of percussive groove anthems and guitar-driven bleepy ditties all overlain with Atkin's unmistakable vocal style, it'll see him embark on a UK tour in support of the album over the next few weeks.
DJ Mag collared James for a chat about the past, present and future...
Hi James, you’ve got a new album out – under your own name for the first time. Why has it taken you a while to use your own name?
“I’m not sure I had the confidence to release an album solely under my own name until now. Releasing records behind different names has given me a certain amount of anonymity over the years. It did kind of make sense to do this album as a ‘James Atkin’ album though, it was a solo project from the off — although I’ve had some great people involved and have had some help from close friends like Justin Walsh (Elastica) and Ian Dench (EMF). My vocals and the songs are definitely the focal point, rather than the beats or production that my previous records were more about.
“It has taken me a long time to get it together, true. The aftermath of EMF and Bentley Rhythm Ace took a while to calm down, it’s amazing how you can lose over a decade when you’re partying a little too much. I eventually ended up going to university and doing a degree and then finding a job and some overdue normality. It feels different coming back to making music now, I honestly feel content with what I’ve achieved musically in my career. This album has been a joy to make and it feels like there’s no great pressure, I hope people dig it though.”
Can you briefly describe the album to DJ Mag readers?
“Yeah, all about the songs, I guess. Before I started the album I went back and revisited my record collection and tried to suss out why certain tunes resonated with me and connected. The writing process was very simple, usually I’d loop up a few chord sequences, go play it on the car stereo whilst ambling around the country lanes where I live in the Yorkshire Dales, coming up with the vocal hooks and lyrics.
“A few of the songs have a personal tinge but I’d say the majority of the album is fairly upbeat with catchy choruses.”
Whatever happened to EMF? You should’ve been as big as Blur, your dance/rock fusion was way ahead of its time…
“Well, that's nice of you to say that Carl, emf were ok and had some great moments, I’d rather be sitting here now and saying I was in the Clash, The La’s or another real seminal band. Blur were miles ahead of us, they were very clever to lose the indie shoegazer thing early and steer the Britpop movement successfully. I think emf spent too much time in the US and were trying to emulate that dodgy American rock scene, which personally for me was not really my thing. When we wrote and recorded the third album I did expect us to be massive and become a stadium rock band like Depeche Mode. Looking back now though that was never going to happen, we severely lost our way and were lucky to survive as long as we did.”
‘Unbelievable’ really is the tune that won’t go away – how many requests do you get for its use as a sync or whatever somewhere per year, and are you in a position to turn any down?
“Yes, the syncs have been very lucrative over the years; people still seem to love that song. Believe it or not we are still very careful about how and who can use it. It ain't going to be on a KFC ad or be an ugly Tory campaign song anytime soon.”
Are you gonna be playing live to support your new album?
“The dates are coming in thick and fast. I’m confirmed to play Kendal Calling and Festival No 6 as part of the ‘House Party’ stage over the summer. I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the smaller venues that I did years ago when emf were first starting out.”
Who are your favourite DJs?
“Well, I’m still an old raver and a bit old school, Andy Weatherall and Erol Alkan.”
Anything else you wanna tell DJ Mag readers?
“Come on down to one of my gigs and make an ageing pop star happy.”
6th March 2015 – The Duchess, York
20th March 2015 – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
28th March 2015 – Esquires, Bedford
10th April 2015 – Trades Club, Hebden
4th April 2015 – Dock Of The Bay, Southampton
1st May 2015 – Gloucester Guildhall
16th May 2015 – The Scala, London
31st July 2015 – Kendal Calling
4th Sept 2015 – Festival No.6
For further info go to www.jamesatkin.org.uk