Nathan James / “Without us doing Heroine we would have all gone mental”
All the latest from Inglorious as the UK tour begins. 9 September 2021.
No, that’s not a typo in the title. Heroine is the new album from Inglorious, a covers album, with the theme of all the tracks being notable for having a female vocalist in the original recordings. It turns out to have been a beneficial and therapeutic way to spend the time during this enforced hiatus from live shows.
Interview: Liz Medhurst
There’s no question about trying to better these songs, however, or give the definitive version. It’s quite the opposite. Speaking to frontman Nathan James on the phone from his home in Devon, he is absolutely adamant on this.
“What I’ve always said on these songs is you can’t improve on perfection, and all of the songs I’ve chosen, the original recordings of are perfect”, Nathan told MetalTalk. “They are some of the best songs of all time by some of the best artists of all time. What we needed to do was something a little bit different.
“As soon as you deal with that in your head, that I’m not in a race to make this better, they’ve already won. It’s about enjoying making this music and paying homage to these wonderful female artists. It was a really enjoyable experience but finding that balance was much easier once you relax and just enjoyed doing it.”
This approach has certainly paid off, as the complete album does stand alone as some great versions of classic tracks.
Not at all the usual suspects are here either. There’s a mix of pop, rock and soul songs, all given the hard-rocking Inglorious treatment. The album is co-produced with Josiah J, usually spotted as an integral part of fellow West Country rocker Kris Barras’s band, and together they have constructed some memorable (for all the right reasons) recordings.
Take Nutbush City Limits. It builds up to a riot of different elements, the brass, the rock guitars, the honky-tonk piano, the free-form vocals all jostling with each other, moving up and down the layers. It ought to be a mess, but it’s not. It works and captures the live spirit.
“We were in five different rooms on five different days”, Nathan reveals. “I think what’s good about it is that it feels live. It really does feel like you’re watching us do that as you are listening to it. It’s impressive that we can groove like a train which is what it’s all about regardless of where we are in the country at the time.”
The Miley Cyrus track, Midnight Sky, is unexpected as I hadn’t heard it before this version. Nathan updates me that it was number one last summer “for a ridiculous number of weeks”.
It’s surprising how easily you can avoid current pop if it’s not your thing, and coming at it with no prior knowledge means it can be judged purely on if it’s a good song, does it sound like a rock song and does it work? Yes, to both counts.
It turns out that there is some rock in the bloodline of this song, as it’s produced by Andrew Watt, last seen in our part of the world as the guitarist in the short-lived and volatile California Breed with Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham. Watt is a big-time producer in the pop world now with multiple Grammys under his belt – that’s another surprise.
I’m wondering how easy this tracklist was to put together – not very, as it turns out. Nathan put together a Spotify playlist of about fifty tracks which took a huge amount of effort to whittle down to get the variety and balance for the final selection. “There’s so many more”, he says. “I almost want to do a second Heroine album just to do Lady Gaga, Cher, Blondie, so many were missed off, it was so tough to choose.”
Of course, with Nathan’s reputation as being able to sing anything, the question had to be asked if anything was attempted but had to be ditched because it didn’t work. “There was one,” Nathan says after a pause. “We did go to record Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. And I love the song, it’s such an incredible song, but it did nothing for my voice.
“When she sings, it sounds amazing and really meaningful, and when I did it, it just sounded like I was talking. It sounded awful. So that didn’t make it. We did switch that out for Time After Time which I think was a good call.”
Big belting numbers
As expected, there are some big belting numbers here, too, Halestorm’s I Am The Fire and Heart’s Barracuda retaining their power and heat.
However, there’s one song that’s been Metalled down instead of up – Bring Me To Life by Evanescence.
The song doesn’t suffer for this at all as there’s more drama and suspense added. There’s a very special guest here as Jeff Scott Soto (Sons of Apollo, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) performs the rap, which was also recorded remotely.
The stars certainly aligned for this track. Nathan explained that once the final list was decided, he thought, “who the hell is going to do the rap, cos I can’t…Tracy Chapman and rapping is what I can’t do!” Jeff was the clear first choice, so a call followed the request, and no persuasion was needed.
“Jeff said, ‘this is so weird, but last night we [him and his wife] were watching The Tonight Show and Evanescence were on, and they performed it’.
“His wife loves the song, and she asked if he’d ever performed it. He said no, but it’s one of those songs that he would love to do. And the next day, I messaged him and was like, ‘can you sing on this song?’ It’s meant to be.”
We Will Ride
Heroine is the second album this year from Inglorious, following on from February’s We Will Ride, an astonishingly good album that still gets better with every listen. The collections bookend the band’s pandemic outputs and really are all that and a bag of chips.
Nathan’s gratitude for finding a way to record is unmistakable. “I missed doing the thing that I was supposed to do,” he says. “I missed making noise and performing for people. It’s the one thing we could do was get in the studio and make an album.
“We couldn’t perform by literal law, so the fact that we were able to get in the studio and make another record was actually quite life-saving, for me particularly. I think without us doing Heroine, we would have all gone mental.”
Another positive outlet was teaching, with Nathan providing individual remote singing lessons, originally started as a way of earning some money, and has provided much more.
“It’s helped my mental health to see people and talk to people all the time and see people progress with stuff that you are teaching them. I find that amazing actually,” he says.
“I got the idea from Danny [Dela Cruz], my guitarist. He is such a good teacher. I don’t think I’m as good as him. He’s super professional. He does it from home. People love learning Inglorious and other songs from him, and I thought, yeah, I can do that, I know enough about singing. So I gave it a go, and I’ve had about thirty students now, been loving it.”
Throughout our conversation, it is clear that Inglorious is a happy ship these days. The frictions and conflicts of recent years, which saw James portrayed in many corners as a cartoon villain, are fading into obscurity now. Of course, respect has to be earned, and Nathan has answered all critics with sheer talent, graft, and professionalism.
“I’m not good at anything else,” he explains. “People wonder where the confidence comes from, and it’s out of desperation that I know that without being good at it, I wouldn’t be able to eat or live. It Is the only thing I can do well.”
He is so complimentary about the talent and professionalism of all the band (guitarists Danny Dela Cruz and Dan Stevens, drummer Phil Beaver and bassist Vinnie Colla plus live keyboard player Rob Lindop), and they are all geared up and ready to unleash the live shows.
We have already seen what this group can do on a stage, and they deliver every time. It’s got all the elements you want from a hard rock show, the swagger, sensuality, showboating, seriously good performances – all the good stuff.
The band have played a couple of festival dates in the last couple of weeks, and the muscle memory is there, albeit with one or two teething issues at A New Day in August. “We were going to do [Uninvited by] Alanis, but we had to drop it … I thought that’s fifty minutes. I didn’t take into consideration the fact that I’d be talking, so we were totally running over!”
We agree that people are so happy to be back out and that any discrepancies while getting the live mojos back will not matter and will probably enhance the experience anyway. Besides, it’s not just artists but media, production and audiences who must get back to gig fitness levels, so we are all in it together.
There’s plenty of chance to do this with Inglorious, as there are twenty-two UK dates coming up. It’s hopeful that some further afield dates will happen, but there’s still so much uncertainty around the restrictions and requirements. It’s being taken one day at a time.
There’s going to be a good chunk of songs from We Will Ride and some of the Heroine tracks too. The tour starts on 10 September at Nottingham Rock City. Support comes from Mercutio, and for a couple of shows, there will be acoustic openers.
“My friend Tim Prottey-Jones co-wrote Eye of The Storm,” Nathan says, “so he’s also going to get up with us and do that on his dates, and my friend Rick Snowden, who was on The Voice and is an amazing singer, is going to open for us in Newcastle.”
The final word on Heroine goes to Nathan:
“I think people may initially see the tracklist and think I’m not into this, it’s all pop songs, it’s this that and the other – give it a chance.
“The reason these songs have been picked is that they all do something different, they all celebrate an immense talent, and a lot of these songs are rock songs. Christina Aguilera’s Fighter is a rock song. Whitney Houston’s Queen of the Night is a rock song. It’s got a guitar solo, a big guitar riff, big vocals. It’s an out and out rock song.
“It’s free to listen to on Spotify, give them a chance before you make up your mind, and if you do like it, go and buy a copy from our website because a pound from every copy goes to the amazing Women’s Aid charity.”
And that’s a message we can wholeheartedly endorse. See you down the front.