ABOVE: SIVU AT THE TATE MODERN IN LONDON, MAY 2013. PHOTOS BY VITA HEWISON
James Page has no problem referring to himself as a singer-songwriter. “At the end of the day, I write my songs, just me and a guitar,” explains the British musician, who records under the name Sivu. This, however, is a misleading description. At some point, the term singer-songwriter became synonymous with acoustic mush. Layered over lyrical strings and filled with grand, dark biblical imagery, Sivu’s songs are much more powerful than that.
HOMETOWN: St. Ives, Cambridgeshire, England
STYLE OF MUSIC: I love artists like Beck and Bjork; I love how they are singer-songwriters, but they put a crazy, left-field twist on things. That’s something that inspires me. The way I approach writing and recording them with [my producer] Charlie, we try to do things a bit different and put more of an interesting twist on it.
NOT THE FAMILY PROFESSION: I’ve been playing in bands since I was about 14, so I was always playing and touring. I moved to London to do music. I played session work for a while. Then I met my producer, Charlie Andrew, and we started work on the songs I had. “Better Man [Than He]” was born, then “God Speaks in Tongues”—it all came from there. None of my family play music; I don’t really know where I got it from. My cousin bought a guitar once and I was obsessed with it. He stopped playing, so I was the only one that kept going.
MY FIRST BAND: I don’t know if I should say; it’s so embarrassing. I think we were called “Drunken Summer.” It was something awful like that. Oh man, it was shit. I’m trying to think of how to explain it. It was kind of punk, music, I guess. We weren’t very good, to be honest.
MY FIRST VIDEO: The director [for “Better Man Than He”] Adam Powell, is one of my best friends. Because it’s the first thing we put online, it’s the first thing we were putting out, we wanted to have something that set the mark, really. I didn’t want it to be me with an acoustic guitar; didn’t want it to have that standard singer-songwriter feel. Adam found [some footage of] these guys beatboxing on an MRI machine—it was like this new research for cleft palate treatment. He contacted Barts Hospital in London, and they were really up for it. They totally let us do it. It was a bit of an experiment, but it came out better than we could have hoped. I think I was in the machine for an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes. It wasn’t too bad, ’cause while I was in there, they did scans and we performed the track twice.
I had to stop reading the [YouTube] comments, because some people were like, “Ooh, I don’t like the look of his head at 2:02. Jesus, that looks like it could be something bad.” But my dad did say that people were putting comments on about playing it in their lectures, which is brilliant. I was really chuffed about that.
WE’RE JUST BODIES… A lot of people comment on the biblical references [in my songs]. I’m not a religious person; I like kind of painting an image in my head. With “Bodies,” I was having a really tough time, and I liked the idea of wiping the slate clean and starting again. That’s why I have that Noah’s Ark reference; I really like the idea of flooding everything and starting again. [laughs] I’m getting really heavy now—I’m sorry—but just this of idea [that], in the grand scheme of things, we’re very small.
WHEN I’M FEELING DOWN: I really, really love the Deftones. The Deftones have got an album called White Pony (2000), which is like one of my favorite albums of all time. I tend to listen to that a lot when I’m feeling a bit shit.
IDEAL CREATIVE CONDITIONS: I have to be on my own. I always write better on my own, away from everything. My parents live in a small village, and I always write better at home. London can be a bit stressful. I like taking myself out of that, really.
I’m always most productive when I’m really tired and hung over; I find that when I’m really hung over I write better songs. I think there’s a sense of self-loathing and I find something quite inspiring in feeling sorry for myself. [laughs] That’s such an awful thing to say, but that’s how I do it, really.