James Osler, musician & composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

It’s hard to say really, to pin point exact moments or people that inspired me to pursue a life in music. Since a young age I’ve always been into moody and emotive sounds and as I became older I started to imagine scenes and scenarios in which I would make or perform that music myself. I started properly learning music fairly late around 15/16 but quickly became obsessed. I was really into the music of Django Reinhardt and Nick Drake during that time and spent a lot of time listening to and learning their songs. In my late teens I had some experiences of trauma and I guess music became a really effective way to treat myself, I haven’t been able to imagine a life without it since.

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

One of the most significant influences in my musical life was my first guitar teacher out of school Steve Aston, the creative force behind ‘Grimaldi Cinematique’. He introduced me to much of the music that still inspires me today such as Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Olivier Messiaen and Lenny Breau to name a few. Discovering these artists opened up a whole world of sound to me that is seemingly never ending, it kind paved the road to what kind of composer I’d like to be.

Another one would have to be Bill Frisell. I discovered him just before I went to study Jazz at university, I feel like he basically got me through my degree. His song writing and way of playing is completely unique, complex in some ways but simple and beautiful in others, love that dude. Helped me bridge the gap between Jazz and improvised music and kind of everything else. I saw him perform in London years ago as the 858 quartet where he played with a string trio, it was incredible, it was basically that concert that made me decide I wanted to start writing for strings.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Tricky to say…. There have been many! Probably the biggest challenge I’ve found with my musical career thus far has been trying to write, gig, work and make a living within music without compromising my taste and what I believe to be good. I’ve always found playing music I don’t like feels kind of wrong and I generally try to avoid doing it as much as possible. I have in the past turned stuff down that I personally didn’t like, I’ve always feared it must effect your playing and taste in someway. That being said I don’t necessarily recommend this, it’s meant I’ve struggled a lot more to make a living!

How do you work? What methods do you use and how do ideas come to you?

From my experience ideas kind of come and go as they please. Sometimes I’ll have an idea when I’m buying carrots from Aldi; other times inspiration will come after hours of playing, practicing or learning music. I generally try and have the concept or narrative of a whole piece worked out before I start writing it down, I guess this is try and keep the original raw idea of the piece alive and to avoid overworking it. However, a tune can start with a small simple melody or something and in the process of writing it down the idea flourishes and becomes an entire piece. I don’t think there’s a perfect methodology to writing but trying different things out can help.

How would you characterise your compositional language/musical style?

Oh man, tricky to characterise that exactly. I guess it’s a mix of Contemporary Classical (or non-classical), Folk, with influences of Jazz / Improvised and experimental music. But I cite influences from whatever interests me, for example I’m revisiting a lot of 90s trip hop like Portishead and Goldfrapp and I can feel that having an effect on the sounds in my head.

Of which works are you most proud?

One is a song we recorded a live video for quite recently with The Road Records which is yet to be produced/released; it’s called Michael’s Nocturne and I’m excited to share that. Another is Autumn, which is a song I’m releasing on my new EP. It’s quite a melancholic piece that kind of develops and shifts around a simple narrative. I basically wanted to try and capture the sounds, smells, scenes and feel of Autumn my favourite time of the year. I’d have directions on the score like “play like a leaf falling from a tree”, which sounds kind of funny but it worked. You can hear it in part 1 (first 2 mins), the lead violin line. It took me a while to get this tune to where I wanted it to be but the process felt very organic and creative.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

One thing would be to create and be part of music I truly believe is good and that I’d really want to listen to. I have no dreams of great monetary success or anything like that (not that that’s even on the cards!), but to get to a place where I’m playing regularly, doing things I’m proud of and relatively financially stable would be enough for me.

Also to be able to continue playing and developing with the people I’m playing with now would be amazing. I feel pretty lucky to have met a bunch of musicians I really love playing music and hanging out with.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring composers?

I mean I’m still figuring out my own compositions so its feel odd to be in a position of giving advice. But I guess find the things you actually like in music and hold on to it, trying lots of different things and experimenting etc is important etc, but I believe you’ll be a lot happier and make better material if you’re making stuff you actually feel connected to.

What’s the one thing we’re not talking about in the music industry which you really feel we should be?

Urrrmm tricky one as it feels like a lot topics are being discussed within the musical community at the moment. I guess a big one though would be streaming platforms such as Spotify. I have friends who’ve had considerable numbers of plays and received next to no money for it, it’s not right. It’s not just about people getting paid properly, it’s about the whole culture of the music scene and what is readily available. If musicians aren’t selling albums and aren’t getting paid for streams lots of bands will disappear, and I reckon we’ll have less and less variety in music that’s considered part of mainstream culture, which has already happened it feels almost beyond repair sadly. However I do think it’s just about solvable, but it’d probably have to happen via government, which given our current government won’t happen anytime soon…

Autumn, the new EP from James Osler’s ensemble PILLOW, is available now

Pillow is a new string ensemble performing the dark and cinematic compositions of musician and composer James Osler.

The music captures the richness of a classical tone, whilst retaining the freedom of improvisation and the storytelling of folk like melodies. Sighting influences from artists such as Nick Drake, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Max Richter and Bill Frisell, Pillow embarks on telling their own story.

Born in 2018, written by the shores of Brighton and in the hub of London, recorded and produced in the valleys of South West Wales.

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James Osler writes: “My career as a musician started after I completed a BA Hons in Jazz Performance at Middlesex University in 2014, where I was taught guitar by the great guitarist and educator Stuart Hall and Chris Montague. I worked full time as a gigging and performing Jazz Guitarist playing at events, festivals and venues in various bands and projects all around the country. Currently play as a guitarist and pianist in up and coming Welsh band Samana band as a guitarist in multi disciplinary Jazz ensemble ‘The Cloggz’, led by renowned Jazz pianist Mark Edwards. Pillow is an ensemble I first began writing for in beginning of 2018. My intention was to create a small string ensemble comprising of; Violin, Cello, Double Bass and Guitar/Piano, which would play all original music combining the styles of Contemporary Classical/Non-classical, Neo-Impressionist, Jazz and Folk music. Off the back of the time and space the pandemic gave, I came up with concept of ‘The Golden Hour’, music dedicated to my favoured time of the year, Autumn. I have been working on it ever since.

In the band we have Richard Jones on Violin, Fraser Bowles on Cello, Jules Arthur on Viola and both JJ Stillwell and Rhys Lovell on Double bass.”