Fergus James: “Celebrities Are An Illusion, They’re Just Good At What They Do”

It’s no wonder that Fergus James is the man Triple J Unearthed dubbed the “one to watch”.

His incredibly catchy and heart-felt singles ‘Golden Age’, ‘What are We Waiting For’ and ‘Back to Life’ are making waves, landing him support gigs with Ed Sheeran and Meg Mac on their sold-out national tour. 

We managed to catch Fergus’ performance on Wednesday evening at BIGSOUND and its safe to say he captured the crowd. Fairy lights hung above the open-air venue (X-Cargo) with onlookers everywhere seemingly memorised by his emotive set. Switching between 3 guitars, Fergus’ kept everyone on their toes, effortlessly transitioning the crowd from goosebumped immersion to a packed dance floor in a matter of moments. 

Following this incredible set, we spoke with Fergus to discuss the High School performance to celebrity Justin Timberlake that landed him in the spotlight and all the craziness of the music industry. 

This photo was taken by the incredibly talented Liam from Mushroom Creative House

First, what an absolutely incredible set last night. What was it like?

It was good fun. My guitar strap fell off at one stage but I guess that’s all just part of it, I was eyeing off a few people like, “I need some help” but no, it was all good.

Yeah I did notice, you had three guitars didn’t you?

I had three. I play two electrics and an acoustic. All for different songs and tuning and stuff. I do all my own tuning, I think that’s important, it shows that you really can be a ‘real musician’.

Technically you are a ‘real musician’ right? You went to music school?

Yeah, I went to Newtown Performing Arts High, so I got a grasp of the general basics. I graduated in 2017 so two years ago now, really starting to feel old, 21 is fast approaching and it definitely scares me. 

You’ve already done so many incredible things, obviously kicking off with performing for Justin Timberlake back in the school days, what was that time like?

It’s really weird having to be in a room with someone who has been on TV and is an international star. It was a surprise, we were told we were going to do a showcase for a big celebrity and to have an original song prepared, but we definitely didn’t think it would be of that calibre. You know JT, everyone knows JT, but I never really listened to his music so I wasn’t as scared to get up as some of the other kids. Which definitely helped, a little bit. But still, you know who he is. It was definitely a weird start to everything, JT liking one of my songs.

It did go viral on Facebook too, didn’t it?

I think like half a million videos on Facebook. I had people hitting me up from France and stuff, it was mental, and I hadn’t even graduated yet so it was pretty spectacular. It was a weird thing that happened but I am extremely grateful that it did.

Do you think that’s what started it all off?

I have had a think about this for a long while. Obviously, it did do that, but if I’d had a shit song or I was a bit dreadful on the day, it wouldn’t have happened. So I think it was a combination of things he said and being prepared for that moment. 

From there you’ve just gone from strength to strength, millions of views on Spotify and even supporting Meg Mac and Ed Sheeran on their national tours, did you get to meet either of them? What were they like?

Yeah of course. I met both of them! Ed was crazy, I only did the three shows for Ed in Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. But I bumped into him a few times and he is an amazing guy, totally down to earth, he likes eating food and having a drink here and there, really nice guy, just like everyone else. 

I think with famous people or celebrities it’s like this illusion, but really they’re just good at what they do, just like Ed Sheeran. And Meg Mac too, one of the most talented people in the world, and in Australian music. She’s amazing, I did 13 dates with her, saw every show. It was my birthday on the day of the last show and she got me a gift which was super sweet.

Your music definitely gives all the feels especially goosebumps, is that your aim for?

Inspiration for me is music I get emotional from. There are artists that do that to me and if I can replicate that with my own music, more than just ‘this is a good song, you can dance to it’, I think emotions are such a powerful thing to manipulate. You can’t have too much of the emotions though, I think everyone gets a bit emotionally drained. 

Who are your biggest influences?

Bon Iver from the beginning was my inspiration for the emotional side. What Gang of Youths did in the last couple of years really did it for me. Such an incredible album. I think in 10 years time we will look back on that Gang of Youths album as one of the most essential albums of this time period. I don’t think my music is super sonically similar to Bon Iver or Gang of Youths but, how they are able to appeal to people’s emotions is what really inspired me.

Back to Life got such a great response from the crowd last night, can you tell me a little bit of what it’s about?

I think there is a power in writing songs with a broad overarching theme. And I think that I came to this stark realisation that with music, careers and life in general, everything is way too short. Like it’s okay to feel shitty about things and feel guilty. But things that seem small sometimes in life you know, it is all way too short that you end up missing the big picture. I didn’t want to say too much with the track, but you know, once we are gone we are kinda gone so why not live life the best you can and be the best person you can be. If it was a poster it would be one of those things you put on your wall ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ that your mum buys from Kmart. It’s a bit sappy but a bit relatable as well.

You’re on the line-up with some pretty big names at the moment, i.e Tones and I who also killed it last night, but are there any artists on the Big Sound line up you’re excited to see?

Yeah. Tones was before me so I couldn’t really get to her gig but she played at Splendour and she is the nicest person, I am so happy for her amazing explosion into the music scene.Which is almost an understatement? I was gutted I couldn’t see her last night. She is insane.

I’m also really into this band at the moment called Ivey, they’ve put out two songs which were really cool, its kinda like 1975 indie-pop band stuff, really cool. Lazy Eyes are also playing, I went to school with them at Newtown, their psych-rock is really cool. Nancy Shipper, is incredible, she’s really good. Also wanted to see Dulcie, but couldn’t because of clashes.

I spoke to Ash from Dulcie on Tuesday and she said they were really keen to see you as well but you guys are literally playing at the same time!

Yeah, every time! It’s a nightmare, there’s what, around 150 acts and a million different venues so there’s so many more I could list but yeah. It sucks too because they are from WA so I don’t think I will be seeing them for a long while unless they come over to Sydney. I was crossing the road and they did come say ‘Hi, we’re Dulcie’ and I was like ‘Hey’ and crossed the road, that was it but I definitely would love to have yarns with them. 

Yeah absolutely, their music is amazing, and they’ve only really just started out themselves, but already they’ve done Groovin the Moo and been put on full rotation on Triple J as well.

Yeah and I think that’s the thing, there are lots of people here, kind of all at the same level, there’s a group of us doing certain things, getting on rotation, doing some festivals, its kinda cool to share notes and compare the pair. 

It seems like you all know each other or are all friends, everyone I speak to knows at least a few bands on the line up even though you’re all from across Australia.

Yeah I know right, I think because we share, we are all in such a unique kinda career, always touring, always on the road so we can kind of relate. And that’s why we become friends, it’s just a similar lifestyle.

What do you think the hardest thing about being on tour is?

That’s a good one. Look, I haven’t done any hectic stints where I am doing a show every night, but I think it is hard being away. I hate flying, I have a super fear of flying. But if you want to play, you’ve got to fly, so I have had to try and overcome that. 

The hard thing is the uncertainty, you’re away, you don’t have any structure to your life. Relationships can be difficult, kids would be even harder. It’s an interesting thing, but you have to tour so you have to work it out with the people you love. To be able to do something like what I did last night was super special. When the cons do make themselves evident, you do need something like last night to remind you why you do it.

What are your best festival tips?

  1. Sunscreen yo. Skin cancer is not good. It’s a big thing. I am a pretty pale guy, so I burn easy. 
  2. Water definitely. 
  3. Being respectful to each other I think is a big thing. Recently it’s coming to light that there are some dicky people out there that do dicky things, so we should keep an eye out for each other. 

We don’t go to festivals to get hurt, we go to have a good time so I think if we can keep an eye out for each other, hydrate, and be sun safe. Have fun, and enjoy the music. 

Have you been to any festivals recently?

I did Splendour and Snowtunes, didn’t have to whip out the sunscreen for that one. I have been to a few as a punter and just starting to go as a performer. Splendour was great, Triple J took me there, and here. Triple J unearthed is such a great format. I wouldn’t be anywhere without those guys.

Missed out and want to see a wrap of Fergus’ incredible BIGSOUND experience? Check out his wrap up (including a sneak peak of our interview) here

This interview was conducted by Bethany Charles.

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