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Private Reg “Everything I sing about is so real for me”

We spoke to up-and-coming Chesterfield musician James Vardy about his influences, finding himself at uni, and why Private Reg is finally ready to go public.

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Henry Wright.

James Vardy, or Private Reg, is an emerging musician who has recently broken through into the indie scenes of Chesterfield, Sheffield and Leeds – his uni city. Previously a member of local band Alpaca Factory, he’s now working solo and with a new sound. Now Then asked him a few questions about his music, his debut album Always Running Round This Old Town, and what we can expect from him in the future.

Bit of a generic question, but we’ll start off nice and simple: who are your musical influences and how can we see parts of them in your own music?

I think the biggest obvious reference in my sound would be Mike Skinner's 2000s project The Streets. His album A Grand Don't Come For Free was one of the only CDs my dad had in his van, we'd listen through it in full over and over, laughing at all the witty lyrics. The sampling, the swingy yet punchy drums, the off-kilter vocal delivery that's slightly out of tune and catches you off-guard – I like to think a bit of that comes into my music, especially tracks like '6AM Start Again' and 'Lonely V.I.P.' I'd say my themes and lyrics however don't tend to be as light-hearted and witty: writing tends to be cathartic for me. I think you can see a bit of a wistful, hopeful sound that probably comes from projects like Metronomy.

For new stuff I’ve been working on, I would say the influences extend from sparse IDM like Aphex Twin and Four Tet, mixed with the harsh industrial King Krule-like sound.

Your recent album, Always Running Round This Old Town, is about your time growing up in Chesterfield. Can you tell us about any experiences that have stood out to you and become a big part of your songs?

The tune 'Lights Out' repeats the hook “Is there room for me?” The EP is about not feeling comfortable in the environment of Chesterfield – it's dead honest, and it's all just stuff I needed to say. It's woven in with a load of personal stuff too like struggles with relationships on 'Bingo' and insecurity on 'Black and Blue'. ‘Lonely V.I.P.’ is a retelling of my 18th birthday, a night out in Chesterfield town centre, and ends with me screaming about how it's impossible to escape the place. All the feelings I had about the place were exacerbated as we got thrown into lockdown just after this night out. There is light to it though, as ‘6AM’ paints a love letter to the people who give Chesterfield its unique charm.

Do you think moving to Leeds for uni impacted your music?

Moving to Leeds has been great for me. In my first year I came across Evan Martin on Instagram. I knew him from school, and his old band TRASH. I saw he was doing a placement year in Leeds working as a producer, so I sent him some demos.

We ended up recording 'Bingo' in his bedroom with cheap equipment and I think we knew we'd found our sound pretty quick. So for a couple months I'd go round every week and we'd chip away at what's now the EP, working through my demos from lockdown. He's a great friend and a genius. He plays live for Private Reg, along with Bethan Evans, also from Chesterfield. It's much easier to find collaborators in Leeds, and I've made great friends that all come and support my music, so it's a great environment to be in.

You've come back with a bang on new single ‘KNELL’. Do you plan on changing your style with your new era?

‘KNELL’ is almost a segue single. It was a cool track I recorded in my first year uni room in Leeds, just after finishing the EP. Me, Evan and a drummer called Alex Wardle then recorded drums and vocals at the Leeds Conservatoire studio. It's a hint of where we’re going. The next project me and Evan have been working on is more collaborative writing-wise between me and him. He's played most of the instruments, while I've been more focused on lyrics and texture.

We've worked from a few of my demos but we've also come up with totally new stuff in the moment, which is an awesome way to work, and I can't wait for another session.

Tell us about your first gig as Private Reg. Do you have a dream gig you’d love to play?

My first gig was at a record shop in Headingley called Vinyl Whistle. I played on the release day of my EP and played it in full with Evan and Bethan. By design it was also my 20th birthday, and we all went to a karaoke night afterwards. I want gigs to be a communal experience, a party where we all have a good time. I'm not looking to make loads of money from it – I make sure my gigs have cheap tickets and a good lineup. It's an amazing experience playing these songs to people because they're just so personal, and everything I sing about is so real for me. I'd love to play Leadmill again at some point. I was lucky enough to play the main stage with my old band, and with these songs I think it would be a totally different experience.

Finally, what do you have in the works?

Me and Evan have recently done a studio (my bedroom) lock-in for four days and produced some cool things. So hopefully be getting that finished in the next month!

by Victoria Ruck (she/they)
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