The Making of Familiar Strangers

By James Blyth and Ciéra Cree

Hi, I’m James – just another little singer/songwriter from Norfolk with the stupidly big dream of someday “making it” in music. I live in Great Massingham and have done so since literally day 1. I’m 100% sure that if I hadn’t have lived here I would never have gotten myself involved in music. 

It was in this village at school where I fell in love with it. In fact, I remember at primary school we had a guy come in with guitars, drums and keyboards. All of us sprinted to the drums because we thought that they were the ‘coolest’ thing to play. I even went as far as to get a Grade 4 in drums! But then I discovered the guitar and that’s when I knew music was for me. 

I used to look at the likes of McFly, All Time Low and Green Day, thinking “I’d love a chance to do that”. Not because of the whole 50,000-to-one-show-to-see-me, but for the chance to play my music. To play my music and see people not just hearing the lyrics, but relate to them too, to sing them back to me. That’s what I wanted when I first started and I feel so lucky to now be at a point in my life where I’ve seen that begin to happen.

Now that my background is covered, I think I should give you a little insight into the real reason that I’m writing this today, and that is to talk about my new EP ‘Familiar Strangers’.

It’s safe to say that this EP has not only been by far my favourite to make but it also means the most to me. Each song connects to me differently and I believe that the EP itself tells quite a magnificent story. So, let me start at the beginning and to do that I need to talk about my previous creation, ‘The Next Step’.

So, it’s April 2020 and my EP is nearly ready to release, ‘The Next Step’. I had 4 songs ready and I remember sitting on my bed with my guitar and coming up with the riff for a song that later became ‘Losing You’. The same thing happened again with another riff for what became a part of ‘this is a song from me to you’ before writing ‘17’ which made it onto that EP. 

The Writing Of Familiar Strangers 

Home

2 months on and I was in the mood to start writing again for the next EP, as yet untitled. So I jumped on a call with my good mates, Alex Venthem and James Jude. The previous night I had come up with the riff/hook for the song and they both liked where it was going. Myself and Alex quickly worked out a structure for it and a few of the lyrics. James J really helped with filling in the blanks and created the entire bridge section which I am forever grateful for! Once this had all been done, I immediately got to making a demo for the song that had been titled ‘Anywhere Can Be Home’, although after the final recording I renamed it ‘Home’. This song will always be in my top 5 songs that I have ever written. Upon piecing together the final recording I asked my good friends from college, Frazer Stanford and Oscar Mason to help out with the drums (Frazer) and keys (Oscar), and without those two helping this song wouldn’t sound half as good! 

The song is a love story about a couple who look back on the times that they had together and how it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have. You are able to make a ‘Home’ out of anything, so long as you surround yourself with the right people. I think that we successfully captured this in the song. 

Familiar Strangers

I knew that I wanted to have a song with this title. I liked the way it sounded and the meaning of it. Alex and I had talked about writing a song, although on the day that we had planned to write with Ciéra Cree he was busy. But nevertheless, we carried on.

Ciéra and I wrote what I think is a very good song. I went on to demo it and to then start the final recording. Alex and I recorded the song in my bedroom where I recorded the majority of the EP and then for Ciéra we spiced it up a little by going to Charlie’s place. 

Mr Charlie Bernardin is a fellow member of my band ‘Frett 28’. If you asked Charlie to describe himself in three words he wouldn’t actually manage to; you’d get something like “Well, how would I do that?”, and from there he has already exceeded the limit. He’s a perfectionist and that is why he is BRILLIANT at music production (and why my song ‘On Our Side’ that we started to create last November still isn’t finished). 

I decided it would be a good idea for Ciéra’s vocals to be recorded with Charlie as I knew that he wouldn’t get it wrong and well, he definitely didn’t!. Her vocals fit the song perfectly and without them, again, the song wouldn’t work! 

Frazer Stanford also joined in on the song and added a brilliant drum part to the track.

The song is about a couple falling in love with each other and the entire ‘first move’ concept. Two people who like the look of each other, who see each other every day, but they still don’t know each other’s name. A Familiar Stranger.

Hopefully Ciéra will tell you about working with me!

“I remember being contacted one day by Alex and James about the opportunity to feature on ‘Familiar Strangers’. Immediately I recognised that doing this would be something outside of my comfort zone as I hadn’t sang behind a mic in over 4 years. However, I knew that I wanted to do it. The funny thing was that I really wanted to produce a song that could be on streaming platforms such as Spotify this year but I wasn’t sure about how to approach it all by myself. It’s almost like this opportunity was perfectly timed so there was no way that I was going to turn it down.

At first I felt extremely nervous during recording but, over time, I could feel myself getting more comfortable. James and his friends made the process fun as well as professional which is something that I really appreciated. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to become a part of this EP and hope to potentially feature on some more tracks in the future!” Ciéra Cree, Norfolk / Cambridge

Losing You

I’ve had the concept for this song since ‘The Next Step’s’ writing process. I wanted to write a song that led on from ‘Home’ as a relationship hits rocky waters. The idea of thinking back to what things used to be and how you used to love each other was always something I felt the need to write about after previous relationships of mine. 

I never thought I’d say this but Facebook saved the day! I joined a page called ‘Norwich Musicians Network’ and asked for a singer to help me out on the track. I found a guy called Andy Knight from the band Uprising. He is an incredible singer and a pleasure to work with. After I had sent him the song he was very happy to help out and be a part of the record.

This song also helped me to move up a step in my music production as I began to understand Logic Pro and how to use it for all of its features. 

The drums again were by Frazer, and this time the bass was done by a friend of mine – Maddie from the band Pink Lemonade.

this is a song from me to you

This is the song that I hold closest to my heart and find myself proud to say I wrote. It has a few hidden meanings behind it but deep down it’s a song that carries the message that there is someone out there for you. After seeing my parents separate a few years back and how it tore my family apart, seeing my mum happy again in her new relationship really puts my mind at ease. It was the same case when I was single; I hit record lows for myself until finding my girlfriend who picked me up and taught me that things do get better.

‘Sometimes a goodbye is as good as a hi’ is the first line of the song and it aims to capture the sense of letting go to find someone or something new. I didn’t write this song to be part of an EP or to be released until I decided to see what would happen if my friends got involved in the song. Frazer did the drums, Gary Leonard (the country and line dance musician, and a fellow work mate of mine) did the bass and Oscar did the keys and strings. The song went on to reach a whole new level, a level at which I thought no song of mine would ever go. After that I felt that I had to release this song to people in the hope that others will relate and connect to it. I love this song so much and see it as the best thing I have ever written.

Don’t Play The Fool

This is the final song on the EP. I wrote it to a friend, a friend who felt lost and alone. I’m not very good at talking so I wrote this for them instead as a way to get my feelings across. The song itself consists of a quite simple tune but it’s accompanied by very deep, meaningful lyrics. It’s the only song on the EP that is 100% created by myself. 

I’m releasing this song so that anybody who may be in the same situation that my friend was in may find comfort. 

And that’s the EP! It will be released on every music platform as of November 27th and I really hope those who listen to it enjoy what they hear. This EP means the world to me and anybody who supports me I am so so grateful for. 

Well that’s me! 

Thank you

Article edited by Ciéra Cree
Images belong to James Blyth

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