SORROW without an outlet is a roadmap to personal suffering. Melancholy thrives in isolation and will metastasise when doing so. Without fail, that pain, that has been bottled up for so long, will emerge and inflict all manner of harm. Catharsis is a word thrown around but little appreciation of the journey. Finding a home for grief and anguish has never been easy, but it is necessary. Having an outlet to release that building pressure is key.

James Liandu knows the value of the process. It has taken him a long time to truly understand it. The songwriter has turned to his music time and time again to curtail his woes – crafting a little beauty from that despair.

Opening himself up, despite the vulnerability that comes with it, has made him a better musician. But it's had an immeasurable impact on his wellbeing... on his life.

“Human emotions are a madness,” he tells The Weekender. “In this day and age, not enough people are in touch with their emotions.

“We need to practice better mental health; no more of the ‘men don’t cry, or boys don’t cry’ sort of thing. If you bottle things up then you’ll turn into a madman, or you will start hurting people you care about. If you hold something to yourself, it will eat away and eat away at you. You’ll think you’re being fine, but people around will notice that change.

“Pain makes the best music,” he adds. “A lot of my songs come from the things I have gone through in my life.”

The Dundee songwriter has spent the last year dealing with personal loss. In April, two close friends died within a few days of each other. Both Nathan Bellshaw and Jordan Wilson were young men and had played a huge role in Liandu’s development as a musician. Indeed, their influence will not soon be forgotten, as the singer starts to make greater strides forward on the scene.

A TALENT: James Liandu reinforced his songwriting credentials with two releases this year. Picture by Marc Sharp

A TALENT: James Liandu reinforced his songwriting credentials with two releases this year. Picture by Marc Sharp

Liandu’s family moved to Bahrain in 2007, just as he was starting high school. He came back in 2013 and began studying music. However, his real education came through the music scene itself – guided by his close friends.

“It has been rough,” the singer reflects. “I got the bad news on the Saturday, and then on Monday morning my other pal’s mum had phoned to tell me. It really cut close to home. It still doesn’t feel real.

“Nathan was the one who introduced me to busking when I came back from Bahrain – I had never really played gigs much before, and he started taking me around to some.

"It was actually because of him that I was able to find my confidence to play. He was a good guy."

Liandu adds: “Jordan was always showing me new bands. He introduced me to Catfish & the Bottlemen and we went to see them at Summer Sessions in 2018. We also went to see Sticky Fingers together.

"Those were two of the best gigs I’ve ever been to in my life. I’m glad that I got to share those experiences with him.

“Death is a weird thing. It’s inevitable, but just enjoy the moments you have.”

Liandu speaks from experience. It wasn’t too long ago that he was the type of person to bottle everything up. He knows he has changed for the better in that sense, and he has been able to reshape his approach to mental health. That maturity has been invaluable, especially when he has been tested with compounded grief.

Liandu says: “A lot of people feel they have to go through things themselves. But they don’t have to be alone. Even just knowing others have been through someone similar can help.

“Before, I wasn’t really good at expressing how I feel, so if I was ever dealing with something I would have to do it by myself. And that never works out well.

"When you are feeling low, you don’t always realise it – you just get used to feeling that way. It’s only after you come out of it that you think: ‘Wow, I really was stuck down that hole’ or something.

“But I’ve realised that you have to keep talking, if you do that then problems can be a lot easier. Things always get better. It’s a process.

"I think it comes down to learning how to deal with the days when you are feeling low, whether that be talking to someone or just doing something you like. You just got to remember to hold on to that light.”

A TALENT: James Liandu reinforced his songwriting credentials with two releases this year. Picture by Marc Sharp

A TALENT: James Liandu reinforced his songwriting credentials with two releases this year. Picture by Marc Sharp

Liandu has been quietly going about his business in Dundee, releasing a debut EP called Sad: The New Happy in 2020. He followed up this year with Voyage, in June, and the incredible Calm, in September. The latter has already opened a few doors and garnered some due attention.

The singer has also been picking up some support slots with a range of different artists. He looks back on his first major ticketed show with Ruvellas in December 2018 as a major turning point – a chance to prove himself as a real draw.

He has since gone on to support Emerald Sunday, Supa & Da Kryptonites and recently opened for former Queens of the Strong Age bassist Nick Oliveri in Glasgow on his Death Acoustic tour. Indeed, it was his first time playing in the city, but it surely won’t be long before he is back.

Liandu says: “I always wanted to play Glasgow but I didn’t know any promoters there. People were always telling me to get in touch with this person and that person, but no one ever got back to me. But once I got that gig offer to support Nick Oliveri, I was literally jumping up and down.

“The guitarist from Catalysis, Drew Cochrane, tagged me in a post and I messaged the promoter from there. He said he had a lot of interest already, so wasn’t sure what would happen. But then he sent an email later that night with the gig offer and I was ecstatic. That gig was a madness.”

That show may well have been a bit of a milestone for the artist, but getting that opportunity feels like a just reward for Liandu. He has devoted time to punching up his live performances as he looks to give his audiences something a little bit more than a man with a guitar.

A TALENT: James Liandu reinforced his songwriting credentials with two releases this year. Picture by Marc Sharp

A TALENT: James Liandu reinforced his songwriting credentials with two releases this year. Picture by Marc Sharp

Indeed, his philosophy is informed, at least in part, by his apprenticeship in the live scene. Among a few other projects, he was a part of the Dundee band Black Blood and that fondness for unusual song structures and more expressive concepts find a home in Liandu’s work today.

He adds: “I knew that if I was going to perform as a singer-songwriter then I knew I had to do something to make people take note – something to perk their ears up and say: ‘Oh, what was that?’ It’s always great when someone notices that because they can see what I’m trying to do.

“Also, I really didn’t want to be boxed in by anything. I didn’t want people to think of me as this thing or that thing, because as soon as you are labelled as something then it can be hard to break out of that and you’ll only be asked to play alongside certain types of musicians.”

Liandu has also been determined to make his performances more of a show. His main aim is to reach more of his audience on a personal level.

He continues: “I’ve played so many gigs over the years where you don’t really know if people are listening, or are just talking away and then clapping at the end of the song to be nice. But, this year, I’ve noticed a lot more people at my gigs – a lot of new faces – and more people coming up to me after the gig to talk. The socials have been going up as well.

“Over the years, I’ve learned to engage the crowd a bit. It used to be I’d just go up there and close my eyes, and speak as fast as I can – just get it over and done with. But I realised you have to engage with the crowd; you can’t just play like you're there by yourself. You have to make people connect. They might like the song, but if they can’t connect then they might not understand what it meant – a song that they can connect to can make them feel less alone.”

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