James Johnston“It felt right, and when that happens, you just go with it,” says James Johnston of his decision, well into a third decade as frontman of Gallon Drunk, to record The Starless Room, his unexpectedly sumptuous, long-awaited, debut solo album. It wasn’t something I’d really considered before,” Johnston admits, and even now he appears a little startled by the turn events have taken. “But that’s where the writing was going. I've always poured all my ideas into Gallon Drunk, but we'd done two great records in fairly quick succession, and I really didn't want to repeat myself, so I was writing in a different way, one that didn't feel like it would work as Gallon Drunk. The moment the decision was made to go ahead with a solo album it freed a lot of things up for me, letting it go somewhere different without any constraints or expectations.” The results are a revelation, and not just for Johnston. Vast in its scope, visceral, intimate and instinctive – “I just followed whatever triggered an emotional response in me” – The Starless Room represents a remarkable distillation of both his lyrical obsessions and prodigious, arguably under-acknowledged talent. Suitably, it’s the title track that encapsulates the romantic sweep of the record best, with its star at his most intense and Sebastian Hoffman’s string arrangements at their most ambitious. For Johnston, however, the greatest pleasure of all is a simple one: the songs’ slow tempos, “something I adore, like a lot of the Isaac Hayes or Ray Charles albums that I love. It almost feels like I’m listening to someone else’s record.” But it’s not. It’s James Johnston’s debut solo album, The Starless Room. Like he said, it feels just right.