Lawrence Arabia is the pseudonym of Christchurch, New Zealand-born singer-songwriter James Milne. Since the release of his first album in 2006, he has become one of the pre-eminent figures of New Zealand’s musical landscape, releasing five critically acclaimed and garlanded solo albums alongside a variety of diverse collaborative work.
In his early-twenties, Milne had a musical apprenticeship as a bassist and multi-instrumentalist in Auckland indie-pop combo The Brunettes, touring Australia, the UK and the US, and eventually signing to legendary US label Sub Pop. During the making of The Brunettes’ Sub Pop debut, “Structure And Cosmetics,” Milne left the band to focus on his twin solo projects, Lawrence Arabia and The Reduction Agents.
With the concurrent 2006 release of his eclectic and strange self-titled début, and “The Dance Reduction Agents,” a collection of slightly earlier Milne-penned works by his band The Reduction Agents, Milne announced himself as one of New Zealand’s most promising young songwriters and performers.
He relocated to the UK in late 2006, touring the UK and Europe supporting The Concretes, Okkervil River and Feist, all the while working on his breakthrough follow up record, “Chant Darling,” which was released worldwide in 2009/10 on Bella Union, and featured the popular song “Apple Pie Bed,” which won the APRA Silver Scroll, New Zealand’s top songwriting award. The album won the inaugural Taite Music Prize in early 2010. Throughout 2009/10, Lawrence and his band performed almost 100 shows in Europe and North America in support of “Chant Darling,” including tours and performances with Beach House, Cate Le Bon, Flight Of The Conchords and Crowded House, sessions for BBC Radio 2, 4 and 6Music, an NPR Tiny Desk Concert and a KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic session.
In 2012, Lawrence Arabia released “The Sparrow,” a more minimal and moody collection of piano-driven songs built around live studio takes and string orchestrations. The album won a New Zealand Music Award (Tui) for Best Male Solo album. He followed it up in 2016 with “Absolute Truth,” an album of immaculately crafted vintage indie-pop, released on Flying Nun Records, which won the Tui for Best Alternative album.
Alongside his solo albums, James/Lawrence has maintained a range of side projects including the collaborative projects BARB (with Connan Mockasin, Liam Finn and Eliza-Jane Barnes) and Fabulous/Arabia (with Michael August of Lord Echo), which released records in 2009 and 2011 respectively. James has also composed scores for film, theatre and television, including pieces for Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s vampire mockumentary “What We Do In The Shadows,” sung in the choir for Neil Finn’s “Out Of Silence” album and live performances, co-written with Bic Runga, co-produced part of Connan Mockasin’s “Forever Dolphin Love” album and co-created the psychedelic botanical comedy podcast, “The Mysterious Secrets Of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium,” starring Jemaine Clement as Joseph Banks and Lawrence Arabia as his devoted and long-suffering assistant, Sydney Solander.
At the beginning of 2018, Lawrence Arabia ran a Kickstarter campaign for “Lawrence Arabia’s 2018 Singles Club,” proposing a subscription service wherein he would write, record and release a digital single a month throughout the year. The twelve eventual singles featured collaborations with Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Heather Mansfield (The Brunettes), Liam Finn, Ryan McPhun (The Ruby Suns) and Van Dyke Parks. In March 2019, the singles were compiled as an album entitled “Lawrence Arabia’s Singles Club,” a diverse work which runs through psychedelia, chamber-pop, garage rock and 70s AM soft rock. The album acts as a summation of all the different strains and strengths of Lawrence Arabia’s work up until this point, and a reminder of the vitality of this singular, mid-career artist.