“We still need to prove something, but we don’t know what that is” Interview with James

James 2014 band

Music can be very cruel at times. It must have happened somewhere, somehow and for a reason which is hard to explain. James stated making music back in 1982, and managed to make themselves a name into the complicated British music scene, alongside names like Smiths, Deacon Blue, Simply Minds or U2. It’s just incredible to name those who were their openers these years: Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Nirvana, Radiohead, Supergrass, Doves or Coldplay among others, saw their popularity grow after playing for the mancunians. Great musicians who have taken their music across the globe, getting to be widely recognised in every corner of the planet with completely different albums in each country.

James have made music in four different decades, and now more than ever, they consider themselves a family. The media and music industry has been unfair to them, and it still seems like the music owes them something. This year they’ve released “La Petite Mort” (BMG/Cooking Vinyl), six years after their last LP. The subject of the death is floating around the album, but viewed from a different perspective, after the mother and best friend of Tim Booth passed away.

It’s an honor for us to talk to them through Jim Gleenie, co-founder and bassist of James, who speaks about the career of the band, the importance of the success and their brand new album.

In 2008 you were singing “I’m alive” during the song “Bubbles”,and on this new album your focus on death actually. Does it seem like a big change in few years?

Well, I think it probably does, I mean I suppose, you know, the song “Bubbles” was reflecting the birth of Tim’s son and lots of the members of the band have got children.  And I’ve got children, you know, so I think we’ve all been through through that very incredibly positive, wonderful, you know amazingly magical experience which is the birth of a child.  It’s also, I mean being, you know, the age that we are though as men and musicians, we’ve also experienced someone dying.  And I think something like birth is addressed very much, you know, in life.  You know, it’s a topic of conversation which is obviously very positive.  But something like death, I think particularly in the west and particularly well from our knowledge actually in Britain, death is something which isn’t discussed.  It’s something which happens but then we talk about it like it doesn’t exist for the rest of the time.  And I think this record, well reflects to some degree I think the bands personal experience of losing your mother and a close friend last year, which I think impacted on the lyrics.  But I think also, just our desire to somehow kind of shed some light on the subject and not in a negative way, not in a sad, depressing way but quite a joyous uplifting way.  But you’re right, the contradiction, I’d never really thought of it like that I suppose.  Yeah, and the contrast between that and “Bubbles” and the concept of some of these songs is quite different isn’t it?

“I don’t think we’ve got the recognition we deserved”

Despite of the title of the album and the main subject, I think the album is very positive don’t you think?

Yes, I do, I do indeed.  I think musically it’s focused and the emotion on the record is very positive.  I think this is kind of what we wanted to get, ‘cause the thing is it’s difficult when you say that this an album dealing with something about death.  Because it entails of your songs to be very miserable and I don’t think the record is.  But I think also Tim had to use it, death as a metaphor for change as well, you know, it’s not just literally about people dying.  And we have made the record very, very low places and very joyous and very celebratory.  And even with the album title, “La Petite Mort”, you know it means it means the little death bed often means often means an orgasm.  You know, it’s body is trying trying to get humor in it.  The album’s lead, the stork, you know, that kind of utilizing Day of the Dead in between.  Day of the Dead is a huge celebration of you know relatives and family friends that have died.  It’s certainly not a depressing and miserable time.  And I think that’s kind of what we wanted to reflect on the record, you know that death is something which – like it or not – you know, it happens to us all.  And somehow treat it in a more everyday way but on the same hand, you know thinking positive.  The last thing we wanted to do was make a miserable record.

Now Tim lives in California, is it harder to keep the band together when it comes to make an album?

Well we all live quite a long way from each other, even the people that still live in Britain, we don’t really live close to each other It’s quite an effort, I mean we have to put, you know, the time in just to make sure that we can write songs and that we can work on songs. We kind of need to be in the same room together because we can’t do it digitally like I did things for each other.  So what we tend to do is, we just make sure that we have that time.  You know, we could play a festival and take some extra days and well go to the studio and we’ll write some music.  We just make sure, you have to make that time, you know?  You have to dig a little bit more difficult because we don’t just live down the road from each other. You have to kind of block in, block the time. But it tends to be quite tense, you know it’s like when we get together to do some work like that, you’ll have long days, having a ball what we’re doing.  So it tends to be more productive, I think that’s because you know it’s not that easy to get together.  Well you’ve just got to, you know, work around those issues, but it’s not been a problem.

“We couldn’t have handle the success of the Smiths”

In La Petite Mort you’ve worked with Max Dingel. How was it? Did he take the best of you?

I think so yeah, with this record I think we were, we knew we’d written a good bunch of songs, we knew knew we were very, very happy with the songwriting. And we wanted a great sounding record and we liked the stuff that Max Dingel has really got, Glasvegas, and Killers and Muse.  And he’s made great sounding records.  And we met him and we liked him, we liked his attitude, and we went in the studio for three days with him just to see how things worked out, and it worked really well.   He kinda brought like a sonic power, I think an energy to what we do.  I think we’ve had that live in the past, but maybe not always translated in a record.  And Max is, he’s like a mad scientist. He has all the proper equipment that he’s kind of gathered from all corners of the globe and he fills the studio with it.  And he’s arranging, kind of really, really focusing in on the sound of his instruments, getting it sounding incredible before you actually play anything.  And I think the record reflects that, that we’re really, really, really happy with how it went on from the core.  I mean it’s brutal at times, it’s a big record, the songs are quite abrasive.  But I think that’s to do – I think that that is some of the energy and the power that we get when we play live.  I think he’s captured that on the record.

You started making music before The Smiths, but they got famous very quick. If you James have had the same quick success, could you have handled it? would you have been able to handle it?

Well absolutely not.  Isn’t it, it’s funny you’ve asked that question because myself and Tim were talking about this the other day.  How The Smiths were instantly ready for success.  As soon as you saw the clip, you know, you knew they were going to be massive and they were ready for it.  James took a long time to get recognition and we were very fragile as a band in the early years, us as people, and we wouldn’t have survived – absolutely certainly not.  And our road has been a long one, it’s been quite a slow, laborious, difficult road at times, but we’ve needed that, and I think that is the reason we’re still here.  You know, we’ve had a chance to let our music find out what we want to be.  The relationships in the band have changed.  We’ve gone through disasters and fixed the disasters and you know we called friends again.  And that’s that journey, it’s been quite private, I don’t think it’s been something that’s been out there in the public limelight.  And I think that’s because, a lot of the time we kind of keep ourselves to ourselves.  We’re not a band that looks for glory or we’re not a band that’s been in a hurry to kind of get that success and God blessed us there. I think you’re dead right, if we’d have had the success that quickly, as quickly as The Smiths did, we’d have burnt out, we’d have had probably two or three years to the max at the end of it.

James 2014

“We’ve had a chance to let our music find out what we want to be.”

 

At this point of your career, what would you think is the secret of success? What would be your advice for the young bands trying to make themselves a name out there?

Wow, I think still enjoying what you do, being happy doing what you do. Still looking for challenges in yourself.  I think as a band, which we still think that there’s something that we need to achieve, we need to prove something.  I don’t know what that is and I don’t know who we’re to prove, you know?  Whether we’re trying to prove it to the world or to ourselves, I don’t know.  But there’s a hunger still there that we kinda want something, that we need something and I really don’t know what that is.   And I think you still have to have that, and you have to get on with each other.  Bringing up something in the past which James has suffered from, you know, we’ve had – we’ve made great records, but a lot of the time it’s been quite difficult.  It’s been difficult within the industry, it’s been difficult within the relationships within the band.  But I think what we’ve learned from the last probably 10 years of being together is that you can actually enjoy it.  You can not just have a great job where you’re doing what you love, but you can actually enjoy it at the same time.  And I think it took a long time for us to realize that to be honest.

Quite often, being a musician means that you have to show your personality and personal life in the music you make, so you lose some intimacy. Is it something that is implicit in a musician?

I mean is it, your private life becomes public, is that what you’re saying?  I think you’re right but I think that obviously when you choose to do the job that we’ve chosen, a large proportion of your life is public and there’s nothing you can do about that, you know?  If you look for success then you’re going to get that attention and you can’t switch that off at all, but you want to.  You know, you can’t ask people not to be there some of the time and there’d be, you know, other times it sucks you are in the public eye.  What you do, what you say any lyrics you write, your attitude, and you’re out there for the world to see.  I think it’s especially now with social media, you know, things get spread very, very quickly.  So you can say something and bang it’s right across the world.  Perhaps that’s just the nature of the world we live in isn’t it?  It seems like there’s a loss less privacy.  You have people on social media that means less privacy, I’ve noticed that’s quite rife.  But I suppose just that, you know, you have the option.  James has a public face, you have to try to keep some part of you private and where you have to try to keep some part of that into normality in your life and not let something like James rule everything, you know?  I think we’re lucky in some respects, you know we’re not huge mega stars who can’t leave the house, you know?  We don’t have that kind of difficulty to deal with.  But I suppose it’s, one of the negatives, one of the few negatives of a job which is very, very positive.

Now that you’ve been making music in 4 different decades, could you tell me your point of view about the situation of music nowadays? What’s the best and the worst from these days we’re living?

I love what music is out at the moment.  I mean, I listen to a lot of music.  The last albums I bought, I suppose were, the new Elbow album, or The National… I think there’s some great music out there still.  But the industry’s changed a lot, a completely huge change in the time that I’ve been involved in the music business.  It’s just how the industry has shifted.  Is it better, is it worse?  I don’t really know, I think in some respects, it’s both.  It’s easier for a band to be getting on without having to deal with the industry, you know?  Because you’ve got Facebook, you can get your music out to people very easily.  And it comes down to a lot of choice, not just one in the change of music out there.  I think we still have got, you know, you’ve still got to look hard to find good music.  And I call to the fact that the industry has shifted away to some degree from this record thing.  In your mind, there’s more of them to see from live music then, which is absolutely wonderful but that might close because that’s without even a chance to be found.  People still come to concerts, people still come to festivals, you know?  But for us that is fantastic, but will not always be.  We expect it to be this then we have to do the job.  So it’s always changing, I mean the industry now doesn’t seem know what it’s going to be or what it wants to be.  And in a band you have to reflect that, you have to kind of keep an eye on the changes that are happening around you.  And change what you do, then change your plans accordingly.

“The music industry now doesn’t seem to know what it’s going to be or what it wants to be”

If you had to start the band now, would it be harder than in 1982?

I think it probably would.  I think the way that we got successful was down the very traditional route.  But it seemed quite obvious what we had to do, it was the specific need to do it.  But I think there’s a very traditional route there.  You go play concerts, you get you know, some articles in the press and you get in contact with a record company, you maybe get signed, you need to clothes, get on the radio.  The route to the industry was a lot clearer than I think it is now.  I don’t know, I wouldn’t know how to do it now, of what to do.  Yeah, I think it is harder, I think I’d be harder for us at least.  I wouldn’t quite know how to do it, I wouldn’t know where to start really, the relationship is vague they just go out there and play some music and see what happens.  I don’t know, I really don’t know.

At the end o the day, if a final moment had to come, would you think the people, fans, not fans, musicians, the media, have done justice to all what James has given to the music? Do you think you have the recognition you deserve?

This is going to sound terrible, and it’s going to sound really, really ungrateful and I don’t mean it to sound like this.  But no I don’t think we’ve got the recognition we deserve.  Which sounds ridiculous because I’ve had an amazing life of music and am having an amazing life of music.  But no I don’t think we’re big as we deserve to be and I don’t think we’ve had the recognition from the press or the media or the industry that we deserve.  You know, again, as I say, I was embarrassed to say that because my life has been a wealth of riches because of music but I have had an amazing life.  The whole of my adult life has been doing something that I absolutely love and to passionately dispute that it could have more is confusing.  However, for me to say something that’s negative about our position that was ridiculous.  Because I am in such a privileged position.  Though I’ve had to, the answer is that yes I sort of do feel a bit lacking of recognition.

And last question, are you happy?

Very happy, very, very happy.  I’m happy in James, I’m happy in my personal life, I got married a few years ago.  I’m very happy. I live in a lovely part of Scotland, and Music quite seems to have gone wonderfully well for us at the moment.  It feels like almost a new chapter for James with this record.  It feels like some doors have been opened which has been a struggle for us.  And we’re loving playing the songs, and as I said before, we’re getting on well, which means we’re obviously enjoying being together.

David Bernardo

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