James 2014 by Roger Sargent
James is a collective, not an individual, and they have been releasing their fine art since 1986! 2014 brings La Petite Mort (The Little Death) into the world, an album about death and release that is simply astonishing. Moving and poignant while conveying a bit of humor and irony within the lyrics, James has clearly released a masterpiece that music fans of all ages will surely cherish. We recently spoke with founding member and bassist Jim Glennie to find out more about their wondrous new creation, the timeless topic of death (with a lightness of course), and other glorious subjects of intrigue. Read on…
First, how does the new album La Petite Mort compare to the classic James releases?
It’s a little difficult from our position to be hugely objective. I think its easier for people outside to point out those differences. When we were looking to do with this record, we were focusing on the sonics of it a little bit more and trying to get the sound of the album right. I think we were pretty confident that we had written a good bunch of songs. We wanted to make sure that it came across on the record. That’s why we ended working with Max Dingel, the producer. He’s made some great sounding records and has worked with people whose records we’ve loved the sound of. It was like, OK, let’s see if we can bring another element to the way that we approach the recording process. Max did that, he’s a bit of a lunatic. Like a mad professor, he focuses in to a ridiculous degree in getting the quality of the sounds. It was kind of a painstaking process, you gotta hang in there and be patient with him. But I think he made a record that’s given us some of the power and the grit i think we get when we play live, I don’t know if that was his intention or not, but I think looking back at what he’s made, I think that’s the biggest differentiation in some of the classic James records.
How was it like working with Max Dingel as opposed to working with Brian Eno?
Eno is much more a problem solver. Eno took us through a huge transformation the way we fired our songs and our own music when it came to production and working in the studio. I think we’d always been quite pained in the studio, the process had always been quite painful and difficult. We were just too serious. We took the approach to the songs very seriously. It just made it quite difficult of a process. it was more like, you torture yourself for six weeks and then you’d have to abandon the project, then that’s your record. Eno was much more, light handed. He brought fun to the process, which is something I don’t think we had ever considered was a possibility. [laughs] Just enjoy yourself! Brian changed that, he brought about that transition we’ve stuck with and have done our best to stick with the point that you can be reverent with songs. You can smash things up and mesh things around. The spirit of Eno exists in everything we do now. It was as huge transformation in the way we approach pretty much doing everything, working with Brian.
The concept of the new album seems to be about the passing of loved ones and mortality. How is it going into the studio recording lyrics that are so very serious?
It’s a strange one, Tim went through as you probably know, a couple of big losses in his life leading up to the recording of the record. That was always going to have an impact on the lyrical quality. He’d write about what’s important to him, he doesn’t have any conscious control over that. It’s just what comes to him to sing about. It’s something we couldn’t do a great deal about. The age of the people in the band, 50ish, we’ve all lost loved ones. We’ve reach that point in our lives where parents have died, grandparents. It’s correct to share the feelings and emotions that he’s expressing on the record. One thing we didn’t want to do is make a record that’s morose or miserable. Far from it, that was our challenge, really. To make something that was musically uplifting to counterbalance some of the feelings of loss I think that Tim had personally gone through. Also, just conceptually bring a viewpoint of death that wasn’t miserable, or certainly not depressing but perhaps something a little more positive. It opened up a whole world of different subjects, far be it for me to say that James could possibly bring about a cultural change in our way we view death. In the west, we don’t deal with death very well. Certainly from a UK perspective. It’s something we never talk about until somebody dies. Then it’s this huge big shock and everyone is devastated as if it was a surprise that it was ever going to happen. It’s a strange view to have on something, which is completely not inevitable for every single person. Almost like we’re immortal, like these things are never going to happen. It’s odd when you reflect on that. Even the album title has got a little bit of humor in it. We didnt want to write something, or produce something that was incredible serious. It was more about, in a human way, just making people realize their mortality. Also the impact that that can have on your life. Feeling, hey, I wont be around here forever more. You grab life while you can.
What can one expect from a James performance in 2014? Any chance of you coming back to the states?
We’ll definitely come back to the states. There’s been a rumor of us going back in November, which I’m probably not supposed to say. It’s all been very unofficial so far [laughs] but that’s fairly vague. Dont know about an extensive tour, yet. We will definitely tour this record. We’ve been touring through the summer, through the festivals and the record has been doing great. We’ve been really enjoying playing the songs sonically, a real blast. I think it’ll be an added contribution to what we normally do. As any James gig, you never know what you’re going to get. We tend to change set lists every night. We’ve got a massive back catalog to choose from, we tend to plunder that well so we can draw all sorts up that you’ve not heard for maybe 15 years. We can play a whole bunch of the new record if we want to. We tend to kind of leave it relatively late in the day, to write set lists for gigs. Like, an hour or so before we go on stage so we tend to reflect where we’re at quite specifically in our headspace, but even geographically where we’re at. We’d love to come over to the states again and sooner, basically. We know we have a lot of fans over there that are chomping at the bit to see us again. This record, hopefully, will break through to some new people as well through sites like your own, maybe even get their attention for the first time. That’s really exciting. One of the great things about a new album coming out is that you suddenly lock into another bunch of music fans that maybe never came across you before, that’s exciting.
What do you think makes the collaboration between you and Tim Booth so successful after all these years?
JG: God, I don’t know. I really dont. Musically when we write we play off each other a lot. It just seems to work, he seems to be constantly going over the melodies to the things I come up with. I seem to be able to constantly come up with things to what he’s doing. What that is, I haven’t a clue. It’s one of those things I really dont want to analyze too closely, almost like it won’t be there anymore if I do. Its always scary writing songs. We go in a room with nothing prepared. We don’t have a key songwriter that sits at home with a piano, banging things out and then brings them to everyone. We’ve never worked like that. We go into a room, plug in and we start playing and listen to each other. How it’s happened to go on this long, I haven’t a clue. I really don’t understand that. It never seems like something that would be here forever more. If you asked me back in the day if I had ever thought we’d be here now, certainly not. But we still love what we do, we always hope that we’re challenging each other and ourselves and hopefully coming up with great records that people love and enjoy and they see the relevance and hopefully some of the commitment that we’ve put into the process. That inspires us and is motivation to keep going.
Who is the kitty on The Morning After / The Night Before album and why does the kitty look so pissed?
[laughs] Good question, actually. I don’t know who’s cat it is! I really dont know. [laughs] Its scary thought, isn’t it? Seems to be standing on its tail, I don’t know. We’re all animal lovers, no animals were hurt in the photo shoot. I can guarantee you that. I cant answer that, I dont know, but you’re right. It does look scary, it kind of looks huge as well. It looks like it’s going to get you in a nightmare, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it does. Who cares about the scary heavy metal album covers. I think that album cover is the most scariest album cover that’s ever existed.
I think you’re right. I love cats, I’m a big cat person. But there is something inherently dark about that, which is probably why we like that kind of independence and bloody mindedness and still an almost wild and tame element to cats. That is kind of cool.
Do you have any messages for your fans out here in the Los Angeles area?
Just a huge big thank you for the support over the years. I know its not always easy being a James fan and we’ve not always gotten over there as much as we’ve liked, that’s difficult for people. People have had to come to us, bless their souls for coming to see us play in the UK or other places in Europe, which is incredibly moving when people go through that much trouble. Again, just hoping, pushing, driving and hoping to get ourselves over there so we can actually play to them as soon as possible.
(Interview by Ken Morton)
“La Petite Mort” Available Now
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