hmv.com talks to... - May 29, 2014

“The album is very uplifting, but death is the defining theme” – hmv.com talks to James…
by Tom
Tom
by Tom hmv London, Bio hmv.com Editor. Peanut butter, punk rock and pillows.

“The album is very uplifting, but death is the defining theme” – hmv.com talks to James…

Indie veterans James were one of the real powerhouses of the 1990s, selling over 25 million records and achieving countless big hit singles. After parting ways in 2001, they reunited in 2006 and have been steadily touring and recording every since. As they prepare to release their 11th full-length studio album La Petite Mort, we spoke to frontman Tim Booth to find out all about the album’s making, how the death of his mother shaped the album’s lyrics and how he aspires to see the band as something beyond a heritage act…

 

La Petite Mort comes out on Monday, are you feeling any nerves ahead of the release?

“It’s strange, I don’t think about releasing any record, the process of making it is what concerns me. Getting the best songs, the best versions of the songs, the best lyrics, I get nervous about that. Once you’ve done it and you’ve chosen your artwork, it’s in the hands of the gods. There’s not much we can do now. I don’t get nervous, I do all the work that’s needed of me, but my work on the album has been done.”

 

How long did the album take to record?

“It took us six weeks in all, we recorded in St John’s Wood in one of the last studios left in London. The last time we did a proper studio album there were loads of studios and they cost over £1,000 a day. Now there are so few and they always cut great deals. RAK, where we made it, is a wonderful studio, we had a great time.”

 

You’ve made a few records in your career, how did the making of this one compare? Was it easier? Or as hard as ever it was?

“It always depend on how we’re communicating as a band and how we’re getting on. It was as good as any record we’ve ever made, we were getting on really well and Max (Dingel, who produced the album) was a really great fulcrum for the album. It was a joy, we worked hard on the demos, we knew we had strong songs, it was a real pleasure.”

 

How did it compare to making your earlier records?

“The albums we made in the late 1990s, especially Millionaires, were tough to make, we were all quite ill, and Brian (Eno, who produced a number of James albums) really held them together. The early records were great, but Brian’s captaincy really made things easier. It was such a joy this time.”

 

How many tracks did you write for the record? Was there a bit of slimming down required?

“We always write more than we need, for ‘Hey Ma’ it was particularly ridiculous, we ended up with about 120 songs. This time it was more like 30 or 40, the ones we knew we had to record stood out. We jam a lot and then let the best apples fall from the tree. It was clearer this time, partly because we opened the writing progress up to Saul (Davies, guitars) and Mark (Hunter, keyboards), it felt a lot more organic this time. It was easy to choose the ones we wanted to stick with.”

 

 

Where did the title come from?

“My mum had died, who was one of the people I was closest to in the world, and a close friend had died in a short space of time, so the lyrical theme is around death and rebirth. Although the record is very uplifting, but death is the defining theme.”

“We wanted a title that reflected that but didn’t sound too depressing. We went through everything from ‘Die!’ to ‘Death!’, none of them sounded very appetising. I think this title was my suggestion, just because it had the pun on sexuality (La Petite Mort is also a French euphemism for an orgasm), so it sounded a bit more fun and not so depressing.”

 

Where did you find the cover image?

“How do you present an album where the main theme is death? I think I suggested using the day of the dead motif, I didn’t just want to present a Western view of death, so I looked at the skulls and I sent some of them to an artist who sent back some designs and that was the first one. It’s great.”

 

What did Max Dingel bring to recording? And why did you decide to work with him?

“We were looking for someone to take us in a different place sonically. We looked at the Alt-J record, which we loved and we looked for someone who would push us hard in a different direction. Max was on the shortlist straight away for his experimentation and his ability to work with different sounds. He worked with The Killers and Glasvegas, who we both really liked. We did ‘Gone Baby Gone’ with him as a sort of test and it went great. Loved the guy straight away.”

“We really wanted to push the keyboards this time, Mark is a quiet guy and slips into the background, but we really wanted to push the instrument this time and he’s the lead instrument on a lot of songs, which is new for us, James is a guitar band and this is a very keyboard driven record. Max really helped with that.”

 

How did it compare to working with Brian Eno? Can you not help but make comparisons?

“No, I mean we were blessed enough to work with Brian on five records in the 90s, when compared to the other bands he was working with we were hardly bringing in any money. I’d go round the world on tour and loads of band would ask me ‘How the fuck did you get to work with Brian Eno?’, everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to R.E.M. Brian was a joy to work and we just felt blessed to work with him for that. But with Max we’ve made a record that’s as good as anything we’ve ever made. It does like we do live, it sounds big, it sounds we can’t be contained, it’s as good as anything we’ve ever done.”

“When my father died in 1994 we were played at Radio City in New York and I didn’t tell the audience what had happened. I spent the whole day holding back tears and I was appalling for a few concerts and I vowed that I would never do that again. Now I let it be and I’m vulnerable with audiences. If you tell them what’s going on people are happy to witness that, it’s a real antidote to big rock shows and people going through the motions every night.”

 

 

After the album comes out, what do you have lined up for the rest of the year?

“A lot of festivals and a lot of offers from abroad. We’re even going to Peru! South America has actually been very big for us in the last three or four years, and people over there seem to really like the new music we’ve been doing. We’ve got a British tour in November, but mostly it depends on how the record does, we’ve made a promising start and we’re hopeful that we’ll get to go to some new places.”

 

The album clearly is a very personal one in lyrical terms, are you worried about playing the songs live? In terms of doing it night after night and how that will affect you emotionally?

“That’s a really good question. I always write quite unconsciously, I don’t feel like I have control over what I write, it’s just what comes through. Actually when I came to record them, the emotion in the songs really came through and I’ve tried playing the songs live and some of them I’ve managed to get through and some of them I haven’t. We just put out an acoustic version of ‘Moving On’ and I ended up crying while singing it. I don’t know how emotionally it’ll be for me. I think it’ll vary from night to night, you can never tell when it’ll sit home. But I think our audiences will be understanding so I’m not afraid.”

“When my father died in 1994 we were played at Radio City in New York and I didn’t tell the audience what had happened. I spent the whole day holding back tears and I was appalling for a few concerts and I vowed that I would never do that again. Now I let it be and I’m vulnerable with audiences. If you tell them what’s going on people are happy to witness that, it’s a real antidote to big rock shows and people going through the motions every night.”

 

Do you need to use your lyrics as a cathartic tool? To get things out?

“It’s an easy word, I do know I need to write about my emotions, I need to get that out there, it’s how I live my life, I could tell you the story behind every song I’ve written, sometimes it takes me two years to find out what they’re about. I suppose it is cathartic, I teach dance these days, I teach people to unlock trauma in their body through movement, so I do a lot of work digging up soil in the psyche and it feeds my work. It keeps me agile.”

 

Finally, what will constitute a successful record to you? Will it be the number of sales? Or another factor?

“I think in a way this album is already a success, we’ve really captured something. This is better and improves on what we’ve done in the past. I’d also like to break through that glass ceiling, I hate being referred to as a heritage act, to me you’re either making vital music or you’re not, age shouldn’t make any difference. How old you are shouldn’t make any difference, same as the colour of your skin or your race shouldn’t make any difference, I want to break through that glass ceiling and for people to just listen to the record and enjoy it.”

 

James’s new album La Petite Mort is released on Monday (June 2nd). You can pre-order it in hmv stores now and check out the band's back catalogue in our digital store now

James will be performing a live acoustic and signing copies for their new album 'La Petite Mort' at hmv Manchester on Monday 2nd June at 5.30pm 

James: The Best Of
James: The Best Of James
James - Moving On

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