James and the giant peace

James and the giant peace

James and the giant peace

First published in Music

James returned with a new album earlier this year, six years after their previous work.

In the life of most bands, it would seem monumental, a comeback or heralded return.

While there was some fanfare about the release of Le Petit Mort, it's merely the latest in a long line of interesting points in their CV.

Compare it to the time, after the release of their debut album, that members of the band enrolled on medical trials to earn money, or the bank loan they secured to record their second album, not to mention the ever-changing early line-up and serious drug problems that almost ended them several times, splits and reformations, and a long gap between albums looks like a tiny bump in the road. Their path has never run smooth.

"There was always going to be another album," begins singer Tim Booth, adding that the band didn't reform in 2007 to play endless greatest hits tours. "We were born to play new music," he says. "We're cautious with those old songs, and we didn't want to do what Pixies did, with nostalgia tours. It became too rote, but you have to challenge yourself and take risks as a band."

Le Petit Mort, their 13th album, could certainly be described as taking a risk. It's an album inspired by the death of Booth's mother and his best friend, and features not only suitably emotional lyrics, but some of the most experimental music of their career, too. It began back in November 2012, shortly after they'd finished touring.

"We locked ourselves into a house by a Loch in Scotland, in the middle of winter," says Booth.

"We knew we had an album," continues bassist Glennie, the band's longest-serving member. "We weren't just jamming, these were songs at four or five minutes. Normally, we find it very tedious editing down massive amounts of music, but this was different, it was all in more order and it was a very productive time."

Despite the break since 2008's Hey Ma, time was of the essence when it came to making Le Petit Mort, the band keen to record the album in the small window they had available. Now signed to BMG and indie label Cooking Vinyl, James had the money behind them to afford a stay in some of London's most-established studios. One such studio was RAK, founded in the 1970s by producer Mickie Most.

"It was funny when we were there," says Booth. "We all got on so well with the staff, but after a couple of weeks, we found out that they'd been warned before we arrived. The manager of the studio said 'They might look a mild-mannered bunch, but they were here in the 1990s and they're the most rock 'n' roll band we've ever had'.

"Because of the wild time we had, most of us didn't remember what we'd done that was so horrific, so we had to be reminded. There was one story about me wearing a thong, a fur coat and heels getting ready to go to a club that was entertaining. No one sold stories in those days, so it remained secret. And these days, I prefer big Y fronts."

Le Petit Mort translates to 'the little death', which on one hand, is a French term for orgasm. On the other, it refers to events in Booth's private life.

"Look how hard it is to say," he comments. "Someone died, and no one wants to mention it. We were told calling an album The Little Death wouldn't be very appealing, because people are so scared of the word. But the album is really uplifting, so there was a worry we would give the wrong impression."

Booth can't understand why so few writers pen songs explicitly about birth, sex and death, citing Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen as two who buck the trend.

"They're the most primal things, after food and shelter. For me, they're the moments where you get a glimpse of something that makes everything else seem like a bit of a dream. Birth and death are quite similar, too. A lot of the women I know who've given birth say they feel like they're going to die, because they're so close to their edge. And in a weird way, my mother dying in my arms was like a birth, there was something very strong there. I don't think there's anything depressing about Le Petit Mort, it's the cusp of love, death and sex. How wonderful."

As a creative person, Booth says he has no choice about whether he writes about personal upheaval or not, that trying to write about matters less close to him has never worked.

"If things get stirred up in my life, I have to write about them."

Even if it's not a personal issue, like the invasion of Afghanistan, or the actions of former NSA employee Edward Snowden, Booth feels he must write about it, as he does on new song Whistleblowers.

"These whistleblowers should be given medals, but they're hounded around the world and threatened with prison," he says. "It drives me mad."

James have a tour lined up for later this year, and there is talk about what might come after that. Glennie, and Larry Gott, who is also present for the interview but remains quiet, can't quite believe the band is still going after everything they've been through.

"It feels fragile and delicate," says Glennie. "And in some ways, because of that, I don't feel like it's something that can go on forever. It's step by step, record by record, but there's a long history of that - we've been together 32 years - so it's more stable than a lot of seemingly less turbulent careers. If it's all been a hand of cards, we're just waiting to get the next card to see if we can carry on."

They credit their break between 2001 and 2007 as the thing that kept them going, putting new life into a band that wasn't getting on. Many of the band had children during that period, helping give them perspective and making them see their internal squabbles were insignificant.

"We were a bunch of spoiled brats arguing," says Glennie, "and how we nearly messed that up for ourselves is ridiculous. We were in such a privileged position and we nearly threw it all away."

Older and wiser, the band are very aware of the things that made them fall out first time around, something Gott refers to as "letting the negatives swallow the positives".

"And now we've had that time apart, we all remember what we missed about the band, and it was all of the positives. We don't want to throw it away again."

EXTRA TIME - JAMES

:: James are Tim Booth, Jim Glennie, Larry Gott, Saul Davies, Mark Hunter, David Baynton-Power and Andy Diagram.

:: Singer Tim Booth was asked to join the band initially as a dancer, after other members had seen his distinctive dancing at a student nightclub.

:: They released their debut album Stutter in 1986, and have since sold more than 25 million albums.

:: Their breakthrough came in 1991 with the single Sit Down.

:: Tim Booth has also appeared in a number of films, including Batman Begins, and played Judas in the Manchester Passion, a TV play telling the story of Easter first broadcast in 2006.

:: James' 13th album Le Petit Mort is out now. They tour the UK throughout November

TOUR DATES

July 19 - Latitude Festival, Suffolk

Aug 1 - Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle, Dorset

Nov 11 - Cambridge Corn Exchange

Nov 12 - Bristol Colston Hall

Nov 14 - Liverpool Echo Arena

Nov 15 - Glasgow Hydro

Nov 17 - Newcastle O2 Academy

Nov 19 - London Royal Albert Hall

Nov 21 - Brixton O2 Academy

Nov 22 - Birmingham NIA

Nov 23 - Leeds Arena

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