Music Critic Bethany Carter meets James to discuss their new album, politics, tours, and more

Music Critic
Published
Images by Lewis Knaggs

James are one of the most influential and longstanding bands to come out of the ‘Madchester’ music scene. 35 years on from their first album, they are now set to release their new album All The Colours Of You on June 4th. I sat down via zoom with bassist Jim Glennie, the band’s longest-serving member besides Tim Booth, and discussed everything from their songwriting process, to Covid, to their upcoming tour later this year.

Thank you for joining me today. My first question is that All The Colours Of You will be your 16th studio album – so congratulations on that. It is an amazing achievement! How was the process of finishing the album, especially since the members of James are fairly spread out?

Yeah, I mean, it was a strange one. Just because obviously circumstances dictated that we couldn’t be together for the latter part of the process. We were lucky because we had managed to write the songs before Covid kicked in, and for the writing, we do need to be together. There are four of us that do the songwriting, and the way we write is we just get in a room together and improvise, and then stuff appears! Fortunately, we had got all that done, so the next stage of the process for us is to do the chopping up. As you bang them all into Pro Tools or Cubase, you can kind of make the song from that point. You can change anything that you like, and because we are recording it to a drum machine, it’s just the same going all the way through. It’s just a repetitive pattern. No one’s programming it while we’re playing. You set it off, and then off it goes into the sunset. Which is great because it means that while you’re fishing around, there’s something very constant, just continuingly going. It doesn’t stop because it’s tired, or it’s bored, or if its phone’s ringing, or anything! But it’s the same thing over and over again. So, when you go in to work on the demos from the original jam – you change that. You can either reprogramme it or you put proper drums on just to add dynamic between the sections. You can put other instruments on it; you can send it to the other musicians in the band to add bits to so that things start to grow and develop and get character. And that part of the process we can do remotely. We do it in pairs or threes sometimes, but a lot of it we do at home in our own studios, just kind of messing around really. So that wasn’t that disruptive. It didn’t really disrupt that part that much.

There wasn’t any kind of head in hands moments. And we ended up with a record! I mean, madly, in all of this chaos and lunacy, we ended up with a record

The next part of the process, we would ordinarily get together as a band. Like when we start working with a producer to finish the record. They’re in a studio somewhere, and we’ll be close by, usually in an Airbnb, just kind of all living together in a house somewhere. And we’ll just keep going in and be there as and when we’re needed. Or if they want input or if there are any issues with a song. But this time we couldn’t do that, we weren’t allowed! So, it was how are we going to do it? Either we sit on our hands for a year and wait for everything to sort itself out and then release the record. Or we kind of push on; we try and find a different way of doing things. So, we decided, yeah, we’ll try and do it remotely. Our initial plan was to find a producer that we liked that wanted to do it who was available. But it didn’t really matter where they were if we’ve got to do it remotely. It could be basically based around like this. They’d send us mixes; we’d listen to it. We’d feedback input on a zoom call, and then they’d crack on and then send us another one, and that’s kind of how we imagined it working. But then someone at the record company suggested Jacknife Lee. Jacknife Lee lived, well still does live very close to where Tim lived. Tim’s moved now, but Tim lived in Topanga, just outside LA, about 20 minutes from LA. But the mountains! You’d never guess you were 20 minutes from LA. You really wouldn’t. It’s so beautiful and wild. You come round a bend, and there’s LA. Tim lived there, and Jacknife did, so we got in touch with him, and he was free. He wasn’t busy, and we sent him the demos, and he liked the demos. And it was kind of like, oh brilliant! Because then Tim could go into his studio to represent our views and ideas, and then come back to us representing in a way Jacknife’s views. So Tim became sort of intermediary between us in the process really. It worked great! I mean, it really did. We were lucky because we didn’t have any issues. I think if we had problems, it would have been different. But it didn’t. It went very smoothly. So, from our perspective, it was more about going: ‘That sounds great, just crack on’ – loving it! There wasn’t any kind of head in hands moments. And we ended up with a record! I mean, madly, in all of this chaos and lunacy, we ended up with a record.

That is absolutely amazing! How do you feel Jacknife Lee affected the album sound-wise?

I think he’s added a kind of joy and uplift. I think that’s the most initial thing that we got. On ‘All The Colours Of You’ (the song) he said: ‘I’ll just do a quick demo, and if you like it – great! And if you don’t, then maybe we’re not right for each other’. And he did just a quick little demo, and it was just great! It was so uplifting and very bright, and there’s almost humour in it. And I think that really compliments what we do really well, especially on this record. We were very aware of some of the lyrical content being quite dark. Tim always reflects what he’s experiencing in his life. He can’t do anything other than that on a personal level, political level, social level. That’s just the way he writes. Of course, you know. There was a lot of stuff going on that wasn’t great. Covid, obviously. He was in the States leading up to the election there with Trump, and all the fear before the election that Trump might actually get in again. You know, there was a genuine fear that that would happen. God knows what the world would have gone through if that would have happened. And then obviously Trump’s denial and all that kind of increased that armed right-wing swell in the states, and that’s reflected in the lyrics. You know, lots of other things as well, but those things are reflected in the lyrics. Even, something like ‘Beautiful Beaches’ is about Tim having to leave his house because of the fires, you know it sounds like a great little pop song about going down to the beach, but it’s not really. It’s about being worried that your house is going to burn down! But we were conscious that we wanted an uplifting record, we didn’t want a record that was dark. In these times, people need something positive and because the lyrics are edgy, we wanted to counterbalance that. The last thing we wanted was a kind of dark, depressing album. And James do that a lot. We counterbalance the dark lyrics with uplifting music, rather than getting in there and drag it all down to make it really heavy and depressing. But in this record very much so, and I think Jacknife saw that and encouraged that he gets that counterbalance even in a song like ‘Recover’, which is about Tim’s father-in-law dying. I mean, the lyrics are so heart-breaking. It’s an experience a lot of people went through, you know, having a loved one die in hospital away from their loved ones. It’s horrible, horrible, horrible. But the song’s very uplifting. There’s hope! You want hope in that don’t you, and optimism.

The whole album is filled with messages and is quite political, ranging from Covid to race. Do you find it important as a band to say what other musicians usually avoid talking about?

Tim rolls his sleeves up and gets stuck in. And I love having the figurehead of the band having that power, and that kind of focus, and that courage really

Yeah, basically. Tim does. Tim rolls his sleeves up and gets stuck in. And I love having the figurehead of the band having that power, and that kind of focus, and that courage really. For him to travel around America like we did when we toured there for around 4-5 weeks in the summer, he’s singing these lyrics that you know. I’m thinking he might get shot! I mean, I know that’s a stupid thing to say, but it just takes one loon with a gun taking a look at a weird scrawny English guy really steaming into riving American politics, you know? I mean seriously singing, and I think he’s courageous for doing that. He is a good man, and he says good things. He does. It’s great to be in a band where you can connect musically with something that means that much to you as well. It’s important that you’re not singing about things that try to… he sings about love a lot of the time as well! Heartbroken. He also, yeah, he sings about death. He always sings about death! It happens to all of us, and we sort of run away from it in the west. Tim embraces it. The opening line of the album is: ‘We’re all gonna die!’ I mean it’s brilliant! He finds that funny, he finds that inherently humorous. And I love that. I love the fact he doesn’t shy away from scary subjects where you might go: ‘Oh, I might make a mess of this’ or ‘I might upset somebody’, he just gets in there. He won’t always say what people want him to say, or that people can necessarily agree with. That’s life, isn’t it? You’re always going to get people who go: ‘I don’t agree with that, that’s not my world view, that’s not my personal opinion’, but I think you’ve gotta do your bit really. I think you’re missing an opportunity if you don’t.

Yes definitely, I think the music compliments everything perfectly. Sometimes if the lyrics are very intense and then music also is – people get scared of it. But because it’s so easily listened to as a pop album on the surface, people are listening to these messages, and quite frankly might not even realise.

Yeah, I think that’s the ticket. I think the last thing you want to do is preach to people and to be pointing a finger because it just gets wearing, doesn’t it? It gets tiring, and people don’t want that with music. People usually want some kind of uplift. So, I think you need to be careful with what you do, you don’t want to get on a soapbox and say: ‘This is what’s going wrong in the world’. It’s really about finding ways to get these things across in a way which is positive. You want people to leave feeling more positive, you don’t want to depress people. You don’t want them to go ‘oh gosh, I went to a James gig, and urgh! It’s just a list of things going wrong in the world!’ Haha, you don’t want that!

Let’s discuss the performance video. ‘Recover’ is a very personal song for Tim, and I was reading through the comments and there were so many people who could relate in such a personal way. How do you feel knowing that there is an abundance of people taking your music to heart?

That’s the fantastic thing about music, it’s a shared experience. It’s what people have missed through the last year of not being able to come to gigs. I mean, we’re very aware of the power of that, and the strength of that. And sometimes, someone expressing what you’re going through with some clarity (like Tim does, he’s very good with words, that’s his skill, that’s his talent), and just go: ‘Yeah, that’s me, that’s what I went through’, it makes you feel less alone. It makes you feel like you’re not the only person going through that experience. And I think that’s massively important, especially in the last 15 months really since we’ve been isolated and cut off. It’s a kind of connection with other people through the sharing of music. It’s support in a lot of respects. The feeling that you’re not alone. And gigs are the next stage for that, getting there and doing that again, the buzz of it. The buzz and the excitement of that uplift you are sharing with people when you play a gig is incredible. It’s like scoring a goal at Wembley, it’s a massive buzz. And we’ve missed it. We’ve not played gigs since September 2019!

Wow!

That’s when we stopped haha. We stopped before Covid because we were resting, we had been ridiculously busy. If we’d have known we’d have a year off, we wouldn’t have stopped! I didn’t know we were going to have a year off! So, we stopped, and we were planning gigs for the next year, and then everything was just cancelled. Portugal in September 2019 we played last. It’ll have nearly been two years by the time we get back together, so it’s difficult. It’s been a difficult period. Yeah, it’ll be nice to get back out there. Back to some idea of normal.

Hopefully it will be happening soon if we keep on track, we are on! So, we just have to cross our fingers now.

It feels like it doesn’t it? You can’t take anything for granted nowadays can you really?

No, you can’t. It’s just so scary because it can all change any second. We can make all of these plans and then at the last second it can all fall through.

I know! I know! We’ve had loads of things; we were meant to be doing some socially distanced gigs at the beginning of June, and they’ve cancelled them now too. We’ve had stuff that we were doing earlier in the summer now be moved to September. Everything seems to be running away from us. ‘Oh, we’re doing a gig’ – ‘Oh, we’re not doing a gig!’ We will get there; we don’t exactly know when, and that’s the point really. Like we’ve got nothing abroad lined up at all because we don’t know about travel bans, or where we will be allowed to go. Ordinarily, with the album coming out, we’d be here, there, and everywhere. We’d be very busy travelling all over. But we can’t at the moment. If it changes, if countries open up and everything looks cool then great, we will do. Then we will go abroad and promote the album, but at the moment it’s basically UK-based.

How do you feel that you have already sold 60,000 + tickets for your upcoming tour later this year?

I have a sneaky feeling that if everything’s cool, we’ll add more shows on and just be busier

It all sounds a bit unbelievable, it’s like I can’t emotionally connect with any of this yet. Because it all feels like it might be taken away from me, so even though I know on paper that I am busy, it all feels so fragile at the moment. It’s hard to emotionally connect and invest myself, so it’s just an idea at the moment. Yes, it’s far enough away that it would take something pretty disastrous to happen to change it, but we’ve had pretty disastrous happen, haven’t we? So, I can’t’ because it still just feels so detached. I know on paper it sounds amazing, ridiculous; the tickets sold like nobody’s business. I think again because people are thinking: ‘Oh by then we’ll be back to normal, and we can go and celebrate and have a proper gig and it’ll be amazing’ and all the rest of it. So, the tickets just flew out the door. I think people genuinely are looking for that, even though it’s a long way away, that thing to head towards and sort of move towards, that positivity you know? God willing, we get there and it’s amazing, and it will be. I mean 60,000 is ridiculous. I have a sneaky feeling that if everything’s cool, we’ll add more shows on and just be busier.

Once we can all travel again, what is one country you are most excited to play in? Perhaps a country where you have a surprisingly large fanbase?

There are a few countries. We’re massive in Portugal. Like the songs sometimes were number one in Portugal, and not the songs you’d expect either. Like ‘Sit Down’ nothing, ‘Laid’ nothing. But ‘Sometimes’ was a massive hit! It went to number one, so we’re really big in Portugal! Greece is really good for us; they love us in Greece as well. They’re all nice places to go to as well. Peru loves us! Haha, it’s not Northern Europe, inherently you’d think Northern Europe like France, Germany, you’d think yeah– nothing! Very very little, it’s more in Latin countries – South America. We do spend a lot of time there.

That must be amazing!

Just looking at the way the vaccines are going, it’s a bit like if we don’t vaccinate the world then we’re just going to get other issues coming in

Oh, it is! Spain like us, it’s odd. Because you’d think, I don’t know! I don’t know why James is successful in those countries, but it always is. I don’t know if it’s the passion and openness that they can relate to. I haven’t a clue, it’s very difficult to understand. I don’t mind though! I’ll absolutely take it! It is wonderful. Mexico – they love us in Mexico. We’re really really big in Mexico! 10,000 people turn up in Mexico, you know it’s just mad. It all depends on everything opening up and people feeling confident and safe. It’s a world problem that’s the thing, it’s very easy to go: ‘We’ve all had our jabs – nice one’, but it doesn’t really work like that does it? It’s a world problem. Just looking at the way the vaccines are going, it’s a bit like if we don’t vaccinate the world then we’re just going to get other issues coming in. Another variation that’s going to come and cause problems.

Exactly, I have one final question. Which song did you enjoy working on the most for your new album?

I think ‘All The Colours Of You’ was a big one for me, because I worked on that with my brother Peter when we were working on the demos remotely. I’ve never worked with him musically before. So, me and him were kind of doing stuff remotely on that, and that came in quite late in the day. No one had looked at it, it had kind of been missed in the grand scheme of things. So, we pieced together a demo and it was just great. It got lots of favour and was instantly voted onto the leader board. So, a lot of personal satisfaction comes from that! I mean it’s easy to miss things, not everything we do gets worked on and stuff can go under the radar and it’s just a matter of the individual’s personal opinion whether something needs to be worked on or not. So, people pick up on what they’re attracted to from the jam, and stuff just doesn’t get worked on or missed. That’s the way it is. And with ‘All The Colours Of You’, it was very last minute. It was: ‘Oh, well I’ve got this one!’ and ‘Oh, okay great!’ We knocked something up and it was great. It changed a lot as Jacknife worked on it, but no that was quite exciting.

All The Colours Of You will be available to stream and purchase on June 4th.

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