JAMES are one of the UK’s most creatively restless and most loved artists. After signing to the iconic Factory Records in 1982, the band released a series of hugely successful hit singles. From SIT DOWN to SHE’S A STAR, LAID, COME HOME, MOVING ON and NOTHING BUT LOVE, their uniquely diverse sound spans over 15 studio albums released over three decades, achieving both critical and commercial success whilst also curating a base of dedicated fans.
Having sold over 25 million albums worldwide, playing shows worldwide and cementing their status as one of the most iconic live British bands. In August this year, the band released their 15th album LIVING IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES. Mark Millar caught up with the bands’ bassist and longest-serving member Jim Glennie to talk about the new album.
James recently released their 15th studio album Living In Extraordinary Times. Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it should sound and the kind of songs you wanted to write about?
JG: We had written a ton of songs for the album as we always do, and I think we knew there were a few of them lyrically that was going to reflect Tim’s experience living in the states, and his reaction to Donald Trump. The mayhem that is going on over there was always going to come through as a lyrical theme. Tim did a great job trying to cull it because he didn’t want the album to be about Trump and he didn’t think he deserved to be plastered across our record.
So we consciously kept it to two songs: Hank and Heads which are specifically about Donald Trump. When we went into the studio, we had a pretty good idea of going with the record musically. We worked with the producer’s Charlie Andrew and Beni Giles. We had been trying to work with Charlie for the last three albums, but it hadn’t panned out and we kind of adopted Beni. Beni was brought into the studio to edit some of the songs for us he said, “I’d love to do it, but I’m not really an editor. I like producing.” So we gave him a couple of songs to work on by himself in a room, and when we came back, we absolutely loved what he had done. It was very irreverent. He had smashed everything up and edited songs and chopped them up and messed with the sounds. Moreover, we loved it. That gave us the direction that the record went in, and Charlie picked up on that.
The album is very rhythmical, which I suppose is the biggest key thing; there is a lot of live drumming on the record. We had some percussionists coming in who knew what they were doing, and then there was our bunch of idiots in a room banging things at various times. There were times when whoever was in the studio would go into the big room and beat whatever they could find along with the track. Then we would layer up sounds because we wanted something rhythmically different on this record and Beni gave us that key in really.
Was there a particular song on the record that made you realize you were going in the right direction?
JG: We worked on a song called Hank early on, which is the opening song on the album, and we open gigs with it pretty much all the time now. That was the one when we started to hear the record come together. It’s a big James tune but listen to the drumming on it, there is a big long intro and when we play it live we are all banging drums – it’s just a wall of drums, and then the song kicks in. When we said we wanted to look at rhythms we didn’t know what that meant, and we didn’t have a clear idea whether that meant programming or what, but the way Charlie and Beni interpreted the brief worked perfectly for us.
And it means the songs are great to play live because you’ve got loads of people hitting stuff basically (laughs). It sounds and looks brilliant, and it’s good fun. It was good fun in the studio as well, and everything was taken with a very light spirit. Charlie has got a very light touch. It’s not a heavy place to work when he’s in charge, and he’s always game for a ridiculous suggestion. It was a delightful experience in the studio. Sometimes it can be fraught in the studio because what you are doing is important and people can get passionate about things and sometimes it can be difficult. But it wasn’t with Charlie, he’s a very relaxed and calm guy, but at the same time, he steered the ship well.
How does the band organize your time to write and be creative when you are spread around the UK, and Tim is in the US?
JG: There are four of us involved in the songwriting now: me, Tim, Saul, and Mark, so what we tend to do is grab gaps in between doing other things. So we’ve started writing for the next album already. Through the summer this year, we were playing festivals in the UK, so one weekend we would be playing, and the following weekend we weren’t, so we would go and write somewhere. We grab the bits of time when we can, but if we have to schedule something and bring people in, it obviously gets costly, and it takes people away from their families, so we try to minimize that. When we are away from home, we tend to work like Trojans with very few days off. But we get a lot of business done, including songwriting and gigs keeping the number of days away from home to a minimum. We have whittled it down to a fine art now because many people in the band have got young kids and have to be aware of peoples’ families and relationships. Otherwise, you lose band members, people have enough, and they leave – its as simple as that. So we try to be as considerate in that respect as we can, but it does mean when we get together it’s full-on, it is not a nice, leisurely pace.
And also thank the Lord for technology. We all have home studios where we can do bits and pieces and work on things. The initial songwriting has to be done together, but once we have done it, then people can either pair up, or do things on their own and add bits or chop and change things around and then send parts backwards and forwards to each other so that it can be done remotely from that point onwards really. It is just a matter of putting in the effort to do it. Songwriting is massively important to us. It’s the lifeblood of what we do, and its the most exciting part of the job, but it does require effort because as you said, we are geographically challenged.
Various members of James have come and gone over the years. The band even broke up when Tim Booth left in 2001, but reformed in 2007 and has been together. How are you getting along now?
JG: Larry (Gott) left two years ago now, and that wasn’t particularly easy. It wasn’t pleasant, but that’s just the way it works in bands and in life full stop, to be honest. It wasn’t a falling out with Larry he didn’t want to do what we were doing, and he left. Then Adrian (Oxaal) who used to be in the band, came back and took his place. Touch wood, everybody seems happy and contented; we are all getting on really well. We put a lot of effort into the relationships within the band. We have had some car crash moments over the years through the stupidity of people letting personal relationships get in the way of what is a fantastic job, and the childishness that stops you realizing that.
As we have gotten older, we have got a little bit wiser, eventually, and we know we have got a great job. We are lucky bastards, but you can mess it up. We spend a lot of time together, and if we are not careful, relationships get tested. But we have got so much better at it. Now we have these talking sessions where we sit around and have a banana, and only the person holding the banana can talk so we don’t start arguing over each other. But it helps clear the air, and we can sit in an adult manner and get things off our chest and respond. We were silly before, we really were. And even if we weren’t actively making people leave the band because we were falling out, it was certainly not as enjoyable as it should have been at times, which is ridiculous. We are so fortunate to do what we do – to spoil it through being daft and childish is just not right.
You have stuck it out longer than the rest as you are the band’s longest-serving member, having been there from the first line-up through to the present – The group was even named after you.
JG: The band’s name came from my name, but it was nothing to do with anything special. I wish I could say it has to do with my huge ego and talent, but unfortunately, it is not. It was just from a time when it didn’t seem to matter what a band was called. Nobody knew who we were, and we wanted a name that didn’t sound like a band, so we thought ‘James’ is good and it’s a person’s name. No one ever calls me James, so I don’t associate it with my name in that respect. We couldn’t use Tim because he’s the singer and that would be weird. Our drummer was called Gavin, and we thought it sounded too ‘heavy metal,’ and the other one was Paul, so it was either James or Paul, so we went with James. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time we just thought, “Cool let’s call the band ‘James.'”
Why am I still in the band after all these years? God knows, I still love it. It’s probably more to do with my nature than anything else, to be honest. I’m a Libra, so I’m reasonably balanced and sensible compared to the rest of them. I’ve certainly had my moments, and have had some horrendous times in James, and been the cause of many of them (laughs). I’ve been a right knob head and seriously brought problems to the band at times, but somehow I’ve managed to punch through, and that’s mainly because of my relationship with Tim. Tim and I have been together for a very long time, and the bottom line is we always forgive each other. We get on great now and have done for years touch wood, but there have been times when we haven’t, but we have been able to make up – not always smoothly, but we have done, so yeah they can’t get rid of me that easily.
What is your proudest moment in James over the band’s 36 years?
JG: There are so many memories, and I suppose for me when I first got into being in a band I remember going to see The Jam at Manchester Apollo, and I was standing outside, and it said “The Jam: SOLD OUT.” I thought one day the name of my band would be up there with “SOLD OUT” written next to it and I’ve got a photo years after that with me standing underneath a sign saying “James SOLD OUT.” Also giving my mum my first gold disc for Gold Mother and stuff like that – those heart-wrenching moments. We supported David Bowie at Maine Road. That was a great moment – being a big Manchester City fan.
James has had many hit albums over your 36-year career but is there an album in your catalogue that you thought should have charted higher and maybe received more credit than it did?
JG: I think Hey Ma is one of the best albums we’ve ever written. I think the songwriting is just incredible because we had a break and then got back together, and suddenly there was a rich vein of songs. But I think because we were at the end of our contract with Universal, we began to run out of steam. We were technically on Universal, but they didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for the band, and the album got a soft release. But part of me thinks it will always be there as part of our musical legacy and it’s there forevermore.
I got into bands when I was a kid like The Doors, The Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart, and they certainly weren’t together. A lot of the members were dead by then. So I would like to think at some point in the future, probably when I’m gone (laughs), that the albums will get the acclaim they deserve. I love the idea of a bunch of eighteen-year-olds in a room saying, “Listen to this mad band that I’ve found. They’ve done loads of albums.” I love that idea so for me if some of our albums slide under the radar, it doesn’t matter. They will still be there, and somebody will find them and love them.
Personally, I think Hey, Ma is a great album.
JG: Me too, and we still play a lot of the songs live. It felt that is should have been something and it wasn’t the big leap forward that we wanted. We have had lots of disappointing times with record labels over the years. It’s just part and parcel of it, really. Although BMG really got behind us with the next record La Petite Mort.
James will be joining the Courteeners as their special guests next summer at Heaton Park, Manchester. And the band has been quoted as saying that James is an inspiration to them. How does it feel when younger bands like the Courteeners say you inspire them?
JG: It’s lovely. It really is. To get praise from your peers is very touching, and I know they play a couple of James tunes in their set. They play Out To Get You and Tomorrow, so it’s really sweet, and Tim has met Liam Fray a few times. They have always said nice things about us in the press, and we are thrilled to play with them. We have never been a band who has been bothered about supporting anybody. We don’t give a toss that they are younger than us. To play to that number of people in Manchester will be amazing. We have never played Heaton Park, and it will probably be a bit scary, but I’m really looking forward to it.
You recently climbed Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the land, to raise money for The Debbie Goodman Appeal. As a lifelong Manchester City fan, your challenge was to do it wearing a Manchester United shirt! How did you get on and did you raise all that money for the Appeal?
JG: It was physically painful wearing the shirt and climbing the mountain, but we got on really well. Four of us went up; my son Jake, my mate Simon, and Debbie’s seventeen-year-old son, Max. We are all massive Man City fans, and it was my idea to climb Ben Nevis, but it was Simon’s stupid idea to wear a Man United shirt. I suppose we thought it would be funny, and we were hoping that United fans would think it was funny and City fans would feel sorry for us.
We did it on the 13th of October, and it was cold and wet. It rained all the time, and it took us six hours and thirty-five minutes with varying degrees of rain from light mist all the way through to pouring down: we got soaked from head to foot. We got to the top and took our coats off and took a couple of photos with the shirts on. It was a challenging day weather-wise, but we went on a jolly, and it was for a good cause, and we were happy we raised five grand.
Do you have a favourite record that you always return to?
JG: I love Unknown Pleasures. Joy Division were a massive part of my musical growing up, as was The Fall. They were the two bands I got into when I became a musician. It was an incredible time in music, and I was very fortunate to be an embryonic musician at that time and have those influences. Unknown Pleasures is an album like no other before or since. It is so influential to so many bands, and Joy Division was just so incredible.
One of the first shows I saw was Joy Division at the Russell Club in Manchester. The show was bonkers. You could tell something was odd as well as brilliant, but amazing. And then New Order was fantastically good to James as well; I loved Technique – it’s a great album, too. We played a festival last year and Tim, and I got to play Love Will Tear Us Apart with Peter Hook, and that was just incredible.
Following a sold-out UK tour in May, and a string of headline performances at summer festivals across the UK and Europe including Latitude, Kendal Calling, Party at The Palace and Electric Fields, JAMES are now preparing for their UK dates in December with The Charlatans. Full dates as follows:
Wed 05 GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Fri 07 LONDON SSE Wembley Arena
Sat 08 MANCHESTER Arena
Sun 09 LEEDS First Direct Arena
LIVING IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES is available on CD, download, cassette and heavyweight double vinyl, plus a hardback booked deluxe CD featuring 4 extra tracks – three demos plus one track from the album sessions. HMV and independent stores are also stocking a limited grey gatefold package featuring double magenta coloured vinyl.