Dotmusic JUNE 2001 - by Chris Heath


While fads have come and gone around them and bands have risen and fallen James have maintained a lofty position as one of the most consistently successful British bands of the last two decades. A quick glance at chart stats show James have notched up an impressive tally of six Top 10 albums including the Number 1 Best Of James collection.

The next chapter of the James story is about to unfold with the release of their new album Pleased To Meet You and the single Getting Away With It. Dotmusic met the band's Saul and Tim to hear all about their past, present and future.

Getting Away With It

Saul: "It is getting away with it. When you listen all the instruments are out of tune and time with each other and I'd like to say that was deliberate but it wasn't. That song came out of one of the earliest recording sessions, a session to see what we had. We then worked on that song quite a lot, spent a lot of man-hours on it but we couldn't better the first time we played it."

Tim: "We never saw it as a single. We're not very good at judging and this one came back with people saying they couldn't get it out of their head which is the definition of a virus as much as a single. We're very ramshackle. Decisions get made in very chaotic ways just as songs get written in that way. We did masses of work on it and came back to the original. Lyrically it reflects the mess too. There's a story in there of a guy called Daniel saving a woman called Grace from drowning but he doesn't realise that in saving her he's really saving himself."

James' New Recording Process

Tim: "It was really healthy for us to do that. We'd been touring that greatest hits package for a long time and that had become stale and suddenly we'd be doing ten new songs a night in large venues and you don't see that often and that was great for us. The gigs were fantastic and that gave us an extra level of self-belief to go into the studio and smash the songs up again and record them. It meant we went into the studio, formed a circle with the band, with Brian (Eno) in there and we mainly recorded it live."

Saul: "It's what happens to be natural at the time. Our records reflect the state of our health collectively. That tour that we did, if you can imagine the fear and the excitement, the mix of emotions, standing onstage in front of two-and-a-half thousand people, they think you're about to play Come Home and Sit Down and you know you're going to play something they've never heard before and you're not entirely certain how to play it. The reaction we got was overwhelming. It was almost as if the audience were like 'we don't actually want to hear those old songs, you're right!'"

Pleased To Meet You

Tim: "We're really excited by this. There are lots of big songs on this record. Some instant ones like the single and Fine (one of my high points) and there's some good journeying songs that are really strange which take a listener on a journey (Space). We're very instantly recognisable for our melody but then there are some strange things going on with those songs."

Saul: "I'm looking forward to playing festivals and playing those songs. I just know if you're standing in a field and the sun's going down and you're knackered, that's what you'd want to hear. In that moment you can do things to people. An instant three minute pop song you get to jump around a bit but listening to something and going 'fuck me I've just listened to something that's really interesting'. I know it's going to happen and blow people's head's off."

The Influence Of Producer Brian Eno

Tim: "Brian is our producer of choice, most people's producer of choice, but he doesn't make much music anymore. He limits it to us and U2 and a couple of others. He's just amazing in terms of his energy. He brings us together in a very positive way so we work very fast, very intensely and very openly with each other. He encourages us to let go of the songs. And he's great fun, a great communicator."

Saul: "He said to me that he got the best out of us and we got the best out of him. He didn't have to spend so much time and energy guiding us through the process. It's like having a masterclass. It changes your life."

Tim: "Brian is unique and it's hard to explain what happens. It just feels like a musical honour. We're gonna look back and say 'weren't we lucky to work with Brian Eno for five albums'. We'd do fourteen hours a day, his concentration is fantastic and ours became so. We can vary. We can be really lazy and we can become really focused. On this album we became really focused, everyone sat around totally listening, contributing. He doesn't exclude anyone, this isn't a man who dictates and he invites discussion. He has a very good way of being objective without it getting overwhelmed."

Saul: "It's almost like the fucker is enlightened."

The Greatest Hits Tour

Tim: "It didn't take its toll it was just that we got a little bit stuck live. Our strength in the past was that we mixed up the pop and the experimental and we just got a bit stuck in the pop. The Greatest Hits was great was for us. It placed us historically; it allowed us to let go of a lot of our past. It enabled us to move on and create another cycle."

Being Seen As A British Institution

Tim: "It depends where that places us. If that places us where Madness are, it's a cultural backwater and we're stuck. If that places us where The Cure were a few years ago, they got a bit stuck since in how they are seen. And this is all we are talking about, not their musical merits. We mustn't get stuck. We need to stay fresh, not for people to go 'oh James' that's the problem and they won't check out the new record or that we're still growing. There's such a desire in this culture for the new, bands come and they are eaten up and spat out within three years.

"We've survived for good reasons and that's a rare thing and as long as that respect is there I'm a happy man. It makes me nervous. I don't want to stand still. I don't want people to see us as a safe bet. People are telling us we've made our best record. After twenty years we've made our best record. How many bands get to do that? We're proud of our history."

Saul: "I feel we're taken for granted. Our longevity makes people think of certain things that are positive and some that are not. So people who come to our shows have all their preconceptions blown away. We're a whole mixture of different things and when people don't see that, and they just see you as a band with a best of collection behind you, it ignores all the stuff that makes you get to the point where you could even release that album in the first place. I'd rather have some fucking respect from people I respect for this record than sell any copies at all. I feel we're a bit of an army now."