Tim Booth: "We are no longer tortured artists, now we are a true collective of joy"

The British James have one thing clear: nothing scares them.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 April 2024 Monday 22:23
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Tim Booth: "We are no longer tortured artists, now we are a true collective of joy"

The British James have one thing clear: nothing scares them. And with more than forty years behind him, even less. Their new album Yummy, released this April, shows a hunger to savor every minute on stage. Proof of this is the incorporation of the Manchester band to the Suite Festival. They will play next May 15 at the Razzmatazz Room with a performance in which they will review both their current moment and the great classics of their career, dance songs like Come Home, Sit Down or Laid, classics of British independent music. The band's singer Tim Booth, who will soon publish his novel (When I died for the first time, edited by Constable), and guitarist Saul Davies attend La Vanguardia, via videoconference, to discuss their new loaded project of optimism, new voices and an incombustible spirit.

What adjectives define James? Are they the same as 40 years ago?

Tim Booth: I would just say Yummy. (Laughs) I think we're in a very joyful moment right now. The Jameses of the 80s were all wiry, wiry, white, post-punk, a little fractured. I think we have stopped being tortured artists and have become a true collective of joy. We have the feeling of being very united and having the best time of our lives, in a certain way, I think, as people, as a collective. We are an alternative art collective.

And that transition is reflected in your new project Yummy...

Saul Davies: There is a thematic thread throughout the album, but more by mistake than by design. There may be concern about the state of the world we live in, we are all individually affected by issues around us, but the album is also a celebration. I think that musically we are not very complicated on this album. We are more attractive and inclusive. Less sharp than we can be sometimes. Because I think that's a result of the togetherness that Tim mentions, and the collectivity that we feel right now.

A consequence of the times we live in?

Tim Booth: We live in strange times, don't we? So many things escalating in hyperdrive into a future that none of us seem to be controlling. I can't not write about it. A good example are songs about artificial intelligence, written from the point of view of an AI, such as Mobile God or the more direct political song Our World. And I don't really like it when I write what people would say are political songs because it's a genre, I don't like political songs. There aren't many that move you. This Land Is Your Land and a lot of Dylan songs do, but it's very difficult to write a political song without it sounding...

Propaganda... but don't you believe in art as a political act, a critical vision?

Saul Davies: You see, our group was formed over 40 years ago. So in a way we have become a bit of an institution. A shadow institution. A hidden institution. (Laughs) And I think there's a trap for a lot of artists who reach the career length that we have: seeming to be complaining all the time about the state of the world.

The "nothing is what it was"...

Saul Davies: Exactly, and it's a trap we set for ourselves as people get older. So I'm very wary of sounding like an old white man complaining about a world we've actually created. That's why I deliberately use the word celebration, because there is a lot to celebrate in the world, right? There is joy in the work we do together and we are aware that music also activates and changes people. It's an immediate art form, right?

So does music have the power to change?

Saul Davies: Yes, absolutely, 100%.

Tim Booth: Temporarily in my opinion. Music has become a commodity as part of capitalism. 20 years ago, music was something you had to work for. Now it's just the background noise of our lives. So yeah, change the mood temporarily.

Saul Davies: But at the same time we have people coming up to us with lyrics tattooed on their bodies, so that's what I'm saying, that individually there's a lot of play here, right? That's what records do. They drag people with you, you know, into your world. And momentarily we can also raise them. We can make people think about things, like we do ourselves, but we can also lift people up. And at best, that's what we do.

Optimism in times of artificial intelligence creating music?

Tim Booth: In the end, people have to choose what value they place on things. AI isn't making deep-sounding music yet. He will do it. If you put an AI in and tell it to make lyrics like Nick Cave, it will come back with something very superficial. But it will get better and better. This is the first time in history that humans may have created something that is going to be exponentially smarter than humans. AI is not just a scientific innovation.

They are afraid?

Tim Booth: If Musk is saying that AI is more dangerous than the nuclear bomb, then we're going to have to culturalize society, governments are going to have to catch up very quickly with how this enters culture. Big changes always cause massive upheavals, we are entering a time of great change.

Saul Davies: Much of the confusion and fear in the creative community extends to the visual arts, film, music, etc. And I think it's a bit like a storm in a teapot. AI is a very important, changing, dynamic and fast opportunity for people to create different types of media and art. And what I see around me are a bunch of old bastards saying: "it's changing, please stop, I think this might be dangerous." I feel very positive about it. This is change at its maximum potential. Potentially dangerous, but also potentially exciting. And I think AI can be the way out of what I consider a cultural and creative impasse right now.

It's hard to find such optimistic visions...

Saul Davies: Let's face it. If you take a look at the ten most listened to artists in the world today, you will see a whole list of artists who know how to connect with the people they need to connect with. But a lot of it musically is formulaic. So I argue that a very poor form of AI is already within the music industry and has been around for generations. Most people who make music for a living want to do it through all kinds of pressures, success, fame, paying the bills... And to do that you have to play a certain type of game, otherwise you don't play it. , and if you don't play, you don't get paid, and if you don't get paid, you know what comes next.

Do you feel pressure at this point?

Saul Davies: No, because we tell people to go to hell. This is the only good thing about being a band for 42 years, that we can tell people to go to hell and leave us alone. So we can be the James that James wants to be. There is absolutely no pressure on our part, external or internal, to be commercial.

What continues to move James?

Tim Booth: In a month, the four of us will get in a room and start jamming for a week and come out with 40 or 50 jams that will be the beginning of the next record. And we do that because we love what we do. Saul, Mark Hunter, Jimmy Glennie and I improvise and no one brings anything to the room beforehand, no one comes in with "I've got this chord sequence," we bounce off each other and create. It is one of James' most beautiful moments. Around the third or fourth day, we are in a meditative trance state where we listen to each other and respond in such a fine way that it almost seems telepathic. We all follow a third party.

Who is that third party?

Tim Booth: There's me, there's the other three people, and then there's a third thing. The soul. It's a kind of collective unconscious of what the James band is. And then we take it to the rest of the musicians and they add their pieces to that and it becomes something else. It evolves and it's a process we trust because we've been doing it for a long time and we love it. We are at the service of it, it is an honor and it moves us deeply.

And how do you transfer that connection to the stage?

Saul Davies: We have a pretty old-fashioned idea. We are part of a loose movement of bands that still want to appeal to approaching the stage as a place where things can happen. We do concerts, not a show. There is interest within the group about how to put on a show, of course, but we are not capable so we have no routines or particular expectations of what is going to happen other than offering quality to the people.

And that is reflected in his music....

Saul Davies: We believe strongly in the music we have, but we're prepared to take big risks. Every now and then we start a new song on stage. We are good, we know what we do. And sometimes we don't really know what we're doing. So let's prove it. We don't rehearse for eight weeks and then we go on tour and do the same thing every night and say the same words between songs. We don't do any of that.

Does nothing scare you?

Saul Davies: We don't give a shit about what we look like. We don't care about any of that. We just want to sound good and excite people.

What inspired you to create Yummy?

Saul Davies: Every time we make a record we try to try some new tricks for ourselves and challenge ourselves. This record has little echoes for me of a record we made in 2001 called Pleased to Meet You. It's one of my favorite albums. It's not deliberate, but we have pulled, slightly, from some things from our past, a very difficult part of the band's history. We were falling apart, but now we are in a state of real cohesion and union

And what does Yummy tell about all of us in these changing times?

Tim Booth: We've created some songs that are journeys. They start in one place and end in another. How we get there? We don't know, but we will get to the end, hand in hand, without fear.