“Born Of Frustration” was the name of the Modern Rock Tracks hit from James’ last Fontana/Mercury release, “Seven,” but it could also sum up the band’s continuing battle to win over audiences in the U.S.
“It can be weird,” vocalist Tim Booth says of the band’s widely varying degrees of popularity in the U.K. and U.S. “We did one gig in England in front of 30,000 people, and then we come out here and it’s ‘James who?'”
Yet Booth says the band actually prefers the support position when playing live. Just prior to the release of its new album, “Laid,” issued Oct. 5, the band concluded a stint on the WOMAD tour, headlined by Peter Gabriel, and last year it toured with Neil Young.
“You’re up there for an hour instead of two,” he says. “It’s kind of more fun playing for an audience that doesn’t know you and winning them over, rather than playing for the converted.”
Mercury is optimistic that this approach eventually will break the band in the U.S. “We will work ‘Laid’ like we have been working James for the last two years–by making friends at retail,” says Mercury Records senior director of marketing Josh Zieman.
The label currently is negotiating with a few chains to include “Laid” in their listening booths and “buy it and try it” promotions, and it is anxious to get James back out on the road. “That’s the way they broke in the U.K., and that’s the way we will continue to work it here,” says Zieman.
“Laid,” produced by Brian Eno, finds James taking a slightly more sombre approach. According to Booth, the sound of the album was at least partially influenced by the tour with Young, on which the band performed acoustically.
“After we toured with him, we didn’t play electric again for three months,” Booth says. “Our ears were sort of tuned to that level of subtlety. The way we did the LP was just a gradual continuation of that, and Brian encouraged that. So we ended up with a fairly laid-back record.”
Mercury has been working the title track of the album at alternative and college radio, and has long-term plans to take James to album alternative. “Off the bat, we are going back to where we had the most success, and we will build from there,” Zieman says. In its second week on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart, the song leaped to No. 15.
James also will make an appearance on “The Tonight Show,” tentatively set for Friday (29). The band hopes to return to the U.S. in early 1994, once again as a support act.
Meanwhile, the sessions with Eno were so fruitful that the band has another album in the can.
“‘Laid’ is the LP we went in to make,” Booth says. “It’s the song LP, but we also did a double LP of mainly improvised stuff.” According to Booth, Eno heard the band jamming and said, “People would like to hear this.”
Yet the rest of the Eno sessions won’t be released until next year. “We’ve kept it under wraps,”
Booth says. “We haven’t shown the record company, except for a few people in London. No one in America has heard it. We don’t want to confuse people. We want “Laid” to be focused on properly, and then we’ll present the strange, artistic younger brother.”