It took British band James a long time to discover America – and vice versa
“We didn’t come over here at all for the first seven or eight years,” said bassist Jim Glennie in a phone interview. “No record company was prepared to pay for us to come over here and play.”
Although in the past few years the band has not been total strangers to American audiences, James’s latest, Laid, could be the record that wins them some major attention in this country.
Lovely atmospheric production from Brian Eno, a sure melodic sense, and smart vocals from Tim Booth make it a very appealing record.
The title song (and first single) is a droll comment on sexuality, while Low Low Low takes a cold-eyed view of human extinction and Sometimes has an inviting passion.
The cover of the record shows the band posed on the steps of the Marseilles cathedral, wearing dresses.
“We were just fooling around with some pictures, and we were having fun,” Glennie said. “Although I suppose you could read into it a subtext about prostituting ourselves by selling what we do.”
Glennie said the feel of the record dates to an acoustic tour the band did last year, opening up for Neil Young.
“We agreed without thinking about it very much. Our first gig was at Red Rocks (in Colorado) in front of 10,000 people. We were terrified. It was such a change from playing those dark little alternative rock clubs.”
When the band finished its tour and picked up its electric instruments again, he said, they heard things differently. And Eno, possibly best known for his production work with U2, kept the band focused.
“He knew we’d overcook the songs, if we weren’t careful. He knew we were capable of messing them up,” Glennie said. “So we’d race through the songs. We had to put everything into them. I think the great thing about Brian is that, whoever he works with, he gets the best out of them.”
There is a certain folkish quality to the band’s music, which Glennie said is not a conscious effort.
“We’d hear that a lot, and in the early days, we reacted quite strongly against it,” he said. “We’re no great lovers of folk music. But there are certainly strains of folk in our music.”
The band started in Manchester in 1983 and ended up on Factory Records, home of such local stalwarts as Joy Division and Happy Mondays. The band became heroes to the volatile English rock press, and were endorsed by Morrissey, who invited them to tour with his band, the Smiths.
“He helped us a lot in the early days, just in terms of attracting attention to us,” Glennie said.
After various record company woes – the band has been on five labels – James reorganized in 1988,expanding from four to seven members. (It is now down to six).
“There was a period where we were feeling our way around,” Glennie said. “We really didn’t know what we wanted, and that explains the way we sounded on Seven.”
Now the band is much more comfortable, Glennie said, and so far is very happy with the reception Laid has had in America.
“We’re such a bunch of old cynics, so skeptical. It took us so long to make it in Britain, you know. But it’s nice to come here and get such a good response.”