The British band James has an interesting problem with its record company: Too many new songs.
”I don’t see this as being a big problem, the fact that we can write too many songs,” says bassist Jim Glennie from a tour stop in New Orleans. ”The record company might find it difficult to cope with.”
While many bands wait for their muse to inspire new music, the six members of James uncorked the creativity bottle while working with noted producer Brian Eno on their latest effort, Laid. Eno, who has helped coax great albums from such acts as U2 and the Talking Heads, spent six weeks challenging James. At the end of the recording sessions, the band had not only its strongest record to date, but enough material to fill two more CDs.
”He (Eno) pushed us into new fields of working; he broke down barriers that we had. He pushed us into a new room,” says Glennie.
Eno’s advice was to strip down the sound.
”What he said to us was, ‘Look, with six people in the band, you shouldn’t need to overdub, you shouldn’t need to layer things. There’s enough of you making sound in there, that should be quite sufficient.”
The band members – Glennie, Larry Gott on guitar, Mark Hunter on keyboards, Tim Booth on vocals, David Baynton on drums and Saul Davies on violin and guitar – agreed.
”We sat in the control room with just screens in between us, but so we could see each other,” says Glennie, describing the recording set up. ”We’d blast through the versions and then we’d listen back on the monitors. If it sounded great, if it blew us away, then that was a take. If it didn’t, then we did it again. And if we couldn’t get it after a few takes, we’d move on. It was a very real way of recording.”
The resulting album, the group’s eighth, is filled with simple yet completely engaging pleasures. Whether the slowly building opening cut Out To Get You, the galloping Sometimes (Lester Piggott) (named after a jockey) or the hook-heavy title track, James has boxed a collection of uncomplicated delights.
”I think it’s the best album we’ve ever done. I think we’re now coming into our best songwriting period. I have no idea how it’s going to last. It’s one of those things (where) you think one day you’re going to get in a room and it’s not going to be there anymore. It’s not like packing biscuits, or something, where you put the hours in and you come out with the stuff.”
While the band waits for the opportunity to release the rest of the music from the Eno sessions, it’s busy working to make a name for itself in the United States. Despite a huge following in England – sold-out tours, gold records, playing to as many as 30,000 fans in a single concert – the group has started at the bottom again in building a name outside England.
”It’s good for us in a lot of respects,” says Glennie. ”It’s brought us back down to Earth. (But it’s a great) feeling – this rush again, this building. Like, you play somewhere and it’s sold out, and then people come and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got this television show and MTV has put the video in Buzzbin ,’ and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ It’s a really exciting feeling, (having) that momentum again.”
Glennie describes James as having the best of both worlds – comfortable success at home and a growing popularity in the U.S.
With support from radio and MTV, the band is hoping to educate Americans as to the joys of James. An important part in that campaign is spreading the popular live show that American audiences first glimpsed when the band was opening for Neil Young on his acoustic tour or playing a short string of shows back East with Duran Duran.
As Glennie puts it: ”We’ve basically found ourselves on a wave now, just like we did in Britain. And we’re trying to ride it out and see where you end up at the end of it.”