It looked like the beginning of the end for U.K. band James a few years ago – and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Founding member and bassist Jim Glennie and multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies, in town recently to promote James’s new album Whiplash (out today), describe the events of the sextet’s partial dismemberment and triumphant re-assembly with charming, self-deprecating humor.
After providing a shining pop respite in the maelstrom of American grunge with their 1993 gold-plus album Laid and its brief, captivating title single, James capped off months of successful touring with a slot at muddy Woodstock II in 1994.
“We had this momentum going after Woodstock,” Glennie relates.
“And stupidly, suicidally, we decided to start writing this album not long afterwards.”
During that week, James founding member and guitarist Larry Gottleft the group (later replaced by Adrian Oxaal) and enigmatic frontman, singer Tim Booth decided to go off and record Booth And The Bad Angel with composer Angelo Badalamenti, a project Booth had been waiting to do for over a year.
“So from having this band shooting along, all of a sudden it was, crash, bang,” Glennie says.
“And there’s always been weird political division in James because Tim, Larry and I were the only ones actually signed to the record company.
“The new boys came in not long after that, but weren’t signed, but the new boys have been in the band for eight years now. So Tim and Larry leaving shattered this little nucleus.”
Not completely sure they were doing the right thing, Glennie, Davies, keyboardist Mark Hunter and drummer Dave Baynton-Power started “messing around,” writing songs in Baynton-Power’s small, grey home studio in north Wales.
“For the first time, we worked collectively as a band,” Glennie says. “And when Tim came back, he saw that he doesn’t have to be the driving force of James anymore. Not only has it made his life easier, but there’s a shared responsibility and we discovered we can do it very well.
“Looking back on it, it seemed like disaster,” he adds. “But it finally made us a band.”
Of course, the band’s fans would say they’ve been one since their early folk-pop days in the thriving Manchester scene of the early ’80s. Booth’s imaginative singing – and dancing – and James’s move from a quartet to septet, and from simple to more experimental pop in the late ’80s saw them become a more theatrical unit on the live circuit.
For his part, Saul Davies is pleased and amazed that Whiplash’s first single, the lush pop anthem “She’s A Star,” entered the British charts at Number 9, and that James’ three unannounced club shows in London last month received raves from both audiences and critics. Chalk it up to great timing.
“One of the great things about the timing of Laid, why it went over well in the States, was that it provided an alternative to grunge,” Davies says.
“The whole thing of Britpop and especially Oasis in America is that everyone is waiting to see what they’re going to do next,” he says. “But in the intervening time, people will look for other things.”
“If we’d put out an album when (Oasis’ multi-platinum) What’s The Story Morning Glory? came out, it would have been buried, critics would have said, ‘Who are James to release an album when Oasis is out?’
“So I think our job is to provide an alternative to Britpop.”