It’s the kind of thing I’d do: spend an entire interview talking about what a freaked-out genius my producer is and forget that my record company would like me to add that I too am evidently some sort of minor deity.
Actually, my chatter would probably lean toward sharing the merits of Murray’s hairdressing and the wisdom of doing one job at a time, the real secret of success which I learned from my mom.
For James bassist Jim Glennie, I think it’s an overdeveloped sense of awe (as opposed to an underdeveloped ego) that had him gushing earlier this spring about the arrogant genius and meticulous masterwork of Brian Eno and Stephen Hague, both producers for James’ latest record, Whiplash (Mercury/PolyGram).
Eno first worked with James on 1993’s Laid (and thus inspired the soundtrack to my days working as an east-end sandwich maker). Since then he’s produced 1994’s art-romp Wah Wah and Whiplash, and when Glennie talks Eno, his enthusiastic, racing conversation shifts into overdrive. Oh, he’ll joke about the oddly intimating little man — gold teeth and a bald head and a smashing suit — but will leave you every time with a quick reminder that “the man’s a genius.” Or by enumerating some of the little projects Eno had on the go while working with James (designing an art gallery interior in Cologne and a park in Barcelona, thinking in a tank for Sony for future music technologies).
Seems that Eno started off by stripping the lads of everything they held dear. “He came in when we were recording Laid and said, ‘You don’t need to do that. You don’t need to approach it like that at all,’ ” Glennie explains, gaining momentum.
” ‘You can take the rough seeds of a jam or an improvisation and take that into a studio. One person, two people, however many you want, and completely smash it up. You can take away what you don’t want, put in what you do want, speed it up, slow it down, sample bits, throw them in wherever you want and stick the whole track through distortion pedal if you want. You can totally abuse your songs if you really, really want to.’ ”
As it turns out, trashing stuff for art’s sake was good training for other imminent changes: founding member Larry Gott ditched the band; cute-as a-button singer Tim Booth took a sabbatical to record with Angelo Badalamenti; other members took the time to grow up and presumably um, fill out and, for the first time, as Glennie tells it, became a real band. “Things fell apart. And looking back on it, it was brilliant, because it shattered what we had. Now at the time it was totally disastrous, but what came out of that was a lot stronger, different and fresher.”
Abounding in freshness, the band’s next move was to meet with what Glennie calls the ‘chalk and cheese’ combo of producers. Hague, who is “incredibly meticulous… oooh” and famed for his twiddling for New Order and the Pet Shop Boys, agreed to work with Eno, to a certain extent relieving Herr Deconstructive-Vibe-Meister of duties which were just “not Eno.” “We thought Stephen would be sort of upset because he’d sit there slaving over the desk 24 hours a day and Eno would march in and go, ‘Change this and don’t do that,’ ” Glennie says, forgetting that reaction is reserved for mere mortals, “But he was brilliant. Hague was like, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to work with Brian Eno.’ ”
“We just couldn’t not do it. Because the two people were too strong and they both wanted to do it. And it was like oil and water. Let’s put oil and water to produce the album. Wonderful. Wonderful.”
Wonderful for you, dude. For me, all this experimentin’ Brian Eno talk finds me mixing my metaphors and all the Whiplash description words in my head could equally well describe a Happy Meal: fast, fun, meaty and icy.
Glennie, still digging the trash-stuff-for-art’s-sake mode (listen to the man describe performing) will no doubt know I mean to say Whiplash kicks. “Yeah, you can go there and go, ‘I’ll just play all the songs I know.’ Or you go, ‘Oh, God, let’s put ourselves on the edge. Let’s throw ourselves into a song we’ve not played for two years. I can just about remember the chords. And weird mishmashes, collisions of people changing in the wrong place and you’ve got, WHOAH, I’ve just about made it through this weird collision. It’s brilliant and it’s scary, but you know… What’s the other option? Pretend you’re not up there. Why bother going up then?”