interview with Petros Antonakis
Perhaps the story’s not over yet! Tim Booth representing the remnants of James talks to us about their new album. At least there’s still life in the old beast!!
Yes, it’s one of the last. Tim Booth is on the other end of the line alternating between the live scene of James (the album Getting Away With It..Live) and the start of a solo career. Yes it’s one of his last interviews as James singer. At the end of their British tour in December 2001 he announced his departure from the band which for 20 years had led him down the road littered with pop hymns and many outpourings of emotion.
The bassist of the band Jim Glennie has let the press know that the group will continue as James although it is unclear which members will follow this new order. “He has every right to do it” says Tim as we remind him of the special words at the unforgettable gig at the Athens Electron Festival 2001 (“you are fucking amazing” and “it’s one of those nights” – he repeated them over and over) his voice flooded with enthusiasm.
“It was one of the best James nights. We hardly knew if we ever sold one record in Greece and we went through this overwhelming experience”.
Almost as good as that night he describes their live “goodbye” to all their fans, the double album “Getting Away With It..Live”. Recorded at Manchester in front of thousands of fans, a huge chapter of James is closed in front of its audience, the one that all these years followed the instructions of the ideal single for the Heavenly Jukebox “Sit Down”. They sat next to James feeling “the death of sadness “as they were “touched by madness”
How painful yet beautiful it is to say goodbye to the people from the group? Was this the ideal break for you?
We were thinking about it for a long time and we agreed at once to do it. It was a terribly touching moment. We weren’t a band which would break up through fights and with one person not talking to the other. Personally I wanted to stop from the band at its peak, go out on a high. Just like you want Lennox Lewis to leave the ring at the top of his sport.
Were you ever afraid of the band failing??
Yes sometimes I felt that fear
Do you believe that you took risks as musicians? Have you challenged yourselves enough?
I believe we experimented a lot. Sometimes so much we confused our fans, making it hard for them to connect with us. It took us a long time until we made our first good album. We tried experimenting so we wouldn’t repeat ourselves. If you do it once it’s OK but if you keep on doing it you lose the magic of it. You have to keep on looking for a new language to express yourself in case you turn into a cold politician.
Is there anything in the back catalogue or an album of James that you regret?
Oh! I don’t know. Maybe some moments of Stutter which today I would feel very uncomfortable to define. It’s not so much of a regret as it is for the thoughts that cross your mind now. And then like what would have happened if we had gone to America sooner even though we were successful there.
How do you explain that the British press never entirely accept you while in America you had a better reception?
I grew up with the British press and I have learnt to live with it. One minute you’re God and the next you’re nobody. That’s how they work. There is no middle ground, it’s all on the edge. Even the days they worshipped us I knew that someday we’d have to fight them. That has nothing to do with the music. They want you to be on the edge all the time out on the town or punching photographers. It’s similar to what the readers of “Hello” and “OK!” want.
When you were writing songs, was the procedure painful or easy?
It was pretty hard at the start but things naturally got better with time. In the beginning we used to rehearse four to five hours a day for five days a week and we ended up writing one song in a year. Then we were trying to learn as many things as we could about music. Gradually the whole procedure became less painful. We could write three to four songs a day making out the 80% of the song very quickly. It was heaven, I think we were blessed.
Many people must have been attached to your songs
There are many stories, many many stories. I used to write music so I wouldn’t feel alone, I wanted to communicate. People get attached to it and let me know that. I remember this working woman from a factory came and told me that they were listening to James all day long. People of all ages and classes have told me in confidence that their lives changed once and for all.
Would you write a song like Johnny Yen today?
Sure,why not? Because it referred to tortured artists? By that time I was enthralled by artists like Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. They attracted me like a car crash does. By that time I was in the same self-destructing condition (laughs). I was young. I didn’t had the necessary spiritual depth. Now I have reasons to live (laughs). I guess today I’m feeling sad for the two I mentioned above (laughs).
You wanted your songs always to be attractive to people but without losing your identity. Didn’t you play music for yourselves?
That was the music we played. Not calculated but the music we specificaly liked. The first years there was no radio playing James, nowhere especially England except some very late night programs. Our music was too radical for its time. It was after seven years that we became centre of attention. But we hadn’t changed, the music culture slowly moved towards us. We were expressing ourselves in the same way always. It was them who didn’t understand us. As if we were talking Swahili.
There were times when you give the impression that you didn’t fit anywhere&ldots;
Even the time they praised us we didn’t fit in anywhere. Deep down I was pleased. I never wanted to be famous and I was very pleased that I could hide behind the general image of James. If I was a little more exposed, I wouldn’t have been able to survive. I was very shy and sensitive. But by the years I managed to get out of my corner.
But now you are alone.
I’m much stronger now, it took me 20 years to do that. Now I have become much more confident, too confident I’d say. Mainly from the process of creation in my other activities. I’m a trained healer and actor, I’ve been meditating for years, I keep myself busy with thousands of things like the workshops where we teach trance music. I’m leading people to feel free, sing, scream to let every pressure out of them.
During the Getting Away With It Live you say the phrase” we thrive on chaos “. Was it always like that?
It’s imposible to spend 20 years of your life with a band without experiencing misadventures, finanical desasters and huge conflicts. Though I’m very happy because in the end we kept our integrity and I believe our working level wass very high. We did the best we could.
Have you already started your personal plans??
I have almost finished the material for my first solo album. I’m collaborating with a 24 year old composer named KK and we just clicked and communicated right from the very start. I believe the result is pretty good. He is now working on some new pieces with Bjork. Now I’m negotiating signing a record contract. A slow procedure as always, and that’s why I think that the album won’t be released until next year.