As lead singer of James, Tim Booth fronted a band that saw Britpop come and go, finally disbanding in 2001 after 19 years together. Major hits included Come Home, Destiny Calling and students’ favourite Sit Down. His first solo album, Bone, is out this week.
Is it true you don’t consider Bone a solo album?
Yes, because I can’t believe anyone really has true solo albums, except maybe Prince or Stevie Wonder. You need help and I had a lot of it from my collaborators.
There are some James moments on there.
It’s my voice and my lyrics, so there’s going to be a striking crossover. The main difference was a groove in the music. You couldn’t dance to James and I like dancing. That wasn’t a fault of James, I just wanted something a little bit more playful.
Some of your lyrics are a little dark. Do you agree?
Yeah. You have to ground the songs in reality, my own observations of life, even if they’re happy songs. Otherwise they can’t touch people. Redneck, a song on the album, is about celebrity self-importance, which I had. I realised it was just ice-cream – somebody wants strawberry one day and another flavour the next. It’s about being a disposable commodity. I’m interested in celebrity and fame because in this culture it’s the highest currency, the highest aim. It’s incredible that, if you’re a serial killer, as least you’re famous. That’s a strange state for a culture to be in.
Has the taxman gotten his share back?
Yeah. The NME did an interview with me, and I said something like: ‘We’ve made millions from our T-shirts – more than our album sales.’ The taxman took it literally when it was meant to be a joke, a loose phrase. They investigated us for six years because of that one line.
What do you make of Pop Idol, Fame Academy, etc?
Those shows are record companies’ short-term attempt to make money. It’s nothing to do with music, it’s to do with young people wanting to be famous. It doesn’t matter what they’re famous for. Music is about spirit, communicating your soul – almost as if you have to make it. That’s not on the agenda of the people who make those programmes.
Is there hope for the future?
Music comes in movements and waves. It suddenly gets exciting, the industry moves in, people get too much money, then lose their ambition. In some ways the record industry is being destroyed by downloading, which might not be a bad thing.
Is there anything that hasn’t been done yet musically?
People throw around the idea that it’s all re-combinations. But of course it’s possible to do fresh material. The real stuff comes from the subconscious. It wasn’t John Lennon, the egotist: ‘How to write a song.’ It was a song coming through John Lennon. It’s the artist’s role to get into the subconscious before the culture does and bring back what is discovered. Then you become a forerunner.
Are we just getting old?
Music wasn’t necessarily better in our day because there was manufactured, trite music without a soul then, too. You can find that in any modern period, really. The 1960s were a bit different – something amazing was happening to music then. You can see the discovery and excitement in those bands. Maybe it was some weird astrological equinox that can’t be repeated. Music shot on, and architecture went through the floor.
Were you more critically acclaimed when you were a less popular band?
Yeah, but that’s the English way, isn’t it? The media did turn on us, and I haven’t read interviews for about seven years. I gave up. That’s not arrogance, it’s just because they can hurt. We had a rough ride.
Did you ever see yourselves as part of the Madchester baggy movement?
Not really. Movements come and go. We loved some of the bands. The Happy Mondays came on tour with us and they were great, and the Stone Roses made some amazing music. But we didn’t want to get roped in.
I bet touring with the Mondays got pretty mental.
On their first tour, the first gig they did resulted in three car crashes on the way there. I guess that set the scene for what was to come.
You had some great merchandise, though. I’ve still got a packet of ‘How Was It For You?’ James condoms.
Wow. I wouldn’t use them now, mate. They’re probably well past their use-by date.
I thought we’d heard the last of you musically. How did the album come about?
I don’t really know. It was a series of chance meetings and events. I left James to focus on training to be an actor and to write a script I had in my head for around five years. I was making music in the background with a collaborator called KK, who engineered the last James album. He’d never had a song published, but I said: ‘Do you want to write some songs?’ We did it in my bedroom, basically, on a laptop.
Are you prepared to do the industry thing now you’re back again?
Yeah, I’ve had a good enough rest from it. I wrote my script, did my training, got a great writing agent and was in a movie. I felt like a fisherman in a boat with three rods in the water, and I didn’t know which was going to bite first. The music one bit first, but I think the others will, too, eventually.
Is the fact the album’s easier to dance to a direct result of you DJing?
Yeah, it’s certainly had a lot to do with it. I’ve been teaching trance classes where I teach people to go into altered states through dancing, and for that I’ve had to play hours of music that gets people moving. It was really good training for me to see what makes people dance. I don’t want to make dance music, but I do want to make music that makes people want to move their hips.
How did you get into ‘trance dance’?
My favourite form of expression isn’t singing, it’s dancing. James asked me to dance for them originally. It’s a passion that kept me alive, kept me going, and it was something I had to do. I met an older lady at one of our gigs in New York who’d caught this system of movement. She’d gone around the world, watching different cultures going into altered states, and developed a simple technique of doing it safely. She called it The Five Rhythms. I trained with her, and I found it fantastic for creativity.
When you’re in a trance, how aware of your surroundings are you?
It varies. It’s usually not what Hollywood will have you believe. Sometimes it’s really gentle and peaceful, like meditations. And other times you get visions, and you might lose a lot of connection with your surroundings. You get high and very creative. I write my best songs after I’ve been dancing. I find it a great preparation for doing other creative things. I was dancing before I was acting.
How did it feel to win a Best Newcomer award for Saved, your first stage acting role?
It was sweet, man. You see all these ceremony awards on TV, and it was just like that, but suddenly my name was called. It feels totally unreal.
I can’t imagine you in a tux.
I wasn’t wearing one, don’t worry. I did the quickest speech in history. That’s what the Manchester Evening News Awards said. It was really good and encouraged me to pursue it.
Was it frightening to be an actor on stage, even though you’d done all those gigs with James?
Terrifying. Two-and-a-half hours on stage every night with a script that was nonsequitous, just loads of one-liners. To learn it was very scary, and being on stage for that long was exhilarating and frightening at the same time.
You didn’t make a cock-up?
No, interestingly enough. When I did acting at university, I was always the guy with the improvised lines, scaring the life out of my fellow actors. I ended up with somebody like that in Saved, and that was a really good lesson. There’d be some scenes where I had other people on stage, and we’d be looking at each other going: ‘Where the f*** are we? We’re three pages ahead. Is there anything in those pages we really need to tell the audience?’ The last scene was just me and him alone, and that’s when I got really scared.
You’ve just filmed a scene for a movie. Can you tell us what it is?
I can’t tell you too much about it, but I’ve got a small part in the new Batman movie. It’s my first thing on camera, so I’m jumping in at the deep end.