The Night Before and The Morning After are the names of two mini-albums being released by indie veterans James.
The first upbeat offering comes out on Monday, and they will then go straight back into the studio to start work on its more mellow companion piece.
The band, who have been together for almost 30 years, are known for their early 1990s anthems like Sit Down, Laid and Born Of Frustration. Their reputation as a compelling live band has endured and they are currently finishing a UK tour.
Singer Tim Booth has now written a single about going mad, thinks American Idol has ruined music, says radio stations are ageist and reveals that the band are planning a “hiatus”.
What’s the story behind your single Crazy?
I’m always a bit loath to say what a song is about because I write quite unconsciously on purpose. I often write at five o’clock in the morning when I’m half awake and I try to keep the lights dim and stay in a half sleep state.
But it seems to be referring to a time when I thought I would be institutionalised. I had an inherited liver disease through my teens, which wasn’t diagnosed.
It meant my perception of the world was very strange. I used to think I could hear people’s thoughts and I used to hallucinate from this illness, and it was only diagnosed when I got to 20 and I nearly died of it. So I always thought I was just mad.
Why release two mini albums?
We live in an age of iTunes where people don’t seem to be listening to albums any more. Attention spans are getting shorter.
We wrote 120 songs – normally we can only fit one or two slow pieces on an album without bringing it down too much. This time we said, let’s do a whole mini album of slow pieces.
We are going in a room next week for five days and improvising and recording a more mellow album. It’s a bit scary. I haven’t written any lyrics and I’ve got five days in which to come up with them.
What was the “virtual recording process” you used on The Night Before?
We improvised 30-minute songs then put them on a website and each band member could download them and work on them at home – reconstruct them, chop them up, arrange them, put their instruments on, do whatever they wanted.
Then they could put it back on the website and someone else could take that and chop it up and do the same. A very Brian Eno-esque way of working. We worked with him for nine or 10 years and it filtered through.
Do you still enjoy playing classics like Sit Down and Laid live?
Sometimes our big songs need a rest. Last year we didn’t play Sit Down on one tour. When you start going through the motions, you try to rest them.
At the moment, we’ve been starting the set with Sit Down acoustically, played from the back of the audience. Me and Larry start at the back and walk to the stage, playing the song, and see if we can make it through the audience. Which is an entertainment in itself.
Which are your favourite festivals?
We haven’t done Glastonbury for years and we’d love to do Glastonbury again. I like the smaller more spontaneous festivals. As a punter I’ve been to a few of them. Shambala I really enjoyed. They have more of the spirit.
It’s dangerous when festivals become too corporate, too controlled. The greatest festival in the world is Burning Man in the desert in America because it’s so anarchic and fantastically spontaneous.
All those appalling talent shows – talentless shows – breed a certain expectation which is that music is simply about becoming famous
It’s Independent Record Store Day on Saturday – how do you feel about the plight of local record shops?
The tide has changed and is changing so fast. You end up being nostalgic about something and you have to move with the times. Instead of moaning about why no-one can make money from selling records, you find a way of making money from somewhere else.[Falling sales are] not just about the internet – it’s much more about American Idol and all those appalling talent shows – talentless shows – which breed a certain expectation which is that music is simply about becoming famous and has got nothing to do with expressing yourself from the heart.
In that sense those record shops are more connected to a level of music that’s more honest.
Has the way you make a living changed?
Absolutely. And also radio stations are ageist – they want the young bands. We aren’t young and we don’t get played on radio any more so we can’t make any money from that.
But James have always had a reputation for being a great live band so the live thing plays to our strengths.
James is going to be around for a few years but we may take a slight hiatus next year
You played a baddie in Batman Begins – do you want to do more acting?
I haven’t had much time because of James. Every time I get an audition I’m going on tour and I’ve had to turn them down. I did an independent movie last year which will come out this year. I’m going to look for an agent here and I’ve been doing lots of acting training.
Are you working on any more solo music?
I probably have a record of my own coming out in partnership with Lee Baker (Watford-born singer-songwriter) next year – at least one. I’ve got a few other things going as well.
James has been my sole focus for the last few years. It’s very engrossing. It’s going to reach a natural peak this year so we may have a bit of time out next year. James is going to be around for a few years but we may take a slight hiatus next year.
Not a final end though?