As they prepared for their Los Angeles gig at the Music Box on Hollywood Boulevard, veteran Mancunian outfit James, as they frequently do, allowed for a group of fans to purchase a VIP package that allowed them to watch the band’s soundcheck. As the rehearsal session ended and the fans dispersed, singer Tim Booth and company headed downstairs to their dressing room. Booth and Jim Glennie were readying to rap with FILTER about theIr unusual set selection, the highlights of their current tour and favorite English football team, when a female fan who had traveled from Eastern Europe to see the show was ushered into Booth’s dressing room. She gave him a book of art she drew, dedicated to the band. “We have the most thoughtful and considerate fans,” said Booth emotionally, as he flipped through the book. “They are have the biggest hearts and that’s why we love them so much.” With fans who travel as far Peru and Brazil to see them, James’ understanding of its fan base and how to put on a great rock show is what differentiates the band from many of its peers.
Having played music for so many years, do you guys find it tough to mix it things up each night? If so, do you do it for your own sanity and for the sake of entertaining the die-hard fans?
Tim Booth: I remember in ’74 there was a great article by Martin Amis that reviewed the Rolling Stones and he talked about how the set was the same and each song was played nearly identical. And he said, “There’s no life in there. Where’s the communication with the audience? This is not a living thing, it’s a machine.” I thought that was a fucking amazing statement and I was really young and it stuck in my head. The founder of James, besides Jim, was called Paul [Gilbertson] and Paul loved taking risks. We named the band James because we wanted to confuse people because there was no band named after a human then. So for the first gig, they put “James” on the posters, “not a poet” in brackets. I said, “Wouldn’t it be a joke if I went out and read a poem to the audience?” and they’d be like, “Oh shit, it is a poet!” [laughs] Paul said, “Great idea,” so I had 40 minutes before the gig to write the poem. I went on and read the poem and then the guys came on and rescued me. Then after that, we’d do dares to open every show in order keep each other on our toes as a gag. We’d be in the wings pissing ourselves…
Jim Glennie: We’d be looking at each other, thinking that the audience must be like, “What the hell is going on? We have to sit through these two guys for the next half hour!”
Booth: So it came from that. It would give us such a rush of adrenaline and the audience would see it and get that something really fucking unusual was going on and there’s no safety net. Most importantly, they’d love it! It would drag everyone into the moment, and the moment is where the power is. A band going through the same fucking set every night… There’s no moment there. Even Leonard Cohen—God bless him—who is one of my heroes. I saw him for the first time at the Manchester Opera House and I cried through nearly half the set and it was a religious experience. But by the third time I saw him in L.A., it was the same songs and I felt really, really cheated. I can’t knock him because he’s Leonard Cohen and he’s earned everything he gets, but its criticism with love to the master.
That being said, what’s the dare or special surprise for the audience tonight?
Booth: As we showed some fans during the soundcheck, we dragged a choir in. I went to them and asked, “Do you mind if we drag a choir in?” And they went, “Oh, shit.” But we’ve been on fire as a band and they asked, “Are you sure it’s not going to disrupt what we’re doing?” So we had an hour rehearsal at soundcheck and they’re in.
Are you going to be playing a lot of the new stuff tonight or do you think you’ll mix it up from songs across your catalog?
Booth: Three of the new songs, but there are going to be a lot of unexpected things that are going to happen. Usually, I’m left to write the set and I get really crazy and the guys are like, “That’s not okay. And then they have the balls to write even crazier sets!”
Glennie: Well, twisting it around is what makes it fun, c’mon now! We like putting the fear of God into ourselves. We can’t play through all the songs everyone knows, what’s the fun in that?
Booth: Last night [in Anaheim] we encored with a song from Wah Wah with a song called “Jam J,” and another from Laid called “Lullaby.” And it was storming and totally worked but that’s pretty much the weirdest encore we’ve ever played.
How did the crowd react to the unusualness of these selections?
Booth: That’s the great thing about American crowds: they give us permission to experiment because we came in with Laid, but the album is very mellow, which is different because in England we came up with these huge rock songs. The American audience is happy to let us show off our musicality, which is something we really appreciate.
What’s been the most memorable night of the tour?
Glennie: New York was incredible. It was a Tuesday night and we tore the roof off the place. The crowd wouldn’t let us leave, but we couldn’t go back on because of the curfew and we put the lights on and they were just shouting and were angry we didn’t go back on. We couldn’t go because they were taking the equipment down, but they were so rabid—in a good way, of course.
Who does the band support: Manchester United or Manchester City?
Glennie: City! It’s not even a question in my eyes. Though, regretfully, we do have two Arsenal fans in the band, but nobody’s perfect.