Manchester alt/indie band James is set to release their fantastic new album La Petite Mort in the US on September 16th. We love the album and wanted to get insight into everything that went into it. Tim Booth was nice enough to chat with us and give us the stories and inspiration for every song on the album. Check out our interview below, as well as the video for “Moving On,” and be sure to pre-order the album HERE.
Walk Like You
I think I wanted this one to be longer. [laughs] We were thinking about making this super long – when we play it live now we play for about 9-10 minutes. This was originally a long jam that had so many good parts that we had to make a long song out of, with all the vocal parts and pieces. We set about trying to piece it together and make it sound organic and flow.
Overall, when I write lyrics, I write unconsciously. I never sit down to write about an issue. I will wake up with lyrics often at 4:00 in the morning and start to write down what I get. Or when I’m jamming the song I’ll get some lines that just have to be in the song. I feel like I’m a conscious ego listening to unconscious babblings when I write lyrics. What the lyrics are about I don’t always know. Sometimes lyrics become clear to me a year later, sometimes they bubble up in my subconscious and need to be expressed. “Walk Like You,” if I’m asked consciously what it’s about, is written from a point of view of a teenager or child looking at their parents wondering “are we just some stamped out, plastic mold of our parents? What individuality do we have? I don’t really want to walk like you. I want to have my own voice.”
There are a few specific lines, like when my baby was born, his eyes closed and he was taken to the prem ward (pre-mature baby ward). He was stuck on all these drips and he was in quite a lot of distress. He turned his head to me as I sang to him. He calmed down and opened his eyes for the first time, and when I looked in his eyes, I could see the night sky, I could see the universe in his eyes. So that opening line “This universe is in your eyes, inside the galaxies collide,” came from that moment. Looking in my son’s eyes and going “Holy shit, where did you come from?” As kids and people in general, we know much more than we think we know. It’s all in the unconscious, connected to intuition and instinct.
Very different type of song – very playful song. When I got that opening line “sounds from next door, someone’s getting laid,” I immediately knew I had to continue with that slightly ‘witchy’ theme. Those are tough songs to write, they can get tedious. Only a few can write them well, Leonard Cohen, Jarvis Cocker, a couple of others. I was like “oh shit, this one’s going to need a lot of work.” That was much more consciously written than the other ones, because I knew I had to tell a story of this person in a hotel room, listening to the couple next door having sex. He’s trying to create something, but he’s very sexually frustrated and very curious about what’s going on next door. I wanted to get that ‘frustrated artist’ who wants to lose himself to abandon but is actually trying to create something. It’s about someone that wants to lose himself to lust and instincts but at the same time is trying to keep his shit together – it’s a playful song.
“Moving On” was about the passing of my mom and my best friend. My mom was 90 and had been wanting to die for a long time, so it actually ended up being a beautiful experience, holding her for a few days and singing to her. It was an incredible moment when she passed. It felt like a birth. That was what I conveyed to the animator of the video. He took that and ran with it. I’m so proud of that video, we think he (Ainslie Henderson) should win awards for that video.
It really is. I never knew I could care so much about a piece of string!
Yes, and in three and a half minutes! It’s crazy. That video captured something universal in that video. Nobody had told me that you could experience death in a beautiful way. It was actually uplifting as well as sad of course. Then my friend died about 6 months later and it was devastating. I flew to New York and was too late to say goodbye, and hadn’t said all I needed to say to her. Her death is in there as well in the song. I wrote more directly about her in the song “All I’m Saying.”
Gone Baby Gone
In retrospect, and I didn’t realize it at the time, the song is about a couple who are friends of mine that split up. The whole theme of the album is “ending but beginning.” On many different levels, death, or the end of a relationship in this case. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have said “5 year relationship” in the song, I should have said in the song 10 or 15 year relationship, but not that many people make it that far and can relate!
It’s about a man who thinks his life to be dead, then falls in love and has a passion that wakes him up and gets him out of his coffin. The line “make a boy out of me” hints that this guy is obviously older, maybe a mid-life crisis situation. I was thinking about American Beauty as a perfect template for that story. That was very unconscious with the lyrics. I like the song, but I look at the lyrics sometimes for that song and go “What was that?” [laughs]
That’s interesting though that so much of your lyrical work is unconscious.
Yeah, for me it’s like “we know everything, somewhere inside of us.” Getting to that knowledge and wisdom is very hard.
This was directly dealing with a revelation I had, where I was judging someone very harshly. I realized to some degree, I was judging myself. It was one of those “Ah, shit moments,” or “A-ha!” moments, depending on how you want to look at it. It was a painful revelation that I put into song about my judge and my critic and how when I criticize other people the most it’s usually that they carry something that I’ve discerned in myself.
I think it was inspired (and God knows if I’m right), but some of my thinking was watching people like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga get slagged off for expressing their sexuality. When do you see men getting slagged off for their sexuality? Why is it always women? It’s the usual religious patriarchy values that are still filtering through the culture, even if we’re not religious. We somehow seem to have absorbed this idea that there’s something wrong with women expressing their sexuality. In probably half the world, women still probably get beaten, stoned, or exiled for expressing their sexuality.
All the papers in our country slam it and call it “adultery.” For all you know, that person fell in love with somebody. We’re so uptight about it. All the studies about marriage show that it is not a natural phenomenon. It’s a pretty difficult thing to maintain. We have a 46% divorce rate in England. 60% of women in England said they would leave their husbands if they could afford to. So we’re not talking about a huge happiness success rate with marriage. We are pretty polygamous as beings, as monkeys, which we are. Darwin said we descended from apes, but really we are apes, and we tend to forget that.
“Bitter Virtue” has that religious intolerance aspect to it – dealing with the boundaries of sexuality that men have imposed. Six women were recently stoned in Iran for adultery, it’s just ridiculous when you take a look at how women are treated all over the world.
All In My Mind
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in my mind [laughs]. The song is about bringing about the dead wood in a relationship in order for it to thrive. So again the theme of death, but this time in a very positive way, it’s like clearing the dead wood, the stuff that needs to be moved or shifted. The conflict between thinking you have to keep secrets or the things you think you can’t show your beloved, but the things you have to be able to show them in order for the relationship to thrive.
Quicken The Dead
I’m beginning to see this one as the overall thing I got from losing two people that I loved. I actually lost someone else that year as well, but they weren’t as close. It’s really about how in Western culture we try to sweep death under the carpet, especially when we’re younger. Death is a thing that’s really removed from our lives. “Quicken The Dead” is about saying “I want to live with death on my shoulder, because that will make me live life more passionately, more fully, more in the present.”
There’s something about mortality being already within us. We’re already dead. It was kind of a thing soldiers would say to themselves before they went into battle to garner courage. They’d say “don’t you know we’re already dead?” That would enable them to act heroically.
All I’m Saying
This was a week after my friend Gabrielle died. I dreamt of her, and of course in the dream she was well, strong, proud and brilliant. Then I woke up and realized she was dead and I was devastated. The song is what I wished to say to her before she passed and I didn’t get to say to her.
I’m always curious as to how albums end. When did you decide to close the album with this song? Did you know right after you wrote it or was it a decision that came later?
It was later on in the process. We work really hard on the running order, we’re old school. Rather than just writing good songs, we make albums and we want to tell a story. There was a definite narrative in the order we chose and “All I’m Saying” made a fitting ending.