James are back releasing their 14th album, Girl at the End of the World, a record that the band considers as their best ever. I had the privilege to interview Saul Davies, the violinist and guitarist for James. It was a relaxed and laid back conversation, at one point even the local plumber joined us, we talked about the band, the new album and their upcoming tour.
I was first introduced to James in 2014 when spontaneously attending the not so well known festival, Umbria Rocks. I saw the band perform in field filled with a grand total of around 150 people, my memory is of Tim exclaiming, “Wow, what a big field!” Despite the lack of numbers, James created a magical atmosphere providing more than just music. From this one experience, I bought all their albums and became aware of just how huge the band are. They’ve performed at every festival, Glastonbury, Woodstock 2, Coachella and have played with big names such as The Stone Roses, Radiohead and The Killers. They’re critically acclaimed and commercially successful having sold over 12 million albums worldwide.
James formed in 1982, emerging at the tail end of the 80s, they survived through the scenes of Madchester, Britpop and remain current today whilst others have faded into oblivion. I was intrigued as to how the band have kept going, when asking Saul what their secret is to, he gave the simple reply; “we just keep writing and keep making records.”
“If a band continues to make music and find itself creatively viable there is a chance people can enjoy what you’re doing. As soon as a band stops writing automatically you become like a little of a tribute band to yourself and I think that artistically it is not credible and difficult to maintain a credibility.”
James have had a long and illustrious career, I wanted to know if there was an album which Saul was particularly proud of, a question he found difficult to answer, having a mixture of responses;
“I think the last record we made prior to breaking in 2001, Pleased to Meet You is a great record. I’m very proud of La Petite Mort, I think it’s a lovely record. This record Girl at the End of the World I think is like a progression on La Petite Mort and kind of accompanies it. These last two records I do feel very strongly about.”
Saul had mentioned the band’s break in 2001, James had a hiatus from 2001 till 2007. It seemed for Saul during these years things “calmed down a little bit”, a time in which he married and had children. He stressed the fact that the break in 2001 was meant to be a permanent fixture with “absolutely no inclination to get back together again, it was something that wasn’t on the cards.”
At this moment in the interview Saul had a knock on the door from his plumber thus we had to quickly postpone our conversation.
Crisis averted, we returned to the interview and I asked what got the band back together in 2007;
“A desire to write more music again, we had some years apart…then we wondered what it would be like if we wrote something together and when we started writing it was apparent that we were writing some half decent material and one thing led to another…suddenly we were out on tour supporting an album that we’d made.”
We then went on to talk about the upcoming album Girl at the End of the World, I wanted to know what we were to expect from the album after hearing two pre-released singles, Nothing But Love and To My Surprise. These songs are filled with techno dance beats, which Saul described as “not that representative of the album.” His description of the album made it sound like it is filled with electronic, rock, club epic, “German sounding thing…big dance thing…mad keyboard flying thing,” so we were to expect a variety of things…
“I don’t think there is one particular theme that runs through it all…It’s difficult to categorise, there’s one song called Alvin which is in French for Christs sake, Tim decided to sing in French which is funny because his French accent is dreadful.”
James’ previous album La Petite Mort did extremely well with a hectic year of live shows, it seemed it would be a difficult one to follow. Saul however seemed confident in saying “Anybody who likes the last record looks like they’re probably really going to enjoy this one as well” and explained how many said Girl At the End of the World is actually better.
This May the band are endeavouring on what is said to be their biggest tour to date, playing to 60,000 fans across 15 shows. I asked what fans should expect from the two and a quarter hour set, “it has to be long because we’ve got a lot of songs.”
“Night by night it will change. We’re not a band who want to do the same set every night…we’ll play seven or eight new songs, we’ll play some old catalogue material…we’ll still play two or three songs from the last album, we love playing songs from that record.”
Many have named the sold out Manchester show as the sure highlight, I wondered if the band regarded Manchester as the best night being where they originated. I seemed to have hit a nerve as Saul insisted this wasn’t the case and each show was special in its own way;
“We must make our shows as special as we can everywhere we go for those people making the effort to even get to that show …I’m not paying lip service to this, it really is the case and I think we put a lot into our shows, they’re quite emotional…we’re doing something, we’re a band but we see ourselves as artists, it’s an enterprise, not just about business, it’s about making music.”
Saul then came down from his inspirational speech and went back to the subject of Manchester;
“Of course its special in Manchester because one way another that’s where the band is from and that’s where our heritage is so yeah it is special, we would be a different band if were from somewhere else, it has defined who we are.”
After talking for half an hour it was time to go…the questions were answered, the septic tank was fixed, the interview was over. Thanks Saul.
Girl at the End of the World is released 18th March alongside a major headline UK tour in May, the band will also be appearing in stores across the country in March for album signings.