James released their album Girl at the End of the World on March 18. The band explains the video for the title track as “a haunting affair depicting a family in mourning, while unbeknown to them the ghost of the ‘departed’ dances among them.”
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Kris Merc (his video for James’ other single “To My Surprise” is an official selection for the Annecy International Film Festival), the video stars model/actress Alexandra Chelaru, and dancer Brandon Powers, who’s also responsible for the choreography. James frontman Tim Booth says the video was produced on a tight budget, and “made from the generosity of [Merc’s] spirit and sticky back plastic,” adding, “it contrasts the release of the departed with the grief of those left behind.”
We spoke with Booth as he readied for the band’s upcoming tour.
Culture Collide: The last time we spoke you mentioned embracing the kiss and the car crash, which you intended to mean embracing both ends of life’s spectrum. On “Girl at the End of the World” you pick up where Le Petit Mort left off with more songs about life and especially death. In fact the title song is about a near death experience with an SUV. Then I read your twitter and see you just survived a car crash. What’s going on here?
Tim Booth: Holy shit! [Laughs.] I wrote the lyric a year ago. The lyric I came up with was about someone dying in a car crash and really embracing their lives and all the people they love, and hopefully seeing all the people they love in that last minute. When I re-read the lyric I got really scared because all of my lyrics tend to come true, but usually about a year later. This has happened frequently to me over the years. I saw the car crash in Topanga about a year earlier so I thought it was finally safe to release it. We moved up north to the Bay Area for about three months, and wound up moving back because my son missed his friends and his school. We came back and I told my wife I was really nervous that I’m going to be killed in a car crash. As we were preparing the new mixes about 2 weeks ago, I was driving home on the freeway and someone hit me from behind and spun our car around. Time just stood still and I was able to turn to my son and ask if he was okay, and see that my wife was okay. I watched in the rearview mirror as the guy who hit us spun around 180 degrees facing a wall of traffic coming at him at 60 mph. It was like someone stopped a wave of traffic and we were all okay. No one was injured. My son and I both had this calm feeling where we knew we were going to be fine.
It’s amazing how quickly the brain processes everything as it happens.
Yes, time literally slows down. I’ve actually had multiple near-death experiences. I stopped breathing in a hospital once and was revived. You get really peaceful. Nearly drowning in Hawaii was the second time. There’s a real moment of surrender I think which is really beautiful and which is what I think that song is about as well.
Wow. That’s a lot to take in.[Laughs.] Yeah. It just wasn’t my time to go I guess.
You could probably get three more songs out of that alone.
It doesn’t work like that. My life is so intense I get experiences like that every week. Don’t worry, I’m not short of material. [Laughs.]
What made you start with that song?
The lyrics came out in the first jam. Then I woke up around 4 am and wrote some more. I tend to wake up at 4 am just hearing some words. When that happens you know you’ve got something good and you don’t mess around or you’ll be betraying your muses, you just go with it.
When you think about it, every time you get in a car, you’re just a few inches away from death at any given moment sitting in several tons of metal moving down a highway.
Yes, but I think even more than that, the bookends of life: birth and death, and we don’t know where we come from and we don’t know where we go to. In between one of the strongest connectors is sex. The French call it ‘La Petite Mort.’ Little Death. All of Aristotle’s work really is living life as if you’re preparing for death. I think that’s what we have to do is live life like we could go at any moment. Because it can. I got that from my mum dying two or three years ago in my arms and how beautiful and peaceful that was. Then my friend dying and my not getting to say goodbye to them and how devastated I was from that experience. Really if you want to live, in the philosophical way is to live every day as if it is your last.
These themes were present in your solo album Love Life, the last James album La Petite Mort and now with Girl.
I’m a one trick pony! [Laughs.]
No, the opposite actually. You’ve taken those themes but they sound different on each album.
I think I’m honing in on something and getting clearer and putting it into the way I live. Most of this record isn’t about death. It’s more uplifting. Though there are two songs connected to that element of la petite mort
Do you have material from this album left over, or will you start from scratch on the next one?
Usually we start from scratch, but there is at least one song that we still have that we worked with Brian Eno [on] that we couldn’t figure out.
That’s very intriguing!
He worked with us on “Nothing But Love,” on that small arpeggio that I think is important to the song.
How hard is it to get ahold of him, since he is such a busy man?
When I’m in London I ring him up for dinner or I go ’round. He also has an a cappella group every Tuesday where these people go to his house. They’ve been coming around for about 15 years and singing a cappella songs. I’m invited to that when I’m in London. I go over and wind up singing these songs I’ve never heard before trying to wing it with these really good professional singers.
Wow. I’d love to be a fly on that wall. He is without a doubt one of the most interesting men of our time.
He has the most fascinating brain I’ve ever encountered. He’s always working on projects that most people will never hear about, and they’re always intriguing. I took my then 10-year-old son around to meet him last year. They were both born on the same day. For about two hours, Brian was like some mad magician from a Disney film. There we are in a dark room full of incredible pulsing lights sort of like stained glass windows that are computer generated. [He was working on this for] hospitals, so [that] people have a room where they can be really peaceful as they wait for scary diagnosis or test results. We said something like, ‘Brian, the only thing you’re missing is smell, and he says, ‘Oh come on in here and I’ll show you my smell laboratory!’ He takes us into a room where he’s created all these smells that don’t exist in reality, and he shows us a scent like motorbike fire and violet. My son was a wide eyed 10-year-old realizing [it’s possible] to live in a constant state of creativity and excitement, somewhere between an artist and a scientist.
What an inspiring experience at that age.
Yes and then he stayed for the a cappella group which was amazing.
What an amazing friend to have.