-You were saying that unfortunately you couldn't get arrested with this album
-Is any of this that you're going over peoples heads? Musically I don't know why that would be the case.
No. To be honest, people didn't know we had a record out. The record company were, I'm thinking of a word frugal and also the press didn't really give it time. The record company should have gone with 'Wave Hello' and they instead went for 'Down To The Sea' in the belief that they would get Radio 2. And the head of Radio 2 is a Jehovah's Witness and objected to the lines "Find God shoot him up, learn how to die." And that was the end of the record. You only get one bullet.
-You ended up doing this independently. It was your label.
-Was that out of choice, rather than that no one else at a big label would take you on.
Well, we didn't look too far. We waited till we had the record finished and then it was like, Who wants it? Sanctuary are very hot right now, so we thought we were doing the right thing. It's always a lottery.
-And at this point you haven't come round on the cycle. There's this frustrating thing in music that sometimes if you stay out there and stay creative and keep making music it can work against you.
Yeah, familiarity breeds contempt.
-And you think there's some of that at work here?
Yeah. But I'm not really interested in talking about it or trying to second guess it. I'd much rather defend myself against some of your other accusations!
-That's fine. What I would ask though is, are these people providing a barrier between you and a public that I'm sure is out there?
To a degree, except that the time we played and you came to see us, at the V Festival, and you couldn't get in the tent... That happened at Glastonbury, that happened in Scotland. Then when we went on tour we sold out. People were starting to go 'Hang on a minute.' It was spreading by word of mouth. James took seven years, it was all word of mouth. We never got played on the radio during that time. We just slogged away. I'm too old for that now, I'm not going to do that again. But I've got an amazing band and a fantastic live show, I can say that and I will say that, and what happened was word of mouth started taking over and we were selling out the gigs. And that was what James did. By the time we got our first daytime radio play, we were selling out 10,000 seater venues. I mean, fucking hell, what do you have to do to break the door down? So I've never taken anything for granted. I've got that siege mentality. For me I just make the best music I can make. When I do a gig, I do the best performance I can try and do for the people in the room at the time. For me, that's all I can do.
Tim Booth's studio albums, pre-Bone: Stutter (1986), Strip-Mine ('88), Gold Mother ('90), Seven ('92), Laid ('93), Wah Wah ('94), Booth & The Bad Angel ('96), Whiplash ('97), Millionaires ('99), Pleased To Meet You (2001). You can order any of them at amazon.com, from this link, or from amazon.co.uk from this link
-It's unusual for me to be in this situation where someone has seen the questions
But which of these ones about the lyrics did you most want to respond to?
A quick one, the thing in 'Bone' about bombers. [My original question started: "On 'Bone,' you have the line, "One makes bombs in Palestine, nothing to lose except his life." This to me plays into a popular cliché that certain people with a claim to political independence have the right to kill innocent civilians, that somehow it's justified if he takes his own life in the process." I elaborated quite a lot further.] That song ('Bone') is an attempt to see life through the impersonal nature of something like a redwood tree, which has a 2000 year life span. And the human life span is very unimportant from that perspective. So there's loads of descriptions of different human life, absorbing the various emotions, making it quite emotive. "One gets high upon the cross," the idea where that came from is that a redwood tree has been around since the time Christ was crucified. So it was an attempt at looking for that impersonal thing, it wasn't a particular comment upon, it wasn't romanticizing people blowing themselves up with a bomb. The only aspect of it I guess is that I give a reason: people who blow themselves up with bombs, the two things that they have is either, one, a ridiculous religious faith that they think they're going to be born again with 44 virgins, or a complete hopelessness that nothing else is going to get anyone's attention.
-Although I think there's a third aspect, that a lot of them are convinced by people who won't give up their own lives
Some religious fucker who convinces them that is the case.
Yeah, I'll go with that. It wasn't glorifying that. But at the same time I think it has to be understood
not the religious response - that's a good piece of brainwashing - but the other aspect of hopelessness
-To me, you have the right to take your own life, if you're that unhappy with it and you want to make your point. I don't agree with taking other people with you.
So you'd be a Martin Luther King follower rather than a Malcolm X follower. [Perhaps I needed to clarify: I don't believe in taking innocent ciivlians with you. I'm not a pacifist; in fact I have a violent hatred, which I have to constantly keep in check, for those who believe others peoples' lives are disposable.] Obviously, Martin Luther King or Ghandi are closer to my own beliefs, but I still can't judge that. I don't know what it's like just to feel that there is no change or hope open to you.
-That's working on the premise that there are no other avenues open to you. I.e. there is no other way to make a point other than blowing yourself up. Which to me is a belief system of itself. And my take on that is that most of that comes from religious-quasi-military zealots who say, 'You do this and you will get your reward
And by the way I'm not going to do it because I'm needed here on earth to conduct this battle and take it to the next level.' Which I see as an act of cowardice. It's the same as history's Generals sending troops into the Somme. 'It's not my job to go in there, its your job to go in there as cannon fodder.'
I probably agree with you personally where you're coming from. But I guess that brings us to the other question, about the line (in 'Discover'), "I've been the Nazi, and I've been the Jew." I believe if I was born into the wrong family at the wrong time in the wrong country in a different period of history that I could have been the Nazi in a concentration camp. And likewise, I could have been the Jew in the ghetto. To me, it's
I mean, personally, in my own life, I've gone back to past lives. I don't write about that or preach that, I don't even know if they're true. And the guy who I've worked with, who I think is the best, when I've asked him straight, 'Do these have to be past lives? Could they be just some kind of insane imaginative stories coming out of my unconscious
" he's said 'Yes, I don't know
I can't say that.' What I do know is if they do come out of your imagination
they come out so strong either you might vomit or you might be absolutely broken and astounded by something. And it's so physical, so in your body, you can't help but feel it's real. It's like, How could this not have happened? I couldn't make this up. I would say, You couldn't act it. As an actor, I would say you couldn't act it.
-Who is that person?
-I don't know if I was so clear on those notes. I didn't have a problem with that line. It was more the shock factor: it was more the fact that that word ('Nazi' especially when juxtaposed with 'Jew') still has that incredible ability as it should do - to put your hair on edge.
The irony is that right now there's a program about Auschwitz on TV. And I want to go off and watch it. My wife is a Jew. My baby is therefore a Jew. My partner went to Poland a few years ago, to Auschwitz and came back and coughed for three months, a terrible deathly cough. You know what I mean? It's very close to home. So those issues come up.
-Did you have other people say
You should have heard the German reviews! They wanted to know what I meant by that line. But often when I explained it, they'd really think about it.
-That's why I enjoy this process. Because there's other lines I feel like I've got the right intent. And then suddenly it's like, oops, this one has come at me left of center.
I also love the fact that
I don't care if you get your own thing from that lyric and it stirs up a whole hornet's nest in you. And you can project that on me: I don't care! I don't really know where that lyric came from anyway. It was a good piece of writing. And a good piece of passion inside.
I've had a lyric like that for about 14 years, looking for a home. It's a line that went "the horror of experiments on animals that bruise, reminds me of how clinically they massacred the Jews" and I looked for a home for that lyric for years. Because it overbalanced every song. And maybe that line ("I've been the Nazi and I've been the Jew") over-balances that song too. Maybe it's one of those lines that's just too big for a song (laughs), but what the fuck!
-On a much more joyous level, my wife and I had a baby over Christmas, and 'Eh Mamma' took on a completely new meaning over the last few weeks. Because I was initially listening to that thinking, Okay, it's an Oedipal love song ["Heaven knows there is no God above like Mamma"] which I guess it still is, but then it became, oh hang on, it's a baby love song.
Originally it was totally a baby love song. And then I got these lines that were just too perverse (laughs), it had to get twisted a little bit, and I've still left, obviously, the whole Oedipal thing in there. "I've been working out all day I'm a skin and bone man
" And the lyric used to be "I can't really work my body, I can't really work my mind, Heaven is a breast, the one on the left," and something else. It was really about a baby not being able to use its body. And being absolutely in love with its mum.
-You've got what, two kids from over the years?
Yeah. And both live with me. I've got an 8 month old.
-But the album was out
Yeah, I wrote that before the baby came along. It (the lyric) was obviously out there somewhere! I wrote the song 'Gold Mother' about the first baby, and that was written about four months before she gave birth! I don't think time is important in those situations. There are certain events that take place in your life that are like a nuclear bomb and they have a fallout both backwards and forwards in time. You can feel them coming.
-That's a really interesting observation. And I would prefer that you write a song like that beforehand as opposed to trying to be the umpteenth pop star/rock musician who says "I want to write about what it's like to have a baby."
'Gold Mother' ain't your traditional rock star's baby song. It's a series of contractions, that was the musical idea.
-Well that gets us into that other lyrical theme. I have to say I've followed James in and out over the years, the point being to say I'm not an obsessive fan. What I know of you is that you have been in stable relationships but you seem to write these incredibly sexually powerful carnal songs that are always looking outside that relationship. They're looking at one night stands at people across the underground train, that kind of thing. Is that your outlet for sexual energy that you have to otherwise contain in a stable personal relationship?
Tim Booth on having a permanent horn: "It shocks ME to find that the person I'm with, that I'm still madly in love with after nine years that I still want to fuck other people.
(Laughs) The way you phrased this as a written question, I was going to tell you to mind your own fucking business. But you've phrased it in a more polite manner here, or a less dubious manner
I'm almost happy to leave you not knowing. The way that Bill Hicks was best when you didn't know where he stood, that was why he was so dangerously exciting. Because one minute he would seem a really spot on liberal intellectual and the next moment he would be a nasty fucker who was just a barbarian. And he really wanted you to not know. And I like the unsafety of that. And that may be my comeback way of saying that - I don't feel the need to sell that part of my life. I don't feel the need to sell ANY part of my life to sell records. But obviously the nature and the quality of your questioning is such that as an individual that if I met you I would tell you, but this is going to get published and that's different. Also I've got nothing to hide. Which of course sounds that I haven't
So I'll leave it there. There's no way out of this one is there? (Laughs.)
-I think what I was probably getting at is that I've been continually blown away over the years by the sexual power of these lyrics.
There's also something here about sometimes people put me on a spiritual pedestal. And I fucking hate it.
-Which is why I wanted to say that I haven't been obsessive and that there's periods where I haven't really listened to James.
But they also hear that I'm a spiritual person, that I'm a Buddhist - and I'm not a Buddhist and there was a documentary called Face The Music in which I got about half an hour to talk about spirituality. And I made clear that this is all bullshit, I'm still a human being, I'm struggling with all the same things that everybody is struggling with. And it shocks ME to find that the person I'm with, that I'm still madly in love with after nine years that I still want to fuck other people. It was such a shock, like, shouldn't these feelings have gone away now? And then finding that they haven't. And they probably won't till my dick falls off. And that that's part of the human condition the male human condition, I can't speak for the females and I can be fascinated by that.
-Part of what I'm getting at then is that you have the ability to write about that whereas other people might suppress it.
Other people might suppress it because their woman might find that hard. I have the most amazing woman and she totally gets that. It's a big issue, and I think also I've never been really monogamous until now. My God, part of me believes that monogamy is totally natural to men I can't speak for women but I have a lot of gay friends, and the stories they tell me about men's sex with men, sounds a lot of the times like male-on-male sex is sex at its most direct, and it's pretty impersonal. Sometimes they just want to fuck. And I know that feeling, and part of me misses that. I've kind of answered your question here. I'll probably stop there! But I'm fascinated by that. And they tell me that with gay women it isn't the same. That the voraciousness is not there. And I wasn't totally aware of that. But the gay men I know, even the ones who are in stable long-term relationships, every so often they go off to a fuck club. And I sit there being a little bit jealous about that, going, 'Fuck, that sounds good, having sex with complete strangers, how exciting! Jesus. God! That would scare the life out of me, it would be wonderful.' And I like having the life scared out of me.
-So how long have you been living in Brighton?
-I think I put in those questions that I always go there when I'm back in England.
It's as good as anywhere in England.
-It is, isn't it? Almost frighteningly so. Almost every other musician I meet these days lives in Brighton.
It's actually the transport meeting point for the next launch off across the sea to the States, to the west coast.
-To the west coast?
Yeah. You move down and down England and end up in Brighton and the next step is to California.
-Are any of them making it?
Yeah, I am.
-That's far enough along that that's a firm statement?
Yep. It's a migratory trail.
-So are you leading the way?
I know others who are doing it too. I think it's an unconscious thing. I think it's like that thing in Close Encounters, where you're drawn there, you don't know why. It might not be California for other people, but I think once you get to Brighton there's no where back within England you can go. You have to leave the country.
Tim Booth web site
James official web site
James unofficial web site
James overview at allmusic.com
James: Folklore The Official History by Stuart Maconie (strongly recommended)
This interview Copyright Tony Fletcher 2005. No reprinting without permission