Gig preview: James at First Direct Arena, Leeds

James. Picture: Ralph Dunning
James. Picture: Ralph Dunning
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Long serving alternative rock band James return to Leeds’s First Direct Arena in May.

The show coincides with the release of Girl At The End of The World, the group’s 14th album in a career that began across the Pennines in Manchester back in 1982.

Bass player Jim Glennie, the band’s longest serving member, said: “It’s an album we’re very proud of. We did it with Max Dingel, who we did the last album, La Petite Mort, with in a similar kind of set-up.

“All the songwriting was done in Scotland, not for any particular reason, just physical logistics, and we recorded it at RAK Studios in London again.

“Sonically it’s got La Petite Mort’s brutality and edge, I think, but we’ve pushed things a little bit more this time. La Petite Mort was a big album for us, it was a bit of a turning point certainly for us as a band musically but also just in the big wide world out there it did us a huge amount of good. This record is kind of why we’ve gone back in the studio straight away, just to keep things moving.”

Fifty-one-year-old Glennie himself lives up on the north-west coast of Scotland. “It’s up in the Highlands, in the middle of nowhere and it’s beautiful.” But rather than convene at his home the band “took over” an old hotel.

There’s a few on the record where I don’t think he knows completely what he’s singing about yet but it kind of becomes a bit clearer as things move forward. I like it when he writes those lyrics.

Jim Glennie

“There was a really big room that we turned into a studio and lived there for two and a half weeks. This was in January [2015] so the weather was mental. Picking Tim [Booth, James’ singer] up from the airport, he had flown in, and the windscreen washer fluid froze on the window so you couldn’t see through the windscreen. It was a glorious day but it was -10C outside. Tim was flying into Inverness aiport but they’d closed it because a flight from Manchester had skidded off the runway earlier in the day. They reopened it for Tim’s flight. It was a bit mental but it meant that all we did was work. We’ve been there twice now for the two records and it’s great, there’s no distractions and it’s beautiful. You can go out for a nice walk if you wrap up but inherently you’re not pulled into the big wide world by having things around you and we all get stuck in and hopefully come out with the beginnings of a record.”

Booth has said on the band’s website that Girl At The End of The World was difficult and stressful to make. Glennie chuckles. “It’s difficult to speak for people, I suppose, but there was a lot of time pressures put on this record because as we finished the last record BMG signed a three-album deal with us, which was brilliant, but they wanted to keep the momentum going.

“As soon as we finished the last cycle instead of having some kind of a break where we all sit around wondering what to do next bang, we were straight in. There have been quite a lot of deadlines and time pressures since then and I think we’ve all suffered a bit because of that but primarily it’s difficult when you’re a singer because you’ve got to write words, it’s not just about getting the music right, it’s about coming up with what it is you want to sing about and I think we all felt quite a lot of pressure because of the deadlines; they’re deadlines which have been asked of us by the industry but inherently they’re self-imposed. I’m not blaming anybody for this. For us to get the album out in the first quarter [of 2016] everything had to be done now otherwise the third quarter would’ve been the autumn and that would have been a terrible idea for us to have had a record sitting around for six months, because we would’ve carried on fiddling with it and quite possibly messing it up.

“We knew we’d got a record that everbody was really pleased with that was close to being finished but the last push, if you like, has been quite stressful.”

If La Petite Mort confronted themes of sex and death, Girl At The End of the World is a different animal.

“Some of these songs I haven’t the foggiest what Tim’s singing about,” Glennie says. “A lot of the last record was about loss and bereavement, his mum died and a very close friend Gabrielle [Roth] died. This time he’s looking more at his own mortality – [the song] Girl At The End of the World is definitely in that category. Tim lives near LA but he’s in a place called Topanga and the roads are really windy and every now and again somebody ends up going off the side of the road and plunging into the canyon. That happens because people overtake in stupid places, you come round a corner and somebody’s heading towards you on your side of the road and this about what goes through your head in that split second when you realise unless some miracle happens you’re going to have a head-on collision.

“There’s Nothing But Love which is a huge song on the record, it’s going to be a single a bit further down the line. It’s not a love song as such but I think it’s about how love can have such a massive, all-consuming impact on you and your life, primarily when you fall in love. Dear John is a relationship kind of song, it’s a bit jokey, a bit tongue in cheek, I think it’s based on his own personal experiences finding it difficult to end a relationship, I think we’ve all been there, and the idea of doing it by emailing or texting someobody.

“Move Down South is more complicated. I kind of know a little bit about what he’s singing in that which is his plan was to move from Topanga to San Francisco, which is moving north rather than down south. There were a few issued why he was moving, there were forest fires around where he was living and he had to move out of the house a couple of times because there were threats of fire and there was a water shortage, he sings about the wells being drilled out, so it was difficult to fire-fight because there wasn’t any water. He felt a need to move away so he temporarily moved north to San Francisco and in the meantime he was writing a song called Move Down South and he didn’t have any clue why he was writing about moving south, seeing as he’d moved north, but it didn’t work out for him when he tried to move to San Francisco, he couldn’t quite click with getting his kid into school and it didn’t pan out, they weren’t particularly happy and he moved back down south, funnily enough. He’s moved back into Topanga and he’s gone, ‘Oh right, I see, it’s about me moving back down south’. I like those lyrics of Tim’s.

“There’s a few on the record where I don’t think he knows completely what he’s singing about yet but it kind of becomes a bit clearer as things move forward. I like it when he writes those lyrics, they’re a bit weird, there’s a slightly confusing complexity to them. There’s no all-consuming theme to this record. This one’s more personal to him. Waking is about the inability of the education system to bring the most out of kids, as he’s seen with his own kid a little bit in terms of getting them into a great school that he’s really pleased with now.”

As a band, James are into their fourth decade. Glennie says of their relationship: “It’s always difficult, to be honest with you. We love and respect each other but it’s like some mental family and just like families we argue, we debate things because it’s important to us. I think we’ve got better at keeping a perspective on it now, having families does that, it makes things not all-consumingly important all the time, the band is important but there are other things that are important as well. We’re just a little bit calmer with each other now, we want the process to be enjoyable as well. It got a little bit tense at times during this mad rush at the end of this record but generally speaking I think we don’t want to suffer any more, I think we went through our ‘you have to suffer to make it good’ phase for too long in James and it just spoils what is an amazing job, really. We’re very lucky to be doing what we’re doing and to mess it up through being kind of childish in the way you relate to the people you work with there’s just no need. It took us a long while to realise that and to put it into practice but hopefully we’re getting there. It’s far from perfect, we’re all passionate about what we do so there’s always going to be that element of if something’s important to you there’s going to be that tension or friction, it’s just going to come out in ways.”

Girl At The End of The World is released on March 18. James play at First Direct Arena on May 14. For details visit http://www.wearejames.com/live/

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