James frontman Tim Booth chats to us about this summer’s festivals and what the future holds for the Mancunian legends.
‘I am a bit like Mr Bean on a surf board’, says Tim Booth self-mockingly as he looks forward to performing at this weekend’s Wakestock festival, ‘I nearly drowned in some ridiculous waves in Hawaii. I saw them coming and thought wow, I have to go in those, and then literally nearly died and had to be rescued. But I’m fascinated by surfing, I was invited to go moonlight surfing once, what an amazing thing that is, to moonlight surf.’
30 years and counting, and stalwarts of the festival scene, from the outside looking in, James are seemingly on an unstoppable rise at the moment. A recently completed sold out UK tour, which featured Echo & The Bunnymen in support, showed they are in better health than ever, but do the band feel like they really are at the top of their game?
‘Yes, we do’, says Tim laughing slightly self-consciously, ‘There are some bands that are lucky enough that when they age, like Springsteen, they get better and better. Come back was a really dirty word in the 90s, and then I saw Springsteen reform the E Street Band for the first time in 15 years and it was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen and I realised that you can come back with dignity and creativity, and matching your work. I think that Springsteen’s last album is as good as anything he has ever written. We want to be the kind of band that you come to not knowing what you will get but you get a high level of whatever that is.’
Famed for hits including ‘Sit Down’, ‘Laid’ and ‘She’s a Star’, in the live arena the band are celebrated for mixing up the hits with a more improvised unplanned route, never playing the same set twice. Do they feel the pressure to stick to the more familiar at festivals, or is there still room for experimentation?
‘When you play a festival you’re aware that you’re playing to people that might know some of the hits but need familiarity, so we usually opt for a safer set – but we famously haven’t done that sometimes. When we headlined Reading we opened with ‘Sit Down’, which was at its peak, and threw the momentum away in the first song, so we realised that wasn’t a great idea. We also often don’t get a soundcheck at festivals and we can only really improvise and take risks when we can really hear each other well. At a festival you often have to walk on with no idea what the sound will be like. Sometimes we have a setlist on stage and then if the sound is good we go left and if not we stay near the more familiar.’
The band are currently locked in a studio in London, recording their highly anticipated 13th album with producer Max Dingle, whose credits include work with The Killers and White Lies. Previous twinned mini-albums The Night Before and The Morning After focused on two separate concepts; the former being filled with songs you can dance to, whilst the latter was occupied with more reflective songs. Does the band prefer to write like this? ‘I never think about concepts, but because I lost three people last year that were very close to me, you could say this is a bit of a death album. I suggested calling the album ‘Sex and Death’, says Tim playfully, ‘but I have no idea if that will happen.’
“This is a lovely period for us though; this is when we are creating for ourselves. Later when we hand over the records it’s no longer ours and it becomes for other people, and that’s such a beautiful moment too, but this is the bit where we get to self-indulge in what we’re doing. You come in and hear a great trumpet line and it’s like wow, I didn’t see that coming. It’s very exciting.’
Finally, fans attending any of the James gigs this summer should come with some shoulder padding, as Tim embarks on a new kind of surfing. ‘I’ve always wanted to get further out there, into the crowd. Once I had an idea to get on a surfboard, and The Flaming Lips do it brilliantly by getting in that giant ball, but you don’t want to rip-off someone else’s idea. The surf walking started when we were playing a gig in Lisbon last year. I just walked out on peoples’ shoulders, and they let me go quite a way, it was a great moment.’
James play Wakestock festival which takes place from 12 – 14 July 2013. Tickets can be bought from Ticketmaster.