‘Ignorance, selfishness and dishonourable motivations are leading people to the brink of a disaster’: Indie band James tell of ‘extraordinary times’ ahead of new tour

James. Photo: Cheek Press

James. Photo: Cheek Press - Credit: Cheek Press

Highly-acclaimed and long-running indie band James are back in the region in March touring their 2018 album Living In Extraordinary Times. It's a tour with a twist - the band will be 'supporting themselves'. Multi-instrumentalist Saul Davies spoke to David Powles.

James. Photo: Cheek Press

James. Photo: Cheek Press - Credit: Cheek Press

What is it that motivates the band to keep saying 'we're going to do something new'?

Saul: We're just not interested in trading off our back catalogue. It's not in our DNA. Maybe one day we're gonna do a greatest hits tour just for laughs. Just go to play 20 massive tunes and say that's all we're playing. But it's not what we're about. We're soon starting work on our 16th album. We've done a couple of weeks of writing together and we've got a couple of weeks scheduled in a couple of blocks throughout this year. And I guess that will generate a whole raft 20 to 30 demos of new material and then over the next year we will make another record. I guess it's just what we are. Creating new material is just one of the things we enjoy the most. That very simplistic fulfilment that we get from being in a room together, making a noise together and writing music together is one of the reasons why we keep going.

It must be very satisfying when other people get as well?

Saul: I think we probably struggle internally in the band with and feeling that maybe we don't get enough recognition for the work that we do. We don't decry at all the success we have with our fans and people who come to James gigs come to expect a certain kind of show and they get it and they love it. But generally we don't feel like we get the credit, but actually we're selling more tickets than we ever have done.

These shows should be interesting because we're going to open up and support ourselves. I've been saying that we should call ourselves Jim for the first half an hour. All right. He's Jim, he's Jim. I'm Saul. And then later on we will be James. We've always found our fans really like to hear us play stuff stripped back or semi acoustic or acoustic. And I know that we're really good at it and we were thinking we could do more of that. We're going to play songs from right back into the early 80s. There's some hidden mad gems and they're really good songs that we might have forgotten or people might never even have heard. They're going to be played in a completely different way.

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How strange is it to go back on the album that's been out for a little while?

Well the thing is we didn't really get a chance to properly play this album. And so actually it feels like it's the first outing of it. These songs are totally fresh to us.

What does the album titles refer to?

Saul: I think it can easily be argued that musicians should keep their mouths shut when it comes to politics. And I would possibly agree to some extent, but at the same time I also think when you're an adult you can't escape from the world that we helped to create. And I think then you can and you should comment on that on the world that we live in. We are not a de facto political band but we are intelligent adult people who have views on things that are happening around us. Some of those views are very informed, like Tim lives in California has done so for 15 years. So he sees very clearly what's going on in America around him.

Jim and I live in Scotland we therefore have a very keen view on what's happening in Scotland politically. The drive for example for independence. And the elephant in the room is Brexit. And whether we think it's a good or a bad thing, it is extraordinary that we're in a position that we're in.

I think the whole idea that we can try to stop the modern world and we can try and put the clock back and pretend that technologies we have now don't exist anymore. But the point is the intelligent people understand that it's not going to work. What we have voted for, what they are trying to get together for us, it will not happen because the world doesn't work like that anymore. We are not separate. We are so intertwined.

That's where we are. We are in extraordinary times. And then the more uncharitable view would be that ignorance and selfishness and quite dishonourable motivations are leading people to the brink of what many people fear is a complete disaster.

It's the English disease you know, we've never ever come to terms with the fact that we don't have an Empire anymore. We haven't. We don't. And we never will.

How much do you think that you're benefiting from this resurgence of nostalgia and also this acceptance that nostalgia isn't bad?

Saul: My understanding is that people are not coming to see us for nostalgic reasons. The majority of James fans are buying or at least streaming and listening to and sharing our new music. So it may be that we're in a very different little mini category. Maybe all of our own.

I admire the fact that The Charlatans keep making new music. You could say that going to watch Tim Burgess and The Charlatans is an act of nostalgia. I would counter that by saying, but they keep making new records. He's not stopping. If they were just playing hits then I think that would be nostalgic and I certainly think if we were just playing out hits, that would be nostalgic. But I guess there is an acceptance, which is really cool, that just because you've been around for ages doesn't mean that you've got nothing to say anymore.

What is next for you?

Saul: I'm not entirely sure. We've been doing a lot of work recently and this year is going to be quite full on for us. We're going to America to do a tour of states and we've got a lot of festivals and then we've got some more European dates in September. And then that takes us to a natural hiatus. But we can also be writing as we tour and perhaps finish the writing for this record and then we have got time to go on and demo that writing and try and see what we can come up with. Then we might leave it alone for a little bit.

But I imagine another album or a series of EPs, likely to be in spring 2021. We need maybe to take a little break as well and then at some point we're going to have to celebrate our 40th year as a band.

* James play Cambridge Corn Exchange on Monday, March 11. Returns only www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk/cornex/events/james