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The Next Great Adventure: James Return With 'La Petite Mort'

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 Written by Huw Baines

Back in February, Jim Glennie announced that James would again break cover, this time to release ‘La Petite Mort’, the 13th album in a career that’s traversed brushes with pop stardom and a willingness to get experimental. He was, he wrote, “like a tired but excited father”.

The record, as the pun of its title suggests, is one that approaches death from a different angle. Tim Booth, the band’s frontman, penned its lyrics after losing his mother and a close friend, imbuing them with a sense of the beauty he found in the most unlikely of places.

Accordingly, the album itself is not a collection of dirges. James, as guitarist Larry Gott admits, will always find a way to make the best of things. They are “stubbornly optimistic”.

“We tend towards uplifting music,” Gott said. “We were talking about this earlier. Musically, as a band, we’re stubbornly optimistic, regardless of what Tim’s singing about, and on this album he’s singing about death. How would you make uplifting songs about death? Well, we just have.

“We’ve been stubbornly optimistic and written the tunes, and Tim has reflected on things that happened to him in the recent past, lyrically. I think it works. If we were miserable and he was singing about death, then the whole album would be a miserable experience, but it’s not. We kind of undermine the miserableness of the subject matter.”

James, unlike many of their contemporaries, remain closely tied to a spirit of improvisation. ‘La Petite Mort’ grew from similar beginnings, with Gott insisting that it was not a calculated move to sculpt a record that made death the undercurrent in songs that border on the anthemic.

“It’s always the same with James albums, really,” he said. “If you get somebody like Daft Punk, they have a very particular idea when they go into the next record. They want to make a record that has ‘this’ about it. It might be that they want to do a whole album of cover versions, or, as in the last record, they want to work with specific people and do specific things, revisit classic moments in recorded history. Other bands say ‘we wanted to do an up-tempo album’ or ‘we’d like to do this album, or that album, or the other’.

“It suits that kind of writing process, that you have an idea of what you’re aiming for at first. James don’t work in that kind of way. Our songs come from improvisation, they very much end up being a snapshot, a recording of where the seven of us are musically at that point in time. You go back to the first album and listen to that, those songs were where we were at at that time. It’s kind of like a musical diary.”

Behind the desk on this occasion was Max Dingel, a producer and engineer with records by White Lies, Goldfrapp, the Killers and Muse on his résumé, whose job it was to focus the band’s creativity. Before pressing play on collaborating with Dingel, James, who worked extensively with Brian Eno during the ‘90s, put together the record’s lead single, Moving On, with his assistance. The results, Gott said, made him a “shoo-in” to take the album on.

“The producer becomes like an extra member of the band,” he said. “If you were to ask the band what kind of album you would like to hear, what would it sound like, you’d probably get seven different opinions and we’d all argue amongst ourselves.

“It suits us to bring in a producer who brings his audio aesthetic. This album is James meets Max Dingel. He’s focused on a lot of sonic things, treatments on the drums, he’s worked a lot on the bass. We’ve got a lot more distorted bass on this album than we have before.”

For Gott and the band - Glennie, Saul Davies, Mark Hunter, Dave Baynton-Power and Andy Diagram - their connection to Booth’s thematic drive developed as they headed into the studio.

“That was when it became really focused,” Gott said. “I think Tim had an idea before that, because of what happened to him in his life, losing his mother and a close friend, so it was very much at the forefront of his mind. They were a couple of incidents that affected him very strongly. And so, perfect subject matter - one close to his heart and one that had happened to him and he felt the need to express.

“Not being a lyricist, I don’t understand that. If something happens to me like that then I just deal with it in my own particular way and don’t feel bound to share it with the world. I know a lot of people do now, because we’re living so much more of our lives in public. Blogging everything that happens to us and what we feel about this, what we feel about that. I think I’m a little bit old school in that respect. A little bit British.”

Just prior to the album’s June 2 release, James will hit London's Electric Ballroom, before tackling the festival circuit - including Latitude and T In The Park. They will headline a date at Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl as part of Summer In The City in July, with a busy live schedule now also including a November tour of the UK’s arenas. Already, the new material has lit a fire under the band, who are typically keen to work out just what makes the songs tick in a live environment.

“Songs can be treated in many different ways and we like to do cover versions of our own songs, if you like,” Gott said. “We like to find out what the nature of the track is. Some songs stubbornly refuse. Sit Down is one of those, actually. It stubbornly refuses to be anything else other than itself. It knows exactly what it is and it resists any attempt you might make to veer away from that.

“Other songs, She’s A Star for example, worked beautifully when we orchestrated it on the orchestral tour. It works lovely as an acoustic song. You can slow Laid down and it becomes a very melancholy song, as opposed to the party atmosphere when you speed it up. We like to delve under the bonnet of the songs and find out what their natures are.”

James Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed May 28 2014 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Thu July 10 2014 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Fri July 11 2014 - MANCHESTER Castlefield Bowl
Tue November 11 2014 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Corn Exchange
Wed November 12 2014 - BRISTOL Colston Hall
Fri November 14 2014 - LIVERPOOL Liverpool Echo Arena
Sat November 15 2014 - GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Mon November 17 2014 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Wed November 19 2014 - LONDON Royal Albert Hall
Fri November 21 2014 - LONDON Brixton Academy
Sat November 22 2014 - BIRMINGHAM National Indoor Arena
Sun November 23 2014 - LEEDS first direct Arena

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