Larry Gott of the long-lasting British band James spoke to QRO about many things, including computer literacy, favorite U.S. cities, the origin of the band’s name and sound, thoughts on touring with Lollapalooza, and the VIP treatment for fans on the current North American tour, the first of its kind in ten years.
QRO: How are you today?
Larry Gott: I’m fine, thanks. Enjoying the Californian sunshine.
QRO: Oh yeah. So, is it warm there today? Sometimes it’s been cool this summer.
LG: No, it’s really nice and warm now.
QRO: Well, that’s good.
LG: Where are you?
QRO: I’m in Atlanta. I was hoping to speak to y’all here, but you had just started the tour, and there was some kind of communication issues.
LG: Oh, right.
QRO: We just wanted to speak to you about the tour and the band. I’m really excited that you came back to the U.S., by the way; I’ve been waiting since 1997. [laughs]
LG: [laughs] Oh, wow! Did you come to the Atlanta show?
QRO: Yes, I did. I got to shake [singer] Tim [Booth’s] hand, also, when he went around during "Say Something".
QRO: So how’s the tour been going?
LG: It’s been going really well. The crowd has been absolutely fabulous, really welcoming and very ecstatic. Often calling for more encores than we can deliver, because we run overtime, ‘cause we play for two hours, plus, every night. So I think we’ve been past the curfew on most of the clubs we’ve been in. It’s been really good.
QRO: [laughs] Well, hopefully they didn’t fine you. [laughs]
LG: No, they didn’t. They didn’t fine us.
QRO: Well, that’s good! [laughs]
LG: They were all very nice, ‘cause most of the club owners wanted us to play more, anyway. [laughs] They were like, go on, go on, do another one!
Right, and they were pretty small clubs you played this time, some of them.
Some of them small, and like 800, I think, was probably the smallest, 800 capacity.
QRO: It was a lot nicer than when I saw you in ‘97 on Lollapalooza [tour], although that was a great tour. Do you remember the Lollapalooza tour?
LG: Well, that was during my rest period [when he left to design furniture].
QRO: Oh! OK.
LG: I left in ‘96 and came back in 2006. So
QRO: Oh no!
LG: Yeah, I don’t think it was very pleasant for them. I think it was one o’clock in the afternoon, I think they were playing in these massive concrete car parks on the edge of town, and they just got a little bit too drunk, I think, too early in the day, and then carried on partying all the way through the night. So, it became less about music and more about survival and partying.
QRO: Right. Have you had time to visit any of the cities you’ve played?
LG: Yeah, quite a few. Had a nice time in Vancouver, walking around. Vancouver’s a great city, and Seattle, down [at] the farmer’s market. We didn’t get much chance to enjoy Atlanta, unfortunately. It was very quick.
QRO: Yeah, y’all were on a tight schedule then. And with the meet and greets, I’m sure your time is very limited.
LG: It is, with the VIP sound checks and the meet and greets afterwards. And after the concert, you get to go to a club with some of the locals.
QRO: That’s really nice that you did the meet and greet, though. Not a lot of bands do that.
LG: Well, it’s for fans who keep us coming back. A lot of them travel a long way. We’ve got people traveling from Brazil, Peru… Some people travel over from Europe, and up from Mexico.
QRO: Wow! I didn’t realize people came from South America also.
LG: Yeah, yeah. I think it coincided with one of their holidays or something like that. So a few of them got together and got on the plane from Brazil.
QRO: Were you going to play in Mexico on this tour? I forgot.
LG: Yeah, we’ve got three concerts in Mexico. We play in Mexico City, a big festival with the Pixies (QRO live review), and then we’ve got our own concerts in Guadalajara and Monterrey.
QRO: Well, that’s nice. So, what was your favorite U.S. city to visit, or what’s your favorite U.S. city in general?
LG: Woah! Um, favorite U.S. city in general… I don’t know. I’ve got a relationship with a few. I’ve got a nice relationship with Chicago, that’s full of nice memories for me. Las Vegas… We haven’t been to on this tour, but I love Las Vegas. I think it’s a ridiculous city. I think it’s the most American city in some respects… the most honest American city.
LG: America is loud and brash and big, and it’s about the dollar, and it’s kind of celebrated in Las Vegas. Whereas all the other cities try to put a cool edge on things, and say, "Well, we’re not that big and brash, and we are not really that much into money. You know?" They put on a cool front, like Atlanta and San Francisco, and things like that. They are the cool places. But
QRO: [laughs] Oh yeah, I haven’t been there yet. My favorite cities are New York, New Orleans and, right now, Dallas. I haven’t been to California yet.
LG: Aha. I like New York. I like Austin, in fact, rather than Dallas. Austin is one of my favorite towns.
QRO: I’ve heard it’s really good. Yeah, I like New York. I think it’s very culturally active, and so many people going around. It’s just very, very alive.
LG: Yes indeed, and even dangerous. It’s very alive.
QRO: Let’s talk about the band and its sound. Where did the band name originate?
LG: Many stories about that, not all of them true, for various reasons. [laughs]
QRO: [laughs] Yeah, that’s why I wanted to ask…
LG: I don’t know. The band used to change its name all of the time. You saw a different name every time it played: things like ‘Volume Distortion’, ‘Level Team International’, and all kinds of things, it was called. And then, one night, I think it was decided to name it after one of the members of the band, and Jimmy [Glennie], the bass player, his name got chosen. And then they did a concert under that name at the Hacienda and it got filmed by Factory Records, and so Tony Wilson just said, "What’s the name of this band," and the guy said, he looked at his notes, and said, "Oh, it’s a band’s called James." And the name kind of stuck.
QRO: So, did you ever get that question, like Pink Floyd did: "Who’s James?"
LG: Yep. [laughs]
QRO: Do you feel like Manchester influenced your sound in any way? Did the city influence your sound, the band’s sound?
LG: Well, yeah, coming from the historical legacy of Manchester, with New Order and The Fall and The Buzzcocks and, you know, so many interesting bands coming out of Manchester, they obviously have influenced the sound. There’s something about a Northern city, I think, that produces good music. Sheffield is the same, and Liverpool, of course, is the same.
QRO: What do you think is the basis for the band’s sound? Did y’all have something in mind when you started?
LG: No. No, it’s, it’s not as conscious as that. We, you know, we, we didn’t set out to be like a soul mixed with a retro band or, you know, soul mixed with hip-hop, you know, metal meets world music or anything like that. We weren’t about, you know, taking a genre and reinventing it or making it our own. It’s just the sound of seven individuals expressing [themselves] on their instruments, really.
And it’s kind of; it’s just a mélange of all of those influences. I mean, the trumpet player [Andy Diagram] is into jazz, and Dave [Bayton-Power] the drummer and the keyboard player [Mark Hunter] are into more electronic and dance music, and the violinist is more interested in acoustic or folky stuff. I like blues, and Jimmy the bass player likes punk rock, and Tim likes American new wave. You know, we all started out for different reasons. And we all brought those influences in the band, so we’re a bit of a mix-up, if you like.
QRO: Well, it comes out excellent.
LG: Hmm, thanks.
QRO: When you became a seven-piece, was it because you needed more instruments to create the sound you wanted?
LG: Well, we’d had a very stripped down kind of line-up for years, with just guitar, bass and drums. And then, really, we were looking for a drummer. And I don’t know why, but we came across other musicians instead. Whilst we were looking for a drummer, but we found a keyboard player, then we found, a violin player, and then we found a trumpet player, and then we found a drummer. [laughs]
LG: So, it was just, we met these people as we were looking, and said, "Oh, I’d like to work with that person." It was more about that person, rather than what they brought with them. But the drummer was the only specific one that we had in mind.
QRO: It was happy accidents, then.
LG: They are happy accidents.
QRO: So, who writes the lyrics?
LG: Well, Tim writes the lyrics… the singer. He has to write [down] the things that come out of his mouth. I think he’d forget them, otherwise.
QRO: Well, I had read that you and Jim, or two of the members, came together in the reunion of 2007, and decided that Tim needed to come back to sing. So there were no lyrics?
LG: Yeah, well, me and Jimmy had been playing together since 2001, when we did the farewell concert. Me and him had just been playing, for our own pleasure, really, in Manchester.
, really, ‘cause we wrote some really nice material that first weekend. We’d gone for three days in a Victorian warehouse, and recorded it all, and wrote lots of new material.
QRO: You did what in the warehouse?
LG: We were just improvising.
QRO: Right. So it was just instrumental at that point?
LG: Well, before Tim came along, it was just me and him being instrumental, yeah.
QRO: Yes. And so, does he come up with all the lyrical content of the music?
LG: Yeah, he comes up with the lyrical content. The three of us, we just get in a room together with a drum machine or a drummer, and improvise. And then we record the improvisations and that’s how we write our songs.
QRO: So, then the others come in and help fill it out?
LG: Yeah, everybody chips in then and helps to sort it out. The hard work begins after that. It’s taking a really good jam with a few good ideas and making it into a good song.
But the jams can often be 40 minutes long, so we need to get them down. [laughs] You have to distill it into about ten percent.
QRO: Right. To something listenable, right? [laughs]
LG: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
QRO: Or coherent, rather. I know that sometimes Tim writes about political issues. Do you believe those should be addressed in popular music?
LG: I think anything can be addressed in any art form, really. So, it is very difficult when you are talking about political songs or protest songs. When you’re talking about contemporary music, you know, people just go: "Oh my God, not another protest singer," or "Not another this," or "Not another that." But, I think given the choice between dealing with issues, contemporary issues that are important, or just singing about, "Don’t you wish your girlfriend was caught by me?" I mean, given the choice between the two, I think it’s probably best that you stick on the side of serious.
QRO: Yeah, in "Doctor Hellier", there’s a lot of references to what’s going on. There’s a lot addressed about, you know, the war issue and stuff right now.
LG: Yeah, yeah.
QRO: What was the reason for James breaking up in 2001?
LG: Well, they thought the music that they were making was good, but, I think the band had been together for a bit too long. You always get individuals in the band, and sometimes we get it out of them, and sometimes we don’t… There was tension within the band, and I think, basically, a lot of people had, you know, had a bit too much of it by then. We needed a break, to rest. We needed to do that, and it was amazing, in the six years apart, you know, I think everybody went over good.
When we got back together, we were playing better and communicating better that we ever have been. So, you know, it turned out to be a really good that the band did. In hindsight, it would have been good not to have said, "This is the farewell tour." We could have easily have just said, "We’re gonna take a break for a few years," ‘cause that’s what it turned out to be like that. But as I have said, nothing happens by planning in James; everything happens by accident. So, we get away with it all messed up, all of the time.
QRO: So you didn’t know for sure if you were going to, like permanently end at that time, or was that the plan at that time?
LG: No. No, it was, we didn’t know… we didn’t know whether that was the plan.
Jimmy was convinced that James would carry on in some form, um, he didn’t know what that form might be. We had no idea that it would be the same, that we would revisit the same form that we had in 1990, with the same members. So, that worked out really well. It was really nice for everybody. Everybody wanted to get back together again, the entire seven.
QRO: So things are going smoothly now, even after three years?
LG: Yeah, yeah.
QRO: That’s great.
LG: It’s not bad, is it? It’s not bad going.
QRO: No, it’s not! [laughs] Some bands don’t even last three years, right? [laughs]
LG: [laughs] That’s right.
QRO: I guess it’s kind of like returning to family, somewhat. But sometimes it’s good to refocus, I mean to get a break, go do something else and come back.
LG: Yeah. Hmm.
QRO: Even within a family you’ve got to do that at times.
LG: That’s it. It’s very much like a family, and you get family squabbles and stuff.
QRO: Of the members who have left, who do you miss?
LG: Who do I miss? Um … Paul [Gilbertson, who left tragically early on due to drug issues]… I miss Gavan [Whelan], the original drummer. He was a bit of a whirlwind talent. Very hard to control, but he had an amazing talent. And, that’s it, really. Because, as I said, I left in ‘96, and the other guys who’d left, I didn’t really work with them. So, I don’t really miss them too much.
QRO: On the new album (QRO review), you had to FTP, sometimes, material. Did people have to get educated with the computer to do that? Or were you all computer literate to do that type of thing?
LG: Yeah, we are all fairly computer literate. You mean for downloading the songs and working on them?
LG: Yeah, I mean, most musicians have a little home recording studio set up with the computers now, so we’re all literate.
QRO: Great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
LG: Thanks to you for the interview.