[23 February 2005]
Bone (Koch Records), the title of Tim Booth’s new album is a double entendre. It refers to the essential nature of ourselves, of our experience, but somewhat typically, contains a libidinous aspect also—as in, the verb “to bone”. From a singer whose largest commercial hit in the States was titled “Laid”, this perhaps shouldn’t come as an enormous surprise
Booth began his career with James while a student of drama at Manchester University in 1982. Soon thereafter, Morrissey, already a papal presence in English music, described James as his favorite band, and the band spent the better part of a decade attempting to live down the distinction. In some circles back then the Smiths were seen as an English equivalent of R.E.M. (both being Indie kings of their respective domains), but ironically, it’s possible that James, with a more wide-ranging curiosity and intelligence, to say nothing of longevity, may actually have offered a better comparison. Like R.E.M., James (with ongoing input from Brian Eno) cultivated an intelligent, free-ranging, art-driven approach to popular music, hitting a creative apex with Gold Mother (1990), Laid (1993), and Whiplash (1997).
James eventually called a halt to proceedings at the end of 2001, almost two decades after they had begun. During that time, Booth released a collaborative effort with Angelo Badalamenti Booth and the Bad Angel (1996), and also appeared in English regional theatre. He spoke with PopMatters from his home in Brighton, England.
PopMatters: You’ve been touring since the album was released in England. How has it been received?
Tim Booth: It’s been brilliant. We just played in Greece and Turkey, and then back in England—the shows have been great. People have been really enthusiastic; we’ve been gaining a really nice momentum. It’s hard to get media attention in England because everything’s so youth-oriented here, but people are starting to pay attention. James were always a good live band, so it was important that this was too, otherwise it would have been embarrassing.
PM: When you originally ended your association with James, did you imagine that you were finished with music completely, or was it just an opportunity to explore other avenues for a while?
TB: I thought I was done with the music business, but not with music itself. There were other things I wanted to do, and being in a band, I didn’t really have the freedom to do that. I always felt this weight of responsibility, of six other mouths to feed. I wanted to get back to acting, and I had an idea for a screenplay that I wanted to write. I thought it was going to be this big long process, that it would take two years or something, but I finished it fairly quickly.
PM: Has it been produced?
TB: It hasn’t been produced yet, but it’s been optioned and I’ve received lots of really positive feedback. It’s set in a place quite like the Esalen Institute, which is this New-Age retreat in California, and it involves a hit-man—that’s all I’ll say about it for now. I just finished a second screenplay this week. The first one, I hired some people to act it out while I worked on it, so it really forced me to focus, otherwise I was just wasting my money. But because of that, it also felt a little like performance. One of the things I was worried about when I started was that writing is such an isolated thing to do
PM: Right, it helps if you feel there’s an audience, that you’re not just writing for yourself
TB: Exactly. So that first one took me through about eleven drafts, and several people helped me out. This second one I’ve done more by myself, and now I just love the process. I enjoy making up stories—I always have done, even as a songwriter. Besides, it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.
PM: Is it true that James, the band, were named for Joyce, the writer?
That’s one of the stories we put about, yeah
PM: So do you perceive yourself more as a writer or a performer now ... or don’t those distinctions matter?
TB: I won’t consider myself a writer until I’ve had something made. I’m a songwriter, and I always considered myself a better lyricist than a singer. But I enjoy all of it really, acting, writing, singing, creativity.
PM: Wasn’t the way this band came together somewhat arbitrary? Is it ongoing?
TB: Well hopefully we’ll continue to work together, but we’ve called the band The Individuals because everyone in it has other things going on outside of this. It’s a group of really, really talented and cool people, and I’m sure they’re each going to be successful in their own right. I met Lee in a café, we were just talking about music and I liked what he had to say, so we decided to meet up. Lisa I met through a connection with this band in Brighton called The loveGods—they’re probably going to be huge soon—and I met Milo taking these acting classes in London. He’s a comedian, and I had no idea when we first started talking that he was a drummer as well.
PM: Over the course of your career, it seems your writing drifts between three major areas, and the new album continues in similar vein. First there’s the personal/intimate—the nature of love and lust, happiness and sorrow. Next, there are more global concerns—politics/the environment; and finally, what we might consider issues of spirituality—belief/the search for meaning. Would you agree with that?
TB: Well, that covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it?
But yeah, I know what you mean, and I’d agree with you. A lot of those things I explored as part of James, although I couldn’t always write about “God” back then. In writing about “God”, I wasn’t referring to one higher being, but rather to a more general Greater Power. But when there are so many of you contributing to a band, and sometimes you’re coming at things from different places, different areas of sobriety even, and you can’t always write about everything you want. Even musically, though, it’s something we consciously strived for, to be eclectic in what we did, whether it’s rock, country, or something else.
PM: I’m struck by the emotional honesty in your work. Whether it’s something like “Sit Down”, (an anthem for those aggrieved by melancholy), or something as mischievous and superficial as “Laid”—“Dressed me up in women’s clothes / Played around with gender roles”—there’s a courage to it. More recently I’m thinking of “In the Darkness”, a song that acknowledges the difficulties of monogamy and erotic longing. It’s something we all go through, but not everyone talks about it ... or at least, not everyone advertises in song!
TB: Thank you. Yes, I’m interested in things like what it means to be a man, at the mercy of your sexual desires. I’ve been in a serious relationship for ten years, and there’s no way I’d ever want to lose my partner. But still, sometimes when I talk to my gay friends, I’m almost jealous of the sexual freedom many of them have. And it’s true that I’m constantly aware of my own sexual obsessions…
PM: Although, many of my gay friends lament the comparative difficulty of finding a committed, long-term partner as well—the exact opposite of what we’re talking about.
TB: Absolutely! I can absolutely relate to that with my own friends
PM: I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a lot, the line in Discover, “So I’ve been abuser and I’ve been abused / I’ve been the Nazi and I’ve been the Jew…” When William Styron wrote Sophie’s Choice, certain critics attacked him, suggesting he had “eroticized” the Holocaust, that unless you were there, you have no right to that material…
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/booth-tim-050223/