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Volume 90, Issue 92
Wednesday, March 19, 1997
Introducing the rock stars
Gazette file photo
THIS COUCH IS ON FIRE, WITH ... OH NEVERMIND. James has taken three years off and still look exhausted from this vacation, but return with one of its best albums to date Whiplash.
By Jonathan Hale
"Excuse me. I don't mean to be a big rock star, but would you mind if I sat there?" asks Saul Davies in a very soft, British accent. As though the prime minister himself had just requested the couch, my friend and I jump to chairs elsewhere in the room.
Davies sits briefly, then lies down comfortably before putting on very large sunglasses. He is very tired and rightly so, as he has had only 12 hours previously walked off of a plane from England and, like the rock star he denies he is, stayed up all night long doing, well, rock star things.
Saul Davies may not be a household name to most, but the band to which he has been a member of since 1989 broke into North America in 1993 after having most of Britain fall to its knees in sheer awe of the act's talent. The band is named James and though the music played can often be insightful, serious and issue-oriented, the band broke this side of the sea with a three-minute song about sex.
On this occasion, Saul finds himself in Canada for the first time in four years to promote the band's latest release, Whiplash. But before anything else, Saul needs to be questioned about the delay between albums.
"We had a break, which we needed really after touring so heavily [in] America promoting Laid and then we kind of started making this record," he explains. "We set up a studio at our drummer's house in Wales and started banging some ideas around, and had a couple of writing sessions with [Brian] Eno and gradually formed a caucus of songs which we then chose from that body of work to start to record properly this album."
This album was in many ways created separately. Tim Booth, lead singer and lyricist, even sang some of the vocals by phone from San Francisco. Booth could not attend all sessions due to his own side project, Booth and the Bad Angel.
"It was an acceptance of the fact that he needed to make that record," notes Saul, pointing out this project kept Booth from pushing his views onto James. "Whether we liked it or not wasn't the point. We didn't see it as a threat, weirdly."
Of the writing process in the band, Saul makes a surprising statement, saying, "There is a division in James, between Tim and the rest of us. We're idiots and like gettin' pissed and doing stupid things."
This said, one gets the idea that there may be tension in the band. Actually, there are simply lines drawn between the band and the star, who is obviously Booth. Also, Booth's views about what the lyrics represent and what Saul thinks are two different things.
"Tim wants [our music] to mean everything, and I just find that very funny," Saul laughs. "Pop music is an art form obviously, probably the greatest art form of the 20th century. And why it's so cool, is because it is meaningless."
One other thing that happened over the last couple of years is that one of the band's founding members, Larry Gott, decided it was time to get out of James due to financial difficulties. While I was led to believe this was a very serious, hurtful move to the band, Saul gives a different impression.
His immediate reaction to the departure was to raise his hands and yell, "Yippee! Old fellar, do one."
But is he really being serious?
"Well yeah, like just on the basis that if somebody doesn't want to be in the band, then don't be in the band."
And while it would seem Saul has a grudge with every member of his band, we soon return to the creation of Whiplash, a process that to him has made all six members "actually wanting to be in each other's company and in James for the first time in history."
With the new record, James turned attention away from Brian Eno after initially creating songs, leaning towards Stephen Hague's production genius for one very simple, yet very important, reason.
"We were looking for a big, successful pop record," states Saul with conviction. "It's like we knew that if we made a record either on our own or with Eno, it could very possibly just turn out to be a weirdo-fest. Our inclinations are towards that in many ways, but it would have just been suicide. We couldn't have come back with a mad album at this point, we had to make a pop record."
And that is exactly what the band did. The album contains the staple pop anthems that James was able to reach stardom with, displaying the power pop of "Tomorrow" and the wonderful debut single, "She's a Star." The album does attempt to empower meaning with "Greenpeace," a song that not only snubs the big industry which creates pollution, but also the individual who sits on his or her couch without acting for the cause.
But once again, Saul finds that while the song may seem meaningful, it really doesn't matter in the whole scheme of things.
"There is meaning in the song and there is some power in the song still it doesn't matter if that song doesn't exist," he explains. "It's like, who cares? It's cooler, but it's not important. Like yeah, we donated all our royalties to Greenpeace for that tune, [but] unless we sell 10 million copies that's going to amount to fuck all."
But soon the conversation comes to a close, with Saul now sitting with his hands clasped behind his head, still sporting the large shades. Whether or not he is a rock star doesn't matter. And whether pop music will ever truly have meaning is unimportant. All that one is left realizing is that as long as artists as talented as James emerge from the rubble of the music industry, originality, talent and creative fun will always be apparent. And this is very important.
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