It’s been almost ten years since James has graced a stage in the US.
In that time they’ve released three of their strongest albums, La Petit Mort, Girl at the End of the World and Living in Extraordinary Times, which is quite a feat considering they are what some would call the late stage of their career. Their latest, Living in Extraordinary Times, is an expectation-defying work in and of itself, full of fire and urgency.
At this rate, their finest work seems to be in the future, not the past.
We sat down with the always interesting Tim Booth after their stop in Philadelphia, which found the singer all over the place. Literally!
During their brief set, Booth was onstage, crowd surfing, climbing the rafters, and at one point, atop the bar mid-song while bartenders were slinging drinks around him.
The night kicked off with L.A.’s Dear Boy delivering a rousing but much too short set that seemed to win over a crowd who were clearly there for the two headliners. As they worked their way through their recent Strawberry EP, lead singer Ben Grey oozed confidence and avoided intimidation opening for two legendary bands. Dear Boy’s sound has a modern pop vibe but didn’t alienate anyone in the crowd—was a perfect appetizer for what was to come.
For a moment, the second set of the evening seemed like it was about to fall apart because of some technical issues, but James turned this hazard to their advantage.
They seemed to thrive on the chaos and instead changed course, switching up the setlist and turning what could have been a disaster into a powerhouse performance. Working through some well-known hits such as “Come Home” and “Tomorrow,” they whipped the crowd into a frenzy and quickly brought things to a standstill with a quiet rendition of “All I’m Saying.” While this brought the momentum to a standstill, the band had no problem keeping everyone’s attention and shifted gears once again. They went into overdrive with two propulsive tracks, “Picture of This Place” and “Leviathan.”
This was supposed to end their set but Booth said very often the Furs are in the wings going, “Keep going!” The band returned for an encore of “Sometimes,” a recording that Brian Eno has often described as one of the musical highlights of his career. How’s that for an endorsement? With a set just over an hour, James left many fans wondering if this would be their last time to see them.
Not many bands could follow such a hurricane but the Psychedelic Furs seemed to relish the challenge. The Butler brothers were in top form, and for a moment, I felt as if I had fallen through a wormhole because a band shouldn’t sound this good at their age. This isn’t a pathetic greatest hits band—they sounded hungry vibrant and energized. Both James and the Furs played as if they were giving their all, hoping to land their first record deal.
Herein lies the rub. How are bands this good seemingly overlooked by everyone but the diehards?
Both of them could easily be washed-up has-beens. If they wanted to, James could have taken a successful formula of their hit “Laid” and squeezed blood from a stone rewriting it over and over; same with the Furs. Instead, James has continued to push boundaries and trailblaze new sounds. Nothing sounds dated; old or new, it all sounds fresh. The Furs even debuted a new song this past week and have a new album in the works as well. If you’re looking for the next big thing, don’t be surprised if it’s one of these bands.
We sat down with Booth post-show to discuss the bands US absence, their dedicated fan base and their place in history.
Collide: This is the first time you’ve been over here in a while. which is funny since you live here. (Tim is a US citizen and resides in Los Angeles). What’s the difference between Europe and here?
Booth: It’s noticeable between country to country. The U.K. is very drunk and the Scottish are really drunk and they’ve all come to go wild. When I go to the audience, I take my life in my hands.
Collide: I noticed you were a bit hesitant at the start of the show but then you just went for it and you were all over the place, in the crowd and above them even!
Booth: I was into it. They were really receptive. I like the US because they aren’t so drunk. I like when the audience is listening. The Greek audiences are the most interesting. They go pin-drop quiet on a song and then bacchanalian orgy the next. They can turn on a sixpence.
Collide: Aside from the states you tour extensively around the world and seem to have dedicated fas everywhere but I feel like if anyone was going to fight for James it would be Mexico They seem particularly rabid.
Booth: Mexico is great. It’s the only country I’ve had my clothes tore off (Laughs) which was a bit shocking.
Collide: You play a lot of festivals obviously but is it different being out there with two headliners? I see a lot of people with Furs shirts maybe chatting a bit during your set and I’m sure some James fans doing the same during theirs. Is it hard to keep their attention or win them over?
Booth: Generally it’s been wonderful. We love playing to an audience that doesn’t know us because it gives a chance to connect with new fans because otherwise, you’re just preaching to the converted. It’s been fantastic how we as bands get on, it’s just brilliant really.
Collide: Did you know each other before this?
Booth: Not really. No.
Collide: How did this tour come together then?
Booth: Richard Butler actually. He kept leaving these really nice messages. I’d turn up at a venue and get another message. Finally, I told our manager that Richard Butler is leaving these kind messages suggesting…well I don’t know what he’s suggesting but he’s really nice! (laughs”). So yeah it was Richard just leaving messages that made this happen.
Collide: One of the reasons James hasn’t toured the states in recent years is due to the economic challenge of it all. It’s a somewhat large band and the market just wouldn’t support a tour.
Booth: We can’t afford it. We often lose money touring the states.
Collide: Does that frustrate you?
By not touring you get less exposure and with less exposure that means less demand for touring. It’s a vicious circle that must be frustrating because you deserve better especially with these last few albums.
Booth: We feel very blessed to be doing what we do. We just played to one of the biggest audiences in England we’ve ever played to. The last albums three went top ten and we thought this is great but part of us is cocky and thinks we should be even bigger because we are one of the more original bands that changes the setlist every night and take risks where most other bands are sort of a theater act where it’s the same set every night.
Collide: There aren’t many bands that do that. So many are tied into the lights and video programming. Who can you see and really be surprised by every night? There’s Pearl Jam…
Collide: And you. That’s pretty much it.
Booth: It’s great. It’s so seat of pants. It makes you perform better. You know that if you’re going to play new songs they’d better be fucking good to win the audience who might just want to hear your nostalgia songs.
Collide: So much of your new material is strong. Picture of this Place is just a rhythmic powerhouse that can stand up to any of your other hits. There are a lot of beats, rhythms and hooks on the last album. It’s amazing that the same band could write Jam J and Moving Car. What band can write two such disparate songs?
Booth: That level of Schizophrenia is why we chose the name James because we always felt that a human being is multiphrenic. We all have an orchestra of characters who are vying for leadership and they all at different times of our lives drive the car. We wanted that, to swing like that like a human being. “So Laid” and “Wah Wah” was meant to be a double album and that would really fucking confuse people. They were improvisations. The mad thing was the record company fucked it up. We and Eno wanted a double album. It would have shown the extremes of what we do which is electronica and improvisational jams and very well thought out almost folk songs with an Eno contemporary twist.
Collide: I almost called it to your Zooropa but Wah Wah was even further out.
Booth: “Wah Wah” was first. In fact, Eno went and did “Zooropa” with them afterward as a result of x.
Collide: They get great credit for their transformation and experimentation but you were doing it first.
Booth: The history books aren’t always kind to us.
Collide: Do you think you benefited from some of your challenges? While it wasn’t ideal, you were able to continue taking risks and do what you want without label interference and you’re still going.
Booth: Absolutely. We wouldn’t even let them in the studio. We’re still going after 34 years and we are able to play what we want.
Collide: Not many bands this far into their career are making material as strong as you are. Extraordinary Times isn’t just a few good songs on the front end. It’s great from start to finish.
Booth: That was also meant to be a double album but we didn’t finish it in time and went over budget. (laughs)
Collide: You seem really engaged in social media and have a pretty direct line to your fans. It isn’t an intern posting marketing pitches or generic responses.
Booth: It’s always us. I enjoy it and it’s more than manageable. I quite enjoy it. Most of the people are really sweet.
Collide: You’re able to answer questions.
Booth: Absolutely. I understand the curiosity. There’s this guy who kept putting up a lyric every day.
Collide: I’ve seen that and I’ve seen you respond!
Booth: Exactly! I can kind of see a point to this now that I can contribute to that.
Collide: That’s amazing. I’ve seen you chime in and it adds context and color to the posts. I wish other artists could be as direct with their fans. Your fan base seems very polite and respectful. Some other artist’s fans can be quite trollish and harass their so-called favorite band.
Booth: We have the occasional political fans that might get a little offensive here and there which is fine. If they get bad I’ll say something.
As always, James has been about connecting since their early shows to their current tour, and even how they interact with them online.
The band continues their tour through the States with The Psychedelic Furs and is already working on their follow up.
With any luck, they’ll be back one day but in the meantime catch them while you can just in case!
James and The Psychedelic Furs on tour now.
Get Tickets here