No matter what side of the fence you may reside, there’s no denying the current climate is one for the ages. Perhaps more curious though is the unlikely rise of James as a musical voice of reason. Best known in the (often musically behind) States for the ’90s smash “Laid” from the LP of the same name, the British outfit has had a slew of hits across the Atlantic like “Sit Down,” “She’s a Star” and “Come Home,” the latter receiving a 30-years-later sequel in the band’s latest effort, Living in Extraordinary Times.
Frontman Tim Booth has a vested interest in both his homeland of England and here as he’s long been relocated to Los Angeles. Speaking to Vanyaland ahead of a co-headlining show with The Psychedelic Furs at Boston’s House of Blues this Tuesday night (July 9), Booth explained his reluctance at getting political, the Morrissey he used to know, and what we should all take notice of on Netflix before bingeing on the latest season of Stranger Things.
Michael Christopher: You named the latest album Living in Extraordinary Times, which has a bit of duality to it. For example, the title track has the line “Most of me loves you / Some of me hates you.” Was your aim to present something that can be taken as either bleak or bright?
Tim Booth: Well, we’re living in extraordinary times and with Trump taking power and Brexit happening in England the more I see the need for this and the consciousness to change. We see that with the women’s marches and the climate extinction crisis, with the kids from Florida; it’s the kick back – especially from youth and especially from women – against this old narrative that you’re seeing across the board.
I think the last thing anyone would consider James is a “political band,” but when it does pop up, like on the recent songs “Heads” and “Hank” it’s in a powerfully direct manner. Was there a hesitancy at all to venture into those waters?
Yes, there was. It’s not a genre I’d like [to write about] and it has to be done really well. “Hank” is pretty much about Trump, and I have no choice — it’s so terrifying. That’s the most directly political song. “Many Faces” is probably the most hopeful and that’s because it’s about unity. “There’s only one human race/ Many faces / Everybody belongs here.” It was inspired by political events, like Trump’s comments about Mexicans coming over the wall, but it’s a unity song.
When you look back at Britpop, arguably the last great musical revolution, it came in the wake of great political tumult in the UK. Between everything that’s happening both here and there, do you think one of the positive byproducts of discontent in the youth will be another period of great musical creativity?
Yeah, I think it has [already]. I see it in the community I live in. This idea of who we are and what we stand for is shaking everybody’s foundations, and not just politically but in the microcosms and in the individuals. Look at history whenever there’s a financial crash, there’s usually this spike in nationalism for the next 10 to 15 years afterwards and hopefully there’s a response to that. We need a massive change, you know?
It’s 30 years after “Come Home,” and you’ve made a sequel in “Coming Home Pt. 2.” Can you tell me a little bit about the decision to do that and how it came about?
We had this song that we were struggling with and we had it for a couple of years and I’d written some lyrics and I felt at the time I couldn’t come home. I love being in a band, but the hard part is the traveling and being away from your family, and since James came back I made a rule where I don’t go away for more than a few weeks. But even that has caused a lot of pain. And I was surprised at how emotional I felt when I couldn’t see my son and often would break down crying in the studio trying to record it.
James was one of the Manchester bands that inspired Morrissey to pen “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful.” So, you guys obviously go back quite a ways, but in recent years he’s alienated many fans with his political stances, cancelling shows and general malfeasance.
I’ve said a few things about Morrissey and his positions and I’ve regretted it a bit because the Morrissey I knew in the ’80s was a very gentle human being, and I prefer to just remember him in that way. I really haven’t listened to much of his music in the last 10 years and I haven’t seen him. I saw him once in that time and he came up and said, “Oh… you’re still around,” and walked off. I think he was a bit put off that I was no longer a vegetarian. That’s not the Morrissey that I knew, and I can really only talk about the Morrissey I knew. Fame can become toxic for most people and people get pretty bent out of shape by it… and come people go down that route.
Just a few miles from where I’m sitting right now is the hometown of Anthony Carrigan, who just wrapped up playing Victor Zsasz for five seasons on the television show Gotham, a role you took on in the movie Batman Begins. How did you come about landing that part?
At the time I was auditioning, and I had an agent in London and he was getting me in doors. I had just played Judas in a production of The Passion of the Christ and I auditioned in front of (director) Christopher Nolan, who didn’t know who I was, and I got the part.
And it turned out Christian Bale is a big fan of James right?
[Laughs] I didn’t know that. I was sitting in makeup for a couple hours a day getting scarred up and on the fourth day, and I’m looking in the mirror and in full regalia, Christian stands behind me and goes “Are you Tim Booth?” and I go, “Yeah…” “From the band James?” – in full Batman voice – and I say, “Yeah…” and he goes, “Laid saved my life…it’s one of my favorite albums.” Then he walked off. And I’m sitting in the chair going, “Batman likes our music!”
Whenever he was in the Batman costume he would talk like that, and when he was in the Bruce Wayne outfit I’d talk to him, thinking I was talking to Christian Bale, and then in retrospect I realize I was talking to Bruce Wayne [laughs]! I was thinking, “God, what a strange accent he has…that’s not what I expected at all.” And I realized he stayed in character on set the whole time.
What’s something that’s struck your fancy as of late? It could be a film, a book, a record…
The Netflix series Dark. It has to be seen with subtitles, it’s in German, and it’s the sister piece to the series Stranger Things. To me, it’s much more thrilling than Stranger Things – it’s remarkable. It’s about time and dark matter and interdimensionality and that we are not alone.
The acting is fantastic, the plot is the most labyrinth kind of time-based plot that’s ever been made. You’re juggling so many character and you can’t watch season two without having just watched season one because you can’t keep a track on…it’s got more characters across different time zones – it’s a masterpiece. It’s very cool.
JAMES + THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS + DEAR ME :: Tuesday, July 9 at The House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St. in Boston, MA :: 6:30 p.m., 18-plus, $38 in advance and day of show :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page