James man Tim Booth on pandemic-centric new album All The Colours of You, Dublin date at 3Arena and touring Ireland with The Smiths

David Roy quizzes Tim Booth from James about making the veteran indie heroes' new pandemic-informed album All of The Colours of You with Irish producer Jacknife Lee and returning to the stage in Ireland and elsewhere...

Manchester indie heroes James are about to release their 16th album, All The Colours of You
Manchester indie heroes James are about to release their 16th album, All The Colours of You

HI TIM, how does it feel to be releasing All The Colours of You next week?

WE'RE very excited because we're really confident in it. It's a really great feeling when you've got something like this in your back pocket that people don't know about yet.

The album was recorded last year with your Los Angeles neighbour, Irish producer Garret 'Jacknife' Lee (U2, REM, Taylor Swift), but because of Covid travel restrictions you were the only band member actually in the studio. Was it a difficult process?

Not really! We had already been planning to take 2020 as a 'year off' [from playing live], so we'd already done demos for the new songs so that we could work on them while we were away.

We were going to record with Charlie Andrew [co-producer of 2018's Living In Extraordinary Times], but then he couldn't do it. We had a shortlist of other producers and Jacknife Lee lived two miles away from me in Topanga Canyon. I went to meet him and he loved the demos.

He said he would do a 'trial run' on [recent single] All The Colours of You - and it came out pretty much as the version we released. It was like "well, that was pretty f***ing good." We all thought it was wonderful, so we decided to 'push the button'. To be honest, I think we could only actually afford him as he wanted to work at home because of Covid.

I was kind of daisy-chaining between Jacknife and the rest of James: like we would ring up Andy [Diagram, trumpet] and say "we need some trumpet on this chorus" and he would go away, come up with a line and send it to us to use. It was really effortless and beautiful - we couldn't have had a better experience.

Your lyrics for All The Colours of You and other songs were influenced in some way by the pandemic and civil unrest in the US in the era of Black Lives Matter and Trump. Were you at all wary of writing songs that were too specifically 'of a moment' in time?

When you live in extraordinary times, it's easy to write lyrics, because the temperature's hot. Trump made America boiling and the civil rights revolution that's been going on is every bit as boiling as well. And then my father-in-law died from Covid [as documented on recent single Recover], which was really shocking - not being able to be there with him in the UK at the end was the hardest part.

I wasn't worried about writing about what was going on, but once or twice Jacknife would query things - like, "do you really want to do a lyric with 'quarantine with you' in it? [All The Colours of You]. Hopefully by the time this comes out, we won't still be in quarantine."

I'd go, "that's the lyric, this is all going on now and maybe it will become an historical document". And now, in some countries quarantine is still going on and things are going to be terrible for another year, so I don't feel like this record is out of date at all.

The album opener, ZERO, is a really uplifting song tailor-made for an audience sing/whoop-along - even if the first line is "We're all going to die". Are you looking forward to playing that one live?

I think that's my probably my favourite song. And I love that being the first line of the album. I think it's so funny, because it's such a dark thing to say but it actually makes people laugh when they hear it.

I can't wait to play it live, we're definitely going to get the audience breathing on that one.

The band finally got together in person earlier this month to start rehearsals for the upcoming tour. What was it like to play the finished songs together live for the first time?

It was amazing, especially because we were in this incredible manor house called Broughton Hall. We were all together in a big Covid bubble and playing the new songs in these absolutely gorgeous rooms.

And we've actually just added an extra member, so we're now a nine-piece band. We had an extra drummer and backing vocalist, Debbie, for our last album, and then her girlfriend Chloe took over when when she eventually she had to go off and do another project.

This time around, we've got both of them as a 'package deal'. It's really wonderful as they are brilliant musicians who really bring something different to James.

You're playing Dublin's 3Arena in December with The Happy Mondays, but before that you have festival dates in England lined up for this summer. Having not played live since September 2019, how excited are you to get back on stage?

It's basically thrilling - but because it has been such a long time, I'm a little worried about my voice as it hasn't had any stamina for a year and half. I'm also a bit worried about my fitness as I haven't been dancing as much as I normally would.

But as I say, we've been playing the songs and they sound magnificent: it might take us a little while to get back into the swing of things but I think we'll basically be alright.

Ireland has always been amazing for us, you've always really welcomed us and we can't wait to come and play these songs for you.

Do you have good memories of your first Irish tour supporting The Smiths in 1984?

I remember we travelled in a little camper van that broke down outside Derry. We left it at the side of the road and never saw it again. It was heavy going through Derry in those days, I seem to remember that The Smiths had to get permission from the IRA to do that tour.

How disappointed are you in what's become of Morrissey?

What I like to do is to remember the Morrissey I knew, who was this sweet, charming, shy and fun human being who was very kind to us. I've said a few things in the past about him and then regretted it - so now I don't say anything about him, really.

As a frontman, you love to get off the stage and come down into the audience for parts of the live show. Obviously because of Covid that will have to change at least in the short term?

In 'normal' times, Tim Booth likes to get up close and personal with the James crowd
In 'normal' times, Tim Booth likes to get up close and personal with the James crowd

I think it will be off the cards for the festivals, but I hope by the time of our big December tour that there will be more intimate connections going on every level - I hope there will be more intimacy going on in all our lives by December, but we'll see.

We're not really in control of things right now, are we? We think we are - but now it's really clear that we're not.

All The Colours of You is released on June 4. James and Happy Mondays play Dublin's 3Arena on December 1. Tickets on sale now via Ticketmaster.ie.