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James frontman Tim Booth talks snakes, near death experiences and trance states

'She's A Star' singer says James' upcoming new album is infused with sadness
  • @matildbattersby

James founder Jim Glennie met frontman Tim Booth in a club in 1982. Tim and Jim soon settled on naming their band the most Google-unfriendly boy’s name in history (probably). But it was the Eighties so that didn’t stop them from becoming one of the most successful bands of their generation, going on to sell 12 million albums worldwide with hits including “Come Home”, “Sit Down and “She’s A Star”. The rockers experienced the ups and downs of a changing line-up, the influence of addictions, a gruelling schedule and all the predictable pitfalls of continuous touring.

The departure of Yorkshire-born Booth from the band in 2001 (while he embarked on a solo career) gave way to a six-year hiatus followed by an inevitable James reunion in 2007.They played a few gigs, were pictured arm in arm, got booked for festivals again and released new album Hey Ma, followed by two mini albums The Night Before and The Morning After The Night Before. But then things went a bit quiet. You might expect that after 30 years James might be getting tired of the music business. But in an interview with The Independent online Booth, 52, confirmed he and the rest of James have been holed up in Scotland writing and recording ahead of UK tour next spring - and that the creative juices are flowing like never before.

“We just came back from Gairloch in Scotland. We locked ourselves into a small hotel and made a studio and recorded new songs and demo-d new songs and worked on lyrics in the middle of nowhere,” Booth says. “Scotland’s amazing, it’s another planet. The colours feed you. I think that’s what’s important about landscape. Some part of our soul responds to them. It’s almost like you meet part of yourself reflected back at you and if you don't see it and don't be in that landscape, then that part of you can't be energised."

Now living just outside of LA, Booth is a keen advocate of nature. But with a bobcat living under his house, which is in the middle of “the most amazing national park” where red-tailed hawks fly, mountain lions roam and rattle snakes reside, he’s fully award of the dangers.

“The rattlesnakes are a little problematic,” he says wryly. “But, they warn you, which is always a good thing. I was at a kids’ party about two months ago by a swimming pool. I lifted up my towel and there was a rattlesnake and it was quite like 'Oh! Hello, how did you get under my towel?!'”

This wasn’t Booth’s first brush with death, or snakes even. “I’m quite drawn to snakes. I like them, and they like me. But I was nearly killed by one in Morocco,” he says, explaining how a snake-charmer put a cobra around his neck to try and intimidate money out of him- but then dropped it leaving him in the grip of a deadly animal.

“When the snake dropped the cafe I was in cleared around me and I was left there with this cobra round my neck. And I remember thinking ‘it smells like chicken’ and kept very still. The snake charmer ran back in and put a hood on it and took it away, and ran. And then about three minutes afterwards, I jumped out of my seat. I think if I had jumped out of my seat during then I may not be here.”

Booth may have met Glennie in the friendly setting of a nightclub, but the two other near death experiences he describes took place in rather less forgiving surroundings. “I dance strangely,” he admits. “It was in the days before house music so nobody danced like I danced. So the twice that I was threatened in clubs it was because they didn’t like the way I danced.”

“The first guy was trying to trip me up and I would elegantly stamp on his feet when I was dancing and he didn't like it. And the second ones just saw me dancing and didn't like it so ran beer glasses under my feet to provoke me. I didn't respond. But then some other people they targeted after me responded and they got stabbed right in front of me. I saw it.”

Booth is still a keen dancer and has recently been teaching a system called the Five Rhythms about taking people into “altered states through dancing”. He says: “I've always been fascinated with trance and altered states through dancing. Like literally trance states through dancing for days. I dance for days and days.”

He says he can achieve euphoria through making music. “I really don’t drink,” he says. “I was born with an inherited liver disorder so I have to be very careful about any kind of intoxicant. So I have to find my highs in other ways.”

It is difficult making music with a band while he resides across the pond and they are based over here. He says they are “itching” to finish their new album, but he’s going back to LA for three months before heading back for the tour in April, which means it must be postponed for while.

The new album will be reflective of the grief Booth has experienced this year. “There’s been a lot of death in my life this year and it’s been very heartfelt and very touching and powerful and uplifting and sad and all of those things. This seems to be coming out in the songs, not that they're... they're actually very uplifting songs, but the vocals have sadness to them, en masse, that I'm quite surprised at. It seems to have seeped into my writing.”

James - The Gathering Sound box set is out on 10 December 2012