While Nick and I have been talking, James has been recording downstairs. After downing tools, he sits down with a cup of tea (two teabags) and reflects on the last year.
So, long time since we’ve spoken. First things first, how did it feel winning the Godlike Genius Award?
The thing that made all the difference to when we’ve won awards previously was, say, in all improbability, we’d have been offered this after “Lifeblood”, it would have felt like a nail in the coffin, because we would have been like a band, not on form, and somebody was just saying “Let’s give the poor dabs an awards, they’re obviously at the end of their career...” The fact that they gave us the award after “Send Away The Tigers”, which was us back on top form, that made it the perfect experience really. The fact that they gave us the award when we’re at the top of our game – well, I think we are anyway – made it feel like it’s an impetus to push on rather than a nail in the coffin. It was the prefect scenario really. It’s been given to bands that have split up, it’s been given to other bands who maybe don’t know where they’re going at that point, and I think it’s been given to us at exactly the right time. There is definitely some extraordinary serendipity there. Undoubtedly, even though it came to us at the right time, it does feel very emotional when you get it, but the day after we did all start feeling a bit weird about it. You do think, “Fucking hell, we have to carry on straight away and forget about it.” It is a strange award to get, for that reason.
Were you really conscious of wanting to start work as soon as possible?I wanted to start the day after. Seriously, I wanted to start straight away, even though I had a really fucking bad hangover. It is a massive cliché but if you take too much pleasure in any award you get, you do feel as if it hinders you somehow.
Ideally, if you’re hitting the ground running, how do you see this year as panning out?
I think as a band we sometimes manage to shoot ourselves in the foot when we talk about what we want to do. When we end up talking about it, the reality of what gets released is usually quite the opposite. Except “Send Away The Tigers”, actually. We did exactly what we set out to do with that. The three times that our ideas have come to fruition were “The Holy Bible”, “Everything Must Go” and “Send Away The Tigers”. Sometimes I do look upon the other records as being by a band who have slightly ignored their own brief. I’m loathe to talk about things in terms of what we’re going to do but I actually know that what we’ve set out to do, I think we’re going to achieve it. We’ve started writing a lot of stuff already. I think the one important lesson about “Send Away The Tigers” was really remind yourself, everyday, of what the original essence was, which we are doing now. When we were recording it, we were always shouting these credos at each other, and we’ve started doing that already. The one lesson I’ve learnt is that if you’re going to talk up an idea, which in this case I can’t at the moment, then you really have got to stick to it, otherwise you’ll just fuck it up. I think a good way to put it is that before “Send Away The Tigers”, everything was about personal ambition. Once you get past a certain age, everything becomes about some kind of survival. When there are so many young bands around - bands are getting younger too - it does feel like survival of the fittest. I don’t know if the competition is so competitive creatively, but in terms of what people expect from bands, to be so young, to have that New Wave of the New Wave of the New Wave edge to them, it does feel like survival of the fittest.
Also with less column inches out there, you have to keep relevant because there’s always some new kid that people are harping on about...
What I mean about survival of the fittest is, it come down to the music more than it ever did. And that’s such an earnest thing to say. When we were young, with “The Holy Bible” and with “Generation Terrorists”, we could sue certain ‘get out of jail’ cards. Richey or Nick would say or do something, which would make you seem relevant, and it would be truthful as well, because we viewed the band as a kind of cultural, organic whole. But now you can’t rely on those soundbites or the way you look to convince people. It’s got to be so much about the music, which is strange for a band that started out like us. We always thought being in a band was about so much more than the music. It’s a funny realisation as you get older and you realise that the thing that’s going to convince people is the music. Conversely, people still challenge you in interviews, asking “Why is the band still going?” Before the award, it did feel like people challenged the worthiness of the band or they challenge whether you’re relevant or whether you’re fit to be in this modern environment. And I think the one advantage you have, when faced with that question, is that there really is no other reason why we’d be doing it, other than being fiercely committed to it. It’s what people don’t really think about, that it would be pretty easy for us to pack this in, if you thought about how old we are and how long we’ve been doing it. In reality, it’s fucking impossible for us to pack it in because, I think anyway, we are still a band driven on by ‘conviction politics’. I never feel like I can D-Mob myself out of the forces!
Back to the Godlike Genius Award – I just talked to Nicky about this - in a parallel universe, if Richey had been there, how do you think he’d have reacted?
I think because Nick was so much closer to Richey, I think he finds it easier to imagine. Personally, I find it really confusing because he was an impenetrable ball of charm and viciousness sometimes. Nick always has this theory that they were opposite in the sense that Nick didn’t care about being accepted or liked by anybody but Richey secretly did. I find it hard to know which version of him would have shown up for something like the NME Awards. This level of acceptance...I have a sneaking suspicion that as soon as he’d have achieved something like this level of acceptance, he’s have rejected it straight away, as soon as he’d have got what he wanted. So what have you been listening to recently?One record that’s really affected me, and I don’t understand why, is the Future Of The Left record. I barely understand anything they are trying to achieve or what they are talking about, but it’s an entrancing record. And it’s so fucking powerful, so militant. I’ve also been listening to a lot of old Girls Against Boys records too. I’ve been going a bit heavy I suppose. Drive By Truckers album, I love that. I’m really getting into the Hot Chip album, which I didn’t expect. It has that genius geekness that Thomas Dolby used to have. And, total contrast, the Bullet For My Valentine record, total and utter fucking metal, really good. Sean has been really going on to me about Blood Red Shoes and likewise Nick is obsessed with the The Afternoons record
Something I’ve talked to Nicky about, a bit of a recurring subject for us, is the fact that we seem to be in some kind of Welsh renaissance period at the moment.
Eddie Butler, the Welsh rugby journalist, said that we are a “bonkers nation”, but that it’s a good thing, it’s what fuels us in our good times and our bad times. It’s definitely a positive time to be Welsh. People say that the Scottish are superior, that the Irish are romantic and optimistic and that the Welsh are confused. In a strange way, it does feel like our identity is always evolving. I like the fact that we’re not easily sellable, as a country we aren’t a shit ‘theme pub’ abroad, I really cherish that fact. I used to hate it that we didn’t have a saleable identity, that it was hard to explain to people, but now I love it.. I also like the idea of part of the award being for flying the flag for Wales and maybe for doing that when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. Resetting a tradition almost. I like to think that part of the award nods to that. It’s very easy to forget how stunted your ambition was coming from Wales back in the day, there was no expectation on us, which in a way ended up making it more difficult. We had that hurdle to overcome. Now it seems different – the Furries, the Phonics, Lost Prophets, Duffy, it’s almost not an issue anymore, whereas it very much was back when we started.
Anything else you’ve been doing?
I love the ‘Summits’ programme on BBC4, which was about famous summits between world leaders. You had Reagan meeting Gorbachev, there was Nixon going to China, JFK and Khrushchev, it was fucking amazing. I’m still watching ‘Inside The Actors Studio’ all the time. Film wise, I’ve been to see pretty much everything that’s out recently, “There Will Be Blood”, “No Country For Old Men”...I have to say, I think I saw the most depressing film of my whole life the other day, a film called “Garage”. I don’t want to sound too pretentious but it really affected me for four or five days afterwards. It’s a really small Irish independent film, it’s utterly bereft of any hope at all. It really fucked me up for four or five days. Not exactly ‘Happy Feet 2’, that one. Books wise, I’ve been reading one called ‘Dr Glas’, which is a Swedish book from the start of the last century. I’ve been dipping in and out of the ‘Encyclopaedia Of Wales’ that’s just come out and also I’ve been loving a Welsh cookbook I got given recently, called ‘First Catch Your Peacock’. There’s a whole section in it called “Poverty” – I’m going to cook so much from there...lots of gruel. One last thing, I’ve been invited by John Cale to play at a Nico tribute that he’s doing at the Royal Festival Hall. I think in October she would have been 70 years old this year. John Cale is directing it, he’s trying to get loads of people involved. I’m choosing a song off “The Marble Index” which is just a fucking brilliant album. So I’ve got that to look forward to.