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Music Feature: Jim Bob

Music Feature: Jim Bob

Thanks For Reaching Out, the new solo album by Jim Bob, one half of ‘90s ‘punk Pet Shop Boys’ and indie-rockers, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, is a great collection of anthemic and satirical songs, from angry guitar pop tunes to big ballads, that are influenced by The Teardrop Explodes, Buzzcocks, Dexys Midnight Runners and Slade, and take a swipe at a wide range of subjects, like Vladimir Putin (‘The Day of Reckoning’), the Taliban (‘This Is End Times’), billionaires with their sights set on space travel (‘Billionaire In Space’) and US gun crime (‘goesaroundcomesaround’).

“Most of the songs were very topical when I wrote them – it was almost as if I was reporting on what happened in the news that week. It’s my Have I Got News For You album,” he says, laughing.

Jim Bob is talking to hi-fi+ over Zoom, shortly after the coronation of King Charles III. Funnily enough, there’s a song on the album, which is the third in a trilogy, called ‘Prince of Wales’, but it’s named after a pub where Jim Bob and a protagonist are drinking large amounts of tequila. So, how does he feel about the monarchy and the coronation?

“Before the Queen died, I didn’t have any massive opinions on it. For a long time, I’ve found the whole thing ridiculous, but towards the end of the Queen’s life, I started to find it more and more ridiculous,” he says.

“As the nation prepared for her dying, we started to become very pro-monarchy – there seemed to be a massive PR campaign, especially on the BBC. It was relentless. I felt that should’ve been the end of it, or there should’ve been some sort of radical change – now, it just seems mental. If I think about it, I almost can’t cope with the daftness of someone bowing to anybody. It’s like someone winning I’m A Celebrity… having a £150 million coronation for it, shutting down the city and arresting anybody who doesn’t like it. What’s the difference?”

Jim Bob

We’re better off all going down the pub and drinking tequila, aren’t we?

“Absolutely.”

SH: This is your twelfth solo studio album…

JB: I’ll have to take your word for it.

There’s a great bit in the press release for the record which says that after you sent your manager the demos, you got a WhatsApp message back that said: ‘I bet this is how Tony Defries felt when Bowie sent him Ziggy Stardust.’ Ten minutes later, he sent you another message: ‘Make sure you don’t mess it up in the studio.’

That sums up my manager in two simple sentences – he’s very enthusiastic about stuff, but also incredibly cynical.

But you didn’t mess it up – it’s a great album and I love the sound of it. You worked with producer Jon Clayton at One-Cat studios in Crystal Palace, South London…

I’ve done the last four albums there.

When did you record the album?

I can’t remember when it was.

Was it pre-or post-COVID-19?

It was post-COVID-19. I did two albums before it – the first one was just pre-COVID-19, but still done in a weird way, because the bass player was going halfway around the world for six months – we essentially recorded the bass first. Everyone wasn’t together.

I do fairly elaborate demos, so we’ve all got something to play to. The second of the three albums – they’ve all been done with the same musicians – was done in the middle of one of the serious, heavy lockdowns, with one person coming in at a time. So, this album was the first one where we were all together – we did a small amount of working out the songs beforehand, so when we came into play, they weren’t all brand new to everyone. Simple things, like doing backing vocals with everyone together, makes it so much better.

You’ve said that the new album is the third in a trilogy. Did you set out to make a series of three?

Definitely not. With the first one in this supposed trilogy, I was just making an album – it never occurred to me that there would be anything beyond that, but it did really well, and I enjoyed the whole process and playing with the band, so I wanted to do another one, hence the second one came quite quickly afterwards.

It was Chris T-T [Thorpe-Tracey], who has played piano on my records for years, that put the idea of a trilogy in my head.

So, I’ve kind of gone with it, to the extent that I’ve almost started to believe – like a joke to myself – that the first album is Ziggy Stardust, the second one is Aladdin Sane and this one is Diamond Dogs. Therefore, I am Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the guy from Diamond Dogs – Halloween Jack.

You could’ve done the interview with some big hounds sat beside you…

They’re just out of shot.

There are a lot of great arrangements on the new album – you worked with Terry Edwards (saxophone and trumpet) and Kate Arnold (violin) again…

Yeah – they’re friends of Jon Clayton’s. He suggested Terry – I think he’d worked with absolutely everyone except for me. He was amazing – he worked it all out and it didn’t take him that long.

It was the same with Kate – her style of music is miles away from what I do. She did some Indian scales – I would never have come up with that. Or I might’ve done, but I wouldn’t know what it was called.

That’s the difference between me and everybody else in the band – most of them are slightly more musically trained than me. Sometimes they’ll say things and I feel like the most stupid person in the room, even though I’ve been doing it the longest. I just do stuff and don’t really know what it is.

How do you write songs?

It’s pretty much always on guitar, but I’ve written a few things that have come from a keyboard, when I’m mucking around on an iPad. I find writing music pretty easy, but it might be because I’m limited to a certain amount of chord progressions. I can write two songs that to me sound completely different, but somebody will point out to me that they sound exactly the same.

What did you want this record to sound like?

I wanted this record to sound different to the two before – I wanted it to sound like the band.

When we did the first album, we’d only done one gig, but by this one we’d established a live sound – drums, bass, two guitars, piano, an organ and synths.

We didn’t go in and jam anything – I’m not into that at all. I wanted it to sound like my record – the band we were at that time – and then added strings and brass to send it in a direction that pleases me. It might not end up sounding like it, but you get things like The Teardrop Explodes and Dexys.

One song, ‘Bernadette’, was starting to sound so much like Slade’s ‘Coz I Luv You’ that Jon and I kept on making it sound more and more like it, with violin on it. If you listen to it, I don’t think it sounds like Slade, but without Slade it couldn’t sound like that.

Let’s talk about the first single, which is also the title track and the opening song. It bookends the album, as it appears again as a reprise. It’s a great brassy, anthemic pop song. On a record that’s often quite angry and political, it’s a positive and hopeful song. What inspired it?

It’s unusual, in that, unlike most songs, I had a title – I usually don’t. I wanted to write a song called ‘Thanks For Reaching Out.’ I think it was probably the first song I wrote for the album, and it took shape fairly naturally. I didn’t know what it was about as I was writing it, but it’s kind of a thank you song to someone you love.

I’ve been in the same relationship for most of my life, so it’s difficult to write songs about it that aren’t just ‘we’re still together, it’s great, isn’t it?’

So, from a love song to one that’s about Putin getting his comeuppance and meeting his maker – ‘The Day of Reckoning…’

[laughs] I wrote it at the beginning of the Ukraine war. I was aware of Putin coming across as being very religious, but I thought if people are religious and they’re that awful… I don’t believe in the afterlife, but he does and if it turns out to be true, he’s really f***ed himself over, hasn’t he?

One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘We Need To Try Harder (We Need To Do Better).’ It’s a great track – a big, atmospheric, sombre post-pandemic ballad that’s written in waltz time…

Since the days of Carter, I’ve always done waltz songs – it’s a good time signature for talking songs. I love Tom Waits and he always has songs like that.

Storytelling songwriters, like Brecht and Brel, often use waltzes. You can write a lot of lyrics to a waltz – because you’re not singing them, they can rhyme but they don’t need to strictly scan.

Also, I don’t usually write songs that have a lecturing message. I don’t like those songs that suggest that I’m telling people what to do, so it’s more, ‘it’s pretty bad, isn’t it? We could do better than this.’

That song is a great example of everyone being together to do the backing vocals – all the band creating harmonies. Jen Macro sings on that song and one other one on the album – she has an amazing voice.

For someone who writes political and topical songs, the past few years have been a gift, haven’t they? You couldn’t make it up…

I don’t listen to all music, so I could be totally wrong, but I’m surprised that more people don’t write about it, in pop music especially. It’s all insular, me-me-me stuff – ‘this is my most personal album yet and it’s about my wife and our breakup…’

It’s fair enough, but I don’t know… The other day I stupidly said on Twitter that in these troubled times it seems quite selfish to make a personal album.

A couple of people had a go at me about it, but it seems weird that there’s all this interesting stuff that could be written about, but instead it’s a lot of songs about relationships, or vague songs that could be about absolutely anything, but, at the same time, nothing. I think it’s fear and, more so now than ever, if you want to make any money or want your music to be used in adverts, you can’t go and write a song about Putin.

When you were in Carter USM, you wrote a song called ‘Growing Old Disgracefully.’ Do you find that you’re angrier as you get older? The new album is quite angry at times…

I tend to channel my anger into the songs, but I don’t think I get as angry as I used to. Things irritate me, but I don’t get so frustrated – I don’t punch walls anymore and I used to do that a lot. Maybe I’ve just got weaker and more worried about injuring myself.

Music Feature: Jim Bob, Music Feature: Jim Bob

Thanks For Reaching Out is out now on Cherry Red Records. It’s available on vinyl, CD, cassette and digital platforms.

The vinyl is purple in a gatefold sleeve, and the CD version comes with a second disc, This is My Mixtape, a collection of cover versions.

www.jim-bob.co.uk

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