James Stevenson

“Better Late than Ever”. This saying totally fits this solo album which took almost 20 years to be delivered. Due to this release Grande Rock had the pleasure to have a chat with the renowned guitarist & songwriter James Stevenson about his first ever solo work and music in general…
James Stevenson pic

Hey James… I’m glad we’re given the chance to talk about your first solo album…
J: Yeah – wish I’d made it twenty years ago.
Well, it was about time you released your first solo work after 35 years in the music scene right?
J: Right. I’ve played on so many records and I’ve always wanted to do my own album. I was nervous about my voice – which is probably why it took me so long to pluck up the courage to do it – but now it’s done it’s like an exorcism – something I’ve always needed to get out of my system.
How did you come with the idea to do so at this point? Was it something that you had in mind but never came about until now?
J: Yeah, like I said, I always wanted to do it. And I had this huge body of songs. A couple on my record were meant for other bands I play in – two were written for Gene Loves Jezebel for example – but they never go finished. I thought that if I didn’t make my own album no-one’s ever gonna hear those songs.
Had you been writing songs all those years? Does the album feature only new tracks or/and a few old ones? Who else has contributed to the songwriting?
J: Some of the tracks go back nearly twenty years! “Come on People” and “Twilight Riders” were meant for the Gene Loves Jezebel album “Heavenly Bodies” – but they never got finished so they didn’t make the record – so I finished them myself. Once I decided I was going to make my album and focused the impetus grew quickly – and I finished writing a ton of songs that weren’t complete.
Tell us a bit about your fellow musicians who have also participated on the album.
J: Well I’ve been playing music for a long time so a lot of my best mates are musicians. But I didn’t want to get people on it for the sake of it – so I thought about who would be good for different songs. Chris Bell and Pete Rizzo from GLJ are the backbone of the rhythm section. But Barriemore Barlow from Jethro Tull – who’s studio I recorded it in played on two tracks just because he fancied it – he was brilliant. Then I got Glen Matlock on “Suzi’s Problem” and a couple of other tracks that I felt would suit his style. Steve Norman from Spandau played sax and percussion. Steve’s an awesome musician – he always brings a lot to the party – and it just kind of went like that. And of course Mark Taylor from The Alarm played some fantastic keyboards. I don’t think it would have happened without Mark – he really kicked me up the ass to do it and we did all the demos for the album together.
Where did you want to move musically with this album? I mean it ain’t something that those who are aware of your music career will expect from you.
J: I know – that’s true. It’s funny but Peter Walsh who produced it came round to my house to listen to the demos and he said afterwards, wow – I thought you’d be making a punk album or a rock album – not a late night shagging album! LOL. But the thing is even though I grew up in punk I always loved Motown and stuff too. Johnny Guitar Watson is one of my favourite guitar players – so all that rubbed off on me. I love the juxtaposition between mellow late night music and big rock guitar – Ernie Isley always did that well.
Why do you believe that “Everything’s Getting Closer to Being Over”? What is that you declare with the album title?
J: Well it’s an observation really. Just all the pain, joy, all the stuff that’s so important in your life – is getting closer to being over. It’s about the insignificance of our lives in a way. I know that sounds negative but it’s not – I think I’m saying – don’t waste your life – everything’s getting closer to being over.
At what point did you decide to take over the lead vocals except for the guitars? I guess you’re the only one who can actually feel the very essence of each track better right?
J: I always knew I would have to sing my own album. I never liked those albums where a guitarist got guest vocalists in – like, say, “Flash” by Jeff Beck. So I just went for it. All the reviews have been great – so I guess I did OK. (i.n.: You did great dude indeed!)
Do tell us a few things about each track…
J: “Suzi’s Problem”: I was in LA once listening to Kroq – a big station there, and they were having this problem phone in show. There was a priest and a shrink on the panel. This girl rang in with her problems and I couldn’t believe she was baring her soul so publicly, that she found it preferable to go on the air and talk about her intimate problems rather than discuss them privately with her friends. The sad truth was all she was really doing was providing entertainment for the listeners. Horrible.
“Go Mister!”: Kind of tongue in cheek, an indictment of modern inner city life. It’s about the number of traffic cameras in London, and the rest of the UK for that matter– where it’s all about making cash for the government with the pretence it’s about traffic control. Would have played havoc, at the birth of the blues, with the 30s “crossroads” at the Mississippi Delta - you’d have had to go one way only or get a fine!
“Twilight Riders”: About some people I know, and one specifically, who are so deluded they’re in the twilight zone! It’s do with Gene Loves Jezebel. To be specific we were served a cease and desist writ by Michael Aston’s (Jay’s twin brother) guitarist on stage at a gig we were doing in LA. He handed it to Pete Rizzo as we walked on stage. His “name” is Switch, I think his real name is Chris something or other. He plays my riffs every time he walks on stage with Michael – and then serves us a writ to cease and desist! Put up to it by Michael obviously. Unreal how the real world can be.
“Come on People”: A song about people I know who are very talented but just can’t seem to get their lives together – I’m trying to gee them up. They’re dreamers – but there’s some of that in all of us.
“Give It Up”: Shallowly disguised dig at Simon Cowell. Can you believe that twat has compared himself to Malcolm McLaren? McLaren helped reinvent the music industry. Cowell helped destroy it.
“Why Am I Still Waiting For You?”: A very personal song about the break-up of my first marriage. We both found it very hard to let go. But sometimes in the end there’s so much damage you just have to. They were very challenging times for us both, and our son too I’m sure. It’s actually a very private and personal lyric but I wrote the song so I can’t not share what it’s about right? When I sing “so please don’t tell me to find somebody, and anybody will do, cos I really need somebody”. That’s about the collapse of our sexual relationship and my ex-wife saying “well if you’re that desperate go and find somebody else to fuck”. I’ve spoken to a lot of friends about the collapse of relationships that they’ve experienced and the sexual side of a relationship becoming dysfunctional is a common thread. Happy days.
“Been a Long Time Now”: A song about reminiscing about an old relationship, how powerful it all was, how you shared each other’s dreams. Then it’s over and you move on and it becomes just a memory, a figment of the past. I actually wrote it a long time ago about an old girlfriend, the actress Cindy Day.
“Naturally Wired”: This is a song about how our lives, no matter what we do, are really insignificant. All the pain, dreams, ambition, will mean nothing to anyone in three or four generations time – just as all the emotions people lived through in their lives in the past were immensely important to them – but are all forgotten now. It’s not negative – just an observation.
“Everything’s Getting Closer to Being Over”: Another song about dysfunction – being in a relationship where the problems are so huge you can’t even talk about it – you’re so far apart not only have you got the answers to the questions wrong – the questions themselves are wrong!
“I’ll Know Where I’m Going When I Get There”: This is a song about all my favourite guitar players – and how insignificant I feel next to them all. Work out who they are for yourselves! (lol).
The album’s production was done by Peter Walsh (Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel, Scott Walker). Did you get involved or gave guidelines at some point? Are you satisfied with the final outcome?
J: Pete is a really good mate and an absolute recording genius. No matter what you think about my album one thing you can’t take away from it is that the sound of it is awesome – that’s all down to Pete. But we worked together – it was my album after all – but I couldn’t have done it without Pete.
Recently we (Grande Rock) premiered your first video for “Go Mister!”. Are there going to be any other videos in the near future?
J: Thanks for that. Yep – I’m gonna do one for “Suzi’s Problem” too. My Australian label – Possum, want to release “Suzi” as a second single down there.
Do you feel that you have something more to prove at this point of your music career or you are just enjoying what you have achieved till now? What does the future hold for James?
J: My favourite thing to do is walk onstage and play my guitar. I’ve been very lucky to nearly always be able to do that. I’m having a great time playing with The Cult at the moment – I like to play with as many people as possible – I think it tests you a bit as a musician. A musician is always learning – it’s not a finite course.
Will there be another solo album in the future or this is a one-time thing?
J: I’ll definitely do another. It might be something completely different though – like all instrumentals.
By the way, how had the tour with The Cult been?
J: Well, Billy Duffy is a really old mate. It’s been a lot of fun. Billy and I have a lot of the same influences – so we’re quite similar players in many ways. When we did the Electric 13 tour last year I played all Billy’s rhythm parts. But that’s probably how I’d have played them naturally anyway!
James Stevenson pic

How do you see today’s music industry? Do you think it’s harder for a band/artist to succeed? Has the music industry changed and in what parts since the 80s?
J: It’s totally different and yes much harder. I mean it’s much harder to earn money from music period. You have to play live to make money now – which in some ways is positive. The industry has changed out of all recognition. I mean there used to be a hundred grand video budgets and you could spent two hundred grand making a record and that was normal – but it all made sense because you could sell a million CDs. Those days are gone. Now you can find anything free on the internet – download it for free – turn it into an MP3 – and sent it to your entire address book. The working musician really has taken it on the chin. The old industry has a lot to answer for not seeing it coming – but by the same token they were a filter. Now so many people are making music in their bedrooms, and so much of it is crap, people can’t be bothered to wade through it all to find the good stuff.
It’s time for the Weird Questions!!! How do you see the “free downloading issue” of our time? In a world where people easily download music for free and hardly pay for it what can we do in order to change things? Is it different now that you can see things on the inside?
J: Well something has to give because soon there will be no incentive for creative people to be creative – I mean people will have to be doing it for their egos – not to make a living. I can see film and literature going the same way. There has to be some kind of technology that will come through to stop digital copying – that’s the only way to save it.
Are funding platforms like Kicksatrter, Indiegogo etc. the answer to the “free downloading culture” of the 21st century? It’s kinda weird. On the on hand the fans get the music for free without caring that much about the artist/group and on the other hand the fans pay for an album that they haven’t even heard… and most of the times it hasn’t even been recorded! What’s your say?
J: No – they’re not the answer. They’re like pre-sales – people buying the music in advance. It’s often the only way forward now unless you want to dig into your own pocket. Free downloading is a problem – but it’s the norm. For us musicians it’s contributed massively to our incomes being reduced hugely. I would love it if people had to pay for music again. I never begrudged buying albums, CDs, in fact I loved it. I loved the artwork – looking at the liner notes – discovering the whole album. Now many people just download the track they heard on the radio – they cherry-pick – so the whole album doesn’t get heard by them – which has to be a shame.
Which one do you prefer: Vinyl, CD or Mp3 and why?
J: There’s no question that vinyl sounds better. MP3s are small files and the audio suffers. CDs are OK.
Is music art? Or it used to be? How can those mainstream hit songs we repeatedly hear on the internet, radio & TV be taken as music art?
J: Of course music is art. But there’s always been crap. I said this in an interview the other day. I grew up in the 70s and everyone thinks of all the great stuff – Glam – Bowie, Roxy Music, T Rex, Mott. But there was a lot of shit too. Don’t forget The Brotherhood Of Man and Middle Of The Road. Remember Roger Whittaker, Julie Felix – all that shit. There’s always been crap in any art form. Art, literature, music, film.
Rock stars, Pop stars & Porn Stars… do people need ‘em or they’re just part of the show biz which creates fake & blank idols?
J: Well some are blank and some aren’t. I don’t see porn as an art form – sorry. Nothing against it really but are you seriously suggesting a porn star can be someone’s idol? I don’t think so. Like I said there’s crap in any art-form, and yes – people want idols – but more importantly I think people want to be moved by art.
You’re a musician that has lived the Sex, drugs & rock & roll era on its full! Do these “words” have any influence on today’s new bands or things are totally different? What should the rock music motto be? Views, tweets & Likes?!!
J: I don’t know to be honest. I’ve had a great time and still am. I’m very lucky. I’m not in touch with enough young bands. What does surprise me about a lot of them is they look exactly how I did in 1977! I mean the same boots, haircuts, clothes. It’s like they haven’t found their own voice. They haven’t made their own mark musically – except rap – which I don’t like. It’s like us in 1977 making Glenn Miller big band music – they haven’t moved on in thirty years. (.i.n.: Damn that’s sooo true fella!)
If your career was a movie… which movie would it be and why?
J: I don’t know which movie – but Adam Faith would have to play me.
Which character from “Game of Thrones” would you have been – if you lived in the Seven Kingdoms?
J: I’ve never watched it.
Which of the Seven Deadly Sins do you reckon is the one, that’s more likely to send you straight to Hell, in the afterlife?
J: It would be between envy and gluttony.
Which are those things that you’d like to erase or to re-live from your music career all these years?
J: I’m pretty proud of everything I’ve ever done – thankfully.
Imagine that your wife/girlfriend is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
J: She did it yesterday – luckily I had everything backed up on iTunes. (i.n.: Heheheh…)
I think we’re done James. Thx for the music all these years! Any last words? Take care dude…
J: Thanks for the interview – always a pleasure.