In what must have ranked as one of the busiest years in a career that most could only dream of it seems a great time to catch up with the one and only James Stevenson to talk about his year and what we can expect in 2014!
So, how was the Electric 13 tour?
You mean how “is” it? I’m just about to start the final leg in the US. It’s been great. Met tons of interesting people. Great to reconnect with Ian again and Johnny Tempesta and Chris Wyse, what an awesome rhythm section, have become great mates. I just went to see Chris’ solo band Owl in New York the other night – they were fantastic.
When you contacted Billy Duffy and put yourself forward for the tour what was his reaction and how long did it take for the decision to be made?
It was a very casual thing. I heard Michael Dimkitch had left the band so I texted Billy and said if they wanted a temporary replacement I’d be up for it. I said temporary because I’m already so busy with other bands. He got back to me almost immediately and asked if I’d be available for the dates and could I do it for a certain amount of money and I replied yes to both. I got the text from him just before I was about to walk onstage in Sacramento with The International Swingers. I’ll always remember that gig for that reason and because Earl Slick got up and played with us. I had to tell Earl afterwards that I spent a whole day in my youth learning the solo to Station To Station!
How long did it take you to feel at home again with the band and the material?
Immediately. I feel very at home with The Cult’s songs. I actually play guitar quite similarly to Billy in many ways – we have a lot of the same influences, in fact all the rhythm parts on Electric, which I have to play, are how I would have probably played them naturally anyway. I actually have much more in common with Billy as a guitarist than I do with Dave Sharp. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Dave’s playing but that’s why some of the old Alarm song parts don’t come that naturally to me.
How much did the second half of the set change throughout the tour?
Not much – the odd number got changed here and there. Towards the end of the first leg we started playing Horse Nation, which was fun for me as there are some dual lead parts.
What were the stand out moments for you?
Well Ian heading the tambourine like a football at the second show in Anaheim and it splitting his head wide open and then carrying on with the set bleeding all over the place when anyone else would have walked off-stage and got stitched up definitely sticks in the mind! Ian’s full of surprises – you never know what’s gonna happen next. That’s one of the things that keeps the band exciting. Whatever some people think of Ian one thing you cannot take away from the man is that he is the real deal!
Were there any tracks you wish Billy would have included in the set?
Maybe some more songs from Love. Last time I played with the band in 94-95 we played Love which I love as a song – even though it is very similar to The Wake by Theatre Of Hate! (LOL). We ran through American Horse in soundchecks a few times and I always enjoyed playing Gone from the goat album last time around too but the set is two hours long as it is – so no room for more. The guys have told me it’s the longest set the band has ever done.
I think it’s been pretty positive. More than a few people have said my inclusion has made the band sound more “British” again – however that works I don’t know. Plus the fact people know my name from other bands – so I’m not like some faceless new session guy – I think that helps. And also that Billy and I go back over thirty years! So people know we’re mates. I first met him in 81 when he first came to London and I had already done Chelsea and Gen X and was playing with Kim Wilde. I was like the successful guitarist – now he’s my boss! (LOL) Also it was Billy who suggested Mike Peters talked to me about playing in his solo band – Billy introduced us – and now I’ve been playing with Mike for over fifteen years! So I owe Billy one there.
Has there been any discussion about you reprising your role again as an ongoing position or for future tours?
You had the chance to play again with Woody Woodmansey and a whole host of friends (including your wife) when Holy Holy play pre Xmas in London, will we see the band become a semi regular thing?
I hope so. I was gutted I had to bow out of the Xmas gigs because The Cult added more shows in the US. Playing with Woody was an absolute honour – he’s the only surviving Spider and I was, and still am, a huge fan. Mick Ronson is the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place. Afterwards when Woody emailed me and said Mick would have been proud of you – it made me cry – really.
With such a rich catalogue of classic Bowie to choose from how does the set list get decided?
By discussion really. Paul Fryer, who was singing, originally wanted to do more obscure songs like Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed and All The Madmen. But I thought we should stick to a more greatest hits type set. It ended up somewhere in the middle. When I first met Paul I didn’t realise how successful he was as an artist. Then Liz and I were invited to his 50th in his huge studio in Greenwich. Damian Hurst and Jude Law were there. It was a great night and his art is incredible.
How much time do you have in your schedule to rehearse when you get involved in a project like Holy Holy?
Well because it was all Bowie stuff I found time. Those are the songs I taught myself when I was first learning to play. You know, sometimes as a musician you have time and sometimes you don’t. We did three full days rehearsals for Holy Holy and luckily I had that time free. It was a crazy week. I played with GLJ in Portugal on the Saturday before, Holy Holy at Latitude on the Thursday after reheasing days with Holy Holy and evenings with The Swingers the few days before, The Lexington in London with The International Swingers on the Friday and left for the US and The Cult on the Sunday!
Are we likely to hear any live material released for the fans that can’t make it to London?
No plans right now – but I think gigs might become a regular thing. The band is fantastic. I always love playing with Steve Norman, he’s so talented. And Clem, Gary Stonage, Malcolm Doherty and everyone else – it’s such an enjoyable experience.
What’s the latest status on your solo album?
Coming out March 10 – although there will be advance copies for sale at The Gathering and I’m doing a signing session there too.
Has it been a case of bad timing, having a really busy year with The Alarm, The International Swingers and The Cult (not to mention Holy Holy and the odd Gene Loves Jezebel date) or are you still tweaking things?
No – it’s all done. Actually I’m still figuring out releases in different parts of the world – but UK will be March 10.
Last time we spoke you were considering some solo dates, maybe the Lexington, maybe The Gathering…are there any updates yet?
Maybe The Gathering, though it might be a gig too far this year and I know Jules has been talking to other people about playing…..
What material would you include in a solo live set, if any, from your long career…or will there be the odd cover or two?
I think I would just do the album as it stands – no covers – they might come later.
So Mike is no longer with Big Country, we know we have The Gathering then the solo “Declaration” tour and an album based around that, can you throw any light on what we can expect from The Alarm in 2014?
As far as I’m aware there is absolutely nothing in The Alarm diary. The economics of modern touring make it much easier for Mike to do solo acoustic gigs unfortunately.
Do you and Mike send each other ideas or do you wait till you are together in person to work on new material?
To be honest Mike pretty much works on his own. The only Alarm material I would class as a true collaboration would be the Under Attack album.
Has being on tour given you time any time to write?
No. One always thinks you’ll have time to do this or that on the road but you never do.
Can you tell us anything about The Gathering yet or is it still veiled in secrecy?
There will be a few surprises I’m sure. But right now it’s still all being finalised so I don’t really want to disclose what’s been discussed so far and it can all change at any given moment anyway.
GENE LOVES JEZEBEL
You said before that you have tried to persuade Jay to record a new album but with the difficulties with the “other” version of Gene he doesn’t want to do anything that may benefit them. Have there been any developments that might see new material?
Yes – we have been talking about recording a new album. Possibly under a new, but related name – such as Jay Aston And The Jezebels.
Beggars Banquet are just about to release the 5 disc Gene box set with a whole host of bonus tracks do you think this might spark some activity?
Yes maybe. The problem is Jay’s twin Michael makes it very hard for us to tour in the US.
It will be nice to have some of this material readily available again (“House Of Dolls” for instance) – is there anything in your career you wish was more readily available?
I think you can find pretty much anything if you dig around on the internet. There was a Gen X live album with me on it that EMI put out a few years ago, but Tony James put a kibosh on it because he didn’t like it, which I think was a shame.
This year has been quite a year for The International Swingers, will this momentum continue into the new year?
Yes. There a new Lionsgate film called Homefront with Jason Statham and Winona Rider which has The Swingers track FBI in the soundtrack and as soon as I finish the December Cult shows I come home for Xmas and then fly back to LA for a Swingers TV show which is about how bands used to record an A and B side in a day. The show is based in Dave Grohls’ 606 studio and Dave Stewart is producing our two tracks – so that should be great.
At the Lexington we were discussing crowd funding as a way of getting backing for a Swingers album and you had mixed views on it, has your opinion changed since then?
Kick starter schemes are a mixed blessing in my view – but the industry has been so decimated maybe it’s the only way forward if people want to hear new original music by their favourite artists. Record labels are basically a thing of the past. At least now artists can hang on to their own copyrights. I was talking to Willie Nile about his, he was very in favour, but after he got the funding from his fan base and made the record he did a deal with a label – so anything can happen nowadays.
Kim Wilde is playing in London on the 21st of December, how would you feel about joining her on stage for a few of the old hits?
Ha! I’d love to. I love Kim, she’s brilliant!
Got to ask this – what’s on your Xmas list this year?
I think I need a new computer. Mine keeps getting this thing called “kernal panic”. I spoke to Mike P and he said time for a new computer because they just can’t handle being dragged around the world the way they are with us, they just can’t take it. But really, to be honest, I have most things I need and want. So I guess just the old peace in the world would work fine for me.
Keeping with the Xmas theme, if you recommended one album, one book and one film for people this year what would you choose?
Well I thought The Next Day was fantastic – especially the single. Any book by John Niven and Sound City by Dave Grohl was incredible – to make a film about a famous recording console that holds your attention for the full length of the film is quite an achievement
James Stevenson it has been a pleasure, as always, have a great Xmas and New Years from all of us!