Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jim Bob interview

"I don't know how to deal with new music anymore. I will no doubt change my mind but at the moment I have no desire to make, or rather sell, any new music."

In the 90s, James Robert Morrison - Jim Bob - was the spaghetti-haired singer of South London indie/punk/dance band Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. After the duo became a trio and eventually a six-oh, they called it a day in 1997. Since then, he has continued with various solo projects, while sometimes getting back together with his old bandmate Fruitbat for the occasional reunion gig. With the release of his first novel, Storage Stories, this month, it seems the singer is destined to walk a new career path.

"When I was doing the final proof reading of Storage Stories I felt so good about the way the book had turned out that I wanted to write another one. I wanted to be an author. Around the same time I'd written a couple of new songs. It felt satisfying to be able to do that but then I thought, 'What do I do with these songs? Write more and make another album that nobody buys?' I'm sure there'll be another Jim Bob album but I need to find my mojo again. Whatever a mojo is."

Anyone familiar with the clever wordplay that Jim Bob employed in his Carter lyrics will hardly be surprised that he has made the step from lyricist to novelist. Whether dealing angrily with political issues or singing melancholic love songs, he had the ability to consistently combine a wry wit with genuinely touching emotion. However, while admitting he has always wanted to write a book, he says that he used to find it annoying when people told him so. "I always thought what they really meant was that I should stop writing songs."

While Storage Stories is Jim Bob's debut novel, it is not his first book. A few years back, he brought out Good Night Jim Bob, the story of his life in Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, from the early days of catching buses to their own gigs, through the Smash Hits drama, the number one album and then being shat out the other side of a music business that seemed desperate to sweep them under the carpet. "Fruitbat said recently that Good Night Jim Bob was pretty much a work of fiction anyway, so I'd had the practice. I wouldn't say the Carter book was easy but I did have the story already and just had to find a way of putting it in some readable entertaining order. I think the only way I've managed to write a complete novel is by finding a way of splitting it up into smaller parts. The way Storage Stories goes off at tangents and has short stories contained within the bigger story, that's my way of managing to write something of full length. I've tried before, but I've found it hard to write a straightforward novel in the more conventional way. I wrote a novel in the way I'd write a concept album, split up into individual songs/stories."

While writing the novel, the Londoner had to split his time between being Jim Bob the solo artist, Jim Bob the Carter singer and Jim Bob the author. Over the past three years, Carter have played sold out shows at, amongst other grand venues, The Brixton Academy, while Jim has also written and toured a solo album, Goffam. He admits it's been hard to balance his time between these three distinct creative projects. "Anyone who's ever worked with me in a managerial way has found it difficult; the way I can't stick at one thing for a decent length of time. I do tend to get quite bored with something once it's out in the open and I want to move on to something else. I know I'll always be Jim Bob the singer with Carter, no matter what it is I'm doing at the time. I'm not complaining about that by the way. I find the best way is to mix things up a bit; write a novel, then go on tour and play some solo songs and Carter classics whilst reading from the novel. Apparently multi tasking is good for the brain. I think it was Doctor Kawashima on Nintendo DS Brain Training who taught me that."

And so it's not surprising that Jim's book promotion takes on a suitably multi-tasking dynamic. Before performing on the literary stages of festivals and doing some readings in bookshops, he'll be taking his book and his trusty old acoustic guitar on the road for a nationwide tour. "The plan is that I'll read about three chunks from the book interspersed with a load of everybody's favourite songs. There are a lot of illustrations in the book, so I'm going to have a projector and screen to show them on when I'm reading. I'll have a little remote control. It's going to be like a Powerpoint Presentation. Whatever they are."

So, if you see a familiar face at a motorway service station in May, then, yes, it might well be the man who used to wear shorts and stomp around the stage at a university venue near you a couple of decades ago. While his live show has changed, the way he gets from venue to venue is just like the old days. "The way I tour now – three men in a car – is the same way Carter started out touring. And that is my fondest remembered period of Carter touring. I still like a lot of the same things about it, which tends to be stopping at service stations and buying crisps and getting more crisps out of the vending machine in the hotel after the gig. It's all about the crisps mainly."

And so, once the songs are sung, the chapters are read and the crisps are eaten, what's next? While there doesn't seem to be the fire in his belly for selling any new Jim Bob music, one wonders whether the overwhelming success of the Carter comeback gigs would ever make him consider recording some new material with Fruitbat, or if that would be too much of a regression? "I'm not really sure what Carter should sound like today," he shrugs. "If we recorded something new, it might end up sounding like a pastiche of a Carter song. The live shows have been so successful and haven't dirtied the name of Carter. I'd hate to record something new that nobody was interested in or wasn't actually very good. One of the reasons the recent Carter shows have been so amazing is because we're playing those classic songs. I fear it wouldn't be so good with a load of new material."

I ask Jim how he thinks Carter would get on now, if they were a couple of lads just starting out in the business. With music being more accessible thanks to the internet, but with record companies struggling, would a 2010 Carter do better or worse than the Carter of the late 80s and 90s? "I think things were maybe more fun when Carter first started. You didn't need to worry about career plans and brands and business models and all that nonsense. We always had a feeling that it was us and our audience against the world. I doubt you could do that now. It would have to be us and our audience plus Tom from Myspace and various Facebook groups against the world sponsored by Topman or Levi's."

While Jim's love of music is still strong (his current favourites include Laura Marling, The Eels, Fionn Regan and Adam Green), his future does seem to be with the written word rather than the sung verse. "I've got the beginnings of a second novel, which I'd like to sit down and write properly," he confirms. "See if I'm a writer or just a bloke who's written a book."

For more information on Storage Stories and how to order, follow this link.

For Jim Bob's upcoming UK tour dates, click here.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This is a really great interview. Jim Bob has refreshing honesty.

Bobby Six said...

Thanks very much Anon. I have been a big fan of Jim Bob since I was a wee lad. So it was an honour to talk to him.

Franko said...

I hadn't heard of Jim Bob or Carter before reading this but I have have since checked him out and love it!