"We showed them what faggots are made of”: Tim Booth of James on homophobia, festivals, and finding musical comfort zone

The last time I saw JAMES at a large-scale outdoor music festival, the year was 1997 and the scene was a brewing tempest called Lollapalooza. The influential 30-year-old British rock band was supporting a sharp new record Whiplash, but in reality, was still buzzing off the unlikely success of late-night 1993 MTV hit “Laid,” a single that crashed the stateside modern rock underground and in the UK got them swept up as an auxiliary, almost elder-statesmen members of Britpop's cultural tidal wave.

Because this was pre-American Pie soundtrack, “Laid” was not yet a drunken 2am bro-down sing-along at frat bars in college towns, but more an emotive battle cry for confused male teenagers in eyeliner dressed up in women’s clothes and messing around with gender roles down in basements and bedrooms in suburbs and cities around the world. The Lollapalooza appearance was a shining spotlight, a beautiful spell for a Manchester band used to lurking in the shadows. And I vividly recall, as a 17-year-old, being most excited to see James at New York’s Randall’s Island on a kinda shitty Lolla bill (in hindsight) alongside Tricky, Orbital, Snoop, Tool... and Korn.

James has the misfortune of playing the slot right before Korn on several dates across America. The California nu-metal band had just released the double-platinum-selling sophomore record Life Is Peachy, raging along at their at their popularity’s peak and setting the table for Limp Bizkit’s end-of-the-century agro-rock apocalypse. Lollapalooza’s Perry Farrell always celebrated his fest’s diversity, but this was a fucking disaster waiting to happen.

At NYC, and in many other cities, James were met with violent hostility. I remember them opening with the slow 1993 ballad “Out To Get You,” with front man Tim Booth warning the crowd that they like to start with something slow and deliberate, “so you expect the worst.” In the interview above, Booth recalls the experience, and in particular, frequently being called “faggots” by Korn ‘s macho fans and how he combated some of the verbal assaults, quite personally, by singing directly to the offenders. Korn were so taken by the compassionate display that they asked James to tour with them after Lollapalooza had concluded.

Yesterday at Coachella 2012’s opening afternoon, 15 years later, James had a far better situation presented to them. Playing on the main stage between Kendrick Lamar and Jimmy Cliff & Tim Armstrong, James unleashed a confident, celebratory set, saving “Laid” for the triumphant end (perhaps doing a bit of pandering to us Yanks).

Afterwards I caught up with Booth in his press trailer in a far corner of Indio’s Empire Polo Grounds, trying to pick the brain of one of England’s more underrated songwriters ...and trying to not fanboy the fuck out.

Before I could even ask him about Lollapalooza 1997, he jumped right into it. We also chatted about the difference in UK and US festivals, killing midweek time between Coachella weekends, the success of “Laid” in America, and how it feels to be a band that’s found a comfort zone after 30 years in the game. Booth seemed at ease, and in was in good spirits.

What a difference 15 years makes.

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