Tim Booth (James)

I’ve been a fan of James for thirty years but knew so little about them. That was no mistake revealed Tim Booth. They’ve kept secrets for decades – until now. An incredibly revealing, touching and inspiring hour in the company of greatness. Thanks Tim!

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Donal:
Tim, I was really surprised when I discovered you were living in America. I've had no idea, and a friend of mine said it to me and - I mean, not that I'm stalking you and all your movements, but I'm wondering what brought you to America?

Tim Booth:
California, and going particularly to an area called Big Sur and particularly a ranch called Esalen Institute which was a 180 - 120 acres ranch overlooking the cliff tops, mountains coming down to sea, where you might look at the sea and see sperm whales breaching with babies and the second largest sea otter colony in the world; cracking abalone shells on their back, floating in the water... And this place was magical, the Native Americans said it was too magical, they said you shouldn't live there, it's too sacred ground, and I’ve never been on land like it, it is if time would stop and everything would become very dreamlike when you enter that place.
I had a friend who developed a whole system of movement from that ranch and she rang me and said 'Tim, I see you coming to Esalen, you should come to Esalen, I don't know why, but you're meant to come.' And so the next year she was teaching there and I flew in, and I walked in and the first day I met my wife, and about 10 years later my son was conceived there and so it became this kind of magnet for us that we wanted to live near there, we knew many of the people who lived there, they lived rough communities, you can't really build there, it's a national park, it's amongst redwoods, you know, there is no running water in some of the houses, no electricity, they'd be dragging water out from rivers and, you know, there's coyotes and mountain lions and rattlesnakes and it was like I want to live in a place like this that fills you in nature, in the danger of nature, in real nature, not that kind of sanitized nature because we've killed off all the predators, but a nature where all aspects of life and death coexist.
And we couldn't live in Big Sur because it was too far away from the city and we needed to be near a city, but we finally found this place which was a national park, biggest national park in the world near a city called Topanga and it had a really interesting history from the sixties of creative people discovering it and making work here. Neil Young, Bob Dylan passed through here, it was a real hippie mad centre, you know, until a few years ago there was a woman who used to cycle around on a motorbike naked. And it's got a community to it, when we arrived I told you that there was a rabbi on the street that we arrived and had a congenital heart disease, and one of his children died and the second child went into a coma at the age of fourteen, fifteen and the whole street put themselves on a rotor for cleaning and cooking for this family to support them in this time. And to get on a rotor there's a three-month waiting list, and no one in Topanga locks their doors, it's just got an atmosphere and a trust that you can't find in many other places, and so we moved here and this was our compromise to not moving to big city.

Donal:
And how different is Topanga from where you were born and what you were born into and grew up?
Tim Booth:
Oh, God.

Donal:
Because I've no idea, like, as I was explaining to you earlier, I've been a fan of yours since the late eighties, been to your gigs, got your albums, but I know so little about you, and not that I feel entitled to, but, you know, I don't actually know where you're born and what that was like or anything. Maybe it's weird that I expect to know those things if I'm into an artist or into a band, so I'm just curious about what kind of world were you born into, what was your upbringing like?

Tim Booth:
I mean, many of the questions that you want to ask me are questions I purposely avoided, and 'James' have avoided, it was 'James' - the whole idea of calling it 'James' was that it wasn't based on the singer, would've been called 'Tim' and I've kept a lot of this quiet, depends on what areas we go into...

Donal:
I remember the first time I saw you live, 1991 in the National Stadium and there was such a, you know, a buzz anticipation. You've listened to music for years, but does this thing you do when you play live, there's a cumulative process of - the gig builds and builds and builds in terms of passion and intensity and energy and your movement is the ???[00:08:51.07] focus point for that but we all knew as friends that Tim Booth, he is into stuff, we never knew what it was but we had this idea based on whatever scraps of information we'd had about you or being in the same room as you at gigs, you know, there's a sense that Tim is into stuff, he's connected to stuff and to this day all these years later I have a vague sense. Like, for example, I for some reason assume you don't eat meat.

No, I eat meat ravenously. For twelve years I was a vegetarian, four of which vegan and the energy of what I do in performance meant I got skinnier and skinnier and less well, and there was a point on the American tour where I just found myself eating salmon for about - and I ate salmon everyday for about year and a half, whatever it was in salmon my body needed, so that broke after about twelve years.

Donal:
I'm a pescetarian so I haven't eaten meat in twenty years so your salmon is on the list and I'm well fed, I'm, you know, well - well filled out and -
Tim Booth:
I'm still skinny as hell. I mean there's a story and I'll tell you the story which helps me in a way because the things I came to I didn't come to - I came to because I had to, I didn't necessarily come to by some kind of philosophical choice, I did it that too, but it was also a matter of survival. So we go back to your first question which is where - I was brought up very middle class in a town called Clifford in Yorkshire near Wetherby. I was the middle class kid in the village, of a very working class village and my friends were the Hope twins and I think that is not without irony that if you call someone Hoped Hopes in a Chekov play you know what that meant. And they were, they were hope for me, my family was very staid middle class, we didn't even have a record player, we had no culture as far as I remember although my sister bought a record player and played me Leonard Cohen when I was eight, and it was one of the first pieces of music I really listened to and...
But I was the posh kid in the village and all the kids wanted to see if the posh kid could fight and so I got bullied quite a lot, and my friends, the Hope twins, were year and a half older than me so they were always bigger than me and stronger than me, they didn't bully me but they didn't have to defend me in that situation, and I was bullied probably up until the age of eleven and thought of myself as quite a coward because I didn't really win a fight until one day I got cornered by three people and a group formed and pushed the three people who were - they were supporting one of the guys who was quite popular, and they kind of pushed him into me and I stuck up my fist and knocked his front teeth out, complete accident, and everybody went 'Ooooh.' And a week later I knocked somebody else’s teeth out and my mother was confronted with a dental bill by another mother in the car park waiting at the school and after that people left me alone.

Donal:
Wow, you were tough kid obviously.
Tim Booth:
Yeah, completely, a complete joke, of course, I knew it, it was a massive bluff, I just happen to put my fist out and these idiots walked onto them. And I did then take up boxing and again got in a fight with, you know, in front of the school with some poor other soul who was more frightened of me than I was of him. So for a while, you know, the bullying stopped and I was free to go my own way.

Donal:
And did you feel like a complete outsider?

Tim Booth:
Complete outsider. I was in a middle class milieu of the late sixties, early seventies, you knew something was going on in the world, my sister's - oldest - I was the youngest, my sister was a Marxist communist and, you know, she would bring back dispatches from Sheffield and you knew something exciting was going on for women particularly and for races, and you knew there have been a huge mistreatment of people sanctified by religions, male-based religions, mistreatment of minorities and of sexualities that weren't straight and of women, and my sister fed me her Cosmopolitans of the time which were actually quite radical magazine in the sixties, they weren't the Cosmopolitans of today.

Donal:
What age were you reading Cosmopolitan?
Tim:
I was - She was sneaking them to me against my mother's wishes from the age of fourteen and in there would be vivid descriptions on how to please a woman, and how to approach a clitoris, and did the G-spot exist, and why women should grow armpit hair. So I was introduced to feminism at the very young age, and as I say Cosmopolitan was not the toe rag of fashion that it is now, it was trying to educate and it was becoming a focal point and for a fourteen, an impressionable fourteen-year old, you know, to read that, balanced with stealing his father's Mayfairs and Playboys, it was a confusing time for fourteen-year old on one hand to the, you know, hiding in his bedroom looking at pornographic, not what we call pornographic images nowadays but naked women and going 'Holy shit, this is what they look like, wow!' and masturbating to those and then reading about how to please a woman and how women had been subjugated for thousands of years.

Donal:
And how did this Cosmopolitan education transfer to the girls around you in terms of your approach?
Tim Booth:
I think it confused the hell out of me. It meant that I approached women from quite a gentle perspective rather than a testosterone ‘grab-'em’, as some of my school friends would do. It was - It really made me feel guilty as a man and aware of thousands of years of abuse, thousands of years of abuse, and I cannot overstress that. ... I sat and watched 'Suffragette' with my twelve-year old son the other day... You have to wait a minute... I've always felt this so deeply and it's just outrageous really what the - what man has been capable of, tribal man, you know, the way we are so frightened of the other, the other sexuality, the other race, the other colour and women, in general. I had a revelation recently, a friend of mine came around pregnant and I was so overjoyed and in all of her, and I thought 'Oh, my' - I was so in awe, this woman is going to bring through a life into this world and I thought 'My God, is this where all the fucking religions come from?' That they look to women and when – ‘We can't do this, we are smaller than them, well let's create a religion where there's a male god and we created the women because how else can we, how else can we live with these deities who are bringing life into this world, the real creators, the real Gods who bring life into this world because if there's a God it's a woman’. It’s like take a look around folks, we come through a woman and we don't come through men, and so I really believe these religions were built by the insecurity of men looking at the awesome moment of giving birth.

Donal: And how do you see the sexual politics and gender politics evolving, you know, in terms of where it was when you were fourteen and where it is now and where do you think it will be in a generation's time?

Tim Booth:
Well your show is about positivity and if you look at the last few hundred years you can see there has been a shift, a general shift in human conscience towards seeing the other, the alien other whom we would normally have fought as 'Oh, they're versions of me', and this starts with slavery and it moves with women's right to vote and it moves to gay people being allowed to marry, again which is just such ridiculous that you had the right to stop them. But we've still had to go through that birthing and to transgender rights coming, and it will lead forward into polyamory, into 'Why do we say we're meant to be two?’ Oh, it's another of these religious, social ideas that have been imposed upon us for thousands of years at risk of death, at risk of complete exile, at risk of the society turning around and completely rejecting you or stoning you and today, obviously, in half of the world, where a woman expressing her sexuality means she is likely to be murdered or to at least be totally exiled from all that she loves, and WHO estimate that under hundred million women have been sexually castrated in the world, just under a hundred million and that tells you everything.

Donal:
But then I was really shocked when I picked up your new album and the first track is called 'Bitch'. Now the difference between what I thought before I listened to the track and after I listened to the track was immense, but I was literally looking at the track literally going 'What, what's going on here?’ And in 'Bitch' there's this amazing acclamation 'I love my wife, I love my kids', and it's just hit me, like, that's not the type of stuff you are used to hearing in the - from a rock and roll band.

Tim Booth:
But still I bitch, you know, "I love my sons, I love my wife so why'd I bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch." It's like, I think there's a part of us that always wants more and, you know, even when you live in a - you have a great family and a great life, you want more and I think that's an inherent disease within us.

Donal: Well it depends how you define 'more', because if you want better, you're trying to make the world a better place and that's, you know, and so for me progress is the evolution of ideas and thoughts and inventions and, you know, I believe in trying to add to the pile of good stuff rather than the pile of rubbish stuff but if you rest on your laurels you're not trying to create better ways of doing things.
Tim Booth:
I love that, but there's a fine line between better and greed, and there's a fine line between accepting the world and therefore finding contentment, and being forever restless and wanting more. And definitely, for me, I blur those edges and get lost, sometimes, and then find myself again and, for me, I meet people who see much more content in their lives than me, I look at you and I go 'You look like one of those people' but I swing and I do and I don't.

Donal:
I preserve my optimism - I share my optimism with the world and I try and protect the world from my pessimism, you know, I try and internalize as much of the negative stuff as I can so I can share the more positive stuff. When I was a teenager and, I'll never forget, I was walking down the street and I had this glum expression on my face, that wasn't how I felt and my friends started slagging me and I realised that how I felt on the outside wasn't reflecting how I felt on the inside and I remember the moment, I was like 'from now on, I'm going to do my best to pump out the positive side of how I feel rather than the negative, why not?'

Tim Booth:
And I think that's beautiful. There's a slight problem with being an artist in it. You... I feel an obligation to be connected to some of the horrors of the world in order to allow that to be in my words, in order that to infiltrate, to be absorbed into what I'm writing about. Otherwise I just write about a happy middle class existence living in a national park with my wife and kids, and that isn't enough for most people, that isn't enough for me. I'm still writing to probably the young boy in me that is hungry to understand the contradictions in the world of the beauty and the beast, of watching those incredible Planet Earth David Attenborough movies and being in awe of those animals and then watching some unspeakable cruelty as the animal that you've just rooted for is devoured by an eagle out of the blue and torn to pieces, and you're like 'Okay'. I mean, Joseph Campbell said the central paradox of life is that we have to kill in order to live. It was one of the - when I read that that was one of the things that - one of the things that philosophically enabled me to eat meat again, because that is the central paradox of life, something dies that we may live. All the studies of vegetables and plants are that they are sentient beings, they are alive too. I don't know if a redwood tree seems as alive to me as a bear, and I've sat with both of them in the Sequoia National Park and they both seem alive, so I don't know if eating an animal is any higher a spiritual choice than eating a carrot, I really don't know. And I don't think anyone does.
I had other reasons, by the way, for - part of the story, I'll go back to the story. From about the age of eleven, twelve, I started turning yellow and I was nicknamed 'chinky' at school because I was always yellow, and nobody cared to look at my health which - I was getting sicker and sicker every winter. And it turned out, which got diagnosed when I was twenty, that I had a liver disease, and so for about twelve years through my adolescence which is a tricky period in itself, I was jaundiced. I was sent to a British Victorian boarding school that was brutal, very - it was in the seventies but it was really set in about 1930. The first year you were called 'new scum' by the other kids and by the teachers, and the second year you're called 'scum'. And I was sick all winter and yellow and called 'chinky', which led to 'guru Booth' weirdly enough because obviously they associated the Chinese with some kind of guru, and because I asked questions about life that were strange questions about life, you know, I was fascinated by life, fascinated by where the fuck do we come from, what the hell am I doing in this story. You know, how am I meant to survive this, no one had diagnosed it as illness, I thought it was my psychology, I thought I was mad, jaundice comes with a whole mental state of bitterness, you know, if in the Medieval times they said you had jaundiced view of life, in Chaucer it meant that you were bitter. And I thought that was me, I thought 'My god, I'm just such a sick person as a human being psychologically', convinced that I would eventually get discovered in being in a mental hospital, I was convinced of that, that I would end up in the psychiatric hospital until I was about 28.

Donal: Sounds like a miserable adolescence.

Tim Booth:
Yes, but I didn't know any better. So in a sense it wasn't as bad as it sounds, it was something you learn to manage internally, but yes, it was miserable and I actually look up on it in a really positive way because most - you know, people will talk about your school days, best years of your life. And it's, like, 'You want to bet?' And me for me life has got better and better and my health has got better and better as I learnt about these things and it peaked at around 21, when I actually stopped breathing in hospital and was revived, and they diagnosed it finally. I stopped breathing and I remember it and it was so peaceful and beautiful, and then all the alarms went off and this nurse came in and she brought me back and I was pissed, I was not happy to be brought back. And that moment changed my life for a couple of things, one was that death seemed like a very beautiful thing or getting close to death seemed like a very beautiful thing, and secondly, they diagnosed me as having - the doctor said this 'If you just have hepatitis B there's nothing we can do about it, we don't have a name for it, and we're going to let you go and there's nothing we can do'. And I was like 'Okay, it's time to look into alternative medicine'. And I was 21 and alternative medicine was ridiculed in those days, and I started looking at homeopathy, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, colonic irrigation. The wackier it was, the more I went and investigated it and made huge headways in making me a healthier person and was like 'Oh, these things work'. So I learnt that the establishment didn't know it's arse from it’s elbow. I learnt that my life depended upon me throwing myself into a world that was ridiculed by the culture, it took me to meditation, it took me to all the things that you might call spiritual I came to through necessity. I was a singer in a band by then by about a year, in a world where everybody was taking loads of drugs, if I took loads of drugs it was going to kill me. I could take drugs but once, twice a year, once I worked that out, and before I was taking drugs more as my generation was socially and it was making me sicker and sicker until the point where I ended up in hospital and I couldn't walk upstairs, you know, and so I had to learn discipline, I had to learn that 'Oh, there is a benefit to this stuff, but, my God, you have to be careful with it', it's a medicine, but it's a toxic medicine, and if it's approached in terms of a consumerable, just another thing to consume, like chocolate, you're going to die or yeah, I'm going to die certainly, but I watched other people go die - I watched people I loved end up in psychiatric hospitals through dope, simple marijuana, so it taught me, it taught me some strong lessons that have probably kept me alive to this day.
Donal:
I'm curious about the questions you were asking as fourteen-year old?
Tim Booth:
Questions. There was a judge's son, Simon Pickering, and I remember he came around with a questionnaire and the questionnaire was 'Who are you?', 'Where do you come from?', 'Where are you going?' And I was probably fourteen and it was like I've been waiting for those questions for the whole of my life. You know, I've been in the middle class world where everything was about, in those days, how you looked, how you appeared, your manners, were you a good boy. My mother was very controlling, I didn't choose any of my clothes until I was sixteen, so I was dressed up fancy, you know, which got me into all kinds of trouble. I had no real say of my life, when you're sent to a boarding school your hours are mapped up every single hour of the day, church every day, you know, then school, then to lessons, then two hours of physical education, then homework period where you're locked in a room for two hours. You know, it's like every hour is mapped out and you learn to try and find your inner world within that regime that is a regime that is trying to stop an inner world, you know, boarding schools were created to create generals, politicians, colonels for the Empire, that was the history of the boarding schools and they were particularly tough, they were, you know, no comforts, no central heating, you know, the window left open at night, so that if you had a glass of water by your bed it froze over. They were - the idea was that it would be the making of you, it is the phrase, it will be the making of you, and it was the making of some kids and it was the destroying of some kids, you know, I watched kids die of anorexia, I watched a few people die at those schools So it was a very privileged upbringing, literally, you know, because I know that that's a general view of boarding school, I believe they've changed, you know, this was obviously all-boys and I believe they've changed. I still don't get the idea of having children and then send them away for three months at the time.

Donal:
What's the point of having kids?

Tim Booth:
Why do you have a kid? And...

Donal:
And this contrasts incredibly with the education of your children perhaps?
Tim Booth:
The stuff that gets taught in schools educationally can be through in two years, it's bullshit, it's... Really what you want is a child to learn discrimination, how feel comfortable about being themselves, how to respected no matter how small they are, how to make their own decisions, how to understand this mad world that we live in from a young age - to me those are what we send our child to.
He goes at the moment to a nature school, where they go hiking twice a week and the kids learn, you know, there's a study where I think the average child in America can tell you - recognize 200 logos of products, our child can recognize 200 different plant species, and flower species, and bird species, and what plants medicinally they can do. Our child can make a fire from flint and learn how to make a shelter and camp out over night and survive over night, and our child is getting to learn how to hunt and animals and to eat all forage, and know which mushrooms they can eat and which mushrooms is going to give them surprise.
Donal:
I'm just struck by if you look at when you started investigating the alternative world when you were sick and all that's changed now in terms of society's perception of things that were deemed whacko when you were twenty one, like, something like that Fire Ceremony, how would you see the transmission of that into popular acceptance, do you think it's something that needs to be pushed or something that will happen organically, or do you think about that, the passage from alternative to mainstream acceptance?
Tim Booth:
I started doing yoga at eighteen and it was ridiculed, and I went out with a vicar's daughter and he wrote a piece in his parish magazine saying this was the work of the devil. Martial arts really came to the West, we got to say with Bruce Lee to a large degree, and meditation came to the West to a large degree with the Beatles and Hare Krishna, and certain things, if they had power to root, if they didn't they fall away and I would say it's an evolutionary process that these things that are effective take root, the things that don't fall away, and there's been, I would say this whole growth I talked about of seeing the other as another of us, another of me, seeing that black man who is my slave as a human being, as another of me, with the same rights as me. That was an evolutionary change of consciousness, and there is a general wave in that direction going on - You could tell me about lots of countries where that is not true or where there's a huge resistance mainly coming from organised religions, mainly coming from male-based organised religions that cannot be overstated. And that's coming, we've just had a huge setback in the States with Donald Trump where it looks like, oh God, so much is going to get reversed. It's a one step back, two steps forward process.
There are forces working to separate us from our humanity. There is a huge parallel between Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS and Jews fleeing Hitler, and that has to be the story that's remembered. You know, if there is a one terrorist amongst 20.000 that get in, amongst 50.000 that get in, yeah, we're going to have to vet very carefully, but then if we don't let those other 10, 20.000 in, we're kind of committing a war crime, and we can't do that, that's not forward.

Donal:
How do you remain positive in the face of all of this?
Tim Booth:
I don't sometimes, because it's a really fine balance between educating yourself and reading the information of what's going on, and being able to keep equilibrium and not become so depressed that you become dysfunctional.
There are actual practices, there are actual things you can do that will change your life.

Donal:
And the music industry is all about keeping the artist away from their fans which is ridiculous, it's such a ridiculous kind of concept so -

Tim Booth:
Yeah, yeah. But the thing is we did talk about this at the beginning, if you read, you know, 'James' with the wacky Buddhist vegetarians, but it was so clearly misunderstood, it was so clearly going to be ridiculed that we just realised it was counterproductive, but we were talking about it, we... At the time, when 'James', you know, we were meditating a lot, particularly me, Saul, me and Jimmy and we have a - the original guitar player Saul - Paul who we wanted to get into meditation because he was getting into dope, and meditation we felt it would give an alternative high and he was cracking up, and it didn't work for him, and he ended up going in a psychiatric hospital but we - It got us on the path of meditation, we were meditating two hours a day, twelve hours every weekend for three and a half years, celibate, no alcohol, no drugs and the press got some of it, they just labelled us Buddhists, you know.
and the press picked on it, ridiculed it and we felt after a while it was unfair the other two in the bend who weren't into it, and that we were just purely going to misrepresented and a load of people will going to be put off our music because of it, and so we started to go quiet on that, and it was untrue, we weren't Buddhists, we were meditating, but we weren't Buddhists.

Donal:
And when you spoke about the simple things you can do to change your life, is meditation what you mean?
Tim Booth:
I've done lots of things, I could talk to you in depth about meditation, I could talk to you in depth about dancing, dancing is probably being the number one. I found at the age of sixteen, at this boarding school, that I would lock myself in our study when no one is around, put on loud music and throw myself around the room and it was like - It enabled me to express all the anger and the grief and confusion of being in that horrific place, and it was just what I did, and I didn't know other people didn't do it, and I remember when we first had the first school dance with girls, aged sixteen, I danced and boys who were the cool boys would come up and they'd take the piss out of me, but it was with a kind of a respect, it was like 'How do you that?', 'How do you that?' And girls were interested and it was like this slightly strange person dancing in a rather unusual way that looked like nothing else and it was like 'Ha' and I just kept on dancing and finally, you know, I was dancing in the night club very upset because my girlfriend had left me, and I was dancing very - quite violently and this sixteen-year olds saw me dancing and came up and they were stealing my beer and I sat down and I nearly got in a fight with them over the beer, and then they said 'We love your dancing. We are in a band, will you come and dance for our band?' and I said 'Yeah' and a year later we called ourselves 'James'. And after about six months they asked me to sing for the bend, and then lyrics, and I've never sung and I've never written lyrics, but I was at University and they had this kind of ignorant appreciation of people at University, they must be intelligent, they must be able to write lyrics.

Donal: You had caché.

Tim Booth:
I had caché, and they - so I wrote lyrics and that's how I ended up in 'James' really.

Donal: And what would you say is what you try and use 'James' for?
Tim Booth:
To express ourselves; every single song we've ever written has come from improvisation in a room - that's not true, there were couple that (in a pit) (in a row) different period where someone came in with a few chords, but normally it's three or four of us in a room with - now, with a drum machine because a drum machine never tires and it enables you to edit, really, to precision, and we just start jamming. Every single song is created through jamming and we love it, we're like kids, and it's a joy because the music - I've worked with amazing musicians who can play incredible stuff and always surprise me even after 34 years, and that's probably the most enjoyable part of 'James' is the jam may last ten minutes or it may last a hour and twenty, and we are just following, it's like a dance between four people and the song would just take off and we record it in quality and then we go back listen to it, and now we chop up and go - well different people do it, but the way I work is I chop up the bits I love and see if I can put them together like a jigsaw and then go 'Okay, this could be a song if we moved to this and then we might play it’, see if we can learn it and play it, or we might use the chop up and construct a song almost from that first jam.
And we love the clashes, we love the mistakes; the mistakes is something that no songwriter could ever choose to do, so they transcend song writing, they come from the unconscious, they come from a collective unconscious. The lyrics I'm improvising words, I'm improvising sounds, I often come up with lyrics, quite a lot of the lyric in the first jam that then tell me what the song is going to be about and then I have to tune in and complete it which can sometimes be tricky. As a process it's a pleasure, it's an absolute joy, it's a surprise, no one controls it, I can't make a song to order, no one can, I can't write a lyric to order, I can't say 'I'm now going to write about Donald Trump', but if I'm pissed off about Donald Trump enough, he will come into the lyrics because the unconscious will just start to let him in. I sometimes write about things that I know I'm writing about that have been so strong, so when my mother died a lot of the album 'La Petite Mort' is about my mother dying and about my best friend dying a few months later, but it came out in ways that were unexpected because my mother died beautifully and so, that's - those songs about her are really up and optimistic because it was a birth, obviously a birth, didn't need to be told. And she died in my arms and she was ninety and she was ready to go, so you let certain things in your life are so impactful they just come into the songs. Other things you write, a lyrically, and I haven't a clue what I have written so for example, I wrote this song 'This is you, this is me, underneath a Manzanita tree, fire consumes the fruit to seed, we are forged, we are baked, by this fire we are shaped, fire loved, fire wild, we must learn from our mistakes or stars will fall, stars will fall underneath a Manzanita tree'. And I thought 'Oh, what a crap lyric, no one in England is going to know what a Manzanita tree is, I'm writing about fire again and I've written about fire a lot, what a cliché, I've got to try and change this lyric, and I couldn't change the lyric. The Manzanita tree in Topanga where I live, it's a tree that only seeds when a fire comes through and it germinates the seed, so for forty years there's no Manzanita trees and then the whole place burns down and then this Manzanita seeds - so it's a fascinating tree.

Donal:
Like a failsafe.
Tim Booth:
It's a failsafe that also tells you you're probably living in a rather dangerous area. Now, I wrote that lyric not having a clue what I'd written, try to change it but - Okay, here's the other confession which I don't always tell people - I feel I'm writing with help, and they often have a much better idea about what the lyrics meant to be than I do. The lyrics often come true a year later about me or about close friends, they often come true not directly but very close. So I wrote that lyric on the last album, thought it was a crap lyric, went up to Berkeley, moved back to Topanga to the fire ceremony and there's a Manzanita tree at the fire ceremony and they've invited us to hang on that Manzanita tree the different names of the people we've lost and loved, and I'm sitting there watching this fire going 'Oh, this is what's that lyrics are about, by this fire we are forged, we are baked, stars will fall underneath a Manzanita tree'. And so suddenly I go 'Oh, I'm in the right place, I'm meant to be back, my son is meant to be in this school, I wrote this lyric a year ago'.
I wrote a song called 'Move Down South' on that record and I'm going 'Why am I writing 'Move Down South' when I'm moving up north?' And when we mixed the song we were in Berkeley up north and my son listens to it and goes 'Dad, you'll not listen to your own lyrics, you know they come true, we're meant to move down south, we're meant to move back to Topanga.' On that record there's a song called 'The Girl at the End of the World', it was a song about dying in a car crash going – ‘On the way up here, hairpin bends, idiot Americans overtake, someone goes down the canyon, you see it every month’. And I wrote this song about can you face death with joy? So the chorus is really uplifting, it's -♫ 'Remind me to breathe at the end of the world, appreciate scenes and the love I've received, to love who I've been at the end of the world, the departing, the departing, remind me to breathe at the end of the world'.♫ Positive song, but about dying in a car crash.
And I got scared and - because of my history, I've been writing about - that my lyrics come true for thirty years, and we're leaving Topanga, I think 'Okay, I can release this, we're leaving Topanga, we move up to Berkeley, I'm fine'. We move back to Topanga and I'm scared and I tell my wife and I tell my son and I tell all of my friends, I even tell interviewers that I'm scared about this song because I've written a lyric about dying in a car crash and I know it happens. We record the song, we mix it, Jimmy and our band comes around a corner at seventy and there’s a car overtaking four cars coming head on towards him exactly as I described in the song, ♫ 'Overtaking, SUV approaching, we're on a blind curve, there's nowhere to swerve'.♫ And just at the last minute the four cars make space for him and they pull in and he, by a second, he escapes death and he pulls over shaking, and I think 'Oh, it's okay, he's broken the curse, no one is going to get hurt, that's what I was writing about'. We decide to release the song as a single which is never a good thing, and two weeks before it comes out as a single I'm with my wife and my son on the freeway at sixty and someone slams into us from behind and the side on rush hour traffic at sixty miles an hour packed, and somehow we go across three lanes of traffic without touching a car into the hard shoulder and everything goes slow motion, and I turn around to my son and go 'You okay?', and he goes 'Yes, I'm fine, dad'. And I look in the mirror and I can see this guy who hit us spinning to face the traffic coming towards him at sixty, seventy miles an hour and they stop above him like a towering wave, no one is hurt and we all pull to the side. And a week later I hit a post, and a week after that my wife gets hit behind at five miles an hour and then song is released.

Donal: Is that going to affect your future song writing?

Tim:
I won't write about dying in a car crash again, but I can't sense the songs because it feels like I betray something in myself and in my job. And my job is to write as honestly as I can because I know it will find resonance with people and help their lives.

Donal: When you say help with your song writing...?

Yeah, I get hundreds of letters from people describing in very precise detail how a song has changed their life, and what a song means to them, and how on Earth did I know?

Donal: And do you have any sense of when you're writing a song, recording a song, playing a song, playing a song live, of an emotion that you would like to place into the listener or the way you’d like them to feel or react?

A little to some craft after the initial downloading there's an element of craft, there's an element of how do you tell the story in the most effective way, and I'm a storyteller and so yes, some craft.

Donal: Because we were talking about education earlier and, you know, for me, you know, parenthood and how to be a good parent and the balance between being a parent and being your own person and where that comes in, so I wonder what, you know, how do you walk that line in terms of balance, what have you learnt in terms of, you know, being true to yourself but also being the best parent you can be?

Well that's a great question because being a great parent, being the greatest parent you can be also involves being the most fulfilled you can be, and that sometimes involves being quite radical, and it sometimes involves walking away to go and learn things on the other side of the world, or to go teach things on the other side of the world. I think it's up to the individual to take it step by step. We have an amazing child; my older child is twenty seven so he's okay, although he would say that he missed me. When my next child was born I didn't tour for two years so I could be around. I've taken them on tour a lot with me, we have the most incredible relationship, my wife tours a lot and travels a lot because she teaches, she's a shaman, she teaches shamanism and she teaches going into altered states through dancing as I do sometimes, and so we have to balance being away, but there's always one of us with him. And that's been amazing for me because most fathers don't get that experience of being alone with their child for three weeks at the age of two and frequently, and so me and - he's used to having one adoring parent with him the whole time and it's been the most brilliant thing for me to learn and to be with my best friend, really, and to learn how to be in the world in that way.
Donal: And when you are on the freeway into Los Angeles and you're surrounded by all these people who seem to be incredibly time-poor. There’s always people going somewhere, and everyone seem to be under such pressure, the time-pressure, the financial pressure all kind of wrapped in together, and you're living close to them but in a different world metaphysically, what do you wish you could convey to them or, I'm not trying to put you into this where you sound like you know something that they don't, but what you wish you could share with people to help make their lives easier dash better?
Tim Booth:
I can't, and I don't have that arrogance and I live my life. I'm lucky enough to live just about in a national park; we walk up the road we're in a national park. I go into Los Angeles once a week, so I only dip into that world. We had a mountain lion in this area for three months, killed all our friend's goats, killed all the cats, we used to have a bobcat living under our house, every year we see and nearly walk on rattlesnakes; we live in nature, we're blessed to live in nature and it's amazing. So that's my reality, I live amongst some very interesting creative people and, you know, I cycle around here and then I go into Los Angeles once a week, and I keep out of rush hour and I dip in and get what I need and get out; or go to the beach and we do surfing, you know, my son is learning surfing and my son is doing his black belt in karate next week and, you know, you use what you can use and you get out. I don't know, you can see that's more and more an option for more and more people but I'm aware that I'm incredibly privileged to be able to do that. I go into Los Angeles to teach movement-work, my wife teaches it and when she's away I teach it and we have classes up to 70, 80 people in Los Angeles with this system of movement that would've been laughed at thirty years ago in the same way yoga was laughed at and people come in and they dance and they cry and they shout and they scream and they vent and they love, and they go out feeling that they've let off some steam. I mean, these are the things we do in our lives to make life liveable, to let off steam, to function as a human being. We meditate, we dance, we go out for hiking in nature, you know, and we love our friends and our children and it's simple, really. And then every so often I go - I step on an airplane, I deal with jet lag, I go into high intensity work situation where I have to be an athlete and you have to be in front of thousands of people in quite a vulnerable way, and it's a very exciting rollercoaster and then you come back and you come back to the quietness, to the contrast, I might come back to being a single father, and it's all part of being a human.
Donal: Tim, I can't think of a better place to wrap up on, we're only wrapping it up because you have to go but then...

Tim: That was fun, I'm so glad we got on.

Donal: Thank you so much. Amazing.

Tim: Thank you, Donal, it's been a real pleasure meeting you,

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