Published: 29/11/2012 09:30 - Updated: 28/11/2012 16:53

Putting Glasvegas back on the map

Written byby Margaret Chrystall

From left Rab Allan, James Allan, Jonna Löfgren, Paul Donoghue.
From left Rab Allan, James Allan, Jonna Löfgren, Paul Donoghue.

GLASVEGAS frontman James Allan was taking a break from mixing the band’s third album when he settled down in a Glasgow park to consider the past, the future – and how gallus the fox is.

For some he’s the ultimate rock star, flaky in print, charismatic onstage and with songs that light up your listening device with the epic sweep of a Phil Spector-like wall of sound.

But some people can’t stand James and his music, so maybe it’s appropriate that the Marmite man of rock has been through both his onstage black and white periods.

Yet you can’t mistake his passion – and that should bring its own respect.

He’s even strangely forgiving about the way the band was suddenly dropped by label Columbia in 2011.

His head is full of the third album – renamed over the weekend from Whoever Shouts The Loudest to Later ...When The TV Turns To Static.

James Allan at RockNess 2011.
James Allan at RockNess 2011.

“There’s the first part where you have to see if you’ve got anything to say, then the strange side of your imagination flourishes,” he explained.

“But the point we’re now at is like trying to hammer the nail in properly – and not hit my finger!

“I’m not a very good handyman,” he laughed.

Second album Euphoric/// Heartbreak \\\ which wasn’t a commercial success, was recorded in Santa Monica.

But for new one Later ... – due out next year – it was back home to Glasgow to put it together.

New songs already announced include Later ..., I’d Rather Be Dead With You, All I Want Is My Baby and If, and James is clearly excited about the album.

“When you’re recording, there’s some nerves floating around because there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to put the thoughts from your mind to your fingertips to the guitar to the piano to the recording studio and then into the shops with the CD.

“With all these different stages on the journey, it’s quite easy for that idea to be lost or distorted along the way.

“Sometimes if you don’t watch it, it can get lost. You don’t know until you hear it with your own ears coming out of the speakers.

“But last night part of me retired because I knew the work had been done on the album.

“For me, the songs all relate to fears or hopes or sadness or anger or optimism, happiness, dreams, nightmares and all that.

“And sometimes I think it’s the passion that makes it hard – where there is love involved.

“That’s the part that lets us live the dream – the love.

“But it’s also the part that can make it seem impossible at times as well. With anything you gain through love, I think there is always something taken from you as well.

“When there’s so much passion, when you give yourself to something so much, there is a vulnerability as well.

“But at least you are living, you’re alive and the blood is flowing through you.

“That’s better than being numb and oblivious.”

It’s the talk of a man who has been through some tough times.

James famously went AWOL for the Mercury Music Prize ceremony when first album Glasvegas was up for an award.

A heavy early touring schedule for the band also took its toll.

He laughed: “I didn’t realise at the time, you’ve got to take the odd week off! See the daft things that you learn as you go on?”

Glasvegas
Glasvegas

 

But he’s philosophical about being dropped by label Columbia just after Euphoric/// Heartbreak \\\ came out – and having to keep it secret for months – including when playing their 2011 RockNess set.

James revealed: “The label said they’d appreciate it if we didn’t tell anybody.

“That’s just such a strange time if you are in a band.

“But the last thing I would say about the Columbia thing is that the record deal they’d offered us was was totally in Glasvegas’s favour and they were up against it from the start because they’d been so desperate to sign the band.

“I remember when we were in the middle of making the first album, they phoned up and said ‘Can we change the record deal?’ Our manager was like ‘No, we’re not changing it!’

“But to be fair to them, in any business transaction or business partnership, I think if it’s so one-sided it will break.”

Yet having a big record label behind them for the first album means Glasvegas got the chance to tour the world. And it's allowed James to find some new places to love.

"I think Glasgow, Los Anglees and Scandinavia - Denmark and Sweden - are great.

"I love Los Angeles.

"It's really great in America and visiting different places, I think, makes you a little less judgmental.

"In America, every different state has its different way that it does things.

"I think travelling through the States on a bus, you are exposed to different people’s lives.

"You can’t help but become a little bit more sympathetic or understanding. And I’m so lucky I’ve been able to do it."

James is less forgiving when it comes to to ensuring the band artwork is always striking.

He laughed: “I have always been really dead bossy!

When I looked at starry night, I thought if I want good artwork, I would just go to Van Gogh!

“When making the first album we got offered a lot of artwork. I turned it down because I didn’t think it had any connection with the music.

“So since then I’ve always been quite bolshy about it.

“I remember once on the way to the studio getting a call from the label and saying ‘I don’t really feel the artwork connects with the album.’

“This woman asked me ‘So what don’t you like about it, specifically?’ and I said ‘My mother could have done better than what you sent me!’.

“I just remember everybody went so silent on the phone. And my sister Denise, who’s the band’s manager, just went ‘OK, I think that’s us ...’!”

So then after that I said ‘We’ll use Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

"And everyone said ‘We won’t be able to use it because of copyright’.

"I don’t really know much about business, but I’d already checked this out - that picture is actually in the public domain so we could have used it if we wanted it and that would have been the end of it basically!

"But they said it would cost a fortune, before they checked up.

"Then they said 'Tell James he's right!'.

"When I looked at Starry Night, I thought if I want good artwork, let's just go to Van Gogh!

"The photographs on the second album, that was all my idea.

"We went into the house with a projector and got someone to come in and take the photos.

James explained: “On the front cover I’m facing a picture of Marilyn Monroe, one of the last pictures she got taken and it was on the beach outside the house we had in Santa Monica.”

The dead photographer’s wife agreed to let the band use the picture for $2000.

James laughed: “But it turned out she didn’t own the photo, so we couldn’t use it and the covers for the American album were being pressed that night.

“I was in Sweden, but there was a photo taken by my stepfather of my mum on a beach – wearing these Roy Orbison glasses I remembered as a wee boy.

“So that’s the photo on the American covers.

“Later I remember on tour going to a record shop in Minneapolis and meeting my mum on the front of a rock ‘n’ roll record.

“That’s living the dream!”

New album, new dream.

“I guess I’m looking forward to sharing these songs with people,” said James.

“My life feels different after doing them. There is a part of me that is really happy.”

Glasvegas play Inverness Ironworks on Wednesday (Dec 5). For a longer version of this interview, go to www. highland-news.co.uk/whats-on/music

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