> Jim Bob (Carter USM) chats back catalogues, DIY video apps, and the scourge of urban cockerels - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Jim Bob (Carter USM) chats back catalogues, DIY video apps, and the scourge of urban cockerels

Jim Bob, The former Carter USM frontman and novelist, is about to embark on a UK-wide tour following the release of his 12th solo album, Thanks for Reaching Out. Jim Bob sat down with SNACK to talk back catalogues, DIY video apps, and the scourge of urban cockerels.

So, the video for ‘Bernadette (Hasn’t Found Anyone Yet)’ [latest single where the accompanying video is a pastiche of a dating app featuring notorious British public figures]. Did you do that yourself?

I did, yeah. I’d always had that idea for a video, since I made the album. I got a thing off the internet and I just put in all the various images and typed in various stuff that would be on Tinder. It still took me three days to put everything in there. I’m sure I could’ve just used an AI thing, but would it be the same? Probably not.

It made me think ‘God, there are some awful men out there.’

And that’s just the famous ones! I’ve been with the same partner since 1979, so the last time I had to do any sort of dating, I was still at school.

The latest record is amongst your best: in fact, I’d say it’s between this and Pop-Up Jimbob for the best of your solo records. How do you feel about it?

Once I’ve made a record, I don’t really listen to it a lot, but I was actually preparing for the tour, like working out what songs to do, and that album definitely has something about it. With Pop-Up Jimbob, it came out after seven years of not doing any new music, and it surprised people. It surprised me, as well, whereas the one in between (Who Do We Hate Today?) doesn’t have that thing with a surprise album or the latest one. It’s the same band on the three records, but one of them was made just before lockdown, one during lockdown, and this latest one is the first one where we were all in the same room for quite a bit of it. So I think that makes a big difference.

In my head, they’re still your new band, but you’ve been together for quite a while now. They used to be The Hoodrats, essentially?

I’ve known Chris T-T since about 2000 and I’ve made quite a few records that he’s played on. He’s always kind of been there: The Hoodrats were his backing band when he played live and for a couple of albums, so they kind of came with Chris. I guess it was about 2018, the first time we played together.

A lot of attention goes towards Jen [Macro]. She’s a silly good guitarist . . .

She’s incredibly quiet unless she’s had a drink. She contributes a lot of stuff. I mean, I make fairly involved demos before I get it together with the band and everybody contributes stuff, but Jen always brings a lot of things I would never come up with, purely because she’s such an innovative guitarist. You know when they make those ‘greatest guitarists of all time’ things? They always include people that, I think, Jen is way better than.

How much of your songwriting, throughout your career, has been bedroom songwriter-type stuff and how much has been the result of jamming things out? And has that changed as the years go by?

I’m hyper-aware of my songwriting at the moment because I’ve been writing a book about writing the songs [Where Songs Come From – The Lyrics and Origin Stories of 150 Solo and Carter USM Songs, out in the autumn.]

When I was first in bands, after I left school, it was pretty much all jamming-based, but I got chosen to write the words for some reason. When I met Les [Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter – the other half of Carter USM] it was more like two people sitting in a room writing a song, like you imagine the Beatles or something.

Since then, it’s either been me and Les or me on my own. I’ve hardly ever jammed; it doesn’t appeal to me and you can end up with inferior songs because you get sucked into the moment. ‘This is a good riff – let’s play it for ten minutes.’


Jim Bob

On one of the songs on the new album, there’s a massive, cacophonous breakdown section – did you purposely write it like that?

I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but I had that bit written. It wasn’t that precise. I made a demo where I made a lot of noise with the guitar and said to Ben [Murray – drummer], ‘Just go mental and hopefully it’ll come out OK,’ and it worked. There’s a lot of that with Jen.

I’d ask her if she could ‘create the outbreak of war’, or things like that, because I knew with her and her pedals and stuff, she could come up with it. I mean, there are things that happen in the recording: with John [Clayton, keyboards], I’ve recorded the last five albums I’ve done with him in his studio. To the extent that I’ll go home, come in the next day, and he’s changed some stuff.

Are you always happy with that?

I’d say yeah, I think so, because he’s a great musician and he’s engineered and produced a lot of fairly well-known stuff. His studio was in Brixton but it’s now in Crystal Palace, which is ten minutes’ walk from my house, so it’s ideal.

Do you still feel attached to south London that way? Like you’d never leave?

I don’t know. I’ll have moments where I want to leave – now being one of them – but it’s usually because of something going on.

Gentrification?

It always tends to be other people. I don’t know if it’s gentrification, but it’s usually noise. There are a lot of  dogs about, and then the worst thing of all happened. It’s going now. I wish you could hear it: somebody very close to us got a cockerel.

A cockerel?

Yeah, it sounds like nothing. It’s just a cockerel. So what? But it goes on all day and if you’re trying to write something or concentrate, you just can’t because it just . . . it never shuts up. I can’t actually cope with the idea that, you know, in a built-up area of London, somebody would think ‘yeah, I’ll get a cockerel – that won’t be a problem’ then fuck off to work or whatever. I’ve become an expert on cockerels.

If you’re in the countryside, they’ll crow when the sun comes up, warning against predators, but in the middle of London, next to a main road, it’s just doing it if a car goes past. That’s not right, is it?

Going back to the upcoming book, your ninth: is it mainly about your lyrics and how they came about?

Yeah – Chris T-T inspired me because he wrote a book about his lyrics, and there was a book I read that Ian Drury’s daughter had put together of his lyrics and the little stories around them. So I thought I’d write a book like that, but the chapters would be simple things like politics and songs related to politics.

I thought it would be easy because a lot of the words would already be done, because they’re lyrics, but it’s actually quite difficult and it ended up taking quite a long time.

So it’s not chronological?

That would probably be easier but the trouble is, from an audience’s point of view, you get all of the stuff that people want to read at the beginning. I do that with gigs too – with putting a set together. Some people will play all the new stuff then, at the end, play all of the old hits. Whereas I like to mix it up so it doesn’t have, for some people, a boring beginning and a great end  and people aren’t just sitting there waiting for ‘Sheriff Fatman’.

When you’re talking about gigs and your writing, your first thoughts are about the audience and the reader. Do you think you’re a people pleaser?

I suppose I might be, yeah. With books like this, I was worried about the way people read them, where they’ll dip in. I wanted them to read it in a linear way, like it was a novel. There are a lot of callbacks, so if you read it in the wrong order, you’ll miss some of the stuff that I like about it.

Do you think that’s a lesson you’ve learned from your fiction writing?

I think so, yeah. Even putting together an album of tracks, it’s frustrating to think that people are just going to play it in their own order after you’ve put things together. Even if it’s just bits about lyrics, there’s a definite narrative to it.

On the fiction: because you had two books revolving around one protagonist, Frank Derrick, did you feel that you got so involved with that character that it was hard to let go?

Not really, no. It hasn’t been the case with other ones I’ve written that are standalone novels. It was really tempting to let him go, but with those two novels, possibly three, there’s a lot of my mum in there. There was a lot of my mum that went into that character, and she was always there to provide a lot of the material and anecdotal stuff.

Do you ever feel like the legacy of Carter USM weighs you down in any way? 101 Damnations, 30 Something and 1992: The Love Album all got re-releases on their anniversaries but how do you feel about Post Historic Monsters and Worry Bomb – do you think they get overlooked?

Well, those re-releases have more to do with the record labels, but Post Historic Monsters is definitely getting a re-release soon. I think of the first four albums as the golden years, whereas I don’t really like a lot of the Carter stuff after that. With 101 Damnations, the songs were just coming,  sort of pouring out of us, because it was a new band, and it was exciting.

And then 30 Something was writing about everything that we were surrounded by. And then 1992 is where we’re still writing, but writing about outside of south London.

With Post Historic Monsters, we were probably writing about more personal things, but still kind of angry over everything. But then after that, I’m not really sure what was going on. There are some brilliant songs on that album [Worry Bomb] and on the two after it, but to me personally, they’re not the best stuff. 

Thanks For Reaching Out is out now and Jimbob plays Saint Luke’s, Glasgow on 2nd May

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