Jim Davies has just recently released his brand new solo album entitled Headwars. The first album in many years from the former guitarist of Pitchshifter and The Prodigy, the album is a triumphant return and has been received very well by both critics and fans alike. A few days after the release, we got the opportunity to send some questions over to the man himself to discuss parts of his past, present and potential future.
You’ve recently released your new album Headwars. How do you feel the response has been to it?
I’ve been really pleasantly surprised! I’d say 90% of the reviews have been really positive, open minded and objective… that’s all you can ask for really. There’s always going to be a few bad ones, that’s inevitable, but I’ve been doing this too long for it to bother me! There’s always going to be a bitter reviewer who’s working for a rubbish online magazine with a few hundred followers that will slate anything and everything (probably a failed musician, and normally a failed writer as well!) in some vein attempt to make a name for themselves as a ‘Hard nosed’ critic who should have ended up writing for Rolling Stone magazine but just ‘didn’t get the break’. At this stage of my career I really couldn’t care less, I know in myself that this is a good album so I’m very chilled about it all.
It’s all part of the game when you put out an album, you can’t be worried about the response otherwise you shouldn’t do it. I suppose these days, compared to 20 years ago, there’s a lot more keyboard warriors out there, trolls ect.. but I just find those people funny! (And sad!). But I really had no idea what the response was going to be, I was prepared for no-one to care at all, I went into this thinking anything is a bonus, so just doing an interview like this with a good established rock website like yours is a win! The Pitchshifter guys were cool enough to post on their pages about the album and the response was great, but I guess fans of Shifter are gonna be on-board and into electronic rock, they probably didn’t need much winning over!
But, hopefully this album will reach some of a new generation that are into crossover music, I don’t hear much out there that’s any good, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this album. Something I do find funny is when lazy reviewers say electronic rock is dated, I’ve heard comments like that since 1999! The thing is, this album was only ever going to sound like that as its what I do! I wasn’t gonna write an album of experimental Russian folk music was I! The industrial scene seems pretty alive and kicking to me but everyone has their own option don’t they!
The album featured some members of your former band Pitchshifter (Jason and Mark). What was it like collaborating with them again and do you think you might work with them again in the future?
I loved it! It’s a strange thing in life, you meet some people that you spend decades with and end up in all kinds of mad /brilliant and shit situations together but then fall out of contact with, normally for no reason, you just drift. But with people like Mark and Jason there’s always that bond, having done some amazing things together (and many ‘questionable’ things as well!). I got back in touch with Jason for the first time in nearly 8 years. His response was “where the fuck have you been!?..let’s write some tunes together!” and the same with Mark.
It was nice to be in a studio with them again and just enjoy it, for it has to be fun. That’s been my whole approach on this album. To have fun. I’m not doing it for money, I’ve spent the last 10 years building a massive back catalogue of music for TV/Film which makes me a good living. My house doesn’t depend on this album doing well sales wise! Me and Jase co-wrote a track on the album called “Caged” he sent me the entire song as you hear it on the album as just drums, over which I wrote the rest of the music and the vocals. It came together really quickly and easily. Jase is a very positive guy! He’s always happy (I’m not quite that way inclined!) so I get great vibes from him when we work together, plus it’s been great going to some of his Bullet gigs. It’s funny, my wife is a bit of a Bullet fan girl and had never met Jase, so when he got us on the sound desk for their gig at Slam dunk last year she lost her shit a bit. started crying during “Tears don’t fall” it was hilarious! I definitely want to do more with them both in the future; it feels right being back in touch after all this time.
Compared to previous album releases, was the process behind this one any different?
Yeah it was very different because I had complete control over it. In the past I’ve always just been the bands guitarist! I was lazy, not interested in how or what the producer was doing! I just cared about when we were doing guitars. But when I started writing for TV/film it was a steep learning curve, I had to learn quickly to do it all myself, mix, produce the lot. So on other albums I’ve done, I always had people around me to help do those things that I never thought I could do. I suppose its all an anxiety thing, I’ve always had that little devil on my shoulder telling me ‘you’re not a producer’ or ‘you can’t mix’ but over the last 10 years I’ve just taught myself all that stuff so going into this record I felt really confident that I could get it to sound how i wanted it.
Also, I was really aware that any album I did of just my own stuff would have to cover quite a range of styles as that’s just what I’m into, I couldn’t do 12 tracks that sounded like “Caged” on the album, it wouldn’t have been representative and it would have bored me to write. So I felt the time was right to do this album as I felt I’m hitting a point in my musical development (for want of a better phrase) where I could do myself justice! Which I don’t think I’ve ever done on other stuff I’ve released, I’ve always felt I could do better- It was a little weird sitting down for the first time with a blank computer screen and thinking “right, what do I sound like now? What represents me musically?” especially after 10 years of composing for TV, but that experience let me make a really diverse album which I couldn’t have done until now to this level, I really wanted to push myself to do the best I could do on my own.
When it came to writing this album, what would you say was the main inspiration behind the music?
Well the title Headwars was just a little dig at myself really. I’m very much my own worst enemy when it comes to over thinking and beating myself up! I think for a lot of us when we hit a certain period in our lives we start to look back and analyse things we did, friends we lost, bridges we burned, things we’d do differently now, and for someone like me that can be really negative. Over the last couple of years some things happened that really knocked me for six and I was in quite a dark place. But a lot of the album lyrically is about facing up depression and regrets and coming out the other side better for it!
I’ve been very hard on myself for a long time, to the point where I’ve gone to see people about how I can learn to chill out a bit and accept things as they are, in fact the lyrics to the track ‘Caged’ are about a therapy session I had. The guy just said “stop living in the past” and that just summed up most of my issues. So it’s all positive in the end. I ended up reconnecting with a lot of people because of that dark period. It’s strange as musically I’ve always tried to keep moving and improving, but I think mentally I’ve definitely been guilty of not letting myself move on. But lyrics to me are a very personal thing, I don’t feel massively comfortable putting myself out there with my own lyrics and vocals, but I knew that if i was going to write lyrics then they had to mean something to me and not be just throw away meaningless phrases or generic crap.
The Prodigy thing is a weird one, I know it’s inevitable that I’m going to be asked about it, and I’m very proud to have played a small part on tracks that are going to end up part of musical history, BUT people do tend to get a bit carried away and mis-quote you or over play your role. I would say I never ‘joined’ the band; I was only a hired hand to do guitars. You have to be so careful what you say as even recently I read back a review of this album and they said in the intro that I first suggested the idea of putting guitars on the Prodigy’s tunes to the band, which is obviously not the case as I didn’t even meet them till after Jilted Generation came out!! People can misinterpret what you say so easily and then its out there online forever-so I’m always a bit wary of talking about it too much. Im proud of the tracks I played on but it was a long time ago now and I don’t feel they define me as a musician, a lot of people have their 15 minutes of fame and try and dine off it for the rest of their lives, never doing anything else of any worth again!
Hopefully I’ve done other cool stuff! It also amazes me that to this day that there are people out there that claim to have played on Prodigy tracks that I played on! I find it quite amazing that people would claim something like that when you can be so easily found out just by searching on line or looking in the bloody inlay card, but I guess some people are very unscrupulous and desperate. Anyway! To answer the question, they played at the university I was at, I was working for the student union loading in the gear and saw they didn’t have a guitarist at the time so made a very bad demo tape of me playing over Jilted Generation, they got back to me a few weeks later and I ended up touring for about a year, after which I joined pitch shifter, but came back to play with them in 2002 again for a year or so.
If you had to pick three of the best moments you had whilst in the band, which three would you pick and why?
- Glastonbury 1995 on the NME stage. One of the bands breakthrough gigs.
- Big day tour of Australia which they headlined. Got to watch bands like Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down every night.
- Headline slot at Reading 2002. Just to have my old man watching from the side of the stage was amazing. He loved it.
In recent years, you’ve been heavily involved in writing music for TV and Film. What drew you to that sector of the music industry?
Ive always tried to think ahead, so when I was still touring and playing in bands I had one eye on what I was going to do next. I was very aware that the touring side of things couldn’t last for ever. I didn’t want to be one of those sad bastards who carrying on playing in crap pubs and clubs, still trying to look punk in their 50’s! I just got to a point around 10 years ago when I wasn’t enjoying playing live. You have to remember I started touring at a top level aged 21 so I did it full on for nearly 15 years! I did my own band called Victory Pill which I really enjoyed, but it was all self funded and it was quite demoralising.
So I started doing some session work for DJ’s who were writing production music for TV/film which really opened my eyes to that side of the business. For me, it was perfect as the bit I loved most about being a musician was the creative part in the studio. So I felt I could still write music and make a good living from it without having to tour or release music commercially. I’ve probably written 1000’s of bits of music over the last 10 years. Like I said earlier, I had to really up my game and learn how to produce everything myself, as well as writing in a load of genres, but a lot of what I write for is quite dark and gritty, for crime shows etc so its not like I do shit ukulele music with some whistling on top (that every advert seems to sound like!) So this new album definitely wouldn’t have happened had I not got into this business as it’s made me a far better musician. My music ends up on every imaginable tv show! From cool stuff to really crap stuff! But it’s very lucrative if you have enough tracks out there in the system. I’d like to get into doing some computer game music next, I’m talking to a big company about that at the moment.
What’s something you want to see less of across the music industry?
I’m not really on-board with this trend of bands coming back and playing their old albums from start to finish. I see why they do it though, people still want to hear music they identify with from 20 years ago or whatever. But to me it makes bands lazy, they know they can go out and play every year just by digging up the old back catalogue, I rather they wrote new music. But I guess that’s sometimes easier said than done. It can be a good thing for bands that never really quite made it and deserve to make a bit of money at this stage, but personally I like to keep moving forward and writing new music.
I rather hear a band from my past that I love still play those old tunes, but mix it up with new stuff. Having said that, after what’s happen at the moment with the virus bollocks, I just hope bands can survive and play live again, no matter what they are playing. When this is over if Slade announce they are going to tour playing just Remember You’re a Womble on loop for 2 hours, I’d buy tickets.
What’s one role you think is undervalued in the music industry?
Thats a good question. There’s been such a trend over the last 10 years for tribute bands (which is another thing I’d like to see less of in the industry actually!) back in the ‘old days’ when bands used to actually be able to play live! Tribute bands could make more money than a new ‘actual band’ playing their own songs, which is a shame, but you can see why people do it. I have friends that were booked up for a year playing in tribute bands, making a decent living. Its hard to deny them that as even before the virus thing happened, it was still really hard to make proper money being in a band. But, the tribute band craze for me just resulted in a new generation of musicians coming through thinking “well, there’s no point in starting a new band and trying to ‘make it’ might as well form a Britney Spears covers band and make a few quid”.
So I’d say the role of the song writer is very undervalued in the music industry. I feel like the 90’s were a great era for classic songs being written but I’m not sure I can say the same for the noughties (fucking hate that expression) but I hope we don’t lose that precious thing of a talented musician sitting in their bedroom with a guitar writing a future classic. Rather than it being replaced by some over-rated Hollywood RnB producer churning out the same old instantly forgettable shit for the next ‘big thing’ (that lasts one album!)
What do you enjoy doing outside of playing/writing music?
This answer is going to be the most un-rock n roll thing you’ve ever heard…but I don’t care. I’m fascinated with history, in particular military history. So I read up a lot on that and visit a lot of battlefields ect. I’m quite sad. In fact if I wasn’t a musician I’d probably be one of those weird archaeologists on Time team wearing a pair of far too small denim shorts with ‘the boys hanging out the barracks’ and a stripy jumper. I also collect guns; I’ve got quite a few vintage World War 1 and 2 guns.
I go Skeet target shooting (and clay pigeon shooting) as much as possible so I’ve got quite a few shotguns in the loft as well! (I’m well prepared for the apocalypse)
Going forward, do you have any plans to potentially play some of this album live?
No I don’t think so. I made that decision very early on when I started writing the album. I think it would have changed how I wrote this album if it was in my mind to play it live. I really enjoy sitting there in front of the computer without any restraints and writing what I want to, rather than thinking “should I add this extra guitar layer? if I do how would I play that live whilst singing?” It would have changed how this album sounded I think, plus I enjoy writing the slower more moody tracks on the album (“Game Of Faces”/”Modify Me”) which might not work so well live.
Putting a band together and gigging this album would have been very time consuming and lets be honest, there’s every chance that nobody would have been interested! Plus if I’m really honest, I’m not a front man. I’ve been lucky enough to play in bands with brilliant frontmen but I’m definitely not self assured enough to be up there fronting a band. It would give me anxiety nightmares for months leading up to every gig! I’ve not played live for nearly 10 years now, so it would take something pretty amazing to get me back out there! I love my house too much, it pains me to leave it (so I’m actually quite suited to self isolation!)
You’ve been involved in a lot of different musical projects over the years. Has there ever been one which surprised you with how well received it was?
I’d have to say this one. I forget sometimes how long its been since I played in bands or did interviews etc. I really was prepared for no one to care at all. So seeing the positive feedback has been really nice. I was well aware that i wasn’t going to end up on the front cover of Kerrang with this album! I knew it was going to be hard work to get anyone to be interested so I was prepared for that, so I’m happy with who this has all gone. I’ve really enjoyed the whole process, maybe it’s because at this stage in my career I can release an album and enjoy it for what it is, rather than in the old days where it meant everything and if you got a bad review or a magazine didn’t want to feature you it was gutting!
If you had to put together an ice cream sundae, which flavours of ice cream and toppings would you pick?
Interesting. Well I’ve been vegan for ages now so I don’t really do ice-cream, I’ve never had a much of a sweet tooth, I’m far more savoury based, I’m addicted to crisps. But, if you insist, I’d have a vegan tub of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip, with a sprinkling of Walker’s salt and vinegar crisps on top.
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