Jim Bob catches up on LeftLion after his recent visit to Rock City
The unstoppable sex machine, Jim Bob, has turned his energies to the written word, penning an autobiography and a couple of novels. Not bad for someone who claims to write 25 words a week. We caught up with him after a recent gig at The Greyhound.
You wrote an autobiography Goodnight Jim Bob and a mini novel for A Humpty Dumpty Thing, but have you always written prose or was the transition from lyricist to fully-fledged novelist with and Driving Jarvis Ham a difficult one?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult, it came fairly naturally but I hadn’t really written anything since school that wasn’t a song. I’d written the odd thing for the NME, but the only thing I’d written before then was the Carter book In Bed With Jim Bob.
How did the Carter book come about?
People always said why don’t you write a Carter book? I tried starting one before and it was pretty awful. Then I read Dave Eggers A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is supposedly a memoir, but it reads like a novel, it’s a bit bonkers in the way it’s written, and after I’d read that I realised that I could write my book in a different way.
Were you encouraged to write at an early age?
Yeah, I had a really good English teacher, she actually encouraged me to leave school, and I’ll always remember that, she said that I was wasted at school.
You’ve created an interesting, funny, yet ultimately flawed character in Jarvis Ham. Was he based on anyone you’ve met?
Not specifically based on one person but there are bits of people in there, he wasn’t a fully formed character, he was a lot funnier and nicer when I was basing him on people, then I sort of made him more grotesque and he sort of took on a life of his own. Originally I had the idea after seeing people, particularly on television, who looked a bit strange, and thinking I bet there’s something about them. The kind of people who are exposed as paedophiles, and everybody thinks; well I always knew that…those kinds of people, larger than life. Jarvis is a whacky character, a Britain’s Got Talent kind of guy. You don’t necessarily need any discernable talent to get on television; you just have to be a bit mental (laughs) in the nicest possible sense.
Photograph Julia Indelicate
Do you identify with Jarvis’s quest for fame or was it always just a bi-product of being a musician and songwriter?
I always wanted to be a pop star when I was young. But even that was in the back of my mind, it was always making music and being in a band more than anything else, so you’re always thinking ‘Oh, I’ve got to get a record out’ and that kind of thing or ‘I want to be on televison’ but really I just tended to concentrate on writing songs and then playing them. But it wasn’t necessarily enough.
How do you think you handled fame?
Not that badly really, not being into drugs, they’ve never really interested me, so I didn’t go off the rails. There were moments where I did become a bit of an idiot because I could make demands, when you’re essentially an employer of twenty people, that’s potentially what can happen.
But I’ve always been a shy quiet person really, until I unleash it through song…
What kind of process do you undertake when putting together a novel?
Storage Stories, my first novel, took quite a long time, there were various stages where I wrote it, then I left it for a year and then came back and changed it. So, at one point it was just a collection of short stories, that’s how it was going to be, but based in a storage facility. There were other bits to it, other stories that aren’t in there, so I suppose it was quite mathematical in the end.
I did loads of drafts, but not even drafts really, as I tend to edit as I go along. I never write say a thousand words at any point. Sadly I only usually write about 25 words a week.
Would you agree that Carter USM have been somewhat airbrushed out of 1990s pop history?
Totally, yeah, completely, I see it all the time, I mean I wouldn’t want to get bitter about it, but if there’s a BBC Four documentary about music from that time period there’s a jump, it goes from Acid-House to Oasis and Blur and the bit before? Well it’s as if nothing happened, never mentioned. The worse one they had, was about crossover dance and rock music based around the anniversary of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, and we weren’t on there, they had everyone else (laughs) they even had REM and Nirvana, who weren’t necessarily ‘dancey’.
I’ve been told not to talk about it because I moan about it too much. We had a bad book review this week; the basis of the review was that my career as an author would be like my career as a musician with Carter, in that, there’d be no lasting legacy for anyone. He was saying that Carter had had a hit but nobody cares about them now, but it’s crap. I meet people all the time; we do these reunion gigs, I mean, who are the people that go to them? It means a lot to them but some journalists and reviewers still see us as this sort of novelty. I don’t know why. Maybe one day we’ll be appreciated, when I’m dead...
As a lyricist, particularly with Carter USM, you had a unique handle on extremely clever wordplay that was sneery but absolutely heartfelt at the same time, and there’s maybe some Glen Tilbrook/Squeeze overtones in there but who were or are your other influences in terms of writing?
Glen Tilbrook yeah, Chris Difford, but mostly Elvis Costello and The Jam, they were both quite lyricky sort of artists, Elvis Costello especially, and I‘ve stuck with him through thick and thin, I’m going to see him next week actually. I’ve always been drawn to people that write interesting lyrics like Nick Cave and Tom Waits. I liked the Happy Mondays but weren’t so keen on The Stone Roses and I think that’s down to Shaun Ryder’s words, though I don’t really know what he was talking about, he just wrote some interesting things.
Was the political edge, the anger and social commentary something that just evolved with Carter USM or was it always intended to be in there? Did you have a Carter Manifesto?
It was always just there but we always resisted, or I certainly did. I never wanted to be a political band, even though we obviously were, I didn’t want to be affiliated with any organised politics as such. In the band before Carter (Jamie Wednesday) we did some Red Wedge stuff and I hated it all, I don’t know what it was, but there was something annoying about the people involved, it’s like they were doing it as a topic of education. We just hated Margaret Thatcher; it wasn’t something that we even understood. We never studied the politics. What Carter sang about were fairly obvious things - we didn’t like racism, we didn’t like child abuse, it wasn’t that clever…
Do you support the Occupy movement?
I don’t really know how I feel about that to be honest with you. I think it’s great but I think it’s the kind of thing that years ago when I was younger, I wouldn’t have liked because of the people involved. But I don’t want to criticise it. I guess it’s a class and education thing. It’s the kind of thing some people think they should be doing, almost as if it’s some sort of gap year activity.
A lot of the time you find that the people involved in those movements are hated by the people they’re standing up for. People who are really in the shit just want to get out of it, they want money and they want a car, they don’t necessarily care about human rights. It’s a crazy world. I think Occupy is a great thing in many ways, but you’re probably not going to find me singing there.
Have you been asked?
I have been asked but I think it’s a young man’s game…
What can you do as a solo artist you couldn’t with Carter USM?
I don’t know, for a while we could do whatever we wanted with Carter but in the end maybe we couldn’t. With the solo music, other than the constraints of money, I can do whatever I want. If I want to make a jazz album there’s no one to say I can’t, especially when you’re not signed to a record label. It’s totally your own. I’m free to do whatever I want, as someone once said.
' poetry collection Citizen Kaned
is published by Crystal Clear Creators.
Driving Jarvis Ham
The Friday Project, £7.99
‘Would you drink a pint of your own piss?’ So goes the opening line of Jim Bob’s dark and hilarious new novel Driving Jarvis Ham, the story of a talentless misfit’s quest for fame at whatever the cost. It’s a super-sharp, laugh out loud on-the-road murder mystery, which winds up and down the highways and byways, taking in oddly decorated Devon teashops, lonely static caravans and grotty service station cafes.
Jarvis Ham, the unfortunate title character, could probably only spring out of the mind of Jim Bob. He’s the ultimate grotesque; the sort of deluded wanna-be Princess Di fanatic, that even Britain’s Got Talent would refuse to audition. Those unfamiliar with the authors other work, (whether it’s his last novel Storage Stories or the many splendid songs he’s crafted as front man to post-punk funsters Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine), needn’t worry, this book can be enjoyed by anyone, provided they have a wicked sense of humour and a confused indifference towards the X Factor, Heat magazine, celebrity obsessed ridiculous non-culture that we now seem to inhabit.