“It got to the point where it just wasn’t what it had started out as any more,” sighs Jim Jones of his former band The Jim Jones Revue, who with eight years of hard graft on the road and in the studio behind them, split in October 2014 after a string of incendiary dates billed as the Last Hurrah tour.
“We were at the stage where it felt like the Revue had to fit into the music industry – now you write the next album, now you do the next tour, now you need the licensing from that, now you need to get the distributor from that… it had started to become more about that than the original thrust of ‘I fucking love rock’n’roll!’ so it had to end.”
With no hard feelings or regret, the band went their separate ways. Well, kind of, as within just a few months of separation came talk of a new project, Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind featuring Jones and bassist Gavin Jay. Initially Revue pianist Henri Herbert was involved as well.
The story’s complicated, says Jones, who over the next hour or so explains how The Righteous Mind – named after a psychology book by Jonathan Haidt – was conceived as a side project to play songs that didn’t fit the Revue’s strict musical brief. After the Revue split, it became a full-time concern and, he says, gave him the freedom to “make music that is entertaining but also challenging and unique”.
An engaging interviewee, Jones is thoughtful, intelligent, motivated by his deep love of music. He rattles off the names of albums he’s been listening to recently. A collection of Alan Lomax’s 1959-’60 field recordings of southern folk, blues and gospel called I’ll Meet You On That Other Shore is a current favourite – “a fantastic record with emotional depth, you can hear the junction between Celtic folk and American roots,” he says. Then there’s Duke Ellington’s 1963 record Afro Bossa with “its appealing film noir mood… when jazz musicians really got into Cuban rhythms.”
These are the touchstones, he says, for his new venture, that aims to “join the musical dots”.
That idea of joining the dots isn’t a million miles away from his initial plans for the Revue. Back then Jones, who first gained notoriety as lead singer in Thee Hypnotics in 1989, had set his heart on “three quick projects that covered all the roots music that I love. I thought, ‘I’m going to do a soul project, a country project and a rock’n’roll one.’ I thought the rock’n’roll one would be the easiest to get rolling as part of a trilogy, because everyone knows that whereas getting into soul or country is a bit more specialised. I thought if I could get a quick reaction to the rock’n’roll one, it would help the others happen.”
Instead, it was so successful, the ramalama rockin’ came to define the Revue’s sound.
“And it got to the point where I was itching to flex some different muscles within what was going on in The Jim Jones Revue,” he says. “Me, Gavin and Henri worked up some songs, they weren’t straight rock’n’roll, they didn’t quite fit the brief, but we did some with the group and we put them on [2012’s final album] The Savage Heart.”
Songs such as the edgy In And Out Of Harm’s Way and particularly the eerie crooned ballad Midnight Oceans And The Savage Heart gave early indications of a new direction in Jones’ writing. “In the back of my mind I was starting to think about how I could put together a side project with maybe Gavin and Henri where I could have an outlet for that stuff. The way events unfolded, we were in a situation where it was time to do the next album and tour, and after a couple of meetings we agreed that we had come to the end of that road. Rather than have things slow down, we decided to do one last tour and that was that.”
It got to the point where I was itching to flex some different muscles within what was going on in The Jim Jones Revue.
After a clip of Henri Herbert pounding the piano at St Pancras railway station went viral, he left Jones to play straight boogie-woogie.
“Then I was like, how do I replace Henri, who is a great piano player and someone I’ve already got a good rapport with? I managed to get hold of Joe Glossop who had been in the picture when Elliot [Mortimer, the Revue’s first pianist] left The Jim Jones Revue, and weirdly had also replaced Elliot in St Jude when Elliot joined The Jim Jones Revue. Joe was good, but busy. He had just enough time to do the first recordings with us though.”
At the first sessions, 15 tracks were recorded and Jones cherry-picked three for Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind’s debut EP Boil Yer Blood. While the thundering title track isn’t a huge leap away from the kind of dirty blues rocker that The Jim Jones Revue excelled at, 1,000 Miles From The Sure is dream state psychedelic country – Jones dubs it “heavy lounge” – while third song Hold Up is a voodoo blues with chain gang backing vocals and tribal drums. Jones stretches his vocal cords on the latter two numbers, showing a versatility that will surprise those who only know the unhinged blues shout he employed in The Jim Jones Revue.
“They were done at a place called Space Eko East which is run by this guy Alex McGowan who is great to work with. He has his mixing desk in the middle of the room you’re recording in and he almost plays the desk like another instrument.”
As with his previous band, Jones is committed to capturing the moment. “We record live in the studio,” he says. “The way the studio is, it’s not great to do the vocal track with the rest of it, but pretty much everything else we try and do live. You have to work with the bleed and embrace it.”
While The Jim Jones Revue fans needn’t worry as Jones’ new collective are as capable of delivering unbridled rock’n’roll mayhem as his old, Jones is also pursuing simultaneously a new manifesto that he describes as “off the normal beaten track”.
The key word in my mind is ‘exotic’,” he says. “I want to feel I’m doing music that no one else is doing but still trying to hold on to a connection to the roots music I love. I’ve learnt how it all fits together – blues, country, gospel, soul, rock’n’roll. They are like different limbs of the same thing.”
Getting to work with pedal steel guitar players David Page and Paul Seacroft expanded his mind.
“I wanted to use pedal steel, because it has that exotic sound I crave,” he says. “I was excited at the prospect that you could reappropriate its use from traditional Nashville country music and use it in place of a second guitar – it’s incredibly versatile, able to create unusual noises and textures.’”
Signposts for that exotic sound, he says, include the use of pedal steel on haunting 1959 instrumental Sleepwalk by Santo And Johnny, Buddy Cage’s playing of the instrument on Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks album and Glenn Ross Campbell’s playing on The Misunderstood’s psychedelic Children Of The Sun. “So I had these ‘join the dots’ moments which I thought something could come out of.”
Throughout our chat, a phrase that Jones keeps repeating is that of ‘heavy lounge’.
“I’ve got some songs,” he explains, “they are more in that Walker Brothers, Lee Hazlewood, Porter Wagoner, Leonard Cohen vein. For me ‘lounge’ is a loose term that I can throw it all into. But it’s intense lounge so ‘heavy lounge’ is my handle for it all. I was harking back to the Big Star album Sister Lovers and those really desolate ballads. It has the same intensity as rock’n’roll, but presented in a different way.”
The group’s first shows took place in France, where the Revue had built a strong fanbase; the line-up of Jay (on stand-up bass played with a bow as well as electric bass), Phil Martini (drummer, ex-Tokyo Dragons), Glossop and Page took the stage to a triumphant reception.
I was a little bit nervous, but more excited and determined to get the whole thing rolling
“I was a little bit nervous but more excited and determined to get the whole thing rolling,” Jones says. “In France they have a different music culture, where they just appreciate an artist coming to town, they don’t have to fit things into genres like doom metal or something, they just like it because it’s put across well. That was great.”
Disaster struck, though, when with a London date booked and plans for a UK tour, both Glossop and Page bailed out due to other commitments.
“Joe said, ‘Dude, I’ve been offered some shows and it’s pretty good money and I don’t want to turn it down.’ I said, ‘Joe, fucking hell mate, you know I’m trying to get this running.’ And he said, ‘It’s with Tom Jones,’ so I was like, ‘Fair enough!’ [Laughs] Then David had been working with me and also The Ruen Brothers and their demos got picked up by Rick Rubin. He’s got them in his Santa Monica studio recording, no expenses spared. David was invited to work on that and I couldn’t really argue, but it left me thinking, ‘What do I do now?’”
Determined not to give up, Jones had to find a new pianist and a new pedal steel player.
“The pedal steel machine is hard to master – you meet guys who’ve spent a long time learning it and it’s hard to get them to un-learn it and experiment. I don’t want that Dolly Parton kind of playing on what I’m doing, I want them to approach it in a whole new way and see what the cinematic possibilities are or how gruesome they can make it sound. It’s really hard to get someone to be open-minded enough to not be precious about their fingerpicking licks.
“As for the piano player, they need to be able to play intense boogie repetitions, but twist them like Henri so they are not too trad sounding.”
At the suggestion of Martini, Jones recruited pedal steel player Malcolm Troon, who is doing a degree in music at university but has been able to fit in The Righteous Mind around his studies. A phone call to pianist Matt Millership, whom Jones had previously approached when Elliot Mortimer left The Jim Jones Revue, led to him coming on board and the band were back to full strength.
“I managed to get the new guys filled in and just about up to speed before the first London show at Hoxton Square Bar And Kitchen. Not only was it difficult for them to learn the stuff in a short amount of time, given that the songs are purposely written to be awkward and unusual by design, but also they were making their debut at a sold-out London show, so no pressure!”
Jones had one further temporary line-up shift to deal with when Martini was only able to complete part of the band’s UK tour, before having to honour a commitment to play dates with Spear Of Destiny. His stand-in for the remainder of the tour was Jim Sclavunos, of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and Grinderman, who produced two of The Jim Jones Revue’s albums.
As the mastermind behind the band, Jones holds everything together, but the fluid line-up must be a frustration. “The musicians are playing what I ask them to play. I write pretty much everything, but I try and find out what people are great at and showcase their abilities. It’s not luck, it’s by design. Beyond that there is a chemistry of certain people playing together as well.”
Has he had any feedback from Revue fans yet?
“I’m getting a lot of the fans coming along and for the most part they get it. I’ve only met two people so far in all the gigs we’ve done who have said, ‘It’s not the same, mate,’ and I had to explain ‘Why would you want it to be the same? That would just be like the same band. How would that be interesting?’
“And these first shows have been about finding our feet, finding out what does and doesn’t work,” he adds. “I want to make something really great, really different, really exciting and fulfilling for everyone.”
Boil Yer Blood is out now via Raygun