The Pop Philosopher
“I don’t make small talk,” says Tim Booth, his voice buoyantly bursting through the transatlantic wires. “I really enjoy going into a deeper level with people. Don’t you?” Before I can steer him back to the topic at hand—his solo album, Bone—we’re off on a metaphysical romp, pondering the existence of a God who allows both Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi to wield their disparate influences.
“The whole new age thing is that you create your reality,” Booth says. “That’s all good and well, if we have control of our own consciousness, which is also creating our reality. But you have to go into the shadow—the unconscious—to weed it out. That’s the journey, and that’s where I get my lyrics.”
Call Bone a lush, musical version of Philosophy 101: “We create our own fate / Everything’s connected / God in Man, man from ape,” Booth muses on the electronic-driven “Monkey God,” while, on the title track, he ruminates on the dichotomy of the world, singing “One man lives, one man dies / One forgives, one gets crucified / Life just takes you to the bone.” Not your typically lighthearted pop lyrics, but catchy nonetheless.
“I wrote those songs in different frames of mind,” Booth reveals. “‘Bone is stoical and accepting of the big picture. In ‘Monkey God,’ I ask, ‘What the f--- are we? How do we change?’ Revenge, which has been hardwired into our gut, comes naturally, while forgiveness seems to be a thing you have to learn. What a paradox,” he says, laughing.
Hardly what you’d expect from a British rock star, but Booth, James’ former frontman, is relishing the conversation. “My old bandmates were uncomfortable when I sang about God, because they thought I was talking about religion. They got freaked out by my lyrics, which is why I went off to work with Angelo,” he says, referring to his 1996 collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti, Booth And The Bad Angel. “I realized that this kind of philosophizing needed a different musical landscape.”
But, he says, he had no plan for a solo career when he left James after twenty years together. “It was like leaving a relationship without having started a new affair. I didn’t have a guilty conscience. We’d finished our contract with Mercury, and I didn’t see us topping our last album. I didn’t want to cruise,” he says. “I wanted a challenge.”
Since leaving James, Booth has pushed himself in different ways: He received kudos for his acting in Edward Bond’s production of Saved, then won a role as a serial killer in the upcoming Batman flick. With James, he worked with the likes of Lenny Kaye and Brian Eno, and—as a solo artist—he’s released an album he can be proud of with Bone. Despite his successes, however, Booth has kept both feet firmly planted on the ground.
“When fame first hit me, I didn’t know what to do—you walk into a supermarket and suddenly you’ve got 20 people who want autographs. It’s so weird,” Booth laughs, adding, “My god, there are worse things than having people tell you how wonderful your music is!”
“It’s so pathetic and superficial,” he concludes. “In my mind, I’m leaving behind [a legacy of] great music which I passionately believe in, but in terms of the public flavor, it’s all about ice cream—one day people want vanilla, and the next day they want chocolate. In the end, that’s about as important as it gets.”