James Stevenson of Gene Loves Jezebel, the Alarm, International Swingers & The Cult (INTERVIEW)

James Stevenson: you know him. You really do. You just may not recognize his name upon first glance. He’s played guitar in some really cool bands, starting with Chelsea, then with Billy Idol in Generation X, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Alarm, Kim Wilde, the International Swingers. He’s currently the go-to extra live guitar player, as he calls himself, for The Cult, who just started a short swing through the United States, culminating at a festival in England in about three weeks. This little hiccup of a tour is actually pretty good for a fella like Stevenson, who has his guitar pick in many projects, including his new solo record, Everything’s Getting Closer To Being Over. He told me about his recorded endeavor after a Cult concert in Biloxi earlier this year. “Email me and I will send you a copy,” he told me. And I’m glad he did.

Stevenson put a lot of heart and soul and British humor into the ten songs. With an atmosphere of his former bands seeping into them, they do not fall into dusty nostalgia but actually fly with a freshly scented groove. His guitar playing is excellent and his lyrics are wickedly intriguing. And with the first single, “Go Mister,” it’s so freaking catchy I found myself singing it without even realizing it, hours after the CD ended. “Suzi’s Problem,” “Twilight Riders,” “Naturally Wired” and “Come On People” are all a-glimmer with hip moodiness and edgy guitar solos. And although it hasn’t been released in the US as of yet, Stevenson hopes fans will check it out via his website or iTunes or at the merch tables during the Cult run.

Last week, we caught up with Stevenson to pick his brain about his long career, playing with the Cult and recording his first solo album after nearly forty years helping others bring their music to life. So with his humor in full swing – “I’m always more than happy to talk about myself, Leslie. Trust me.” – he began by updating us on his current projects.

You’re about to start up a tour with the Cult. What is the band going to do after that, do you know?

I don’t know. The Cult really is Billy and Ian and I’m just like a hired gun so I normally don’t hear about things until the last minute (laughs). I guess Ian and Billy were working on writing some new material for a new album and they’re talking about some dates at the end of September around the US. So there is always stuff going on.

What do you get to do when this little tour ends?

Well, I play in so many different bands. I also play in an English British new wave band called the Alarm, although I’m not an original member. A famous British journalist named Mick Mercer was doing a review of the last Alarm album and they said, “Guitarist James Stevenson, who has now played in 72% of all known bands.” (laughs) Because of that, I have 72% on my guitar picks (laughs). But I’ve got this really cool thing I’m doing in September when I get back to the UK, which is this band called Holy Holy and basically we’re going out to do the David Bowie album, The Man Who Sold The World, in it’s entirety but with the original rhythm section that played on the record, which is the producer Tony Visconti, who played bass, and the original drummer from the Spiders From Mars, Woody Woodmansey, and a guy called Glen Gregory from Heaven 17, if you’ve heard of him. He’s going to be singing and Steve Norman, the sax player from Spandau Ballet’s band. The shows all just sold out really fast. It’s only four shows so I’m really looking forward to that because it means I get to be Mick Ronson, who was David Bowie’s guitarist then, and Ronson is the reason I picked up a guitar when I was a kid, you know. So for me, it’s a dream come true to be able to do that, to play that album with the original guys who played on the record.

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Are you going to try to throw on some of those clothes?

(laughs) Don’t know about that. But David Bowie himself, if you check Bowie’s website, he’s got behind it and has been encouraging us to do it so it’s really, really cool.

We don’t hear too much from Bowie anymore. His album really surprised us when it came out and Earl Slick said he had to keep it secret the whole time they were recording it.

Oh you know Earl? Yeah, he’s a good guy. I play in this other band called the International Swingers, which is me, Clem Burke from Blondie, Glen Matlock who is the bass player from the Sex Pistols, and singer Gary Twinn, and we did a gig in Sacramento. In fact, I’ll never forget this gig because for one thing, Earl Slick got up and did a number with us, which was awesome, and I also got a text from Billy Duffy just before I went on stage asking me if I wanted to do the Cult again. So that was a memorable night. But he’s a great guitar player. I mean, when I met him, I had to tell him when I was a kid, he’s a little bit older than me, but I had to tell him I spent a whole day of my life working out the solo he did on “Station To Station.”

Your new CD is not available in America yet, is that correct?

I haven’t actually got a deal for it in the US, which I would really like. I’ve been offered two deals but it’s been out in England about three months. It’s coming out in Australia on the 19th of July. But the only place you can get it right now, if you’re in America, is from my website, which is www.jamesstevenson.info, or on iTunes.

But you can pull the video of “Go Mister” up on YouTube. Is that your motorcycle you’re riding?

Yeah, I’ve got a few motorcycles. That’s my modern one that I ride around. I mean, if you live in London you have to have a motorcycle. There is no other way getting around cause the traffic is so bad, you know.

When did you start working on this CD?

Well, I’ve always wanted to do a solo album. I’ve always been a guitarist, I’ve always been a sideman, and I was nervous about my voice, but that album has had really, really good reviews so I think I must have done okay. But it goes back fifteen years. I play in a band called Gene Loves Jezebel still sometimes. I’ve been in it for a long time. And three of the songs on the album were destined to that band and they never kind of got used so I thought, when I do my own album if I don’t finish these songs off no one is going to hear them. So I started thinking about doing a solo album about fifteen years ago and it’s taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to do it. But I knew that when I did do it that I wanted to do it properly in a proper studio with a proper producer and luckily with Pete Walsh, who has done Gene Loves Jezebel albums, Scott Walker, Simple Minds. He’s a really good friend of mine and he produced it for me and it makes so much difference to the sound [being in a real studio] and I think that shows on the sonics of the album, you know.

Which ones were the older songs for Gene Loves Jezebel?

There’s a song called “Come On People,” which originally was a bit of music that I had. There are two versions of Gene Loves Jezebel. I don’t know if you know about all that but yeah, the two twins, we work with Jay, who was the red-haired twin. But it was some music I gave him and he kind of messed about with it a bit and it just never got finished. So that was one of the ones destined for Gene Loves Jezebel. And also a song on the album called “Twilight Riders,” which originally Jay wrote some lyrics but I kind of changed it around. Then there’re songs on it like “Why Am I Still Waiting For You?” is about the breakup of my first marriage. I mean, it’s quite a personal album in lots of ways.

“Twilight Riders” is a very cool track.

That song is actually a thinly disguised dig at Michael Aston (laughs). That’s the blonde twin from Gene Loves Jezebel.

What would you say is one of the newer songs on the CD?

The song that is at the end of the album called “I’ll Know Where I’m Going When I Get There.” That was something that me and Mark Taylor – Mark Taylor is the keyboard player in the Alarm – he helped me do all the demos for the album and that was something we wrote literally two weeks before I went in to record the album. So that was a really recent song. What else? “Naturally Wired” is a pretty new. Well, most of the songs are recent songs but some of them the ideas go back a few years and when I decided I was definitely going to make my own album, that’s when I got motivated to finish all the songs.

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Which song would you say changed the most from it’s original conception?

They all did, really. When you get into the studio, anything changes. A lot of the best things that happen when you’re making a record are things that kind of happen by accident. “Give It Up” was something that I had knocking around for a few years but when I went in to record it, it just totally changed. It obviously was much slower so we sped it up and put some extra stuff in. But between the sort of concept of a song, you know, when you first get a song idea in your head, the many times that you think about it and maybe record it twice at home, it’s like quite a long road you go down until you’re happy with the finished thing. And evidently, it changes a lot en route, if you know what I mean.

You collaborated on a good many of these songs. Is that what you like to do best?

No, I actually really like writing on my own. Like, Jay Aston has got a writing credit on “Come On People” and that’s just cause he thought of the actual tune and the verses so I gave him a writing credit for that. He originally came up with that when he was on his own messing around with a bit of music that I gave him. But I like to sit at home and work on my own. I’ve never been one to kind of sit across the sofa from someone else and have two guitars and kind of bounce ideas at each other. That’s never been something I’ve been very good at, I think. It’s not what I like to do. I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to writing.

So what is your creative process like? Do you hear the music first or do you start getting words?

Sometimes it can be like a lyrical idea. Quite often it might just be a guitar riff and then if I think it’s a good riff then I’ll put a tune to go on top of it and then lyrics. It can come in any order. I don’t have any sort of cut and dry way of writing. Most people I speak to who write, they don’t either. It’s just whatever. It could be the tune that comes first or the guitar riff or even the lyrics. Anything could come first. I was just sitting up on my own last night drinking a couple of glasses of wine and this idea came into my head, just some lyrics, and I started writing it all down. You know, maybe that will make it on to my next album.

You mentioned the last song on the CD, “I’ll Know Where I’m Going When I Get There,” and I heard that was about your guitar heroes.

It is actually, right. It’s about all my guitar heroes and how insignificant I feel next to them (laughs). I’ve had quite a few people Facebooking me and saying, “I think I’ve got eight out of nine.” (laughs) I think people have had fun trying to work out who I’m talking about because it’s kind of coded in a little way.

What was it about Mick Ronson that got under your skin?

Oh my God, I mean, I could talk about Mick Ronson all day. I got to know him later on as well and he was just the most amazing, nice, down-to-earth guy you could ever meet. But the thing that drew me into him was just the way that he never showed off. He listened to the song and then he created the perfect guitar part that fit the song perfectly. I mean, that Bowie song, “Life on Mars,” the solo is not difficult to play but it’s an absolute work of genius. It fit the song so perfectly. And also, he was very charismatic and glamorous. He was just awesome in every way.

You’ve mentioned Paul Kossoff from Free in several interviews as well.

He was another person who was very kind of understated in his playing and what he did. I’ve always been kind of drawn to those kind of guitar players. I was never into the Steve Vais and the Joe Satrianis and those kind of people. For me, all that they’ve achieved, and I’ve said this before, they’ve achieved with speed what typists have achieved. They can move their fingers very quickly. Big deal. For me, it’s about creating something that’s moving for people to listen to and a lot of the time that doesn’t necessarily have to involve dexterity in any way. That’s why I really love another British guitar player called Chris Spedding, and Johnny Thunders, just all those people.

You have Glen Matlock, who played bass in the Sex Pistols, playing on a few songs.

I go back thirty years with Glen, you know. But I go back thirty years with Billy Duffy as well. Me and Billy first met in 1981, when he’d just come down from Manchester to try and make something of himself in London. But Glen’s a very, very old friend and he’s an awesome bass player. But because of what I do, most of my friends are musicians and I didn’t just want to get everyone I knew on my record. I wanted to think about who would be good for this song and who would be good for that song and when I wrote “Suzi’s Problem,” I knew Glen was definitely the bass player for that track. And he came down and played on it and he was great.

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What did you think when you first saw the Sex Pistols?

I didn’t see them back in the day. The first time I ever saw them was when they did that reunion in 1996 and I saw them in Finsbury Park in London. But back in the day when the punk thing happened in London, they never did gigs. All the gigs that they done were in 1976 before the punk thing really exploded and then when the punk thing started happening in London, they just stopped playing. So very, very few people saw them the first time around. I mean, obviously, they did that famous tour where they came to Texas and stuff but that was when Sid was in the band.

You know, the punk thing just changed everything. I was still at school and I was doing these exams called A-levels and then I knew that this was something that I wanted to do and was destined for. I joined a punk rock group called Chelsea when I was still at school and that was like a baptism of fire cause I was like straight out on the road and trying to do my lessons at school at the same time. And it meant that you didn’t have to be what punk was trying to overthrow, what had gone on before. Music had become very stagnant, it was all about people’s technical ability to play. Bands like Yes and Genesis. And punk just opened the door for everyone, just opened the floodgates for everybody to have a go. And that was also what was so fantastic about it.

What were you like as a kid growing up in London?

I don’t know, you’d have to ask my parents (laughs)

Were you the perfect little angel?

Oh no, I was terrible. I was always getting into trouble. I was kind of bad. I should have done well at school. I sort of did okay but I couldn’t be bothered with learning. You know, I wanted to go out when I was in school with my friends and rock & roll just became my passion from about the age of fourteen. I used to go out and go to loads of shows and things. But I think my parents still love me so I must be okay (laughs).

What kind of shows did you go see?

I was really into the glam rock thing in England. I know it didn’t do so much here [in the US- Stevenson was in LA at the time of our interview] but Bowie, Roxy Music, T Rex, all those kinds of bands. The first gig I ever went to see was Rod Stewart and the Faces. When I was about thirteen they played in a place in London called the Edmonton Sundown and they were just amazing. Then I saw David Bowie on Top Of The Pops doing “Starman.” I mean, that just changed my life forever.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

Oh, that’s a good question. I can remember when I was about fifteen going to see Brian Eno do a gig at the Palladium with him and Robert Fripp, and Andy MacKay, the sax player in Roxy Music, was in the audience so I went up and told him I was a huge fan (laughs) and shook his hand. So he was probably the first bona fide rock star. Since then, I’ve met tons and tons of people. The person I’ve never met that I’d like to meet is David Bowie. His album, Black Tie White Noise, was done for a label called Savage Records here in the US and Gene Loves Jezebel was signed to that label at the same time. I said to the guy who owned the label, his name is David Mimran, I think, “You’ve got to get me to play on one track on that bloody album.” (laughs) And he was like, “Oh I can’t. It’s not my decision but I’d love for you to play on it but …” The closest I’ve ever come for me and him was when we were in one room doing an interview at the offices in New York and David Bowie’s in the next room doing an interview with someone else. One day.

I’ve met Mick Jagger a few times. He’s a funny guy. And I can remember meeting Lou Reed once, doing a gig about fifteen years ago, doing a gig in Buenos Aires in Argentina. We went to some afterhours bar afterwards, the band, and Lou Reed was just sitting there. He was sitting there just kind of on his own and I went over and just said hi and told him, “I’m a big fan and our tour manager used to tour manage you.” And he was just like, “Oh yeah, okay, big deal.” (laughs) Actually, I’ve heard from other people that’s just kind of how he can be, sort of monosyllabic.

What was your first guitar?

When I was at school, my best friend was called Noel, and he had bought an electric guitar and he said, “You’ve got to buy one now so we can be in a band together.” So he took me to this store in a place called Acton in West London and I bought this thing called a Columbus. It wasn’t even a copy of anything else, it was like it’s own thing, and like seventeen dollars brand new. That was the first guitar I had.

What was your dream guitar?

Well, I’ve always played Les Pauls and I probably always will do and that’s mainly just because all my favorite guitar players played them. Mick Ronson played Les Paul, Jimmy Page, they all played Les Pauls. Now it’s just what you’re used to. Billy Duffy plays Les Pauls. Me and Billy got a lot of the same influences. I know that he’s a big Kossoff fan and I know he loves Mick Ronson. We both play Les Pauls and Billy does the Gretsch thing as well but a Les Paul is probably both our weapons of choice. I think that’s usually because the first year or so you start playing, those are like the most formative years on what you do and what you use and how your kind of technique and your style develops. The very early years are the most formative.

Has your guitar playing or the way you approach the guitar changed much over the years?

I really think it has. I’ve had a lot of session stuff over the years and if someone says, “Okay, look at me for the guitar solos,” I don’t like to just suddenly blast off into the first thing. I listen to it and think, ”How can I do something that kind of fits the vocal melody of the song as well so that it ties together as a cohesive thing?” And that’s kind of how I’ve always been and I think that’s the first thing I think of.

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How has your attitude towards touring changed?

My favorite thing to do is walk on stage and play my guitar so I absolutely love being on the road. Someone said to me once, in fact it was Mike Peters, the singer in the Alarm, it was his wife, she said to me once, “If you’re doing it at forty, you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life.” And I think that’s true.

But I’ll tell you how my attitude has changed a lot is, back in the day in the eighties when Gene Loves Jezebel had a lot of success in America and we’d have like a tour bus for the band and one for the crew; we’d stay in the most expensive hotels. Then you get to the end of the tour and your manager would show you the accounts and there’d be like $750,000 gross income and absolutely zero profit cause you’d spent it all on expensive things and having a good time, which is great cause we all had a good time. But later on as things changed, you start thinking, “I don’t mind sharing a hotel room with someone else in the band. I don’t mind not having a sleeper bus. We’ll just do it in a little van.” And also, I’m still with Gene Loves Jezebel, obviously the band is not as big as it was, if you go out on the road you just have to sort of slum it a little bit. When I was young, I wouldn’t have even entertained that idea. But now as I’m older and maybe a bit wiser, I don’t mind doing that at all. Just as long as I’m still doing it, I’m happy.

When all the drama was going on with Gene Loves Jezebel …

It still is. I mean, I don’t think Jay and Michael will ever repair their relationship. I mean, they are twin brothers so it is a complete tragedy. But you know, if Michael was my twin brother, I don’t think I’d want to repair my relationship with him either.

How did that make you feel being in the middle of all that?

Well, I was in the middle of it in the beginning. There was all this friction between the twins, even back in the day. Jay said to me that the final straw, and this is all my opinion okay. Jay is just a much better singer and much more talented than Michael, but Michael has a huge ego. So when Jay said to him there’s a song on the fourth album, which is called House Of Dolls, called “Suspicion,” which was a single in the US, and we were doing the video for it, Michael isn’t on the track. So he had to lipsynch in the video to Jay’s vocals, cause Jay sang the lead vocals, cause otherwise there would be nothing for Michael to do. And Jay just said to him that that was the final straw. He just couldn’t work with his brother anymore.

And then all that happened and then the band split up and got back together. We continued on as a four-piece without Michael for two albums and then the band kind of fell apart when that record label went bust. Then we did that reunion tour with Michael in 1997 and that was a complete disaster. Then the next thing we knew Michael suddenly just started his own band and he was calling it Gene Loves Jezebel and we found it was impossible to stop him from doing it. Then he registered the US trademark, which we neglected to get, and by the time we realized he’d done it, it was too late for us to contest it. So whenever we came to America to try and play, he’d fire off his trademark to the promoter and say, “If you go ahead with the show, I’m going to sue you.” And a lot of the time the promoters would, cause America is very litigious place and people are scared of litigation, most of the time they would just pull the show. And we’d already spent money on airfares and things getting over here and Michael would just throw every obstacle possible our way. And we all ended up hating him for that reason. That’s probably how it’s always going to be, I’m afraid.

That must have been very frustrating.

Oh my God. I’ll tell you what, the other thing is, when he went out with his band and people didn’t realize what was going on, he had a guitarist at the time called Michael Ciravolo, who actually works for Schecter Guitars now or I think he’s actually the CEO of Schecter Guitars, but people would go up to him and say, “Great gig, James,” thinking that he was fucking me. And if you’ve heard the way he played guitar, honestly, you wouldn’t want them thinking he was you, do you know what I mean (laughs). So stuff like that. I think now people know the story and the drama and know there’s two versions of the band. But that’s why Michael plays mostly in America and we play mostly in Europe.

When you had the fame back then and when the money started coming in, what was your first big splurge?

I’m a guitar hoarder so I was always buying new guitars (laughs). I’ve got a lot of guitars. If you go on my website, I’ve got pictures of them all up there. So I’m pretty spoiled. But I got just practical stuff as well, like getting enough money for a down payment on my own condo in London. Stuff like that, just basic stuff. But I love to spend money. Some people hate to go shopping and I absolutely love to go shopping with a big wad of cash and just buy stuff. I like it, I mean, call me shallow (laughs) it’s what I love to do. And if you get me in a vintage guitar store, I can spend all day trying out guitars and I’d probably end up buying a couple.

What was it like going into a studio for the first time?

Oh my God, I didn’t have a clue. The first time I went in was with Chelsea and I was probably seventeen or eighteen years old and I’d never been in a studio before. And I didn’t have an amp that was possible to make sound good anyway so I was starting off on the wrong foot. I didn’t really know what I was doing but I could play a little bit and managed to get through it. Then just gradually you just learn more and more as you get older and you know which guitars make this sound, what guitars sound good with this amp, how the outboard works. That’s just a learning curve but if you start at the beginning, you know, most people the first time they go into a studio, it’s a little bit daunting. But that doesn’t happen so much anymore because loads of people have ProTools at home and can do it at home, you know. But I still like going into a proper room, a proper recording studio, and recording like that.

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Do you like to have everybody in the band with you?

I like to just be on my own and just working with a producer. I hate like when I’ve done sessions in London and you’re doing it for someone who is quite well-known and they’re sort of standing there. If they weren’t there you could just work with the producer (laughs). Do you know who Scott Walker is? He actually lives in London but he’s American and he’s a legendary American singer. Now he’s very, very avant-garde. His album got a lot of critical acclaim and because I know Pete, I ended up playing on a couple of his albums. The first time I went down to do a session with him, I’d never met him before, and I go, “Hey Scott, nice to meet you,” and he’s like, “Let me just explain, James, first of all, I don’t want to hear anything that sounds like a guitar.” (laughs). I’m like, “What the fuck you got me down here for then?” (laughs) But then you kind of learn he likes weird instruments so I would plug into like, I’ve got a lot of pedals, and I found out that I was plugging into this echo machine called an echoplex and you can muck about there with the speed of it and just make weird noises. Then I’ve got a baritone guitar, which is kind of a different thing, and if you tune it funny, it just sounds like a mad noise and he just loved all that. So sometimes having someone there who actually is who you’re working for and playing on their record is good. But on the whole I’d rather just sit there on my own and work with the producer and work like that.

Are you a perfectionist?

Yeah, I am. When you finish a record, there’re always things that you think, Oh I should have done that differently. I have a mad thing about tuning. I think I’m very sensitive to things being out of tune and some are just mad things where everything just sounds out of tune and I should just leave the room for an hour. It’s kind of weird but yeah, if there’s something I don’t think I played right, even if some dude I’m working for says, “No, no, no, that’s fine,” I say, “I think I can play it just a little bit better.” I like to get things done how I want to do them and in that way I am a perfectionist, definitely. If there was something I thought I played a bit scrappy, there is no way I would let it go on a record.

What band would you say gave you the most freedom as a guitar player to be exploratory and improvise and be yourself?

Probably Gene Loves Jezebel, to be honest. A lot of the songs started with my guitar parts, my guitar riffs. That song, “Heartache,” and I don’t know how familiar you are with the songs or the band’s material, but that came from my riff in the first place. I mean, I had a lot of freedom in that band to be creative and come up with musical ideas that the twins could play off. There’s also the International Swingers and that’s a totally democratic band and we all do what we want. I’ve been in other situations where, when I was in Generation X with Billy Idol, everything was kind of already written in stone, what it was going to be, and we just went out on the road and just had to play all the parts that the guitarist before me played on the record.

The International Swingers seems to be a fun band.

Yeah, it is. The International Swingers is like the perfect party band, really. We’re all friends and as Clem Burke has said in interviews, “No one answered an advert to get into the band.” We were all buddies and have known each other a long time. Then Gary came up with this idea. Someone offered him this tour of Australia if he put a band together and he just rang up me, Clem and Glen and it was like, yeah, great. So that’s kind of how that came about but definitely the Swingers are a lot of fun. The hardest thing about the band is just tying everyone down at the same time so that we can all spend time together and actually get on with it and do some gigs or record an album. The thing is when you say, can we do August? Clem is, “No, I’m out with Blondie.” Well, what about September? And then Glen will be, “No, I’ve got an acoustic tour of Europe.” And it just goes on and on and on (laughs). So it’s kind of hard to nail it down. But I think we’re going to do a pledge campaign. Well, we ARE going to do a pledge campaign that the band starts on August 1st and then we’re hoping we can record a proper album in November.

Do you have to go back and forth often?

I’ve got a condo in LA but I live in London. I probably spend more hours on a plane than most people in a year than they do in a lifetime. I’m always sitting on a plane and it’s usually always LA to London and that’s eleven hours each way.

I want to talk to you about the Cult. What can you tell us about Ian?

Ian is a very interesting guy. Like suddenly, I’ll be talking to him about something and we’ll start talking about the American Civil War and he knows like everything about it, which is something you wouldn’t expect, you know. And he’s really sweet. We were talking about that and I said I actually don’t know that much about the American Civil War. I’d like to but he was very knowledgeable and the next day he came on the tour bus and he had bought me a book about the American Civil War (laughs). So there you go. He’s very interesting and he’s passionate about other stuff. I think that people who are fans of Ian’s want to know about that side of him too, you know.

When you first joined the Cult, what song in their catalog did you find was the most complicated to get into?

I played with the band before in 1994/1995, when they did that Beauty’s On The Street world tour for eight months. The Cult is a very deceptive band, because when you listen to it, you think, Oh these songs are really simple, but they’re not. I can remember on this last tour when Billy said, “Ok, you can do it, it’d be great to have you on board,” and then he sent me an email with like the setlist and said, “Learn all these.” (laughs) The band was doing the album Electric in it’s entirety, then a little break and then it was like a hits set after that. I knew the hits from Electric, obviously, but I didn’t know some of the others. When I heard “Memphis Hip Shake,” I thought, oh fuck, how can I ever learn this song? I mean, it didn’t seem to have any structure, it was just random, but then when I sat down and listened to it, it’s actually very, very intelligent the way it’s laid out, the way it is. And it’s the same with a lot of their songs. People think, and I’ve said to people cause they think it’s funny, “What do you do in the Cult?” And I say, “I just stand in the back and play A and D all night.” (laughs) Actually, a lot of it is much more complicated than you think. I had a lot of fun playing in the Cult and I love the band. Billy and me are really, really old mates. And I’ve become really good friends with John Tempesta and Chris Wyse. They are the most incredible rhythm section. So yeah, it’s all been good.

Is there a song you would like to play live that they haven’t played?

I really love the actual song “Love” off the Love album. The first time I went out with them in 1994 and 1995, we used to play that and I really enjoyed playing that song. They’ve put in “Gone” sometimes, which is off The Cult album. I really like playing that. But I think “Love” would be the song I’d like to play. And obviously, the band hasn’t played “Fire Woman” or “Edie” for a long time but it may be time to relook at those. I think what it is is you play something for years and years and years and then you just get bored with playing it so you go, okay, we’re just going to stop playing it for a bit. And then when you come back to it, maybe a few years later, it feels fresh again and you’re happy to play it again. I think that’s what happens with bands. They have kind of a cycle of songs that kind of go in and out of the set. But at the end of the day, the set, what gets played, is Ian and Billy’s choice.

What about the Alarm? Anything going on with them?

The Alarm has been kind of quiet but I’ve been playing with Mike Peters for sixteen years now, you know. And everyone in the Alarm plays in different bands. Craig Adams used to play bass in the Cult and he plays in the Mission: UK and also in Spear Of Destiny with Kirk Brandon. Mike Peters has been going out doing this acoustic thing. It’s the 30th anniversary of the Alarm’s Declaration and he’s kind of reinvented the whole album, where he goes out and does it as kind of a one man band. I saw him when he played in LA last year and it’s really interesting to watch someone that you normally play in a band with, to be in the audience and watch them as sort of part of the audience. But he was absolutely brilliant, really entertaining. But that’s the economics of the modern world. It’s much easier for him to just go out on his own. As soon as you take a band out with you, the costs of doing it just spirals through the roof.

So the Alarm, we’ve been quiet for the past couple of years. It suited me fine cause the Cult came along. I’ve always been very, very lucky, I think. As soon as something stops or fell apart, something else always kind of came up for me to do. I’ve been really lucky like that.

How do you plan your musical life because you have so much going on with so many bands?

It’s quite a juggling act sometimes, I can tell you. For example, right now, while I’m in the Cult I will prioritize the Cult. I’ve never had a problem with two things clashing until recently. Gene Loves Jezebel had a huge record in Portugal, of all places, in about 1993 and we’ve gone over there and played gigs quite often and we had a gig booked for August 1st coming up on the island of Madeira and I was looking forward to that and thought it would be great, you know. It’s always nice to see the guys and go on stage with them. And then about a week after that show came in, the Cult’s management got a hold of me and said they’re booking this tour in America. So I had to ring them up and say that I can’t do the show in Portugal. Sometimes you just can’t be in two places at once.

So after the Cult finishes this tour, you’re off to do what next?

I have this Holy Holy thing I was talking to you about in Britain in September. Then I think there is going to be some more Cult stuff in the US, probably the end of September and October. I still play in the band Chelsea whenever I can. If I’m in England and they’ve got a gig, usually I’ll join them for the gig. The International Swingers are going to be recording their album in November and probably do some shows around that. We’ve talked about maybe going to Australia. That takes me up to Christmas.

Are you still working on your book?

I’ve really neglected it. I’ve just been so busy and I’ve kind of got to a point in it where I’m stuck. When I first started writing it, which was a while ago, it was going to be called Twenty-Five Years In The Rock & Roll Wilderness but now I think it’s going to have to be called Thirty-Five Years (laughs). Actually, I’m going to contradict myself now, I was actually on the road with the Alarm when I started writing it and it all just came pouring out and I got to a certain point, 80,000 words, just writing it all in a month, and then I sort of got off the road. I mean, I really, really want to finish it but I’ve been so busy doing other stuff. But I will get it together. What I really need is for some publisher to come along and say, “Hey, look, we want you to just kick it out the ass.”

And give you a big advance

Yeah, well, that doesn’t happen anymore, unfortunately (laughs)

Looking back on your career, what do you think was the most important lesson that you have learned from being a professional musician?

Always follow your heart. Do the things that are the most important to you and do what YOU want to do. Don’t let people tell you what you should be doing. That’s what I think is the most important thing.

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4 thoughts on “James Stevenson of Gene Loves Jezebel, the Alarm, International Swingers & The Cult (INTERVIEW)

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  3. Brenda Reply

    What generation X albums did James play on, or the Alarm or Cult? I do remember Kim Wylde’s “Kids in America” gem. Padding the resume, Stinker?

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