Glasvegas, An Oral History – Empathy For The Devil. James Allan Speaks

Glasvegas singer, guitarist and lyricist James Allan is an erudite soul. So what better than to let him explain what drives his band in his own words, says Luke Turner.

Sitting in the bar of a Kensington hotel, Glasvegas frontman and lyricist James Allan (sporting quiff, black sunglasses and an oversized John Lennon t-shirt), sips a sickly, multi-coloured cocktail that he thinks is called a Banana Bliss. On the eve of the release of their debut album (read the Quietus review here), Allan seems composed and quietly confident. Yet unlike so many of the artists he’s commonly compared to, Allan is a strikingly intense yet modest figure. A deeply intelligent, thoughtful man, he’s a million miles from the gobby braggadocio of contemporary British guitar music. This is the story of Glasvegas, in his own words . . .

Sometimes I just say to myself: ‘James, one day perhaps no one will want to know what your fucking songs are like, and you’ll be going "Is no-one going to ask me questions?"’ I’ll be on the way somewhere and you look out of the window of the cab, and everybody’s walking somewhere or trying to get buses, and I say to myself: ‘You’re in the back of a fucking taxi, shut the fuck up. Don’t even think about complaining.’

When I saw Liam and Noel on the TV it was like another world, they were like angels or something. It was like seeing The Girl Can’t Help It, with Jane Mansfield. At the beginning of the movie it’s all black and white. So everyone’s watching it in the cinema in black and white, and then it goes Technicolor. It was probably 1997, it was What’s The Story (Morning Glory) and Be Here Now, that’s when we were getting into music, that was what it was like for us. When I saw Liam I thought: ‘I want to do that’. I’m quite oblivious to my limitations, and sometimes I think that’s a positive thing.

I was unemployed. Just at home. I’d say that in a positive way. I wasn’t coming home and hating my boss and my job; that takes over your whole life. Trying to write the songs, that would have got in the way of my imagination. I know it must be very difficult for a lot of artists, people in bands, or people making little movies, they might get a girlfriend, then they’re under pressure to take the girlfriend out to dinner, and then what about the girlfriend’s mum, she’d probably think he’s a loser because he’s no got a proper job. I was watching the Wonder Years and going to my room where my microphone was set up and I’d press record and sit there with my guitar and try to make some sense of things, try to let things flow. I think it’s a total state of mind with the songs man, I’d be sitting for four days staring into space, and that’s where some of the ideas came, just being a daydreamer.

The beauty of daydreaming is… well, if it was a sport I’d be in the fucking Olympics man. I think sometimes with daydreaming your imagination is running wild and that’s when you get visions of certain things, or certain ideas, or if you’re writing a poem and how to piece that together. I think that all stems from this daydreaming. I used to think of it to my detriment, being at school and being unreliable, quite a late person and a lot of people being like: ‘He’s a fucking daydreamer’ and all that shit. Now people applaud it. It’s weird how all that changes round. All those things that people thought about you before: ‘Oh, he’s not got a job.’ People hear the songs and go: ‘Fucking hell, did you write that when you were unemployed? Now you’re on TV!’ So that means you’re vaild, you’re valid as an artist, because you’re on fucking TV. Do you know what man, I don’t expect everybody to understand. I think it’s funny, more than anything else.

‘Flowers And Football Tops’ was one of the first songs I wrote for the band. That came from feeling really bad and really heartbroken on other people’s behalf. If I’m talking to you and you tell me about shit in your life, I feel that’s shit too, I don’t want that. I want fucking fortune for you, man. And that’s an important thing, to have a bit of compassion for somebody. And obviously that’s an extreme version, but when I read the paper about that boy being stabbed, I felt really cold, it felt really horrible. I think you put yourself in that situation, if that shit’s happening man, how the fuck could my mum deal with that man, a knock at the door and then that happens? It cannae happen, I think if it did my mum would die as well, she would… I think with a lot of these women a part of them will never be the same. I still think about the boy once a day, although I never knew him, but for whatever reason, I don’t know why, I still think about the photo of his mother I saw in the paper.

I think that living with quite a lot of insincerity can destroy you. I learned that because I’d been insincere, I’d made mistakes before, and I’ve learned that it’s not the way, man. A song like ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ wasn’t confessional, not at the time when I wrote it, it was things I’d noticed about other people, and things that I’d noticed myself about growing up, and the past. There might have been elements of myself that I wasnae that proud of, and when it comes to Sunday morning and you’re probably coming down and watching Shipwrecked, and the guy who you wanted to go to the Tigers goes to the Sharks, and you feel so bad for the Tigers because all the Tigers are crying, and you get quite sensitive at that point. And then you start to think so much, and start to get upset about things that people don’t give a fuck about any more. I remember getting quite upset when I was younger. We didnae have loads, you know what I mean, I’m talking when I was about six or seven, and there were these trainers that I wanted but I remember crying and my mum being really stressed about that. And then one Sunday, 20 years later, you’re getting upset about that. Drugs heighten all that, but the route is probably the insincerity.

But sometimes when you feel that you’re living alright, and you’re doing your best by people man, it makes you feel quite strong and that you can cope with a lot of shit, because you know you’re doing your best.

Glasvegas’ debut album is out on Monday. Read Luke Turner’s review here.

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