People often ask me my poetic influences, and whilst I tip my hat to the likes of John Cooper Clarke (who doesn’t), Simon Armitage and the like, I have to say that I’ve always been more drawn to rock lyricist types. Probably my favourite of these has to be Jim Bob of Carter USM. I was lucky enough to meet him and ask him a few questions a while back. Here’s an edited version of the full interview I originally did for Leftlion.
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’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.