King Jim in conversation
Former Minuteman guitarist Jim Dare is taking advantage of a break in touring as part of former Suede front man Brett Anderson’s band to embark on a solo project.
As King Jim, the 34-year-old from the New Forest has bashed out three five-track eps after building up more than 100 home recorded songs over the last two years.
Louder Then War (James Daly) chatted to King Jim in his first ever solo interview on taking the plunge, talking tractors with Bon Iver and his most embarrassing touring moment.
LTW: So, it’s official: you’re a solo artist now with the release of your three eps this month. You must be excited/relieved/knackered.
King Jim: It’s all been really positive, I’ve been quite shocked. I don’t quite know what I expected from it really. I kind of expected it to just die a slow death; a very honourable discharge off a boat. [laughs] I’ve always liked that image – a coffin into the sea. Here’s to you King Jim.
I’m liking the ethos of the way the eps have worked out, almost justification to myself that I can actually do it this way. I like adventure with music because I like to think that the music I write and lyrics; they’re all a little adventure for me. Like last year I went off and played a show in Oslo, just me and my guitar; it was fun and I did two hours – all original material. I think it went ok, no-one left, that’s always a good sign. If I can keep people in the room I’m winning.
You grew up in Florida, is that why you class your stuff as Americana?
I call it Americana because I think it’s a nice little bracket to sit in. It’s more country than anything to me but then I guess I’ve got some rockier type songs and I guess that’s why I sit in the Americana bracket. But if I was going to label myself I’d go with country because that’s who I grew up with: Neil Young, Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons – classic stuff really.
The songs have all got little bits and pieces of me in. To me it’s just like a little timeline; they’re all little spot checks of my life that I’ve remembered. Relationships, hangups, that sort of thing.
You’ve worked with Brett Anderson for a bit now and have done session work for countless musicians but recorded these eps at home on your Mac. Why didn’t you just call in a favour from some old studio buddies?
I get the fear whenever I go into a big studio because it’s not home, it’s not comfortable. There’s always pressure with everything that comes with that and I think that’s why I like recording at home. I’m working on my own but when you work with other people you’re working with their time as well and I hate wasting other people’s time. Maybe it’s just because there’s too much happening and the big kid in me is like ‘there’s loads of buttons, I want to press everything!’ When I’m recording I’m definitely like a kid – I want to get onto the next thing, I’m like ‘right just get the guitar down as quickly as possible’ so I can then work on the harmonies, vocals, melody and structure and work around it. When I was on tour with Brett in Berlin we were sat there in the dressing room and he goes off to do interviews and I just start writing this song and think ‘hey I’m going to record this on my Mac’. The monitor engineer is oblivious so he just fucking talks the whole way through the track about this World War II programme he’d watched the night before, and it’s just all over the track. Mark the guitar tech comes in at the end and drops a plate of sandwiches off the table and you can just hear this ‘kchshhh’ at the end of it. It’s all totally wrong, but so right at the same time. We recorded some of it in the toilet and I wanted some percussion on it afterwards and ironically the only quiet place we could find to do it was on stage! How stupid is that? It was weird to do it in that environment but it was fun! I don’t want to take these quirky demos and go into a massive studio and just fucking make them because they’re only going to end up sounding like fucking James Morrison.
Hang on, you DON’T want it to sound amazing?
I rush music when I write it and I’m happy to leave mistakes in, because if they don’t bother me in the writing process, then it means nothing. If I take more time over it then I lose interest quickly. Once you’re on a roll with everything musically and lyrically I think you should just bash through it, but that’s just the way I write. Albums like [Neil Young’s] Tonight’s The Night aren’t perfect and the stories of them being holed up after losing a crew member, just drinking copius amounts of tequila through the sessions and recording in a garage – that’s inspiring! Because I just think everything’s been done, and you just need to be a little bit different with it.
Is that a common problem for up and coming musicians?
[Long pause] No. I just think I’m weird like that, I really do. I’ve always thought that. I think it’s a time and a place with music for me, and when the time is right then I’ll happily go for it. Maybe it’s my slight form of ADHD but I’ve got to be focued on something and if it takes more than two hours – if it’s not flowing – then the TV will go on, or that one too many glasses of wine will happen, and then I’ll be like ‘I’ll finish it tomorrow’. For me it’s a continual writing process, if I’ve got a day off then I like to do that; anything to keep me out of the pub.
When did you decide to become King Jim?
It came from an advert board in Japan – there’s a paper company that sells folders and stuff like that and they’ve got this big boarding in Tokyo. We were going to Fuji Rock Festival with Minuteman in 2006 and we were stuck in traffic; someone pointed it out and we all laughed at this King Jim, I looked up at it and thought ‘that’s fucking brilliant’. To me that’s just a total sign. I was just like ‘gotta do it’. I wrote it on my hand; it rubbed off after I jumped in a pool but thankfully I’d taken a photo of my hand.
I knew that Minuteman was coming to the end and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was saying to myself ‘I could be a songwriter’ but I didn’t have many ideas formulated and I wanted to do it on my own terms. It was important I was true to myself, I didn’t want to be just another band where it’s like ‘oh they’re great’ and then pfft …gone. It feels right because I don’t think I could have done this in my younger years. It felt like I’d got to where I needed to get experience wise to actually achieve this. And I think if I had have done it when I was younger it wouldn’t have worked because it wouldn’t have been true, there wasn’t enough life stories – not enough relationship battles and heartbreak to do it.
So what next? More eps, a tour…?
If I take a band out on tour it will be a family, it’s important. Mainly because I’m the one that needs looking after. I’m the liability. I find I’m the one who gives tour managers the most work; falling off stage and running into posts. Even at the age I am I still haven’t learnt.
Wait. Falling off stage? That needs to be re-told in full.
Oh god. I haven’t written a song about that yet and I’m not going to: I’m still really embarrassed about it. It’s not cool when the rest of the band have left the stage and you’re still there making as much noise as possible and then you go to leave the stage and miss the stairs by a good four feet. I just went flying. That was in Berlin with Brett; they had to get the paramedics out and everything.
I guarantee I’ll never ever go away on tour and not get into some mishap; it seems to follow me around, it really does. People say ‘I’d love to come on tour with you’ … don’t! For your own safety don’t! It’s not like you’re following around a bunch of crazy drug addicts, you’re just following around a very clumsy person.
Consider people warned. Would you ever be happy just writing for other people?
[Long think] No. Because I’d be jealous if they did it better than me. I’ve often thought about that because I’ve got friends that do that but I’m like ‘no’. I’d like to hear someone do a cover of anything [by King Jim].
It’s like Bon Iver and that young girl [Birdy] who’s done a piano cover of Skinny Love and everyone is raving about it; it’s all over YouTube and he loves it. It got fucking played on Radio 1! Do you know how difficult it is for new bands to get noticed?
I met Bon Iver around the time of his album [For Emma, Forever Ago] in Russia and we had a conversation about John Deere tractors for hours. I’ve always known him as Justin and then the album came out and it was only after a couple of the press shots I was like ‘fuck, I know him!’ I think it was more inspiring than anything to know you can do that; come out with an album that can change the face of music at that time but then go off and do something completely different. I think he’s in a funk soul 70s band now. I guess that’s him challenging himself, I think that’s what I’d like to be doing if I had more time; challenge myself as a musician.
Already your eps have had interest in Europe and America. Are you prepared to possibly be more popular abroad than your home country?
Yeah, I’ve no problems with it. I don’t see England as home anyway to me. From the years of doing session work and growing up in Florida. I like travelling. You have a base where you live and that’s all fine but if I want to stay in one place for a long time [pauses for effect] fuck it I can do that when I’m dead!
Whoever wants to book me I’ll go and play for them. No qualms about that; anywhere in the world because it’s fun. If people turn up and enjoy your music that’s the coolest thing in the world.
You have released your first three eps as free downloads. Does this mean you’re one of these musicians embracing the net?
There’s very few ways to stop your music being caught before you release it, so with anything like that I’m happy to embrace the modern technology. You can’t stop people doing it. They say the internet is killing music and it’s killing films, art, everything. Why go to the cinema? But people do still go to the cinema and they do still go to gigs. Because it’s changed so rapidly maybe it will level out a little bit but if you download a record and you really like it you’ll go out and buy it. I do. I like that, I like having it in my hands. I like the art work, I like the time that people put into their records and booklets. The people you listen to, you want to know a bit about them, you want to feel part of the family – their family. It is important but stopping downloading? Impossible.
Finally, you’ll be touring again with Brett later in the year but if King Jim blows up big time are you prepared to leave Brett?
It’s nice to have avenues. I love working with him because he’s like family, always has been. I personally don’t ever see a problem [doing both]. Schedules are there for a reason and I think everything’s doable. I got to know Brett when Minuteman toured with Suede; he was looking for a guitarist so I went down to jam with him and he thought I was too noisy. So I went down again and turned my amp down and got the job. Working with him is a family and friendship thing. Everyone in the band gets on, when we’re not touring we’ll meet up for drinks. And I think that’s really important because it can cross over. I’ve used Brett’s band for King Jim. It’s nice when you meet great musicians that actually are behind you with your stuff.
I love playing other people’s stuff, giving an interpretation and thrashing around on stage, but with King Jim that’s me actually opening up and being honest for the first time in my life. I did a few little festivals last year and it was fun, people got it and didn’t even know who I was.
I’d love to be in a situation where I’m helping other people out musically and doing my own thing. I just want to play music and if I have the ability to play it all the time I’m more than happy to do that.