Jim Davies speaks with ReGen about the development of his new solo efforts, while also reminiscing on his past history helping to shape the electro/rock sound of the ’90s
An InterView with Jim Davies
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
The heyday of the mid-to-late ’90s saw the blurring of lines between rock & roll and varying forms of electronica, resulting in an exciting deluge of mechanized angst. The dynamic sound of Jim Davies’ guitar came to be one of the defining components of the era’s sound as his experimental and rather punk rock approach to the instrument, eschewing technique in favor of technology, added fuel to the fire of the electro/rock crossovers of The Prodigy and Pitchshifter. After two albums fronting Victory Pill and the 2009 Electronic Guitar solo album, he lowered his profile in 2011 to focus on production and composition for film and television, lasting for almost a decade. Then in 2020, he released Headwars, returning to the punk-infused electro/rock stylings he’d become known for; from his gruff and belligerent voice to his searing in-your-face riffs, Davies’ solo material sees the artist continuing down the path he’d laid for himself over two decades ago, but with a decidedly fresh and modern sensibility, which he’s taken to the next level with his newest album, Prey Later, released on November 19 via Extreme Music and Armalyte Industries. Shortly after the record’s release, Jim Davies took the time to speak with ReGen Magazine about the development of his sound and style over the years, touching on the convenience of modern recording capabilities, collaborators like Tut Tut Child and Bullet For My Valentine bassist Jamie Mathias, his aversion to livestreaming and the decline of live music during the pandemic, remixing PIG, producing Seething Akira, his new Shadow Addict endeavor with ex-Pitchshifter band mate Jason Bowld, and more!
After releasing your last album, 2020’s Headwars, via Extreme Music, your new album, Prey Later just came out on Armalyte Industries. Would you tell us how you came to sign with the label? What do you find to be the major benefits of signing with a label like Armalyte vs. some of the others you’ve been associated with?
Not that the ‘record industry’ is in any danger of going away, but with smaller labels like Armalyte, COP, Distortion Productions, etc. being smaller operations (many artist-run), do you at all see any possibilities for them to represent a shift in how the music ‘business’ conducts itself?
Davies: I think smaller, more morally correct record labels are definitely giving the majors a run for their money! I don’t really see the point in record labels so much these days, if I was a new artist just starting out. I think it’s more important to keep control of your music, get it out there via placements on TV, etc., that’s where a lot of bands are breaking now. Spotify also plays a big part in that as well, but there are issues with Spotify. I have friends in bands that have tracks with over 250k plays on Spotify, but would struggle to fill the ‘Pig and Whistle’ pub on a Friday night! So, Spotify can be quite deceptive. I think people put far too much importance on it. Unless you’re on a label that has close contacts with Spotify, you won’t get on playlists. I’ve only had my own Spotify artist page for a few years now, so my plays are low! But they are organic at least. So yes, I’d like to think that smaller labels that really look after their artists and do the right things by them will help change the industry for new acts starting out, who will have a ridiculously hard time getting anywhere in the current climate. I feel very lucky to have done what I did. I think the days of bands touring for nine months of the year worldwide are gone… unless you are super huge.
On both this and your last album, you collaborated with Tut Tut Child and Abbie Aisleen – would you tell us about how you came to work with them, what you find most invigorating about their individual styles and contributions to your sound?
Same question for newcomers Connar Ridd and Jamie Mathias?
Davies: I did a track with Tut Tut Child around six years ago called ‘Talking of Axes.’ It came out on the massive dance label Monstercat and did really well. Since then, we’ve been writing a lot together for Extreme Music. He’s a great guy and very easy to write with. We did a track together on the last album, Headwars, called ‘Trigger Finger.’ It came together so quickly, so I was keen to get him on board again! Abbie is my Mrs., and she also happens to be annoyingly good at a million things, music being one of them as she’s a classically trained opera singer! She’s got an amazing voice, really unique sounding, a bit of a cross between Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks. Her voice has a real ‘era’ to it. I fucking hate how so many female artists sound the same these days, doing that stupid cutesy type delivery; there’s no originality. So, the two tunes I did with her on this album came out great, her lyrics are really strong as well. I might actually write an EP for her next year. She deserves her own thing.
Jamie Mathias is the bass player in Bullet For My Valentine. I’ve been working with him and Jason Bowld with Nick (Tut Tut) on a side project called Shadow Addict that came out earlier this year. It was more of a sync based project really; we could never gig it as we didn’t want to upset anyone in the Bullet camp, so we didn’t do any press either. We just put it out and let people find it. But it was really strong stuff and Jamie’s vocals were so awesome that I had to get him on my album. He showed a softer side on my track… well, in the verses at least. Connar is a local musician who I’ve be working with a bit writing tracks for his new band project that’s yet to come out. He has a really unique voice and incredible lyrics, so again, I had to get him on my album. I love collaborating with vocalists. My voice isn’t strong enough or diverse enough to carry 12 tracks; plus, I like an album to go through ups and downs dynamically, so having different vocalists really brings something to it, I think.
Prey Later is your second solo album after a long period working as a freelance composer and producer (third overall counting 2009’s Electronic Guitar, and not counting the Headwars remix album), and prior to that, you were most remembered for the bands you’d been part of (The Prodigy, Pitchshifter, Victory Pill, etc.).
First of all, in what ways did the experience of writing and producing for others – other artists, film and TV, etc. – affect the way you approach your own music? What do you feel were the most valuable experiences or lessons that you learned to apply to making Headwars and Prey Later?
You’re also credited with producing and mixing the deluxe edition of Seething Akira’s Sleepy Skeletor album; would you tell us about that – how did you come to work with the band on that album?
What are the major differences in your approach to producing for another band/artist versus your own?
Davies: Seething Akira got in touch with me when I was doing Victory Pill to ask if we’d do a remix, which we did. We just got chatting and they asked if they could send me some of the demos of their new stuff for some advice. I could hear what they were trying to do, but it wasn’t really being realized in the production – you could hear they were influenced by bands I’ve been in over the years, but it wasn’t quite there. So, I produced and mixed a few tracks for them, which came out alright. Listening back, I could do much better now! It was really my first dip into producing for other people, but they still sound good. Those guys have become good mates now, and we’re talking about collaborating on their new stuff soon, which would be a laugh.
The new album also features two remixes by Empirion for ‘Choose Your Poison’ and ‘Hit the Reset.’ Since they’re also featured remixers on the Headwars remix album, would you tell us how did you come to work with them, and what more can we expect from this association?
Is there a non-Empirion version of either of these songs that we can expect to hear in the foreseeable future?
Davies: I’ve known Empirion for years; they were the support act on the first Prodigy tour I did in 1995 when the band were touring the ‘Poison’ single. I loved what they did, but back then, I was just a rock kid with no idea how that kind of music was produced – it was like black magic to me. But I loved it and wanted to be able to write music like that. Oz and Jamie from Empirion came from the same town as me in Essex, so we always keep in touch. I got them to remix a few tracks from Headwars, and the remix for the tune ‘Caged’ got used on that Marvel program Falcon and the Winter Solider… it actually went viral as Marvel used the track to make an hour long loop of the villain in the program (Nemo) dancing in a club to it. It racked up millions of plays! Emprion’s Resume album is brilliant, they deserve a lot more attention than they got. They were one of the big Essex hopes in the ’90s, along with Prodigy. They were on the same label, XL Recordings. I think if Empirion had used more vocal samples and made a bigger live show, they could have gone the same way as The Chemical Brothers, but I’m kind of glad they didn’t and stayed underground (they might not think that!). I saw them play for the first time in years just last actually and they sounded huge. Hopefully, they’ll do a new album next year; I’ll wangle my way on to it somehow!
Victory Pill seemed to disappear in 2011. What happened?
Davies: It sort of ran its course. We tried to do it as a band, but there was never any label support or big management/agent, which you need if you’re going to do anything. We did some good stuff though off our own backs, a really fun tour with Static-X and another with Skindred, but it made me realize I’m not a front man. I didn’t enjoy being up there. To be a front man you’ve got to be fearless, and I’m just too self-conscious! I’ve been lucky enough to work with the best front men out there and just got to be on the side doing my thing… that’s what I enjoy, not being center attraction; it’s terrifying. I got to the point of dreading gigs. We did two solid albums and called it a day, which I think was the best idea. Both albums have some great stuff on, I’m proud of them.
So much of your style is rooted in the manipulation of guitar effects and incorporating those sounds into electronic music. What sorts of advancements or developments in technology have you found most exciting to integrate into your musical style – both from the electronic/synth and the guitar side?
I’ve personally long held the idea that ‘genres’ are obsolete, and most seem to think they still hold some validity for marketing or commercial purposes. As your style encompasses a wide range of sounds – rock, metal, punk, various kinds of electronica, etc. – what are your thoughts on this? Do we still need genres?
Davies: I think the music industry needs genres for sure to keep it going. I’m struggling listening to new stuff. There was this period a while back where the Mrs. and I would do our usual Friday night sitting at the breakfast bar in the kitchen with some beers and blast out some new tunes, but everything we played followed the same M.O…. those fucking trap hi-hats and vocoders! The thing is that because of what I do for ‘my day job,’ I have to be able to write a lot of different genres, so maybe that’s why my own music has such a mix of stuff going on. It’s really hard for me to define what my style is anymore as I listen to so much different stuff. But I always gravitate back to electronic moodiness. I love trip-hop and more downtempo kind of stuff, but there’s always going to be a bit of punk rock in there. I love drum & bass as well. Genres only really exist for record companies to say, ‘This is the next big thing… you need to all sound like this, or you’ve got no chance of getting signed… oh, and make sure you have 40 million followers before you contact us as we don’t want to do a fucking thing if humanly possible.’ It’s funny, the older you get, you start to hear stuff coming ’round time and time again. I think the electronic/rock crossover thing that happened in the ’90s was so exciting to live through; it changed everything for me, it felt like such a cool time… I’m not sure kids today are going to get that feeling from, say… guitar music being back in this year. ‘Oooh! Exciting!’ Cool stuff has happened in the electronic field though. I suppose dubstep was a huge thing when it first happened, but then, it becomes old so fast. I miss proper bands releasing proper length albums! A lot of people advised me not to put out a full album, as people don’t listen to albums anymore apparently. Most artists now just release a single a month or something, but that doesn’t interest me at all. I’m old-school in that respect; if I’m going to release my own music, I’m doing a full-length 12-track job, no cop outs! I couldn’t care less if people don’t listen to albums. I’m not doing it for them!
Obviously, performing live was not possible in 2020, and many turned to livestreaming. I’ve asked many about their opinions of this, but now as we approach (hopefully) vaccinations and the quelling of the pandemic, what do you feel are the major lessons we learned? Or to put it another way, what do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the experience and use or think about going forward?
With live shows and tours gradually returning as we (hopefully) see the pandemic waning, do you have any plans to perform live or tour?
Davies: No, like I said before, I’m not a front man. These two solo albums have a lot going on. There’s some complex guitar stuff in there and a lot of lyrics that I’d never remember! It would just be too much of a mission to put together a band and tour this. Besides, I’m not sure enough people would be interested to warrant it. I wrote these albums for myself in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to take it live, which is why I think they came out strong. if I had of been thinking that way, I’d have been constantly thinking as I was writing, ‘Can I play this and sing at the same time? Probably not. I’ll sack that bit off then.’ I wanted to just sit in my studio and do the best I could with no restraints, which I think I did.
Outside of music, what are you enjoying most right now? Watching movies? Reading? Anything at all… what is giving you the most joy?
Davies: My puppy Maximus gives me the most joy! I’ve never had a pet as I’ve always been allergic to everything, so it was a big risk! But it worked out. He’s adorable… no matter how shit I feel when I wake up, I know the moment I walk downstairs, he’s going to go mental with excitement. If I had a heart, he would melt it. I’ve been doing a lot of shooting this year – clay pigeon/skeet… I love it. It’s my favorite thing to do, although I do feel a bit of conflict as I’m massively anti-hunting and an animal loving vegan. A lot of people that shoot clays go hunting, but I just enjoy it as a sport… I’m getting pretty handy at it too, but I could never do it at competition level as I’d beat myself up so badly when I miss. I’ve also been playing a lot of games this year. I got really back into gaming. There’s one called Ghost of Tushima that was incredible! I lost weeks on that! I guess I’m lucky in the sense that when I have music to write, I can get it done pretty quickly, so I often have a lot of time to do what I want… and that’s normally wasting it on the PS5!
What’s next for you? Anything at all that you’d like to add?