INTERVIEW: Matt James of Gene

This Friday (14th August), Demon Records will release a Deluxe Edition vinyl box set collecting for the first all the studio albums of the much loved and respected band Gene. The Albums box set features all four of the band’s studio albums: Olympian, Drawn To The Deep End, Revelations, and Libertine on different coloured 180g heavyweight vinyl.

Ahead of the release we caught up with Matt James to find out more….

Hi Matt, what are you up to these days – are you still involved in music?

For the past 13 years, I have been running my own wine company selling wine to the Camden pubs I used to drink in as a musician! I had no involvement with music since 2008 but in 2019 I started writing songs again but for the first time on my own instead of co-writing. I have 18 now. I think I needed that long break but it feels amazing to start a new chapter. I’m now demoing & then will decide what to do…if anything. Guess I’m still an ambitious bastard, which strangely doesn’t seem to dissipate with age ha ha!!

The box set looks fantastic – how did it come about?

Demon Music had put out some previous Gene CD re-issues in 2014 & approached us again. I loved working with them last time because they do it properly & don’t skimp on the quality at any stage. They had the idea of the box sets & vinyl which is very much out of print these days. I feel they are proper music fans & that makes a big difference when working together IMO.

Did the band members have much input into release / format etc?

Demon have come to us for approval & input all the way down the line & each member has contributed as much as their own time has allowed. As I say we all have jobs! Ideas for it have been led by Demon but that’s what record companies are supposed to do? I wish it had been more like this when we were signed to a major label but I guess we were too busy rocking & rolling!

When was the last time you listened to the albums all the way through?

Kev has listened to all the test pressings but I can’t say I have. I have reminded myself of my fave Gene recorded moments over the past few months. I still love most of it tbh. These songs are blueprinted on my mind & it’s quite hard to listen to them to just relax without a the minutiae of facts & memories flooding back & overwhelming me!

How do you think they have stood the test of time?

Most have…I think when its band in a room recording live takes you capture a moment & our characters come through & then don’t seem to get dated too much. It’s a snapshot of your age & development.  Olympian, Revelations especially so cause that’s what we did. However, we were experimenting with things like pro tools on Drawn to the Deep End which was new tech at the time & I think the over cutting & pasting of performances on that record does sound a bit dated on some tracks. Pro tools is much more sophisticated now. No one’s fault of course. Having said that it’s also used highly effectively on the big tunes on that record like We Could Be Kings, Speak to me someone, and Where are They Now. They still sound great & are acknowledged by us & fans as big Gene songs so that says a lot for them.

Do you have a particular favourite album out of the four?

I think Libertine as we really knew what we were doing by then & pushed the boundaries. My fave Gene individual ‘songs’ are on other LP’s though.

Looking back to when you toured the albums, what were your favourite Gene performances?

London LA 2 in Dec 94 was a moment. We were so much on the ascendancy & it felt amazing. I remember Adam Ant coming backstage & he was a hero to me & Mart. I felt like a popstar for the first time! Later on V97 was memorable. I love festivals where the evening sets in half way through the set & the stage lights start to kick in. We totally rocked that field & we thought everyone would be at the main stage…for Beck I think it was. The RAH gig second half after they sorted out the sound probs was great too. We had to leave the stage but when we returned we were fucking lions! All nerves suddenly out of the window. I remember playing the Duchess of York in Leeds in 94 & having been in various bands & played there before to 20 people I looked out of the window with Steve & there was a queue round the block FINALLY!!

You were often pigeonholed as a Britpop band although I never really viewed you as that. How did you feel about being lumped into that scene?

It’s just what happens. People like a ‘scene’ to help them focus on an era though of course all bands had v different sounds & influences. It was brilliant that bands I’d been in & wanted to be in suddenly could aspire to the main charts & not the indie chart. The term didn’t bother me but I wouldn’t use it myself for Gene. We were an anthemic, indie rock band but I do understand that the term ‘Britpop’ is a lot more catchy!

Although you had a massive dedicated following, you did not hit the heights of some of the other bands – do you think looking back you received the credit you deserved at the time?

I think we made some brilliant records that perhaps were overlooked by the wider public but we also made some mistakes down the line with the choices we made. I won’t outline them here there’s really no need! The fact that people are still loving & talking about us in 2020 blows my mind & makes me happy.

Martin recently announced a “farewell solo tour” playing Gene songs in the set, which was not particularly well received by the rest of the band. Would you have been open to a reunion if asked?

I think if Mart had changed his mind about wanting to do Gene in the forthcoming years since the split in 04 we would have all been up for it. We could have played bigger venues than when we split. However I never actually thought it would happen because Mart had so publicly expressed his abhorrence of re-unions & nostalgia shows. Of course he has every right to do his show. That’s wasn’t the issue. It was the covertness of setting it up that rankled with the other members & then the pre teasing with Gene logos so people really thought we were reforming. The logo thing doesn’t piss me off that much (others may differ!) – any promoter would do it – but Mart just needed to let us know. Mainly because he knew how much we would have genuinely loved to play our songs one last time. That’s it really. Having said all this there’s no hatred here on my part. When I saw Martin struggling with tech on an online gig recently, through no fault of his own, frankly I wanted to give him a hug!

What pissed me off much more about this situation was the aggressive nastiness of some people online telling us to stop whinging etc. Likening it to McCartney playing a few Beatles songs in his set. Anyone who thinks it’s like that doesn’t understand bands that co-write. This is more akin to McCartney, after one solo LP, doing a mostly Beatles set with musicians replacing John, George & Ringo -while they are all still alive – or Bono doing U2 set without Edge etc after one LP on his own…and crucially…without telling Edge what he was gonna do it. Macca & Bono would be perfectly within their rights given their contribution to the band…but would it have been nice thing to do & would the others be likely to be a tad miffed about it?? You decide! We painstakingly crafted these beautiful songs together. Anyway…it’s all said & done… I’ve moved on from it & hopefully we can hug it out one day, social distancing allowing! I have love for all other members of Gene.