Jim Bob, best known as the front man of punk pop cult heroes Carter USM (The Unstoppable Sex Machine), has carved out a new career as an author as well as a solo musician. He heads to Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds on May 22 as part of a unique tour which combines his two passions, performing some of his best known hits as well as reading extracts from his latest novel Driving Jarvis Ham. We caught up with him ahead of the show to talk about his musical achievements and his desires to be taken seriously as an author.
How does it feel to be back on tour?
I haven’t left yet but I’m looking forward to it. If I think about it too much I’ll get incredibly nervous. One thing I am looking forward to is being in a car with a couple of friends, eating crisps and talking nonsense. It’s almost my favourite bit.
After the success of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, how does life as a solo artist compare?
The Carter days seem like another world in a way. Or stuff that happened to a different person. There are a lot less people involved in the solo thing. With three of us in a car instead of 20 people on a bus. I suppose it’s more like it was when Carter first started out. It’s also more of a struggle, but in a good way.
What sort of reaction do you get from interweaving a live set with a book reading?
Most of the time it works really well. It only doesn’t work if people shout out for songs during the readings. It hasn’t happened a lot though. If I get it right the book reading bits can be a bit like stand up comedy.
After such a varied career, what’s next?
Another book definitely. Apart from that I don’t know. Some of the things I’ve done, like writing songs for a pantomime and being in a musical for a month, weren’t planned, they just came along. So anything is possible really.
What is it that keeps you motivated to keep performing and creating?
I sometimes think I’d like to do nothing. I wonder if I won the Lottery what would I do? Whether I’d be happy to just relax and read books and watch DVDs. I do like the feeling of having created something I’m proud of though.
How does your approach to writing for your books differ to writing music, or are they both just avenues for creativity?
There are similarities. I collect ideas and notes together for both. But I’ve always written words to fit to music, with the books I just have to write the words. There’s no music to inspire me.
How much did it mean to you to have your books so well received?
It’s really important. I’ve always wanted to be taken a bit more seriously. I think for a while I’ll be a singer who’s written a book rather than an author. Maybe after I’ve written 10 books that might change.
Did the acclaim give you as much satisfaction as your musical achievements?
I think so.
The download era has obviously been a challenge for the music industry but also provided a certain freedom for musicians and new artists to get their music out there without much budget or label backing. Do you think the ‘e-book‘ era could spur a similar creative boom for budding novelists?
I hate to sound like an old granddad but I wish e-books were never invented. They’re here now and so I won’t go on about it but I imagine it will be a bad thing in the long run for writers. I have conflicting opinions on the whole thing though. I’m sure some people will get something great out of it. I just love books made of paper with pretty artwork.
Are you still running with the ‘Specials board‘ on this tour and letting the audience pick songs for you to perform?
That is the plan. I hope it works. There is a danger that I may just end up playing the same requested songs every night. I wanted a way to shake things up just a bit.
Has this sort of audience interaction and involving the fans always been an important element to you?
There’s a lot of competition to get people out of their houses. I don’t want to ever just play for the sake of it and not put any effort into the show, however small that show may be. Simple things like having an intro song and making compilations to be played between bands. I’ve compiled songs about driving for this tour.
No ‘Radiohead-esque’ refusing to play your biggest hits then?
Not from me. I’ll play anything that doesn’t sound awful on an acoustic guitar and that isn’t too difficult for my limited musical capabilities.
And for those who’ve not seen your music/book combo live show before, how would you sum it up?
There is potentially something for everyone. Old Carter songs, new solo songs and book reading for people who hate music. The gigs usually turn into singalongs at some point. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll bring down the government. Etc.
Jim Bob’s new novel Driving Jarvis Ham is out now.