Madness To Creation

JIM DAVIES (THE PRODIGY, PITCHSHIFTER) Converses with Mark Dean on “Headwars” and his Illustrious Career”

Contributor’s Note:  Throughout its rich history, there are many musicians who can lay claim to having influenced rock music, each of them adding their own unique sound to the genre, each of them endlessly imitated. One name that you probably won’t find on any list, however, is Jim Davies. And you probably should. Among the many classic songs he’s contributed to are The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Breathe’, both international hits that reached Number One in numerous countries, along with co-writing several albums with cult UK crossover band Pitchshifter, and collaborating with many other electronic rock acts and DJ’s. While he’d be embarrassed by such accolades, perhaps it’s time we’d updated those lists. Jim Davies may just be the best known guitarist you’ve never heard of.

Entitled ‘Headwars’, the long-awaited new 12 track album is the result of years of experience, a phenomenal record that features guest appearances from vocalists Milly Rodda, Abbie Aisleen (Davies’ wife), along with renowned electronic artist ‘Tut Tut Child’, and Davies’ former ‘Pitchshifter’ band mates Mark Clayden and Jason Bowld. Darkly eclectic and catchy as hell, it takes in everything from trip hop and electronica to punk rock, and easily ranks as Davies’ best work to date.


“A lot of the album is pretty dark,” says Davies. “Lyrically a lot of the album is about dealing with that black cloud of regrets hanging over your head! I called the album ‘Headwars’ as it felt pretty apt! I’m guilty of overthinking everything, which is a bad head-space to get into. I ended up in quite a dark place last summer which lead me to reconnecting with a lot of my old band mates which was really helpful, and it was some of them that persuaded me to get back into writing my own music again.”

Typically understated and self-effacing, Davies still had needless doubts.

“It took quite a lot of persuasion from friends and family for me to decide to release this commercially,” he admits, “but I can honestly say I think it’s the best I can do at this moment in time.” I caught up with Jim Davies for Madness To Creation recently during the current period of enforced self-isolation.

Mark:  Do you work from home generally, or is this a new situation for you?

Jim:  No, I’ve always worked from home. By doing what I do, it’s… that’s the way everyone works, really, isn’t it? So the only difference for me is that the Mrs. is at home more than she normally is. But apart from that, nothing’s changed for me. I don’t really go out that much anyway, so. It’s definitely weird for a lot of my friends. But for me, it’s not much different, really.

Mark:  Yes. So you don’t really feel it’s difficult to remain positive, creative, or focused in these uncertain times?

Jim:  Yeah, I feel it’s made me want to crack on with doing another album, definitely, because I was sort of thinking, “Well, this one’s been out for a while.” Well, it’s out in a couple of weeks. And I was thinking, “Well, I’ve got time to do another one maybe next year.” And then I thought, “Well, I’ve got the time on my hands now. Might as well start now.” So, yeah, I’m probably going to try and use the time more productively than I normally would. I think a lot of people are going to do that. So hopefully in about six months’ time, there’ll be an influx of new stuff from everybody. We’ll see. We’ll see.

Mark:  What about the album, then, Headwars itself? Was that a collection of stuff, ideas that you had over the years, or was it just created solely as one piece and all fresh, new?

Jim:  Yeah, it was all completely new. I’ve been thinking about… It’d been in the back of my mind for quite a while that I wanted to do an album like this because over the last 10 years, I’ve just been holed up, writing music for TV. Production music, it’s called. Over that time, I sort of really had to up my game and learn how to do everything because in the past, I was just a guitarist, really. I didn’t have to do production and mixing and didn’t really have much interest in it. So when I started doing music for TV, it was a bit of a steep learning curve, and I just had to get my head into it and started writing a lot of different music, a lot of different genres. 

And over the last 10 years, I must have written thousands of bits of music, and I think it was in the back of my mind that some of the stuff I was writing was better than some of the stuff I’ve put out as bands because a lot of the stuff I do for TV is… I don’t do ukulele music.. That’s not the sort of stuff I do. I do much more cinematic, dark, tension type stuff. And so, some of the stuff I do is almost quite band-like anyway, and some of it, I just thought, “It’s a shame that people don’t really hear these.” But at the same time, it’s a very lucrative business, but you sort of feel like people don’t really hear it. But that’s not why you’re doing it, is it? You’re doing it for TV, you’re not doing it for anyone else.

So I just started thinking over the last couple of years it’d be fun to do an album of my own and not be writing to a brief like I do for the TV stuff, just to do what I want to do because I’ve built up such a back catalog of work that I could… I felt like I could take a bit of time off and just do something that I wanted to do purely for the fun. So I just started… It was a bit weird. I sat there and just looked at a blank screen and went, “I don’t really know what my thing is anymore,” because I hadn’t written stuff for myself for a while. But I sort of always naturally gravitate to that sort of dark, electronic stuff. So I had it… Once I started the project, it came together really, really quickly. I reckon I did it in about four months, maybe a little bit less because that’s just because I had… I was really up for it, and I was really excited to do it. 

And I hadn’t intended to do it as a release, really. I was going to do just some tracks for myself, and then I played it to a few people, some friends and family, and they all just said, “Why don’t you just do it? Why don’t you put it out?” And it took a little bit of persuading because I’ve been out of that side of things for quite a while. I didn’t know whether I wanted to get back into all that. But by the time I had the whole album together, I thought, “Yeah, I’m really chuffed with this. I’m really proud of this. This is, without a doubt, the best stuff I’ve done, so why not do it and just treat it as a bit of fun?”

And it’s not like my livelihood depends on this album doing well. It’s not about that at all, it’s just… I’m just enjoying doing it, doing stuff like this, talking to people like you. And I’ve been doing a few interviews this week, and it’s just really good fun. I’m just enjoying watching the videos go up and having a bit of input with the videos, just a nice change of scenery for me. So, yeah.

Mark:  It is a great album. I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you.

Jim:  Thank you.

Mark:  Obviously, in my line of work, I get sent a phenomenal amount of stuff, and generally it gets one listen, if even that. I don’t generally have the time, but it is on repeat every single day. First thing-

Jim:  Oh, fantastic.

Mark:  First thing when I get up, I put it on. It’s got everything. It’s got elements of ambiance, it’s got hard-hitting stuff, elements of your former band projects in there as well, I picked up on. How do you go about… You mentioned your songs. Do you still compose initially on guitar, or is it more of sort of…

Jim:  Hardly ever. 

Sit there and write on a guitar. I never really have because everything I’ve always done has been electronic based. The album is really different, each track is different, but that wasn’t a conscious decision. I wasn’t trying to sit there going, “All right, now I’ll do this genre. I will show that I can do this.” For me, because my music taste is so varied and all the bands I’ve played in, with all our different sort of… I’ve always been exposed to loads of different styles of music. So one of the things that I knew that when I was writing this album, that I wasn’t going to do 12 tracks like the track Caged with Jason, the more punk rock. Even though I could have done that, I was thinking occasionally, “I think I could do an album with just this.” 

But then I felt, “Well, that’s not really representative of me, really.” And I listen to a lot of downtempo, trip hop, and hip hop, and glitch music, and drummer bass, and a lot of downtempo, and then obviously the more electronic, full-on stuff. So it was always going to end up like this, I think, just naturally because that’s what makes it fun for me to write. It keeps it interesting, and that was the idea, really. So every single genre on that album, I could have done 12 tracks in that same field, but I just didn’t think it would…

I found it’s a bit more risk doing such a varied album because some people will like a couple of tracks and they might not like… Because people like you have got probably a similar taste, then, if you like the album, like all the different styles. But I find a lot of the interviews I’ve been doing have been with some quiet, rock-based websites and magazines, and I can’t help thinking, “Well, they might like a few of the tracks, but I wonder if they’ll like all of them.” Who cares, really? I think people’s tastes have got a bit different over the years, and hopefully everyone is quite broad minded now, so. 

But, yeah, to go back to your original question, I always write from sitting there on the computer. I’ll come up with… I’ll either start programming some drums or find a little loop that inspires me to… Sometimes, the guitar’s an afterthought. Some of these tracks on the albums don’t have that much guitar on there. And if it is, stuff that has got a lot of guitar on it, and they’re the more sort of punky tracks, some of the tunes… some of those tracks like, I don’t know, Now You Know and a few others, the guitar’s not at the forefront at all just because not everything I write has to be guitar led. So, yeah, yeah.

Mark:  So did you have a long-term plan? Obviously, nobody knows what’s going to happen a few months down the line in terms of live shows, even the world.  . What was your goal when you did the album? Was it just something for yourself initially, or did you long-term plan of maybe go out and playing those songs live because they would sound awesome live?

Jim:  Yeah, a few people have said that, but for me, it was just… The reason I wanted to do it was I just felt like I was hitting a bit of a little purple patch with what I was doing. I felt like… Because I’m a bit of a slow… not, slow learner. What’s the word? Bit of a late developer, I think. Sometimes I’ll beat myself up a bit that I should have done stuff, should have worked on my own stuff a lot earlier. But back in the band days, I was just interested in playing a guitar, really. I didn’t really think further ahead. So for me, it was just a case of I wanted to do this album to… How should I put it? 

The thing is, when you put stuff out, and especially in this sort of digital age, it’s out there forever. And I was looking back at some of the stuff a couple of years ago, and even though I’m proud of quite a lot of it, some of it I was just thinking, “I could do a lot better than this, and it’d be a real shame if I didn’t do something now, sort of document, for myself really, where I’m at now musically.” So that was the reason I wanted to do it because in the past, I’ve always had to rely on other people to help me produce it and help me mix it because I’ve never thought… I’ve always had that little anxiety thing in the back of your mind that tells you, “Oh, you couldn’t possibly do it yourself. You couldn’t do that. You’re not a producer.” 

And after doing all this composition work for 10 years, I’ve sort of got to that point where I thought, “I can do it all myself now, so do it.” And it’s just nice to have control over it and not have to have anyone else involved. But the lifestyle is a tricky one because I feel [inaudible 00:10:22] right at the start of when I was doing this, I had it in the back of my mind I wasn’t going to do it live because I think that would have changed how it came out. I think it would have sounded completely different because I would have been writing it with that little anxiety thing in the back of my head going, “How are you going to do this live?” Because some of these tracks have got… And the thing I enjoy about writing this album is just that freedom of just doing anything you like.

Some of these tracks have got hundreds of… well, 120 sometimes channels of stuff running, and lots of different guitar layers, and lots of different textures. I think if I was writing it and thinking, “Right. I’m going to gig this,” it will just change it because I’m thinking of, “I better not put that bit in because I won’t be able to play that at [inaudible 00:11:08].” And I think it would have stressed me out a little bit. And I’m not… I don’t really see myself as a front man. I’m lucky enough that I played in bands with the best, and my thing has always just been stay a little bit out of that. 

And I don’t see myself as presenting like this album… I’m still a bit weird doing it, doing gigs as just me. And I’m not a natural front man. I’m quite reserved, and I think it would just give me endless sleepless nights thinking about it, going, “Oh, god. I’ve got a gig coming up. And what if I forget the words? And what if I forget this and forget how to play that?” So I… And also, the whole lot of work that would go in for that. You’d have to put a band together, you’d have to try and get gigs.

Mark:  Money as well. Comes into the equation a lot also(,I would imagine…) 

Jim:  Yeah, yeah. Other stuff I’ve done in the past, like when I was doing the Victory Pill project, that was also funded. And even though we had a laugh doing that, we’d done some good gigs with bands like     it was really hard work because we were doing… You’re back to square one again, starting from nothing. And I was having to finance everything. There was no record label involved. It got to the point where I really just started resenting doing live gigs and not enjoying it, and that’s half the reason I stopped playing in bands and started looking for a different angle, which the composition thing ended up being that. So that’s the thing. I think doing this album’s been really good fun because I just know now I won’t do it live. So, yeah.

Mark:  Okay. The bands that you’ve been in, Prodigy and Pitchshifter are obviously the ones that people are going to pick out. Do you feel that was, in a way, creatively stifling a bit because they were already established when you joined? And were you kind of limited in what you could actually input in the studio in terms of recording with those bands?

Jim:  That’s a really good question. Well, with Prodigy, definitely, because you have to be honest, Liam Howlett doesn’t need anyone’s help. He definitely didn’t need my help. He was… I did sort of contribute to some of the tracks, but I had tonnes of… It was a weird time when I first started playing with them because I was so young. I was 21. I really didn’t know my ass from my elbow and then was chucked in properly in the deep end. Looking back on it, it is a bit of a double-edged sword. It opened up a lot of doors, but it was a bit of a mad one, to be thrown in that deep that young. So working with him, I had a lot of ideas, and I felt like I had lots of interesting guitar sounds and ideas that I thought sounded different and interesting. But I was lucky enough that I got some of those ideas on record with them, but I had shit load more, and there was no way.. 

Half the reason, in playing live for them, I was never massively… never really felt comfortable at all because, obviously, that was more performance based, and what I was playing wasn’t really that important. It was more about the look and the performance. So when I started playing with… When I got introduced to Pitchshifter,  they were brilliant. They were really up for everything I had. … The band already had a guitarist at the time, Johnny, Johnny Carter, and he was really cool with me doing my weird stuff because he was a rhythm player and he was a main programmer in the band. So he didn’t have any sort of problem with me coming along and putting all the strange lead stuff everywhere. So with them, it didn’t feel stifling at all because they were absolutely up for it. So, no, definitely not.  

Mark:  You’ve written a lot of music. You’ve mentioned the film soundtracks, TV show soundtracks, and obviously the bands, and your solo stuff. I just wondered if you’d maybe pick out a couple of… Who would be a musician that would maybe have influenced you the most that you’ve worked with? Would there be anybody that springs to mind?

Jim:  That I’ve worked with? That’s a tricky one. I can’t think of anyone that I’ve worked with, but there’s bands that I’ve played at festivals and stuff like that that I’ve watched and been influenced by. I can’t help but be influenced by people like Trent Reznor, I think. I’ve always been into Nine Inch Nails since I was a kid. But I’ve been really interested with him, just watching how he sort of seamlessly moved from doing Nine Inch Nails and then suddenly moved into doing films. And some of the score work he’s done, stuff like Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, those sort of albums, you could listen to them almost like a Nine Inch Nails album. 

He’s managed to really bridge that gap between being in a band and doing soundtracks. That’s something I’ve been definitely influenced by because I… Sometimes you think of writing stuff, doing stuff for TV, and you sort of think it has to be really boring with minimal, very easy-to-do sort of music, and that’s not how it is at all. The stuff I do is… Sometimes, it’s pretty complicated, and it turns out to be as complicated as writing songs sometimes because some of it is songs. You’re writing tracks for all sorts of different albums of music. So I think Trent Reznor’s definitely been someone I’ve watched and thought, “Yeah,  I can’t really think of anyone I’ve worked with, but, ] if I think of someone, I’ll come back to that.

Mark:   Have you had a chance to hear the.latest NIN music – . I think that they  released a couple of albums a few days ago?

Jim:   I have seen that. I’m going to save that. I’m going to save that for the fifth month of isolation when I’m going absolutely mental.

Mark:  Hopefully it doesn’t go that long.

Jim:  No. I don’t foresee it going that long, but, yeah, I will listen to that.

Mark:  Do you still have career and life goals? I guess we all have to in order to keep going especially at times like the present situation.

Jim: Yeah, that’s another good question. I suppose up until I did this album, I did have that sort of… It was hanging over me a little bit that I didn’t feel like I’d really resolved the band side of things because I stopped playing in bands almost overnight. I just sort of thought,  ” I’d been touring since I was 21, and I got to my early 30s and just thought, “This can’t go on forever, and it won’t go on forever.” I didn’t want to end up being one of those really sad old gits that’s still trying to do a band in his 50s and still doing rubbish gigs in pubs and clubs, and I just didn’t want to do that. 

So that’s why I got into doing soundtracks. But I think if I had not done this album, I wouldn’t have felt like… I don’t know. I wouldn’t have felt like I’d have accomplished what I should have done. I’ve always thought I could have done a bit better. And so, I think this album’s definitely going to make me want to do another, keep at it and do another few because it’s been really good fun. So as far as life goals go, doing an album of my own stuff that I’ve written and produced to a standard that I think’s as good as I can do, that’s definitely one ticked off massively. So I suppose the next goal will be to do another one that’s as strong as this one. So, yeah.

Mark:  How do you view your own musical legacy? Is it with mixed feelings or like you said earlier, some things that you listen back and think, “Mm, I could have done that a bit differently”?

Jim:  Yeah, I think that everyone who’s played… I think anyone who’s been doing and writing music for as long as I have, they’re definitely going to look back and go… Yeah, they’re not going to like everything, like some bands won’t even play a certain track, will they? They hate certain albums. I suppose I look back at the first time I played with Prodigy, and I look back at that a little bit sort of cringe worthy because I was so… I look at myself back then, and I just think, “You had no idea, did you?” And I know that it opened up a lot of doors, but I look back at it and cringe, just think, “God,” because I didn’t really understand the level of what I was doing back then and just the size, the how big it was all going to kick off. I was just into it as a fan, really. I was a big fan of the music, and I didn’t have any kind of business thoughts or anything like that, so. 

But then again, I have gone over… I try not to beat myself up over stuff like that because I used to, massively. I used to look back and go, “Oh, you should have done that differently, you should have done that differently.” But everything leads to that sort of like that butterfly effect, isn’t it? If I changed one thing somewhere along the line, I might not have done this album or I might not have done something else. So, yeah, it’s an interesting one. People are always going to be… always going to ask about the Prodigy side of things, and it’s something I do feel a little bit uncomfortable talking about because I don’t feel like it should define-

Mark:  Your career.

Jim:  Yeah, because I’d done that so young. People always talk about Firestarter, and Breathe, and stuff like that. But I just played on those tracks, and I didn’t write those tracks. And I’m very proud to have played on them, especially on how they turned out to be groundbreaking tracks. But I try not to sort of… There’s people out there that would just dine off that forever. There’s people out there that- 

Got their 15 minutes of fame, and they just can’t let that go, and they have to keep living off of something that happened 20 years ago. It still blows my mind. There’s people out there that claim to have played on, and I’ve seen it on Wikipedia or stuff like that. I just look at it and just think it’s hilarious to think how… Why would you do that when it’s so… you can so easily be sussed out? Because in the digital age, it’s easy to find information that’s… Then again, it’s easy to find information that’s not true. So I was watching… I was reading online  the other day because it’s the top 50 guitar riffs, and I was just looking for a laugh. And Firestarter was on there. I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And then I looked at it and it said, “Yeah, a sample from The Breeders.” 

And I was like, “Oh, my god.” Even after all this time, because obviously there is a whining sort of tone in the background of that track that was a sample from The Breeders, but that was me doing the intro. And I think… Over the years, I just find that funny. But there was definitely a period of time in my late 20’s when it really did do my head in that I didn’t feel like… not recognition, that’s not the right word. But I felt like there was definitely sort of… I don’t know. …

Mark:  Moving back to the new Headwars release-    Will it still be released as scheduled, or has it been delayed like so many album releases, and dates, and things at this time?

Jim:  No, there’s no reason for it to be delayed, is there, because- its  done and all recorded

 So there’s no need for it to be delayed at all because it’s not like I had a 30-day tour set up behind it that would mess everything up, so I was thinking, “Is it a good thing that… Is it a bad time to release this album?” But then I was thinking, “Well, for a lot of big bands, it is a terrible time to put out music if you were planning on spending all summer touring it.” But I’m not, so I don’t think it’s really going to affect anything, so it will definitely be out as planned, yeah.

Mark: Do you have a PR company promoting that, or are you doing it solely yourself?

Jim:  Yeah. Yeah, no, I have actually. And again, that was something I had to think about whether I wanted to go down that route. But I thought, “Why not?” I’m chuffed with it, I don’t sort of… In the past, I’ve put out stuff that I think’s good, but I’ve always been, “Yeah, yeah, it’s all right. It’s not brilliant.” But I think I’m satisfied enough with this album that I should… I feel like it deserves to have a bit of a push out there with a press company. Not that I really expect… I’m not expecting anything from it, just doing the few interviews like this is all that I was expecting. 

And it’s been weird having to set up… I’ve never really done the Spotify thing, I’ve never really had my own artist Facebook thing. I just had a personal thing. So that’s been a bit strange because I’ve never really done it. There’s never been a need for me to do it. So that’s something I just enjoyed building up a little bit because it’s quite good fun starting from scratch, really, and just… because you know that anyone who pops up on it is going to be actually interested.  

Mark:  How do you go about doing something like picking a PR company? Is it just a case of picking at random a PR company, or do you go away, source them, talk to people out there, see if they have a genuine interest in your music,  .

Jim:  Well, it was actually a friend of mine put me on to Noise Cartel, they’re called. And they just put me on… He just put me on to the guy, Adam, and just said, “This guy’s really good, but he won’t fuck around if he doesn’t like it. He’ll tell you.”

Mark:  Yeah, that’s what you want.

Jim:  He won’t take it on if he thinks he can’t do anything with it. But that was almost like a bit of a challenge. I thought, “Oh, this bloke sounds like he’s the real deal.” So I sent the album to Adam, and he just really liked the album. Obviously, he knows I’m a bit of a weird case, I think, because normally he deals with bands that are going to go out and tour, and they’ve got a tour set up, and they’re an actual band, where I don’t think he’s ever just done a solo thing before. But luckily, he’s really into the music, and he’s been getting some good bits and bobs. 

But it’s not like I’m sort of sitting around, thinking, “Oh. Oh, I know I’m not going to get on front covers of magazines, and I’ll be lucky to get in any at all, to be honest.” But I think if I hadn’t have done it, it just would have always been in the back of my mind thinking, “Maybe I should have done.” So I just thought, “Well, let’s give it a go.” The only thing is, when you put out music, you have to be prepared for people to not like it and not be upset about it. But that’s just all part of releasing music, isn’t it? I think if I got upset about bad reviews or someone put something silly on a YouTube video, then you shouldn’t do it, shouldn’t you?

Mark:  No.

Jim:  I’m just treating it as fun, and it seems to be going quite well,  

Mark:  As I said earlier, it’s definitely an album that you should be proud of. I enjoy listening to it. Once I come off of this call, I’ll be back on again.

Jim:  Oh, that’s brilliant, Mark. Thanks very much.  

If you feel like you want to… If someone else, a different website’s interested and you think it might be helpful to ask me a few different questions that might help that website that’s more electronic based or whatever, then we can just chat again, couldn’t we?

Mark: We certainly could. But that’s great. I’ll let you get back to your doom or creating music. What’s it going to be? Creating more music?

Jim:   It’s weird, isn’t it? I don’t normally think about structuring my days that much, but now my wife’s at home, and she’s really structured. Everything she’s doing all through the day, so she’s got a bit of a thing. I sort of feel like I need to do that. I can’t just wander around aimlessly. So I think I’m going to… I’m trying to get into a little habit of getting in the studio early, doing the stuff until midday, and then get a break, going through until about four o’clock, and then I feel like I can treat myself to a couple of hours on Doom!

Mark:  That’s brilliant. Anyway, thank you for chatting to me. And as I said, could maybe do it again sometime.

Jim:  Any time at all, Mark. 

And there you have it!  Fans can check out Jim Davies at the following locations:

Fans can find Mark Dean at the following locations:

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