Music Interview: Matt James of Gene

One of the key indie Britrock bands and its back-catalogue re-release

Music Interview: Matt James of Gene

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of their 1995 debut album, Olympian, anthemic ‘90s indie-Britrock band Gene have had their back catalogue reissued by Demon Music Group.

The Deluxe Edition vinyl box set, Gene: The Albums, which retails for £139.99, includes all four of the group’s studio albums – Olympian, Drawn To The Deep End (1997), Revelations (1999) and Libertine (2001), as well as the B-sides, live tracks and radio sessions compilation, To See The Lights (1996). There’s also a nine-CD set, (around £60), which throws in extra discs of bonus tracks and B-sides, as well as the 2000 live album, Rising For Sunset

Gene (Martin Rossiter – vocals; Steve Mason – guitar; Kevin Miles – bass, and Matt James – drums) were often lazily tagged as Smiths copyists, but, as these new collections prove, they were so much more than that. Their influences also included The Jam, The Faces, The Who, R.E.M, Big Star, country-rock, soul and reggae. We asked Matt to talk us through the vinyl box set and share his memories of making the albums.

SH: The deluxe vinyl box set looks great – it’s a nice package for the fans, isn’t it? How did you choose what to include?

MJ: At first, Demon weren’t going to put To See The Lights in it, as it’s got BBC-owned songs on it – the BBC aren’t as easy to deal with as they once were and they’re very expensive. The box set would’ve cost less than 100 quid, but by including To See The Lights it’s put the price up. To See The Lights isn’t technically a studio album, but it’s an important one and we wanted it to be in there.

I don’t feel like we’re ripping anyone off – I’m doing it for the love of it and to keep the memory and legacy alive. I can’t really see anybody doing this with the Gene stuff again in my lifetime – this was our one chance. All of the original vinyl is now out of print. I’ve worked with Demon before – they’ve done a good job. For the artwork, they tried very hard to find unreleased photos. 

Have the albums been remastered?

They’ve not been remastered or remixed, but they’ve been tweaked EQ-wise. You can open a can of worms with remastering… 

Tell us about Keith Cameron’s sleeve notes. He signed you to his Costermonger label in 1994, didn’t he? 

Yes. Keith’s done some fantastic sleeve notes – when I read them, it brought a tear to my eye. I didn’t blub, but I got a bit moist! He’s summed up one of the best moments for me – when he came to the studio, after we’d just finished making the Olympian album, and we had a wrap party. We were about to go and play The Forum [in Kentish Town, London] for the first time – the studio made us a cake with ‘The Forum’ written on it – and we had it all ahead of us. We felt on top of the world. 

Do you own all the original Gene releases on vinyl?

Yes – I have everything, including some exceptionally rare stuff. I’ve got a proud collection of white labels and rarities. 

So you’re a vinyl lover?

I absolutely love vinyl – I have a collection. I’ve got tons of reggae that I haven’t played for years. I need a new record player. If someone could advise me on what one to get, that would be great. I mostly listen to music on my phone, but my choice would be to get the vinyl out, sit down and listen to it on my own, but that isn’t the way life is at the moment – I don’t get the opportunity because I have kids. 

Your debut album, Olympian, didn’t include your first two singles. That was a bold move, wasn’t it?

Yeah – the thinking behind it was that the songs were out there – people had them – and we didn’t want to rip our fans off. We were confident of our new material. In terms of Gene’s success, we could have probably done things differently and tweaked one or two things – it might have been a better commercial decision to put the singles on there, but the album went down pretty well review-wise and I think it’s certainly stood the test of time. Olympian is kind of timeless and it captures a fantastic moment in our age and development – it’s a band, recorded in a room… Our producer, Phil Vinall, used to make us rehearse stuff before we did the takes, so he captured the sound of the band playing live. It was a really exciting time and that shows in the recording – we were puffed-up and ready to go. We made it in Pete Townshend’s studio, Townhouse 3, in Battersea – The Who had recorded there and there’s loads of footage of them playing in it. For myself and Kev, who both love The Who, it was really magical – just to be on that hallowed ground.

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