Sunday, April 21 2024

Today, The Indie Grid delves into the world of Jim Bower, the former frontman of the band Shatner, as he guides us through his latest solo album, ‘The Fourth Wall.’ Hailing from Leeds, UK, Jim’s recent work explores themes of self-deprecating honesty and the impending integration of humanity into a digital future. ‘The Fourth Wall’ follows the 2021 release of Jim’s previous album, ‘Life Support.’ For fans of They Might Be Giants, and personally, it also brought back echoes of ‘The Mollusk’-era Ween, discover more about the inspiration behind ‘The Fourth Wall’ and Jim’s thoughts on the current state of music and technology.

What inspired ‘The Fourth Wall’, and how does it differ from your previous work?

I’ve been recording for many years, but if I was to pin down the one difference this time it would be a relative lack of guitars. I wrote all of “The Fourth Wall” on keyboards, which meant slipping into a different vocabulary, using keys and chord sequences I would never use when writing with a guitar. 

I’m also using the computer a lot, which is integral to one of the main themes of the album, namely the merging of human and machine. There are very few “real” instruments on the album, and aside from a couple of parts added by Will (the producer), I either played or compiled the whole thing – but there’s no denying that it was computer-assisted. 

For me, the joy of creating music is about self-expression, and I don’t ever want to produce anything that isn’t an authentic creation. So, I treat the computer like I would a band member. For instance, my software provides a series of keyboard sequences, which is just like having a keyboard player in the room suggesting a part. I’ll take it and say, OK but let’s change the key, and that second chord should be a minor, let’s swap those notes over, and so on. It’s about selecting and editing, which is what I’ve always done as the creative director in the bands I’ve been in.


So, I like to think of this as a collaboration between me and the machine, it’s the band. Or perhaps I’m merging into a sort of musical cyborg, but I’m still in charge of the process. 

The whole subject of AI fascinates and scares me, the impact on the world is going to be huge, and it already it has massive implications for the way music and other art forms are made. It’s already possible just to sit back and let the computer make all the creative decisions, and I’m sure there are already people making careers from AI music, just as there are writers making a living from ChatGPT.

The same applies to making videos. I have spectacular new videos for a couple of the songs from this album thanks to some amazing and surprisingly cheap AI tools, but you have to make sure you’re telling the computer what to do, not the other way around.

Is there an overall theme or message you are aiming to get across with the album? Is there a particular song that you feel gets this message across better than the others and why?

This time around I didn’t set out with a message in mind, but one emerged as I was going along, or possibly two. I think the starting point was ditching a rule I’ve been living by for years which was always to look outward; in this case I am very much looking in the mirror, and being brutally honest. It’s not a very flattering self portrait, but I’m comfortable making fun of myself.

Looking back on the lyrics I see a lot of references to computer terminology, spam, Wikipedia, Twitter – I’m obviously not writing about sunsets or dating, because that’s not what my life is – I’m an increasingly old man floating around in an internet world. I think that comes over in several of the tracks and culminates with the title track “The Fourth Wall” which describes being trapped inside a digital realm, a ‘holodeck hospice’ where humanity retreats to amuse itself while the world outside collapses, or in my case, while I decline into old age (I’m facing 60). In that sense “The Fourth Wall” is the screen I have stepped through – I turn around but the exit has disappeared.

As we all know ‘breaking the fourth wall’ is a phrase that means a performer is winking at the audience and acknowledging the reality of the situation, letting the mask slip. Most people making music want to come across as potentially successful; I guess what I’m saying throughout this album is, I’m aware nobody’s listening, I can only expect a couple of hundred YouTube views, I’ll never be culturally relevant or have some kind of career out of it, but I find that idea weirdly appealing as a statement of intent. Is art in a vacuum still art? If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? 

The value we place on art (including music) is 99% context, in the same way an antique needs a backstory in order to have value. I’ve promoted several albums and when doing so you’re expected to come up with some sort of narrative in a press release; this makes it easy for journalists to potentially cut and paste whatever line you’re spinning. The cultural context, the lifestyle notes, the categories. There’s a song on this album called “There’s No Narrative” which sums this up; in this case, the music is all there is. 

Just to get even more ‘meta,’ the very act of typing this stuff out negates the idea; the lack of narrative has become the narrative. 

What’s next? Are you already onto the next thing? If so, what can we look forward to. Or, are you having a break to recharge the creative batteries?

I do need some time to recharge before settling on a plan, I could go off in several directions from this point, developing some of the styles I tinkered with on this album. For instance I could do more stuff like the track “Obsolete” which would be quirky and electronic; or maybe do more like “Concept Album” which would be more long-form, organic and Pink-Floydy. I’ve been involved with some theatre productions in the past year and quite like the idea of writing a musical. 

One thing is for sure, I am planning a big birthday party this April and am forming a one off Buzzcocks tribute band to play at it! Those songs were a massive influence on me when I was a teenager and made me want to be in a band, I am loving rehearsing them.

As we conclude our conversation with Jim, we’d like to say enjoy the party celebrations and thanks for shedding light on your latest solo album, ‘The Fourth Wall.’ Your straightforward insights into the themes and inspirations make for a compelling discussion.

Be sure to check out Jim’s album and show some love on his socials.

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Spotify / Bandcamp / YouTube


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About Author

Matt Warren

Matt Warren is a Cheshire based musician who studied contemporary music and composition. When not writing for The Indie Grid he enjoys watching 'Breaking Bad' on continuous loop and going to gigs. Since a youngster his fave band have been 'The Beatles' (with 'Cardiacs' in at a close second)... and this still applies to this day.

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