James' Tim Booth on 'Sit Down' Soundtracking New 'Game of Thrones' Trailer: 'You're Very Happy to Be in Their Hands'
Fans getting their first taste of the upcoming seventh season of HBO's flagship action drama Game of Thrones via the show's new trailer were greeted with an extremely unexpected musical accompaniment: a haunting remix of "Sit Down," the early '90s anthem from British alt-rock group James.
Though James is likely more familiar to American audiences via their 1993 smash "Laid," it was actually "Sit Down" that marked their biggest hit in their home country, peaking at No. 2 on the U.K. charts in 1991. And while the group has licensed "Laid" for many movies and TV shows in the past -- including for several of the films in the American Pie franchise -- they've been relatively restrained with allowing use of the more serious "Sit Down." But, as huge Thrones watchers, they couldn't resist the opportunity.
“We trusted the makers of Game of Thrones with 'Sit Down,' because quite frankly, they haven’t put a foot wrong," frontman Tim Booth says. "It’s the best adaptation of a book that I've ever seen, and stands alongside it as genius."
Billboard discussed the trailer with Booth, as well as his favorite Thrones characters, and James' progress on their next album -- the band's 15th.
Can you tell me how and when you were first approached about the Game of Thrones trailer?
Maybe four months ago, we were told they wanted to use “Sit Down” in the trailer. We had protected that song for years from advertising, because we knew it was dear to a lot of people’s hearts, so we only allowed it to be used in a couple of things. But Game of Thrones... Jimmy [Jim Glennie] -- our bass player, who I wrote this with, along with two other guys -- Jimmy’s read all the books, I’ve read all the books, I’ve seen the show a couple of times with my wife, with my kids, and I love it.
I’ve written about it actually. The NME interviewed me, and they had a big piece interviewing musicians who loved Game of Thrones and what they anticipated the outcome to be.
What predictions did you make?
It was the last series, and I got the Jon Snow bit right -- coming back and all of that. It’s not predictable; that’s what’s so good about the show. For me, you've got Harry Potter and you've got Dickens, and then you've got Game of Thrones in terms of the anticipation in which people are waiting for the next installment. It’s an old tradition of that level, around the world, people really want to know what’s next. And they’ve managed to maintain through killing off major characters to being unpredictable. Being more true to life than true to morality, or how we wish things to turn out. The show is more about how things usually turn out, which is never quite as you expect, and with a few casualties on the way.
Did they say anything about why they wanted to use “Sit Down”?
Not really. You know, we’ve been doing this for a long time. You get some amazing offers, and a lot of them fall away at the last minute. I kind of assume they probably had six songs, that they told six bands they were going to use [their song]. We totally assumed they would “medieval” the song -- they would take it and do something radical with it that fit their style more. We were looking forward to it.
I remember the episode with Joffrey’s wedding, where they have Sigur Rós playing at the bar at his wedding, and he kind of throws coins at them and thinks they’re crap. It’s a brilliant piece of music, that piece that Sigur Rós did, and we quite hoped that that would happen to us, because we lived with that song for a long time, so we’re quite happy to hear adventurous versions of it.
Do you know who did the remixing of it? Were you involved with that process at all?
No. It’s such a great show, you’re very happy to be in their hands at that point. They did do a weird version, that was probably more in keeping with their style. We got sent that probably a month ago, sung by a female singer, and you couldn’t tell it was “Sit Down” until you heard the chorus lyric. It was so different, the chords were different, everything was different about it. It was pure Game of Thrones. We thought, “Great! Bonkers! Fantastically mad!” We were OK with that.
And then about a week ago we got a message saying the producers love James, they're really attached to the original and want to use the original. And they went back to the original and stripped it down. It took awhile to find the original -- they went to a lot of work, because that was about four records companies back [for us]. So they got that, and they effected it and slowed it down a little bit. But it's pretty much "Sit Down" as we recorded it, and there's no additions to it, no changes -- they've just taken a few things out, distorted the guitar a bit, put the vocal back a bit.
When you think of a song in a Game of Thrones context, do you see any sort of themes or lyrics to the song that would speak to the show-runners and make them think, “Oh, this would make sense to lay over shots of Jon Snow and Daenerys”?
I mean, you can see what they’re connecting the song to -- it’s the throne, basically, and who’s going to get the throne. So yeah, they’ve used those lyrics, and they clearly loved the lyric “Those who find they're touched by madness." Cersei [Lannister] certainly seems to be heading in that direction.
You mention that you’ve given the OK for “Sit Down” to be used in a couple other sync opportunities before. Can you think of any off the top of your head?
No, I can’t. We’ve not let anyone use it for years. It varies from song to song -- there are some songs where you go, “OK, this is a light-ish song, it can be used for whatever.”
It seems like "Laid" has been used in a number of movies before.
We’ve had no problem with [licensing] “Laid” -- it’s a humorous, 2:20 burst of wit, hopefully. So you know it’s not going to damage someone’s love for that song, hearing it in a different context. Whereas there's a couple of songs -- there’s a James song called “Moving On,” which is about my mom dying, and people are playing it at funerals and people are using it in hospices in England for children who are dying. We’re not going to let that song be used for anything that would abuse that for people, because it’s found its own way to people that need that song.
And “Sit Down” to some degree was a song that people needed, lyrically. You could see in Britain when it came out. It caused a huge stir. We refused to release it in America -- the American record company came to us two years after we produced it, and we were like, “No, that’s in our past now. We’re moving on, we’re doing other songs.” So we actually refused to release it in America. It ended up on an album, but it never came out as a single.
Which was economically foolish of us. But that's James -- we’ve always followed our nose, our music... if somebody came along and offered us millions, we might have our arms twisted! But a lot of the time, we say no.
Do you have any favorite characters on the show or plot lines you’re looking forward to next season?
Of course. Tyrion is a big favorite, I think. Definitely Daenerys you want to see on the throne, because she’s the only ruler who seems to be born to it, who seems to have all the qualities that you'd like to follow. If you’re going to follow a leader, Daenerys. Jon Snow is impressive, but he’s a bit stupid. What he did in the battle [against Ramsey Bolton last season] was dumb, so you wouldn’t say he looks like a great leader compared to Daenerys.
And this whole show seems quite -- for all its violence, and people complaining about the level of sexuality -- it’s very strong women characters who are coming to the throne. You definitely again want Daenerys to be the one that comes out on top. But you know, the great thing about the writing is, there’ll be a price to pay if that happens. You’ll get this, but you’ll also get this. Anything can happen.
And you guys are currently working on a new album. When can we expect that?
Yeah, I don’t know -- we’re messing around with it right now. We've got all kinds of things going on. James is, for a band that's 34 years old, we’re kind of having a re-peak. We sold more tickets last year in Britain than we sold when we were massive in the '90s. We sold 50,000 tickets in a short space of time.
That’s what we’re really proud of, as a band that's been going on for so long, to be a band that's still making music that’s challenging us -- we’re definitely making music that we’ve never done before. We’re moving into that category of aging acts that still seem to have their creativity intact. That’s always been our goal. It was always like, “Well, can you keep maintaining a standard?,” and we’re really proud of what we’ve done. We know what we've created and we’re continuing to do it.
All of our songs are written through improvisation. “Sit Down” was written in a 20-minute jam, and we were laughing so much we had to stop playing it because we knew we’d written a big song. We improvise our new songs and we love our new songs equally, but every so often, you get something that comes through that's a clear gem. The lyrics weren't complete in 20 minutes, but I had the chorus and the initial jam and I had bits of the lyric, enough to tell me where it was going. Literally, we were laughing, because we knew we were downloading a really big song and we were giggling so much we couldn’t continue to play it.