FnS contributor JoJo had a few interesting questions lined up for Starsailor frontman James Walsh as she met up with him before his gig at Drummonds last week.
So James Walsh is going solo, I hope this doesn’t mean the end of Starsailor?
I think that depends on how it goes really. And the demand for a Starsailor reunion. I think we stopped at a really good point, like, the last album did pretty well and it was a really good tour. We could start to see all the new bands coming through, a few cracks starting to show, we thought if we carried on into a fifth album we could actually do more harm than good. So, that was the thinking behind the decision to kinda take a break from it for a while.
Tell me more about your solo work and how it differs from Starsailor material?
Um, there’s obvious similarities coz it’s still my voice and melodies. I guess it’s a bit mellower, a bit more sentimental. I’m a big fan of Elton John, Randy Newman and Rufus Wainwright. So I think that side of me is coming through a bit more with songs like Life.
Do you feel you are able to do more personal songs because it’s just you and no band?
A little bit yeah. There’s more freedom to work with more collaborators as well. I wrote with Sasha Scarbeck on a few new songs – he’s worked with Duffy and Adele, he’s a really good songwriter and producer. Also Susanne Vega.
With Starsailor, you’ve worked with Phil Spector and Ronnie Wood, how did that all come about? I hear you had to sack Phil Spector?
Phil Spector, his daughter was a big fan of the band, so that was the connection. The initial sessions were brilliant, really good. We did Silence is Easy and White Dove. It was hard to communicate with him and work with him, it was really sad to see. Everyone around us was baffled by the recordings that were coming out, and saying “this isn’t working, we should find someone else”. We actually persevered with Phil Spector for a long time because I knew him and regarded him as such an amazing producer. I thought he must be able to pull it together at some point, he must have some tricks up his sleeve. The longer it went on, the longer I realised that no, it was just a mess.
Is there anyone else you would like to work with?
There’s a guy called John Brion, who has worked with Amy Mann, he’s done a lot of film soundtracks. He did the Magnolia soundtrack. I love his production. Be great to collaborate with Dangermouse.
I hear you’ve recorded the soundtrack for the film adaptation of Kevin Sampson’s “Powder”, how did this come about?
I’ve known Kevin (who wrote the book) for a long time coz we are both big Liverpool supporters. So he got hold of my email address and just sent me an email asking if I’d be up for writing the songs for The Grams. I sent him one song, Desert Rain, and that was it, he was like “yeah lets get going”. So it was really flattering coz he said that from the word go when he decided to start developing the movie he had me in mind to write the songs so that was really flattering.
I also read that you are working on another film soundtrack, is this something you can tell us about yet?
Yeah, I’ve been again recording and writing with Sasha Scarbeck for a Chuck Palaniuk (the bloke that did Fight Club) for one of his movies. But its in the very early stages and they are still kinda working out the cast and everything so I have to be careful what I reveal.
Is the movie soundtrack thing a direction you are keen to go in?
Yeah definitely. I think that the conventional music world is quite dog eat dog. In order to succeed in it, to have success and pay the mortgage, you have to think about the chart positions and release dates and all that kinda thing. Whereas the film world, doing film soundtracks is much more about just making the right music to fit the film and to help out the Director. You don’t have to have any commercial concerns at all.
The music industry at the moment is full of X Factor contestants, and Christmas number one is almost always from X Factor, it’s a clear cycle of what’s coming, is this something you are more aware of being a musician?
Yeah, its taken over really. I think the X Factor is good Saturday night entertainment but it’s a shame how big it is and how much its eaten the music business.
I saw Starsailor at T in the Park a couple of times, and I definitely noticed a difference in your confidence levels and stage presence, just how does it feel to perform in front of such a huge crowd?
I think it gets easier as you get older. I think in the early days we were a bit of a phenomena. People were just going mad as soon as we walked on stage. It’s hard to communicate whether people are enjoying it or not coz everyone seems to be loving it. I think playing in front of more demanding crowds, sort of when you play, when you’re not a big hyped band you have to work a bit harder and communicate with the crowd. If there’s too much of a lull, people start to chat with each other.
Is it easier to perform as a band or as yourself?
Its different. I think the good thing about playing on my own is that I can dictate the set while doing it really. You have to have it all certain beforehand with the band, if there’s a few songs that aren’t working, it’s really too late to change it. Whereas I’ve done some gigs where the crowd have got a bit disinterested and I’ve thought “Shit” and played Alcoholic or a Beatles cover to get everyone back up again.
Do you have any rituals before going on stage?
Not really. I don’t drink before I sing.
Café Drummonds is a fairly small venue, do you prefer bigger venues, or the more intimate ones?
Depends on the crowd really. I’ve played in of little venues where everyone kept talking and I’ve played little venues that were great. It’s the attitude of the crowd really.
What’s the best gig you’ve ever played, and the best you have attended?
The best gig played is when we supported U2 at the Stade de France when Four To The Floor was number one in France. It was just one of those moments where everything came together. We played that song and everyone’s arms were in the air. Supporting U2 as well was incredible. The best gig I’ve attended would be any one of the four times that I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen. Probably Wembley arena coz it was that little bit smaller. For Bruce Springsteen that’s pretty small so that was on the Rising tour. Incredible. He just keeps going.
What is your favourite Starsailor song to perform?
Silence Is Easy. It just works. Really great way to close the set. I love doing Good Souls as well but Good Souls turns into a jam sometimes. It’s all about the music and the energy whereas the lyrics of Silence Is Easy communicates better and the crowds sing along, its great.
If you could have written any song ever, what would it be?
Yesterday by the Beatles.
Do you have any tips on new bands that I should look out for?
Trying to think… All the stuff I like right now, everybody already knows about, like Rumer, that record is amazing. Treetop Flyers are a great band. They’re probably quite little known. Goldheart Assembly.
What colour socks do you have on?
Um, can’t even remember! Probably black. Uh, brown, striped.
And your five desert island tracks?
Yesterday by the Beatles.
Tiny Dancer by Elton John
Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley
Late For The Sky by Jackson Browne
And finally your… favourite flavour of crisps?
Salt and vinegar.
And that’s it James, thanks for taking time out to talk to Flares n Seagulls I’ll be seeing you (and hearing you) very shortly!
James Walsh Website