Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Interview with James Walsh of Starsailor - Christine Albrecht

James Walsh is a very level headed 26 year old. So level-headed that he appears mature beyond his years. Our interview wasn't as long as I would have liked (hey, I'm a talker) and I was unable to ask him some questions re: recording at Abby Studio, recording with Phil Spector, amount of control over videos, etc. Having said that, I did have a nice, albeit brief, chat with James about success, family in Vancouver, recording cds and life on the road.

Swanktrendz: So you are in Vancouver for a short while and then you are on to Seattle. How has your time been here, thus far?

James Walsh: Great - I have relatives here. My aunt (from his father's side) and cousins live here and they are coming to the show tonight.

ST: I don't want to repeat a lot of the usual questions - I know where the band's name comes from. I was hoping to ask you more about your song writing style. Do you find that you are writing for an outcome rather than from a feeling? For example, the pressure of the next cd being bigger and better than the one before it.

JW: Yeah, I think you definitely have to fight that battle. Every time you write a song now you fight it. I think the main way to combat that is to write as much as possible and just get it all down, absolutely everything, and some of it will turn out quite commercial sounding, inadvertently catchy sounding, and some of it will be quite weird. As long as you're not afraid to let it all go down on tape. Sometimes I will just sing into a mobile phone.

ST: So when an idea hits, that's when you get it down.

JW: Yes, because if you just sit down and say, okay I am writing an album now, everything has to be a certain way and it doesn't work that way.

ST: Now the first cd was hugely successful and then you have that period of time of the 'second album slump' where the pressure is so huge to produce a hit. How does it come naturally? How do you not get jaded with the recording industry?

JW: Yeah, well ... like I said, when I am in the mood, I just write it down as quickly as possible and don't try to think of what is expected.

ST: You write the lyrics - which are brilliant - I especially like the lyrics to 'In the Crossfire'. I've noticed your lyrics are becoming more politicized. I also wonder, when you are writing, do you have the melody first or do the lyrics come first?

JW: I generally have the melody first, and then the lyrics follow. I usually have a riff or a melody and then I take it from there. The songs kind of write themselves. Generally the slow songs, I write myself like, Jeremiah and Restless Heart.

ST: Yes, with Jeremiah (the murdered youth) did you read about it or hear it through word of mouth... how did you come to know of this individual?

JW: I heard it on the radio.

ST: And it just sparked something?

JW: Yeah.

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ST: I remember reading that The Clash used to watch the news, read newspapers, listen to the radio and come up with songs regarding the times. I've also noticed your lyrics becoming more politically aware. This current cd (compared to the debut) has a stronger rythymic element and I find that it is stronger lyrically (with global awareness). For example, "In the Crossfire '- is that aimed at the Iraq war?

JW: Yeah, absolutely.

ST: And how else do you feel about the war? What did you think of Tony Blair's decision to join in?

JW: Uhm, I think he is between a rock and a hard place. I think the alternative is another Tory government. I also think he's in bed with Bush for better or worse.

ST: Blair's decision surprised me as I always thought that Canada and the UK were aligned in thought, so when Canada said no to going to war, and Blair said yes, I was quite surprised.

JW: It goes without saying that war is wrong. It costs a lot money as well, which is useful for the economy.

ST: War always stimulates economy. The US started with a great economy, but as the war has dragged on, the economy is suffering.

JW: Well Blair kind of got the house in order for us and he did some good things.

ST: And what is your alternative? Again, about the cd - it is more rhythmic and more of a 'rocker' than the previous cds. Was this your intention?

JW: I think it kind of evolved. All the gigs we did were key to it (the evolution). A lot of people who came... well the first cd was such a huge success that that tag stuck with us - they had us down as plaintive, acoustic balladeers. The people who were expecting that music have come away from the concerts hopefully enjoying our new songs. We wanted to get a balance between the two sounds, and hopefully the fans will enjoy it. That balance was our key motivation.

ST: Do you have a family?

JW: I have a wife and a little girl, four.

ST: What's your little girl's name?

JW: Niamh. It's an Irish name that is pronounced Neve.

ST: That's a great name, Niamh Walsh. I want to get your perspective on fans' loyalty. I was wondering what makes the fans (and other indie groups) turn on an indie band when they become successful? When you are an indie band the fans love you, but when you become a commercial success they accuse indie acts of selling out. What do you make of this phenomena?

JW: I'm not sure why that happens, I think people just like having their own little secret -their own little club. I think also the innocence and the amateur nature that a lot of the first albums take on - well you can't recreate that. And that is what the fans want.

ST: That's a good point, you can never go back. There is that whole innocence of discovering an indie band, and as the band progresses the people are unable to move forward, or progress, along with the band.

JW: And some people can't or don't accept the change and rather than move on with the band, they move on to another band. I think with a lot of the young fans, they are more like that. They tend to be heavily influenced by what their favourite DJ is saying and if someone on the radio makes a negative statement, they tend to go along with it.

ST: When you achieve some form of success, do you find you have more people agreeing with whatever you say, or do you have people in your camp who point out when you are being an ass?

JW: Oh, we definitely have people pointing out when we are being asses. I think that is what a wife is for... I think there's enough people around who don't like us and kick us to the ground.

ST: I would think you'd need a thick skin to put up with that. Someone telling you that 'you suck' when they don't even know you.

JW: It just drives you on and makes you want to prove them wrong.

ST: I hear that when you opened for the Stones you wowed the crowd.

JW: The crowd really enjoyed our set.

ST: And this is an older crowd - so you turned on a whole new generation.

JW: The most important thing was that the Stones liked us as well. Especially Mick.

ST: Well that's a compliment in itself. You began touring for this cd 'On the Outside' last October (05)? When do you take time off?

JW: I am not sure now - we might be coming back out. We are set to go home in October. But in the middle of October we might be doing something else - I can't say too much because of the usual things like finances.

ST: Did you find that with the release of the videos the download sales went up?

JW: Yeah.

ST: What do you think of the downloading industry? I had someone tell me that in the 90's a band could sell 30 million cds and now they are lucky to sell 1 million. Without the internet, you wouldn't be as famous, yet with the downloading, you aren't as wealthy as you could be.

JW: I think the main thing that must be affecting album sales is reviews now and as well, on some of the sites, it says 'download this'. It will list 5 tracks from the album and every band will have a similar chart. Unfortunately, people will download those 5 songs and not bother with the rest of the album. That must be affecting album sales. A friend of mine made a good point the other day when he said somehow music has been cheapened. People are quite happy to pay $10.00 for the cinema and $3.00 for popcorn, but they expect to get a cd for $10.00. A sports game, like Liverpool football, is like 30 pounds for 90 minutes. If you sold your albums for 30 quid, nobody would buy them.

ST: I would like to hear about the most interesting gig you've played. In terms of interest or excitement.

JW: Probably the Stones gig. That was pretty special. We also played in a Town Square in Belgium and we were the headline act with Ice-T and the Sugarbabes opening for us. That was a great experience and it was a landmark for us. It was the first big thing that we've headlined. Definitely a boost going out on stage knowing that people were waiting to see you.

ST: Especially when they waited through Ice-T. Where do you find your numbers (in terms of audience) are really huge? In regards to your fan base.

JW: At the moment it would be France and Belgium. It happened by accident when a remake of one of our songs became a big club hit.

ST: Which song?

JW: Four to the Floor. And it kind of grew from there where a lot of people discovered the band. I guess a lot of dance music fans might have listened to the album and thought, that's not for me, but a lot of people bought the album off the back of that song. It's like America and the UK liking similar things. The French speaking parts of Europe listen to similar music - France, Belgium and Switzerland.

ST: When you played at Sundance, which I don't think is a great venue for a band, you came away from the experience a little sour. Was it bad press for you, or did it just leave a bad taste?

JW: We just felt like a lounge band. I think the thing that said it all was when the security at the venue asked the sound engineer to 'turn it down because people were eating'. We weren't briefed in any way about what this gig was and if we had have been we would have turned it down. We understand the industry and there are some things that seem awful but they will benefit us down the line, but this had no benefit to us.

ST: What do you despise most - photos, interviews or meet and greets, and don't say none as you've been around long enough to tire of something?

JW: I guess I would say meet and greets as we meet so many people like, 'this is a friend of a friend of Bob's gym and they play your music'. But really, I would say it's not so bad.

Well, the tour manager, Chris, popped in to say I went over my time (surprise) and I was on my way. Check out Lezah's review of the live performance.

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