The return of Wendy James – new album with help from the Stooges! An interview
Wendy James used to front Transvision Vamp who made some great stomping rock n roll pop single and then Racine who made a darker introspective noise.
Now she is back with an album she made with great Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds and James Williamson the legendary guitar player from the Stooges.
You can listen to the upcoming single here. (it’s out on ITUNES WORLDWIDE TUESDAY 9TH.)
The A-Side is a version of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band’s “You’re So Great,” where Williamson’s signature search-and-destroy guitar riffs retain the gasoline-soaked essence of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s original, yet the song is transformed into a high-energy slice of modern power-pop with Wendy’s buoyant and soaring vocals throughout the track. The B-Side finds the trio digging deep into Bob Dylan’s vast canon with their own snaky and seductive take on “It’s Alright Ma.”
These two tracks are but an early sneak peek at Wendy’s forthcoming solo album.
Release date for Wendy’s new “You’re So Great / It’s Alright Ma” Double-Single.
LISTEN TO BOTH OF WENDY JAMES’ NEW TRACKS FROM HER FORTHCOMING NEW DOUBLE-SINGLE “YOU’RE SO GREAT / IT’S ALRIGHT MA”
Frankly we are rather excited by this…so we interviewed her…
How did you manage to get such a great band together!
Wendy James : I never have a real plan in my head, except to write songs all the time and over the earlier part of this year I had sat down and written 13 more songs or so for my next album and gradually started to think who I might invite to be the band for the recording of it.
I have two great recent experiences now to pull from: The ‘RACINE’ sessions and also the ‘I CAME HERE TO BLOW MINDS’ sessions. On both of these I used guitarists I would use again in a heartbeat. Henric Strahl from ‘Racine 2’ and Jeremie Orsel from ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’. For touring, I would love to have both of them on stage with me!
Always, since TVV, I find my guitarist first and work out from there: Bass, Drums Keyboards and whoever else I might need”Â¦ So I was noodling this question at the same time as playing, playing, playing at home and really feeling out the new songs. I knew I’d done well with ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’ and I felt pretty much in the groove of things. On this new bunch of songs I had also decided to include a cover version of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band cut ‘You’re So Great’. I’d heard this song some time ago and it always was in my head that I should record it and play it live. Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith really turned out some great songs in that band, along side Scott Morgan, Scott Asheton and Gary Rasmussen and ‘You’re So Great’ really spoke to me as an instant Pop Rock n Roll 3.5 minute classic.
As I was going through these stages I had also met James Williamson around the end of 2011. He and I had been talking quite often, sharing links of videos and generally going back and forth about our musical tastes and so on, and I asked him if he’d heard ‘You’re So Great’ and then about two sentences later I just blurted out “Well, you’d be perfect to play this!” You know: Detroit, Ann Arbor etc and especially as Scott (Asheton) was in SRB and of course is the drummer with James in the Stooges.
He took a listen and dug it and then we evolved the conversation a little more, he looked at his gigging schedule with the Stooges and very quickly it became obvious that the original idea for me to make a whole album and him be part of it at that time was not possible from this schedule, a single session was, however, do-able.
So we pinned down some calendar dates and this of course prompted the next question, if we were going to do ‘You’re So Great’ for one side of the single, then what would go on the other side? Well, James and I are both Bob Dylan freaks and he simply asked me “What’s your favorite Dylan song?” And I replied “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” And James said, “Well let’s do that then” And I said “Cool!” So”Â¦ much like anything else has happened in my life it all kind of just happens spontaneously and then you know, you follow through”Â¦
We needed a drummer and Scott Asheton was my choice originally, of course. He’d played the original and he and James are band-mates, so why not?! But he was incapacitated at the time from a back injury, so James said he’d ask Mike Watt, the Bass player in the Stooges who else might be good and available and local to our time frame and location in Berkeley, California, and I said “Hold on! I know someone who might be perfect for this!” Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds…
Jim and I know each other from London and New York socially and we’d gone as far as having quite a few meetings to discuss working together. I liked not only his skills as a drummer, but also his encyclopedic knowledge of music, references and so on, the kind of little details that just make musicians excited. Tech stuff, trivia stuff, you know, we’re all fans!
I knew Jim went back and forth very regularly between West London and Brooklyn and it was hit or miss whether he would even be in NY at the same time, so I rolled the dice and sure enough he was here that exact week or so. That is literally how it happened. James knew the studio in Berkeley: Fantasy Studios, he said the engineer there Jesse Nichols was superb and indeed he was not wrong! So we booked Fantasy, booked out flights, learned our parts. James and I even had a couple of Skype rehearsals upfront! And then”Â¦ on whatever day it was, we all turned up! Jim and I flew into Berkeley, James drove in, and we met at the motel we had booked to stay in, which was perfect American drive-by motel, and we got to work!
Great to have you back but where have you been for last few years…
Wendy James : I think it’s fair to say I’ve been here! Building my music. I released in 2010 ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’, which got great reviews and sold enough copies to keep me going! I had the best time recording that album, in Paris, with French Indie players, I loved the whole thing.
We had a very limited budget but we worked our arses off and we used every second available to us to come up with music that was perfect for the songs I’d written and it sounds like it! I think between both ‘RACINE 2’ and ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’ I have a real handful of strong songs to my name now, plus ‘Racine No.1’ which although is very, very Lo-Fi, still contains some of my favorite songs and means a lot to me as it was demo’d when I still lived in London and speaks to me directly with memories of my place in Ladbroke Grove, W.10 and everything that was going on in my life at that time”Â¦
So, you know, basically, I’ve made 3 Solo albums and now the 4th and it seems to me I am growing and improving with each one. My trajectory, I gently suggest, is perhaps going in the opposite direction to most artists who decline as the years go by, I seem to be getting better! I have not scored big radio hits or huge front covers but that is no fault of the songs or myself, it is literally the harsh reality of whether anyone can afford to hire large promo campaigns, radio pluggers, the machine. To have hits you need the machine, now more than ever. And whilst I’ve had the music, I have not had the machine.
Q3. Tell us about the new album – what does it sound like? Were you going for a darker sounding record?
Wendy James : I don’t know ever how to answer these questions! Ok”Â¦ Rock-a-Billy, Rolling Stones in the late 70’s and No-Wave!! I am a ‘guitar girl’”Â¦ so from one album to the next I indulge myself in different styles that turn me on and influence me continuously. Whether it’s Country, or Blues, or Garage, Heavy New York or German Noise/Disco, New Wave or even sometimes Heavy Rock”Â¦
And this time, perhaps a little bit more Slap-Back echo and Rock-a-Billy thing, and deep dark guitar noise too”Â¦ Honestly, if the Melody is strong, then usually the song can handle a little rough treatment. And I remember always in the back of my head, the limited technology that the majority of my favorite albums and acts were recorded under. You had to layer and bounce and make distortions and percussions and reverbs in a very basic way, basically you had to ‘Play it’, rather than rely on post production.
James Williamson introduced me to the Funk Brothers and also the Wrecking Crew and man, you know the Beach Boys and Phil Spector and Motown sounds are second to none and they were doing this live and all in one morning session”Â¦ So I always remember that when I’m writing the songs I have the feel and the intention in the songs rather than in the technology.
Q4. What’s going on lyrically?
Wendy James : Urgh”Â¦ I started off looking at heartache but it felt too heavy, to introverted, not universal, too self-indulgent. So I pulled back out and tried to have a more worldly view of life you know, rather than myopic.
Make it fun sometimes, keep a light heart, not immerse yourself in your own troubles, picking at old wounds. Just like listening to a friend go on repeatedly about heartbreak, at some point you have to say ‘So do something about it’. So, I backed away from 2 dimensional personal indulgences and kept it more poetic, more something I would like to relate to if I were the listener rather than just exploring my own pain or whatever.
In the vain of great observational humorists and historians like Hunter S. Thompson who are able, miraculously to tell the brutal truth but have it be entertaining too. I’m not claiming by any means to have achieved such a feat! But generally I like writers who are dry, merciless, brutal and clear with their intentions. Whether it’s Shakespeare or H.L. Mencken.
Ha! You learn a lot from the the great satirists, the great writers, they had to have a very removed overview of their writing, in order, somehow to then re-claim it as deeply personal. I was in Paris and a girlfriend recommended me the writing of Guy de Maupassant and so”Â¦.
I really take pleasure in language and it’s ability to convey a message. I like William Faulkner, I like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain. They take you to the place they are describing, it is journalistic in may ways. They are reporting a thing, that may be something you, the reader, have never experienced first hand, but somehow you understand exactly what the subject is going through. So”Â¦ Blah Blah”Â¦ or you know, just make sure it rhymes! I learned that from the Stones! Get your phonetics down!
Q5. Are there any plans to tour the album?
Wendy James : Of course”Â¦ For the first time, in I dare not say how many years, I think a US tour is brewing and if my hand is lucky enough this time and things flow, I will be able to be on the road for 2013 and deliver performances that of course communicate these songs of mine in the first person. Nothing can ever replace the experience of seeing someone perform. That is when it flies or it doesn’t. I’m a good live performer, I should do it more”Â¦ And in the end: Musicians play. And I have not not gigged a tour properly for a few years now, and it’s time I do. My only reason for not doing it all the time, is simply having not had the money to pay everyone”Â¦ But, when you get on a roll, then these issues get taken care of! So, my answer is YES.
Q6. Have these songs been piling up for a few years or was there a sudden moment of inspiration?
Wendy James : It seems I am the kind of writer that writes in a huge outpouring in regular increments. So I purge myself every few months, rather than write everyday. Some people have said I should write everyday, like an author sits down and goes through the motion for a few hours every morning, even if only one line gets written. But there is something in my head that clears space and all these songs come out, and I kind of instinctually know when I have to just sit down and do it”Â¦
And it comes out, and it’s ferocious and it goes on for a few weeks and I simply cannot do anything else apart from sleep and eat and then it’s done and I am clear again. It’s weird. I can’t make it happen. But I am going to push myself harder, I am going to try sitting down everyday and actually working like an exercise to improve myself and you know, make my ‘song-writing muscle’ fit! Rather than wait for my moments of outpouring”Â¦ I am going to structure my life more and have discipline!! I think I need to push myself harder, I need to work even harder and it needs to be a discipline rather than an emotional instinct. It could be interesting to see what comes up when you are just exploring ideas and following a train of thought and pushing beyond a comfort zone. Great and unexpected discoveries might be made! I can’t describe it”Â¦ I’m just going to do it.