01 December 2016 (released)
01 December 2016
Wendy James has time and again proven herself to be a forward thinking, sonically experimental and lyrically direct pop culture icon. From her early years as part of Transvision Vamp through to her Elvis Costello collaboration Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears to Racine and her brand new album The Price of The Ticket, she delivers a driven album accompanied by stunning visuals. Completely captivated by her latest release, we had to catch up with the striking star.
Hi Wendy, have you had a good day?
I've been absolutely manic. The single is out today, so I have been all over London doing radio and interviews. I have one more to go, then I am treating myself to a lovely dinner.
We are loving The Price of The Ticket. Does it feel good to have a new album out after half a decade?
Is it half a decade? Oh my God, is it that long? Wow!
Time flies by doesn't it?
Apparently so! You release a record, then you work it for a year or so, then you starting writing the next record and that takes a certain number of months. You then start gathering the musicians. If you go along somewhat incrementally, like I do, as I'm not signed to a major label. so each time I want to make a record I have to access the money to pay for it, so it just takes as long as it takes. Although I would personally like to have my output increased, but that is just really a financial consideration.
As an artist, how do you know when a record is ready to release?
We just know. It even comes down to when we are doing the live takes for the body of the album. There tends to be an ark. It isn't the case for all musicians, but for me and the type of musicians I work with, we are all quite good at editing ourselves. We are good at hearing ourselves objectively. There is an ark where you do the first take, which is still a bit clunky. You do the second and you start the feel the song's energy. Usually the third take is the one that really starts nailing, but you push on for further takes. By the fifth take you are getting a bit knackered, so you start climbing down the ark. Usually within takes three and four you have the one. The ark is applied out to whole album obviously.
Would you say it is just a case of learning to trust your instincts?
You know when you've got it. As a player you just know when you've got it. Everyone can put their hand up for their own instrument and say which is the one. You are dealing with tiny little intonations and your brain starts assessing all the subtleties you want to put in there, but there will be just one take when you are fully in the moment and they all just happen.
Your back catalogue manages to maintain a consistency while showing a diversity as an artist. How do you approach writing an album?
I don't know. I've started writing the next one now and I just don't have a plan for my songs. Musically it is when I hit upon a chord progression that starts to interest me as a listener. We've all heard so much music and so if I start playing something and it reminds me too much of something, then I will veer away from it. On the other hand, once I start playing a progression of chords that just feels right, then I will look at my list of disparate lyrics and title ideas. Somehow the two things come together. The song will turn itself into a country ballad or a new wave stomp, but I never decide if I want a song to be a reggae song or something. All musicians will say the same, a song really does just write itself. By that I mean that once you have given it the first steps, the song and lyrics lead you where the song wants to go. You may end up with a mad heavy metal number or a little gentle spiritual.
I was just talking to Lenny Kaye, who is on this album, if you really are a music aficionado, we all have things we are interested in and things we have done. I could never be a hip hop act, there is no way my voice would work with it. I love to sing along to it but I couldn't record it, but the way they construct their songs really invigorates me. In some subconscious way that works itself into how I write, but it doesn't sound like hip hop. As a musician you are just picking these things up all the time.
Do you think there is an art to writing a song?
I've read about how Bacharach and David work. Several years ago I worked with Elvis Costello, and he didn't tell me this, but I heard he went to a course or a lecture where he learnt about the chords that make you feel certain emotions. I don't know that stuff though, I just go on instinct. However I do find that fascinating. When you listen to classical music, if you actually looked at the music sheets for Beethoven or Mozart you could really learn which notes trigger emotions as if anyone knows how to do it, those guys do. I just work with what I am comfortable in, which is the harmonies of country, the grit and dirt of rhythm and blues and the spikiness of Velvet Underground.
Lastly, your fanbase has stayed with you throughout the years. Did you ever anticipate that loyalty?
It really is shockingly amazing. When you realise I haven't released anything for half a decade, but when I released this album it debuted at #15 on the Indie Vinyl chart, which I relalise doesn't mean I am shifting huge amounts of albums compared to the old days, it is still quite comforting to know. I realise there are some fans who just enjoy my personality, but I believe there is a core group of people who like my music. People won't keep buying it just for nostalgia. I can see at the gigs that they actually like the music as they know all the lyrics.
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WENDY JAMES OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.thewendyjames.com