Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Starsailor’s James Walsh
Your 2001 song ‘Way To Fall’ wound up as the closing music for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater after the game’s creator was advised to listen to which band that he misheard as Starsailor?
“[Laughs] I’m guessing this because I don’t know it. Toploader?”
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it! I wasn’t aware we ended up in Metal Gear Solid by mistake. [Laughs] We knew the song was in the title, and it brought us a new audience of gamers. Unfortunately, my gaming skills are limited to FIFA and Sonic the Hedgehog when I was younger, so I’d just get frustrated if I tried to play anything more complex than that.”
Who presented the NME Awards in 2001, the year that Starsailor won our ‘Brightest New Hope’ accolade?
“Erm… let me think. Peter Kay?”
“At least I’ve got one right! That was amazing. We felt like we were joining the long line of great artists that had won it before. We went to the NME Awards and were sat next to Jodie and Jemma Kidd, which was pretty random.
“In 2002, Peter Kay joined us on stage at a gig in Warrington and did his routine about misheard lyrics. There was a panic because he was supposed to introduce us on stage, but he ran late from another engagement so he ended up re-introducing us for the encore instead. But he got the crowd going.”
Which artist did Starsailor replace on the opening German leg of The Rolling Stones’ tour in 2007?
“That happened at the last minute, and we jumped at the chance to support The Rolling Stones. It was a great opportunity, but sad given the tragic circumstances of what ultimately happened to Amy Winehouse after that.”
What are your favourite memories of touring with the Stones?
“I remember getting an official photograph with them. We were explicitly told we weren’t allowed to take our own pictures. There was some speculation when the photographs came back that they’d put a few extra inches on Mick Jagger’s height! Technically speaking, I’m taller than him, but they weren’t having it so they made him a bit bigger. [Laughs] Allegedly!”
“His son Jesse set it up and asked me to be in the studio he’d booked in Mayfair for 1pm, but his dad didn’t turn up until well into the evening, slightly worse for wear but full of energy and enthusiasm. He asked the producer to play the track a few times, then nailed it in a couple of takes. What he did was really free and there were loads of mistakes in it, but he said: ‘I’m going to vibe on this and they’ll be some parts you can take out, and they’ll be really good’. And he was right! Even several drinks in and late into the evening, he still provided moments of genius.”
In 2002, a Starsailor vs Oasis feud resulted in HiPHOPLEAKS handing out badges at festivals bearing which slogan?
“Did the badges say: ‘You cock’?”
CORRECT. In ‘rock’s best feud’ of summer 2002, you approached Noel Gallagher backstage at T In The Park to enquire why he had called you ‘a cock’ in an interview. Gallagher said he didn’t remember doing so, but if he did, you probably were one. Liam Gallagher then became involved, and was allegedly physically restrained by one of his security guards after the spat descended into a near-brawl. Did you ever wear one of the badges?
“[Laughs] No! It was a mad time and the only period in our lives when we were all over the tabloids, and it was a fuss over nothing. We’ve done gigs with Liam since. I’m not sure how Noel feels about it, but we’ve definitely made up with Liam anyway! [Laughs]
“To be honest, I find it funny now. At the time, I was an oversensitive 22-year-old who was also a massive fan of Oasis, so I didn’t like it. Also, they alluded to the fact we were students – the same kind of abuse Coldplay got. While I don’t profess to be a wholly working-class kid-made-good who worked down the mines, I didn’t go to private school and I didn’t make it to university, so we’re certainly not the private school bookish bedwetters they tried to make us out to be. But Noel seems to have a go at everybody apart from Paul Weller and The Beatles. [Laughs]”
Did you later encounter anyone else who’d slagged you off?
What chart number did Starsailor’s 2003 album ‘Silence Is Easy’ reach in Denmark?
“In Denmark?! [Laughs] No idea, but I’m going to take a punt and say it’s a Number One album in Denmark!”
WRONG. It hit Number 17.
“If any band or artist knows what number their second album got to in Denmark 18 years later, then they should probably get out more!”
You were the last-ever band to work with producer Phil Spector, who produced two tracks on the record before you sacked him in 2002 (he was later convicted of second-degree murder in 2009, before dying in jail earlier this year). How did it feel being 23-years-old and having to fire him?
“Pretty scary, to be honest. Jeff Barrett from Heavenly and our bass player, James Stelfox, were the main people who arranged the meeting with [Spector] where the deed was done. It was quite a troubled time for the band, but obviously in retrospect is completely overshadowed by the tragedy that occurred not long afterwards. But at the time, it became a very stressful and pressured environment, because the label were used to hearing the progress of an album and Phil was very protective of these tracks and would say, ‘You’re not coming into the studio or hearing anything until it’s done’. We were caught in the middle because we wanted to make the best record and have respect for the producer, but also the label are paying for the album, and [Spector] wasn’t doing well with his medication and mental health. So it was a difficult time.”
“It went reasonably well at the start, because we recorded [the single] ‘Silence Is Easy’. Then – I don’t want to speculate on the reasons [why] – somehow it went downhill from there and ended up being a difficult chapter. But producer Danton Supple stepped in and became a ray of light in that he reinvigorated us and got to us finish the album. There was a sense of relief that this pressurised circus was finished, and we were able to make a record without the scrutiny and spotlight we had on us because of Phil Spector’s involvement.”
Which two bands did Starsailor perform between at V Festival in 2001?
“Nowhere near! [Laughs] We met [Public Image Ltd frontman] John Lydon when we did Friday Night with Jonathan Ross [in 2004], and he was smoking in the Green Room. This timid showrunner came in and said: ‘John, can you stop because we’ll get in trouble and fined?’ He put his cigarette out, then lit up again as soon as he was out of the room and turned round to everybody and ceremoniously said in his snarling John Lydon voice: ‘Rules are for fools!’”
An easy one: which frontman appears on an (officially) unreleased version of Starsailor’s ‘Tell Me It’s Not Over’?
“After we’d toured with them in South America, I went to see The Killers live in Dublin when they were making an album [‘Day & Age’] with producer Stuart Price, who had remixed our song ‘Four To The Floor’. We’d sent Stuart ‘Tell Me It’s Not Over’ to be remixed, and Brandon mentioned that he really loved the song. Later that night, I thought: ‘Hang on, he’d sound amazing on the track. I’m going to see if he’s up for singing on it’. He did it and sent a version that everybody was excited by, then something went wrong between the labels and lawyers and they decided they weren’t going to release it.”
Any chance of it emerging on a reissue?
“I’d obviously be happy with that, but it’s probably not at the top of The Killers’ priority list at this moment in time! [Laughs] But it’s been leaked out anyway, and from a creative point of view, I’m still proud that someone of his stature and talent was up for collaborating.”
Were there ever any other collaborations that didn’t work out?
“No, but we did a version of Van Morrison’s ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’. We heard that they were trying to get a Van Morrison tribute album off the ground and wanted his approval, but the reason the project didn’t work was because of all the covers mooted, the only one he liked was ours. I’m sceptical about Van Morrison saying anything nice about anyone, but apparently so! [Laughs]”
Name the two venues in your birthplace of Wigan that Starsailor have played.
“We’ve played Robin Park Arena and… is it O’Neill’s pub?”
WRONG-ISH. HALF A POINT. You played the Robin Park Arena and The Tavern Pub.
“I forgot we played The Tavern as part of Channel 4’s Grassroots Gigs in 2009!”
Upon the release of Starsailor’s ‘All The Plans’, who did you reportedly have a “coin toss” with to see who would postpone their album release by a week to avoid a clash?
“I think it was U2? [Laughs]”
CORRECT. It was reported – presumably with the serving suggestion of “a pinch of salt” – that in order to avoid a clash with U2’s album ‘No Line On The Horizon’, you phoned Bono and flipped a coin to decide who would move their release date. Bono called “heads”, winning the toss, and so ‘All The Plans’ was delayed for a week.
“I do remember that tongue-in-cheek story we made up! We thought it would be funny to instigate this hilarious chart battle. Not to be self-depreciating, but their album was Number One with a bullet and ‘All The Plans’ was Number 14 or something, so we were quite a bit away from them! We did play some gigs with U2 though, and Bono told me to be careful on the road and look after my voice because he liked my singing.”
Starsailor’s debut ‘Love Is Here’ was ranked HiPHOPLEAKS’s fifth best album of 2001. Can you name any of the four albums above you?
CORRECT. The top five was: The Strokes – ‘Is This It’ (at Number One), Spiritualized – ‘Let It Come Down’ (2), The White Stripes – ‘White Blood Cells’ (3), Jay-Z – ‘The Blueprint’ (4) and Starsailor – Love Is Here’ (5).
“I’m chuffed to be in such exalted company!”
The verdict: 6.5/10
“Pretty respectable! I’m happy with that!”