Starsailor’s James Walsh: “There’s a misconception we were a stop-gap before The Strokes”
Starsailor frontman James Walsh has talked to NME about the “misconception” that post-Britpop bands were just a “stop-gap” before The Strokes and The White Stripes.
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The band are commemorating 20 years of their debut album ‘Love Is Here’ with a deluxe reissue, and Walsh has explained how he feels like they “get overlooked or unfairly maligned at times.
“One of the big misconceptions is that people were stood around waiting for The Strokes or The White Stripes to come around, like they needed this big explosion,” he told NME. “I love The Strokes, but there’s a perception music fans needed this injection of life.”
He continued: “But I remember our gigs and it was exciting to be part of the New Acoustic Movement with Turin Brakes and Coldplay. The people coming were passionate, and it certainly didn’t feel like a stopgap.”
In 2001, Starsailor were eulogised on the cover of NME as “The best new band in Britain”, won ‘Brightest New Hope’ at the NME Awards, and ‘Love Is Here’ reached Number Two in the UK Top 40 – shifting over a million copies and beaten only by Kylie Minogue’s ‘Fever’.
However, since then, the New Acoustic Movement – the moniker given to the wave of acts including Starsailor, Travis and Coldplay who prioritised songwriting about rock ‘n’ roll bacchanalia – has often been presented as a lull in between Britpop and the skinny-tie-and-skinny-jeans indie early noughties boom. “Journalists have revised history, saying: ‘No, I never said the New Acoustic Movement was amazing and we’re the best bands they’d heard. We were always waiting for The Strokes to come along,” laughed Walsh.
After his impressive performance in our longstanding quiz feature Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, where he reflected on memorable run-ins with Oasis, collaborating with Brandon Flowers and touring with The Rolling Stones, Walsh caught up with NME for a quick chat about two decades of their debut and life since.
Hello James. How do you look back on ‘Love Is Here’ 20 years on from its release?
James: “With a lot of fondness – maybe more so than even five years after the album’s release. When you’re younger and continually making records, you want to keep moving ahead and proving that you’ve got more strings to your bow than what the previous album displayed, and I think we listened to some of the criticism of ‘Love Is Here’ and the backlash a little too much. So with our second album ‘Silence Is Easy’ and our third ‘On the Outside’, we tried to move away from the sound of ‘Love Is Here’, and prove there was more to the band than sensitive and acoustic songs. But 20 years later, I think: ‘No, it’s a really good album’. It’s only through playing shows and seeing how much it continues to mean to people that you accept how much it means to you.”
You’ve remade five songs from the original album – ‘Good Souls’, ‘Alcoholic’, the title track ‘Love Is Here’, and ‘The Way to Fall’. How did it feel to reinterpret them?
“It was a good experiment. When we play the songs live, we stay faithful to the originals so it was interesting to re-approach the tracks with everything we’ve learnt and our musical influences now, which are slightly different to what we had then. The new version of ‘Love Is Here’ is more electronic and experimental than the original. We re-approached ‘Way To Fall’ – the track that was in Metal Gear Solid 3 – in a more delicate and stripped-back way, and it really works. When we play ‘Good Souls’ live, it’s more aggressive than the album, so we wanted to document that, turn the amps up and make it this big celebratory track it’s become for us. We’re proud of the album but the songs have evolved and we wanted to recognise that.”
Whenever the history of music is written, it tends to jump from Britpop to The Strokes-chaperoned new garage rock revival. Do you feel your post-Britpop period is overlooked?
“Yes, we do get overlooked or unfairly maligned at times. One of the big misconceptions is that people were stood around at our gigs waiting for The Strokes and The White Stripes to come around, like they needed this big explosion. I love The Strokes, but there’s a perception music fans needed this injection of life. But I remember our gigs and it was exciting to be part of the New Acoustic Movement with Turin Brakes and Coldplay. The people were coming were passionate, and it certainly didn’t feel like a stopgap. Journalists have revised history, saying: ‘No, I never said the New Acoustic Movement was amazing and we’re the best bands they heard. We were always waiting for The Strokes to come along’. It’s like: ‘Come on, mate!’”
Apparently Chris Martin was supportive during the backlash…
“Yeah, he was pretty friendly to us and said the usual stuff about staying true to yourself and enjoying your little bubble and trying not to pay too much attention to what everyone out there is saying.”
Will this anniversary release and tour lead to new Starsailor music?
“Hopefully. To be blunt, the main complication is money. I release a lot of music on my own and it’s easy to sit with an acoustic guitar in front of a microphone and release it through distributors. As soon as you start recording drums and get into a studio, you need a deal where somebody’s going to pay for you to not only record, but also to have a daily allowance to live on as well. It’s tricky getting a six-week period where everyone can afford not to work and to make this record. In the old days, it would pay for itself 12 times over, but now it’s a more uncertain time. We’ve got the songs and enthusiasm and energy for it; it’s just creating the right environment where we can relax and concentrate on the music instead of worrying too much about the money we’re spending.”
Are the songs for a forthcoming album ready to go then?
“Yeah. There’s been a few things that were mooted to happen that didn’t. The pandemic played a huge factor in delaying everything. We readied ourselves to make a record that we’ve not managed to find the right home for yet.”
What else do you have coming up?
“I’ve got a song called ‘How Can It Be Wrong?’ coming out in December, and an EP in January called ‘People Like Us’. ‘How Can It Be Wrong?’ is inspired by eldest daughter just starting university, and it’s a parallel between her adult life and independent starting and also my own zest for life and feeling a new chapter is around the corner.”
Starsailor’s 20th anniversary deluxe edition of ‘Love Is Here’ is available on December 10. They’re currently in the midst of a winter UK tour.