Friday, March 16, 2012

"Silence is easy/It just becomes me" Interview: James Walsh

This interview was originally for Melbourne street press Beat magazine and published online here. It is reproduced here in its entirety for AMR.
For Starsailor fans, it’s been a long time between drinks. Last gracing our shores nearly a decade ago, the wait for the UK four-piece to return has looked indefinite ever since the group went on ‘official hiatus’ a few years ago. Luckily, fans will get the next best thing this March when frontman James Walsh brings his solo show down-under. Still possessed of his genteel, vibrato-flecked voice that would thrill a choral master and his way around an acoustic guitar, Walsh has formed a career as both a solo artist and a freelance songwriter since the band’s sabbatical of 2009.

Calling from his home in Dublin, he laments the lack of a tour during the intervening years, “obviously there was enough investment in us for the first tour, but then carrying a big crew around, the massive flight, it just always stood in the way of getting some subsequent visits in. It was always quite frustrating for me, hearing news that the album and Four To TheFloor were really high in the charts. It had me itching to get over there and capitalise on that. I’m just glad that [it] can finally happen now.”

Travelling a lot lighter these days with a guitar tech, his trusty acoustic and a laptop “with lots of interesting noises and drumbeats,” Walsh plans to deliver the tunes he’s been working on for his solo debut, but has no pretensions about avoiding his former band’s output in the live setting.  He’s not above giving the audience what they want. “I think it’s particularly important, especially somewhere that Starsailor has a decent fanbase and for the first time in a long time, it would be rude of me not to play a few of the old songs.” His recent sets, from supporting Simple Minds on tour to playing larger festivals have always sought to mix the familiar with the new; and as a lover of “Dylan, Van Morrison, Lennon, Springsteen – the classics” he is wont to play the odd cover also. “The great thing about being solo is I can totally judge the audience and play to the crowd,”

If the former frontman shoulders any burden carrying the torch of his previous catalogue’s popularity, you’d never know it, he’s struck a happy balance between working on his solo career and moonlighting as a songwriting ‘gun for hire.’ Enriching his own material by seeking the challenge of writing with, and for, others “you’re under a lot of pressure when you’re working with different artists because you have such a short timeframe to work with and prove yourself as the guy they should be using. I think that’s informed my own material, it’s definitely getting more direct and to the point.” The likes of British soul-stress
Beverley Knight and youthful poppet Eliza Doolittle have employed his services, and in the process he’s learned much from them “they teach you different things. They also introduced me to new music. Eliza’s in her early twenties so she’s a lot more ‘up’ on things, like Odd Future and Frank Ocean.”

Additionally, he’s also tried his hand at film soundtracks, lending his voice and penmanship to the UK Indie flick Powder. “It’s been a great thing to be involved in. I think the hardest thing when you’re writing songs is searching for the lyrical inspiration, and if you’re given an inspiring script or visual to draw from… it takes you halfway through the process already.” Having since developed a taste for it, Walsh is now hungry for more, “Absolutely, if there’s any filmmakers in Australia who fancy paying for me to go out there and work on a project, I wouldn’t say no.”

Notably, all this extra work has distracted from releasing his own solo album, aside from
an EP (recorded in Norway with the Tromsø orchestra), he’s yet to release any new recorded material. “I’m in the fortunate position where I’m not relying on it. Hopefully one of these films or their soundtracks will take off or one of the big collaborations will be a big deal and I can capitalise on that. The last thing I want to do is rush it out, then see it disappear.” In the meantime, he’s content to travel the world, fulfilling commitments to the places he didn't have an opportunity to visit as part of Starsailor, Walsh goes on to joke “If it’s a Saturday night where everyone wants to go for it, I can break out the ten minute version of FourTo The Floor.”

*             *             *
James Walsh plays the following dates with support from Sarah McLeod (ex-Superjesus)
tickets available through OzTix:

Mar 16: The Tempo Hotel, Brisbane QLD
Mar  18: The Great Northern, Byron Bay NSW
Mar 21: The Gov, Adelaide SA
Mar 23: The Espy, St. Kilda VIC
Mar 24: The Standard, Sydney NSW

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