Texas, Excited by new direction

Those who remember Texas as polished practioners of blue-eyed Scots pop are in for a big surprise.

The band's superb fourth album, White On Blonde, released in February 1997 and their first since 1993's Rick's Road, is drawn more from Motown, Stax and Hi Studio sounds, the current strain of British trip hop and all mixed with the mature songwriting depth of Chrissie Hynde. When a new track, Good Advice, was recently played on Manchester's Kiss FM, a panellist on the Drivetime Hit Or Miss slot asked, "is that the same Texas ?" before the panel unanimously decided it was a hit.

Say What You Want is actually the first single from the new album, but will perform the same role in changing the public's perceptions. That said, the more astute members of the public will hear a continuation of the influences that made Texas's cover Al Green's Tired Of Being Alone their last chart hit.

Sharleen Spiteri, Texas's lead singer and co-writer, was well aware that changes were underfoot, and that the band had to go away and, to paraphrase Bono of U2, re-invent themselves.

Says Spiteri, "It would have been the biggest mistake to do the same album as Rick's Road. After we finished touring that album we had to change and move on. As a band, we couldn't go in the studio and have 14 songs ready, and then just record them as the next album. But we were lucky that we had built a studio in the back of my house in Glasgow, and we just recorded loads of songs, about 50 of them."

Spiteri says she and the Texas boys - Johnny McElhone (bass, co-writer), Ally McErlane (guitar), Richard Hynd (drums/programming) and Eddie Campbell (keyboards/programming) - took inspiration not just from brace of records drawn from Sixties American soul and pop, British Northern soul and Studio One reggae from Jamaica, but from a pile of music documentaries.

"We shut ourselves away and watched lots of them, learning new things from them," she says. "Like the Marvin Gaye documentary, when he said he did every vocal lying down, so that's what I did. It was just to do things differently. At no point did we go into the studio and play, which put us in a different position straightaway, and kept us off automatic pilot."

Besides the Glasgow sessions, Texas sent a demo of Halo to producer Mike Hedges - the band loved what he had achieved on the Manic Street Preachers' Everything Must Go. Hedges was keen to work on the track, but felt he couldn't improve on what he heard as a finished song. Instead, he simply upgraded the demo, and added his customary swirling strings.

Through Bobby Bluebell, the band met Dave Stewart, and quickly co-wrote and recorded Put Your Arms Around Me with Stewart in the producer's chair. The third and last collaboration was with Manchester dance duo Rae and Christian, aka. Grand Central.

Spiteri says, "There were no rules to this record. And because we had no studio deadline, we could try out the songs in as many different ways as we wanted. We had to get it right, so it was as long as it took. It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, since the record came together over a long period."

It was during this period the Texas's label, Mercury, had to be extra-patient and supportive. "They recognised we weren't ready, and let us get on with it," says Spiteri. "When we wanted to do Grand Central remixes of Say What You Want, it was no problem, because they believed in what we were doing."

Before Rick's Road, relationships had not been so rosy between both parties, which led to deputy head of Mercury A&R Alan Pell taking over the band's A&R co-ordination from head of department Dave Bates.

"At the end of Rick's Road, the tensions were running high between Dave and the band," says Pell. "They felt that they'd got into a bit of a rut, and needed a new team around them, the same way they needed new musical blood."

Pell was totally supportive of the band's wishes to take their time rather than logging another album as expected. "I'd always felt that their albums were competent rather than really good - Rick's Road, for example, was well played and produced but didn't make any emotional dent in me. The first time I saw them live, in 1994, was at the Zenith in Paris, expecting it to be OK, and was gobsmacked by the size of the venue, with a 6,000 capacity, and the freaking-out reaction of the crowd," he says.

"I began to wonder why their records couldn't capture this, and I reckoned it was because they weren't involved in their own records, that different producers had used the band to make their own record, rather than the band's. So they needed to look at things from a different angle, and just started writing shitloads of songs, which we whittled down to 14 that stand up as a whole record."

Judging by Halo's epic impact (scheduled to be the second single), the upbeat Motown vibe of Black Eyed Boy, the sumptuous moody soul of Polo Mint City and the raw confidence of Breathless, Texas have made the album of their lives.

"Their albums always sounded like they were one step behind in the UK," says Pell. "This album sounds like it was made in the Nineties, at the cutting edge."

While the band's popularity in territories such as France remained sky-high, things in the UK had definitely gone off the boil. As Pell says, for that very reason, it's probably best that Texas have disappeared. "It's better this way, rather than release an OK record to make a deadline. This way, people will be surprised," he says.

But two places where Texas remained favourites is in the hearts of Chris Evans (the band have been on TFI Friday's once already, and they're going back in again this month to perform Say What You Want) and Ellen Degeneres, star of the American sitcom Ellen. The show has been using the Texas track So Called Friend, from Rick's Road, as its intro music, which its host followed up by inviting Spiteri and McErlane on to the show.

Spiteri says, "At the start of the show, Ellen says, 'People are always asking about the music, and here they are, all the way from Scotland...' and we were meant to be all indifferent about it ! We flew into LA, played the song acoustically, then flew out again, a day later, to Manchester, to work with Grand Central. It was mad."

But not as mad as 1997 will be, if White On Blonde rightfully fulfils its potential.

Article by Martin Aston.
Taken from "Music Week", 11 January 1997.