TEXAS - THE HUSH
Sharleen Spiteri achieved success in 1989 as 'one of the boys' in Texas – then came the poor years. Today she's defending a megahit as a bona fide sex symbol. Henrik Tuxen caught up with Scotland's finest.
Sharleen Spiteri is annoyed. And with good reason. “The people at the record company couldn't give a shit before we made White on Blonde,” says the frontwoman of today's chart favourites Texas. “Then it sold four million copies, and they were like…'Oh we always loved Texas'. I say to the same people, 'fuck off…get out of my face!'”
Texas' feisty leader never did belong in the category of quiet, polite girl scouts. Although she's hardly taller than her hero, Prince, she's always been known to address people directly. There's been a lot of stuff to react to over the years and Texas have had their fair share of ups and downs.
As an 18-year old, Sharleen wrote the global hit I Don't Want A Lover with her songwriting partner, Texas bassist Johnny McElhone. The band rose to the top, but quickly came back to reality as the following records, Mothers Heaven, and Ricks Road, marked a gradual decrease in the group's popularity.
“If it hadn't been for White on Blonde, we might not have had a record deal anymore,” Sharleen reckons today. But there was the White on Blonde album and it went on to become hugely successful. Texas' last long-player was one of the biggest European hits of 1997, it went five times platinum in the UK, spawned five Top Ten singles and three of those climbed to the coveted top spot. All of a sudden there was no end to how much the record company (as well as everybody else) had always loved the band.
This time around – according to the press material – Sharleen Spiteri and Texas have created the 8th wonder of the world. Despite the praise lavished upon her, Total Guitar met a very down to earth woman. Spiteri's justifiably proud of the new Texas album, The Hush, but she chooses somewhat less divine phrases to describe it.
Breaking the Silence
“I don't know what they've written in the press material. I haven't read it,” begins Spiteri in her familiar Scottish brogue. “But I'm always pleased with the result. If I wasn't I wouldn't put out records. I think it's a complete piece of work as an album. Our aim was to make an album which took you on a journey with more light and shade in it. And that's what I feel we really created this time.”
For The Hush, the band stayed at home to record, something that's not been lost on Sharleen. “I definitely think that's been influential,” she says. “We worked without deadlines so we didn't have to be finished at a certain time. Johnny and I would write a song, then we'd work on it, and we'd write on it again. We'd pretty much record and finish each song before we'd progress to the next. Consequently, we've got songs for all different seasons of the year. Working like that, you capture the moment. That sometimes gets lost when you write a bunch of songs over a couple of years, and then record them all later over a 10 week period.”
The Guitar as a Shield
Texas has always been a guitar-based rock band. In the beginning they were the typical English 'indie' band who added strong acoustic, country twang to their sound. They originally took the band name from the Wim Wenders film, Paris, Texas, not least inspired by Ry Cooder's fantastic guitar playing. But over the years the band's strong black soul roots have become increasingly apparent – especially the feel of '60s Motown and Marvin Gaye.
Until very recently, Spiteri would never appear on stage without her guitar. Originally she was known as the girl with black Telecaster, how's her guitar playing these days? “It's great,” she answers. “I played a lot of guitar, but I also did some keyboards and some programming on The Hush. I've played guitar since I was a kid. That was my first instrument, that's where I learned to play music, so I feel very confident about guitar.”
On the White on Blonde tour, Sharleen went on stage without her guitar from time to time…”Yes I did, and it was strange because I felt so naked. It was like, 'oh my God, I used to have this thing between me and the audience'. That was my guitar, it was my shield. Suddenly I decided not to use it, and it was like 'aaah…help!' It was a big challenge, and then everybody in the band wanted me to play Fender Rhodes on stage. I'd played it in the band room, and in my house, but not in front of 70,000 people. Now I do it on some songs, but both things have been very challenging.”
Change is as Good as a Rest
And that's not the only challenge Sharleen has undertaken lately. After years of being 'one of the guys' dressed in jeans and trainers, she now steps out as a freshly baked sex symbol on the cover of The Hush.
“Oh, God,” she laughs. How do you feel about it, and why now? Sharleen: “With age comes confidence, I guess. By the time out first album came out there was a lot of bands with girl singers, who did all those wimpy, sexy things. That just wasn't me. The record company wanted me to but we refused. We were real pain in the necks when we first signed. I just said no.”
“Later they said 'Sharleen is just part of the band' – and now we go 'well, it's all changed again'. We always do the unexpected, the record company can't get their head right with us,” says Sharleen. “But I just wasn't able to do it when I was 20 years old. I was still trying to figure out what I was all about. I'm 31 years old, I'm a woman now, so I'm just expressing myself. But it wasn't like I wanted to be the star of the band. It was more like, we've changed the way the music is, so we can change it visually as well. We did the session ourselves with friends – artwork and everything – we had a really good working unit.”
Although Spiteri says that with age comes confidence, selling four million albums probably helps on that front too. “The success of White on Blonde gave us a lot of confidence. When we made it we were a band fighting to survive. We were also striving to be relevant. I was massively surprised that it was such a success. At the time we were in a position of not having done too well.”
It's a very different story today, where Texas have to follow up a huge success. Will you be equally disappointed if The Hush doesn't do as well? “No absolutely not,” says Sharleen with such an authority that you can't fail to believe her. “You've got to remember that when we did our first album in 1989, it was massively successful. And now we've got a second shot at it, and we can't ask for anything more. We really can't, we've had our moment. I really feel like we've made a great album and I hope people like it. We've put 100 per cent into it – a lot of love, sweat and tears. It's a very optimistic, positive and sensual record. I don't know, the public decides. If it doesn't go, it's a shame, but I can't ask for anything more. I live a charmed life, and as long as I'm fighting for what I believe in I'm happy – and I fight for Texas.”
By Henrik Tuxen
Taken from "Total Guitar", issue 59, August 1999.
© Future Publishing 1999.
Transcription by Sophie van Rooijen.