Live4ever Interview: James Walsh on new Starsailor material, Love Is Here anniversary and latest solo EP

By Live4ever - Posted on 27 Aug 2020 at 7:49am



James Walsh

We’re now at the stage where the fruits of artists’ labours are coming to pass.

Fortunately for us music lovers, we’ve had many options for entertainment to keep us going during lockdown. Like live-streamed gigs; the good eggs that they are, musicians have often provided their services for charity, and Starsailor frontman James Walsh went straight for the jugular recently, performing a full acoustic version of the band’s debut album Love Is Here to raise funds for the NHS. Even he was surprised by the reaction.

“I think it raised nearly £10,000,” he tells Live4ever during an exclusive interview. “Considering it was just, ‘I’m going to do this and tweet about it and set up a Just Giving page’, I’m really pleased about how that grew through word of mouth. I think because the NHS was under a lot of strain there was a real groundswell of support for it, to do something. To make sure they got a few quid from our bands as well.”

When it’s put it to him that it shouldn’t really have been necessary, Walsh makes a compelling argument in response: “I completely understand the argument, but you can still hold that viewpoint and ethos while campaigning for more government money for the NHS, while also accepting they aren’t getting enough. It doesn’t necessarily let the government off the hook.”

The lockdown also inspired a slew of creativity for Walsh: last week he released an EP, The Places Where Our Love Begun, recorded entirely at his home during the spring months. “All of it was conceived and done in lockdown,” he says. “Apart from being something I wanted to do it was because I had all that time on my hands!”

As would be expected, it’s an entirely acoustic offering, which was both an artistic choice and out of necessity as well: “I’m by no means an expert behind the dials when it comes to production. I felt like it was a good climate to come out with something that was quite raw and organic, because the limitations were there. I felt like people would be a bit more forgiving of the little clicks and less polished sound because the only tools that were disposable during the lockdown were whatever we had in the house!”

As the title suggests, Walsh opted to see the positives of the lockdown, in his case mainly regarding the blossoming of a new love: “The situation I’m in at the moment is very pertinent to what I’m writing about. We started our relationship before lockdown so it was very much a make-or-break situation and luckily, it’s worked out. I don’t want to get too lovey-dovey, but we enjoy spending time together and watching episode after episode of the American Office and getting takeaways as much as we can now the lockdown has eased. In the early part of a relationship it’s a worry and a tension, worrying about deeper feelings, and then as time goes on it becomes more about the normal moments that feel special and solidify it.”

Although as reflective and romantic as ever, the Starsailor frontman has cast his eye upon the modern world too, and feels despair. You Don’t Know Your Own Strength ruminates on the elites that hold all our destines in their grip. “I feel like there’s a lot of good people that do a lot of good in the world who are reticent to take action because they’re so worried about doing the wrong thing,” he tells Live4ever. “Whereas people who are having an effect on the world are unfortunately the people who don’t really care.”

An EP was never on the agenda for 2020. Primarily, the year was to be taken up with preparations for marking the 20th anniversary of Love Is Here in 2021. Whilst the main plans have been kiboshed, there are still some treats in store – undeterred, the celebrations will still continue next year, as Walsh explains: “We’ve got a lot of new material that we’re excited about, but the initial idea to start off with was to commemorate the first album. We’ve been looking at different ways to do that. One of the ideas was to make a beer for it, which I’m quite excited about. I feel like it makes more sense to get people back on board with the band by revisiting the debut album and reimagining some of the songs. To ease them in for the new material!”

“Like a lot of people, the lockdown has derailed our plans, and it’s still a bit up in the air. We can’t just book a load of dates and plug a load of tickets and say that’s it. There’s a chance that live music won’t come back for a long time, so we’ve got to look at other ways to mark the anniversary. We’re looking at doing a stream to play the album in its entirety, but finding some way of reimagining the songs so it’s not just, ‘Here’s the album as it was twenty years ago’. Don’t worry, it’s not the drum and bass version, but the songs have evolved a bit so we’re going to do them slightly different.”

During our conversation, it’s apparent just how considerate Walsh is for the wider world, as demonstrated by his idea of releasing a t-shirt alongside the EP. Rather than being just an excuse to flog merch (lest we forget, a significant part of artists’ income), the shirt arrived organically and has been made using the Fairwear code of conduct. “My girlfriend is a great artist and designer, and my friend Luke up in Manchester has been doing some limited edition Joy Division t-shirts with Kevin Cummins,” Walsh explains. “He said he had a press that can do some made-to-order t-shirts so there’s no obligation to buy a hundred or anything. It’s not a huge risk so we might as well give it a go. There’s been a good reaction to it.”

“People can see how the music industry and people in general are struggling in the lockdown, so they’re much more responsive to what you’re trying to do. Whereas maybe in the past they would have asked, ‘What are you doing, trying to flog t-shirts?’, people can see how streaming has affected revenue so it’s fair enough if you want to make t-shirts. The industry is in a mess, but people seem a lot more receptive to it.”

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (pun intended), just because lockdown is basically over doesn’t mean things are back to normal: Spotify are seemingly refusing to budge when it comes to revenue distribution, and Walsh has his opinion on these streaming services: “It’s a weird one. For the consumer, places like Spotify are great because you’ve got everything you could possibly want. Spotify is, to me, a weird hybrid between a label and a shop. It’s the only place a lot of people listen to music, but they’re also in a position to push and support whichever artist they choose to. It’s not a great way of working, basically. It definitely needs an overhaul.”

After 20 years in the game, Walsh speaks from experience, having seen a lot of changes. The whole model has changed, the days of rock stars being tabloid news seemingly gone; “There doesn’t appear to be a music scene where people are that interested in the characters involved anymore. It’s all playlist and articles. I remember the NME used to have articles on bands long before they’d even released anything. You’d hear stuff on the Evening Session that had a big build up. I guess the closest thing we have now is in the grime and hip-hop worlds. Those fans seem much more interested in the characters and what they have to say. It seems to be much of a world you can tap into, whereas other genres of music have lost that interest, I guess, because there aren’t any platforms to support it.”

Fortunately, as the last few months have demonstrated, the music industry is adaptable and has already evolved. Despite the marketing, or the choice parameters moving, there is still nothing more powerful and inclusive than a person, an instrument and the truth.

As such, people like James Walsh will always have a place in the world, thankfully.

Richard Bowes



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