Wendy James Interview
July 21st 2004 by Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T
In the late 1980s, a band called Transvision Vamp shocked and delighted the rock world. Tipped as the next Sex Pistols for their ratio of hype over achievement, they recorded at least two classic albums, 'Pop Art' and 'Velveteen'.
Fast forward 15 years and Wendy James is back with a new musical project called Racine. There's already an album recorded called Number 1 & its due for release in late September. With a cool, lo-fi electronica vibe and a DIY punk ethic its entirely self financed, self produced, & self performed - it's already turned heads and got the broadsheets talking.
Seeing as I'd been listening to 'Pop Art' only a few days before, when the opportunity arose to talk to Wendy James on the phone, I could hardly tell that girl to shut up ...
Racine - who, what and why?
The beginning of the story was when Transvision Vamp first played Chicago, well even before then I'd always seen Al Capone movies and his drinking bar is in the middle of a street called Racine in Chicago and that's where he ran all his prohibition business from. So on a romantic journey, when I was in Chicago with Transvision Vamp, I dumped by bags at the hotel and walked off down Racine and thought to myself that it was a good sounding name. And now all these years later, when I was forming the new band and needed a name that encapsulated the whole sound and the mood and the look and everything, I was just browsing through one of my favourite authors, a writer called Damon Runyon who's written many tall tales about his times boozing on Broadway and gambling at the race track in New York, and one of his books is called The Racing World of Damon Runyon and as I was at home browsing, I misread it as 'The Racine World...' and in that lightening bolt instant everything came together in one second.
As for the who, I've played and wrote everything on the album 'Racine Number One', but when I get back to New York I'll be starting auditions for my live band which will be a five piece, 2 guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. Drum wise it has more of an electronic sound than Transvision Vamp, it's more loopy and more programmed, but I'm hoping to find a drummer than can do both that and conventional drumming. I can't help but write melodies so it will still have a pop edge, but its presentation is fairly raw, and it's certainly not 'pop' in the way pop is seen nowadays! I don't think it sounds like anything else, I wasn't paying attention to anything else apart from what sounded good to me. People who've heard it so far love it, but I guess the ones that I've talked to are the ones who want to talk about it and want to love it.
I've started my own record label, Pia-K Recordings, to put it out, Racine Number One will be our first release at the end of September and there's also a single called 'Grease Monkey' - you can hear a one minute MP3 of that track on our website here.
It's released world wide with the UK release first, and I hope to get some gigs in October...
If you want to play for us at The Portland Arms we'd love to have you, a bill of Racine, The Dawn Parade and The Virgin Suicides would be a gig made in heaven.
Let me write that down, it sounds perfect... Racine live at The Portland Arms!
I can see it already! What do you think is more important, attitude or ability?
Oh, you need both! You don't need to be a maestro but you do need to know what's going on.
You could say that Transvision Vamp benefited from their bucket loads of attitude, but they also had tunes to die for.
All the great bands have both attitude and ability. But I still believe that there aren't any rules about what's right and what's wrong, you can play a whole song on one chord as long as you make it interesting.
What do you listen to when you're hoovering?
Did you say in the evening? When I'm hoovering, ohhh. I can't answer a question like that! But when I'm not hoovering, I listen to Eminem actually. And I listen to Toots and The Maytals and The Upsetters and Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones and Suicide and The Cramps and Robert Johnson ... I'm just scrolling through my visual memory of my record collection. Of contemporary records, Beyonce's 'Crazy In Love' I think is a masterpiece, and I like Snoop Dogg, Led Zeppelin,and the other day I saw a documentary called 'Some Kind Of Monster' about Metallica and fuck, their sound is good! I don't own any of their records, but it's possible that I might soon...
What about The Darkness? Their mix of glitsh and glam and tunes might appeal to you...
I haven't got their album, but I think 'I believe in a Thing Called Love' is great, and I love the packaging, the way they present themselves. They're all over America and they just look great! For a brief moment now they're so fresh, until a hundred bands emerge looking and sounding just the same...
Do you think that politics and music mix?
I think that everything is political.
I think it's redundant to argue the virtues of an established political party because power corrupts absolutely. My leanings are of course towards the left, but ultimately bureaucracy is what's running the country. And greed, avarice and short sightedness. Fear is what keeps governments in power, making people scared to want to change things. I live in New York, which is fairly liberal on the whole, but for most of America it's a no brainer; Bush tells them that any minute now they're going to be under attack from dirty foreigners so no one dares to make a change. Personally I find it even more astonishing the way Tony Blair behaves as he is meant to be on the left; with Bush we knew we were getting a right wing CIA son, but Blair got in on the ticket of being for the people, it's astounding!!
I agree. When you're looking at our fantastic website to book your gig with us, you'll enjoy all the stuff we have on Bush and Blair!
There's rumours of a new indie / pop / punk club in Cambridge called Pop Art (you read it here first, kids!) which of course was the name of a Transvision Vamp album; are you proud of the legacy Transvision Vamp has left? I'm sure the Manics must have studied your career, and especially your videos, with interest...
Well I'm not sure what exactly the legacy is, but I am proud of it! I am very proud, it was just the best time and to read the comments people leave on the website, they really blew me away as I lived my life without thinking about stuff like that, fame and what you've done in the past, I don't really think about that on a day to day level, but then when these guys and girls were making their comments on the site, I just thought 'Shit! It really does mean something to people who really, really believed!' Now they're ready to embrace me with Racine and that really is something special.
Yes, just by coincidence I was listening to 'Pop Art' at the weekend. The final question is, what's best - chips or cream buns?
Chips or cream buns?! I don't really eat either! I'm more of a coffee and cigarettes person!
That's it then, thanks very much. Keep in touch about playing The Portland!
I'll see what I can do! Bye
Thanks to Wendy for her time and to Anthony Gibbons at Quite Great PR for setting things up.
Moving images by Justin Whyte of www.transvisionvamp.com