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WENDY JAMES: BLOWING OUR MINDS  INTERVIEW BY LORRAINE

 
Wendy James grew up close to London’s Portobello Road at a time when the streets were steeped in a cultural diversity which unified the merging sounds of blues, dancehall, ska, reggae and punk amidst the taste of international cuisine, the colour of carnival and the smell of weed hanging pungently in the air. Having attracted the bohemian poets, artists and musicians to this corner of London, it had been home to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who and later Joe Strummer. Mixing with the likes of Joe and Chrissie Hynde, Wendy knew from a young age that she wanted to be a performer. Armed with a batch of songs a young Wendy, along with guitarist Nick Christian Sayer, marched into EMI and demanded a record deal. They got one! Nine months later they were touring the UK and enjoying chart success. Three albums later and Wendy had become an international face. It was then that Wendy decided that she needed a new direction. From Hollywood she wrote to Elvis Costello to ask for help. This came in the shape of cassette of new material written for Wendy by Elvis and girlfriend Cait O’Riordan, recorded with The Attractions.

In a bid to take control of her own career away from the restrictions of the big record companies, Wendy finally returned to London and began to learn guitar and build her own recording studio in the home shared with then long-term boyfriend Mick Jones. Under her own steam and in her own time she eventually moved to New York and recorded two albums 'Racine No I' and 'Racine 2'. Wendy’s latest album 'I CAME HERE TO BLOW MINDS', was released late last year and is a true reflection of her sheer determination, drenched in sensuality, heart, soul, and pure attitude charged rock n roll. Due to play live on June 9th at London’s Rough Trade East, Truman Brewery, Mudkiss managed to catch a few words with Wendy ahead of this In-store gig.

LORRAINE: Hi Wendy. You grew up in such a vibrant part of London. I personally remember those days as being so rich on every level. How much of an impact do you think your environment had on you creatively as you were growing up?

WENDY: It must do! From the people you mix with to the vibes you pick up on the street to the culture that surrounds you and is accessible to you. I think also the other part of the equation is who one naturally gravitates towards as you grow up and into your own personality. For me there was no question: It was Rock n Roll - I began going to gigs, I began taking in the style of certain people (like Richard Hell and Debbie Harry and Patti Smith) but also - personally I grew up surrounded by West Indian culture and a very easy mix of Black and White (and everything in between - Moroccan, Spanish etc) cultures. And music and good street vibes were the thing that bound everyone together. It was not a show-biz environment, it was a political, social, musical, cultural mish-mash and that grounds you for life and for me, set's you off in a direction that remains true, no matter what variants of experience life brings. To this day I am as close to my old West London friends as I ever was and they serve as a touchstone to my life.

LORRAINE: It’s said that Transvision Vamp were born after collaborating with then boyfriend Nick Christian Sayer, and walking into EMI aged only 16, demanding a record deal and getting one. Was it really that easy, did you have any fear or doubts?

WENDY: Well, he WAS NOT my boyfriend! (that's a Wikipedia mistake!) but the rest is true. I met Nick, we made some demos', marched into Manchester Sq EMI and told the A&R guy (chosen by us as he'd signed the Pistols) that we were going to be the 'biggest band in the world' ! And we believed it. I think it showed on our faces, in the way we carried ourselves - our total youthful conviction. We looked like crazies, all leather jackets and over-done make-up, Glam Rock, but we thought we were IT! And indeed, he signed us! So…

LORRAINE: When you read through your biography you are struck not only by your determination but also your courage, particularly in removing yourself completely from situations where you do not feel comfortable and forging a new path for yourself. Has that determination always been part of your character or is it a quality learned through bitter experience?

WENDY:  My character hasn't been informed by negative experience; I don't really succumb to negative forces. You know I've had such a great trip, and I think it has to come down to what my answer was a few questions back. One either moves towards positive situations or not, and I always have. From the musicians that surrounded me when I was 16 and 17, the Punks, you know they really got me. From music obviously through to a sense of humour, an irreverence, a social outlook, a base position of not getting fucked around. I learned through osmosis, and sure enough as I've grown musically into myself I have had the character to obstinately stick to what I believe in, for better or worse and luckily enough I think it's for the better! Sometimes I've been flat broke and stared at the wall wondering how to move forward but never have I compromised myself and there has always been some kind of move that's allowed me to carry on, with autonomy and freedom of expression.

LORRAINE: I have to say I sense a more than usual satisfaction and excitement about your album ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’ which was released at the end of last year. It’s as if you have been on a journey to an unknown destination and have finally arrived. What does this album mean to you personally?

WENDY: Yes, I did good. It's a good piece of music; it bodes well for the next one! Beyond that I don't get too sentimental. At any given time I am always going to be trying my hardest to be the very best I can be, in the Studio, on Stage, or simply writing the material. I immerse myself fully and I try to access as deep a connection to my own instinct as I can. I can't be lazy, it's impossible. I get real self-satisfaction when I turn out a good lyric or a chord progression or a melody that feels perfect. Literally, beyond money, beyond accolades, the real high is that person eureka moment.

LORRAINE: Do you have a favourite track?

WENDY: Gosh… um, ‘Speedball’, ‘You Tell Me’, ‘Beggar Memories’, and the title track, but I really love playing ‘Municipal Blues’, it makes me feel like Hank Williams. So - like any other musician the answer is really no, ultimately - no favourites. For a live set, I favour the faster ones, that's about it!

LORRAINE: You have lived in New York, London and Paris, where is ‘home’ to you?

WENDY: New York now, I have to say the streets of Manhattan breathe life into me. I cycle around, dodge in-between the taxis and the traffic and just breathe in the life Manhattan brings, and I love the block I live on. I've been there long enough now to nod at a bunch of neighbours! BUT… I've been spending longer periods of time back in West London lately, and the love I get from my old friends in Ladbroke Grove can never be equalled. They are where my heart belongs, and always will be.

LORRAINE: You are going to be In-store at Rough Trade East on Thursday June 9th. What are your plans following this, are there any more London dates on the horizon?

WENDY: I have got the most fucking Amazing agent in the world, I really do, and so I'm on tenterhooks waiting to see what late additions he might land me for August festivals and then from Fall to 2012. I know I'm going to be out on my own gigs and opening for a select handful of groups who I love as a musician and no doubt will complement as an opening act. For me now there is nothing more important that just playing… playing, playing.

LORRAINE: Finally Wendy, you have travelled the world and worked with so many talented names in music, can you share some of your most memorable experiences and would you change anything?

WENDY: Last part first. I’d change nothing - If you changed one piece then it might alter everything! Um…. from helicopter rides with Guns n' Roses. drinking with Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, to the love I shared with some of the original punks, and still do to this day. I've had moments all around the globe and not necessarily with famous people, but just the good fucking people I know and love throughout my life. I guess I have been in the right place at the right time, all the time, somehow… xxxx

LORRAINE: Thank you for taking the time to talk to Mudkiss xxx

http://www.myspace.com/theracineworld

Interview by Lorraine 25/05/11