SHARLEEN SPITERI: The Single Life
Having recently seen her UK Top Three debut solo LP ‘Melody’ attain Gold status within just three weeks, Sharleen Spiteri - the face and voice of one of the biggest British bands of the last 20 years, Texas - now releases her album’s second single; the finger-snapping, Sixties Motown-inspired stomper ‘Stop I Don’t Love You Anymore’.
Formed in Glasgow in 1988 around then-hairdresser Sharleen and seasoned bass-player John McElhone, Texas went on to become unquestionably one of the great success stories of Nineties British pop; scoring over 13 British Top Ten singles and selling over 12 million albums worldwide. Meanwhile, frontwoman Spiteri - in a decade dominated by male guitar-bands - herself provided a welcome female alternative; unafraid to strap on her black 1967 Telecast guitar and rock out with the best of them, while simultaneously boasting a smooth, soulful voice whose roots lay deep within the classic grooves of her parents’ Sixties record collection.
All of which partly explains why - with Sharleen taking complete artistic control of the writing and producing - her aforementioned, lyrically-powerful first solo set combines a vintage, soulful flavour with a contemporary spirit. Which - in a musical climate currently dominated by new-generation, retro-obsessed songbirds Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele - also acts as a timely reminder that Spiteri was already dabbling in similar influences over a decade ago, through Texas hits like the Tamla-influenced ‘Black Eyed Boy’ and Al Green-inspired ‘Say What You Want.’
In the midst of a car journey taking her back from Portsmouth (after a guest-slot on breakfast radio) to her London home, an enthusiastically chatty and genuinely-interested-sounding Sharleen hooks up with ‘B&S” to discuss, in still-strong Glaswegian tones, the soul that lies behind her ‘Melody’.
Why title your debut solo album ‘Melody’?
“The first song I wrote for the album was the title track, ‘Melody’. In the song, I sing the lyric ‘I searched the world to find you hiding away’. And I’m actually talking about finding the song that lifts me to a higher place, that helps me relax in my day when I’ve got something on my mind. You know, the one that makes me laugh with my friends when I’m up dancing in my kitchen... I was basically talking in general about what music - and what songs and great melodies - do for me. Plus, with me coming out of a long-term relationship at the time I was writing the album, it made me rethink a lot of things in my life. And the one thing that always kept me going through it all was MUSIC. So, as it’s talking about me trying to find the ultimate melody as a means of recovery, to me it was very fitting that it should become the record’s title track.”
How did Sixties soul music influence the record overall?
“That Sixties soul sound is something that’s always been very influential on me as a songwriter. You know, throughout my whole career with Texas I’ve always toyed a lot with the whole Motown sound. So, with me being absolutely obsessed in particular with Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, that became a big part of what I was trying to create with this solo record. Not only in terms of the rhythmic thing, but also - though it’s something nobody really talks about today - even in the way the diction and the clarity of the vocal was such a big thing back then. You know, everything that was said on a Motown track was always so clear and so crisp. Plus, when I was growing up, there was also a big Northern soul thing happening in Scotland. And - with so many of the big records on that scene being such great, well-written songs - that as well very much became music that made my heart beat a bit faster, made me wanna sing along, and get up and dance. So, when I was making this record, it was kinda like having an old jukebox in my head that was full of sounds and records from that era that I could reference very easily within my brain.”
So what was the story behind your new, Supremes-influenced single ‘Stop I Don’t Love You Anymore’?
“The simplicity of the old Motown songwriting was extraordinary. You know, it really did typify the old thing of ‘less is more’, in the sense of finding that very simple line that says everything without going into a whole great mass of words. To where it’s like, ‘That’s so bloody simple! Why didn’t I think of that?’! And, with ‘Stop I Don’t Love You Anymore’, it was funny - because my daughter inspired me to write that line! She loves music, and we were upstairs singing away when she suddenly started going ‘Stop, baby - I don’t love you!`! And I was like ‘Shit! That’s IT! Stop, I don’t love you anymore!’! You know, as a five-year-old, she said in such a simple way exactly what I’d been trying to get across, but hadn’t quite managed to come up with. And for the track’s actual production, I was inspired by how - with a band like The Supremes - they’d have that big, vast orchestration and then put those beautiful, sweet vocals on top of it.”
How did your parents’ love of gospel and soul impact on you while growing up?
“I have to say, I had a really good upbringing in music. My mum, in particular, was a big gospel fan. And to me I just can’t understand NOT being influenced by Al Green, Etta James, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald… Because all those records were very big for me, and they were the records I learnt to sing off. You know, I managed to push the range a little bit to be able to sing along with them, and it’s the type of music I’ll always hark back to. So, when I came to making this solo record, that was the moment where I guess all that music I heard while growing up really came out - and it came out on a very concentrated level! Because, unlike when I’m working as part of Texas, this wasn’t the amalgamation of the influences of five different people - it was just me on my own. You know, I’ve described it as my ultimate personal fantasy record. It really is the album I always dreamed of making.”
What do you feel about now finding yourself bracketed in with UK contemporary soul girls like Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele?
“The one great pity about that is, I do feel - from being years in the music industry - that as females we all get lumped in together just because we’re women. Because, while I agree we all have a style of songwriting that has elements of something old in it, I don’t think we actually SOUND anything like each other! It’s like sorta comparing The Supremes to The Ronettes or The Shangri-Las. One of them might be sweet and clean; the other might have quite a rough, harsh sound... So yeah, to me the great shame about the music industry is that, when we’re female, it does tend to bracket us all in together. Instead of just thinking ‘Fuck! These women are GREAT SONGWRITERS!’!”
The digital single 'Stop I Don't Love You Anymore' is released October 6. The album 'Melody' is out now, both through Mercury Records
Words PETE LEWIS