Sharleen Spiteri on the Best of Texas and Brits With Wu-Tang9 min read
“The record industry wonders why it’s got problems. Because you are stupid. That’s why.”
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Sharleen Spiteri is game to talk about almost anything from her band’s multi-decade career — just, uh, maybe not their name. “I’m still getting asked questions I was asked in 1989,” she says. “Like, ‘Why are you called Texas?’ “Sometimes, depending on your mood, you can just lie,” she laughs. “I could be a compulsive liar for all you know.”
Texas began in Glasgow in the late ’80s playing a kind of guitar-pop inspired by shimmering American roots rock — their first single, 1989’s “I Don’t Want a Lover,” sounds like all of The Joshua Tree condensed into five minutes. In the ’90s, the band pivoted into Eurodance, but they kept their love of Ry Cooder to write cinematic hits that became an omnipresent alternative to Britpop; their back-to-back No. 1 records, 1997’s White on Blonde and 1999’s The Hush, sound like the ’90s that your parents actually remember. Texas carries on to this day, shouting out the Blue Nile a decade before the 1975 made it cool again and teaming up with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Newest album Hi, led by its Donna Summer–sampling single “Mr. Haze,” anthemically welcomed fans back to clubs last summer, and the band just kicked off a big spring European tour. Spiteri has been the group’s consistent voice and is as engaging in conversation as she is on record — the latest inspired by a rediscovery of notable White on Blonde outtakes and reuniting with Wu-Tang Clan after they performed “Say What You Want” together at the 1998 BRIT Awards. “Some records, depending on where you are in your life and what’s going on in your life, can be really difficult,” she muses. “But this record was just a lot of fun. You gotta have that.”
I can’t talk about any one song. I’m more proud of a complete album. All those songs are so important. Albums are so important. I’m really an advocate for keeping albums and making sure that people stop consuming music on a buffet bar.
I don’t like the idea that people don’t get to listen to an album, and they’re not taken down that route. They’re so important to young new artists and songwriters as well because the album is what enables us to tour. I remember, back in the day, when we released White on Blonde, five singles came off the album. How many bands have five singles come off an album nowadays? Record companies just kind of go, “Okay, yeah, whatever,” and move on. How can a young artist form a career and form a sound and a persona when you’ve released two songs off of one freakin’ record that’s taken them two years to do? It’s ridiculous. It’s absolute madness. They shoot themselves in the foot because they’re not building a catalogue. And the record industry wonders why it’s got problems. Because you are stupid. That’s why.
“Mr. Haze” was a bit of an outtake. We started working on it, and then the song kind of just went completely in another direction. And then we put the Donna Summer sample on it. “Mr. Haze” was the one that came off of those outtakes turned into something completely new. It was originally because Universal wanted this anniversary record, and we went into the vaults to look and see what there was. And that was what that was; so we were just really inspired by ourselves basically, which sounds absolutely like we’re some kind of mad egomaniacs.
I think we’ve been quite lucky in the sense that, because we weren’t part of any scene, we didn’t follow a sound. You hear “I Don’t Want a Lover,” and, to me, it stands up to the test of time. It still sounds good. Because it’s simple. There’s always a simplicity to what we do. We’re not trying to get the sound of the moment. We just are who we are, and we make the record. Don’t get me wrong, we try to make everything always sound current, and things have moved and things have changed. But we don’t follow instrumental trends or anything like this is the newest keyboard sound, and we must have that.
I mean, there are moments where we will be making a record and think, Oh, we want that particular ’80s sound. You can hear that on “Look What You’ve Done.” It’s got that ’80s sound to it with the little keyboard, and I sang with Clare Grogan from Altered Images. But as far as production sense, we’ll always try and make it sound current, but that doesn’t mean that we’re following the trend of the moment. If you go back to something like “Say What You Want” and “Black Eyed Boy” or “Inner Smile,” all those songs still sound good.
We probably made that record with Wu-Tang Clan two weeks before I had the meeting with the BRIT Awards committee. They’re known for collaborations where they get two people to sing together and do some kind of duet. Jamiroquai had sung with Diana Ross, and there were all these different things. They were like, “Okay, so we want you to do a mash-up this year and we think you would be great to sing alongside Smokey Robinson.” And I remember just thinking, I don’t believe these words that are going to come out my mouth, but I’m going to say no. I’d cut off my right arm to sing with Smokey Robinson. I adore him, right? But it was a bit like Steve Carrell; I was like, “BORING!” People are going to expect us to do that. That’s predictable. We’ve just made a record with the Wu-Tang Clan, how about we get you the Wu-Tang Clan and Method Man, and they were like, “Ooo. Ooo! Ooo.”
It was a great time. I remember the Spice Girls coming to my dressing room and saying, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, can you please introduce us to Method Man?” And I was like, “Well, sure. Let me ask him if it’s okay.” And I went into his dressing room, and I was like, “Listen, the Spice Girls want to meet you,” and he was like, “Hell yeah.” I remember they were all over him. They were just like, “Oh my God,” and he was just like a Cheshire Cat when he met all the Spice Girls. They just adored him.
“I Don’t Want a Lover” was the first song that we ever wrote together. It’s funny because it was so influenced by the soundtrack for the movie Paris, Texas, but it seems the most like Glasgow. Scotland is big and open and sparse and gray and cold. We have this dream of America, and this idea of America, but it’s so similar to where we’re from; it’s weird if you look at the obsession in Scottish music with country and folk in America. We have a Grand Ole Opry and everything in Glasgow. I guess it’s probably from original folk music and everything that we feel close to it.
I’m a great believer that once you’ve written a song, and you put the record out, it’s no longer your song. It’s everybody’s song. I love the interpretation of what a song is. If you lined up ten people and said, “What is that song about,” they’re all going to tell you something completely different. Because what we do is we form a song into our own story. That’s what makes a hit record, to relate to their own lives. So, when we make videos, I love that it’s an interpretation of a video director hearing it. It’s always really great fun. I love the fact that we play with words that can mean so many different things. So, it never changes what I think the song’s about because the song will always be what it’s about for me. When you’re writing it, it is such a strong moment: You remember how you write it, what was in your head, what you were writing about. That will always be yours when you hear it.
I don’t know any artist that enjoys making videos. Every time they say it’s time to make videos, I’ll go, “Oh fuck.” And then I’ll go and make videos and I’ll have unbelievable good fun. I mean, some of the videos that we’ve made — dancing the tango with Alan Rickman, that was one of the best days of our life. We had the most fun because we had to learn and do the tango as well; we spent a week doing dance lessons together. We laughed so much, and I found a great, great, true friend. I miss him madly. I’ve made videos with Jean Reno, which is based on Wings of Desire, where we’re on top of the building in Liverpool where he is my angel. I’ve just done a video with Tommy Flanagan, one of my oldest friends from when we were 14 years old.
I did the video for “Hi” as well with Kadeem [Ramsay]. And we laughed so much because it was great when the video director said to me, “How do you feel about getting in the trunk of the car?” Because I didn’t want to be in the video originally. And she was like, “No, I think it’d be really good if you were in the video right at the end. And how do you feel about being in the trunk of a car?” And I was like, “Oh my God, that’s such a good idea. Bring it on.”
The only time I hate making videos is when video directors go, “And you’re going to be standing, gazing out the window romantically —” And I’m like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Like, when people say to me things like, “Okay, you’re going to be Elvis.” I’m like, “Yes!” You know, stuff like that is just the best fun ever. You have to go get your head cast to become Elvis. It’s just absolutely great. There are times where it’s amazing. But that one moment when you made a record and they say, “Right, we need to start getting video ideas” and you’re like [exasperated sound]. It’s horrible.
I don’t think of myself as one. The only time I do … it’s great when you need a table. [Laughs.] But it’s never been that important in my life. I don’t think about it to be completely honest with you. It was never about that for me. I think it’s really sad when you see people that that is what it’s all about. And it’s blatantly obvious as well. But we need people like that. Everybody can’t be the same.
The other thing that saddens me is that the celebrity thing seems to be so much more important now than it ever was for young people. I know that when I started, I just wanted everybody on the planet to hear our records. But do I want every single person on the planet to know my face for all the wrong reasons? No, I don’t. I want them to know my face for being a great songwriter and musician and being true to what it is I believe in. Monica Lewinsky is fucking famous, but she’s famous for sucking the president’s cock. Anybody can be famous. Is it famous or infamous? It’s however you view it. But it’s easy to be famous. It’s not easy to leave a legacy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
For the umpteenth time: It’s from Wim Wenders’s 1984 movie, Paris, Texas.