Success can come and go very quickly, but Starsailor prove that with a bit of luck and a lot of talent there is security to be found between critical and commercial success. Seán McGovern talks to bassist James Stelfox.
A BAND SHOT to fame by the elusive lucky break, it was Starsailor’s first encounter with NME journalist James Oldham that proved to be the fortuitous chance they had been waiting for. The small review of a live performance highlighted a particular talent amidst all the other struggling artists.
After this hugely positive review, the band had their pick of record labels, settling with EMI who allowed them time to hone their craft and create their debut record Love is Here the way they wanted, a sound they are ready to return to for their new album All the Plans. “A record label is a bit like a bank, isn’t it really?” says Stelfox. “They gave us free reign really, they said ‘when you’re happy, we’re happy’”. Starsailor met critical and commercial acclaim and the album reached number two in the UK charts.
After the success of their debut, the follow up, Silence is Easy, found them collaborating with Phil Spector, but after working on two songs they went their separate ways because of creative differences. However when asked about the importance of a producer for their music, Stelfox is positive. “The band has the vision of the song and the producer is there to give his own interpretation of it.”
One of Starsailor’s most popular hits was ‘Four to the Floor’, which brought the band international success, giving them a number one in France and fairing very successfully across the rest of Europe. This put them at ease and let them know that they “were doing the right thing”.
“You need to connect to the public really, a certain amount obviously liked it but it didn’t live up to the last two records”
By the time that Starsailor were making an impact they found that they were getting a reaction not just from fans and the press but from their musical peers. However, the reaction was not necessarily positive.
Liam Gallagher was quoted in 2004 to have made unfavourable remarks about the band. Stelfox speaks light-heartedly of this, saying that “he said some horrible things but I think it’s just like being in the playground, really.” Of Jay-Z, another artist who has been subject to Gallagher’s sharp tongue, he says “I think it’s great that Jay-Z headlined Glastonbury, I mean it was 2008!”
Starsailor found success abroad, but felt very much like they were being overlooked domestically. While the reviews for On the Outside were positive, the sales did not equal the acclaim, the album’s title identifying just how the band was feeling. Touring South America with The Killers in 2007, Starsailor saw their own situation in an American counterpart.
In a recent interview, Killers frontman Brandon Flowers spoke of his disillusionment with the American press, and how Europe is critically and commercially more accepting. While the reviews of On the Outside were in the band’s favour it was less commercially sucessful than the two previous records.
Stelfox admits that although the opinions of the critics are relevant, ultimately it is the public who decide upon success or failure of an act. “You need to connect to the public really, a certain amount obviously liked it but it didn’t live up to the last two records… I don’t know why that is.”
By serendipitous circumstances, the then-unknown fate of EMI gave Starsailor time to reflect, and better yet, time to perfect their sound. There was no delivery date for an album, and while many bands were dropped from the label, Starsailor were moved to V2, a subsidiary of EMI. As Stelfox says of producer Steve Osborne, “He said, ‘I think On the Outside was a good album but I think it was the wrong album”.
It seems that Starsailor were allowed what many bands were not, a chance to make a mistake, and hopefully, to correct it.
Starsailor’s new album All the Plans is released on March 8th. They they play The Academy on April 16th.