Sharleen Spiteri talks sexism in the music industry, Texas and Henrik Larsson
The frontwoman of Texas since her teens, Sharleen Spiteri tells Richard Purden about being a geek, sexism in the music industry, and the pain of losing her mum during lockdown
AS WELL as releasing a new LP, Texas are marking 30 Years since Southside. Both are belated thanks to Covid but the celebration of their 1989 debut album will be worth the wait.
A second night has been added at the Waterfront Hall where the band will play in February next year.
It was back in January 1989 that Texas delivered a memorable performance on Top of the Pops where Spiteri’s stage presence and guitarist Ally McErlaine’s moody slide-guitar on their first top-ten hit I Don’t Want A Lover summoned the faded glamour of American diners and red convertibles.
McErlaine also appeared on the single’s cover sporting a long quiff while playing a Gibson 335, adding a further layer of 50s Americana.
“We based everything on Life magazine,” says Spiteri down the line from her home in London, “like the big red block and white lettering (on the band logo) and everything else being black and white.”
Joining the band as a teenager, Spiteri was a pop-culture obsessive.
“Music was always my escape. I used to love going to the record shop on a Saturday and I’d buy a single and a plastic sleeve. I’d go back to my bedroom where Siouxsie Sioux was painted on my bedroom wall," she recalls.
“I guess what people never realise is that real bands and musicians are geeks, we spend our youth as geeks and we turn into these rock stars.”
With a recent fall of snow in May it's no surprise that the hardy Glaswegian is pulling a jumper over her head during our interview. The image is a reminder of the 1997 Texas album cover White On Blonde. Spiteri’s big eyes and thick lashes peering out from under a black pullover summoned a timeless allure and chic during the dominant lad mag era. It was an aesthetic that assisted a string of top-10 hits turning the album into a 6x platinum seller.
“If Chris Evans had not done that big hee-haw about there not being enough records in the shops and the lawyer at Universal hadn’t heard it on his drive to work that morning we might have a very different story.”
Evans playing Say What You Want on his Radio 1 Breakfast Show and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t find a copy of the record on national radio was a lightning rod moment for the album that went on to sell over 1.8 million copies.
Unreleased tracks from the sessions which began more than 25 years ago have inspired the band’s 11th long player, Hi.
“We went into the archive and found some songs that were really good but never finished. After that we ended up writing a lot of songs and decided to make a completely new record,” Spiteri says.
Spiteri, along with Texas co-founder/co-writer/bass player Johnny McElhone, were charmed by the last-shot-at-the-title energy of the sessions. She suggests “we were fighting for our careers at the time, trying to prove that Texas were still relevant.”
Mr Haze contains a sample of Donna Summer’s Love’s Unkind which was partly written for White On Blond. You Can Call Me, on the new album, recalls Say What You Want, while the recent single Hi reunited the band's collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan who featured on an alternative version of the same track.
The album also provided an opportunity for Spiteri to duet with McElhone’s former Altered Images bandmate Clare Grogan.
“We were doing Look What You’ve Done and we thought why not record a duet with Clare? And also I’ve never done a duet with a woman before – I thought, this could be interesting.
"We also did a version with [producer] Mike Chapman. I had never worked with him until now but he has always come in and out of our lives in Texas through Johnny. With all that history and his records with Blondie etc, we thought why don’t we get him to do a mix? We’ll put that out at some point.”
Hi was put on hold as the world came to terms with the pandemic. Spiteri was also coping with a personal loss.
“I felt a Texas record was not going to cheer the world up and, having just lost my mother at the start of the first lockdown, I wasn’t in the headspace for it. It’s like losing part of yourself," she explains.
"Mates would say: ‘You’re in the club; you get it now’… Wow, did I get it. My father has Parkinson’s and dementia so I’ve been having to deal with my dad being looked after and all that stuff with my sister and my niece.
"My niece also had a son, the first boy in our family. I have to say what a positive moment that was when this new child was born. It’s been a really emotionally happy/sad time.”
As a band frontwoman since the late 80s, with a string of hit records, Spiteri expresses her disgust at the still male-dominated, London-centric industry.
“Without a doubt, if we were an English male-fronted band with an over 30-year career selling 40 million albums we’d be a big deal – it’s as simple as that. And if someone doesn’t agree then they don’t know what the f*** they are talking about because that is the absolute truth. It’s a ‘jobs for the boys’ thing.”
With sexual misconduct allegations in the music industry coming to light in recent years are things changing?
“Very slowly, the ar***oles go underground when things come to light. The thing is, 90 per cent of men are saying, ‘We’re disgusted and please don’t let us get tarred with this brush. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen as women.' We don’t want men to fight the battle for us, we want you to fight alongside us and stand side by side.”
Before we wrap, I ask the well-known Celtic fan how she is feeling at the end of a tough season. Understandably it’s not something up for discussion but she does reveal one of her prized possessions.
“I have a fantastic photo of Henrik Larsson playing FIFA on the Playstation with all my nieces and nephews… I love Henrik Larsson.”
Hi is released on May 28.