Sharleen Spiteri talks Texas's new album Hi, an LP inspired by a dig through the vaults...
Originally when Sharleen Spiteri and the rest of Scottish rockers Texas assembled, it was with the intention of working on lost outtakes from the sessions for their 1997 chart-topping White On Blonde, which sold over four million copies worldwide.
While they all enjoyed that trip down memory lane, in the end, the band scrapped that plan and focused on new material, with the result being a new album, Hi, which arrives in stores this week.
The album is a diverse LP, with the band moving from rock to soul to country and everywhere in between. Among the LP’s tracks are a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan, a song written with Richard Hawley and a duet with Clare Grogan of Altered Images.
With Hi out now, we spoke to Spiteri about how looking back inspired this new album and how the band have kept going during the pandemic...
The genesis for this album got started when you began to look through the tracks from the White On Blonde sessions, how did it move on from there?
“We went into the vaults at Universal. They were looking to do an anniversary edition for White On Blonde, so they were looking for different versions of the hits from that album, just extra stuff for a reissue. Within that, we found some unreleased tracks, two or three bits. One of those was ‘Mr Haze’, which was maybe half a song. We’d written that back in 1996 and we were all listening going “Do you remember that?”. But we’d never finished it. So we decided to finish it. We went back, stuck a Donna Summer sample on it, wrote a chorus and we loved it. And from there, we kept writing and decided we’d make a whole new album.”
Just like that?
“It was weird. We didn’t discuss it, we didn’t set goals or decide what kind of album we wanted it to be, we just wrote and wrote. At the same time, we were making this documentary about the making of ‘Say What You Want’ with the Wu-Tang Clan. We’d decided to do a documentary but we really didn’t want to do the kind of one where you walk around your old haunts and see where you went to school.”
“We decided we’d focus on one period in the band’s life, a point that changed everyone’s perception of what Texas was. As part of that documentary, I had a sit down with RZA and we chatted about everything. At the end of the chat, RZA says to me “We should make another record together”. We’d already written ‘Hi’ and I looked at Johnny (McElhone, bassist), who was off-camera, and said “That’s the song for him”. It was classic, it has that big Ennio Morricone feel, that swagger. He went away and worked on it with Ghostface Killah.”
There are some other great guests on the record too…
“There’s a duet with Claire Grogan from Altered Images on ‘Look What You’ve Done and we’ve written again with Richard Hawley on ‘Dark Star’. He was brilliant.”
It’s a hard record to pin down…
“On paper, you’re going “What is this?”. You’ve got disco, folk, country, synthy 80s stuff, a lot going on. On paper, it doesn’t work. But, when you put it on, it does, it all connects. It’s our love and passion for music. It’s a celebration.”
How did Universal take it when you decided you weren’t going to do the White On Blonde reissue?
“They’ll still get that, they can still have it, the catalogue is still there. We just said “We’re doing a new record”.”
What’s the vault like? Is it the treasure trove it sounds like?
“It’s a giant warehouse with temperature gauges everywhere. All the tapes everywhere of every record Universal owns, up to a point, then everything is on a hard drive. It’s an amazing place to go. You’re talking about big cases with big cases that need to be put on tape machines. For me, as that’s how we started when we first made records, it’s a great place to go and geek out. Maybe a young person would find it old fashioned, but the way those records sound, it just connects to my heartstrings.”
You see it in documentaries, an engineer sat there with a razor blade, literally cutting tape…
“I loved that. I loved seeing them do it, working with the machines, the differently shaped grooves you could get, how it made the song sound. The freedom you have now is so much greater when you make records. You could have 17 ideas spliced into a single song. It’s so different.”
Does having that much freedom make it paralyzing?
“As musicians, we’ve gone through so many changes. Technology that used to cost millions and seemed unaffordable for everybody, now it’s everywhere. I remember when we started using drum machines, everyone was convinced it was the end of drummers. You end up combining the old and the new. Musicians are sad, sorry geeks, people who nobody liked at school, and if you have a hit you just become a geek with a hit record. We’re all obsessed with technology, trying to mix it with what you already know and use it to your advantage.”
Was it a quick process once you’d committed to a new album?
“It took a good few months. We weren’t in any rush. We ended up just finishing before the first lockdown and it was all mixed. Then, unfortunately, my mum got sick and unexpectedly died and that changed everything. I felt very sensitive to everyone else’s loss and the situation with the pandemic heightened what I was already feeling. Much as the record company wants you to put the album out, I just said to them “Are you f**king joking? Get a grip. People are dying. You think a Texas record is going to save anyone? Shut the f**k up”. We held it. I was in no fit state to promote a record. My heart wouldn’t have been in it and my heart really is in this album. It seemed so unimportant.”
“As time went on, I felt like there were quite a few things that I needed to express and I really felt I could only do that in a song. We wrote three more in lockdown that made the record. We ended up writing weirdly. Johnny was in Glasgow, I was in Wales, Angelica Bjornsson, who writes with us, was in Sweden, and Jack McElhone, who we always work with, was in LA and we wrote over Zoom. It was good. I don’t want to write like that all the time, but it worked. That’s where ‘Look What You’ve Done’ came from.”
Which has Clare Grogan from Altered Images…
“Johnny used to be in the band and we’ve had her come onstage with us in Glasgow and at the Albert Hall. Our voices sat really well together on that song, two women really complementing each other. It gives it another direction. Being able to do that, to have time to tinker with the album, to be able to fine-tune it, that was a really important time.”
It’s a good time to be coming back out…
“It feels like it’s the right time. We were very conscious about seasons. You know if you’ve made a summer record or a winter record. This is a sunny, upbeat album, ready for what we hope is a positive time ahead.”
You’ve got a big tour booked for next year, are you back practising yet?
“We’ve had lots of TV sessions to record for shows in Europe. A couple of full hour and a half sets and it’s been great just to be back playing in a rehearsal room. Just to be singing in full voice again.”
It’s been a very odd time for bands generally, you’re so used to living in each other’s pockets...
“Really strange. It’s weird existence being in a band, there’s nothing else like it. You live together, you eat together, you’ve known each other for forever and you know each other’s lives inside out. Suddenly not seeing each other was odd, but we kept in touch and it’s been great to be back.”