by SashaS

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  More on: Racine

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Racine's Wendy James: 'rocking' babe
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Racine: Wendy James makes a patchy return

Wendy James was the heart, soul, face and voice of Transvision Vamp, until she withdrew into a career stocktaking. Back with Racine she is promoting debut album ‘Racine Number One’: the petite, peroxide-blonde/pale skinned Wendy fronts two other musicians for a show that revolves around using tapes and guitars [she strums on most of the tracks] with live drums for an uneven show mainly due to the material: too eclectic for cohesive show and during the set it becomes even clearer that ‘Number One’ is actually a collection of recordings by a true music lover.

There are pop, rock, punk, electro, dancey, reggae tracks that, reprehensibly nowadays, send majority of listeners into a state of perplexity. It also becomes plain what she means by qualifying her music [on official website] as “Godard rock”: it is a mix of elements somehow appearing not to fit but, magically, the disparate segments provide the complete picture.

The way the set is presented onstage is more like songs to be entertained by but failing to invite you in, leaving you like an outside onlooker. She’s certainly moved away from the Transvision Vamp days but you’d rightfully expect Robert Plant to play Led Zeppelin classics… New songs - ‘Heavy Metal Dude’, ‘That’s The Breaks, Junior’, recent single ‘Grease Monkey’, ‘Cakewalk’ - roll on but…

A week later we catch up with Wendy and pick up her story some seven years ago, when her solo album ‘Out Of The Limelight’ failed to happen - “Nobody was interested”, Ms James dismisses it casually. She retreated to her house on the verge of the London’s arty quarter of Nothing Hill Gate...

“I decided to take my time and learn to play instruments. All of them, I wanted to make an album, an independent, truly solo album. And, you know - it takes long time to make an album when you don’t actually play any instruments… You can’t miracle them up and have to work hard on it. All my time has been fulfilled with this process…”

“I wanted to be ready to come out and do it my way. I’ve done everybody else’s and it is time to do it the way I see it, as serious musician making songs that have something deeper to offer than just the light-hearted, ephemeral pop… During these years I was very disciplined, to the point of obsession and you have to be. It’s really difficult to maintain such work ethic without seeing results but it was the only way that I could liberate my creativity; I spent all my time writing songs…”

At what point did you decide to relocate to New York City and for what reason in particular?

“I simply fell in love with the city, with its skyline, there is nothing like it in the whole world. I upped and left London about three years ago. I also wanted some change and challenge in my life…”

With the album released on your own [K-Play Recordings] label, you are in total control of your career; was that part of your planned re-emergence?

“Very much so, it is very DIY, you can do it all yourself and you only need distribution. So, you arrive at this point after many, many years of searching and you own your music, you exploit yourself. Record labels have helped place me in certain position but now I can exploit myself.”

Has the business, on the whole, become more democratic than, let’s say, ten years ago?

“Very much so and I think it’s never been better for the female stars. Everybody has an equal chance and it all depends how tough your are, or how persistent. I live in America and listen to a lot of Hip-hip and I feel it’s never been so fresh and exciting and a lot of it is revolutionary. I’m not a great fan of Destiny’s Child or J-Lo but their records are well produced and quite sexy and I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

You are too generous…

“No; listen, you know the Simpsons’ girls [Jessica and Ashley], I really like them! I think they are great, making pure pop music and there’s nothing wrong with it. Whether male or female, all you need is balls of steel in this business.”

That, many claim, has dumbed down so much that anything inventive is bound to be marginalized; what are you expectations?

“It could be the minority’s taste but things grow and my music has the capacity… In the beginning it is only people who are on the lookout for something fresh, new… It can grow from there and why people dig something - it is unfathomable. Still, I believe people will discover it when they are ready for it. I’ve even invented a new title for it - ‘Godard rock’.”

“‘Godard rock’ means that it functions the same way as his films but on the aural level: his moves were low-budget but full of incredible ideas, there were freaks, wit, and it was never aggressively opinionated. It was always subtle, it seemed than nothing was connecting but then, in the end, it all made a sense. And I’m sure my music is very similar in that respect and am sure that I write music the same way Godard made his films.”

“It’s like a personal diary of everything that went into… the way I‘m, the way I work and the way I see things. And, at the same time, I decided not to worry about anything but do my own thing and get on with it.”

You’ve poured your passion and obsession, one feels you invested your soul into it, covering variety of styles whilst making very personal statement…

“Well, mine is not an album that is like the albums that have been made over the past several years… It reflects my personality and it wasn’t planned to be diverse on purpose, it is about me and my taste in music. And, you have to wait until you hear my next one, it is crazy, it is out-there, it is without rules and regulations… I’ve almost finished writing it. I‘m just printing out lyrics for my band to learn them.”

All we’ve been talking about is work-work-work; how about play?

“I believe there is time to play and there is time to party! Whilst I was playing London I managed only a couple of hours sleep few nights in a row; I was even on a morning radio programme, via a telephone, for half-an-hour, from by bed!”

How about emotional, private life, a man…?

“My emotional life? Well, there is none really and I don’t have much of a private life. There is no one in my life but I’ve not given up looking! It’s also hard to explain to a man that I need 20 hours a day for music and doubt any of them would accept it. Not even a fellow musician, in my experience.”

Wendy James is still as charged and charismatic as she is a tantalizing frau-fatale.

Live dates:

30 May - The Jailhouse, Coventry
31 May - Cargo, London
01 June - Eyelash at Pop (14 Soho St), London
03 June - Café de Paris, London
04 June - The Tower Arts Centre, Winchester
05 June - Charlotte (8 Oxford St), London
06 June - Academy 3, Manchester
07 June - Fibbers (Barfly), York

Racine's album 'Racine Number One' is available now on Pia-K Recordings/One Little Indian