WENDY JAMES / TRANSVISION VAMP INTERVIEW
Wendy James isn’t stupid. She may have oozed pure sex on Transvision Vamp’s video for ‘I Want Your Love’, but her voice is crisply dry and very rarely rises to more than a polite insistance. As she holds court, promoting Transvision Vamp’s latest tour de force – ‘Baby I Don’t Care’ – to a gaggle of music journalist, it is obvious that, contrary to what some have suggested, she has something to say and is prepared to give time to those who are genuinely interested. But she can’t tolerate answering dumb questions – and they’re just the kind that everyone asks her.
Wendy James is often caught talking about the use of sex, but today it isn’t something that she seems totally happy discussing. But when forced, she’s still assertive with her opinions, making it clear that sex is an incidental by-product of a personality and not a weapon…
“At the end of the day, I don’t think that sex should be sold at all,” she says, fingering the edge of her 20 Silk Cut with the manner of someone who really does smoke a bit too much. “If somebody is sexy it’s inevitable that it will add to why that person is doing well, but I don’t think that sex should be sold in the same manner as saying ‘Hey, I look great, so pay me some money’.
What about the intelligent use of sex, selling yourself with the kind of business acumen that Samantha Fox or Nick Kamen bring into play?
“I don’t see that as intelligent at all,” she argues, “I just don't think there's any real basis on which you can just sell sex, unless you've got nothing else to sell… in which case you shouldn't be selling yourself anyway.”
Nevertheless, Wendy James has talked about sex a great deal in the last year.
“Well, a lot of the time last year, people were asking me to explain why I appeared the way I appeared, and now I think I’ve spent enough time explaining it and I’m not going to bother talking about it. Here I am – you know what Wendy James is about to a certain extent. You either like it or you don’t, take it or leave it. I’m not going to talk about it any more because I think I’ve done enough explaining. That’s it!”
Well that’s that subject exhausted, or is it? Like many of today’s more successful pop acts, Transvision Vamp are a very image conscious band – a band that like to keep a close watch on their public face. If it were possible to copywrite the image of the blonde bomshell, she would have done just that. As it is, she won’t let photographers near her unless they’re specially commissioned. Is this another case of style over content or does she find controlling her image to be as important as controlling her songs?
“No, I just don’t want to be abused,” she explains. “A lot of photographers, especially photographers that syndicate photographs throughout the whole world, they take advantage. They make loads and loads of money out of taking one crap shot as you’re walking out of a hotel – and that thing won’t happen! It’s my life, my music, I look the way I look… and I welcome anyone that’s interested in me, it’s wonderful that people are interested – but I won’t have the piss taken out of me, not by anyone.”
It seemed like 1988 was almost the year of the blonde bombshell – but Wendy James doesn’t recall it as such…
“I’m not aware of that at all,” she insists. “Transvision Vamp are so radically different to the Darling Buds and The Primitives. We don’t sound a thing like them and the only reason we got put in with them is because of my blonde hair, but it could have been anyone. I don’t care about things like that. It’s got nothing to do with my music.”
Wendy is right in asserting the supremacy of Transvision Vamp over their indie girl pop rivals, but her earlier off-tape interest in the new Darling Buds album (“Is it crap?” she enquired of a Record Mirror scribe) shows that she is more sensitive to the comparisons than she tries to make out. But Transvision Vamp have more to offer than any of their rivals, partly due to the charisma of Wendy, but largely because of the songwriting talents of the Vamp’s guitarist, Nick Christian Sayer. Wendy is obviously the focal point of the band, but as Nick’s songs are so important to their longevity, it seems strange that the guitarist never appears for the press.
“He can’t bare the idea of talking to strangers,” she explains. “He’d just rather let the music speak for what he does.”
But how does Wendy feel, being asked to talk about somebody else’s creative composition?
“It’s not like somebody else had written it,” she says. “He comes up with the guitar, I write the melody, then I take it to the rest of the boys and they put their tunes on. Nick gets the credit because he’s the ideas man, he thinks of the initial idea for that song, so it’s only right that he should get the credit.”
Wendy has already experienced the urges to write her own songs, but won’t unleash any onto the public until she feels she’s reached the required standard. “My songs aren’t as good as Nick’s,” she quips, “and my musical knowledge of the history of pop records and rock records isn’t as large as Nick’s. But we collaborate, we live together and we talk about it all the time.”
Oddly enough, Wendy James had never thought about being in a rock’n’roll band until Nick suggested the idea. As a young teenager she had been a regularly gig goer, listening to music as varied as X Ray Spex, The Clash, The Pretenders, Blondie, Two Tone, and Bob Marley, but her voice had only been given an airing in stage musicals.
“I didn’t have any aspirations to be a rock singer at all,” she admits. “I used to go to gigs all the time but because I was never surrounded by the kind of people that wanted to form bands, it was never a feasible idea. I sung in lots of stage productions, but I spent all my time going to gigs. I never thought that the two would crossover.”
But if you’re someone who has never contemplated going on stage with a band, the early days of her rock’n’roll career must have been a bit nerve-racking, mustn’t they?
“The first few gigs were really frightening because I’d never done it before and Transvision Vamp is my first group,” she concedes, “but Nick and Tex and Dave had all had experience of other bands and they just said ‘well let’s just go out there and enjoy ourselves for ourselves and not worry about whether the crowd like it, because if we’re any good they will, and if we’re not they’ll let us know’. That’s just the only rule really – you can’t tailor yourself to satisfy an audience, you have to do what you like and if they want to join in, they will.
“Singing in a band was something that I had to learn to do really, because I was used to singing in big theatres in stage productions and that’s very different from being in a rock’n’roll band where you feed off other musicians.”
And now that success has arrived, Wendy still has a strong affection for the early days of travelling around the country in a Transit van.
“The first tour was really brilliant,” she recalls. “We were playing to between 300 and 600 each night, very small venues where everyone was just hot and sweaty and it was just brilliant fun because people used to climb in the van after the gig and come back to the hotel with us and just doss down there for the night. And consequently we’ve got a really hardcore of followers who have been there since the beginning, who we still recognize and they come up and say ‘Hiya’ and we all know each other. There’s a really good community of Transvision Vamp followers, right from the early days.”
So, despite the chart hits, you’ve managed to retain your credibility with their old following. Right?
“Oh, definitely, even after ‘I Want Your Love’… And I remember we did a gig the night the album went in at number one, and we said: ‘look guys, we’ve got a number one album’ and there was all this cheering and it was like, ‘Well, we put it there, we’re fucking pleased about it!’
“I just had my birthday in the middle of January and about a hundred of them had met up from various areas around the country and all come down to my local pub and they had this massive cake and flowers and it was brilliant.”
Transvision Vamp plunder youth cult and pop culture images for both their visual and musical inspiration. Last year’s debut album, audaciously called ‘Pop Art’, featured a song about Andy Warhol. Doesn’t it worry Miss James that 1988 might have been, using the legendary Warhol quote, their 15 minutes of fame?
“No… No, no, no, no, no, no, no!” she says, shaking her head in an adamant punctuation.
Does she feel any pressure to live up to what she’s already achieved?
Is she still enjoying what she’s doing?
Do you not think that…?
No,” she interrupts sharply. “I love making music and the day I don’t is the day we won’t. I love it, I don’t have to live up to anything but my own expectations.”
Well, it will be fun while it lasts.
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007