David Bowie use to say "If you are going to become a star, first you have to start thinking you are." Wendy James of Transvision Vamp thinks that way. Unconsciously or not she has been studying great blondes in popular culture and picked up their attitudes.
She spouts off about animal rights and the environment like Brigette Bardot, she cares about human rights in South America like Jane Fonda, she's sex kittenish without being sluttish like Debbie Harry and she flirts with he female version of sex sells like Madonna.
Transvision Vamp have become what Sigue Sigue Sputnik should have been - they took a lightweight mix of punk attitudes and guitar rock riffs from the last 30 years and peddled it off as high art. As pop music it's infinitely more lasting and acceptable that Kyliepop, they've put two singles in the top 10 both here and in Britain, sold over 100,000 copies of their debut album Pop Art and have a new LP out called Velveteen.
The current hit 'Baby I Don't Care' sums up the way their music's been going - rockier, louder and sexier. Velveteen comes closer to that than Pop Art. But music's only half the story for them. Right now girls wanna look, talk and think like Wendy James.
They think she is independent and headstrong. She is, but her lover and guitarist Nick. C. Sayer has played a big part in it all. He noticed her in November '83 in a posey club in the seaside resort town of Brighton, where she was a pouting blonde with bright pink lipstick spitting Patti Smith lyrics over a badly recorded backing tape. He saw dollar signs in her, got talking, and they started to write a film script about people who live on a planet called Saturn 5.
They saw Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the all-concept 21st century band on TV one day and moved to London and hustled themselves a deal. "I Want Your Love" took off for them . These days Wendy James and Transvision Vamp are virtually the same, the rest of the band Dave Parsons (bass), Tex Axile(Keys) and Pol Burton(drums) hardly get a look in.
Do the other band members mind it Wendy?
They've never said anything so I'd have to say no. Actually I think that they love it they way it is, they are very much happy to be in the back ground making music they like to without all the hassle of being recognized. They can go fishing without being disturbed. I've started to realize what I have landed myself into.
Started to feel any regrets?
"No I have no regrets, If I did not want all this I would look different and not the way I do. But I've made a decision not to be a party animal and to keep away from the whole press and publicity traps.
Do you find that your male fans treat you with respect?
"They do know, but it was a different story in the beginning.. When I stepped out on stage I use to get booed and wolf-whislted. Men tried to intimidate me by being macho but I use to say things that would shut them up. I could always deal with the males of that mind."
What did you use to say ?
"I don't think it's printable. I comment on their below the belts parts. I know where it can hurt the most."
Your debut album knodded in the direction of nostalgia for the late Andy Warhol with the song called Andy Warhol's Dead...
"He was a great inspiration to us, one of the very few people who understood pop culture. That's why we titled our album Pop Art."
He also said that ' Art is what you can get away with'.
We know it and we that a lot of today's music is really just a trash city sound track. We give people something to think about...
Individual revolution is what you offer; What do you think about it?
"What we are saying is that a change is good, it's for everybody and it can make things exciting. If we all tried then the world can be a much better place." "
'Revolution Baby' was a song with the most hopeful idea in it... The day people change themselves, there will be no conflicts in the world anymore...That will be the day of the real human revolution."
"Would you say that your songs are lyrically responsible to your listeners?
"Certainly and although it's been the case for a long time, we've become more aware of it lately. We've grown from a band that was exciting to go and see play live to a band that has something important to say . And be heard."
Do you think that people concentrate on the lyrics with your looks?
"I don't exploit my sexuality for our success and really pay attention to our music and performance. If people find me sexy then that's up to them. I'm also sure there are alot of people out there who don't think I'm sexy."
Do you think you help things with your micro-skirt?
"I'm not everybody's sexual dream and I wear what I like to... I remember an anecdote about Marilyn Monroe when Joan Crawford complained that MM was getting attention only because of the type of dresses she wore.
So the film studio put Marilyn into a potato sack and she looked stunning. What we are talking about is much the same thing. The question whether I am your type or not doesn't really affect wether our records were played on the radio, entered the charts and had a message...
A lot of British critics wrote badly about you; why do you think it is so?
"Because they don't understand us and instead of criticizing our music they criticize the band because of the way I look... And not everybody likes me as I have said before."
Are you enjoying the touring part of your career?
"I do as I am a music addict. But it can get to much sometimes and I ask myself, 'Why do I do it at all?' I sometimes think that I'd be happier if I worked in a shop, got married and had children. Then in the evening I get out on stage and forget everything... fatigue, worries, doubts...And for the live show, it is great."
What music do you take with you when you are touring?
"I always take The Clashes albums with me as I consider them to be the best rock 'n' roll band ever; in my lifetime at least. I watch all those old videos and the way Joe Strummer sang on stage is exactly how I'd like to sing. So I always make sure there is plenty of Clash on the tour bus."
You listened to The Clash and Blondie when you met Nick did he turn you on to anything else?
"Yeah he did, Bob Dylan is the one, but the first thing he ever gave me to listen o was Lou Reed's Transformer album. He told me that Lou wasn't the greatest singer in the world but he meant every word that he sang. The I listened to a lot of Dylan's Desire album... My favorite track of his, 'It's alright Ma, I am only bleeding'."
What was the last album you bought?
"As we were on tour and then entered the studio. I wasn't buying much music lately...The last record I bought was the Big Audio Dynamite album and I was fairly disappointed.
Have you ever listened to the Beatles?
What would be your favorite track by them?
"I've always like their rocking stuff so it would be Helter Skelter."
I thought you would be a Rolling Stones fan.
"I've always been a fan of their songs, so choosing one can be rather difficult. Perhaps 'Let's Spend The Night Together', because it's rock and it's saying something."
Were you ever into Elvis Presley?
"Why don't you ask me about The Who? I loved that band the best. I've never listened to Elvis really."
How about Prince? You couldn't have surpassed him?
"No I haven't listened to him a lot and my favorite by him is let's go crazy ( from the purple rain soundtrack ) there is a lot of energy there."
A lot of people considered you the Artist of '88, who was your find last year?
"Sinead O Connor; you might think that she was 1987, but no she didn't. She was the one really doing something different and managing to shock in these times where it is impossible to shock."
What's your favorite song by another artist, one that you wish you had written yourself?
"If I were to sing it only, it would be something by Chrissie Hynde, as when she does a rock track it is something. To have written one it has to be 'Stay Free' from the The Clashes 'Give 'em enough Rope; It's a classic, It is a song that makes me feel really happy.
Have you got any acting ambitions left?
"No not right now. I use to have it and Nick and I even wrote a film script called Saturn 5. We hope that it will be produced one day. You know what is usually said, a music career, especially videos, is a stepping stone to movies. It's not in my case as I studied in it college ( in Brighton ), but I might get tempted after all.. Right now it is the music that interests me."
To function in which manner?
"To conjour innocence and energy of youth. Thats what music is all about Making people feel different things, isn't that right?
A big myth has grown around how Transvision Vamp climbed their way to the top. For instance, Sigue Sigue Sputnik claim that when Wendy and Nick first arrived in London, they kept ringing them up and hassling them for advice and that finally singer Martin told them to fuck off as they and their songs were shit.
Wendy and Nick say this never happened.
Rather, they had their sights on a guy called Dave Ambrose, the man who discovered the Sex Pistols, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and the Pet Shop Boys. Ambrose was A&R ( talent scout ) for EMI records. EMI was one of two labels interested in Transvision Vamp but when Ambrose became the head of English division of American label MCA, they went with him. He gave them a budget of $100,000 to record their first album.
Ten Months later the American bosses sacked Ambrose and a whole lot of new people were bought into the record company.
The new regime were not sure what to do with Transvision Vamp. Were they going to dump them? The band had a meeting with the new regime and sternly made it clear that they weren't going to be pushed around and if the label was not going to be right behind them they would go elsewhere.
The label managers listened to the tapes of their just finished album. Their hearts sank because the music needed a lot more work. MCA decided to stay with Transvision Vamp but told them some extra work had to be done.
First off all they told them they had to get a proper band together. They also wanted them to do a cover to get on American Radio.
Nick came up with Tell That Girl To Shut Up, It was a great song that had been recorded in the late '70's by an American band called Holly and The Italians but had not been a hit for them. Nick remembers his punk band playing support for the Italians when they toured England.
"Tell That Girl" got airplay in London which allowed the Record company to start promoting Wendy on TV as a personality. The might disown Blondie Comparisons now, but certainly their record company execs were thinking along the same lines as Blondie - a commercial pop/arty band with a dynamic blonde singer out front.
The record was not a hit, but people were taking notice of Wendy and her image. At this point it was 18 months since they signed to MCA and Transvision Vamp were clearly still a liability to their record company. They'd already spent the $100,000 allocated for their first LP but it wasn't 'finished' as yet. More money was needed to remix the tracks and to add more guitars to make it thicker.
The label listened to the tracks for a second single and came up with 'I Want Your Love' The original version by the Vamp's had been a mixture of 50's rock, beatbox and Westworld feel. MCA felt the song was good but the treatment was wrong. They wanted the song re-recorded along the lines of Tell That Girl, Wendy and Nick agreed.
Until then, Transvision Vamp were like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, a great image waiting for great records. But I Want Your Love was a hit, going to Number 3 in England and breaking open new markets in Japan and Australia.
MCA's promotion worked overtime, Wendy was everywhere, on TV spouting off about women's rights, on the cover of credible music magazines and pop glossies, even a sexy mag called Tatler wearing just a record and a hat. True they'd gone right off their original sci fi ideas and suddenly Wendy had become more important than the band. But MCA didn't mind, not only had they proved to their boss's in America they had a big hit on their hands, but suddenly they were looking good. Until then no one in England had approached them to be signed by them. Now that Situation had changed.
But problems arose with Transvision Vamp, the follow up' Revolution Baby' stiffed and so did a remix version. Pop Art was totally remixed by German producer Zeus B. Held for small amount of money, the whole LP was remixed for less cost than the money spent on getting the first two singles right for the British Charts!
Although Revolution Baby and its follow up Sister Moon were not big hits and Pop Art only got lukewarm reviews, Transvision vamp proved themselves on their British Tour. It was a sell-out, with hysterical pop scenes everywhere. Transvision Vamp had arrived.
By 1989 Wendy James had become a household name in Britain, here romance with Roland Rivron (On or off ?) was carried on for months. by the newspapers always looking for gossip.
By March/April MCA Wanted Transvision Vamp to go back out on he road.. Wendy and Nick refused, they wanted another album out MCA didn't particularly want a second Transvision Vamp album out so early but they shrugged and let them go. They were most impressed by the fact that this time the band kept the costs down.
Velveteen gives a stronger indication of how they want to go, and of course 'Baby I Don't Care' has been a hit.
So how do Transvision Vamp get along with their record label get along? With a fair amount of yelling but both willing to get on with their jobs. Nick hasn't been in the company offices most of this year and Wendy sees the label as convenient to get their music. They refuse to let the label pull the strings and aware that one day the label wants them to end up a Dire Straits type band tha