Wendy James is the girl journalists love to hate. With her platinum blonde hair, penchant for flashy and revealing outfits and tendency to say things like "There'll be a point in my career when I win an Oscar." James easily comes across as a bimbo among boys. The twenty-five year old starlet would like to be Madonna fronting The Clash. Unfortunately, over a two album career that has made her a British tabloid fave. James has frequently been to Madonna what Gilligan's Ginger was to Marilyn Monroe : her band of seven years has been to The Clash what The Monkees where to The Rolling Stones.
This may be changing with Transvision Vamp's third album, "Little Magnets vs. The Bubble Of Babble"' released on the eve of a fall tour, shows the band mixing up its tuff, sprightly pop with a mix of sultry grooves and a minimalist Phil Spector atmosphere. The antecedents are still obvious, but the London band seems to be staking out fresh musical ground, somewhere between The Jesus And Mary Chain and Cowboy Junkies. And when James sat down opposite me at MCA's New York Office recently, freckles shone on a cosmetics free face, The Mugler bra that covered her nipples and little else for a FACE cover, had been traded in for a navy sweater from The GAP and she spoke elegantly about the Media, music and get this - feminism.
Evelyn McDonnell : So do you really feel like you're going to win an Oscar? Wendy James : (titters) The reason that statement came about was because the core of the music business in England is very sexist - not blatantly, but (typified by) that subconscious undertone of negativity towards females. I was being interviewed on one particular occasion, and it was almost like I was speaking to my parents. I was being told, fine, you've had your little run with fame, but when are you going to settle down and have children? As though that was the expected result simply because of the nature of my sex. So I retorted, kind of saying, you aint seen nothing yet.
EM : I've got that sense from the press that you're being criticized for being ambitious ; like something was wrong with a woman being ambitious. WJ : The frustrating thing as a female is to see these so called left-of-the-center male journalists praising women who say nothing and do nothing apart from looking pretty. And yet they come down like ton of bricks on any woman who speaks her mind.
EM : Is there anything that inspired you to rebel? To leave home when you were sixteen? WJ : Undoubtedly, the overpowering sense of being caged. I was trapped in this awful you-can't-do-this-you-can't-do-that-and-don't-do-this-and-you-can't-touch-that-and-don't-say-that -just so many don'ts.
EM : What did you see yourself escaping to? WJ : No rules freedom. Being able to breathe again. At the time we were surrounded by punk rock, and that was very good channel for firing young kids up. That's what rock "n' roll is about, helping them come to terms with their dissatisfaction and then doing something about it. That's why I think good rock 'n' roll should be aggressive, whether it's the Sex Pistols or Public Enemy. It's a cliche , but when my parents and teachers were telling me what I couldn't do, The Clash were telling me what I could do.
EM : You've said you're doing this more for women than men. WJ : That was just a quote from a photo session. It wasn't about our music, although I hope there was a more positive effect just from the fact that I'm female and doing it. Same thing as Madonna, she's basically a feminists dream, which is to control her womanhood and still succeed.
EM : The Criticism a lot of people have over Madonna is that although she is in control of her image, it's still an image that fulfills the male fantasy about a blonde woman being very sexual. WJ : But it isn't just a male fantasy. It feels good to be beautiful, and that's something that shouldn't be taken away from a woman. Women are beautiful, hips are beautiful, breast's are beautiful, those curves are beautiful ; we grow beautiful long hair , we're mothers, we're full creatures. Feminism to me is I'm a woman and I'm extremely proud of it and I am going to nurture every element of my womanhood and I'm still going to do exactly what I want.
EM : Yet Madonna's had to change her appearance somewhat to come across as beautiful. She had to dye her hair, wear make-up and corsets. WJ : That was the same argument that made me decide to stop wearing make up. I looked in the mirror one day thought, I've been wearing this mask for the last 4 years in an attempt to look more attractive to the public. I don't give a fuck - this is the way my face looks, so take it or leave it.
EM : Yes I like you much better this way. WJ : So do I, and I really appreciate now - It's a brilliant sense of freedom. The thing about dying your hair or changing the silhouette of your body through various bits of clothing.... yeah in a way, that's the conditioning of male society. On the other hand, as a female, I know if I put on a beautiful bra or corset or I dye my hair blonde, I actually get a lot of pleasure from looking in the mirror at that too.
EM : Because you sometimes dress like a typical object of desire for men, do you find that men treat you that way, and that you have to fight to be taken seriously? Or do you just laugh at them? WJ : That depends on my mood. Like I say, sometimes I get a great deal of fun for myself out of dressing like that and getting the humor from being like that. But then there are certain situations where I know the audience is already so sexist and so stupid and so ensconced in the idea of "That's what a woman is" that I'd go completely in the opposite direction. I just went down to the Whiskey Au Go Go in L.A., and every woman in there is wearing stockings, high heels, short skirts crawling up there ass, loads and loads of make up, hanging off some long haired rockers arm. And I said to my agent, "Shit when we play L.A. theres no way I am going to be looking like a woman. " It's very hard to go out there with a sense of irony when you damm well that the only person getting the irony is yourself. It's such a weird contradiction. I don't know if you saw Theirry Muglers last collection (spring/summer 91), but it was all Las Vegas show girl or it was bondage. In fact I saw it in Interview - a six page fashion spread on how to look good in Mugler, and the girl looked fantastic, and you know that the people who see that are not going to say, "Ooh that's what I want my girlfriend to look like.' They're going to say, "God those clothes are brilliant,' and "wow, what a fantasy image.' But if you went down to the Whiskey in those clothes it would be like, "All right Darling." The principles of the music industry are very different from those of fashion industry. To actually Tally Paris Fashion with Left Wing music journalism's very difficult. Fashion people understand that clothes are molded onto beautiful bodies, and you appreciate them for that. Whereas in music if you look like that. Then maybe you're a groupie.
EM : How did you feel about being very exposed on the cover of The Face? WJ : In retrospect, that photo would have been better in a fashion magazine. Personally, it shocked me to see it. We did the photo session and had a fantastically arty time, and when I checked the photo's through for approval they looked absolutely stunning. But then moving it from the light box in the living room to Joe Schmo's newsstand on the street is a very different thing.
EM : What have you been listening to? WJ : The main thing we listened to while making our new album was Dr. John's "Night Tripper' album. It's so full of soul and no convention what so ever. When we listened to that album, that sense of not knowing what was going to happen next was amazing, because that is really creative. And that's how I think our album will be perceived by a lot of people whov'e got Transvision Vamp pigeonholed.