Originally created 03/15/04

British band Starsailor may have been final Phil Spector client

NEW YORK -- Whatever the young British rock band Starsailor may achieve in its career, it will probably remain the answer to a great music trivia question:

Who was the final client of legendary record producer Phil Spector?

"It was a good honor until, obviously, recently," said singer James Walsh, referring to the pending murder charges against Spector, who's accused of shooting an actress at his California mansion. "It just put sort of a macabre twist on things."

The quartet from Wigan, England, has the type of classic, melodic rock sound - think Coldplay - that seems to come more from overseas than the United States these days.

A big success back home, Starsailor has been methodically building its audience in America, too. The band's first album, "Love Is Here," sold 144,000 copies here and the new one, "Silence Is Easy," has moved 16,000 in a month, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Two years ago, during a tour stop in Los Angeles, they were met backstage by Spector's 20-year-old daughter, Nicole.

She had turned her dad on to Starsailor's music, and he liked it. The musical architect of the "Wall of Sound," who created much-loved pop symphonies like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "Be My Baby" during the 1960s, wanted them over for lunch the next day.

At the meal - during which drummer Ben Byrne performed the Heimlich maneuver on a choking Spector - Spector informed them he would be producing their second album.

Mind you, he wasn't asking. He told them. Starsailor wasn't in a position to refuse.

"It was an opportunity that was too good to miss," Walsh said. "We got a great song out of it and we had some enjoyable experiences."

That song, the title cut, starts slowly. With piano that echoes "Instant Karma" and insistent wah-wah guitar, it builds to a crashing climax.

"What he did on 'Silence is Easy' is an indication of how he can take something quite small and raw and energetic and turn it into something epic and beautiful and grand," Walsh said.

"The great thing about Phil Spector, and also his weakness, is he's kind of a one-trick pony," he said. "But his one trick is pretty impressive, like a dog that could talk or something."

Other material Starsailor brought in wasn't working out as well. The band soon chafed under Spector's obsessive control. This wasn't a man used to restraint in the studio.

Their encounter ended unpleasantly when Starsailor fired him. He's credited with producing two of the album's 11 songs.

John Leckie, a well-known producer in his own right for his work with Radiohead and Stone Roses, worked on one song on the album. Leckie set Walsh free to play his guitar - "like a kid in a toy shop" - and saw his role as finding the best to put in the song.

"He lets the band do what it does best and works on what a band does naturally, rather than having so much of a vision that the band has to keep within the boundaries of," he said.

Unlike, say, somebody else he knows?

The rest of the album, Starsailor handled itself. The music reflects a band with wider experiences than the small-town kids on Starsailor's debut, with members who became a success, traveled the world and, in Walsh's case, became a father.

On the euphoric lead cut, "Music Was Saved," Walsh sings: "I was never the talk of the town. Look at me now."

Walsh writes almost all the music and lyrics yet, in a generous gesture, the songwriting is credited to the band, splitting royalties four ways.

"The contribution of the whole band is what creates the sound and makes it distinctive," he said. "That's why it felt right to credit everyone. It's not like I'm a big dictator telling everyone what to do."

Starsailor and Walsh have taken some arrows in the British press and from competing bands for being, of all things, too nice.

That's essentially what the album's title cut is about. "Silence is easy, it just becomes me," Walsh sings. "You don't even know me. Why lie about me?"

"The music industry is the only industry that is geared toward lusty, obnoxious, hell-raising people," said Walsh, momentarily forgetting about professional wrestling.

"I think there's a place for every kind of artist," he said. "There's a place for politically conscious artists, and there's a place for hell-raisers, but I don't think anyone should be criticized for being pleasant, nice and not taking drugs. It's sort of everyone's prerogative and everyone should be judged on their work."

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