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‘Silence Is Easy’: Starsailor Talk Their “Triumphant And Joyous” Second Album
In Depth

‘Silence Is Easy’: Starsailor Talk Their “Triumphant And Joyous” Second Album

Full of orchestral splendour, Starsailor’s second album, ‘Silence Is Easy’, still feels ‘fresh and relevant’ says frontman James Walsh.

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With their debut album, Love Is Here, achieving platinum status after selling over 300,000 copies, it seemed as if Starsailor had barely had a chance to pause since being thrust into the spotlight. Placed the forefront of the “New Acoustic Movement”, the Warrington-based quartet had found themselves going toe-to-toe with the likes of Travis, Doves and Coldplay in the early 2000s, with singer/guitarist James Walsh, bassist James Stelfox, drummer Ben Byrne and keyboardist Barry Westhead becoming one of the leading lights of the post-Britpop scene. And then they had to record a second album that maintained that momentum. Happily, Silence Is Easy proved that Starsailor had what it took to keep going.

“We were obviously excited that this was all kicking off,” James Walsh tells Dig! today. “We were in the NME every other week and there was just absolute madness going on.” Starsailor’s journey from making Love Is Here to facing up to the challenges and triumphs of an extensive world tour had been tiring, but they were also ready to turn the page on a new chapter. “We’d been playing those songs every night, so we wanted to prove what other strings there are to our bow,” Walsh says of preparing to record Silence Is Easy. “It did feel like a relief when we could finally park Love Is Here and start looking at the next album.”

Listen to ‘Silence Is Easy’ here.

By early 2003, Starsailor were ready to head back into the rehearsal room and figure out how to build upon the initial success of their debut. With growing confidence and a hunger to explore new creative ideas, the band’s unique blend of tender balladry and candid lyricism had captured the hearts of many, but their second album was an opportunity to prove they had a lot more to offer. “We were obviously very proud of our first album and very grateful for the success that it had brought us, but we were also ready to get back to the creative side,” Walsh says. “You don’t get to do these big gigs and tours and travel the world without putting the effort into the songwriting.”

The writing: “This music has got to be so triumphant and joyous that we prove a few people wrong”

Across a period of two years, Starsailor staged a globe-trotting tour in support of Love Is Here, diving headfirst into a vortex of promotional commitments that left them both exhilarated and fatigued. “We were definitely exhausted,” Walsh says today. “The period of touring around Love Is Here was intense. I think we visited more countries on that tour than any subsequent one.” Given the opportunity to down tools, the group decided they could start from scratch for their next album.

“There were bits and bobs written during that touring timeframe,” Walsh tells Dig!, noting how album track Some Of Us was the only song Starsailor had written on the road. “But the vast majority was written in the rehearsal room.” In some respects, Walsh saw Starsailor’s second album as an opportunity to address some of the criticisms the band had received in some quarters of the music press. “We did listen to a lot of voices that were telling us how miserable or downbeat we were,” Walsh says, “and there was definitely an element of wanting to rebel against that and show that we did have a more positive side.”

Though Starsailor were rightly proud of Love Is Here, Walsh now says he felt compelled to write songs that would win over the naysayers the band had encountered. “It was a motivating factor,” he confirms. “Like, this music has to be so triumphant and joyous that we prove a few people wrong.” In retrospect, however, he admits this isn’t a course of action he’d recommend: “I wouldn’t advise anyone to have this attitude now, because it’s not particularly healthy. But there was a part of me that wanted to prove myself to people.”

The biggest turning point during rehearsals was the creation of what would become Silence Is Easy’s title track. “That was a conscious effort to get away from the more considered, melancholic chord changes of the first album, to prove that we could be a bit more simple and direct when we wanted to be,” says Walsh. Propelled by just two chords and a catchy vocal melody, the song undoubtedly helped the band come closer to realising their goals. “I think that song coming together set the tone for the rest of the album,” Walsh adds. “We knew we had something really strong, so we were up and running.”

The recording: “I don’t think we ever set out to have that ‘Wall Of Sound’ vibe, but it certainly set a benchmark”

With Starsailor now preparing to re-enter the recording studio, they were surprised to learn that the era-defining 60s and 70s producer Phil Spector wanted to come out of retirement to produce them. The architect of the “Wall Of Sound” production style, built on layers of overdubs, Spector had spent many years as a recluse after masterminding such hits as Be My Baby, by The Ronettes, and River Deep – Mountain High, by Ike And Tina Turner, but he was tempted to come out of seclusion after being introduced to Starsailor’s music by his daughter, Nicole. The band flew out to Los Angeles to meet with Spector and, before long, the prospect of working with the man who had once worked with John Lennon and Ramones became very real indeed.

Nowadays, of course, Spector’s musical legacy is tainted, particularly since he was found guilty, in 2009, of the second-degree murder of actress Lana Clarkson. At the time Starsailor worked with him, however, Spector was regarded as an eccentric industry figure – a maverick known as much for his erratic working methods as he was his groundbreaking production techniques. “I was excited by the prospect of working with Spector because I was a huge fan of the Dion record that he did [Born To Be With You], which, it turns out, had a very tumultuous, troubled recording process,” Walsh tells Dig!, “which you’d never tell, because his vocals on it are just unbelievable.”

Despite some apprehension from Starsailor’s record label over entrusting the band to a producer who’d not helmed a project since working on Ramones’ 1980 album, End Of The Century, Spector flew to London to oversee some early recording sessions with the group, at Metropolis Studios, on a trial basis. “We got two really great sounding tracks out of it,” Walsh tells Dig!, notably the song Silence Is Easy and the airy acoustic ballad White Dove. However, Walsh reveals that the experience of working with Spector ruffled some feathers. “He was quite uncommunicative a lot of the time,” the singer says of Spector’s behaviour. “There was almost like a sliding scale of how communicative he would be with each of us. I spent a lot of time in the booth with him, just getting me to do takes, and he’d sit there while I was recording guitar. The stuff that the drummer was getting asked to do was quite rudimentary.”

Having grown up together in music college and being used to putting their own mark on their songs, Walsh and his bandmates found that things weren’t running as democratically under Spector as they had hoped. “I’m just speculating,” Walsh suggests, “but I think maybe he just loved some of the songs and thought, How can I make these songs the best they can be? Regardless of who it upsets – even members of the band – and regardless of what Starsailor sounded like before, which I guess caused some issues. Basically, the working relationship broke down.”

Despite the “Wall Of Sound” innovator leaving before the project was complete, Silence Is Easy was eventually released as the album’s lead single, in September 2003, peaking at No.9 in the UK and going down in history as one of Phil Spector’s final production jobs. Lyrically, the song was intended to be “a retort” to some of the band’s critics. As Walsh asserts: “It’s better to be yourself, really, than to be a sort of contrived rock star and live up to that kind of thing, just because that’s what certain people want. It’s got that sort of angst to it.”

The remainder of the album sessions were mostly completed at London’s Abbey Road and AIR Studios, with producers Danton Supple and John Leckie, who helped the band add an orchestra in order to make Starsailor’s sound more theatrical and grandiose. “I don’t think we ever set out to have that ‘Wall Of Sound’ vibe to it, but I think it certainly set a benchmark,” Walsh says of the result. “We didn’t necessarily make the rest of the album completely Spector-esque, but Silence Is Easy and White Dove would have sat very oddly on a lo-fi record, so I guess in a very sort of broad sense it set the tone of what the rest of the album should be.”

The release: “I remember being really excited to get it out and having a real confidence in it”

Released on 1 September 2003, Silence Is Easy sold over 54,000 copies in its first week, peaking at No.2 in the UK. The album’s artwork, featuring the band making semaphore-like signals on a slither of land off the Somerset coast, felt dreamily nostalgic, almost evoking for James Walsh memories of The Beatles’ Help! album cover. “I remember we had to cross shallow water to get to where the shot is taken,” the singer tells Dig! “I’m sure one of the single covers is the pile of our shoes as we walked over to this island to get this picture done.”

The second single to be released from Silence Is Easy was Born Again, which went Top 40 in the UK in November 2003. At the time the album was being recorded, Walsh had just become a father to a newborn daughter, so the religious views of his partner’s parents weighed heavily on his mind. “Us having our eldest daughter out of wedlock was quite a serious thing,” he admits to Dig! “It was still not the done thing in Ireland, so I guess it was just about religious freedom. Being born again, but turning it on its head, really: like being born again in a more accepting society, or more accepting world, than being born again into Christianity and God and all those things.”

Exhibiting a more polished and expansive sound compared to their debut album, Silence Is Easy met with acclaim for pairing Starsailor’s emotive and introspective lyrics with lush instrumental arrangements. “I remember being really excited to get it out and having a real confidence in it,” Walsh says. “There’s always that thing where it seems sort of slightly clichéd to get the record company advance and then bring in the orchestra, but we just thought, Well, we might as well indulge ourselves, because these songs lend themselves to that.” Describing string arranger Leo Abrahams as “the unsung hero” of the album, Walsh spotlights the songs Four To The Floor and Bring My Love as key moments that succeeded in bringing Starsailor’s musical ambition to a larger canvas.

In fact, when Four To The Floor was released as a single, it became an even bigger hit than its predecessor, peaking at No.24 in the UK and topping the charts in France and Belgium, thanks to a pair of dance remixes by Soulsavers and Stuart Price (under the moniker Thin White Duke). “The remixes go into a whole other dimension, and [Four To The Floor] was a huge hit in France and Australia,” Walsh says. “That definitely made people think of us differently in certain quarters. To this day, Four To The Floor and Silence Is Easy are the most joyous moments of our live set that really get people going.”

With hints of the acoustic bliss of Nick Drake and Neil Young creeping into songs such as Some Of Us, and the swells of orchestration which transformed Telling Them into a work of wistful resplendence, Starsailor’s second album, Silence Is Easy, sold over 100,000 copies and would go on to be certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. The orchestral elements, combined with the band’s signature guitar-driven melodies and aptitude for catchy hooks and anthemic choruses, had successfully embellished the angelic melancholy of their debut and helped Starsailor set off in a new direction.

The legacy: “People still listen to them and people still love them”

As Silence Is Easy celebrates its 20th anniversary, James Walsh reflects upon the album’s success with a combination of humility and gratitude. As he tells Dig!, “All the songs have endured because people still listen to them and people still love them.” He remains particularly proud of Four To The Floor and the album’s title track, adding that “they still feel fresh and relevant to me, and to our kind of legacy, than they ever did. They’ve still got a positive message and a universality to them, whereas some of the others are a bit more steeped in that time.”

Given that Starsailor’s frontman was barely into his 20s when Silence Is Easy was released, many of the album’s songs provide a snapshot of how he felt back then. “Those songs remind me of a 23-year-old me,” Walsh confesses. “So it’s like getting in a time machine, singing those songs again.

“I hope we come across on it, if that makes sense,” he continues. “I hope that if anyone’s envisaging the sort of people that created this record, it’s fairly close to how we are as people.”

Ultimately, Silence Is Easy remains a touchstone in Starsailor’s musical journey. By incorporating elements of alternative rock, post-Britpop guitar music and even hints of folk, it’s a record that encapsulates a pivotal moment in Walsh’s life – and, by extension, in the band’s evolution. Over two decades on, the album stands not only as a marker of past success but also demonstrates the band’s willingness to broaden their sound and find new ways to frame the more downbeat side of their songwriting.

“I hope that there’s some genuineness to it that comes through and, from a sonic point of view, I hope that it’s endured,” Walsh says. Happily for Starsailor, Silence Is Easy’s ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia while still resonating with fans is ample proof that it has.

Buy the 20th-anniversary reissue of ‘Silence Is Easy’ on turquoise vinyl.

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