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Music Interview

Sharleen Spiteri

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Sharleen Spiteri
We'll say this for Sharleen Spiteri - she's not averse to trying something new. During her two-decade recording career, she's been everything from a blues rocker to a pop diva to a '60s-style chanteuse, collaborating with everyone from Method Man to Peter Kay along the way. Her latest move? An album of classic movie covers on which she tackles Bowie ('Cat People'), Billie Holliday ('God Bless The Child) and, erm, Berlin ('Take My Breath Away'). Intrigued, we gave the Scottish songbird a call to find out more.

The album entered the charts at 13 on Sunday - are you pleased with that?
"It would have been nice to have gone top ten, but that's how it goes. I'm not going, 'Oh no!', and I'm not going 'Wahey!' It's good and we'll see what happens next. This week's the important week in terms of what happens - I'd much rather keep shifting records over a period of time and running the record right through. You know, it's a different kind of record that I've made. A lot of people are only just putting two and two together and realising, 'Oh, it's her singing that!'"

Do sales figures and chart positions still bother you?
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't matter - it does matter. I was totally bottling it on Sunday waiting on my chart position! I think all artists care about chart positions because your chart position determines what the record company spend on the advertising, yadda yadda yadda. You want a good position so you get the advertising you feel you deserve."

What made you want to record an album of classic movie songs?
"It kind of happened by accident. Robin Gibb asked me to sing 'If I Can't Have You' for the Saturday Night Fever 21st anniversary gig. Then I got asked to sing 'Speak Softly Love' for the 30th anniversary of The Godfather. I remember turning to Johnny (McElhone, Texas bandmate and longtime collaborator) and saying how ironic it was that I was getting offered all this film stuff. Texas was formed and based around the movie Paris, Texas and film has always been a massive influence. The opportunity came for me to make this record and I just thought, 'I really want to do this'."

How did you go about picking the songs?
"Well, I told my label MD I was going to do the record and then spent literally 20 minutes writing down songs I really wanted to do. I ended up with a list of about 30. Some of them didn't work and really didn't suit my voice, so I blanked those ones and concentrated on the ones that did work. There are still quite a few left over that were really great, so who knows, maybe I'll get the opportunity to do another record?"

Has recording a covers album made you want to start songwriting again?
"I actually said, 'I'll make the movies album and then we'll make the next Texas record'. And then it took me just eight days to make the movies album! We did all our arrangements in advance so we literally walked into the studio in LA and said, 'Press record'. Now we're making a Texas record so the writing thing is happening."

How far along are you?
"Well, I came back from LA on the Monday and got a call on the Tuesday saying Ally [McErlaine, Texas guitarist] had suffered a brain aneurism. Everything literally stopped. Doctors were telling us he wouldn't survive it, but luckily he has and he's absolutely fighting fit. He's out of hospital and chomping at the bit to make another record. It's been a weird journey with this one, but we're absolutely dying to make the next Texas record. As for when it's going to be ready, I don't know. Sometimes you can write a hundred songs for an album, whereas sometimes you write ten and that's it. We've written a few songs and we're getting there slowly."

You're often described by the press as "feisty" and "no nonsense". How do you feel about those tags?
"It's probably because I can string more than five words together - or maybe because I say things like that! It's just how I was brought up. If I think something, I'll say it, though not to the point where I'd upset somebody by saying it of course. But I feel as an adult I should have opinions on things. If I don't, I shut my mouth."

Do you think you need this so-called "feisty" streak to survive in music?
"I don't know but it's worked for me. I laugh when you say 'feisty' though, because it's amazing how women get called 'feisty' or 'diva' or whatever. Maybe it's a really polite way of saying 'b*tch'?"

What's your take on the current crop of British female artists?
"I think it's a really good time and there are some really good songwriters out there. Sometimes I think the media homes in on their private lives rather than what they're actually doing though. There are a bunch of really great female songwriters out there and we should acknowledge them for their talent."

Do any of them particularly stand out for you?
"I think Lily Allen's a great songwriter. People talk about everything apart from her songwriting, but she's a brilliant lyricist and her melodies are really good as well. She makes great records. I love that she's mouthy and upfront too - she's just great."

She says she's retiring from music...
"When people say that, I always take it with a pinch of salt. If you saw her and asked, 'Are you retiring?', she'd probably go, 'I said in some interview I was taking a break!' I'll believe it when I see it but maybe she has had enough? I could understand that."

Have you ever felt like that?
"I'm in a different place. I don't have media attention the way someone like Lily Allen does. It would do my head in and I'd want to kill someone. Whenever the media attention does get a bit crazy, you can see me backing out of the door and running for the hills. I'm like, 'Oh no, I don't want this!'"

Was it like that with the Paris Hilton incident a couple of years back?
"Haha! It's mad that people still ask me about it. To be honest, I was absolutely mortified. I didn't want to be associated at all - in the papers or not - with Paris Hilton. I was literally phoning people and going, 'I am so sorry!' I was mortified that I was even in the same room as her! Everything she stands for is everything I'm against, but I look back at it now and it's hysterically funny. It was a moment, wasn't it?"

The Movie Songbook by Sharleen Spiteri is out now.

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