How I wrote ‘Silence Is Easy’ by Starsailor’s James Walsh
The indie band’s frontman on creating their two-chord, Phil Spector-produced hit single, and how easy it is to sing drunk!
Wigan-born songwriter James Walsh burst onto the scene in 2001, fronting the post-Britpop indie band Starsailor. Their first single Fever earned them the title of “Britain’s best new band” and their third single Alcoholic gave the group their first UK Top 10 hit, before their critically acclaimed debut album Love Is Here reached No 2 in the UK Album Charts. Sophomore LP Silence Is Easy was just as successful, and its title track reached No 9 on the UK Singles Chart. And, as he proudly explains here, James thinks it’s their best song – especially when he’s had a few to drink!
“I was in the rehearsal room, I think it was The Depot in North London, and we were about to go on another tour and resume sessions for the album. A lot of the songs on Love Is Here, with some fancy minor chords, were – not massively complex – but not really simple. So it started off as a bit of a challenge: to limit myself to two chords and see if I could weave a decent melody over a much more simple musical pattern than we were used to doing.
“I think it came about at a time where we’d had an enormous amount of praise that started to be a bit of a backlash and it really stemmed from that thing of ‘bed-wetters’ and we weren’t rock ‘n’ roll enough! So, in the back of my mind, that was probably there when I started screaming out, ‘Silence is easy!’
“So the chorus definitely came first and it’s definitely a riposte to people saying bands should behave a certain way. It’s almost like [they think] the reputation of a band makes them more rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s like, ‘Nah, you’ve just got to be yourself’.
“Then I was relating the same sentiment to someone else’s situation. It’s a while since I wrote the lyrics, but it’s basically saying this is what everyone’s saying about this girl, whether it’s true or not, and speculation and stuff.
“It was a fairly quick one, once the chorus lyric came in. It’s so bombastic and celebratory, it got everyone excited in the room, and that makes it a lot easier to form the verses after that, because it’s sounding good and you can play off the rhythm. That’s where the collaborative process comes in, 09 when even if the band aren’t involved in the melody or the lyric-writing, sometimes creating a vibe can inspire us to come up with something good.
“For us and the label, it’s always frustrating when you’re writing all these songs that you’re really proud of and they go, ‘Yeah these are great, but we still need the single’. But luckily, with this one, Silence Is Easy came really early on, so it was like, ‘Brilliant, we’ve got the single to underpin the album and now it’s just about creating a sound around it and doing it justice’.
“It’s probably the one I’m most proud of and think is our best song. Another thing that I love about it is, if I’m at a party and someone hands me a guitar and says, ‘Play one of your tunes,’ it doesn’t matter how drunk I am – unless I’m absolutely paralytic – I can still play Silence Is Easy! I think that’s probably subconsciously since I started drinking that was my aim: to write a song that I could play drunk.”
Starsailor’s fifth studio album All This Life is out now. For more details, go to starsailorband.co.uk
Interview: Aaron Slater