NEW YORK — A band must be doing something right in order to tempt a rock legend like Phil Spector out of 20 years of retirement. And Starsailor, a quartet of early twentysomething lads from Wigan in northern England, struck a chord with the elusive Spector, the man behind such iconic bands as the Beatles, the Ronettes, the Ramones and Ike and Tina Turner. Of course, Spector’s also a man who could be behind bars, as he has been charged with the murder of actress Lana Clarkson at his Alhambra, Calif., mansion exactly one year ago today.
It turns out that Spector loved Starsailor’s first album, “Love is Here,” and after his daughter met the band at a Los Angeles gig, he extended an invitation to his mansion. “He had already decided that he wanted to work with us,” says James Walsh, Starsailor’s 23-year-old lead singer and songwriter. “We were amazed.”
Spector produced two songs for the band’s sophomore effort, “Silence is Easy,” which debuted Jan. 27 (Capitol). Ever polite, Walsh dismisses Spector’s relatively small contribution as “a mixture of creative differences and, um, mental health.”
“I think of Phil Spector as a one-trick pony, but the one trick he does have is pretty magical,” Walsh says. And Spector’s gift for layering and overdubbing to create a wall of sound pays off on the anthem, “Silence Is Easy,” and the stringed lullaby, “White Dove.” The rest of the album swings between quirky, disco-infused tunes and pretty, moodier pop. Currently, the band is on tour and will play L.A.’s El Rey Theatre on Feb. 11.
“It was quite inspiring that Spector should come out of retirement to work with us,” Walsh says in a telephone interview. “It was a bit satisfying to know that all these high-brow journalists were thinking, ‘What the f*** is he doing working for them?’”
While the critics liked Starsailor’s first album, they often referred to the band as the next Coldplay or Radiohead. And while Walsh no longer pays the comparisons much mind, he admits, “The only frustrating thing is that obviously I’m immensely jealous of how successful they are and how well respected they are — that kind of perfect balance between relative critical acclaim and huge sales like U2.”
But those other bands will likely never be able to say that — for better or worse — they worked with Spector, who, if convicted, faces a lifetime in prison. “I don’t regret working with him,” Walsh maintains. “That’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
While he can’t be sure whether Spector is actually guilty, Walsh does criticize the way the whole thing was handled by those aforementioned high-brow music journalists. “The thing that sickened me was the way that it was an opportunity for them to do a retrospective of his career, like he had died and we were celebrating him,” Walsh says. “But he’s not dead. He’s on a murder charge.”