Sharleen Spiteri of Texas
Photo: Julian Broad / Courtesy of the Oriel Co.

Sharleen Spiteri Takes the ‘Hi’ Road in Guiding Texas Back to Future

While taking more chances with a new album and relishing a career of bright, shining moments, fiery frontwoman Sharleen Spiteri still wonders why her Scottish band named Texas didn’t get more love from America.

28 May 2021

Wu-Tang Clan, Part I

The songwriting team of Spiteri and McElhone helped give Texas five top ten singles in the UK from White on Blonde, including “Say What You Want”, “Halo”, and “Black Eyed Boy”, the swinging, soulful tune that sounded as good as some of the Supremes’ best songs in their heyday.

And while record sales lagged in the US, favorable word of mouth spread from across the pond, according to Spiteri. “If you talk to people that discovered Texas around about that time, most of them discovered Texas because they knew somebody that lived in Europe or they came on holiday … and picked up this album because at that point we were a massive band in the UK and in Europe.”

Among Americans apparently listening were members of Wu-Tang Clan. And out of what Spiteri has called “an absolute fluke meeting” with the hip-hop group at a New York City T-shirt company in 1997, history was made when they collaborated with Method Man and RZA on a “Say What You Want” remix released in 1998.

“It changed people’s perceptions of us,” Spiteri points out. “It was like, Whoa! What’s going on here?’ … What was interesting was the fact that RZA said no one had done anything like that before. You know, this British pop band and these American rappers. … And he was saying that he thought we’d be taking a big chance doing it. And I was kind of looking at him like, ‘Well, I kind of think you’re the guys taking the chance. Not us.’”

A live performance of “Say What You Want (All Day, Every Day)” with Method Man at the 1998 Brit Awards cemented Texas’ reputation as a band willing to go for broke, and the Wu-Tang remix peaked at No. 4 on the UK singles chart.

“When I look at it now, I think … we did do something really different and we did create something that people were like, ‘What is this?’ … I remember people from the American record company being over and seeing our performance and they’re like, ‘Who the hell are this band?’ And people were like, ‘They’re on your label.’”

After White on Blonde’s huge success in the UK and Europe, Spiteri recalls Doug Morris, a record executive with Universal Music Group (which owned their Mercury label), being “desperate to meet me.” She was flown to New York to ponder the “How do we break this band in America?” question.

Her reply? “Well, you know, this ain’t our first visit to the rodeo. So you tell me. You’re the record company executive. You know, having the product in the shops could be a good start.”

Like with many musicians unwilling to sacrifice their art for money and fame, Spiteri has had her share of clashes with industry honchos. She certainly isn’t willing to back down now.

“We have a very definite idea of who we are and a very definite idea how we want to do things,” Spiteri says of Texas. “I don’t want to make compromises. … I don’t want to be who you want me to be. I want to be me. And sometimes that’s not what record companies want. Sometimes they want you to sell your soul, and I’m not willing to do that. …

“For us, it’s always been about music. … It’s never been about being famous. Ever.”

Wu-Tang Clan, Part II

With an enduring friendship and continued respect for each other, another Wu-Tang project developed as Texas dug into the Universal vaults in 2019 to search for hidden gems from the White on Blonde sessions while making this new album, their first since 2017’s Jump on Board.

Two of the unfinished songs they found and reworked were “Mr Haze” (now including a Donna Summer sample from “Love’s Unkind”) and “Hi”, the title track. While Texas and RZA met in Glasgow in 2019 to shoot a still-to-be-released short documentary film about their previous collaboration, they discussed working on another song again.

“Myself and Johnny had already written ‘Hi’ and we thought, Give them ‘Hi’. It’s totally right for the Wu-Tang,” Spiteri states. “It’s got that big Morricone sound, it’s got that open, sparse cinematic sound to it. But it’s kind of got this outlaw swagger to it.

“For me, the Wu-Tang are like the Magnificent Seven. I kind of feel that they’re these outlaw rebels that are hell-bent on doing things their way. And I respect that and I love that about them. And it just felt like exactly the right track. So we sent RZA the track and he was like, ‘Yeah. Totally get it. Dope.’ So there’s two versions [among the album’s 14 songs]. There’s the original version and there’s the Wu-Tang version [with RZA and Ghostface Killah], which I adore.”

Other outside contributors featured on Hi are Richard Hawley (cowriter of the gentile “Dark Fire”) and Altered Images’ Clare Grogan, who sings a bouncy ‘80s-style duet with Spiteri on “Look What You’ve Done”.

Whether history repeats for Texas with this Wu-Tang “Hi” remains to be seen but Spiteri mentions journalistic references to her band getting another “bite of the cherry.” That UK expression usually means a second chance. Or, perhaps in this case, one band’s next opportunity to reignite their career. (Even “Miss You” from the disco-era Rolling Stones was a hit.)

“As a band, when you’ve had a long, long career, if you can’t be up at the top all of the time, the art and the skill is being able to ride the wave,” she reasons. “You’ve got to ride the downs as well as the ups. And it’s whether you can continue to create, and there’ll be moments when you will come back up.”

Ready for Her Close-up?

Managing to keep recording while shifting gears at times is important to Spiteri. When asked what her most notable career accomplishment is, she replies with a laugh, “Still being here. Still being relevant. I guess that’s my proudest achievement.”

Clever twists on a standard practice have been impactful for Texas. Though she declares, “If I never have to make another video again, I’d never be happier,” Spiteri has to backtrack after hearing a mention of her Elvis performance in “Inner Smile” from 2000’s The Greatest Hits album.

“Yeah, I’d do that again. I loved making that video,” gushes Spiteri, who credits British director Vaughan Arnell’s inventiveness that transformed her into a black leather-clad Presley in ’68 Comeback Special mode. Then for the “In Demand” (also from The Greatest Hits) video, Arnell paired her with English actor Alan Rickman for a tango in a story with a surprise ending.

“When I do videos like that that are off the chart, creative, crazy, these mad ideas, I love making videos like that,” she continues. “It’s when people [go], ‘Oh, you’re really gazing out a window singing romantically to the sky, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, Jesus Christ. Please make it stop.’ … But I’ve been so lucky to work with such amazing, talented people over the years.”

On the plus side, she’s thrilled with Fenn O’Meally, a 27-year-old filmmaker whose current video for “Hi” is something completely different for Texas. For one thing, Spiteri is limited to a key cameo as Small Axe actor Kadeem Ramsay gets the starring role.

“[Fenn is] amazing. She’s … a young, Black London girl who is literally absolutely working it at the moment,” Texas’ leader offers. “She wrote the script, she directed it, she edited it,” and made Spiteri’s quick appearance one to remember.

If the acting bug actually exists, though, Spiteri must have a swatter nearby. Despite some film opportunities, “I’ve never pursued it,” she maintains. “It’s always come to me. But it’s never happened. Every time it was about to happen, something came up or something changed.”

She did get cast in a Glasgow-based film written by her pal Des Hamilton called I Feel Fine (with The Wire’s Dominic West) but the shoot scheduled for October 2015 never reached the “Action!” stage. Spiteri thought to herself, “Maybe I dodged a bullet.”

However, she sometimes thinks about turning down a role in a major musical — Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 Moulin Rouge (starring Nicole Kidman and Scotland’s Ewan McGregor) — because it would have required spending a year filming in Australia.

“I don’t even know what part I was being asked to play,” she maintains. “I was making a Texas record at that point. … I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I’d love to do it because I love musicals.’ … But I had too many people relying on Texas … and I couldn’t just say, ‘Hey, guys, guess what? I have to make a movie, and you know what? You’re just gonna have to deal with it.’ So I went, ‘Texas is my No. 1 priority and always will be.’ So I stuck with Texas.”

She played a more important role with McGregor, though, sharing a common bond as serious supporters of organizations like CLIC Sargent Cancer Care for Children and Children’s Hospices Across Scotland.

Introduced by mutual friend Gillian McVey, who handled public relations at Paul Smith, Spiteri and McGregor met at a cancer charity function in Scotland. They also held a yearly Burns Night in London honoring Scottish poet Robert Burns and yielding donations from A-list attendees.

Despite their friendship, a co-starring role with the actor is less likely than a McGregor duet for Spiteri, whose singing days with him may go down in history. “Put it this way: Ewan and I have spent many a drunken night, back in the days when Ewan used to drink,” she discloses. “We spent many a night singing many a song.”

If there was a part this dream believer desires, it would be as an “old and raggedy” woman in Outlander, especially if she was cast alongside star Caitriona Balfe, who players Claire, Spiteri’s favorite character in the time-traveling historical drama/romance.

“Brilliant. … I absolutely loved it,” divulges Spiteri, who, if given the chance, would go back in time to the ’40s, which is “kind of my favorite fashion era. … Things were just beginning to open up for women. … It seemed like a very glamorous time to live.”