A towering beauty with platinum blonde hair and a commanding presence Wendy James conjures the image of a Valkyrie, a fearsome warrior. But while her rebellious image and no bullshit eyes may give such an impression, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. “I haven’t knocked anyone out, I haven’t been in a fight, it’s not my thing,” she explains as we sit at the bar. “Although a long time ago in Ladbroke Grove, London I did punch the local weed dealer off his bicycle as he rode past, it was just good timing. He was cycling around acting like he owned the place, king of the heap… and we were laughing at him, (he was one of our friends), and I just reached out, and boom, down he went.”
Despite her peaceful nature though, Wendy is not a woman to be trifled with. Having left home at 16 to move to Brighton and sing Patti Smith covers in nightclubs, she has long been heavily involved with music. “I am pretty sure with my first pocket money I bought a Blondie 7″ and the Clash, and I also got into West London Reggae sounds early on, which tied in with the Clash sound too, and from those two bands I moved into the more New Wave sounds of Television, Patti Smith.”
Inspired by her early endeavours, Wendy, having teamed up with Nick Sayer, moved to London and started Tranvision Vamp. “I guess I just gravitated towards what I felt most excited by, and this knowledge was secured when I started going to see bands play, at about 14 years old. Without consciously knowing it, my excitement turned into that being my path in life, you know… I had found my place.”
We’re sitting in a dank cellar of a bar in New York. Wendy guided us through backstreets and down some stairs into this discreet watering hole and as I ask her what’s she’s been listening to recently I realise I’m quite lost.
“I’m always checking out new sounds though,” she tells me. “Every now and then I think a cut is great, occasionally I think a band is great. The last band to blow my mind in every way is THE BLACK LIPS and that is some years ago now. I found a groovy band from Milan called Merci Miss Monroe and one track of theirs “Damn Damn Damn” in particular I think is great, I DJ it sometimes. But at home I usually end up playing Ghostface Killah or Wu Tang Clan – they are my favourite, if one has favourites.”
Confused by hearing Patti Smith, Blondie and The Clash mentioned alongside Ghostface and Wu Tang, I reach for my drink, while intrigued, I enquire as to what to expect from her upcoming Sydney DJ sets. “Oh baby, I’m gonna play the Stooges for sure. I am bringing some NYC New Wave, Detroit Garage Punk, and some super cool Hip Hop. Plus some cuts from new acts that are worth playing, anything from Dancefloor to Pop.”
With my mouth beginning to moisten at the prospect of such an eclectic mix of music I quickly move on and at a loss for anything relevant to say I ask about her favourite cities. “Well New York is my favourite place to live, but of course, I love to be in Paris. Berlin, I always enjoy, but to be honest, I am thrilled anytime I go anywhere… I am a natural traveller; I like waking up in a different city each morning.”
I do the journo thing and start pressing her for tour stories. “I can be wild or tame on tour. Sometimes I need to be left alone; sometimes I am in the centre of things. Most consistently it’s the boys who wreck themselves, sleep on benches, end up in strange apartments, lose passports, take too much of everything etc… but, when I’m out, I’m out. It is always hilarious on the bus, or in a car to the airport hearing and telling each other what happened. And seeing the pictures.”
We talk for a while longer. I learn her favourite colour is black, deduce that ‘fuck’ is her favourite swear word and am quite fervently told she rates The Stones over The Beatles before she gets a call and has to leave in hurry.
As I leave the bar I realise that more than with most interviews, I barely have an idea of Wendy as a person. Each answer she gave hinted at new features, but they were never fleshed out, like a sketch being added to but never filled in. Just like my experience with New York, Wendy was far to complex to understand at a glance.