It’s no surprise that Starsailor frontman James Walsh is a music fanatic—the 21-year-old singer hit his teens as Britpop was blossoming in the mid-’90s. Except Walsh had little time for Blur or Oasis. Instead, the kid from sleepy Chomley, England, discovered American classic rock, grooving to Neil Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and other bands not typically found in the CD collections of provincial Englishmen. ”That music’s modesty was really appealing,” Walsh says. ”The Britpop scene was quite competitive, which is not very healthy for music. It was kind of cold and cynical.”
Nobody would accuse Starsailor of that. Named after a famously obtuse Tim Buckley album, the quartet (which also includes bassist James Stelfox, drummer Ben Byrne, and keyboardist Barry Westhead) has rocketed to U.K. fame on the strength of their warm and earnest debut, Love Is Here. And forget about cynicism: Their first U.S. single, ”Good Souls,” is a sincere tribute to nice people (”It’s about how your mates get you through tougher times,” Walsh says).
Though their sound is sometimes dismissed as derivative of Coldplay and Radiohead, Starsailor’s piano-propelled melancholia benefits from Walsh’s remarkable voice, a piercing plaint with just a hint of soulful grit. ”Being brought up in choirs taught me to sing properly and in key, which helps the emotion, helps people interpret what I’m trying to say,” says Walsh. ”You listen to some artists’ voices and you think, If they weren’t famous and they got up and sang a song on karaoke like that, I’d leave the pub. I put absolutely everything into my singing, really, and you’d be surprised how many singers don’t.”