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Shakespears Sister - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 28 / 3 / 2010

Shakespears Sister - Interview


John Clarkson talks to Siobhan Fahey from bestselling pop act Shakepsear’s Sister who are about to release and tour with 'Songs from the Red Room', their first album of new material in over fifteen years

Of all the songs that dominated the radio waves and music channels in the early 90’s, there have been few which have had as lasting an impact or been as memorable as Shakespear’s Sister’s ‘Stay’. ‘Stay’ spent eight weeks at the top of the UK chart in early 1992 and, also reaching No.4 in the United States, was the then British/American duo’s only No. 1 hit. A lush torch song to a departing lover, ‘Stay’ was both a typical and an atypical song in Shakespear’s Sister’s oeuvre –typical because it was fermented with the same kookiness and widescreen electronica that have been dominant factors in all of Shakespear’s Sister’s work and atypical because, rather than Siobhan Fahey taking the lead, as she had had on most of their other songs, it was Marcella Detroit, the American half of the duo, who undertook the main vocal. A promo video for ‘Stay’ set on a space station showed Detroit and Fahey tussling over the body of Detroit’s inert lover. Fahey, dressed in a sparkling cat suit and crown, played a magnificently vampish angel of death, leering with ironic glee at the camera and coming within a moment of snatching Detroit’s comatose boyfriend away from her. Former convent school girl Siobhan Fahey had first drawn attention as a member of bestselling all girl pop trio Bananarama, with whom she recorded four albums and seventeen UK singles between 1981 and 1987, eight of which entered the Top Ten. Wearying of the increasingly manufactured pop direction in which she felt Bananarama were heading, she left them amicably in 1988 and formed Shakespear’s Sister. Shakespear’s Sister’s debut single, ‘Heroine’, came out in early 1989. While Marcella Detroit appeared on backing vocals on this, she was at this stage still not a member of the band, and it was at the time of the group’s second single, ‘You’re History’, which came out later that year that she became officially part of the group. The duo of Fahey and Detroit would release two albums together, ‘Sacred Heart’ (1989), upon which Fahey would appear on the front cover alone, and ‘Hormonally Yours’ (1992), which reached No. 3 in the UK album chart. They would also release another six singles besides ‘Stay’, several others of which including ‘Goodbye Cruel World’, ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Hello (Turn Your Radio On)’ would also enter the singles chart. While 1992 was the year of Shakespears Sister’s greatest success with both ‘Stay’ and ‘Hormonally Yours’, the duo had by the end of that year had begun to fall into trouble. Towards the conclusion of an almost year long tour to promote ‘Hormonally Yours’, a set of final European dates was cancelled as Fahey was suffering from physical and emotional exhaustion. She was subsequently admitted into a psychiatric hospital with severe depression. Fahey and Marcella Detroit had also started to drift apart and in 1993 it was announced that that pair had split. Fahey has endured some lean years musically since then. Shakespear’s Sister‘s 1996 third album ‘III’, which was produced by Fahey’s then husband, the Eurythmics’s Dave Stewart, and members of her new backing band, was axed before its release by her record company, London, after ‘I Can Drive’, the first single from it, only peaked at No. 30. It was finally released in 2004 through Fahey’s website, when after years of fighting she finally won the rights back to it. Siobhan Fahey also abandoned the Shakespears Sister moniker for some years, recording under her own name tracks for the soundtracks to ‘The Flintstones’ film and British indie cult film ‘Shopping’, and also releasing some low-key singles. She only finally started using the Shakespears Sister’s name again in 2004 when ‘III’ came out. 2010, however, finds Siobhan Fahey on good form. Settled in Los Angeles to which she moved a few years ago, she is excited about an eight date UK tour in April, Shakespears Sister’s first since 1992, and also the band’s fourth album, ‘Songs from the Red Room’, which, almost a decade in the making, is coming out at the same time on her own SF Records. ‘Songs from the Red Room’ has much of the quirky, offbeat humour of Shakespear Sister’s previous offerings. A sparkling comeback album, and a merging of old and new school electronica, its tracks rocket through a variety of styles and genres including 70’s stomping glam rock on opening number ‘Pulsatron’; pumping electro-disco on new single ‘It’s a Trip’; the Banshees-style experimentalism of ‘The Room’; epic pop on ‘Bitter Pill’ and echoing ambience on ‘You’re Alone’ and ‘Cold’. When Siobhan Fahey left Bananarama , she announced that she was doing so because she wanted to make music on her own terms. In conversation with Pennyblackmusic over two decades later, it is clear that she is continuing to do exactly that. PB: Why has it has taken so long for ‘Songs from the Red Room’ to come out? You first made a start on it several years ago. SF: I finished it a couple of years ago. While I am good at writing songs and at performing and the creative side of things, I don’t have management or any infrastructure around me, so when it has come to the nuts and bolts of actually securing a release (Laughs) and everything that goes with that I haven’t been terribly efficient or good at that. I have been just releasing stuff on my own little label until now and doing these underground gigs for the last few years. Both my parents also died in 2006 and that made me really take stock of my life. I just needed to go away and decompress that and slowly work on getting the record released when it was ready and when I was ready to deal with it. PB: When did you first start writing it because some of the songs on ‘Songs from the Red Room’ such as ‘Bitter Pill’ have been circulating under your own name on compilations and as downloads since about 2003? SF: I started it in about 2001, but it has been a slow process because all this life stuff got in the way. I have also been involved in moving and raising children and then I started DJ-ing and got really bitten by that bug as well. PB: How long were you doing that for? SF: I think it was about five of the seven years that I was making this record. It really did take a lot of my time up because I was quite sought after and so I ended up getting quite regular gigs and spending a lot of time preparing for them. It is really a very time consuming thing to do. PB: Do you still do that? SF: No, I gave that up after about five years when it started to become too much like a stressful job (Laughs). I also wasn’t able to finish my record, so that was another reason for stopping. PB: This album, and also the single which is coming out alongside it, ‘It’s a Trip’, features more mixes and remixes than you have ever done in the past. Was that something which has come out of DJ-ing? SF: Probably, yes. There are some really great mixes like the Whitey Mix on ‘Pulsatron’ and the AT Mix on ‘Bad Blood’. They probably came about because I was on that scene and knew those people. They did amazing mixes, as good as my mixes. PB: On the first three albums you’re just credited with vocals, but on this album you are credited with guitar and keyboards as well. Is that something that you have always done? SF: There are bits on this record where I play both guitar and keyboards, but I wouldn’t flatter myself and call myself a guitarist or keyboard player. I have been able to play the guitar as badly as I do now since I was twelve or thirteen. I just don’t have that part in my personality where I can lock myself away for six months (Laughs) and go through the physical pain of mastering the guitar. I can just do the thrashy basic chords, Velvet Underground style. I prefer to get people in to play. PB: In light of that how do you write your songs? SF: I almost always co-write. Then you are committed to it and you can’t put it off because the person you are collaborating with is usually in the room beside you waiting for you to come up with something (Laughs). When I work as well with a person who can make the bass or guitar sound great, or the keyboards sound great, then I can often hear the melodies to put over it. When I play though, I just hear crap guitar (Laughs). PB: You have written and collaborated with other artists as well. You co-wrote the Bluebells ‘Young at Heart’ and you’ve also written for various other people as well such as Siobhan Donaghy who was in the Sugababes. You have said that you have found that frustrating though because you feel that you are only doing half the job. Do you see yourself as more a musician than a songwriter or do you see them as two parts of the same coin? SF: I see myself more as a songwriter and a performer than a musician. I would love to think of myself as a musician, but I am not. Some people make lofty claims and call their voice their instrument and people go, “Oh, you are a musician” and I’m like, “No, I’m not because my son is a musician and I know amazing musicians and I am not one of those”(Laughs). PB: It seems with this album that in many ways you have taken the sounds of artists like T Rex and Bowie and then you have both up-dated them and also put your own stamp on it. Was that what you were aiming for with this record? SF: My influences have been pretty steadfast over the years. I think that you can hear T Rex and Gary Glitter and glam rock on all of the Shakespears Sister records, but I was very conscious on this particular record that I wanted to give it an electro glam sound. It is also a very varied record. I have never been able to stick to one sound or one vibe. PB: It is also a modern record as well. It sounds very contemporary. SF: Yeah. It does. I think it was because I was the whole time I was making it I was pretty connected with what was going on in the London underground at the time , which has now become much more mainstream. PB: Why did you decide to release this album as a Shakespears Sister rather than as a Siobhan Fahey record? SF: When I left Bananarama which was so long ago now, I even then didn’t want to be a solo artist. I don’t work in a vacuum. I always wanted to be in a band. I thought the name Shakespears Sister was going to be the name under which I would record with whoever I was inspired by at the time. It was what it would be. It was an entity that would change and shift. I had always conceived ‘Songs from the Red Room’ as a Shakespears Sister record because that is my artist’s name. Being hyper aware of the fact that masses of Shakespears Sister happened when Shakespears Sister was a duo, I was a little too caught up in the fact that people might be misled if I called it Shakespears Sister and so I released a couple of singles under my own name. Siobhan Fahey is the mother and the daughter. It is not the artist (Laughs). When I was performing under the name Siobhan Fahey, I didn’t feel that I could do my own material but Shakespears Sister is my material and so I just eventually realised that it felt more real and appropriate to call it that. PB: Your lyrics on ‘Songs from the Red Room’ tackle a diverse range of subjects, including romance having gone wrong, depression and both the self-destructiveness and excitement of youth. How many of your lyrics come from personal experience and how many of them come from what you have observed? SF: It is all from personal experience, all of it. That’s where I work out what I am feeling through songs. I would like to think that at the least I have a wry sense of humour about things (Laughs). It tends to be universal what we all go through in life. Whatever I am feeling there are lots of other people in the world who will recognise those feelings. PB: ‘Songs from the Red Room’ features guest appearances from the Specials’ Terry Hall on vocals on ‘Was It Worth It?’ and Marco Pirroni from Adam and the Ants on guitar on ‘It’s a Trip’ and ‘Bitter Pill’. You and Terry have known each other since Bananarama and his then group the Fun Boy Three recorded singles together in the early 80’s. Have you been in regular contact with him since then? SF: Yeah, he is my friend. I love him dearly and we have stayed in contact over the years. We see each other every now and then. Marco is one of my best friends. PB: Have you known him as long? SF: No, I haven’t. I have known Marco since the mid 90s. We should have known each other since the early 80s as we both moved in the same London circles, but our paths didn’t cross until the mid 90s. It is weird that we never met until then but it was a meeting of souls when we finally did. PB: There are all these fantastic women at the moment on the music scene. You have chosen quite a good time to come back because there are all these people like La Roux, Lady Gaga and Florence Welch. What do you make of them? SF: It is really funny (Laughs) because a few journalists have just assumed that I have just chosen it as a fortuitous time to come back. It just happens to be though when this record is ready and I am ready. What is going on now is really great because people seem to see me as a forerunner and an originator of the vibes that is happening now. What I think of them depends upon who you are talking about. I love that La Roux single, ‘Bulletproof’. I really like those girls Tegan and Sara. They are pretty interesting. There are a couple that I am not so keen on. What I find really bizarre though is that people still lump female artists as a separate genre. We make up 50 percent of the population, so therefore 50% of artists should naturally be women. PB: You mentioned that you have played some underground gigs over the years. SF: I would play little electro clubs in London mainly, but also Barcelona and other places where I would DJ. Sometimes I would do live performances there under my own name as well, but the pay is so little I could only do it with a guitarist and a computer. It was frustrating not being able to do it with a full band and to get the whole rock ‘n’ roll experience out of it. PB: Who are you taking out with Shakespears’ Sister in April ? Are you taking out a proper band? SF: The core of the band is Gully (Stephen Guilfest-Ed) on guitar, Clare Kenny on bass and Wildcat (Will Blanchard-Ed) on drums. They were the people that I wrote and recorded the album with and they are the present core of Shakespears Sister. A keyboard player and a backing vocalist I have found specifically for this tour. PB: What can fans expect from these shows? What are you going to be doing? SF: Well, as I have got four Shakespears Sister albums now I have got a slew of fantastic material to choose from. It is an all killer, no filler set and there are going to be a mixture of songs that people will know and recognise, and stuff that I have never performed live before or that they have never heard me perform live before. It will be kind of half and half. I have got no real interest in doing a nostalgia tour. It would be soul destroying really. I am going on tour because I have got a fantastic new record (Laughs) and I want to perform it. I also love my old material and it will be exciting to be able to perform some of my old material that I haven’t performed for fifteen years. PB: Final question. The album is out on the 12th April and you’re doing the tour after that. Where do you go from here? Do you have more material written? SF: I am going to start writing again probably by the summer. I really would like to do some acoustic versions of some of my songs as well, in which the songs become the focus. I have been thinking that is what I might like to do next, but things may change. PB: Thank you.

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Shakespears Sister - Interview

Shakespears Sister - Interview

Shakespears Sister - Interview

Shakespears Sister - Interview

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