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SWING OUT SISTER (CORINNE DREWERY) INTERVIEW [2004]

WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALISE YOU COULD SING?

I still don't know if I've discovered that I can sing! I've enjoyed singing from a very young age and the first thing I can remember is being told by my mum that very early on the first thing I could sing all the way though - and get the lyrics right - was 'Summer Holiday' by Cliff Richard and apparently I used to sing that on my potty... I think it helped, but it would all go horribly wrong when I had to stand up to sing the middle-eight!

So that was the first thing that my Mum remembers me singing, but I think I'll choose to forget that, and the first things that I remember singing are Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw, Dionne Warwick, Shirley Bassey, the Supremes - I think it was the divas of the sixties that made me want to sing and it was as much to do with the clothes that they would wear and the fantastic eyelashes as their actual songs. Now looking back though, I think that the reason that I liked all those singers was because they wrote great songs - the performances and the arrangement and the singing and the backing vocals probably all subliminally planted the inspiration.

AT THAT STAGE WERE YOU ALREADY DETERMINED THAT SINGING WOULD BE YOUR LIFE?

Well I can remember saying to my mum 'when I grow up I want to be a pop singer' and she said 'oh I don't know about that it's very difficult and we'll never get to see you because you'll always be on tour'. I told her that she could come on tour with me but by the time I got to around the age of ten I got a bit sensible and I thought maybe I'd be a fashion designer because that would be a back-up job if the music career didn't succeed... little did I know that fashion design is probably a lot more difficult that trying to be a singer! So I learnt to make frocks and things and that helped when you're stuck for something to wear...

I probably always wanted to be a singer but from time to time I went towards things that were more sensible because music seemed like such a dream, and I had better learn how to do something proper, although I think that my proper alternative wasn't that proper, although I did design clothes for about five years after I left St. Martin's College. I set up a business with a friend but we did like designing clothes and printing fabrics, making the clothes and then going out and wearing them a lot more than we liked doing the accounts!

SO IT'S PROBABLY A GOOD THING THAT YOU BECAME A SUCCESSFUL POP STAR! HOW DID THAT ALL COME ABOUT? WAS SWING OUT SISTER A BUNCH OF FRIENDS WITH A VISION, OR WAS IT ALL DONE THROUGH THE CLASSIFIED ADS IN THE MELODY MAKER?

Well I did answer several Melody maker ads and the first band I went to audition for were Working Week and I did sing with them for a bit although it didn't really work out... I knew I wanted to pursue this thing and I'd been in a band at college but I'd given all that up in order to finish my degree and make a go of a career in fashion, but it was always there in the back of my mind, even if I just did it as a hobby or an alternative career, so I used to go around pestering people and go 'if you want anyone to sing then I can sing for you' and people just went 'yeah yeah yeah'. The I sang with Working Week for a while and they didn't take me that seriously and then a friend who managed a musical duo was looking for someone to sing with them... although unbeknown to me they didn't want anyone to sing with them! But he said he was looking for a singer for a duo and I said I'd do it but he said 'oh no you're far too old and ugly...' but in the end they couldn't find a singer so he said well you could always try and write some songs with Andy and Martin and if any of them work out we can always get a proper singer in. I think I was too keen to be offended and they never did find another singer and so I ended up staying with them!

DO YOU ACTUALLY REMEMBER THAT FIRST TIME YOU MET ANDY AND MARTIN?

The first time I met them I tripped over them on my living room floor! The same manager had brought them down to London to do something or other and couldn't be bothered to put them in a hotel or anywhere and so they were kipping on our floor - they were actually looking for a record deal so no-one had much money at the time and I felt a bit sorry for them that he hadn't offered them a blanket or anything and they were just sleeping in their coats like down and outs on our living room floor, so I felt a bit sorry for them and made them a cup of tea... this was a long time before I auditioned for them, that was another six months or so and I didn't even realise it was the same guys!

SO WHEN YOU STARTED WORKING WITH THEM, WAS THE BAND ALREADY SWING OUT SISTER?

No... I can't really remember what they were called - they didn't really have a name, they just used to do all sorts of electro type tracks and put them out, and they were called what anyone called them.

SO THEY WEREN'T REALLY WORKING IN WHAT WE NOW KNOW TO BE A SWING OUT SISTER STYLE...

Yes... I don't think anyone made a conscious decision to change anything it just evolved. Andy had been in A Certain Ratio for a few years before that... I didn't really know much about Factory Records so I wasn't really pandering to that whole industrial northern funk thing. I knew ACR's better known tracks but I wasn't so aware of the Factory thing other than the very well-known things...

I think it worked quite well that none of us really knew each other - Martin had been in Magazine and I had been in Working Week for about a week, but it was out musical influences and tastes that came together and it was quite tricky to make it all work. Andy was coming from a kind of Brazilian avant-garde jazz background, Martin was coming from a more rock and indie background and I just liked pop music - Motown, Northern Soul and those great sixties divas... that whole thing of a little symphony being rolled into three minutes was kind of where I was coming from - great orchestration, drama and catchy tunes. So it was a bit difficult and we just went with the first thing that came together as a song - none of us had worked together before so we were quite pleased to achieve a result. It was quite difficult but it was fun at the same time - it was quite exciting to know what would actually happen, to see what would come of it...

AND WHAT CAME OF IT WAS 'IT'S BETTER TOP TRAVEL' WHICH WAS A NUMBER ONE ALBUM!

Yes! No-one was more surprised than us, although deep in my heart I did kind of expect it because that was what I had been dreaming about since I was a few years old! So I think deep down I kind of expected that but Andy and Martin had come from a completely different angle - schlepping around, playing the tiny venues and doing University tours and everything. They had a real underground background and I had no background at all but somehow it all worked out!

We did write a few songs before 'Breakout' but they were all pretty much written on the back of an envelope and were done quite separately in way because Andy and Martin lived in Manchester and were in different bands at the time, and I lived in London so we all had to somehow do our little bit separately and then come together to get it finished off! With 'Breakout' we had a two-single deal and we'd already released one, which had been a bit of a 12" club hit called 'Blue Mood', so the second single had to be a hit or we were going to get dropped and there was a lot of pressure on us to get it right. Andy was off on tour with ACR, Martin was up in Manchester and I was in London and they kept phoning and asking if I'd finished the lyrics to this song and I got really worried because I wanted it to be perfect - I wanted it to be just right - and the day before the deadline our A&R man phoned up and asked if I'd finished and when I said no he said 'Oh come on it's only writing a bloody nursery rhyme' but at that stage I didn't have any ideas and I'd just confused myself and I couldn't discuss it with Andy and Martin because they were off doing their respective things. So I was just sitting in this squat that I was living in, with a microphone plugged into the back of a stereo trying things out but I ended up with like half an hour and the bike was due to pick up the tapes! But maybe that lack of time just forced the best thing out - I just had to record something there and then - I think if anyone had seen how it all came about they would never have taken it seriously! I can remember having the idea the night before but I couldn't record it then because it would make too much noise, but the thing that made me remember it was thinking of a chicken clucking combined with Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'!

IT MUST HAVE THEN ALL GONE FROM ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER - FROM JUST HANGING ONTO TO YOUR DEAL TO BEING NUMBER ONE!

Well, even when we recorded the song a few people said 'that's never going to work... it sounds like a swing band or something' and nobody could really make head nor tail of it because it just didn't sound like anything that was around at the time as far as the label were concerned they didn't really know what to do with it! But even though it was different it was fresh and people responded to it in a different way...

IT'S FUNNY, I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT SWING OUT SISTER'S MUSIC IS SOMEHOW TIMELESS, IN THAT IT NEVER FITS ANY SORT OF PREVAILING FASHION, YET IT STILL MANAGES TO BE QUITE EFFORTLESSLY CONTEMPORARY...

I'm really glad you think that because I think that's all we ever intended to do - not to fit in with any particular fads or trends at any particular time, but just to encapsulate good things from the past and the present - just to create something that can be enjoyed at any time. We're probably too contrary to fit in with any current trends, and if anything we'd probably try to fight against them...

I IMAGINE THAT IF YOU HAD TRIED TO FIT IN WITH THEM THEN YOU WOULDN'T HAVE ACHIEVED THE LONGEVITY THAT YOU HAVE...

Maybe... I think that at the end of the day Andy and I do what we like doing, and that's also why we've worked for so long with our producer Paul O'Duffy because he's coming from a similar place and he's worked with us from the start and knows we can be stubborn and won't try and fit in with what's going on. Obviously you're going to be influenced a little bit - new technology comes along and different things come along that inspire you, but at the same time you just have to be honest and do what you do the best, and not to try and fit in with anything.

I SUPPOSE THAT IT'S VERY EASY TO DRAW PARALLELS WITH SIXTIES SINGERS AND JAZZIER ARTISTS, BUT PRESUMABLY TO MAKE THE KIND OF SOUNDS YOU MAKE YOU MUST BE BRINGING IN AN AWFUL LOT OF CONTEMPORARY INFLUENCES AS WELL?

Yes that's true - while we were recording we were listening to whatever was going on, with this record that would include people like Beyonce and Alicia Keyes, Outkaste and the whole Neptunes production thing, Missy Elliot, Timbaland... those are things that we listened to as well, and maybe they are not so apparent but you hear all these sounds and production techniques and probably the freshest music around at the moment is rap and hip-hop and I like what's happening at the moment where that's starting to cross over with pop... I think that the places where two types of music cross over are the interesting bits and I think that there are some parallels there to us - the music that has influenced our past fusing with new influences.

I think that probably one of the biggest influences on me in Swing Out Sister was A Certain Ratio because Andy was still performing with them and they were really great to us and leant us gear and let us use their rehearsal room and I saw a lot of their concerts and really learnt a lot from them about the touring side and the recording side - I hung out with them a lot in the studio, and they were very influential in teaching me the ropes. I wanted to go on tour because I'd seen them touring!

DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU'RE A NATURAL POPSTAR?

Not really... I don't know if that's what I am! I'm not a diva, I like getting mucky and I like down to earth things. I'm probably not all that comfortable with being a pop star... it's what I always wanted to be but as soon as we had a number one record I think I just wanted to be completely anonymous which was a real shock! I wasn't sure that I really wanted all that attention... I'm quite happy with the way that things are now, things have calmed down now...

ARE THERE ANY PARTS OF THAT PERIOD OF STARDOM THAT STICK IN YOUR MIND?

Well, there's that old thing of never meet your heroes, and I am a fan of Chaka Khan - she's fantastic and she can do things that I can never do with my voice! We met her on a radio show and she was playing that night in London and she asked us to come down and gave us some tickets. So we went down to the show and part way through she said 'Are Swing Out Sister here?' and I was waving my hand to let her know that we were there and we'd used the tickets while Andy was saying 'don't do that!'... and then she started saying 'Can you come up to the stage if you're here?' and Andy was going 'Don't go, don't go' and I did go to the stage and Chaka Khan got hold of my hand and pulled me up on the stage and I was totally unprepared and I just hadn't seen it coming and she wanted me to sing with her on 'Ain't Nobody' and I was standing there going (whispers) 'No no, I don't want to' - I just thought I can't sing with Chaka Khan because In can't do what she can do and I was totally in awe of her and totally embarrassed! The band were just doing an instrumental version of the song and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up and then I realised that I had spilt my popcorn earlier and I had popcorn all down my front!

DO YOU EVER LOOK BACK AND THINK 'IF ONLY I HAD SUNG WITH CHAKA KHAN THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SUCH A GREAT EVENT'?

No, I just think that I did the right thing and left her to it - she's amazing and she can do things with her voice that I could never do - and I wouldn't want to attempt it really, not on the same stage as her! She's a fantastic woman and she was on tour having a great time!

IS TOURING SOMETHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?

Well I love it, but I'm not a very spontaneous person so we do need to rehearse a lot and know what we're doing, especially if we're trying to recreate the songs as they are on the albums - or reinterpret them I should say - because they're quite difficult and there's a lot of complex arrangements of stuff in there... and Andy is a hard taskmaster and he likes to rearrange all the songs and take them to a different place and some of the songs are pretty tricky, but... I think that when you know what you're doing and you've rehearsed well then it's fine and you can have fun.

WILL YOU TOUR THIS RECORD?

I think we will at some point, we're just waiting to see how it goes and how we can do it... we can never really decide because ideally we'd like to have an orchestra and a choir! Especially to recreate some of the stuff that's on this album, so it's a case of having to simplify it and just deciding how to do that really. So we've made the decision that we will tour, we just haven't worked out how yet!

WHEN YOU DO GO OUT LIVE WILL IT BE JUST HERE IN THE UK OR WILL IT BE AN INTERNATIONAL THING?

Oh I think that if we do it we'll do it everywhere... labels in other countries are going to be putting the record out later this year, including a release in the USA...

YOU HAD SOME LONDON SHOWS SCHEDULED IN DECEMBER 2003 THAT YOU ENDED UP CANCELLING...

I would really like to apologise to anyone who had planned to go to those shows, and to anyone who was inconvenienced by the cancellation of those gigs. I agreed to do them in January when we were half way through the album, or so I thought! But then we decided to change tack a bit and we scrapped some stuff and started some things again and things happened that meant that the whole process was slowed down and we still hadn't finished the album by the time those dates came up. We were working to a strict deadline - we'd already missed a couple! - and stopping to rehearse for the gigs would have delayed the release of the album even more... so we had to say no to something; either not do the Jazz cafe shows or not finish the album and get it released when we wanted to... I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to them and I do apologise to anyone who was planning to come along and we won't be making a habit of cancelling shows...

IS THE GOAL ALWAYS TO MAKE A DIFFERENT ALBUM FROM THE LAST ONE?

Make an album different for the sake of it? We couldn't really work that way and that's probably why it takes us so long to do it... we wait until we're fired up and ready. I do think that we try to explore a different area each time though, and that gets harder as time goes on because if you're true to yourself and you're exploring areas of music that are important to you and have inspired you, you can start to feel that you've used all the options up, but I think we just then dig a little deeper... there are so many things to be inspired by.

I think that every time we make an album we feel that it won't be possible to do any better than this and I think it always comes back to getting new ideas and new enthusiasm and just going off in a different direction...

IS IT DIFFICULT TO DRAW THE LINE AND SAY 'THAT'S IT, THIS RECORD IS FINISHED' WHEN YOU'RE IN THE PROCESS OF FINISHING A ALBUM?

It's incredibly difficult - that's why it takes us so long to make an album. We're all equally indecisive - including Paul Staveley O'Duffy our producer who has written our last two albums with us, but that's partly due to the nature of recording, the process of writing a song and demo-ing it, and then going into the studio to start again and produce it you lose some of the spontaneity of the process. We found, working with Paul from the start, that we kind of record and produce as we write which is a slightly different way of working but it's more inspiring than sitting there with a voice and a piano where everything sounds pretty much the same in the beginning whereas if you start off with strings or the odd sample thrown in I think you can send yourself in a different direction and we have to surprise ourselves in order to keep up our enthusiasm in order to keep up the listener's enthusiasm - if we know what we're getting before we've started then we're going to be bored and so are the listeners. We have to trick ourselves sometimes, into writing a song before we've written it if you know what I mean; otherwise the process is always going to be the same. We're constantly trying different ways to write... some people will go and sit on a beach, or up a mountain, but I need some amount of familiarity but at the same time you've got to put in something new as well...

WHAT'S THE MOST ENJOYABLE PART OF THE PROCESS FOR YOU? IS IT THE WRITING, THE RECORDING, THE TOURING...?

I think it's that moment where you're writing a song and you haven't quite finished it, so you don't quite know what it is yet, and I think that's why it takes SO long to do because I think we're probably all like that and we all think 'we could go anywhere from here' and it's such a great feeling where imagination is as wide as the horizon and it can go in so many ways before you finish the song. It's nice in a way not to finish a song and we do have lots and lots of unfinished material although we do narrow that down when it gets to the point where we have to have an albums worth and we try to pick stuff that compliments each other, but I think it's that moment before you finish something, before you know what it is and while your mind is still open and you're still walking on a high wire... will you fall, will you reach the end... I think for all of us we'd like that feeling to last forever so I think that's why it always takes us so long!

IS THERE A LEAST ENJOYABLE PART OF THE PROCESS?

Probably getting started... I don't know, probably because you have to have made a few decisions by this point and we're all so indecisive. Then there's the having to describe to people what sort of music we make - to be honest we're probably the wrong people to ask! I don't know what our music is, I want other people to decide - as long as it's complimentary!

Someone in Japan described it as 'Lounge Motown' which I think pretty much sums up the new album - I like it because it sounds quite joyful and playful, it's relaxed but it's got a hint of that Motown flavour... so I like that description!

ARE YOU PROLIFIC WRITERS?

Not really... I don't know - I think we're quite prolific when we start recording for an album, and I think that Andy is a lot more prolific than I am, he'll sit and play the piano and come up with things, but I don't know... I think I'm a bit of a receptacle - I just keep on taking things in and then when I have to finish something I will, but I think that's part of the process that I described to you before - I like it when things are still quite unformulated. I do carry hundreds of notebooks around with me and then I lose them and then I find them again, but I think that as long as you're thinking about things then strong ideas will stick and there are certain phrases in my mind and certain ideas that I've thought of and haven't used yet, and if I think of one line I can think of all the rest of the things once I get into that train of thought... I think I've got a head full of words looking for a home but until the right thing comes along. But I think that the way we write it's not like the words are particularly important or are saying anything and even though I write the lyrics I wouldn't say they were the most important thing... I think they are the vehicles for the listeners to kind of attach themselves to the songs, so I like the lyrics to be unobtrusive and more like an instrumental part. Someone who does that but to far more extreme is Liz Fraser from The Cocteau Twins and her voice is an instrument and you can make out sounds and imagine what the words might be, and I like that, I like the words to be quite abstract.

MUSIC AS AN ARTFORM SEEMS TO BE VERY IMPORTANT TO YOU AND I'M GETTING A VERY STRONG SENSE THAT YOU WANT THINGS TO BE RIGHT, BUT DOES THAT MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO PUT YOUR MUSIC THROUGH THE MUSIC INDUSTRY MACHINE?

Well it is when people don't understand where you're coming from and they don't get it and they treat your work insensitively, but to be honest I think I've become desensitized, and I think that comes from working in the fashion industry - as soon as you create something you're open to criticism and I think that I can stand up to that and become hardened to it. It's almost like you have to be schizophrenic - you have to be keep your feeling very open when you're writing songs and music, but then when you're trying to get your music heard you're in the position of almost being a marketing person, but you're marketing yourself which is the hardest thing to do. I mean you can wash your hands of it and not do it, but if you want to be sure that your music is aimed at the right people and pointed in the right direction then you can't help getting a bit involved, but you do have to divorce yourself a bit from the creative you and step outside yourself...

JULY 2004

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