Multi-Brit Award winner, LISA STANSFIELD, dropped off the radar in 2004 and hasn't been heard off for a decade. But now the Rochdale soul diva's back with a stunning new album, 'Seven,' and tells Black Sheep's Charles Waring all about it.
"It's nice to be back," laughs a positively chirpy Lisa Stansfield, who after a lengthy hiatus out of the limelight - ten long years to be exact - returns with a brand new ten-track album called 'Seven' (it's the seventh of her career) in February. She may have been all around the world (as her song goes) but evidently she hasn't lost the broad, rich tones of her heavy Rochdale accent - nor her typically Northern, down-to-earth attitude. She might be classed as a diva in musical terms but she patently doesn't possess a haughty diva attitude. In fact, she comes across as a normal, happy-go-lucky, and self-deprecating Lancashire lass who tasted fame in a big way but didn't let it go to her head. On the evidence of this interview, her feet remain firmly planted on the ground.
Lisa Stansfield could have easily retired on the earnings accrued from the impressive twenty UK chart entries that she notched up between 1989 and 2001 but singing is all that she knows and remains an abiding passion. So given that music is her raison d'être, why was she away from the recoding scene for so long? "I just felt like that I didn't really fit into anything," explains the forty-seven-year-old singer/songwriter, who possesses one of the most soulful and distinctive voices that the UK has ever produced. She took time out, she says, rather have to "change the approach and change the way that I make music." Instead, she was waiting - and hoping - for her time to come round again: "I thought if it never comes round again then it never comes round but if it does then I'm there and I can jump in the portal or whatever it is and get in there. I was all prepared for it but it was dependent on whether it came around or not." And if it hadn't come round? "I would just be doing everything in my bedroom on my own," she says with an infectious husky chuckle.
'Seven' is Stansfield doing what she does best - soul with a capital S. Her last album, 2004's 'The Moment,' found the singer cutting a pure pop album for ace producer Trevor Horn's ZTT label though it didn't quite cut the mustard, which the singer candidly admits: "I really enjoyed doing that album but it wasn't what I thought it would be. I always wanted to do a pop album but unfortunately I really can't do it. I can do a lot of other things but I know now that I can't do that. It's really difficult to do out-and-out pop."
'The Moment' is the only blip, perhaps, on Stansfield's otherwise impressive and flawless CV but the new comeback set, 'Seven,' looks set to rekindle the singer's career in a big way. She's responsible - along with her husband and long-time musical collaborator, Ian Devaney - for writing and producing it in its entirety. The album is all the better for it: the songs are organic, well-crafted and adroitly arranged with a palpable old-school soul vibe. But the icing on the cake, so to speak, is Stansfield's emotive, deeply soulful vocals. Evidently, she hasn't lost her mojo, as terrific songs such as 'So Be It,' the funky 'Picket Fence,' and the Otis Redding/Stax-influenced 'Stupid Heart' cogently demonstrate.
So what's 'Seven's' background story? "Well I suppose there is a bit of a story behind it," discloses the singer. "It's all about one woman's journey; finding love, losing love, and finding love again really." One of the chief highlights is an infectious mid-tempo ballad called 'The Crown,' which finds the album's imaginary heroine confronted by a new female rival. Says Lisa: "She's a woman of the world but she knows that she's been threatened by a younger girl. It's the age-old story of youth and wisdom. And she's saying to this girl get off my patch or you're going to be really, really sorry. I think the woman in the song, the story, will win in the end."
Is the song based on one of her own experiences? "I never regard myself as the subject," says Stansfield matter-of-factly. "I'm acting a part for people." Interestingly, though, acting is something that Stansfield knows a little bit about as she has been cast in small parts in several movies during the last decade or so, including a soon-to-be released one called 'Northern Soul.'
Does playing characters in films help with her song writing? "Yeah," she says. "It does help but I think being a singer has helped me acting-wise as well. I suppose it's just putting yourself into somebody else's life, isn't it, and imagining them?" She adds with a laugh: "Actors would hate me for saying it but it's just pretending."
But it doesn't come across as pretending on her new album. Every note and emotional nuance seems heartfelt and ingenuous. In fact, there's a new depth, intensity and maturity evident in Lisa Stansfield's latest performances and, in a stylistic departure from what is expected of her, one particular song called 'Why' has a distinctively earthy, jazz-meets-blues feel. The singer, though, is adamant that she's not going to go down that route completely - or at least not just yet. "I've always liked dipping my toe into the jazz thing," she confesses, "but there's time for that later. I know I'm getting on a bit already but I've got a lot more writing in me before I have resort to doing a covers album."
Good point. Finally, then, what does she consider the highlight of her long career? "I suppose getting to number one, that's really lovely," answers Stansfield, who topped the UK charts with her debut solo single, 'All Around The World,' in 1989. "We had a big party and everything. That was really sweet." She also grabbed pole position the UK pop charts five years later with a Parlophone-issued charity EP called 'Five Live' in conjunction with George Michael and the iconic British rock group, Queen. The record stemmed from her appearance with Michael at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley in 1993. It remains a personal highlight of her 25-years in the music business, as she fondly recalls: "There were over 100,000 people there and there were so many different artists. It was really, really lovely because nobody was more important than anybody else. Usually there's always one bad apple who fucks it up for everyone else but because there were no egos there that day everyone was just doing it for that one man and it was lovely."
LISA STANSFIELD'S NEW ALBUM 'SEVEN' IS RELEASED ON FEBRUARY 10TH VIA MONKEYNATRA RECORDS.