As the recipient of two prestigious Ivor Novello Awards, three Brits and a World Art Award, Lisa Stansfield has achieved iconic status. Her seductive, soulful voice took the world by storm in the late 1980s, with her first solo album, Affection, proving to be a worldwide hit. Last year saw Lisa release her seventh album, her first in ten years, to great critical acclaim. She’s been All Around The World... and is now about to land in Brum, much to the delight of her Midlands fans.
What’s On recently caught up with the Lancashire lass to talk about her music, her latest venture into film, and whether it’s all very different this time round...
You’ve been out of the spotlight for quite some time now. Is it very different being on tour this time round?
We’ve toured in the interim period. In that respect, we’ve kept our hand in. It’s not like I’ve not done any gigs for ten years. I’ve been very busy, but I see it as I’m still honing my craft.
Seven is your first album in ten years. Were you surprised at the response it received from both critics and fans?
I never expect anything; then whatever happens is a bonus - especially if it’s positive! For me, it was the right time to release Seven, because of the genre of music that it is. I didn’t want to release an album which wouldn’t fit in anywhere. You might as well just flush it down the loo or throw it on a fire. You spend a lot of time writing and recording, and there’s no point in releasing something unless people are going to take notice of it. Whenever you do a project, you’re always quite apprehensive about it, because you don’t know how people are going to react to it. But you have to grit your teeth, cross your fingers, and get on with it. Did your approach to recording change this time round?
No, I don’t think much did. I think we all like to think everything’s changed and it’s all revolutionary, but I think from a long time ago things have been very much there. It just goes round in circles, really - there are different names used to describe certain genres but the music’s still the same. People think it’s all brand new, but really it isn’t. What’s lovely is that new generations listen to music and think it’s theirs, but we’ve all been doing similar stuff for a very long time - like with the different types of dance music.
So are you taking on a new audience now?
Yeah, it’s quite amazing. We’ve got the older fans, who’ve been there all along. A lot of them have had children who grew up listening to my music, and now they come along to my gigs. We’ve got this completely new generation of people listening to our music. It’s incredible really, because some of them have only heard the new stuff. When they hear the older stuff, they’re like, “Oh, this is that woman who did that? Right, I get it now!”
As a musician, are you still motivated by the same things as twenty or thirty years ago?
I think so. I’m motivated by the same music that I always was. I still want to make music and want people to share in that.
So what informs your music these days?
I’ve got to the stage where I don’t listen to very much of other people’s music when I’m writing. I find I’m a bit like a sponge. I’ll sit down and write what I think at the time is the most amazing song ever, and it’ll end up sounding like Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay. So I tend to try and not let things influence me. Other people’s music gets into your subconscious - once it’s there, it’s hard to shake off.
Has your approach to songwriting and recording changed over the years?
I suppose it has a bit. I can’t play piano to save my life, but I can sit down and work out chords. I’ve found that nowadays I work a lot more like that than I would’ve done in the past. Seven was a work in progress for ages. We spent so little time recording it and such a long time writing. Groundwork is still the most important thing for me. It’s like writing anything; if you’re groundwork isn’t done, you’re going to get lost in the process.
Are you precious about how you take care of your voice?
Not really. I used to smoke an awful lot, but I gave up four years ago, and that’s the biggest gift I could’ve given both myself and my voice. I’m forty-eight now, and I’m singing like I was when I was twenty-six. It’s been pretty revelatory. As a singer, it’s really weird when you first stop smoking. Your voice has been tight all this time and you have to push past it. You find it becomes almost like an elastic band. At first, you think,?‘Oh God, what’s going on? I can’t sing anymore’, and then you just get used to it and find you have so much freedom. It’s incredible.
So do you wish you’d given up years ago?
No, not really, because I enjoyed every cigarette I had. I used to love smoking, but I decided to go for hypnotherapy and now it just doesn’t bother me anymore.
You’ve made numerous forays into acting, but this year sees you perform in the movie Northern Soul, due for release in October...
Yeah, I play the naggy northern mum who’s always in her dressing gown, curlers in her hair, screaming at her son. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience; it was a really interesting thing for me to do. What was lovely was that I’ve known Elaine (Constantine), who directed it, for a long time and I trusted her. I knew that if I was crap, she’d tell me.
What attracted you to playing the older mum?
I don’t know, really. Elaine’s done other projects in the past, smaller movies which I’d never had the chance to be in. So when she asked me this time round, I agreed. In the past I’ve played really bitchy, glamorous parts, so it was nice to diversify a bit.
What was it like to work alongside Steve Coogan, Ricky Tomlinson and John Thomson?
I didn’t get to meet Steve but I did get to meet Ricky. He played my dad, so I got to shout and nag Ricky Tomlinson, which I thought was really weird. He was really lovely; he joked and made everybody laugh all day. At the end of the shoot, he announced it was his birthday. We felt dreadful, as we’d gone all day without knowing. If he’d told us earlier, we’d have bought him a cake.
Were you given much freedom in developing the role?
Elaine was brilliant. There’s a level of mutual trust involved; you’re given this brief outline of what you’ve got to be, but a lot of it has got to come from you. You have to give something of yourself and find something of yourself. It makes me sound like a right twat - like an ac-tor! - when I talk about it, and I’m honestly not really like that. They’re all just things you have to consider when taking on a role.
So can we expect to see more of you on the big screen in the future?
I’ve done quite a few different things and I’ve done a bit of theatre, but yes, I’d like to do more film. It’s a very interesting process, creating something new - a bit like recording an album.
Is there a particular film genre that appeals to you?
I really like detective things and thrillers. I also quite like comedy, as long as it’s cleverly done.
What do you think about the current state of the industry?
I think it’s a really interesting time. There are a lot of fears about the internet and piracy, but I think it will eventually sort itself out. As an artist, social media enables you to find out much more about your demographic. It’s more useful than paying a company thousands and thousands of pounds to tell you not very much. You can find out a lot about what people like and don’t like about your work by just looking at your Facebook and Twitter pages. In terms of sales, it’s hard, very hard, but I think things are going to be controlled in a more diplomatic way. I love the fact that bands are out there doing their own thing, and don’t have to depend on big, corporate record companies anymore. People need that opportunity, and I think it’s great they can do it on their own. Even if they eventually deal with a label, they’ve already carved out a niche for themselves and carved out their own style, so hopefully they have much more control over what they’re doing in the future.
Is the industry more fickle these days?
No, I think there have always been two different camps. There’s always been the corporate, marketed stuff like boybands, girlbands, X Factor and that sort of thing. It’s being going on for years and years. It wasn’t Simon Cowell’s idea! In one camp, you’ve got those who take the initiative to make music at home, go out and gig, and try really hard to get themselves out there. Then you’ve got the other camp, who think, “I can be famous really quickly if I do this...” I have respect for both, but I sort of prefer the first.
You’re back living in Rochdale. Was it always on the agenda that one day you’d return to your roots?
No, we didn’t really think about it. But we decided to record Seven at Gracieland. We’ve just started to get to know the place again, to get out there and meet people. It’s been lovely.
So are you back in the UK for good?
We still go to LA quite a lot. We’ve just got a new place over there, but we’ve only spent about ten days there so far because we’ve been so busy. We’ll be back there in August and will hopefully start the new album.
A new album? Does it have a theme, like Seven?
We’ve got a lot of ideas and a lot of songs, but we haven’t decided what’s going to go on the album yet. We’ll hopefully get round to that in the next couple of weeks.
So you won’t be leaving it so long before releasing the next album?
Hopefully not. I’ll try not to leave it so long this time round.