LISA STANSFIELD'S been around the world and back again but she'll admit that there's no place quite like home. Despite the global success and international fame that she's achieved as a result of her illustrious recording career, she talks to SJF not from London, Paris or New York but somewhere a tad less glamorous - her native Rochdale, Lancashire.
Between 1989 and 2001 Lisa racked up twenty UK chart entries - including two chart-topping singles - but the last decade has been a fallow one with the singer being conspicuous by her absence from the music scene. Now, though, exactly ten years after her last album - 2004's 'The Moment' helmed by uber-producer Trevor Horn - she's back with a brand new long player, 'Seven' (which entered the UK albums chart at #13 this week) and has just announced an extensive tour of the British Isles for September 2014. On the eve of her album's release, Lisa talked to SJF's Charles Waring and explained the reason for her long absence from the pop scene as well as discussing in-depth her new record and other aspects of her career...
Lisa, it's good to have you back with a new album.
Oh, it's nice to be back...
Why were you away for such a long time?
I just felt that I didn't really fit into anything and rather than change the approach and change the way that I make music I thought I'd wait until I could fit in again. I thought if my time 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. So that's what I did. I was all prepared for it but it was dependent on whether it came around or not. So if it didn't come round it would just be me doing everything in my bedroom on my own (laughs).
What's the story behind the new album?
I suppose there is a bit of a story behind it. It's all about one woman's journey: finding love, losing love, and finding love again really.
I believe that you worked with some guys in LA on the album - Quincy Jones's right-hand men ex-Rufus drummer John Robinson and horn player/arranger Jerry Hey.
We've known Jerry Hey and John Robinson for a long, long time. We've known them for over 20 years so we're not jumping on any bandwagons. We've been there before and done that.
What did they bring to the album that other people couldn't have brought?
I just think that when you write a song and you give it to someone like that, they put a different slant on it completely. You give them a brief of what you want and then they are just so amazing and in the pocket with giving you what you want. We did, also, use quite a lot of our band on the album as well so it's not just Jerry and the boys: there's a lot of British people in there as well. It's a very multiracial album (laughs).
Most of the material is written by you or with your husband Ian. How would you describe your creative partnership with Ian?
I sort of can't. I've been trying to explain it for years and years. It is what it is and when you're close to something you can't really explain it. I don't know. We have our private life and we have our working life. It mingles sometimes but if ever we fall out we never let that affect us in the studio. We're quite professional in that sense.
You seem to have a unique chemistry together in the studio when you get together, don't you?
I think it's sort of telepathy in a way. When you've been with someone for so long you become part of each other and you're not second-guessing but you sort of know what the other one is going to do, which is sometimes nice, but it's also nice to work with other people sometimes because they can bring something different and put a little spanner in the works and make you think about new stuff.
Can you recall when you first met Ian and how you got together musically?
I first met Ian at school when we were doing the school play. We didn't get together then. We were friends for a long, long time before we got together. But that was the first time and then after that I met Ian again after I'd been a TV presenter and it's very weird because I was on a really bad date. I was with this guy and I was thinking why am I on a date with this man because he's just not my type at all. And then Ian comes in with Andy, his friend, and I just mouthed to him: "please will you save me, save me?" (Laughs). And so we got talking about music and that's basically when we formed a band, Blue Zone, with me and Ian and Andy.
How much are the songs that you write shaped by their own experiences or do you put yourself into other people's shoes?
I suppose some times - you know when you have arguments or you see other people in situations then you write about those immediate emotions. I just take an emotion. I'm a great storyteller, I think, and I just completely make things up all the time. Not in my real life - I don't go round lying to everyone. (Laughs).
On your new album is a song called 'The Crown.' What's that song about?
It's all about the same woman. 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. 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. I never regard myself as the subject. I'm acting a part for people, you know.
You've done a bit of acting in your time - has that experience been helpful to you as a musician?
Yes, I suppose so because you're not the same character all the time so you can just do it. Yeah, 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? It's just pretending really, isn't it? (Laughs). Actors would hate me for saying that but it's just pretending.
Is there any one song on the album that stands out for you or has a special meaning?
I think they all do because you can't pinpoint one specific song. It's like you have some special feelings about all of them really and you're very fond of all of them. Choosing a favourite song is like saying which of your kids do you like best. (laughs)
The song 'Why' possesses a distinctive jazz-meets-blues feeling. Would you consider in the future going into more depth with that kind of style?
I don't know. I think whatever a song is or whatever it lends itself to, then you should just do it. I've always liked dipping my toe into the jazz thing but there's time for that anyway. I know I'm getting on but I've got a lot more writing in me, I think, before I have resort to doing a covers album (laughs).
In terms of future projects, do you have any ambitions beyond his current album?
Yeah, I've got things definitely in my head, and there's a lot of stuff to come, but it's all depending on this album - depending on how it goes. But yeah, I've got a lot of stuff in the cupboard to give.
Does the album reflect what you been listening to lately musically because I can hear quite a strong southern soul elements in a couple of tracks?
Well, I've always been a soul girl anyway. It's just the way I write. When I write I don't like to be influenced by other things so when I'm working a lot I don't listen to a lot of other songs because it really creeps into your head and then suddenly you'll write a song and you'll go oh shit, it was that song that I heard like about two days ago. I'm really bad like that: I'm a bit of a sponge, so I don't listen to too much stuff.
Going right back to the beginning, at what age did you show a real interest in music?
Well, I started singing - I don't know what it sounded like at the time - when I was probably four or five. That was when I really started to feel like I really wanted to sing. I just used to sing all the time. I used to sing at school and I'd sing at home and my mum would drag me downstairs at parties to do my party piece, as you do. I think that my mum and dad actually thought, oh she's going to grow out of it, so let's just humour her. Well, obviously, I never did (laughs).
Were they musical at all, your mum and dad?
Sort of, but they weren't in the music business or anything. My dad sang in the choir and my mum was in skiffle bands when she was really young but, no, nothing really massively major.
So how did you get into soul music?
Through my mum really, 'cos my mum always used to listen to Motown. Diana Ross was the first inspiration that I really had and then Marvin Gaye and all the old Motown stuff. She just used to listen to it all day long and because I was there as a kid, I listened to it as well.
And what sort of age, then, did you feel that music was the only thing that you wanted to do?
I was singing at five so I would have been probably seven or eight when I definitely knew that that was what I wanted to do. I was really fortunate because most people go through their whole life thinking what would I really like to do?
Music chose you, then, in a way...
I suppose so. There's nothing I can do about it (laughs).
How were you discovered?
At a talent show in a club. It was just like a little talent show and one of the judges, a producer from Granada TV studios, said to me do you want to do some TV? Well what do you say? You just say yes, don't you?
Do you think working in TV (as a presenter) helped your career as a musician in some ways?
I think everything helps in that sense because you just gain skills that you wouldn't ordinarily have - especially with acting and doing TV and stuff like that. You learn all the little things that you need to do. You learn the terminology and you learn how to get on your mark and you walk to here and you do that... It's a lot more complicated than people think, actually. You've got to think about five different things at the same time, which is multi-tasking, I know, but it's weird when you actually can't look at what you're doing but you have to know what you're doing.
Going back to Blue Zone, at what point did you and Ian and Andy realise that it was better if you went alone as a solo singer?
Oh well, I suppose it was when we did the thing with ColdCut ('People Hold On'). We did the record and it was basically Blue Zone and ColdCut and at the time everyone was making records featuring a certain singer. Everyone said I think it should just be your name (rather than Blue Zone) and I said I've got a horrible name, I don't like my name and I don't want to be all on my own. I got really frightened actually because it's scary, really scary, doing everything yourself. Oh I cried, really cried and said I can't do it all on my own! But I've not done too badly really have I? (laughs).
Your first solo album 'Affection' was massive as was the single 'All Around The World.' What memories do you have of those times?
God, it was just like a massive whirlwind. It was literally going all round the world and then coming back again and going all around the world again and it did, it got really quite freaky after a while because you just think I don't have a minute to spend by myself, only to sleep. I was literally sitting on the toilet doing interviews and stuff. So yeah, it's like this time round I just said to everyone: no, I'm not going to do everything. You've got to guard your own time, really, because you always want to love what you're doing as much as you can because people can really tell if you don't. People aren't stupid.
I suppose you have more control now than you did back then?
Now I can say is this worth doing or is that worth doing? So you whittle everything down and prioritise a lot of things whereas when you sort of turn up somewhere and haven't got as much control over everything you're just bombarded by things. I do feel really sorry for younger people who are taking off now because people try to take advantage of you left, right and centre. That's because they don't see you as a human being, they see you like a machine that they're investing in. You have to put your foot down sometimes, which is fine. I don't mind that any more.
Your previous album release was 'The Moment' in 2004. It was produced by Trevor Horn. What was he like to work with?
He's very businesslike actually. He's very 9 to 5. When he's doing a session he always goes home at a certain time for dinner and then comes back. I really enjoyed doing that album but it wasn't what I thought it would be because 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.
What's been the highlight of your career so far?
I suppose getting to number one, that's really lovely. We had a big party. That was really sweet. And I suppose the Freddie Mercury tribute thing (at Wembley in 1993).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."
article found here, interview by Charles Waring for SJF