Interview by Miriam C.
From disco diva to singer-songwriter: Sophie Ellis-Bextor‘s career can be resumed in this sentence. You can still remember her for her hits “Murder On the Dance Floor” and “Groovejet” back in the early 2000s but a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. 2014’s “Wanderlust” represents THE stepping stone in her career for many reasons (mainly for her musical evolution and her decision to be independent) and since then, she continue to propose her engaging blend of indie pop and folk. The British singer/songwriter has just released her 6th album “Familia” and we were lucky enough to have a nice chat with her. Discover with us why both “Wanderlust” and “Familia” in some ways share a bond…
So, Sophie, we’re here to talk about your upcoming album “Familia”, can you take us through its genesis?
“Familia” is the second album I’ve written with Ed Harcourt and we started songwriting for this record in spring last year. We recorded it with the same group of musicians as my last album and it was all done in 10 days. Intense but fun. I love working that way.
From your press release, I can deduce that “Familia” can be considered a sort of a ‘companion’ album (or a continuation – choose the word that suits best) to your previous album “Wanderlust“. Musically and lyrically speaking, which are the common traits that “Familia” can partake with “Wanderlust”?
On the surface, we’ve kind of done the opposite of what we did with “Wanderlust” so instead of an Eastern European feel we’re now in Latin America and instead of a wintery landscape we’re now somewhere warm but at its heart we have some of the same characters (the witch from “Love Is a Camera”, the runaway bride from “Cry to the Beat of the Band”) and some themes that Ed and I like, mythical scenes and songs about love, it’s just we’re drinking tequila not vodka now.
I’ve read that you got the chance to work together again with British producer/songwriter Ed Harcourt and, quoting the press release you published, “a song suite that draws inspiration from Latin America, complex mythological characters and, most importantly, the families created both by blood and by friendship”. How was both your and Ed‘s approach, during the writing process, about these thematics?
We have a very easy working relationship. I joke that I get Ed‘s sunny thoughts and he gets my dark ones… I guess we both find inspiration in the same things. Fairy tales, Greek myths, spooky landscapes. We’re both big romantics at heart, too.
Now, I’d like to take a trip down memory lane and bring you back to “Wanderlust” because it represents a stepping stone in your career and as Wikipedia says (and I totally agree with it), it “marks a sharp shift” in your musical style. I’m totally aware that the album was certified Silver in UK but personally speaking, what lead you to practically change your musical universe at the time?
I was just at a time in my life when I wanted to shake things up a bit. I was 34 and feeling like I was potentially getting stuck in a rut and really felt too young to do that. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my 5th album but I knew I wanted to challenge myself a bit and surprise myself. That was the kernel for the birth of “Wanderlust”.
I was really impressed by how the press release describes with a few concise words your album: ““Familia” is a deeply layered, wonderfully cohesive album with stories to tell and characters to unpick”. Would you like to explain more about this by taking your lyrics as cross-reference?
Golly, I don’t know. To be honest I’m a bit rubbish at describing what I do and a bit rubbish at being objective. I suppose the fact we have songs about little stories Ed and I have created gives it a bit of a quirky angle. It’s not every pop star who ends up singing songs about a mad witch who steals your soul when she takes your photo , is it?
About your decision to go independent, you said that you “love (to) being answerable for everything”. What prompted you to take this important decision?
It kind of happened by default as every label passed on “Wanderlust”, so independent was the way to do it. I loved feeling totally self-sufficient and I loved feeling a bit more grown up. It galvanises you to put your money where your mouth is, put a brilliant team around you and write an album no one told you to make. It’s risky but it’s joyful and I feel very spoilt I was able to do it.
I’d like to focus a little bit on the visual aspect: you’ve worked again with you long-time partner in crime Sophie Muller. If on “Wanderlust”‘s cover album you seem to retrace the deeds of a posh 60s diva, now on “Familia” it’s the extreme opposite: your straid seems more colorful, open and joyful. First of all, is it wrong to assume that both “Wanderlust” and “Familia” are visually connected? Also, what were influenced by when you were preparing the whole visual aspect?
I intentionally chose a cover photo that was reminiscent of the last record cover. They are siblings. It was also very important to me to I work with Sophie again because she’s amazing and I love her. With this album and the last I worked with her, Lisa Laudat for hair and make-up and Tamara Cincik for styling. They are all lovely women with a great eye and they bring their own talents to the party. It becomes a shared vision. I love that. It’s the same with the music. Ed and I get the framework but all the musicians put their stamp on it. If anyone else were involved, it wouldn’t be the same album.
Connected to the previous question, it’s more a curiosity but would you mind to tell us in detail about the outfit that you are wearing on the cover artwork?
Tamara and I turned up on the day with armfuls of clothes. Some of the artwork outfits I’ve bought it in some little vintage shops or on eBay. Some of it is Tamara‘s own. Some is called in. I don’t want it to look ‘styled’. I want it to breathe life, so you believe in it.
“Come With Us” was the first single ahead of the album and it was released back in August. What insight can you share about it?
It’s a live disco song about the lure of a cult.
Where can your fans catch you in the next days? Do you have any plans for a full EU tour?
I will tour the record properly in February. I can’t wait!
So, Sophie, it’s time for your parting words – I really thank you for your time – please greet freely our readers and your fans. Thanks again!
Thank you! I am so excited and proud of the record. I love what I do and I feel like I’ve found my sweet spot. Thanks to anyone who is still interested in what I’m up to. I honestly couldn’t ask for more and it makes me very happy.
Sophie’s second photo by Sophie Muller