Swing Out Sister are back with a new album, “Private View”. After 25 years in the business, the duo continue to create fresh reinterpretations of past gems that result in a sound that is timeless. My recent phone conversation with lead vocalist, Corinne Drewery was like chatting with a dear friend you haven’t spoken to in a few years, but you pick up where you left off as if no time has passed. I learned so much in this conversation about the surprising circumstances that birthed this new album I can’t stop listening to, plus the underground sound that came before, and lasted longer than disco, known as Northern Soul.
You can expect a U.S. tour in some shape or form in 2013 plus the duo are toying around with a big band sound that would be quite cinematic, which will hopefully come to fruition.
Progressive Pulse: I understand that the songs recorded on Private View were originally meant for an East Coast tour here in the states, but due to mother nature the tour was cancelled, and instead you recorded these new versions of some of your favorites? Is that why this album has a live sound to it?
Corinne: Yes, it’s a reinterpretation of some of our favorite songs. It came about because we were coming on tour in America, we were so excited to be coming back, and we were returning with a new jazzy acoustic sound and we had arranged these tunes specifically for this American tour. And then this Icelandic Volcano hit, and my goodness who can believe it. Every single airport was closed because of a volcanic ash cloud and we were stranded, and we were all ready to go. It was like we were fit to run the Olympics; we had been rehearsing these songs and we had done them in ways we had never done them before for this particular tour, because we always like to do something different. It was so disappointing, I can remember the next day I walked around all day with our percussionist, Jody because we had built up all of this adrenaline and we decided we just got to do it, let’s put it down in the studio, so we did, but, we had a lot of time to add stuff to it and mix and play around and just enhance it. In a way, it’s kind of like a gig and much more. So hopefully we captured that, all that energy, angst and adrenaline, even though it’s kind of a laid back album.
Progressive Pulse: It sounded like you had a lot of fun recording it.
Corinne: We did have a lot of fun. We thought this is it, this is the first gig. We just ran through it, song after song. I hope it captures that feeling.
When we do one tour and then we go on and do another tour we don’t like to repeat ourselves. We wanted to play something we hadn’t played in America. It was great that this natural disaster forced us to capture this feeling. It’s like we’ve rewritten all of the songs again.
Progressive Pulse: How did you and Andy go about arranging these songs so they fit into the musical landscape of today?
Corinne: I think we weave in a little of this and a little of that and the stuff that we’re currently listening to, but I think the technology that’s available at your fingertips sometimes dictates how you interpret things, just the way you record things and the instruments
Progressive Pulse: Talk about “Am I the Same Girl” and the origins of recording this track that was originally recorded by Barbara Acklin from Oakland, that was also an instrumental, “Soulful Strut”, all written in 1968.
Corinne: You’ve really done your homework on this one, I didn’t realize Barbara Acklin was from Oakland. I love Oakland! We did some recordings in Oakland in the studio of Foster/McElroy, who were the producers of En Vogue. That was a whole new world for us. We stayed in San Francisco on several occasions, but to get to Oakland was kind of like getting to the core of San Francisco, it was great! But, that’s interesting that you discovered that Barbara Acklin was from Oakland, because when I was younger, I used to go these nights clubs, which were kind of raves, but they were in the 70’s. The music that was played was called Northern Soul, it was kind of a British phenomenon, it was Black American R&B music, that didn’t really achieve the success it should have done in America. A bunch of dj’s in England took it and made it there own and discovered all of these undiscovered tracks and played them on the Northern club circuit and it became known as Northern Soul. It was the kind of music that was recorded as Motown. The rarer it was the better and these things used to sell for hundreds of pounds and people would find things that was a test pressing or never released before and it was kind of a secret society. Northern Soul was something you had to go out of your way and find. It was kind of an underground music movement. And this song, “Am I The Same Girl”, by Barbara Acklin, was a kind of an anthem. It was never on the mainstream charts or played on the radio it was just an underground hit for discerning people who really wanted to go out of their way to find this stuff. And I used to go out to these clubs and always loved the song. When Andy and I were recording stuff for the album, “Get In Touch With Yourself”, this is the song we’d wanted to write, so we thought why don’t we just do a cover of this one.
Progressive Pulse: Tell me more about these Northern Soul clubs and this movement
Corinne: They do have a few Northern Soul clubs in America now, but NS came out of the mods, you know the 60’s thing and scooters – the first R&B music that came over from America to England. It was kind of a Blues movement, like that New Soul movement that happened in America a few years ago. It was kind of new Blues. I suppose the Beatles kicked it off, Dusty Springfield was a great ambassador for Black music in Britain. There was a magazine called, “Blues and Soul” which coined the term, Northern Soul, but they also championed Motown. You know when Motown maybe wasn’t quite so popular in America, we championed it in England. And then Motown Review came over to England with all of their stars on several occasions from Stevie Wonder to Gladys Knight, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, all on the same bill and the same backing band. All of their artists would get up and do a few numbers. Northern Soul was kind of the same era, it was an appreciation of Black Music in Britain. It was an American phenomenon really…
The most famous place was Wigan Casino, it burnt down, but this was a club in a funny little Northern town, that isn’t that glamorous or famous, but became famous for being the heart of Northern Soul, because there was this old ballroom that was taken over every Saturday night by this all night club playing all of these rediscovered American R&B tunes. I mean it caused quite a stir in England, some of the stuff was rerecorded and got on the charts in the 60’s and 70’s, but what was cool about it was that it was underground.
Progressive Pulse: Do they remix some of the tracks or keep them in their original format?
Corinne: Oh no that’s the thing, it has to be the original vinyl. And I have a collection of original Northern Soul vinyl and I’ve been asked to deejay on a few occasions and people really do check the decks to check that your playing the original. It’s not a repressings or mp3’s. Pre-1971 was the guideline I was given when I played at one particular gig. These are just things that I had when I was younger and they are precious little gems. I would never sell them, there a bit scratched and beaten up. Every now and then if I deejay I’ll just take this selection of music and sometimes people will come up and say, ‘what is this stuff”, but it’s just stuff I grew up with.
Progressive Pulse: So you do deejay periodically?
Corinne: Yup I do occasionally. I wouldn’t call myself a professional deejay. I have to get people to remind me how to work the decks and the faders. I love doing it actually. I just like playing some of my favorite tunes, I wouldn’t say I actually play to the crowd. I’d rather play the earlier set so people don’t have to dance.
Progressive Pulse: “La-La means I Love You” originally by the Delfonics also gets a little Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On” in there. The two blend seamlessly. What’s the process of layering in all of these classic references, but then adding your own spin, plus that Swing Out Sister touch to some of these newer versions?
Corinne: We have a great band and they’re always prepared to go along with any ideas and they have their ideas too, so we put the time aside. We spend much more time rehearsing than most bands. We like to allow the time for ideas to develop because that’s when the interesting things happen. I’m not sure what comes from where in the end, but we just have such a good time working together and it’s great to work with a band that’s prepared to put that time in.
Progressive Pulse: Talk about the new stripped down version of your breakout hit, “Breakout”.
Corinne: We’ve tried it so many different ways, that we thought let’s just try it naked this time. I suppose it’s a bit like looking at yourself in the mirror without any makeup on and saying, ‘dare I really go out like this?’ But you kind of like say, it is what it is and it seemed like an honest way to do it, can it stand out on itself, naked?
Progressive Pulse: You have a DVD with the new CD, “Private View” correct?
Corinne: Yes, for America, the DVD comes with the CD. I suppose the DVD is kind of part of the tour that never happened in America that was cancelled due to the volcano. We feel so guilty because we haven’t been able to reschedule it since. So for the American audience there is a little glimpse as to what they might have had on this DVD. The DVD has some behind the scenes insights as to what happens before, after and between the gig, plus what we do on our days off.
Progressive Pulse: I love when you segues into “I’ll be there” by Michael Jackson on the live version of “Breakout”. I was just wondering if that was a tribute and intentional, or a natural flow? It was very emotional to watch.
Corinne: Oh, it was very emotional. When we were rehearsing to do a gig, I think it was maybe the day after Michael Jackson had died, and every one of us had been affected by this. We have all grown up with him, I mean I wanted to marry Michael Jackson when I was nine years old and he was on Top of the Pops in England. I was so envious and so in love with this nine yeas old boy on TV singing his heart out. We had been discussing how sad it was and what a great loss it was, and that just happened to fall into place to add to the end of “Breakout”. We had a gig a few days later and I thought, am I going to be able to do this without crying, and I did manage to sing a bit of the song, but it still manages to bring a lump to my throat. I just feel so sad that he’s not here. What really made me crack up though, fortunately so I could finish the song, was my friend’s little boy who was at the front of the audience, and he started moon walking. He’s only like seven years old. He was so innocent and all he wanted to do was the Michael Jackson dance. I think everyone feels the same way, from little kids to older, that he really affected our lives at different stages.
Progressive Pulse: It’s been 25 years since your first recording, ‘It’s Better To Travel”. How have you noticed your music and stylings change over the years?
Corinne: I think of anything, we’re probably a little more intimate. I think when we started out we probably didn’t know what we were doing. We were experimenting, but we’re still do the same thing today. I think things were a bit more removed, and today we’re prepared to leave things in and we have more experience. The things we leave in are bit more sincere. It’s great to not change things and to tidy things up. We have more confidence now.
Progressive Pulse: Any future plans to tour in America?
Corinne: YES WE DO! I really hope that this year we are able to come back and tour with no natural disasters…no hurricanes, no volcanoes, no earthquakes…I mean, please just give us a break. It’s great to come to a country and tour that has inspired you to make so much music. So much of our inspiration comes from American music, so it’s great to come and bring something back.
Listen and Download: “Private View” by Swing Out Sister