A “Private View” Into the Wonderful Life of … Swing Out Sister?! | THE HUFFINGTON
BY KRISTI YORK WOOTEN | FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST: Of all the musicians on social media, who’d guess that Swing Out Sister would be one of the influential tastemakers in 2013? Yet, judging from the Brit duo’s highly engaged following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there’s plenty of evidence that, 25 years after their “Breakout” first hit, partners Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell are still capable of crafting the soundtrack to our lives — or at least to theirs.
There are boutique hotels, boutique ad agencies and boutique law firms — so why not boutique bands? I posit that Swing Out Sister is a boutique band with a niche all its own and an aesthetically pleasing world view that generates a loyal, if cultish, fan following among aficionados of “grown-up music.”
Whether it’s Connell, perched at a piano in front of a window flooded by rare London sun and playing a tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone — or Drewery, holding court in front of thousands while opening for Stevie Wonder at the 2012 Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia — Swing Out Sister’s virtual life is cinematic and richly arranged. Connell’s YouTube stream and the band’s latest recordings and live DVD (Private View and Tokyo Stories) are testaments to the couple’s use of digital media to maintain the same aspirational brand it established in colorful music videos more than two decades ago. As we watch the couple ski around the French Alps, inspire a beautiful Brazilian girl to perform acoustic covers of the band’s greatest hits and cause a group of middle-aged Englishwomen to burst into song and dance, who doesn’t want some of what they’re peddling? (Corinne and Andy may let out a guffaw after reading the previous sentence; they’re modest, er “frugal,” and insist the glamor is “all in the presentation.”)
Oddly — or smartly — enough, what Swing Out Sister peddles today is not much different than its string of late 1980s and early 1990s hits, albeit minus the synthesizers. Connell’s taste for a good melody (backed up by Bacharach-esque intervals with a percussive pinch of Curtis Mayfield) remains intact, as do Drewery’s ebullient vocal delivery and signature hairstyle. (A little known fact: Connell was part of the Manchester music scene that birthed Joy Division/New Order; he played in the band A Certain Ratio. Check out this 2011 video of Swing Out Sister performing New Order’s “Perfect Kiss.”)
Although Swing Out Sister’s most recent album of new songs was 2008’s Beautiful Mess (which hit the top ten on the Billboard’s US Jazz charts), its latest, Private View, is an orchestrated re-imagining of its now deep back catalog, including “Notgonnachange,” “Incomplete Without You,” the aforementioned “Breakout,” and others. The pair is currently readying for a US summer tour — its first in many years, following the cancellation of a 2010 jaunt thwarted by the jet-grounding volcanic spew of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull. I Skyped with Corinne and Andy recently to find out if Swing Out Sister really has become a jazz band, why the Japanese are obsessed with their music and how they get by in today’s music industry. (Below, a few highlights.)
(My article from The Huffington Post points here.)
There are boutique hotels, boutique ad agencies and boutique law firms — so why not boutique bands? I posit that Swing Out Sister is a boutique band with a niche all its own and an aesthetically pleasing worldview that generates a loyal, if cultish, fan following among aficionados of “grown-up music.”
It was a pleasure to Skype recently with Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell about their latest release, Private View, and upcoming US Tour. We had such a good time, it may take me a few days to get the whole transcript for you below. For now, enjoy some highlights:
Complete transcript coming soon!
Do you make music that serves as the soundtrack of your life?
Ever since we started making music, over 25 years ago, and that was about the time when Andy and I got together, when the Sony Walkman was popular. It was great to walk around, surrounded by the music you loved. I was a fashion designer at the time, and I’d walk through the streets of London, and it was like being in your own little movie. I’d think, “Oh, I’m going walk through Hyde Park today or take a ride on a double-decker bus with John Barry.” I think that was when Sade had an album out and we went to college together. I was quite envious of how she had done, because we both started out as fashion designers. About the cinematic thing, I think that’s why it started with the Sony Walkman thing and having your own personal soundtrack, and we’ve continued to do that ever since, haven’t we, Andy?
We’ve never discussed it, but I had exactly the same experience with the Walkman thing. I don’t know if you remember the first time you put those headphones on and walked down the street, but it changed everything. All of the sudden, you approach things differently. Things smell differently, things look different. Once they had an experiment on channel 4 (BBC?), and basically they shot a three-minute piece of film of a guy in a cab, coming from the airport, driving through London and arriving at a house. They commissioned four different people to put music to it, and we did one. Our was called “Homecoming,” it was very Moriconnian, very heartwarming, and somebody else did a scary one, and somebody did a clubby, youth one. The weird thing was, when we watched them all back to back, you’d see different things. In the scary one, you saw a guy with a scowl on his face; in ours, you saw the sunlight coming through as a man pushed a child on a swing. So your brain saw what the music wanted you to see. It was riveting.
Are you a jazz band?
It was never an issue for us. We fell backward into making records. We were never positioning ourselves. Before we came to America, we didn’t know. The radio wasn’t formatted, so it was influenced by whatever it was influenced by. As soon as we got to America, it became very apparent that you find the place where you belong and you stay there, in marketing terms. They pulled their hair out with us, because we didn’t speak that language, and we probably still don’t. It has some of the vernacular and language of jazz, but I don’t think we would sit down and say we were a jazz group.
Record companies have never known what to do with us. Jazz was a bit of a swear word when we started out, but acid jazz was OK. Whenever something new has come along, they’ve tried to squeeze us into that category, but we’d have to make up our own category, which would be something like “pizazz,” like pop and jazz.
In Tokyo, they used to have this great record store called the Wave, and the jazz floor was on the top, the fourth floor. But before you got there, the third floor wasn’t mainstream, it was the other stuff that was evolving – hip-hop type stuff. We were in this section, and as I was walking through, I noticed it said “Grown-Up Music.” That was a great section to be in.
It was a nightmare for any record company to put us into a category for promotion. And I can remember when we first came to America to do concerts, some of our gigs had black, white, gay, straight, old, young – it was such a compliment to see that mix of people in our audience.
What had been a problem for us in our career has turned out to be a benefit. It’s a very broad spectrum now. The radio thing was always a problem…
With syncs and satellite play, how does that fit into the model for surviving the music industry in 2013?
I think an author once said, “Royalties are the best thing in the world.” You can go to sleep at night, and you’re earning money. It might not be a ton of money, but there’s a safety blanket there. You’re not constantly looking for your next gig. It’s enough to take on the next project or start your next record and not have to worry about having enough to pay the electricity bill during the course of it. The revenue stream is completely different now than it was, and it five years, it will be completely different from what it is now.
Why do the Japanese love you so much?
There is a certain lifestyle aspect in what we do and how the Japanese perceive us. But, before that, you’ve got to think about their culture and how far away Japan is. We are so different to them. They’re in a country that still has kimonos and Sumo wrestlers, and it’s an island and isolated. So, we’re as curious about them and their indigenous culture as they are about us and ours. There’s a mutual curiosity going on. I think we do provide some idea of the lifestyle of what they would imagine a Western couple is like. You think they’re so futuristic as far as their technology and innovation, but as far as equality for women, and to a certain extent, the treatment of women in the workplace, leaves a bit to be desired. Our translator said to me, “Are you slighter taller than Andy, Corinne?” And she was giggling as if she thought it was so strange that a man would even want to go out with a woman about a half an inch taller than he is. And she was bemused by the fact that Andy didn’t mind. It’s made them [the Japanese people] see our relationship in a different way, as being quite complex. They’re complex people. Everything you find in Japan – from the way the lay things on the table, to they way things are in hotels, and rows of shops with those little Tamagotchi creatures, they love to buy sets of things – one in each color and one in each style. I think that once they buy your records, they want the whole set, so we’re quite lucky.
I didn’t love [the Sofia Coppola film] “Lost in Translation,” because it’s a reflection of what it’s like when you first go. You’re in an island of Westerners. As you go more, you get invited to see the real culture. It treated them as caricatures, I thought. It’s just a movie, I know. It was talking about alienation – fair enough – but you never saw the Japanese person’s side of it.
Maybe they need to do a follow up to it. It’s a very strange world – an alien world to ours. When we first went there, it was so mysterious. I do think that was part of the magic of it for us. We didn’t know what was going on. I don’t think the people who were looking after us wanted us to know what was going on.
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