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Interview: Sophie Ellis-Bextor

15 min read

Lockdown may have taken a grim hold over the UK and the world throughout the best part of 2020, but pop icon Sophie Ellis-Bextor has been right by our sides every part of the way with her uplifting online family antics in the form of Kitchen Discos. A homage to her creative family who joined the star during the 25 minute weekly entertainment, Ellis-Bextor delivered anecdotes and covers to build community and lift our spirits and one of the results was her very first greatest hits collection, released at the end of 2020, in the sparkly form of Songs From The Kitchen Disco.

As the pop icon, mother, wife and online personality tells us when we recently spoke with her in the lead up to Christmas, there is optimism in the air as plans to tour her Kitchen Discos, along with a support slot for Steps’ What The Future Holds arena tour in November, are now in place. We also go to speak about her management of lockdown and how she has pushed through the challenging year that was 2020 as well as plans for a new studio album. Here is what the Murder on the Dancefloor hitmaker had to tell us…

Brendon Veevers: Sophie, hello! How are you?

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Hi Brendon, yes I’m good thanks, I’ve been expecting your call.

BV: You’re over West London way aren’t you Sophie?

SEB: Yeah, I am.

BV: I used to live over in West London and I remember a number of years ago walking passed you in the street. You were pushing a pram with one of your younger children at the time. I remember going to work the next day bragging that I saw Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

SEB: (laughs) yes. And I can still be spotted with a pram every once and a while.

BV: I know you are up to your ears with work promoting your greatest hits record at the moment so I’m just going to diver straight in here. As a mother of 5, a Greatest Hits album just released, 2 regular online series and 2 tours for next year being set in place, you seem to have been a busy woman. Before touching on each of these things, how has lockdown in general been treating you and your family this year?

SEB: Oh well, probably just like lots of people. A bit of a mixed bag really. Umm its not been all doom and gloom. We’ve managed to find our way through it. You know, if I had to be locked down with people then I’m with all of the people I would have chosen. I think we had our family’s coping mechanism which I think is what gave birth to the Kitchen Discos because as a family that’s what we do when we’re feeling like we need to celebrate or just get some tension out or just jump around and have some fun we put some music on and put the disco lights on so that’s been a nice part of our year but yeah, like everybody else we’ve also had moments that have been really tricky.

All my work that was planned for the year went, so was my husbands so there’s been a lot of adapting and adjusting and there are loads of things that we miss about our normal lives and are still missing but we’re muddling through.

BV: You mentioned your Kitchen Disco’s there and that’s what I wanted to talk about with you. Where did the idea come from to do your Kitchen Discos?

SEB: You know what? It was kind of really instinctive. It was weird. It wasn’t my idea, it was my husbands. I think we both felt that we missed people and we missed the normal things we get up to but the times are quite relentless really; with the heaviness of the news and adjusting to the kids all being off school and that sort of thing. So he said why don’t we do these as a gig online and I thought it was absolute insanity really, with a baby crying and all that but then I thought sod it. What’s the worst that could happen.

And actually it made us feel really good and I was a bit worried that people might think that I had gone a little bit insane but then I thought that things are already a bit barky – lets do something fun.

And actually we got such a lovely, warm response but also we felt good. It made us feel better. It was a way to connect with our family and our friends as well as other people so then it became just what we did every Friday and it actually took on a whole life. That was only half an hour on a Friday and the rest of the week was pretty domestic and mundane and quite Groundhog Day-ish.

So each Friday we had something to distract us and to think of new songs to do and yeah, just have some fun really.

BV: Your children are the envy of so many fans around the world with getting to experience such intimate Sophie Ellis-Bextor performances. What are your kid views of mum and dad the pop stars. Is it something they brag about or something that doesn’t really phase them?

SEB: You know, I think they are kind of neither of the above in a way. They are kind of just getting on with the business of what ever is going on in their lives. They have a sort of healthy place for it really, in that I don’t think I’m raising any tiny fans which I think it appropriate but I also think they are all supportive and they like the fact that mum and dad enjoy what they do and I think they like the daftness of the fact that there are so many different things happening all of the time.

But also, a lot of the time they aren’t really thinking about it at all (laughs). And even with the Kitchen Discos they are just children putting on their fancy dress and with the lights and I hope I have chosen a couple of songs that they may like. I don’t really think they were thinking that much about it outside of it being 25 minutes of their lives once a week, really, but for them its just a bit of fun like a family birthday and it kind of comes and goes and some of it works and some bits are a bit tricky and then life just continues afterwards really.

BV: With both yourself and Richard being in the music industry, are with such a creative space that your home clearly is, has that rubbed off on any of your children? Have any of them raised interest in the arts?

SEB: You know I would be quite surprised if none of them want to be in a band at some point. I think definitely that we are quite a creative family so the creative side of things isn’t something that switches on and off in our family but anything could change as they grow up and some of them are so little that its quite hard to say but I definitely think that they love music and they are a fan of things and they all have their own musical identity and to be honest that is all I ever really wanted for them.

Before I’m a singer I’m a music fan and some music has been such a big thing in my life and I think its also probably why the Kitchen Disco’s came into being because even before we had the idea to do it as a gig that everything that was going on in the news just made me want to think about, you know, songs that gave me a lift or help me kind of get the emotions out really and give me a bit if a catharsis.

Music has been such a big companion to me. Through all the highs and the lows that I’ve been through and I think if your kids can have that too then they will always have a place and a way to articulate what they’re feeling.

BV: You’ve recently released your first Greatest Hits Collection. Having this time in lockdown and reflect on your career and put this record together, when looking back over the years and yours singles, what would you say is your proudest achievement. What single would you most like Sophie Ellis Bextor to be remembered for?

SEB: Oh wow, I’m not really good at thinking about myself in those terms. In my own sort of development of things as an artist I think my fifth album (2014’s Wanderlust) was really quite an important one for me. But you know, its really quite hard because there have been a few milestone moments, really, because I was in a band before Groovejet. In a band called Theaudience when I was a teenager and that was very much an indie band. And when I did Groovejet, it was the first time I had ever really thought about doing any other genre. So that song was really pivotal for me, not just because it was commercially successful but because it taught me that there were so many other possibilities and things that I could do if I wanted to.

And obviously Murder on the Dancefloor is a song that took me and my first album (Read My Lips) around the world. But I think that my fifth album, in a more personal way, that was my most sort of, brave moment, really because I was in quite a comfortable spot when I was doing that album and I could have probably just kept turning it on and doing what I was doing in the genre that I was already in. But I thought “I’m not that old yet – I want to shake things up and explore other possibilities” so I made this folk record that didn’t have any dance or disco and I did a song called Young Blood, which is a love song really. It was much more vulnerable that some of the other things that I had done and for me that was really satisfying.

So I think for any one of those songs really, there was a bit of a point where the path has changed direction.

BV: Throughout your career you have worked with others to produce some very memorable collaborations including Spiller (Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)) and Freemasons (Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)). Is there anyone that you would particularly love to see yourself collaborating with in the future?

SEB: Ummm, you know what? At the moment I am pretty satisfied. I’m doing my third album with Ed Harcourt and who I have done a couple of albums with before and he is just so brilliant. And what is so special about it is that it doesn’t feel like work in the slightest. It feels fun. And because he is so good at what he does, I always want to try my best. Its just just about the challenge but its also just a really lovely way to spend the day and I’m really happy with the work we’re doing so at the moment I’m feeling quite satisfied, really.

I am open to lots of things though. I love the fact that tomorrow, or this afternoon even, I could get an email or a phone call where I get an opportunity that changes the direction of the next 6 months. I’m quite addicted to that really. I always have that feeling in my tummy, you know, that says “what else is out there?”.

BV: A recent post of yours on Facebook mentioned that you started the year half way through writing a new record. Are there still plans to complete and release that record?

SEB: Of yes, definitely. We just need to finish it. Its just that, yeah, halfway through …. when lockdown first started, like everybody I thought that everything that I am up to is now on pause and when we are out of it then I’ll just press unpause and I thought that that is what I was doing. And then I realised that halfway through the year I need to weave this part of what’s been going on into what’s happening with me because its actually there now. Its influenced things and changed things. And I get that now.

I think when the lockdown first started there were a few pundits on TV saying you wont just be going back to normal. That life wont actually be quite the same. And I didn’t really get that. And also, that concept sounds really quite scary, doesn’t it, when you are already dealing with scary things and I guess that is what they meant. That there has just been certain things about the way our lives have been affected this year that we might carry forward. Aside from all of the obvious stuff like if anyone that you know has been ill or who has died. It is such a unique thing we have lived through where literally everyone on the planet has been affected in some way.

BV: The music industry has taken a massive blow from the pandemic and you captured the crisis that the music industry faces quite perfectly for your video for Crying at the Discotech where you shot in a series of empty venues. As someone who is used to filling these spaces on tour, what was that like?

SEB: Yeah, you know there are some things that you don’t think about like the nightclub industry, DJ’s and performers and hospitality. There’s so much. Yeah, you’re right Brendon, with the video I did just want to highlight this.

I felt very empathetic towards my lots of my colleagues who aren’t as lucky as me that they found other projects. If you’re someone that is normally on the road around 48 weeks of the year where they are rigging lights or tour managing, there isn’t really an easy fix as to how you replicate something like that in your day to day lives. Some people have been thrown into a really desperate situation I would say. So at first I thought “I feel for them” and “I feel for what’s happening to them” so I wanted to highlight all the stuff that normally goes on within this massive part of our culture that’s on hold.

But actually, your right, I felt quite gloomy you know. I never really thought about how it might affect me on the day and actually I did feel quite low over the days afterwards just because for a few reasons. Obviously this is my day job so its something that I would be doing all of the time – I would be doing gigs and that is so much a part of the fabric of what Richard and I would be doing all of the time. But also, as someone who lives in a capital like London, a city like that where it is so vibrant and there is always something going on. I think I forgot the fact that normally I quite like the fact that there is life just buzzing around me all of the time and people doing things and making plans. Every night you go to bed there is a billion stage shows on, there’s theatre, there’s gigs, there’s tours, there’s culture and the arts and that’s all been put on hold. Its all quiet. And that quietness is quite eerie.

It will come back. There’s still a lot of uncertainty but here is just hasn’t been addressed very publicly and if it has its sometimes felt quite dismissive or a matter of retraining. Everybody is fine to get another job if their normal job has been put on hold but its very different when you are told you need to go and learn a completely different skillset because that’s not now what’s part of what’s going on anymore. That’s quite gruesome isn’t it.

BV: You’ve recently announced the Kitchen Disco Tour for 2021. What can we expect from the tour?

SEB: So yeah I guess it was just a natural progression, really. Halfway through doing these gigs we had a virtual audience because it wasn’t possible to do this live but obviously I would have toured this year anyway but I think the Kitchen Discos is just bringing it into venues and to try to make people keep like they are a part of what we were doing. I think its just going to be magical.

I am feeling pretty optimistic now with the news of the several vaccines being effective. And to be honest, if my tour doesn’t go ahead, I’m just one representation of billions of live events happening from March/April onwards. We will be in a pretty dire strait if everything has to be put on hold for much longer anyway so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic at the moment really. Nothing to suggest they wont find a way to make it happen.

BV: You are also joining STEPS on their What The Future Holds Tour starting in November 2021 so you are going to be very busy on the road next year. Have you spoke to the band about your support slot with them and have you met Steps before?

SEB: Yeah I’m actually touring on my own with them. So Ill be holding the support set for a little bit, just getting the crowd in the mood. Yeah, I’ve met a couple of them before. I’ve not met them all but they are managed by a guy named Peter Lorraine who I’ve known for about 20 years. He used to be a product manager at Polydor when I was signed there and we’ve been friends for a really long time. He’s absolutely brilliant and I love him to bits so its kind of an excuse to work with him too so I think we will all just have a really nice time. I think it will be really friendly and really fun. I think with the way everybody is feeling that everyone is going to be going to things that will make them feel better and they have the nostalgia element as well so they already know its going to make them feel good. There is something really comforting about having a good night out with some good pop music right?

BV: I have to say that you have some amazing fans. Reading through social media posts and the comments they leave, you must be very proud of your fanbase. What would you like to say to your fans as start this new year?

SEB: Aww that’s really nice that you notice that because I do feel really lucky. I think it was always something that I took a lot of strength from. I do find that my fans have actually encouraged me to be bolder over the years because, admittedly, a lot of it was in my head about the parameters of what I could and couldn’t do.

People are actually willing to take a bit of a risk with you if they feel like you are doing it for the right reasons and I have really kind of taken a lot from that.

I think this year more than ever its just been about community. Thank goodness for the social media stuff really because through that I could literally welcome everybody into my home and its been a massive part of our lives. I felt, especially at the beginning of the first lockdown that the UK was ending after 2 1/2 months back in May, I felt very, very attached to everybody and protective as well of what the Kitchen Disco has meant to everyone and some of those people may not be any fan of mine – they may have just found it fun to watch the kids or maybe hear some covers they like – but still it meant so much to just even have that. It was so comforting and I made a lot of new friends out of it actually. So I was writing back to people and making connections.

This year has been about so many barriers coming down and the way we interact with each other becoming just a little bit more authentic and I think its brought the best out of a lot of people and I think that’s been really wonderful, so yeah, that’s another reason when next year I’m stood on stage and I see peoples faces I might end up getting a little weepy (laughs)

BV: Thanks so much Sophie. I am a huge fan and its been an absolute pleasure.

SEB: Aww thanks Brendon.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s brand new hits collection Songs From The Kitchen Disco is out now.