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Interview: Swing Out Sister

8 min read

Sophisti-pop duo Swing Out Sister have been around for over 25 years. That’s not a bad run for any band. While pop acts, particularly those that emerged in the late eighties, found quick fame and dispersed soon after, leaving their one-hit wonder legacy for generations to come, Swing Out Sister have held on tight to a success that has carried them over an impressive 4 decades.

SwingOutSisterPrivateViewThe appropriately titled Breakout was the duo’s international breakthrough hit and the 1986 single found a nesting place in the top spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Chart as well as within the UK and New Zealand Top 5. Various singles followed including Twilight World and Surrender, all helping Swing Out Sister remain a staple on Adult Contemporary playlists around the world and maintain a loyal fanbase.

Over 25 years have passed since members Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell formed Swing Out Sister and unleashed their mainstream debut album, It’s Better To Travel and in the midst of their 25 year Anniversary celebrations, which has included the release of Private View, a collection of reworking’s of some of the bands hits, we caught up with the Swing Out Sister to talk about their time in the spotlight and the band’s latest release.

Brendon Veevers:  How are you?

Corinne Drewery: Excited about Private View being so well received in the USA.

BV: Where does this Q&A find the band?

CD: Driving down the motorway from Manchester to London

BV: First things first – a congratulations are in order as Swing Out Sister has just recently passed the 25 year mark as a band. How does it feel to reach such a big milestone in your career?

CD: Thank you! Feels like quite an achievement in the ever changing world of pop music. I suppose the northern (British) trait of being stubborn paid off.

BV: When you released your first album, It’s Better To Travel back in 1987, did you ever think you would be here, together as Swing Out Sister, 25 years later?

CD: I had a childhood ambition of being a singer but thought I should train for something else in case I didn’t succeed in a career in music. I studied fashion and textile design, which I worked in prior to joining Swing Out Sister. However, we are still making music and I’m not a fashion designer so it looks like things worked out OK.

BV: As part of the celebrations you released a deluxe CD/DVD set called Private View. Can you tell us a little about the release?

CD: We had prepared a brand new stripped down set of our songs for a US tour which was stopped in its tracks due to a volcanic ash cloud. All flights from Europe were grounded so we decided to go into the studio and record the songs with our band before they were lost forever…we revisited them a year later (it was like discovering an un-opened present) and mixed and arranged them. The Tokyo Stories DVD shows some behind the scenes footage during a Japanese tour, as well as a concert live from Billboard Tokyo.

BV: It is nice to hear some of the bands work in different styles like those that the collection offers. What was it like to record songs from your career in these styles?

CD: It was great to strip the songs naked! We have a tendency to be very lavish (if less is more, think how much more can be…) with arrangements and instrumentation. We decided to limit ourselves to a live take per song and keep it really simple- quite the opposite to what we usually do in the studio.

BV: You are widely known for your single Breakout which was featured on your 1987 debut. Do you still enjoy performing tracks like this on tour after all these years?

CD: Breakout was the song that paved the way for all of the others so we couldn’t possibly leave it out. We keep the songs fresh by reinventing them- Andy rearranges them and we work them out together with the band. We try not to be too precious and keep on changing. The songs are sometimes so different I don’t even recognize them.

BV: You have a loyal and global LGBT following. Would you say that having the backing of the LGBT community has helped the bands success over the years?

CD: It seems our music is reflected in the diversity of our audience – gay, straight, black, white, all kinds of people, of all ages. We love to see everyone getting together at our concerts. Breakout even became a coming out anthem I am told. And yes, we have a very loyal following.

BV: As you are celebrating your 25th Anniversary as Swing Out Sister, what do you think the secret to longevity as a band/artist is?

CD: Stay true to yourself.

BV: Who do you listen to these days that you feel has the potential to be around, still successful at making music, in 25 years?

CD: I like Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding….a lot of the music I listen to now has been my inspiration from the start and has been around for 50 years already…Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Shirley Bassey….anything Motown….John Barry, Ennio Morricone, The Beach Boys….timeless classics. I wonder if and how we will be listening to music in 25 years time?

BV: The American music market is famous for being a very difficult market for foreign acts to infiltrate. Why do you think Swing Out Sister were so successful in breaking into the US?

CD: I suppose we sound quintessentially British even though a lot of our inspiration comes from American music. Same as above really – stay true to yourself.

BV: You have witnessed first-hand all of the changes that the music industry has gone through over the last 25 years including the world moving into the digital era and the physical product slowly disappearing as well as music stores also quickly becoming a thing of the past. What are your thoughts on these changes?

CD:  No-one likes change, but as one era ends a new one begins. It’s sad to see the demise of the record shop, but people have chosen the internet and downloads as it is a much more convenient and immediate way of accessing music. If nothing changed we wouldn’t even have had records or CD’s – we would still be listening to the latest songs being played on a piano at the end of the pier!  Perhaps the distancing effect of the internet has made way for the current renaissance of live music.

BV: As well as all of the changes in the creation and distribution of music there are also many new ways for aspiring musicians to find success including shows like The Voice, American Idol and X Factor as well as web based platforms like Myspace and YouTube offering a fame wagon to hopefuls. What are your thoughts on these platforms within the industry?

CD: The more instant the success the faster the demise. Nothing can replace experience and the time spent perfecting one’s skills. You have to know your own abilities and limitations and take control of managing them. When someone else does that for you it is easy to lose control of your own identity. There is only one you, and if you stick to your principles, you will be unique.

BV: When you tour, though it is important to keep things fresh and interesting for your audience it is also just as important to keep things fresh and interesting for yourselves as entertainers. How do you do this after 25 years together?

CD: As I mentioned before – we always re-arrange the songs for our live shows so that there is an element of surprise for the band whilst performing and also for the audience. We have performed so many different live versions of Breakout we probably have enough for a whole album. Also we sometimes like to add musical references which may be relevant to a particular city or time…we incorporated TLC’s No Scrubs into our song Now You’re Not Here when it was toppled from the number one slot in Japan by them…and when we played in Atlanta Andy played the theme tune from Gone With The Wind as an intro to one of our tunes.

BV: During your 25 year career has there ever been a moment when you thought about hanging up the instruments and calling it a day?

CD: We all have our off days…but we usually get over them. However, there was a time when Andy didn’t want to tour anymore – and I love playing live. So we just decided I would go without him. It made for a different sound, plus I got to go on a tour bus for the first time (which Andy didn’t want to do as he had spent a good few years with his previous band on the road.) So everyone was happy! However, I am glad to say that Andy is back and all set to go on the road.

BV: Will you be taking to the road this year?

CD: We hope to be touring Europe and The USA later this year.

BV: Looking back over your career, what are the highlights that you feel most sentimental about or that you feel most proud of?

CD: Hearing our song on the radio for the first time…Appearing on Top of The Pops (both in the UK and the USA) for the first time….being nominated for a Grammy for Breakout and attending the ceremony where we were seated behind Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Prince…. working with Jimmy Webb on our second album Kaleidoscope World….supporting Burt Bacharach at The Royal Albert Hall….completing our 10th album! It’s a great privilege that our music has brought us together with some inspirational people around the world. Swing Out Brothers and Sisters!

BV: What can we expect from a Swing Out Sister concert these days?

CD: A stripped down acoustic jazz set or big band arrangements…you will have to wait and see!

BV: What else do you have on the Swing Out Sister calendar for 2013?

CD: We have been working on cinematic big band sound …. perhaps an album or some concerts in this style….but we still have some of the Private View stripped down jazz arrangements that haven’t been heard yet. We hope to be coming to the USA in one guise or another volcanoes and natural disasters permitting…we miss you!

Swing Out Sister’s latest release, Private View, is out now.

Buy ‘Swing Out Sister – Private View’ from Amazon