Best You Never Heard

Shakespears Sister redefines pop music

Siobhan Fahey is a legendary figure in poplore. Not only is she the beyond-fierce force-to-be-reckoned-with behind the musical entity known as Shakespears Sister, she is a solo electro artist in her own right, a soon-to-be-author, a stage and cinema actor and a renowned DJ in the U.K. (For those who care to remember, Fahey was also a member of Bananarama back in the day and is the former wife of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart.)

Hardcore fashion and music fans who have followed Ms. Fahey’s Djing and scene-stealing exploits across the pond over the past several years know that the lady has been ahead of so many trends that some (that would be me) would claim she’s a pop psychic. Aside from hits such as “Stay”, “You’re History” and “I Don’t Care”, Fahey always provided the charts with a touch of avant-garde in her lyrics and look. Before Gaga discovered the connection between the glitter and the gutter, before Madonna explored anything remotely electronic, Fahey was on it, giving her discs a multi-layered, multi-themed, multi-referenced power that few performers could pull off.

Which makes sense since trends—or following any crowd—are not what Fahey is really about. One listen to Shakespears Sister’s newly released disc, Songs From The Red Room (get the deluxe version) will fill your ears with what is considered an endangered species in music today: sophisticated pop. Fahey’s take on the classic dance track (“Bitter Pill”), the somber ballad (“Cold”), the new wave number (“Bad Blood”) and nouveau disco (“It’s A Trip”) will no doubt—like Shakespears Sister’s first three albums—be copied and referenced for years to come (much like a McQueen collection). In a rare interview with FLARE, Ms. Fahey gave us the goods on her past, present and brilliant future.

FLARE: You once said one of the reasons your  Shakespears Sister album wasn’t released after it was made was that your record company wanted turn you into Celine Dion. Why do you think that is?

SF:  The A&R people at the label didn’t really understand my influences—punk, disco, glam rock—and where I was coming from musically. They didn’t think it was very appropriate for someone my age. They wanted something adult contemporary and I’ve never been that and will never be that—whatever that category means. It was a weird thing—they didn’t actually release me from my contract, just in case somebody else wanted to sign me! So I had to wait. Now its all sorted out and I’m quite happy recording what I love and when I release it. They didn’t want to release me. I’m free! Free at last!

FLARE: One of the best songs on this new album is “It’s a Trip.” I imagine you wrote it after a really bad hipster party you attended?

SF:  (Laughs) I’ve been to plenty of those in my time. I was Djing at a lot of them, wasn’t I? The song came from a feeling that is really ambiguous because you get addicted to being on the scene but you also know its really ephemeral. Being in that pseudo-underground party or event can make you feel really inspired and alive as well because there are interesting people there, its just sometimes they are the minority.

FLARE: I wanted to ask you about the song “Bitter Pill”—it has been in clubs for the past couple of years in various incarnations and its been remixed for this album. I’m just wonder what helped you craft its original version?

SF: That was my attempt to fuse the Velvet Underground with The Supremes. That was my twisted inspiration.

FLARE:  You have a  track called “Wonderful” that was never released widely. Like “Bitterpill”, its bittersweet. Where were you and what were you writing about during that time?

SF: I wrote that song in mid-90s with my friend, Sophie Muller [director of classic, Shakespears Sister, Annie Lennox, Björk and Gwen Stefani videos], who did a lot of videos with me. So it did start off like MGA Sessions, which is a collection of songs that we wrote together for a film we never ended up making. The film was a Victorian, gothic, psychodrama. That’s what the songs sound like anyways. They were going to dictate the film.

FLARE: You’ve always had an aesthetic thesis. The photographs and videos you make are works of pop art and have influenced fashion. When you’re coming up with your thesis who do you go to?

SF: I’ve got a killer wardrobe at the moment too. When I was getting my act together in L.A. for Songs For The Red Room, I went to a friend of mine who recommended this L.A costume designer, Ashton Michael. He’s quite brilliant. I knew I wanted a silver catsuit. I knew I wanted it to be like futuristic, but also reference 1920s future. My headdress that I had made was inspired by the film, “Bright Young Things.” I sort of mentioned Pulsatron and he mentioned KISS into the mix. So now it’s a mix, fusion of LaBelle meets Che Guevara on another planet, sometime in the near future.

FLARE: Someone you have referenced in the past is designer Pam Hogg. What is about her that clicked between the two of you?

SF: Pam really understands rock n’ roll. She’s quite an iconic rock n’ roll woman.

Pam and I were on the same scene forever. She’s a music fan and were part of the same world in London.

FLARE: I just heard the classic Shakespears Sister track “Heroin” live. I bought it off your site. Even though it was made in 1988, it sounds its been copied now by so many chart toppers. Does that frustrate you at all?

SF: No, I think it’s normal when you’ve been around as long as me. You see the wheel of fashion go around and come back to the same place. I think the dial is back in 1979 again.

FLARE: What is your next move?

SF: I’ve started working on acoustic versions of my songs with my son, Sam, which is coming out really nicely. He’s a musician and producer. That’s a wonderful project I’ve got. I’ve also recorded a live set. I’m doing a live CD/DVD—which will be coming out in October. It’s pretty much greatest hits kind of stuff. I stopped writing my book for a while. It’s shelved now—I got 80,000 words in and hit a brick wall with it. But I plan on touring quite a bit and hope to be in Canada real soon.