“It was just a matter of timing.”
Mutya Keisha Siobhan: the full first interview
So they were like ‘do you want to interview Mutya Keisha Siobhan’ and we were like ‘yes’ and then we did it and they were like ‘would you like to tease it with some excerpts to start with then run the full interview afterwards’ and we were like ‘not really but we suppose that’s alright’ and they were like ‘cheers’ and then we were like ‘let’s run the full thing by the end of August then’ and they were like ‘alright’ and now here we are.
So here it is: Mutya Keisha Siobhan’s first interview in over a decade.
This is quite funny isn’t it.
Why do you find it funny?
Mutya: We’re here! Doing an interview with you!
Who would have thought, eh?
Keisha: Not us!
Mutya: Well, it was definitely meant to happen. It was just a matter of timing – when we were all ready.
Keisha: Well I would never have thought we’d be doing this again.
Mutya: Oh, okay… (Giggles)
Keisha: I always wanted to though. I remember listening to the ‘One Touch’ album and thinking, “what if…?”. I suppose there was a ‘to be continued’ type of vibe.
Did you listen to it after you left the Sugababes?
Keisha: Um, I was trying to just be normal for a minute, and get my head into other genres of music after I was in the Sugababes.
One of the questions new girlbands – which you sort of are – get asked, is: ‘how did you get together?’. So, how did you get together?
Siobhan: We met when we were twelve and thirteen. They went to primary school together. Mutya and I were both signed to our manager Ron Tom as solo artists but we wanted to work together. Keisha came down to the studio that night and it just seemed very natural that the three of us would sing together. We did, it worked out well on that track, and the band was formed.
So you released some records. People went, ‘these are good’.
It wasn’t a massive success, though.
Siobhan: It was critically acclaimed! It went gold!
Which these days is actually pretty impressive, but in those days people weren’t happy. So then what happened?
Keisha: And then Siobhan left the group, and me and Mutya went on to change labels so we went from London Records to Island. Heidi joined. And, yes. We put out ‘Freak Like Me’.
Siobhan, how did you feel when they put out ‘Freak Like Me’ and everyone was going, ‘this band is brilliant’?
Siobhan: I loved it! People have to remember that we were in the band for five years before I left – it wasn’t exactly a flash in the pan. It was a lot of hard work. We were homeschooled. We built something that I was very proud of and it was actually genuinely very nice to see it continue.
Did you really leave by climbing through a toilet window while Keisha and Mutya were doing an interview?
Siobhan: (Laughs) I didn’t leave through a toilet window!
It seemed quite sudden, from the outside…
Siobhan: It might have seemed sudden from the outside but I’d been unhappy for a while. It was an unusual childhood that we had. I just wanted some normality back in my life. I’d reached a point where I felt I had to go off and do that. I didn’t regret it, I never have: I had great time in the band but I had to go off and do my own thing. But I’m also incredibly happy that we get to make this second album together now. This is the right time.
The thing is, if you’d stayed together, you would have split up by now. So you never would have made this album you’re making now.
Siobhan: Also, the album we’re making now is quite positive. And we wouldn’t have made an an album like that back then. This actually feels like the perfect record that would have come after the first.
Let’s talk about this perfect record you’re making. You’ve been in the studio since…
And the music’s coming out next year?
Siobhan: There will be something to hear this year. The album will be next year.
What are your three favourite songs from the sessions so far?
Keisha: There’s a song called ‘Drum’ which we all love – it was one of the first songs we did. Actually, before we got signed to our label we’d finished half the album already. It was all about just going in and vibing off each other.
Siobhan: In the beginning we were left to our own devices to figure out exactly what we wanted to do. And the nice thing about ‘Drum’ is that we were working with a guy called MNEK who’s 17, and he’s incredible. It’s really exciting to work with someone like that who’s really fresh. ‘Drum’ is kind of Afrobeat.
How does it go?
Keisha: It’s just of repetitive – “I love it when you beat that drum…”. It’s really inspired by Rihanna, one of the tracks on her album.
How about another song?
Keisha: Another one we all love is called ‘Love Me Hard’ – we did that with Biff and wrote it with Iain James. It was lots of fun – we knew Iain from before, from when he was in Triple 8. Another song we’ve done is called ‘Back In The Day’, and that was produced by Mojam, who were in Blazin’ Squad.
Mutya: They’re amazing.
So the early-2000s pop gang is back together!
Keisha: Basically, yes! ‘Back In The Day’ has a strong TLC vibe, we’ve been referencing them a lot.
Siobhan: There’s a lot of early-90s R&B in there – it’s what inspired us to get into music in the first place.
So to start off with, before you had a label involved or a label A&R getting tracks in for you, what sort of message were you sending out to writers and producers? What did you say you wanted your music to sound like?
Siobhan: None. There was no message. It was all about coming in on the day and being completely open-minded about where we could go with it.
Keisha: So they’d play us loads of [backing] tracks and we’d go ‘yes, we like that one’, ‘no, we’re not into that one’. Then we’d get a mic and we’d just put most of the melodies down. Most of the album was recorded like that – I can’t remember being in a booth once for this album.
Siobhan: Which is what we did with the ‘One Touch’ record. It gives it a sightly raw element, so there’s not a completely polished finish.
Is it quite hard to spend so much time on something you don’t want to sound too polished?
Siobhan: No, it’s nice to keep in the glitches – it gives it character and you’ve just got to be confident enough to live with it and go, “that’s the one – we don’t need to perfect it”. We haven’t revocalled anything during these sessions, they’re the original demo vocals.
What’s the vibe of the album going to be? Upbeat, downbeat, mid-tempo…?
Mutya: It’s a bit of a mixture.
Sioban: We started off with a lot of mid-tempo. It seemed like a natural place for us to sit because we love emotive melodies and lyrics and that works with mid-tempo, but we’ve been concentrating a lot more on uptempo tracks towards the end of the album sessions. It will be a 50/50 mix in the end. ‘Drum’, for example, is one of the first uptempos we did and it’s still one of our favourite tracks.
Where were you when you first sang together again, and what did it feel like?
Keisha: The first vocals we did were in some Xenomania sessions – we went in and did some choruses and stuff.
Siobhan: But the first time we sang in a room together and worked out our harmonies and sang them together was recording ‘Too In Love’, with Mojam.
Keisha: It was the first time we’d sang together since we were 16 years old. To be honest with you it wasn’t an instant thing. When we were younger we gelled straight away, but we had to learn to blend with each other again.
Mutya: It’s been a while!
Keisha: Yes. It was when we came to do ‘Love Me Hard’ – that’s when I first properly heard us blending.
Siobhan: That’s when we knew that we properly had to get back together. The reason we didn’t fully commit to getting back together without singing together was that you never know if that magic is still going to be there. If it’s not going to be as magical as the first time around you don’t really want to do it, do you. The minute we sang together, we looked at each other, and we knew. It just worked.
Mutya: It was emotional.
Keisha: It was so special to be excited about hearing our voices together, and being excited about our music. On my days off I’d go home and I’d listen to the tracks. I’d be like, ‘I’m really enjoying this’. I just enjoyed our music.
Mutya: We’ve got some really good songs.
Siobhan: For me, it’s the first time in years that I’ve been excited about even attempting a music project. I’m super-excited.
You still had a day job for a while, didn’t you?
Siobhan: All three of us were testing the waters to see if the magic was there. But the minute we knew we wanted to do it, I handed in my notice.
What was your notice period?
Siobhan: It was four weeks but I worked for Sarah Ducas at Storm and she’s amazing woman and she was never going to make me work my notice period. Everyone there was really happy and excited about what I was doing.
You didn’t leave by going out the toilet window, then?
Siobhan: I didn’t leave by going out the toilet window, no.
Have you talked about what songs you’re going to do when you perform live.
Mutya: No, actually. We’d like to do some classics from the first album and some songs from when Siobhan wasn’t in the band…
Siobhan: I’m happy to sing those.
How about ‘Get Sexy’?
Keisha: (Ignoring question, over sound of Mutya guffawing) Siobhan really likes ‘Stronger’, she likes ‘Freak Like Me’… To be fair I think it’s important to reference all the big songs we’ve done.
Siobhan: ‘Stronger’ is a Sugababes classic. I’m not precious about that at all.
Mutya: There’s a lot of songs!
Keisha: Even by the time I left we’d had 28 singles. So we’ll pick our best for our first comeback gig.
Mutya: We don’t want to dwell on the past too much though when we’ve got so much new stuff.
Would you do any of your solo stuff?
Keisha: I didn’t have any!
Siobhan: It’s confusing enough as it is, without adding in the solo songs!
Going back to how the three of you came to be back together right now, what was the first phonecall or email that set everything in motion? Who asked whom?
Keisha: Well, back in 2009 I was contacted by the girls through my lawyer, and they were kind of like, ‘do you want to meet up?’. We all met up. I’d only been out of the band for three months and I’d just had enough of girlbands. I’d had enough of the WHOLE THING.
Mutya and Siobhan, why did you feel that you had to contact Keisha through your lawyers? That’s quite formal.
Keisha: It’s never formal like that – Mutya hangs out with my dad on the weekend!
Keisha: So anyway it wasn’t like that. It’s never been like that – even when Siobhan left the group her mum and my mum were really close. Anyway, basically, they contacted me and we sat together and I actually really wanted to see the girls. Me meeting up with them was more about me wanting to see them than actually thinking about getting the band back together. Because like I say it was only three months after I’d left the Sugababes. So we decided not to do it. And then last year…
So in 2009 you decided not to do it just because you’d only just left the Sugababes?
Siobhan: We didn’t decide not to do it – we just decided not to do it then.
Keisha: But then last year, in 2011, we were contacted by a producer. He put it to us: he said, “let’s record a few tracks and then see”. And we did. And we loved it.
Who was the producer?
Keisha: Brian Higgins.
Siobhan: He actually called me which was weird because I’d never worked with him before.
So he calls up and says, “hello, I’m Brian Higgins, let’s make some music”?
Siobhan: Yes. And I said I’d only do it if it was with the other girls. (Firmly) I didn’t want to do another project on my own.
Your second album was extremely good.
Siobhan: I love that album. And that’s the point. I hadn’t reached the stage where I thought I could better my last album. So what would be the point in making another one? In my mind I thought I’d get married and have kids and then come back to music in another ten years.
Siobhan: But that was me thinking about being a solo artist. I just didn’t know what the story would have been for a new solo record, do you know what I mean? I so infrequently gel with producers, musically. Basically I had no interest.
So it needed to be something fucking brilliant to get you back into pop?
Siobhan: Yes, and this is fucking brilliant.
So anyway, Brian said, “alright then, I’ll get the gang back together”?
Keisha: We basically said, “yes, but we want to do it on our own terms”.
Siobhan: We didn’t want anyone to organise it for us. We wanted to steer the ship ourselves, which is what we did.
If this was a ship or seafaring craft, what would it be?
Siobhan: What would it look like?
QE2, rubber dinghy, pirate ship, pedalo…
Siobhan: I’ve got a really nice picture of a ship on my phone actually. Let me find it…
Mutya: We’d be a big ship.
Keisha: A tight ship!
Mutya: A big tight ship. A YACHT!
On battleships they used to paint the decks red so the blood wouldn’t show.
Mutya: We’re not that bad!
Siobhan: (Brandishes phone with ship picture on it) Here you go.
Mutya: It looks like the Titanic! (Explodes with laughter)
Here’s a clunky way of extending this metaphor. If someone were to jump ship, what would happen?
Siobhan: Then that would be the end of that.
Keisha: We’ve had discussions. We have a way of working: we trust each other. We look after each other. We are genuinely there for each other. If we were unhappy we’d tell each other and we’d figure it out, between ourselves.
Siobhan: Everything is a group decision this time round.
Keisha: There will be no overworking people to the point where they’re depressed. There’s none of that stuff. We all have the same intentions. You need that. I’ve always wanted to be part of something where I genuinely felt sisterhood, and I feel like I’ve definitely found that now.
Mutya: Well thank you very much.
You mentioned being worked until you were depressed. Is that something you all had problems with before?
Keisha: I feel like in general you see people – people like Rihanna – or people who are hospitalised through exhaustion. That’s no way to work. Hard work is fine, but when it puts you in hospital you kind of need a week off. We’re not going to get to that point.
Mutya: We’ll work hard but we’ll have fun with it too!
Your band name would make it different for anyone to leave, and even more difficult for someone else to join.
Mutya: That’s why we did it! (Laughs)
Who chose the order?
Siobhan: People seem to say it in that order quite naturally. It seems to roll off the tongue like that.
Keisha: Mutya, can I just say something? I found a link the other day which I really want to show you. It’s a clip of you when you’re 16 and they ask you why we came up with the name ‘Sugababes’. And you go: “Well we had to have a band name because we couldn’t have people just calling us Mutya, Keisha, Siobhan”. (Everyone laughs) Amazing! It’s so cute, it’s when you were innocent.
Mutya: I’m still innocent!
What do you think people will call you?
Mutya: They’re going to call us the Sugababes anyway. Guaranteed.
Siobhan: I’ve been out of the band for this long and I’m still constantly referred to as Siobhan-from-the-Sugababes.
Keisha: We went through so many names.
Siobhan: Well we can’t tell you one of them, because it’s going to be the name of the album.
The original Sugababes lineup getting back together seems very exciting. But sometimes one wonders if it’s just exciting to a load of internet mentals.
Keisha: I know what you mean, but we walk down the street and people…
Say “hey sexy”?
Keisha: …(ignoring comment) are always going “oh my God you’ve got to do something with the girls again”…
Mutya: It’s true.
Keisha: The public seem really supportive of this so far.
Siobhan: It’s almost got to the point where we would feel guilty if we didn’t do it. People wanted it so much that we would have been letting people down!
No pressure then.
Mutya: No pressure! (Laughs)
It seems a bit like in the time since you were first together, the myth of ‘the original Sugababes lineup’ has got bigger than you ever were at the time? Like what happened with Jesus.
Keisha: But for us, when we started it felt really organic and now we’re back together it feels the same – really effortless.
Siobhan: I think that album has stood the test of time really well. It doesn’t sound dated.
Keisha: If it wasn’t for that album, Mutya and I wouldn’t have been able to go on to do the things we went on to do. As soon as we left London we had labels chasing us – within six months we were halfway through another album with another label.
So what happened when you left London?
Keisha: Well we were dropped, let’s be honest.
But why did they say they were dropping you?
Keisha: Well it was for a number of reasons – we couldn’t promote as much as they wanted us to. At that time we could only work 72 days a year because we were under 16 and that really had an impact. But it was also record sales. And that was it really. And to be fair, we weren’t really a tight-knit thing…
Siobhan: …and they probably didn’t know that when I left there would be someone else joining the band. So they kind of let it go before they saw what it was going to become.
So London didn’t know that someone else was going to join the band?
Keisha: Well neither did we! At the time me and Mutya were told that we were going to have auditions, but we later found out that she [Heidi] was already in the band. But we were taken through an audition period, ‘to make it feel organic’.
Mutya: Which was quite painful actually.
So you thought you were auditioning for a third member, but someone had already been given the job?
Keisha: Yes! Actually one of my best friends came down and auditioned.
Mutya: It was painful to watch loads of girls sing.
Keisha: It was very awkward. Anyway, it was a great move to Island.
Siobhan: Actually I do want to say that London Records were great back then – Tracy Bennett, if ever there was a guy that going to take a risk… I mean who else would have listened to Overload and pushed for that as the first single for such a young band? No-one. He was a legend, he was brilliant for what he did with that label.
Who are your fans going to be now?
Keisha: There will be older people, of course, who were there the first time…
Mutya: …but I think there will be people who had no idea about what we did before.
Keisha: I’m excited for younger people to get to know us.
Mutya, if one wanted to print up some stationery, perhaps some Post-It style notes, with the word ‘SUGABABES’ on, as the trademark holder would you be the person to ask?
Mutya: Yes, basically. (Laughs) To tell you the truth I was quite shocked about that myself. [Editor's note: We subsequently clarified this with Mutya and basically her manager at the time filed the initial trademark request on her behalf.] But you know what, at least I’ve still got my hand on the Sugababes in some way! (Laughs)
If Comic Relief came to you and said, ‘HIYA, we’d like you to do the next Comic Relief single with the current lineup of the Sugababes’, would…
Keisha: (Immediately) No!
Siobhan: What was the question?
…would you do it?
Siobhan: Oh right! When you said ‘the current lineup of the Sugababes’, I thought, “that’s us, right?” (Amid uproar) I got really confused!
Mutya: We’d say no, but there’s no hate in it.
Would you do it with Girls Aloud?
Mutya: Why not? I LOVE Girls Aloud. I’ve always liked the girls.
Keisha: That would be a good thing.
Siobhan: And we’re so different that I actually think we’d complement each other.
Keisha, can you explain the exact sequence of events regarding you leaving the Sugababes?
Keisha: Have you got an hour? (Much chortling) Basically, I can’t say too much about it – legally I’ve been told I can’t speak about it. But what I will say is that when everyone else found out I wasn’t in the group is pretty much when I found out. I will say that we had a great relationship, me and the girls; I’ve never had an argument with Amelle in my life. I was really shocked by the things that they were saying because I’d always been there for them, and they were there for me as well… But, you move on, and you learn, and I learned valuable life lessons during that period.
What were the lessons?
Keisha: I’ll keep those lessons to myself. I feel like everything has gone full circle and right now I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. And I genuinely wish them the best of luck. I know people are always going to say, “oh, you’ve got to say that” but to be honest with you I was very hurt and disappointed and I did feel betrayed by the whole thing. But I feel like when you don’t forgive people and when you’re very bitter it’s not really doing anything for you. But I’m in a great place, and that’s all I care about. Onwards and upwards.
How good’s this album going to be then?
Keisha: Shit hot, babe.
Siobhan: I think it’s everything that people want it to be, with some surprises. People expect us to come with something fresh. And we will. We won’t disappoint.
And that’s where the interview ended. As you can imagine we had loads more that we wanted to ask – we only got half way through all the questions we’d prepared – but we suppose all those questions will be asked in due course.
Answers: Mutya and Keisha and Siobhan (obviously) (obviously)