theartsdesk Q&A: Shakespears Sister
After 27 years they're back and chatting about reconciliation, yoga, the desert, Bananarama, and much more
When goth-pop duo Shakespears Sister split in 1993, the music press dubbed it the break-up of the decade. Partly it was because at the time they were one of the biggest, and coolest, bands around (their single "Stay" managed a record eight weeks at number one). It was also because of the dramatic way the split happened: Siobhan publicly fired Marcella with a short note, read out at the Ivor Novello awards. After that, the pair didn't speak for 26 years. Now they're back together. A new EP, Rides Again, is out tomorrow and their tour starts at the end of the month.
It's thirty years since they first started working together. Even then, both were seasoned pros. Marcella had sung with Eric Clapton and co-wrote "Lay Down Sally". Siobhan was well-known from Bananarama. During their time together, the girl's kooky melodies and contrasting vocals earned them several massive hits, and their second album Hormonally Yours went double platinum. Since breaking up, both have remained busy. Siobhan has recorded solo Shakespears Sister LP's and toured with Bananarama and Dexys Midnight Runners. Marcy has played, sung and written on various projects including many solo albums.
I meet the pair in their manager's offices in North London. The atmosphere is relaxed and cosy. They are crammed in a small room piled high with music memorabilia. In front of Siobhan is a mountain of CDs which she nonchalantly signs as she chats. Marcella is perched on a sofa.
Both look extremely well. Siobhan's hair is jet black and tied in pigtails. Marcella looks casual in a grey cardigan and black jeans. As I set up my recorder, they chat about their lives back in LA. Siobhan talks constantly. Marcella is more reserved and speaks slowly in a gentle, lilting American accent.
Over the next hour, our conversation wanders from #metoo and yoga to the music of Nick Cave. The pair are laughing, joking and finishing each other's sentences. It makes me wonder how on earth their relationship disintegrated all those years ago.
RUSS COFFEY: So, what exactly was going on at the Ivor Novello awards in '93, when Siobhan sent the note saying you had split up?
SIOBHAN FAHEY: Well, I was in hospital with a ruptured disc awaiting an operation on my back. I was in a very low place in my life and I had to send a message of thanks because I couldn't attend in person. I assumed because I hadn't seen or spoken to Marcy for six months, she also understood the working conditions had broken down irrevocably. That's why in my speech I said: "all's well that ends well."
It was taken as a public dismissal but that's not what it was.
How did you take it, Marcy?
MARCELLA DETROIT: ...as a public dismissal but only because I didn't know it was going to be announced that day. What Siobhan says is true, we hadn't spoken in a while and there really was no communication. One of the last conversations we had on the phone was Siobhan saying, "one day I would really like to sit down with you and have a cup of tea and be your friend".
S: I did mean 26 years, you know.
M: [Laughs] You forgot to mention that!
That day I didn't know she was having trouble, I didn't even know she was in the hospital at the time until I got there and your husband and your publisher were on stage with me accepting the award.
Were you angry?
M: It all came as a big release of emotion for me. You know when the stress and tension is building up and building up and building up. it was like that.
Did you have any contact after that?
M: I tried, I did reach out after, but, at that point, the communication between us was so bad. Miscommunication was always our problem.
How did you feel about Siobhan using the band's name, did you listen to the albums at all?
M: I heard a few songs, but I never wanted to take the name. That was her name. So what was I going to do? "Oh, I'm part of that band"? It was her thing and I was totally fine with it.
So how did your reconciliation come about? Was it a call, a text, or maybe a Facebook message?
S: It was a gradual inching forward. Marcy reached out a couple of times in the intervening years and I was like "uh uh, I'm not quite ready" Because I was very hurt myself, I won't go into why, it doesn't matter now.
M: We were both really hurt.
S: ...and it took me a lot of work on myself, and growing in wisdom and I had to prepare myself:
So eventually you got each other's numbers and met for coffee?
S: That's right we did. It just got to the point where the time was right. We were both ready and able to do it.
Did you meet with with the intention of simply making up or making music?
M: It was with the intention of 'let's try to talk through this', make our peace, have some resolution. we've been walking around with that 26 years.
Were you hugging within minutes?
S: I think the moment I saw Marcy it was bizarrely emotional. It really did take me by surprise and I think I felt the same from you, so we had this kind of awkward hug which I don't think either of us had anticipated. So it started with the right energy. We were both ready for it.
When did you get the idea of getting the band back together?
S: A few months after that we both found ourselves in London - I was doing the Bananarama gigs [Siobhan performed on the "Original Line-Up Tour" in 2018].
M: …and I was over with Eric Clapton doing the Hyde Park summer festival.
S: So we were both in London and we went for lunch with our manager [Peter Loraine],
who had done the Bananarama tour, and he suggested we go on tour together. But I was determined to make new music.
M: So we thought, 'lets' try and see if we still have that ability to write together'.
S: It's not to disown the back catalogue, but I'm not really interested in being back to the Eighties
Is that why you quit Bananarama after the "Original Line-Up Tour."
S: That was great because we'd never toured together and it was an experience to share what we'd done and been together (the band in the Eighties, pictured left). But I wasn't interested in rejoining just for a British tour as my entire life was in Los Angeles.
I said "if we're going to do it, let's do it properly. Let's put a great show together and let's take it around the world". They said that's what they wanted to do, but in the end that wasn't their plan - they just wanted to go back to being a duo after the British tour.
So I quit the band. But the good thing was that it paved the way for Shakespears Sister.
Is Shakespears Sister now your primary focus?
M: It is now, definitely.
S: I know they say that women are great multitaskers but I've never been a great multitasker - I can only just focus on the matter in hand. The reason why it's only a five-track EP is that the tour was scheduled, and there wasn't time to record a whole album before the tour.
So how's it been working together? Have you worked out your roles?
S: I think it's been a very natural collaboration, as it always was. As for roles and the way it is structured that was all hammered out.
M: It's all S&M.
The songs on the EP sound absolutely great. How did you start writing them?
S: We wrote and demo-ed in an Airbnb out in Joshua Tree. My friend has an Airbnb out there and I go there as often as I can to recover from heartbreak, confusion, stress to connect spiritually to contemplate, it's really an amazing place.
M: Amazing energy.
It seems that Joshua Tree is almost a character or theme throughout.
S: It's true, yeah.
S: The atmosphere totally pervaded and inspired the songs. Consciously as well. We drew from the atmosphere out there. Just that great expanse of America, and the wild west and massive skies and silence and the possibilities - the frontier.
That feel has been beautifully captured on the two videos you've made with your old friend Sophie Muller.
S: We've always said that musically it's the two of us but visually it's the three of us. I think she's a genius, especially the work that she's done with us since the beginning of Hormonally Yours - she really fed creatively on the tension between us which arose when we became an equal duo on Hormonally Yours. It's the stuff of Greek Myth in those videos.
And she took that tension and used it for the new video of "All the Queen's Horses" I love all that subtext about female friendships. It makes me wonder what you make of movements like #metoo?
S; That's a new female voice. there's always been the passive seductress, there's always been the harlot, there's always been the warrior woman. I'd like to think we're in that category. The #metoo thing is the voice of women who have been silent until now actually. I see it as a necessary step in exposing that kind of subtle abuse that goes on. Men have to start treating us as thinking, feeling beings with souls, and not objects to be fucked and fucked around with.
Speaking of which one of your new songs has a very punchy title. "C U Next Tuesday". Is that about someone in particular?
S: Yeah, it's directed at somebody in particular. Yeah, there are genuine feelings there. Real feelings.
You certainly weren't shrinking back with the title.
S: I thought it was funny
M: So did I.
How did Richard Hawley come to be involved?
S: We'd written the song. And demo-ed it. And it was beautiful and sweet and reminiscent of Roy Orbison and I kept thinking, "God it would sound great with the gravitas of a male vocal, like Scott Walker."
I couldn't get that out of my head and then a few people mentioned Richard because he is Sheffield's Scott Walker. We sent him an email. He'd been working like a dog for three weeks straight, and he had three days off. He loved the song and he said he'd cut the vocal over there and send the files over to us and it was kismet because we were mixing two days after that.
M: That's the way it has happened ever since the reunion. Just one thing has happened after another
How was the song "When She Finds You" [ft Richard Hawley] written?
M: Siobhan and I just sat down and wrote it.
S: Marcy sat down with a guitar, and I sat with a notebook.
M: And I had my studio set up, because I didn't want to be a hopeless woman who's complaining I don't know how to do this and that, and let other people, mostly men, do it for me. So I learned how to use all the equipment, and I brought my studio set up and we talked about influences and what we wanted to write and we just started coming up with ideas.
S: That song, in particular, was Marcy's idea, the title. And I thought that was a really interesting idea for a song and quite unlike my usual, you know I often write from a point of…you could say a response to ill-treatment, often. This wasn't coming from that place. This was more like a contemplative idea.
I can't get the video with the psychiatrist's couch and the UFO's out of my mind.
S: If you just hear the song itself, you'd never think of that. - I thought we'd written the ultimate first dance at a wedding song.
Earlier this summer you released your singles compilation. Which songs are you most proud of?
S: When I heard "The Trouble with Andre" I thought wow, that's such a good song. How did we write that? And I love "Heaven is in Your Arms", that's always been one of my absolute favourites.
What about your favourite moment from back in the day?
S: We were in the eye of the storm weren't we. But it was a wonderful storm wasn't it. It was pretty fantastic having an eight-week number one. That was surreal. Got a little bit embarrassing at the end.
M: I was very proud of it, but it as a shame that though our, whatever Siobhan and I were going through.
S: Mutual insecurities.
M: It's just a shame that we couldn't have relished it more and enjoyed it more, but there were some wonderful moments like when we opened for Prince.
S: Yeah fabulous, and headlining Glastonbury was quite a feather in the cap.
M: And coming to the States and we played on the David Letterman show which was huge - can't get much bigger than that in America. At the time he was like the guy.
S: And headlining for a couple of nights at what was then the Hammersmith Odeon, such a legendary place. Even the very first Shakespears Sister gig at the ICA was magical. You just knew something really quite special was happening. You could just feel it. It was like a massive engine.
Almost thirty years on, the two of you are looking extremely well. How do you keep healthy?
M: Pills, stress, keeps the blood running. [Laughs] Siobhan, you do yoga don't you?
S: I do yoga, and I'm trying to be a bit better about meditation and reining my alcohol intake in. Kundalini Yoga has been a bit of a game-changer for me, because I hate exercise. I get really bored but I'm really into transcending, changing my state, my vibration, getting high. You kind of get a yoga body while you are getting high.
Do you think the industry treats older women better than it used to?
S: We haven't experienced any ageism from the people around us. When we got signed I thought wow this is really great there's a shift in the perspective and maybe that last wall which is ageism against women is falling. I'm not sure the memo has got through to the playlist people.
Are you anticipating an audience that has largely carried through from Hormonally Yours or a new one?
S: My sons are 28 and 31 and your son is 28. The three of them love the new material. It's not really about age, I think it's about inspiration.
M: And getting it out there. There are like so many different ways to do that these days. So many different platforms to do that. It's just a matter of getting it done.
Do you network a lot? I remember seeing one interview that talked about the amazing parties Siobhan and Dave Stewart would throw in the Nineties.
S: Dave would. I'd be hiding in a corner.
M. They were amazing parties, everybody who was anyone was there.
But do you keep up with people from back in the day, Like Dexy's Midnight Runners and Eric Clapton?
S: Yeah, Kevin's [Rowland] still a mate of mine. I still see him from time to time.
M: I still keep up with Clapton. Like I said I performed with him at apparently the biggest Hyde Park summer concert that has ever been, last year. I reunited with him for the first time since 1985 and live aid we did that a long time ago. We're still in touch. He's still doing great. I thought he was going to retire but he keeps on announcing more tours.
Which current artists do you admire?
S: I always say Lana Del Ray, I think she's a genius.
M: I like a few different bands but they're not like really current. I like a band that came out last year called Portugal. The Man. I really like their song "Feel It Still", I think it's really cool. I love Black Keys, Orville Peck. And Nick Cave, of course. I'd never seen him before and Siobhan took me to see him right after we reunited last year…
S: He takes it to a messianic level. It's like a religious, spiritual experience. Best live performer on the planet.
M: What I loved about it is he's just completely unafraid of using dynamics. Not many people do that. They are just too afraid to bring it down to just nothing and then take it up so far you can't even imagine. That's what I really loved - the emotion the commitment. I've never seen anything like it, and I've seen a lot of really great things.
What can we expect from your tour just about to start? It starts on Halloween. Are you going to have a bit of fun?
S: Yes I hope so. I hope everyone comes dressed as their favourite ghoul. We will.