Issue Two

Emma / Sing-Sing Interview
by Alan Pedder


Lush’s first single, well, mini-album came out in 1989, followed by your first proper album in 1992… which pretty much preceded what is generally recognised as the Britpop era. Was the whole ‘movement’ obvious to you as it developed?

I think we were quite aware of the bands that were around, especially as we knew some of them. Blur we’d known since 1990... Miki became quite good friends with Jarvis [Cocker] and we got to know Justine Frischmann... and I went out with Justin from Elastica before he joined the band. But we didn’t sit down and go “ooh, we’ve got to make music like that.” I think it just permeated what we were doing, simply because it was around at the time. I think there are elements of Britpop on Lovelife, but it’s certainly not completely Britpop. There might have been a slight sort of conscious decision to maybe up the ante a bit and make a slightly more commercial record, but the style of it was never discussed.

Were you under any pressure from the record company at all?

No, they weren’t like that. There’s not many labels like 4AD anymore.

Did you personally feel a part of Britpop or did you take the whole media concept with a pinch of salt?

It’s weird. When I look back on Lush, some people say “oh, you were a Britpop band” or “oh, you were a shoegazing band”, but we never really felt part of any of it, which I think actually I quite like. I think the Boo Radleys suffered from that a bit, they got the shoegazing tag and then the Britpop tag. I didn’t really pay much attention, and if we were gonna make another album it was going to sound pretty different anyway. It wasn’t a conscious decision to try and jump on any bandwagon at all, it just kinda happened like that. I think the preceding album, Split, was quite an introverted record, with a few seven-minute tracks on there. I think we wanted to move away from that a bit.

Do you think the Britpop tag helped or hindered the band overall?

It probably did both. When you get labeled, it probably helps you in some ways because people think “oh, another one of that ilk” and it hinders you in the way that some people might think “oh, but they’re not as good as Blur, not as good as Elastica”, y’know. It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. You’ve got to take it all with a bit of a pinch of salt. I mean, I think the fact that we were going for seven years and we managed to keep our heads above the water through all these different movements... Britpop, grunge, shoegazing... I think we had a thread that pulled us through them all. I think we just made some good records.

Even now it seems that women in successful guitar/ indie bands seem to be the exception rather than the rule, and even fewer seem to be taken seriously. Did you ever feel your musicianship was undermined by certain quarters of the music press?

I didn’t really. I think one of the things about being on 4AD was that there were a lot of women on the label, and certainly being part of that label didn’t make you feel like that. The whole women thing, I never really thought about it a lot. Obviously, another movement that sort of happened around that time was riot grrrl, and we got slagged off by riot grrrls because we weren’t punky enough, y’know, and it’s like, for God’s sake. So, yeah, I never really thought about it. But now, I know what you mean. You read the NME and there’s hardly any women. It’s so male.

Do you think there’ll be another time when popular music captures the national mood in the way that Britpop seemed to?

It’s funny, at the moment people are starting to say there’s like a second wave of Britpop at the moment, like The Futureheads, The Rakes, Bloc Party... Kaiser Chiefs probably spearheading it all. Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of new national movement of guitar bands? I’ve been in this business for so long now that I’ve seen things come and go. People will get bored of this and they’ll be looking to America. Then they’ll be bored of America and look back to Britain again. It goes in these cycles. Before Britpop it was all Nirvana, and after Britpop tailed off, they started looking towards America again. It’s just normal, I don’t even think it’s a bad thing. It’s probably quite healthy.

What are the rest of the band doing now? Are you still in touch?

Miki... I’m not in contact with but she’s got two children. I don’t know what she’s doing workwise. Phil is very busy, he’s in around five different bands. He’s also involved with putting out back catalogue stuff and he works a bit with Mojo, Q etc. Steve lives in Ireland with his wife and two children... twins!... he’s not involved in music at all.

I was wondering what inspired the name Sing-Sing? Not the mysterious old death house prison in New York?

Someone I knew had put out a demo and called it Sing- Sing. I kind of knew about the prison but mostly I just liked the word because it’s sort of pretty but it has that darker meaning. Kind of like Lush I suppose. So I think that was it really, nothing more than that.

I noticed that you and Lisa pretty much compose the songs separately. Do you have different ways of working or does it just turn out that way?

In some ways, it’s like when I was in Lush, but in Sing-Sing, there is a little bit more interaction with the songwriting. When we’re in the studio, I’ll contribute bits to Lisa’s songs and she’ll add bits to mine. But in Lush, that didn’t really happen at all, it was very rigid. Sing-Sing is a bit more of a studio band anyway. We sit in front of a computer and make the record, we’re not like a four-piece indie band that does it in a rehearsal room first. But it’s good, I enjoy it a lot this way. You’re sitting there and it’s easygoing. You can play with things, mess them up, delete things. It’s very liberating! Except when it breaks!

Yikes, have you ever lost any songs that way?

No, only once. We did a B-side with this kind of a friend of a friend of a friend in his house in bloody Upton Park or somewhere. We actually got quite far in before it crashed and he hadn’t saved it. So we were thinking “you idiot”, but somehow he managed to retrieve it all. Took him a while but he got it back by some rescue thingy. Mark, who we normally work with, is quite good at saving! Now, the new album was originally released in the summer via your own label, exclusively through your website... Yes. Oh, and Rough Trade had a few copies. That’s why we’re re-releasing it in January with better distribution and on iTunes. But up to now, people have really only been able to get it through the website.

But before that you were bounced around five or so labels. That must have been really frustrating!

Yeah, the first album [The Joy Of Sing-Sing, 2002] came out on Poptones, but before that we were on around four different labels. It was a real pain in the arse! Even when it did come out, it wasn’t promoted very well.

I know! I’ve never actually seen an official copy, I’ve only got a promo.

It’s deleted now too, which is a real pain. Eventually we’ll get it back and probably re-press it so you can look forward to that. It’s a good album, and it still sounds fresh as well, I think.

How on earth did you keep going?

We just did! There was always something going on. America was always quite interested. We’ve got a lot of fans in America I think, from my Lush days. I did a lot of touring there and there was a lot of “oh, when are you coming over?” and we signed a deal there in 2002, toured there a couple of times. So when it was getting really frustrating here with all the labels and contracts, we always had that and the fans. That contact with the fans and knowing that people do want to hear your music. It’s the best reason to do it really. There were a couple of occasions when I thought “oh God, this is too much!”, y’know. But then you’re sitting there about two days later and you’re thinking, “oh, but it would be a real shame to stop doing it now”. So, we didn’t.

Hooray! I’ve heard the Sing-Sing fans are a pretty dedicated bunch. Didn’t you fund the sessions for this album with their help?

Yeah, really we couldn’t have done it without them. I mean, we put our own money into making an EP, the Madame Sing-Sing EP, thinking if we could sell x amount then we’d have enough money to make an album. But people were sending in cheques for like £100, $200! It was amazing. We were kinda overwhelmed by it really. It’s so nice to have that support.

A lot of people in your position, having had so much trouble with record companies, have given up trying to front their own music and retreated to a behindthe- scenes songwriting role for other artists. Would you feel stifled by that?

A lot of people have suggested this to me, and it’s certainly crossed my mind. I’m not ever discounting it but it would be a very different process because you’d have to be thinking about writing for a market. I don’t think you’d be writing so much from the heart anymore, you’d be having to think “oh, what’s commercial?”. And apparently, it’s quite difficult to get into. They tend to use the same people, and I’ve heard that people like Liberty X will go in and they’ll demo, like, thirty or forty songs and then they’ll just decide. So you’d probably be sitting there going “vote for me!”, so I don’t know. But to be honest, if I wrote a brilliant song, I’d prefer it to be for an act I was involved in to be doing it, not somebody else really. [laughs] If I wrote a brilliant song! I think I’ve written some alright songs! The irony is that a lot of the stuff you hear isn’t brilliant. Y’know, sometimes I listen to the radio and think, I could write that crap. And people go “why don’t you?”, and I kinda just don’t want to lower myself to it. I do like some stuff in the charts though, y’know, the real out-and-out pop. I’m not a snob like that.

With your fully independent set-up, how do you hope to reach a wider audience?

This release in January is getting distribution so people will be able to get it on Amazon and iTunes. We’ve employed a PR agent and we’ve got a plugger. There is kind of a limit to what we can do because we haven’t got the money. We can’t really take out ads in all the magazines or this, that and the other, y’know, but we’re going as far as we can. We’ve got an Australian deal and it’s already out there. And we’ve signed an American deal; it’s coming out there in February.

Who’s your label in America?

Well, you probably haven’t heard of it. It’s called Reincarnate Music, and it’s actually run by this guy who used to be my agent when I was in Lush. And a guy who works for them used to work for 4AD in America, so it’s great that I know them.

So what do you think is more important these days; an effective online presence, regular live shows or radio play?

God, if I had to choose one of them, I think it’d have to be radio play. I think if you’re all over the radio, you’re really getting into people’s minds. I mean, to have an effective online presence you have to sit them in front of a computer, and live shows, I think you have to be at the right place at the right time really. We haven’t even got an agent for bookings. We’re playing a few shows at the moment, just acoustic, but I think you have to tour and really, really work at it for it to help. If you’re on the radio, you’re pretty much made really. I think it’s different depending on the genre. For out-and-out indie, I think maybe the live thing is the most important. A combination of all three is pretty good! [laughs]

 Are you getting much radio play?

Yeah, even with the first album we got Xfm A-listed with one of the singles, Feels Like Summer, and bits and pieces here and there. And then with the new album, we made Lover a free download and sort of said it was a single and Steve Lamacq made it his Single Of The Week on 6Music. We’ve done some sessions for Gideon Coe, Tom Robinson on 6Music, and we’ve got a Radio 2 session coming up in January which is really good.

So with the album getting that wider release early next year, what’s on the cards for you?

Well, it’s kind of difficult because Lisa’s going to have a baby in February!

That was gonna be my next question!

Yeah, so even though it’s coming out, we can’t really do anything for it. We can’t really play live, not properly anyway, and we certainly can’t tour. So, realistically, I think we’re just gonna think about writing the third album.

[laughs] That was gonna be my next question too!

So we’re gonna see how far we can get with just press and radio and the online thing. Touring is pretty much out of the question! But I think we’ve got everything in place now for the third album. I mean, getting everything together for this album took a little while, y’know, distributors, press etc., but now we’ve got a team, it should be quicker and easier to do it!