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
Were you under any pressure from the record company at all?
No, they weren’t like that. There’s not many labels like 4AD
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
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
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
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
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!