Mel C is set to make her return with her new album Stages - and it is a record that is very different to what she has done before.
I caught up with her to talk about the theatre inspired record, releasing on her own label as well as the move into TV.
- The release of you new album Stages is just around the corner so what can fans expect from the new record?
Well this is different to anything that I have done before as it is musical theatre inspired and I was inspired to do the record when I was doing Blood Brothers in the West End, I did that for six months at the end of 2009.
I love musical theatre and I grew up listening to lots of stuff and I did things at school before going off to Performing Arts College when I was sixteen. But then of course I got in the band called The Spice Girls and my life took a slightly different direction and I sort of left my passion for musical theatre behind.
So when I worked in the theatre and everyday I was travelling into the West End and going in through the stage door and it just brought back memories of my time and college and going up to theatre land and getting cheap tickets to stand at the back of shows.
So I just thought it would be nice to get some of those songs together on an album and when I finished Blood Brothers I went into the studio and recorded some stuff.
And then I thought ‘I want to do a new pop record’ as I had missed being a solo artist and getting out there with my band so I went into that and did an album called The Sea, which came out last year. Then I toured that and I have toured it a little bit this year.
But then I was asked by ITV if I would like to be involved in Superstar, which was a casting show for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Chris Superstar, and I love the show and I love that it is going to be an arena tour and I just thought that it would be a great opportunity to do something new.
But then I just thought ’this would be a good time to finish that album and maybe get it out’, especially now that I will be playing Mary Magdalene in the arena tour. I just thought ‘yeah I have definitely got to take this opportunity’.
- I Know Him So Well and I Don't Know How to Love Him are just two of the tracks that are on the record so how did you make the decision of what made the album?
I had a massive list of all the songs that I love from so many shows, some of them aren’t from shows as there is a Dusty Springfield song on the album and a Joni Mitchell song on the album.
I worked with one of the collaborators I work with all of the time called Peter-John Vettese and he has produced the album and he also made a list.
So we got together a couple of afternoons and he was playing through the songs and I was having a sing and we were just saying ‘yeah that one sounds great’ ’that one sounds awful’ and so we got it down to a shortlist before we came up with the final twelve.
- As you have said you have a long passion for theatre so how did you find taking on such well known songs? And how did you go about putting your own stamp on them?
Peter and I listened to lots of different versions of things because these are such great songs and some of them have been covered by so many incredibly people from Elle Fitzgerald to Ronan Keating; so many people have done these songs.
So by listening to lots of different versions we found out which bits we liked of some and which bits we liked of others and then also just making them our own by putting our own little twist on as well as my personal interpretation of them as well.
- There are still a few weeks to go before the release of the album but how have you found early responses?
Brilliant actually. It has felt like it has happened quite quickly because so much has been going on; the TV show has finished and we are about to go into rehearsals for the tour.
But the sample has gone out to people and I have been doing quite a lot of interviews and people have been saying how much they have been enjoying it and playing it in the office - so that is really nice.
And dueting with Emma (Bunton) was quite exciting and people are excited to hear two Spice Girls singing together again and, I have to say, it is quite emotional for us to hear our voice together on the same song.
- You have touched on my next question really as you say Emma Bunton does feature on the album so was it a natural choice to bring her in?
Absolutely. I knew that I wanted to do a duet on the album and I couldn’t think of anyone else that I would rather work with as she is one of my best friends and I love her voice. It is such a great song as well; I love Chess as it is a great score.
- You have mentioned Peter-John Vettese already so how did you end up working with him?
I think it was around the time of my second album Reason. After my first album… whenever you have made a record and you are back out there and thinking about writing again you approach certain song-writers and they approach you and he was one of the people that was interested in working with me.
So I went down to his studio in Battersea and we just got on really well right away. He is just an incredible musician and he started life as a jazz pianist and the he was in Jethro Tull when he was young. He has worked with the Bee Gees and Go West he has done so many things.
Annie Lennox was one of his big successes as he worked on the Diva album with her so being a big Annie Lennox fan that really appealed to me to work with Peter.
I just love working with and when we write together I feel really comfortable with him and he makes me be really honest with my lyrics and he digs the emotion out of me - I find it a really good environment to work in.
He was my first choice actually to do this album with because he is so classy in his production and he is such a musical person that he adds a really interesting element to things, even within chord structures he even does things a little more interesting than other people may.
- You have released the album on your own label Red Girl Records so why have you decided to go down that path?
I worked with the major labels for a long time with the Spice Girls and my first two solo albums and when that relationship turned sour I had options and it really appealed to me to do the extreme opposite of everything that I had done before.
But it has served me well actually having my own label. It is often difficult and often quite scary because it is a huge financial commitment but it does mean that I have total creative control and I am able to do whatever I want - with an album like this if I had gone to a major label they may not have wanted me to make this record.
- As you say having your own label comes a level of freedom that perhaps you have not had before so how much do you enjoy being able to make the music you want?
It’s brilliant, it’s brilliant. But that is not to say that I haven’t been able to do that before but I think when you don’t have to constantly battle to do what you want to do or proceed in the way that you want to do things it just makes life a lot easier.
- But what are the challenges of releasing a record on your own label?
It’s finances and the absence of the infrastructure of a major label as you don’t have that. It has been difficult for us to raise the funds to have TV marketing campaigns and the often the success of the record will suffer because you haven’t got the number of staff or the gravitas of a major label.
- We have just seen you as a judge on Superstar so how did you find your time on the show?
It was really good actually and it was the first time that I had done anything like that so I was a bit nervous. But I was in fantastic company with Jason Donovan, Dawn French and Andrew Lloyd Webber so I leant from some incredible people.
It was just brilliant. All of the contestants were amazing, the production team were lovely and we just had a great time. I would love to do something else in that vein.
- So what were you looking for in the contestants that came through the door?
There were a number of things really and we had a lot of strong vocalists but for me it was someone who I thought was right for the role; that was important for everybody.
We wanted someone who could act through singing, which is important in Andrew’s shows because we have no dialogue, and someone who is really nice.
I was taking a very different viewpoint from everyone else because I have got to get up close and personal with this guy, I have got to share a tour bus with this guy and so for me it was all of those things.
When it got down to the final four or five in the semi-finals it was just like ’you know what? I would be happy to work with any of these guys’ because they were all brilliant and lovely. But I do have to say that Ben was my favourite.
- As you say Jesus Chris Superstar will be hitting the road so how excited are you about getting back into a show like this?
Yeah I’m excited. I have got a week of next week and I am just going hang out with my little girl and go and get some sunshine.
Then I get back into rehearsals. So I think after having a break and recharging my batteries I will be absolutely raring to go.
- You are also a mum so how do you find juggling being a parent with your career demands?
It’s really hard (laughs). I think it is the same for all mums. I think being a staying at home mum is the hardest thing but then for working mums it is a whole new set of challenges from childcare to making sure you spend enough time together; especially when it is the summer holidays you do feel guilty if you are very busy. So it is just about getting the balance.
- Finally what is coming next for you and will you be playing any live shows this year?
I have got a live show planned in November at Shepherd’s Bush Empire but that will be a gig of my pop stuff.
But with this particular album I am toying with the idea of getting a band together and some string players and a brass section and maybe taking it out to theatres and doing a bit of a concert vibe.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw