Mention Lisa Stansfield and you can't help singing 'Been around the world and I, ay, ay. I can't find my baby..." The 1989 single "All Around The World" was a monster hit all across the globe for the elfin lass from the Northern English town of Rochdale. Less than a decade later, Puff Daddy would sample it in his 1997 single "Been Around The World" featuring the Notorious BIG, searing the song further into our collective unconscious. Stansfield went on to achieve more success during the nineties with a clutch of albums and hits like "Change," "All Woman," and "So Natural." In the early aughts, she took the pedal to the metal, having retreated to Ireland and largely staying out of the spotlight. Now she is back with Deeper, her 8th album.
Blessed with a unique voice that was the epitome of Northern Soul, she sounded like a female-Barry White. "When I first went to America – it wasn’t like it is today when you have the internet and you can see what this person looks like - they were all expecting this really big and really black singer, " explained the 52-year-old, in her heavy Northern drawl, over a phone call to AXS from the U.K. "And I’m like this skinny white girl from Rochdale," she laughed. "Every single radio station I went to, the DJ would say to me ‘when is Lisa coming in?’ And I would say ‘I am Lisa!"
She had her breakout moment in the late '80s when pioneering pop samplers Coldcut had her as a guest vocalists on their single "People Hold On." The relative unknown was then poised for the big time with her strong debut Affection. Several of her own songs would become dance staples through the decades. Proving she hasn't lost her touch, her current U.S. single "Never Ever" recently hit Number One in the Billboard Dance Club songs chart.
The rest of the new album with it's soulful vocals and feel good, dance grooves will immediately take old fans back to the '90s. You can imagine someone throwing shapes on the dance floor today with "Desire." The title track which she admits is the truest love song she's ever written, nicely showcases her deeper, dense vocals. While "Billionaire" feels almost too formulaic, the quiet ballad "Coming Up For Air" is irresistible.
Having played to rave reviews on her recent UK tour, she has now embarked on her European tour which has sold out several dates in countries like Germany and Austria. Delighted that diehards as well as younger faces are turning out to see her, she has plans to tour the U.S. next, in the Summer. We spoke to the straight-talking Stansfield to chat about her new album and working with Ian Devaney - her husband and musical partner for 30 years. She also tells us why she won't be a judge on reality singing shows and jokes about what she will do when she no longer has her looks.
AXS: Great to see your new album Deeper doing so well? What was the impetus to make this record because you took a break for a good 10–15 years?
Lisa Stansfield: Well from America I did. It’s just the way things happened. I’ve never been the sort of person to have this big massive plan for my whole life, Svengali-like, I did take my eye of the ball for a bit but that’s my life. Anyway, it’s like someone was still dribbling the ball down the pitch for me because people want me to come back. I’m very, very lucky. It’s lovely. And I must tell you I am making up for lost time.
AXS: The album really took me back to my youth, on weekends when you were getting ready to go out, that let’s-go-and-dance-the-night-away vibe?
LS: Yeah, it really is like that. When I used to get ready to go out - putting my make-up on, having a little drink before stepping out, I would always put on something a little energetic to get in the mood.
AXS: What songs would you have put on back in the day?
LS: Prince, Chaka Khan, really energetic sort of songs, you know serious music; like I’m going to rock the world tonight. That’s how you should feel when you go out, even if it’s just for five hours, you should feel like the queen or king of the world.
AXS: The first song that really stood out on first listen was “Hole In My Heart” – who were you singing about?
LS: I’ve been in a relationship for 30 years. So I steal from people, like I could be out somewhere and maybe there’s a couple in a corner fighting, or someone’s crying. And it could be quite innocent but my over-active imagination runs riot. I used to live in Ireland, just outside Dublin, near the famous Irish novelist Maeve Binchy. And people used to say ‘don’t ever talk to her. Or talk around her because she lips read and she takes all out stories.’ And I’m a bit like that, a little nosey. You have to be careful if you have a situation going on because it might end up in one of my songs. (laughs) I’m a pilferer and a thief.
AXS: There’s a real parallel for you between songwriting and acting where you imagine you are as someone else.
LS: Exactly. You’ve hit the nail on the head. You’re writing and you’re acting this mini story out in your head.
AXS: Why did you choose to do a cover of “Ghetto Heaven” – it’s just interesting cause you could do Barry White or more songs in that grain? It’s kind of obscure.
LS: Well, I’ve done that already. I was lucky enough to sing with Barry and we became good friend. "Ghetto Heaven" was on the first album by the Family Stand. It came out around the same time as my debut album Affection. That was my favorite song at the time.
AXS: Do you have a favorite track of this album – mine’s probably “Coming Up For Air?”
LS: Really. That's great! Everyone picks a different song. Usually there's one or two songs that everyone picks. Mine's probably “Love of My Life,” it's a fun piece about the place where I came from: Rochdale. It's about going out to your local club and finding the love of your life; it's like you're going to win the lottery and make all your dreams come true. That’s what all those little Northern towns were like, not unlike most towns in America. There’s a community, a local club and who’s going to meet who tonight – or someone new that could change their lives.
AXS: You’re still married to Ian, who you knew in high school and have continued to work together for three decades. The annuals of rock n roll are filled with stories of explosive creative partnerships – what’s your secret? I saw an interview when you said you don’t bring a domestic into the studio – how is that even possible?
LS: I don’t know. I think it’s just some kind of switch that goes on in your subconscious. It’s not like it’s penance or anything, you just slip into it. And it’s quite nice. If you have a falling out or something is niggling before you go into the studio, by the time you get out, you’ve forgotten it anyway.
AXS: I understand you’ve been asked to judge those TV reality shows but you always say no. Is it the sort of fame-grab that those shows can sometimes be about that you don’t like?
LS: It’s all based on the wrong reasons. And a big reason is I don’t want to judge other people because nobody ever took away my integrity. So I don’t want to do that to anybody else. They strip all the personality of the lovely person and make them like everybody else.
AXS: If you could do our own reality TV show – how would you do it?
LS: People can just do whatever the fu*k they like. It’d probably be pretty good. (laughs) Listen, mainstream Saturday night TV for the last 40 – 50 years has always been abysmal. And in the future it will be too. There’s nothing we can do, so either turn it off …
AXS: Or if it’s a Saturday night - put on Lisa Stansfield and get ready to go out!
AXS: At the same time when you can write songs like ”Just Can’t Help Myself” - with 90s Bristol production, big violins and lovely melodies; or "Coming Up For Air" and "Everything" I understand why you refuse to do reality shows.
LS: It’s an adventure, I’m escaping my life now. I don’t have anything to lose anymore. If this album fails, it will only hurt my pride because I think it’s a really good album. How I feel is not based on how many people buy or don’t buy my album so I have nothing to lose, I can just go for it which is the best way to make music.
AXS: There’s a slew of UK soul artist from Adele to Amy Winehouse that were no doubt inspired by you. You’ve mention trying to sing “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele, any other current female singer-songwriters out there you’ve been listening to?
LS: When I was younger, I used to sing to “I’m Every Woman” to see if I could sing all those notes, now I sing to Adele. I also listen to Jesse Ware and there’s hundreds of different female singers but now that you’ve gone and asked me, I can’t think of any others. You know I don’t like it when people say ‘nowadays music is not the same.’ Well, thank God it isn’t! You can’t have it stagnant and the same all the time. People usually think what went before is always better, it’s a cycle anyway. There’s always good music, you just have to find it. Don’t look on the bloody X-Factor, go online, be an explorer.
AXS: During the time when you stepped away from the spotlight and making music, you were concentrating on acting and did a theater run of "The Vagina Monologues" as well as appeared in films and Television. Is it true that you were once offered the lead on "Indecent Proposal?"
LS: I was! Which is quite unbelievable but then all of my stories are like that; ridiculous! The director Adrian Lyne had seen a billboard with my face on it at the time; he thought I was pretty and maybe I might be perfect for the part. I got my start on TV as a presenter when I was younger and had always done acting in school plays, so in some ways, acting is like second nature to me. But of course, I wasn't right for the part, I was a pawn in some Hollywood game. I did get to work on the soundtrack with the composer John Barry who was a friend, so that was nice.
AXS: I saw "Northern Exposure" the film where you played a Northern mother and you were excellent in it. I gather that acting is now your back-up plan?
LS: For acting, I enjoy working on tension material. So when the face doesn’t have it anymore, or the boobs and bottom, (laughs) I will still have the brain and hopefully I can still remember lines.