Marcella Detroit, singer, songwriter, musician and former member of Shakespeare’s Sister chats with Kevin Cooper about working on her new album, her residency at Boisdale Of Canary Wharf, her recent meeting with Siobhan Fahey and her forthcoming appearance at The Cornbury Music Festival.

Marcella Detroit is an American soprano vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter who got her first musical break performing with Bob Segar. After releasing her debut album Marcella in 1982 and co-writing Lay Down Sally with Eric Clapton, she joined Shakespeare’s Sister in 1988 with founder member Siobhan Fahey.

Their first two albums, Sacred Heart (1989) and Hormonally Yours (1992) both reached the top ten of the UK Albums Chart. Detroit sang the lead vocals on their biggest hit Stay, which spent eight consecutive weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart in 1992.

Owing to creative differences, Detroit was fired from the band in 1993 at the same time as Hormonally Yours won the Best Contemporary Collection Of Songs at The Ivor Novello Awards, leaving Fahey as the sole member again until she ended the project in 1996, only for her to revive it in 2009.

After leaving the band Detroit had a UK top twenty hit with I Believe in 1994. She formed the Marcy Levy Band in 2002, and finished third in the 2010 ITV series Popstar to Operastar.

Whilst getting ready to perform at The Cornbury Music Festival, she took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Marcella good morning, how are you today?

Hi Kevin I’m pretty good thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are most welcome, it’s my pleasure.

I understand that you arrived in the UK late on Wednesday evening.

Yes that’s right; we arrived here on Independence Day, (laughter). So I am currently free of all the madness that is going on in my country, whoop whoop (laughter).

(Laughter) well I have to tell you that I was going to try to speak to you today without mentioning politics.

Really, oh I’m sorry, that’s all my fault (laughter).

Well with the exception of politics, just how is life treating you?

I have to be honest with you and say that life at the moment is treating me really well. I feel very fortunate to be back over here in the UK again which I really do see as being my second home. I am still doing a lot of creative things, I am writing new material and working on a new album, and coming over here to perform again so I would have to say that life is treating me pretty well, thank you for asking.

You mention performing; you are going to be performing at The Cornbury Music Festival on Saturday 14th July. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes I am, I truly am. It was only confirmed a couple of days before I left Los Angeles and that really was fantastic news. I am really excited to be doing that.

Just what can we expect from you at Cornbury; will it be an acoustic set or will you have the full band with you?

(Laughter) we are going to be full out rocking. I have got a great little band that I picked up here in the UK a while back now. We are going to be covering the whole scope of my career from one of the very first songs that I ever learnt, together with some of the songs that I wrote with some of the great artists that I have been fortunate to work with along the way. There will be a few covers of their songs together with everything in-between that I have done from my own albums up to the present.

I have to ask, have you ever played an all-female line-up before because it is all ladies on the 14th?

Well that is great to hear. It kind of reminds me of Lilith Fair which started back in 1997 and was a travelling music festival, founded by Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan, and which consisted solely of female solo artists and female-led bands. It gave women the chance to become more of a part of the music scene.

That’s right and I believe that in three years, Lilith Fair raised over ten million US dollars for charity?

That’s perfectly correct. Just where do you get your knowledge? (laughter). I think that it’s great and I find it hard to understand just why there has been discrimination towards women in the music industry. It is just the way that things have been.

Have you ever fallen victim of discrimination within the music business?

Oh yes, I recorded an album back in the 80s for Epic Records, took it to a radio programmer who presented my album to the record label who said “I’m sorry we already have our quota for female artists on the play list for this week” (laughter). I hope that has changed over the years since then but anyway, I am really pleased to hear that Saturday 14th belongs to the ladies.

Is there anyone in particular who you are looking forward to seeing perform?

Well from what I have been told I understand that Alanis Morissette is performing on the day and I really would love to see her. I have never met her but I remember listening to her album Jagged Little Pill back in 1995 when it first came out and I have been a huge fan of her work since then. So I really would love to see her. Who are you looking forward to seeing?

To be honest with you, other than your good self, I am a huge fan of Soul, Motown and Stax so I am really looking forward to seeing Mavis Staples perform.

Oh Mavis, I love her too, she’s great.

You briefly touched on it earlier; you have got a ten date residency coming up at Boisdale of Canary Wharf. You will be performing on Monday July 9th to Friday July 13th and then Monday July 16th to Friday July 20th. You are taking over (laughter).

(Laughter) I am aren’t I, yes I truly am.

This isn’t the first time that you have performed there is it?

That’s correct, I played there back in 2014 I believe. I did just the one show where I was the guest artist with a friend of mine, Lizzie Beans who had the residency there. I played there then and it really was great fun so it is great that they have invited me back to do my own thing for ten days. That should be great, it really will be fun.

I understand that this too will be with the full band?

It will be myself on guitar, harmonica, piano, and a few other surprises (laughter). I have a great bass player with me, Keith Wilkinson from Squeeze. I have Kez Edwards on drums and finishing off the band is a great guitarist and keyboard player named Ed Dolloway.

You are spoiling us (laughter).

(Laughter) yes I am. Whoops there will also be my husband who is a fantastically talented musician and singer. He was the star of the West End and was in a bunch of musicals like Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line to name but a few. He was a child actor and starred in the movie Oliver. He has such an amazing voice and he is going to be there joining us on a few songs. It really is going to be great.

I’m sorry for laughing but the only person who you failed to name check was your husband (laughter).

(Laughter) I know, how will I ever live that down (laughter). How did that happen? (Laughter).

You have written and co-written for the likes of Three Dog Night, Jennifer Rush, Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan, Amii Stewart, Belinda Carlisle, Philip Bailey, Randy Crawford, Al Jarreau, Vixen, Charlotte Church, Marti Pellow and Joe McElderry to name but a few. Who has given you the greatest pleasure?

Oh gosh, that is so hard. As you know I wrote a song for Al Jarreau and I have to say that was truly amazing to have him record one of my songs and not only did I get to write a song for him, I was then invited by my friend, the late George Duke, to sing on the track with Al. The whole experience was such a treat. Of course working with (Eric) Clapton who really is the boss; working, writing, recording and touring with him for a good few years really was amazing. I really have been very fortunate.

I could be naughty now and ask you who you have disliked but I won’t even go there (laughter).

(Laughter) well let me tell you that could be a very long list depending of course upon just how you look at it.

In that case what I will ask is, is there anyone out there who you haven’t previously worked with who you would like to work with?

Oh yes, I love the producer Mark Ronson; I think that he is fantastic. When I first really began to notice him and his work was when he was working with Amy Winehouse. I just sat up asking “just who is this person” and now he has created his own little empire and word has it that he has a really cool studio out in Los Angles, not too far away from where I live. Back in the day it was called the Shangri La Studios when The Band, who played on a lot of Bob Dylan’s records but left him when he went electric, actually owned it. I actually worked at those studios with Clapton a long time ago now. In fact it was in a totally different life time (laughter).

Once upon a time in a Galaxy far, far away (laughter). So it really is great to see that the studio is now up and running once again. It is fantastic that Mark Ronson has bought it. So if I ever get the chance to work with him, I feel that would be fantastic. He has got some serious charisma about him. He’s a great musician, and he is really tuned in to what is currently happening music wise.

Taking you back to 2015 and your last studio album Grey Matterz, I think that it is a brilliant piece of work.

Ah thank you, that is so kind of you to say that. What is your favourite track on the album?

Well I actually have two go to tracks. They are Turn Up The Volume On The Positive and Drag Queen.

They are both songs that were inspired by true stories actually. I was speaking to someone and at the time I was feeling kind of down and they said “hey girl you need to turn up the volume on the positive” and I immediately thought that was a great title for a song so I wrote it down. I am always making notes of things that inspire me whenever people are speaking to me (laughter). Sometimes I will write the song immediately; like the whole thing will pour out of me in a few minutes. Other times I will just save the titles and go back to them at a later stage. I write down the concept and the inspiration so that I can tap into it when I need to go back to it.

The Drag Queen song is a true story about this great Drag Queen who I met at a party and her name is Courtney Act. She is from Brisbane down there in Australia; she travels the world and she is absolutely beautiful. When I met her as The Drag Queen I just thought ‘oh my god this Drag Queen is absolutely gorgeous’ and she is much more feminine than I will ever be (laughter). A friend of mine put us together to write and when I met him, when he opened the door, he was still a really stunning human being. Not only that but the depth of the person was just so incredible, so vulnerable, very deep, a truly amazing person and a real pleasure to work with. When I got home that night in my dream I was kissing the Drag Queen so when I woke up I thought ‘okay I have to write a song called The Drag Queen as in Last Night I Kissed A Drag Queen In My Dreams (laughter).

You have briefly mentioned that you are currently writing for a new studio album, how is that going?

Every once in a while I decide to revisit my roots. Being with Shakespeare’s Sister really introduced me to different genres and encouraged me to explore things a little bit more. So every once in a while I will go back to my rock, blues and soul roots so that is what I am doing at the moment. I have already written a whole albums worth of songs for which I have recorded all of the demos at home. Just before I left I went into the studio with Clem Burke the drummer from Blondie and a fantastic Grammy Award winning guitarist called Laurence Juber who was the lead guitarist for Paul McCartney’s Wings. Laurence is a guitar virtuoso; the man is a genius.

I met his wife at the gym when I moved back to Los Angeles two years ago now (laughter). It was such an incredible thing that the universe brought to me. So Laurence and I started working together and he helped me put this track together which I had recorded in my home studio. We took it to another studio, had Clem play the drums on it, Laurence put the guitar on it and that is what I am going to be doing when I get home. It is more rock and roll; real in your face rock and roll but it also has a blues sounding quirkiness to it. I love bands like The Black Keys, they are one of my favourite bands at the moment.

Do you have any thoughts on a title for the album?

Ah the title (laughter). The working title for the album at this moment in time is Made In Detroit.

When will you hope to have the album ready for release?

Well as I said we have only done the one track and when I go back home to the States we might add a few more things to it. I would hope that maybe at the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Obviously depending upon just how well the album is received, will you tour the UK with it?

For me to come over here and play has taken an awful lot of planning; it has been going on now since February. Touring takes a hell of a lot longer. You have to time everything just right as you have to release the album and then let the audience get to know the songs before you tour with it. Everything has to be synchronised. Hopefully, the album release and the start of a tour here in the UK could happen simultaneously, let’s just wait and see.

I’m so pleased that you have previously mentioned Shakespeare’s Sister. Your 1992 hit Stay was at number one here in the UK for eight consecutive weeks. Just how did that make you feel?

Oh gosh, well I have to say that it was a big surprise. When we first recorded the demo in my small home studio Siobhan (Fahey) and I took it over to her house that night and played it to Chris Thomas our producer and Dave (Stewart) of the Eurythmics who was at that time married to Siobhan. As soon as we started to play the cassette Chris said “that’s a number one smash” and Siobhan and I simply looked at each other and said “really” (laughter). It was part of a concept album about us being cat women on the moon which had been inspired by a 1950s cheesy B movie. We wanted to buy the rights to the movie but that never happened but we still used that as our inspiration.

So I think that it was a real surprise that it did so well. I was really grateful for the record staying at number one for eight weeks, in fact I was kind of astonished really, and I think that we all were (laughter). What an amazing accolade for us to have all these years later.

And not forgetting that you did it back in the day when you had to sell a large amount of units in order to get to number one. Long gone are the days of selling a million copies in order to achieve it.

I know. I think that because the music industry has changed so much, it is nothing like it used to be. There is so much more music out there because nowadays anyone can make a record. I think that is a good thing and it also a bad thing. The big problem today is all of the piracy. Because of that you have to give your music away for free. When I was a kid I used to save up all of my pocket money because I could not wait to get to the record store and buy my favourite record. However, now it is like ‘oh I can get that for free so why should I pay for an entire album’. It is a totally different era. Technology has been great in many ways but in other ways maybe not so much.

You have mentioned Shakespeare’s Sister and you have also mentioned Siobhan (Fahey) so I have to ask the question, how are things currently between the two of you?

(Laughter) well I don’t know if you heard the news but we actually met up back in May. It was the first time that we had met and had spent time together since 1992. We had a little exchange of emails when I tried to reach out to her but she wasn’t really very interested in talking to me. So at that point it was just a few swift email exchanges. Then all of a sudden out of the blue a few months ago now her manager contacted my husband Lance (Aston) asking if I would be interested in talking to him. So I talked with him and he asked me if I would be interested in meeting up with Siobhan so that we could have a chat and I said “sure” (laughter). I was a little bit concerned as I did not know exactly what the meeting was going to be about but actually it was really good and it actually felt like the beginning of forgiveness and of healing, and for me it was a very welcomed opportunity.

And I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen in the future. I will tell you that I am going to meet up with Siobhan once again while I am here, and I am keeping an open mind, as hopefully everybody else involved with this is and all that I can say is that we will see what another meeting brings forth. When I met Siobhan in May I thought ‘wow, is this going to be heated’ and her manager was asking me “shall I come over there with you and be the mediator between the two of you” (laughter). I said “we are both adults so I don’t really see why you would have to do that”. So we just met, Siobhan and I, and everything was fine. We both got a lot of things off of our respective chests and I have to say that it was a good, positive experience. So we will see what is going to happen because at this stage I do not know (laughter).

Early days I know but could you ever envisage a time when the two of you could work together again?

To be honest that thought has crossed my mind but at this moment in time I am simply taking one day at a time. We will see (laughter). I am just trying to keep an open mind and see exactly what that world looks like and what that would entail.

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh god, what was the first record that I bought? I was a child who had been bought up on Motown during the 60s and the 70s so I think that it was probably a Temptations record. Then again I loved The Beatles so it very well may have been I Want To Hold Your Hand. I can remember specifically buying their 45 rpm.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That was The Beatles, they were my very first rock and roll concert.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Actually it happened on the plane coming over; in fact if I think about it I will most probably cry now. I love the song Say Something by A Great Big World. Every time that I hear that song I just cannot control myself. I always start sobbing. There is just something about it. It is so simple whilst being so poignant. It’s simply beautiful.

Marcella on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been wonderful.

Thank you so much Kevin, it’s been my pleasure. You take care and bye for now.