Sophie Ellis-Bextor, a British singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about being a mum to her five boys, recording her songs with a full orchestra, her latest album The Song Diaries and her forthcoming tour of the UK.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor is a British singer and songwriter. She first came to prominence in the late 1990s, as the lead singer of the indie rock band Theaudience. After the group disbanded, Ellis-Bextor went solo, achieving widespread success in the early 2000s. Her music is a mixture of mainstream pop, disco, nu-disco, and 1980s electronic influences.

Her solo debut album, Read My Lips, was released in 2001 and reached number two in the UK Album Charts and was certified double platinum by the British Phonographic Industry. It sold more than two million copies worldwide. This was followed up by her second album, Shoot From The Hip, released in 2003.

She has released four further studio albums, Trip The Light Fantastic, Make A Scene, Wanderlust and Familia which was released in 2016. Her fifth and latest album, The Song Diaries was released last month and Sophie Ellis-Bextor is planning to tour the UK to promote it.

Whilst busy preparing for her forthcoming tour, she took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Hi Sophie how are you today?

I’m fine thanks Kevin 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.

No worries, thank you for your time.

And just how is life treating you as a new mum?

(Laughter) that’s right, he is twelve weeks old now and I have to say that life couldn’t be any better at this moment in time, but thank you for asking.

Does being a new mum make it harder for you to leave home and go back out on the road touring?

No not at all, I like doing the things that I am doing. If I want to I can take him along with me but at the end of the day it is a life that we know really, because he is not my first. I have done a lot of work around the other kids and it really is quite nice if I am totally honest with you.

On the subject of the forthcoming tour, I see that you have added six shows in November, which must please you?

Yes it does, things really are going great actually. When we put the tickets out there they sold really well so it wasn’t that hard a decision to add the six extra shows in November. The good thing is that all of the venues along the tour are really special and beautiful, which are used to accommodating orchestras so there is not really a bad seat in the house. The acoustics are lovely, and so hopefully people will already be in good spirits when they enter the building.

We have to talk about your latest album, The Song Diaries, and I have to say that I love it.

Thank you, that is really nice to hear.

More to the point are you happy with it?

Actually, yes I am. It has been a really lovely project for me from the beginning to the end. It has actually felt so self-indulgent (laughter). It has been great for me to have had the opportunity to work with so many nice people on this project plus it was great fun for me to do something that was a bit of a challenge and a little bit different. I personally feel that it is healthy to take on something that is a little bit scary sometimes (laughter).

The response from the fans has been amazing.

Yes it has, they really do seem to have taken to what it is that I was trying to do. The main thing is that I really am so happy that the album is finally out because I started working on it in December 2017 so it really is nice that it is now out and about and finished.

When did you decide to record the songs with the orchestra?

Well there by hangs a story (laughter). It all came about because a very good friend of mine called Amy, who is responsible for all of the arrangements on the album, well she did a version of Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) for a charity event that we were both at. When I heard it I thought that it really bought something new out of the song and I wondered what would happen if we did that with a few more of the songs. So I took Amy out for lunch and said “right, let’s do this” (laughter). I handed her sixteen songs and to be honest, she really didn’t look too shocked (laughter). I really do think that she has done a remarkable job. She is very clever with her arrangements.

Well I have to tell you that I currently have three go to tracks, Love Is You, Take Me Home and Murder On The Dancefloor; I think that they are great.

Really, you obviously like a bit of disco Kevin don’t you (laughter).

Well I must admit that I am a soulie at heart and as soon as I heard those tracks I immediately thought of 1970s Philadelphia International, (Kenny) Gamble and (Leon) Huff with a pinch of New York’s Studio 54 thrown in for good measure (laughter).

(Laughter) really, well I have to tell you that is absolutely fantastic because that is what I was hoping to achieve. That basically is my happy place so whenever we do the live shows that is where I hope to take everybody. It really is 70s disco with, as you say, Philadelphia strings, New York disco, and that is exactly what I wanted to achieve. It looks like I had better be careful what I say because you certainly know your stuff.

You mention performing live, you will be touring the album here in the UK in June and November. What shape will the show take?

Well without wanting to give too much away, we do half of the concert with just the orchestra and after the interval the band take to the stage and then it is full on and it is Studio 54 to the end of the show really. It really is fun and I can’t wait.

Which song gave you the greatest pleasure when you heard it orchestrated?

Well I think that Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) really does have a special place with me, because I just think that it brings something so very different out of the song. It really does become a dramatic, breathing, living thing. I also love Wild Forever, which is a song that I originally wrote with Ed Harcourt for my last album Familia. I really do love the new version of that song just as much as I love the original. That is a really good feeling if you really feel that you have bought something new to the table, the other side of the coin if you like. So that would be a personal favourite I guess.

When you were choosing which songs would make it onto the album, did knowing that they were going to be orchestrated influence your choice in any way?

Yes it did one hundred percent. Every track on the album is a single but I haven’t done every single if you see what I mean. I just thought that some of my songs wouldn’t really benefit that much, or I simply didn’t think that there was much point so I really did have to be quite careful with my decisions really. There is no point doing cover versions just for the sake of it. In my opinion a cover version has got to someway change or enhance whatever it is that you are listening to. So yes, that was a very big part in the decision making.

Having now listened to the finished album, is it something that you would like to do again?

I don’t really know at this moment in time. What I do know is that I am really looking forward to taking the album out on the road and performing the songs live. That really is a big treat for me. I know that it will feel strange being supported by an orchestra but I know that it will also feel really lovely. Having said that, at this moment in time I don’t feel that I will ever want to work with an orchestra again (laughter). I feel that you take it as far as you can and then you simply say “right that’s it, enough” (laughter).

Putting you on the spot, just where would The Song Diaries sit in a Sophie Ellis-Bextor top five albums?

(Laughter) well I have to say that whenever you release a new album that really does excite you; having a new album and new songs around you. So I would most probably put it quite near the top. Having said that, I think that my favourite album that I have made is most probably Wanderlust back in 2014, simply because it was quite significant for me when I made it. So that would be number one, then I would put Familia at number two and The Song Diaries at number three, smack bang in the middle of the five (laughter).

You are bringing the tour to the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Tuesday 4th June, do you enjoy your time spent here in the city?

Yes I do, most definitely. One of my best friends from school went to Nottingham University so I really do have loads of lovely memories of exploring the city. I really do love Nottingham; I have friends who live there and so yes, I really am very fond of Nottingham. And let me tell you, when I get to Nottingham there won’t be much sitting around, I want the whole place to be jumping along with me. I don’t really stop whenever I have got the band behind me. Whenever we get to the disco section of the show that really does give me a hell of a lot of energy.

Whenever you are out on tour, what is the one thing that you can’t live without?

I really am not that fussy but somewhere on the rider there has always got to be wine and chocolate (laughter).

Red or white?

Most definitely white (laughter).

Who has inspired you musically along the way?

Oh blimey there have been so many people. Going back a couple of years now I was fortunate to see Fleetwood Mac and I have to say that it was truly amazing. Those guys really have managed to evolve with the times so they still sound as relevant today as they did thirty and forty years ago now. They still play their classic songs really well; they really did sound fantastic. So people like Fleetwood Mac really have inspired me.

And who are you listening to at the moment?

I am currently listening to the latest album by Vampire Weekend which really is quite playful but so well played and performed, together with A Deeper Understanding which is the latest album by The War On Drugs. I have also been listening to a lot of old school disco which is where I originally got the inspiration for the orchestral disco versions of the songs on the latest album. In fact I always seem to be going back to old school disco as that really does inspire me.

If you weren’t in the music business what do you think that you would be doing?

That really is a tricky one for me and I have to be honest and say that I really don’t know. If I am being totally honest with you then I would have to say that I honestly do not know what else I am able to do. I certainly don’t feel as though I have any other qualifications. I really do like psychology so perhaps I would be doing some kind of counselling. I like talking to people about things so maybe that could be good.

You have been in the music business for over twenty years now, have you enjoyed it?

I love it, in fact I probably love it as much now as I ever did, if not more. Especially as you get further into a career and you realise just how fortunate you are to still be doing something that you really love. I think that my relationship with the music business has got stronger and stronger really.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That would have to be when I first started to make my own records under my own label. Please don’t get me wrong as I had ten really lovely years with Universal but it really is empowering for me to be able to do my own stuff, make my own decisions and not have to go to such a big committee. I am now working with people who I call friends who really are amazing people to work with. I personally think that really helps.

On the subject of working with friends, does working with Ed Harcourt bring out the best in you?

(Laughter) yes he does, I think that he his brilliant. Ed really is a very talented man and the good thing is that he makes me laugh too.

What was the first record that you bought?

The very first single that I bought was Our House by Madness. I was four years old and my dad made a really big thing about taking me to the record shop to buy it.

Who did you first see performing live?

That would have been Pink Floyd when I was eight. My dad is a massive Pink Floyd fan so he took me to see them when I was eight and then again when I was eleven. I think that he was trying to insist that I liked Pink Floyd (laughter).

Are you telling me that you still wanted to be involved with the music business after sitting through two Pink Floyd gigs?

(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean. I really do appreciate their music now, but at the time I really did think that it was terribly boring (laughter). Nobody got up and danced (laughter).

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

Bugger that really is a tricky question. I can see why you leave it until the end of the interview. To be honest I think that it is when people sing live actually. Dan (Gillespie Sells) from The Feeing wrote a musical called Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and there is a song in it that the mum sings called He’s My Boy and that song makes me cry every time that I hear it. It is really moving.

The musical has recently been given another extended run I’m told?

Yes it has, just how did you know that?

Because I recently interviewed a certain Richard Jones from The Feeling who just so happens to be your husband (laughter).

(Laughter) did you really, well I sincerely hope that he gave you a good interview (laughter).

Yes he did and on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been wonderful. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thank you Kevin, I really am glad that we finally got to speak. Bye for now.