From popstar to model booker to popstar again, Siobhan Donaghy tells Shelley Marsden how it feels to be back with the original line-up of Britain’s best-loved girl band…
“It’s a mouthful isn’t it”, giggles Siobhan Donaghy about her band’s name Mutya Keisha Siobhan, “and it’s not even as if we have common names. When I say “I’m Siobhan from ‘Musha, Keysha Siobhan’, I feel like I’m repeating myself. Even we call ourselves MKS.”
The original Sugababes, Siobhán Donaghy (29), Mutya Buena (28) and Keisha Buchanan (28), are back after a fifteen year hiatus, having signed what was reported as a £1 million record deal last summer with Polydor. They were infamous at the time for hating each other – but it seems that the years have mellowed them.
In an interview with BBC News at the time, the girls said they decided to reform as they felt they still had ‘something to give’, and pre-orders for the debut single Flatline, which was released on September 6, duly sky-rocketed.
For London-Irish redhead Siobhan, being back in a group she is rumoured to have left one night by going to the toilet in a club and never coming back is all a bit surreal. “It’s the little things. I couldn’t get over the fact that the other two could drive, for example! When we were last working together, we weren’t old enough to drive…”
MKS (they can’t call themselves The Sugababes because the umpteenth line-up consisting of members Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen is still in existence)were school-kids when they were plucked from obscurity by All Saints manager Ron Tom in 1998; Mutya and Siobhán were joined by the former’s best friend Keisha, when they were only 13, and aged 16,
Together, they released the gold-selling, critically-acclaimed album One Touch in 2000, which spawned singles including New Year, Run for Cover, and the Brit-nominated ‘Overload, but there were tensions from the start. Siobhan was the first to leave the group’s original line-up in 2001 at the grand old age of 16, her departure surrounded by stories of nasty catfights, and Keisha being a control freak and a bully.
All three went on to pursue their own musical projects (and in Mutya’s case, have a baby and develop a love of multiple body tattoos), but it can’t have been easy, particularly for Siobhan, who was replaced by former Atomic Kitten Heidi Range, to watch the band’s meteoric rise to success and be no part of it.
She says the reunion was tentative, but has so far surpassed expectations in terms of sound, and how the three are getting on. She loves the record they’ve made (scheduled for an early 2014 release), and feels she’s really “bonded” with Mutya and Keisha.
“I thought it was something that might not happen… but I’ve really enjoyed the last eighteen months – it’s made me feel a lot younger, if I’m honest! It’s like we’re back at high school.”
For the last five years, Siobhan had been in ‘civilian life’, working as a model booker, and is relishing the change of pace from regimented office life to the more relaxed and creative hours of her girl group.
It started with a meeting at a London hotel, one which kicked off with Keisha ordering a bottle of champagne, a surreal event that ended up feeling like a brilliant night out with the girls.
“I went away thinking, I had the most amazing night – but do we really want to do this? The next step was a couple of days in the studio and we started off cautiously, but we really enjoyed it. We had so much to catch up on… we laughed so much. We’re so different from each other that being together is constantly entertaining.”
The girls’ first big test was playing a headline gig at London’s Scala on August 1 (“just down the road” from Siobhan’s pad), peppered with old favourites as well as a couple of their new tracks. The capacity crowd loved it. The singer was nervous about the old material she didn’t feature on:
“We did Freak Like Me and then in the middle section of the new single, Flatline, we sang a bit of Push the Button, like a double chorus. People love that song and just went crazy, but with, say Stronger, I felt people were really listening intently to what I was doing.
“It’s been a long time since the three of us have been onstage together for a headline gig with a full band. It’s things like the noise of the drum-kit behind you – you forget how intense that is, especially when we’re a vocal harmony group. It’s important that we hear ourselves! But now that’s done I’m ready for anything.”
Siobhan thinks they’re all a lot calmer now, which certainly makes sense. They’ve grown up in the interim; when they started out they were 15 years old, going to school and recording in the evening and at weekends. Now, she says, they look out for each other more too. She says it’s “100% a different dynamic”.
The thing about The Sugababes is that they’re well-loved, and always have been. They’re cooler than the Spice Girls were, they’re way more edgy than The Saturdays – and their music, quite simply, is better.
The new album, which will follow the release of the next single after Flatline, has a couple of big names on it. One is Dev Hynes – the girls flew out to LA to work specifically with him – and another Bifco, produced The Spice Girls. Mo-Jam, two producers who used to be in Blazin Squad are in there, as is Naughty Boy, currently riding high in the album charts.
Says Siobhan: “Naughty Boy’s kind of new to people, but he’s worked with Emili Sande for years. Emilie Sande actually wrote a couple of songs for us, but they’re not things we’re going to use on the album. They were amazing, but if there’d been more time, we’d have done a studio session with her and it would have been a real collaboration. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out for the future. Then there are a couple of collaborations I’m not even allowed to talk about, which is highly annoying!”
It is a bit. In terms of sound, this is a classic Sugababes album, with the distinctive three-part harmonies the girls’ songs are famous for. For Siobhan, there’s no getting away from that: “It doesn’t matter what genre we do, we have a unique sound. But it’s taken in what we’ve all gone off and done separately and brought those influences in somewhere.”
Recording tracks in LA, Siobhan fell in love with Hollywood, but not for the celeb lifestyle – it was the culture of keeping fit in the sun that she appealed: “I’m not a person that’s into the celebrity lifestyle. It appealed to my healthy side; exercising is something that LA makes very easy to do.”
For the full article, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 14 September 2013).
Check www.mutyakeishasiobhan.com for live dates.