Swing Out Sister :: Finding Their Way (25 Years Later)
For Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell of Swing Out Sister, one thing remains a constant: the continued success of their musical partnership over the last 25 years. What keeps this British duo musically inspired is the constant flux of innovative changes in their presentation and arrangements. The two continue to take a fresh, entertaining perspective in creating new work, as well as revisiting their vast catalog of material.
To mark their 25th year anniversary, Corinne and Andy took their newly-created arrangements for many of their classic songs and headed for a studio to create "Private View," a recording (originally only released through the group’s Facebook page) that features acoustic takes of their hits.
Here for EDGE Media Network, Corinne Drewery shares a bit of her view on the re-imagined songs, arrangements and lyrics; her love affair with the Far East and the audiences of Japan; and offering a personal viewpoint on her successful partnership with Andy Connell. As their signature song "Breakout" proclaims, "You’ve got to find a way. Say what you want to say..." There is just no end in sight for this duo’s timeless appeal and musically creative imaginations.
EDGE: I wanted to begin with the song "Not Gonna Change" on "Private View." I was so impressed how it flows structurally in so many different musical directions with the arrangement. How would you describe the metamorphosis of this song from the 1992 recording? Even though it’s titled "Not Gonna Change" it sure did.
Corinne Drewery: Well, we’re contrary. It’s called "Not Gonna Change" but yes, you’re right. It’s always changing its colors, its clothes and its flavors. That’s kind of what we enjoy doing when we’re doing stuff for a live show. That is how this album started out. We’d rearranged our songs especially for an American tour but we were stopped in our tracks by an Icelandic volcano. We really didn’t know what to do. We’d spent weeks changing the songs and the arrangements.
That’s kind of Andy’s department. He loves to change the songs, sometimes beyond recognition. Sometimes, the band and myself included don’t recognize which song we’re doing because he’ll take it on a surprise journey.
Each song is a journey really. What could we do? We were going to lose these songs and arrangements if we don’t take them on tour. So, all we could think to do was going straight into the studio instead of doing the gigs. We treated the studio recording as a gig. That was the starting point for this album. We did add a lot of stuff to it afterwards.
EDGE: Honestly, that song is amazing... such a musical kaleidoscope with the horn and the intricate shifts in tempo.
Corinne Drewery: Oh, that’s great. I’m glad you appreciate it. That was some flugel horn played by Noel Langley. He has been with us on and off over the years.
A great groove
EDGE: Your voice truly reminds me of a combination between Lani Hall [Brasil 66] and Marilyn McCoo [The Fifth Dimension].
Corinne Drewery: Oh, wow... well, I’m honored. I’m very aware of them. Probably the thing we have in common is that we love vocal harmonies. It’s great to work on these songs and build and build on them. I think that’s where we get most of the enjoyment from.
EDGE: For the song "Everyday Crime" I noticed that song is presented with vocals on the accompanying DVD "Tokyo Stories" while other times it’s been performed strictly as an instrumental track.
Corinne Drewery: It has such a beautiful arrangement and a great groove. This will quite often happen when we’re in the studio and I’ll say to Andy "I think this one should be an instrumental." It just seems sometimes like the words and the voice get in the way.
EDGE: It’s refreshing to hear. As you’ve done throughout your career, you’ve added these instrumentals in between.
Corinne Drewery: That’s great you appreciate them. I think it’s probably because of our love of film music. So we’ve always added something as a cinematic tribute to the likes of John Barry, Ennio Morricone and Michel Legrand. There are a lot of people whose music we love, anybody that has really done some great film scores that stick in your mind. I think it’s a bit of time for reflection. You can listen to the songs and then you have the instrumentals as a time for reflection.
EDGE: I was also musically drawn to your song, "Now You’re Not Here." Will you share the back story on what happened after this song was released in 1997?
Corinne Drewery: We actually did write it for a TV theme tune. It was for a TV series in Japan. Then we included it on our album "Shapes and Patterns." The song was accepted in Japan and we were awarded a Japanese Grammy, the "Grand Prix" award for that. It was so popular in Japan. We actually crossed over to the domestic charts in Japan, which is quite difficult for a Western artist and for English speaking lyrics. It’s usually the preserve of Japanese artists, so we were really quite honored.
EDGE: How would you describe your "secret of success" in Asia?
Corinne Drewery: I don’t know really. I think we’ve always been fascinated by the mystery and the mystique of the Far East and Japan in particular. I always wanted to go there. I had been there once before we went as Swing Out Sister. Be careful what you wish for because now we have a mutual respect for each other and they are always asking us back. It’s always a place of magic and it’s so far removed... not so much now, everything has kind of shrunk globally, hasn’t it? But, when we first went there, 25 years ago, it was so different from anything we had experienced anywhere in the world. It was a magical place to be.
EDGE: On the DVD "Tokyo Stories" it’s so marvelous to see the Japanese really getting into your performances. You can feel their enjoyment.
Corinne Drewery: I think it just goes to show that music is a universal thing and makes people then, understand the lyrics. The music, if it captures people emotionally, can touch people on many different levels. But, I think the lyrics are probably the thing that come last. They are the interpreter of the music. You don’t necessarily need that. If the music is saying the right thing, we don’t need to know what the words are saying, do we?
EDGE: Yes. A career in the music business for 25-years plus is phenomenal. Will you touch on your chemistry with Andy Connell and why it’s been so fruitful and successful?
Corinne Drewery: Well, I think we’re both quite sensitive souls. Though, we’re both quite stubborn as well. Although there are a lot of things that we have a mutual appreciation of in regard to music, there are things that we don’t necessarily agree on either. So, that combination of things that are flowing together and then contradiction gives the music some tension. It’s kind of an attraction of the opposites in some ways. If Andy writes a very happy piece of music, I’ll probably write some sad lyrics to it. If he writes something very melancholy, I’ll write something more joyous. We have this kind of musical argument... and maybe, that’s what adds the tension. I don’t know. It keeps us occupied anyway... (laughter)
EDGE: Sort of like "ying- yang."
Corinne Drewery: Yeah! But we also are very lucky to work with a great band. The band we worked with on "Private View" have been with us for a long time and they are people that have worked with us on and off throughout our career. They are prepared to experiment and go with it all the way, if we have an idea. They throw their ideas in too. They are really musical conversations on "Private View" in both the live performances on the DVD and on the album.
EDGE: I wanted to talk about trumpet player Noel Langley and his work in Swing Out Sister’s history.
Corinne Drewery: Noel has worked with us, more or less, since we started out... from quite early on in our musical career. He’s also helped us find studio personnel for both our studio and live sessions. In recent years, actually over the last year or so, we have been working on a big band project. He’s been helping us work out some of the arrangements to perform with a big band live. We did that last year in London and that’s another area that we are keen to explore. Maybe we’ll be able to bring that stateside sometime or we’ll be doing a recording with a big band flavor.
EDGE: That’s exciting news. I’m sure someone else has told you that you remind them of Audrey Hepburn in a way?
Corinne Drewery: Oh, wow. I’m very flattered. I’m sure it’s every girl’s dream. There’s only one Audrey Hepburn. She was a wonderful woman and a great inspiration to me, actually. She’s great.
EDGE: I noticed during the DVD footage that you were wearing a stylish black dress backstage.
Corinne Drewery: I’d prefer to be drinking a cup of tea outside of Tiffany’s at 5 a.m. (laughter)
EDGE: Also, in all your travels to the Far East, just how many kimonos do you have now?
Corinne Drewery: I have quite a few. I love them. But the one I was buying in that video was a vintage kimono. It’s from the 1930’s and I thought the pattern on it was very contemporary-looking.
EDGE: Oh, definitely.
Corinne Drewery: For the show we were going to be doing, for the last song in the show, I thought "Oh, it’d be great to have a kimono. I don’t know if the Japanese audience maybe thought that was a bit strange but I think they saw it as a kind of tribute. I wore it in a different way, not in the traditional Japanese way... or it would have taken far too long to get ready (laughter).
EDGE: Well, I hope you do come to the U.S. soon. I thoroughly enjoyed "Private View" and talking with you.
Corinne Drewery: Oh, that’s great. I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk as well. I think this is going to be the "key" to the door this time for us to come to America and tour. We would like to be able to do some dates later this year.
To find out more about Swing Out Sister and how to purchase "Private View," visit the group’s website.