Interview

Swing Out Sister in their own words

Swing Out Sister / It's Better To Travel / 25th Anniversary

With their classic debut It’s Better To Travel due for a 25th Anniversary reissue on 16 July 2012, Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell from Swing Out Sister give us an exclusive track-by-track  guide to the album, remembering people, places and influences along the way.


Breakout / Swing Out Sister

Breakout

Andy: It was Paul O’Duffy [the producer] who suggested we do Breakout with horns. That wasn’t an option as far as we were concerned, but of course it was the horns that made it. Originally, that was going to be a very synth driven track, it was going to be a World Cup theme, that was the original idea. It was the 1986 World Cup at the time, and ITV had the worst theme – I just couldn’t listen to it. So I’d turn the sound down on the TV and I’d sit there with a DX7 [classic ’80s synth from Yamaha] and make up a theme that I could play instead of watching the TV version! And that became the original backing track.

It’s the only time I felt that we’d have a hit. Nobody else did though. I came home and I said to everyone we knew, if that’s not a hit, we will never have a hit. It’s the only time I’ve ever been so sure of something. The record company said it’s nice, but it’s not what they are playing on the radio – but the radio loved it for exactly that reason. The label even took Breakout to a top producer in the US and as a consultant, he came back with a report that saying “that snare drum will never work in the United States.”


Twilight World / Swing Out Sister

Twilight World

Andy: It’s one of my favourites. I think Richard [Richard Niles, string arranger] did a wonderful job on that. The strings on that are superb. I didn’t want the seven-inch version on the album, this is the version [Superb, Superb mix] – the way it starts, the way it unfolds, the strings at that point are just singing.

Corinne: The lyrics came from a friend of mine. We’d been living in this squat when we were at college and her mum came to see us and she said “I didn’t bring my daughter up to live like this – you’re living in a twilight world”. I just loved the way she said it in a thick Lancashire accent. I never thought anything more of it, but it came out years later.


After Hours

Andy: That was me sneaking in some Weather Report… [US Jazz Fusion band from the 1970s/’80s]

Corinne: (to Andy) I didn’t know anything about that! I remember you were playing with those chords for a long time. At the time we were writing the demos for the album and I think I was staying at either at your house or Martin’s house [Martin Jackson – drummer and part of the original trio] or sleeping on someone’s floor, so I was always going up to Manchester on my own, so it seemed like a rather solitary song. But I remember having a fight with Paul O’Duffy because he put some Spitfire sounds at the end of this and it’s quite an intimate song. I think our songs are quite asexual actually, but I told him it seemed too macho – it’s got to be more gentle. So he said, okay you can have fruit bats then!

Andy: If you ever hear the sound of a jet – and there are many of them on the remixes – that’s all Paul. If he can get an inappropriate sound of a jet on anything, he will (laughs).


Blue Mood / Swing Out Sister

Blue Mood

Andy: I have very fond memories of it, but to be honest the truth of it is that we didn’t really know how to write a song…

Corinne: There were thirteen bars somewhere that were driving me nuts. Everything had an uneven amount of bars and Andy was still in A Certain Ratio [post-punk Manchester band signed to Factory Records] when we worked on this tune, and he was off on tour with them, in Holland somewhere. So Martin and I were left to work on it, and I remember ringing Andy up saying how am I supposed to write a verse and chorus to this?

Andy: It’s in the blues tradition, where you just go when you feel like it (laughs). What I hear in this song, in the chorus, is the first sign of exuberance. A lot of people who don’t like what we do take it to be jollity. But for me it was important that exuberance was in there. The chorus is well realised. The rest of it doesn’t hang together, but when you first hear Corinne singing, there’s sunshine there, and people don’t like that about us (laughs).

Corinne: A lot of people have said that they have this as their ‘going out’ record, or get up in the morning and put you in a good mood record. I remember going to a club and it was playing over the sound system I went and hid in the toilet. That was a very weird feeling.

Andy: This is the first one I ever heard on the radio. We were in a studio in Chorlton [suburb of Manchester] called Drone and someone had said they might play it on Piccadily Radio. To hear your record on the radio for the very first time is such a thrilling experience.


 Surrender / Swing Out Sister

Surrender

Corinne: I don’t think Andy really liked this one very much at the beginning, it didn’t go enough places for him. It’s a bit more of a groove track, but I like this, and I think I wanted to be Diana Ross and The Supremes all rolled into one. We had these backing vocalists in the studio – Andy and Paul had gone out for something to eat – and I asked them to sing ‘Surrender’ over and over again like they were in the Supremes, so I was really pleased that we had Shirley and Dee, the backing singers, on this one.

Andy: It was important to us not to be a one hit wonder, although as the years have gone by we’ve become that, because nobody remembers the second one. I thought it was great. It didn’t have the thing that Breakout had, but it had another thing and it seemed like it would be good to broaden our palette a little bit. The label did a clever thing by releasing it in February when nothing much was going on, post-Christmas.

Corinne: We weren’t really that bothered which tracks were picked as singles, we’d just see what the record company liked.


Fooled By A Smile / Swing Out Sister

Fooled By A Smile

Andy: I love bits of it, but it’s too perky for me. Originally it wasn’t, but somewhere along the line it just got… too perky. Lots of people love it. We don’t do it on tour because we’ve never found a way to ‘de-perky’ it, but it is very requested.

Corinne: There’s some very clever arrangements on it [Richard Niles again] but it’s all too condensed – it just needed spreading out.

Andy: It’s very hard to write a song in a major key and stay cool. Some would say that Breakout doesn’t do that either, but I think it does. I think that’s a very successful song in a major key. Whereas with this one, I think it just tipped over the edge and we couldn’t get it back.

Corinne: It was a time of experimentation. This album was like putting all the ingredients together, but we hadn’t quite got the recipe. Every song was coming from a different place. By the time we got to the second album we had a bit more of an idea of what we wanted to do.


Communion

Andy: For me it’s the very first attempt at Morricone. Certainly the middle bit. This whole album was about us trying to find some common ground. The one that is very obvious is John Barry. Not in this song particularly, but the other one is Morricone. There’s Once Upon A Time in… something in there (laughs).

Corinne: I think the same thing. I reacted to the sound of what Andy had put down musically. Lyrically, I don’t think I meant it in any kind of Catholic sense. I don’t think I’m particularly religious – it was more about a coming together. One day I’ll get around to analysing what I actually meant, but I honestly don’t know what I lot of these things were, they were just things swimming around in your head.


It’s Not Enough

Andy: I think we thought it might be a single. There’s the germ of it. It’s very clear to me on listening to this what it’s about. Before we did this, Martin and I did a UK Electro album – they sold it as a compilation to the UK Electro scene, but it was just me and him doing stuff. We were listening to a lot of music like Shannon Let The Music Play, and the SOS Band, Just Be Good To Me so that was a big influence. It’s Not Enough didn’t come out the way I thought it should. It somehow got ‘rocky’ with the guitar in it, and it became another thing, whereas I wanted the full-out synth thing going on. Again it’s one of those where you put it in the mix and it runs away from you a bit.

Corinne: I think the balance wasn’t quite there yet with this album. There was a lot of ambitious contributions. When we got to the second album, we got the balance a bit better. Picking up on the thing with the rocky guitar, this album, believe it or not, was very influenced by Michael Jackson. So using a rocky guitar on a dance track was all from him, Rod Temperton and Quincy Jones.

Andy: I tell you what is in there – Steely Dan. If you listen to the guitar, it’s absolutely Steely Dan. It’s so well observed, I didn’t even know it was there.


Theme From (It’s Better To Travel)

Andy: They’d given us a budget, and we had some left, so we went to a residential studio, Great Linford Manor. There’s only nine tracks on the album, and at this point we thought we needed one more. I think all of us, over the course of this record, had decided that the thing we have in common is John Barry. If there is one thing we can unite about, as opposed to just bickering, we can ‘do a John Barry’. I don’t think we actually sat down and said that, but we all got what we were doing. It was just great fun.

Corinne and Andy were talking to Paul Sinclair for SuperDeluxeEdition

It’s Better To Travel 25th Anniversary reissue is available to pre-order We are giving away a signed vinyl copy of the original issue – details on our Facebook page.

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25 responses to Swing Out Sister in their own words

  1. Tom says:

    Thanks for the interview. Great job, Paul.

    I’m still disappointed the seven-inch version of “Twilight World” is not on the reissue. The Superb, Superb Mix may be the definitive version for him, but many fans want the seven-inch version on CD. I don’t think including it would have taken anything away from the Superb, Superb Mix.

  2. Matt says:

    It’s definitely a great CD and I cannot wait for the anniversary release but I think Shapes and Patterns is their crowning achievement as far as cohesive work goes. Get In Touch with Yourself is a close second.

  3. Mike Fisher says:

    Nice job Paul :) Next time could we have some questions about the bonus tracks too? (This would have been particularly interesting since they changed the choice of bonuses.)

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hi Mike – Corinne and Any did talk a bit about the process of doing the 12″ mixes at the time, and a little bit about selection for the reissue. May well be a ‘part two’ of the interview next week. cheers Paul

  4. Jon J says:

    Thanks for this very interesting interview and look forward to reading the possible follow-up installment. I mentioned before that I think their follow-up album Kaleidoscope World has aged better than It’s Better to Travel and the band’s comments seem to bear out why this might be the case.

    Re Twilight World, Andy obviously has a strong opinion on this. The problem for fans is that (I think) Twilight World was released as a single ahead of the album’s release in 1987. As such, although the ‘Superb, Superb mix’ may be the ‘definitive’ album version and the definitive version for Andy, for the public, it was just a mix on the 12″ and they were more familiar with the 7″ edit. The 7″ edit is quite nicely done I think in any case. Strange what ruffles people’s feathers!

  5. dave m says:

    thoroughly enjoyed this article… sos was a welcome relief to the music i played as a part time dj in an upscale club during the 80’s…. although it’s interesting to note andy’s comments on some of the influences in ‘it’s not enough’ from some well worn tunes from the day…. i, for one, am not surprised that sos is still with us, musical darwinism… always evolving, refining and keeping we devotees very satisfied….
    always wondered what corinne and andy thought of their video forays …

  6. John says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love this type of stuff, and to read the story behind one of my favorite albums of the late 80s is even better. Great job!

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hey John – glad you enjoyed. That’s what is so cool about music blogs – time and space to devote to stuff like this that simply escapes mainstream print media. I have much more interview stuff with Andy and Corinne which I will try to get up next week. Paul

  7. Eric says:

    Superb (superb!) interview, and I think they make a lot of fair assessments of what is still one of my favourite 80s albums. There’s really not a weak link on it, they should feel proud of such an accomplished debut. Interesting that It’s Not Enough was earmarked as a possible single, it was the track which jumped out as a “hit” when the album first came out, and Captial Radio’s Richard Allinson clearly thought so too. The “rock” guitar does slightly take it in a certain direction; I’d love to have the heard the more electro-tinged version.

    As for Twilight World, which has become the main talking-point of this reissue…I agree with the others who have commented…by all means have the 12″ mix as part of the main album if that’s how Andy feels (the extended orchestral intro is lovely of course), but it should not prevent the 7″ being on any expanded edition. It was a chart single and, besides, I also agree that it’s nicely edited anyway!

    Please please please post a second part!

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hi Eric – personally I think It’s Not Enough would have made a better single than Fooled By A Smile. With 5 singles off a nine track album it’s the only album track left that could have been a substitute single. Obviously After Hours, Communion and Theme From… were never going to be singles.

      • Eric says:

        Paul – I completely agree, and when Fooled… missed the top 40, maybe the band/label wished they’d gone for a track with more oomph! (much as I love Fooled.. as well). The moodier tracks like After Hours and Communion really appealed to me; it was impossible to pick an outright favourite song on the album…it’s just about perfect from beginning to end.

  8. Sue says:

    Thanks for the interview.
    I always ask for Fooled by a Smile at their concerts….gotta de-perk it, perhaps??? Great story!

  9. dominic says:

    I love the way the relationship between SOS & SDE has blossomed from a disappointed SDE article & terse reply from SOS, to this multi article, competition prize & reorganised CD track listing bonanza.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Haha I know! I’ll have to slag off things a bit more! When Andy agreed to the interview I was slightly worried it was only so he could punch me full in the face! But of course he was charming, as was Corinne. Since everyone has been so positive about the Swing Out Sister coverage, I’ll definitely write up the rest of the interview for next week. We chatted for nearly two hours. Some good stories about doing promo tours in the US and Corinne still living in a squat when she did the first Top Of The Pops! cheers, Paul

  10. Mike Fisher says:

    Great – I’m looking forward to part 2!

  11. Bjorn Wahlberg says:

    Paul, will there ever be a Part 2 of the interview, as you promised? Looking forward to reading it.

  12. Pingback:Swing Out Sister interview | superdeluxeedition

  13. mike says:

    Is it me – or is the NAD mix of Breakout a minute longer on the reissue than the original 1987 CD?

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Hi Mike – The ‘NAD’ mix on the 1987 CD isn’t actually the NAD mix (as per the original 12″ single) it’s always been mislabelled because it is actually the ‘New Rockin’ Version’. There are similarities between the two but this new reissue for the first time puts the correct NAD mix on the CD.

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  18. Stephen Herberte says:

    I really enjoyed hearing about how this first album came together. The musical arrangements were very interesting with
    Live brass and superb string writing from Richard Niles.I would really love to know more about the string arrangements on
    this album are they using a Fairlight series 3 . It was a very interesting time for music technology with fairlights and
    SSL desks.
    I have always admired swing out sisters music and it was really enlighting to hear in there own words how it was put together.

  19. Suzie says:

    I always liked sos, so its thoroughly dissapointing to hear how they describe one of their songs, Fooled by a smile, I loved it, I don’t get their assesment, I was a 14 year old child in august 1987 when I bought that record.
    I was living in a childrens home away from my family,
    Music was solice and peace and privacy to me,
    I loved human league yazoo soft cell heaven 17 but Swing out Sister came along, and a glimmer of hope sparked for the first time for me, humanity stirred inside of me when I heard sos songs and I smiled, and yet sometimes cries to them, but never did I feel indifference to sos’s songs, soundtracks of our lives, and its better to travel really was, even at such a young age, and even now I must confess that I agree, it Is better to travel in life and know that your alive.
    Fooled by a smile, It was (to me) a sophisticated powerful, and yet in some way wistfully sad track to me, ‘make up your mind while there’s still time to turn around’… that always got me!
    I love it, its perfect, it was streets ahead, thoughtful nostalgic stylish melodious even a very intelligent record in many ways, I don’t care what folk might thinl, its just what its always been to me, and it always will be, and I’m glad its part of my life and that my memories of my life at that time with that song are still so vivid, so please do DO it!
    Sos, please your fans and friends.

    Fabulous album, I love after hours, beautiful haunting late night feeling.
    Suzie xx

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