I just retreated to Gracieland
After a 10-year break, Lancashire’s Lisa Stansfield is back in the game with a new album, Seven. She tells Andy Welch why the time was finally right...
Considering the motto ‘The show must go on’, there’s something pleasingly refreshing about an artist backing away from it all to simply put their feet up.
When Lisa Stansfield released her debut album Affection in 1989, it went on to sell more than five million copies and spawned the single All Around World, a No 1 smash, well, all around the world.
The success carried on throughout the 90s – gold discs, top five singles and albums, sell-out tours and even a burgeoning acting career.
As the 21st century began, however, Stansfield’s career started to slow, and by the time she released her 2004 album The Moment, she couldn’t break the Top 40 (it peaked in the UK at No 57).
With that, Stansfield and her musical partner-turned-husband Ian Devaney decided to take a break.
“I didn’t think anyone was going to listen to what I had to say, so why bother?” she says, quite sensibly.
She and Devaney were writing most of the time, either at their home in Rochdale, where she has a studio called Gracielands, in honour of the town’s fellow singer and actress Gracie Fields, or at their other house in London’s Hampstead.
“I always had the material, I just didn’t think I fitted into anything that was happening in music,” she says, going on to explain how she believes all art to be cyclical, and if you wait long enough, everything comes back around eventually.
The first time she noticed the charts might once again favour the sort of emotional, modern soul songs she’d always specialised in, was when Amy Winehouse released Back To Black. Then in her wake came Adele, and more recently Emeli Sande.
For Stansfield, that was enough. “I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will’, so I started getting ready to release the album.”
The album in question is Seven – it’s her seventh – and it was released in January. It soon went to No 13 in the album chart, proving her theory right.
“This is the best album I’ve ever made, so I didn’t want to put it out when no one was listening,” she says.
“I was hoping the change in musical taste would mean I could get a foot in the door, but I was quite prepared to not bother, too.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant but if I don’t want to work again, then I don’t have to. I don’t have children, I don’t have a lot of other responsibilities in my life, so I don’t have to keep treadmill-ing.
“There are a lot of artists who perhaps haven’t made a lot of money and who have kids and things, and they have to keep working because it’s a necessity.
“I don’t, and really I appreciate how lucky I am.”
In the 10 years Stansfield’s been away, she says that not much has changed, and music fans still want good music.
Of course, the ways in which people listen to and get hold of that music have shifted dramatically, but she believes that – as she releases her music independently – is only a good thing.
“There’s less influence from big corporate business.
“There’s The X Factor and the big labels and things, but that’s TV.
“The changes in technology and social media have given people like me the opportunity to self-promote.
“Maybe no one’s making as much money as they used to, but artists are getting in front of more people than ever.
“There’s no brick wall in the middle that you have to bash through, whereas before you had to rely on someone else to expose your music to the public.”
Stansfield talks slowly and deliberately, her Rochdale accent still as thick as it ever was. Most remarkable is the difference between that and her transatlantic-sounding singing voice.
Her speaking voice also has a deep, almost husky note to it, the remnant of her days as a smoker (she quit about three years ago with the help of hypnotherapy).
“Doing all this second time around, I felt like I’d got more to prove,” she says. “At the same time, I’m older and more mature, so I don’t care as much.
“I feel I can be bolder in my choices because I don’t have as much to lose.
“There’ll always be part of me that’s... not afraid, but anxious.
“Not nervous, but not sure what to expect.
“I’ve never known what to expect, though, that’s why what I do is so interesting.”
The idea of winning more younger fans certainly appeals to Stansfield.
As happy and grateful as she is to her old fans for supporting her once again, and going to her concerts, she says it’s the sight of a younger audience that makes her believe the music she’s making is valid, and not driven solely by nostalgia.
“I think Seven stands on its own, not just as a comeback album, but within what’s going on at the moment.
“That’s the sort of the music I want to make.”
She loves writing, too, even if what she writes is often “a load of rubbish”.
“I need to do that, and then give it a week before thinking, ‘What are you doing? That’s rubbish, get a grip Lisa’.
“People ask why I haven’t had an album out for 10 years, and I could’ve done an album a year, but it would have been 10 albums of rubbish.
“Also, I have sat on my backside for a portion of that time, let’s be honest.”
While the comeback has been successful – and she can’t wait to get back on the road with her band (“We’re like a football team that’s played together for ages”) – Stansfield will never be able to escape the earlier part of her career.
“People come up to me and sing, ‘Been around the world and I-I-I-I...’ to me, All the time,” she says.
“It’s really funny because I’ve got an album out again and it’s on my mind.
“When someone says, ‘Hiya Lisa, I love your record’, I think they mean the new one and it’s lovely, but then it turns out they mean All Around The World and I think, ‘Oh bloody hell! I can’t shake it off.
“But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is,” she reasons. “I’m not complaining. You can’t get rid of your past, and if it wasn’t for that song, I wouldn’t be back here now.”
Lisa Jane Stansfield was born in Manchester on April 11, 1966, and moved to Rochdale aged 10.
In 1980, she won the Search For A Star talent competition and her debut single, Your Alibis, was released the following year when she was 15.
She found wider fame in 1983 co-presenting music-based Children’s ITV show Razzamatazz.
Her debut album Affection was released in 1989 and sold more than five million copies.
She met her music partner Ian Devaney when she was 14. When she was 22, and after the breakdown of her short-lived marriage to an Italian designer, they became a couple and married 10 years later.
Lisa Stansfield’s album Seven is out now. She begins a UK tour on September 5
She plays Manchester Bridgewater Hall on September 7