2017 BET Awards
Mutya Keisha Siobhan: Inside The Original Sugababes' Remarkable Return
The U.K. pop group previews its much-hyped new album to Billboard while in L.A. filming their "Flatline" music video.
"Our lives, I don't think, would have been complete if we didn't do this," Mutya Buena tells Billboard. "This" refers to the unlikely reunion of the original Sugababes, a premiere girl group in British pop, as a trio known as Mutya Keisha Siobhan. Now working under their first names and with in-band drama behind them, the trio has become one of the more exciting pop projects to emerge from the U.K. over the past year. And "Flatline," the trio's fantastic single released earlier this month, has only added fuel to the existing fire.
Billboard caught up with the three singers -- Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy -- earlier this week in Los Angeles, where they are filming the first music video from their upcoming album. MKS discussed a range of topics, and even previewed a handful of sterling new tunes from the upcoming set.
But before we go any further, let's dive into the history of Mutya Keisha Siobhan -- which is basically pop music lore at this point.
Sugababes shot to fame in England back in 2000 with their debut album "One Touch," back when Buena, Buchanan and Donaghy were teenagers. The group's BRIT Award-nominated first single, "Overload," rose to No. 6 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart, marking the first in a long string of hits for the act.
After one album, however, Donaghy departed the group, leaving founding members Buena and Buchanan to work alongside Donaghy's replacement, Heidi Range. A series of successful albums and singles followed from the Buchanan/Buena/Range lineup, making Sugababes a chart-dominating pop powerhouse in England.
Fast-forward to 2009 -- both Buena and Buchanan had exited the group (Buena in 2005, Buchanan in 2009), leaving Sugababes with none of its original members. Sugababes issued another album, 2010's "Sweet 7," with a lineup of Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.
The saga of why and how each of the original members of Sugababes exited the group could apparently be a book in itself. "We've never been involved in anyone coming out of the band," says Buchanan, "or the replacement of someone." Instead, Buchanan says that the singers' then-managers would make those calls. Replacements were brought in very quickly, and the process of swapping members in and out of Sugababes was always unsavory. "[We] definitely didn't always have the right people around us," she explains, while Donaghy adds that "all management ever thought about" was "business and money-making decisions."
Buchanan recalls how, a year after she stepped away from Sugababes, she was packing up some stuff at her house and came across the group's first album, "One Touch."
"I looked at it and was like 'What if?' and 'What a shame,'" she says. "We just never knew, because it wasn't our choice for it to end the way it did. But here we are now!" she exclaims, pointedly. "And it is our choice! That is our choice!"
The trio first reconnected in 2009, but didn't really get the ball rolling until 2011. Realizing the chemistry they had for their first album was still intact, Buena, Buchanan and Donaghy started writing and recording material on their own with producers they sought out. By the time Polydor Records signed them in 2012, Mutya Keisha Siobhan already had a significant chunk of new music recorded.
The forthcoming set will be released in the U.K. in the very early part of 2014 on Polydor Records. "Flatline," which is already making viral waves on SoundCloud with more than 220,000 plays, will be released commercially to retailers in the U.K. on Sept. 1.
Produced by Dev Hynes -- the white-hot pop auteur responsible for Solange's "True" EP and Sky Ferreira's "Everything is Embarrassing" single -- and co-written by Mutya Keisha Siobhan (MKS) with Hynes, "Flatline" is both classic and modern in sound, striking not only for its pristine pop goodness, but also for the knock-out harmonies of MKS. The song was written and recorded in Los Angeles last February, after the ladies had "pretty much finished" their album, says Donaghy. The trio had set out to L.A. with the intention of recording a killer first single, even though they had an album's worth of great material in the bag.
"Flatline" came together quickly -- remarkably, on their first day in the studio with Hynes. MKS immediately knew they had found something special with the track, and their collaboration with Hynes. "On our first day, we knew we delivered the single," Buchanan says.
"Flatline" was written from scratch in the studio with Hynes: The producer started fiddling around on the keyboard, and then bass, encouraging MKS to vibe with him on production ideas. Shockingly, Donaghy says that "Nothing on this (album) has been sung in a vocal booth," much like the process for "One Touch."
"From the beginning," Buchanan says, "we would hear tracks in a room, and then we'd have a mic, and we'd basically say, 'Put the track on a loop and we'll pass (the mic) back and forth.'" Buchanan adds that the trio pieces songs together bit-by-bit, finding what sounds like a chorus and filling in lyrics as it goes. "It's just easier for us when we're sitting in there to sing it," she says.
FINDING VICTORY WITH SIA
Mutya Keisha Siobhan's forthcoming album features production work from the likes of Hynes, Richard "Biff" Stannard, 18-year-old British singer/songwriter/producer MNEK and original "Overload" producer Cameron McVey. The set features such stompers as "I'm Alright," which has an "I Will Survive"-type feel that knocks the listener over with a killer chorus. Also on the album is the clanging dance floor freak-out "Drum," which features what seems like an armada of pots and pans clanging about and the "whoosh!" sound of an email that's being sent. Yes, that all sounds like a mess -- but trust, MKS makes it work.
Another track, "Boys," has harmonies that will make fans of the trio swoon. It's girl group heaven, so much so that once the bridge hits, there's what seems like a hat-tip to the Ronettes' 1963 girl group classic "Be My Baby." And then there's "Victory," a song that MKS co-wrote with Sia. The Australian artist has been on an incredible chart run lately, notching four top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits in 2012, including Rihanna's No. 1 "Diamonds."
"[We] heard a song that was sort of half-done," Buchanan says of what would become "Victory," "and we listened to it and we loved the idea of it." Though the group wasn't initially keen on the idea of collaborating with outside songwriters, because MKS knew how special the track was, and "because it was Sia," they felt compelled to complete it.
While MKS didn't sit down with Sia to complete the track, they admit they were incredibly nervous to send their finished version to Sia for approval. "She's amazing!" Buchanan says. Donaghy adds, "I think we would have literally died inside if she'd come back and said she didn't like it. Where do you go from there?"
Luckily for everyone, Sia loved the track. And while they didn't sit down to write the tune together, the four ladies have all since socialized.
MKS IN THE U.S.A.?
An international rollout of the album, which could include a release in the United States, has yet to be determined. However, there is hope for MKS fans in the U.S.
"There's no plans just yet," Buchanan says, regarding a U.S. release, "but this is the most response … that we've ever had stateside, so you never know. We're gonna push for it." She also noted that the country with the second-most number of listens on their SoundCloud page is the United States, with the first being, obviously, their homeland of the U.K.
Until those U.S. details get ironed out, fans in England can catch the trio on the road: their first full show as MKS will take place on Aug. 1 at Scala in London. Two days later, they'll hit the main stage at Brighton & Hove Pride in Brighton, England. Further live dates are due to be announced, with a proper tour likely to follow later in the year. MKS promises that their shows will feature songs from both their first album as Sugababes ("One Touch"), their forthcoming album, as well as hits from when Buchanan and Buena were in Sugababes together.