Sitting tucked away in the corner of the the lobby of the Edition Hotel in Manhattan, Stansfield, 52, is clad in all black, looking not unlike she did when she first arrived on the American pop scene in 1990, complete with short-cropped hair and a smart beret. Despite not having performed in the city in 20 years, she and her husband/longtime collaborator Ian Devaney have quite a connection to New York. In addition to previously owning an apartment in the city, the pair were married here in July 1998.
“It was our anniversary just a few days ago,” Stansfield says. “We went to Washington Square Park, because we got married under a tree there. It was only a baby tree when we got married, now it’s 20 years later. We see it all the time. But it was quite poignant at that moment, because our tree [is] really strong, like our marriage. I got all choked up!”
Stansfield and Devaney have since sold their Manhattan apartment in the Mercantile building and bought a place in Los Angeles: “Where Tower Records was on Sunset, up the hill. It’s like a sort of ’50-type building. You don’t wanna be getting drunk and walking up that hill!” Stansfield admits, however, that the couple spend most of their time in the U.K. In fact, Deeper was recorded in their home studio.
Just like her debut LP Affection, which introduced Stansfield to the global mainstream by way of the hits “All Around The World” (a No. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100), “You Can’t Deny It” (No. 14) and “This Is The Right Time” (No. 21), Deeper is packed with a smooth blend of pop, soul and disco vibes.
“I think there are certain songs that [remind me of] when I was younger, getting ready to go out on a Friday or Saturday night and putting my war paint on,” Stansfield explains. “And it is like war paint, because you’re going out and facing everybody! You’re gonna make your dreams come true. It’s the tunes you play before you go out.”
Ironically, just as we sit down to talk about the her latest LP and upcoming trek across North America, 23-year-old Londoner Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” has become the first single by a U.K. artist to top the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart since Stansfield’s “All Woman” did so in 1992. Given that, it seems this is the right time (ahem!) to catch up with the singer on what she has up her sleeve for her October tour, and look back on some of her past pop glories.
Before your solo career, you and your husband Ian were part of the U.K. trio Blue Zone. He’s still heavily involved in writing and producing with you. How has the process of working together evolved over the past 35 years?
LS: Well, you don’t know because you’re together all the time! It’s like if you grew another arm. You wouldn’t even notice it being there, really. Sometimes we’ll argue in the studio. Sometimes you get along really well. But we’re always very diplomatic. It’s like -- when we’re in the studio, the music comes first.
How long did you spend working on your latest album, Deeper?
Usually what works out with me is about four years. The worst [gap between albums] was 10. I was really bad! But I was doing other things in the meantime.
Did the final result resemble the album you aimed to create?
We never set out to make anything [sound] like anything else. We have an idea and then you just have to watch and listen to the way the song is evolving. That’s what happened on this album. After a certain point, we recorded clumps of songs and then one or two, we’ll be like, “Yeah, those are really good.” So it all started to come together and it all started to make a weird sense. It was almost like me and Ian and Snowboy, who produced the album as well, we just thought, "We gotta let it do what it’s doing."
I was surprised to see film director and composer John Carpenter gets a writing credit, on the song “Hercules,” as it incorporates his theme song from Assault On Precinct 13.
And he got 50 percent [of the royalties]!
How did that come about?
We’ve always wanted to use it in a song, whatever song it was. I’ve not actually watched that movie in ages and ages. We said, “We’ll know when it’s right and we’ll just put in on there.” And with “Hercules,” it really made sense.
You’ve not toured the States in 20 years. What can your fans here expect when you hit the road in October?
Just really good music. We’ve got a ten-piece band that’s like a really good football team. If one note goes, we all hear it, but nobody in the audience does. We all know where to go, because we’re so slick like that!
But coming over here, everybody wants you to do it cheaper. “Can we do it with like three musicians?” It’s like, people who aren’t musicians expect three people to make the same noise as ten. If you could, we wouldn’t be using ten fucking musicians and spending all that money! But we did it. We’re all coming over. If we’re coming back after over 20 years, it’s gonna have to be good.
There are fights sometimes, though. You would not believe the people that start fighting at our shows! Not a lot, but there was one really big fight in Paris. There were loads of people beating the shit out of each other. It’s like, "All I’m doing is trying to make everybody happy!"
George Michael passed away less than two years ago. You famously sang Queen’s “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” together at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Arena in 1992. What stands out the most to you about that performance?
Everybody who did that show was just so famous at the time. It was like, legends all over the place, but nobody had an ego. The rehearsals were quite subdued. I remember at the rehearsals I was gonna do the thing with George, and I went and got myself a big bacon roll because I was starving. I had on one of Ian’s coats and a big hat on. I really did look like a homeless person, buried in a bacon sandwich. Then I had to go do this thing with George, and he said, “Fucking hell, how can you go eat bacon and [perform like] that?”
The same day, David Bowie was there. I went up to him, because I had a friend who was thought Bowie was God. She said, “If you see him, you’ve got to get his autograph for me.” So I went over and I did the thing that all fans do that gets on your nerves: I said, “Excuse me, Mr. David Bowie. Would you mind doing an autograph for my friend because she absolutely loves you.” He just looked at me and he was really rude, because he didn’t know who the fuck I was. I looked like a homeless person, like I’d just been dragged off the street. He looked me up and down and said, “Well, have you got a pen and paper?” I went, “No, I haven’t!” And I walked away.
Did you see George Michael again after that?
We went for a meal, actually [after the concert]. We met George at the Ivy, me and Ian. He asked, “Do you want to go out with me and Brian [May] and [his wife] Anita?” I knew Anita already because I’d done theater with her. So we’re all sitting at this table, me and Ian and George, waiting for Brian May. And then George just goes, “Fucking hell -- I never told Brian to come!” He had to phone Brian, and eventually they came and it was really nice. Maybe [George] was smoking weed then? He did smoke a whole packet of my cigarettes that night! I had two packets in my bag and he smoked one.
1990 was the year both you and George rebelled against your previous images. He burned his leather jacket on his “Freedom 90” video, but before that, you chopped off your kiss curl for “You Can’t Deny It.”
That was [my idea]. I was just so sick of it. It became like a cartoon, caricature thing. There was a guy on the crew and he had exactly the same color hair as me, so we kept cutting it. We did so many takes of it, he was like half-bald by the end of the shoot. I did cut [mine] off, but we had to keep sticking it back on for every take.
One project you took part in just as “All Around The World” was blowing up was the Band Aid II recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” -- the version produced by Stock Aitken Waterman in 1989. Do you have any recollection of that?
Well, literally, it’s like -- you’re waiting to go to the fucking doctor’s, right? So there’s a line of us. And then just sing your part and leave. I think I sang around four lines.
I always remember when I first started out and first became a little bit famous, I went to a celebrity party. For me it was really intimidating. I thought, I’ve got to be normal in this situation, and I’m really not feeling it at all. I walked up to two of the girls from Bananarama -- not Siobhan [Fahey], by the way, because she’s really nice. They were really horrible to me. I said, “I’m called Lisa Stansfield. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of me?” And they were like, “Oh, right then.” They were really rude to me. So later, on that Band Aid thing, they really wanted to stand next to me in the video, and I just kept moving to the left of them. I thought, “No. Fuck off! You didn’t want to talk to me when I was no one.”
You later got into acting, beginning with the 1999 film Swing. Will we be seeing you on the screen in the near future?
I’ve just got a new acting agent, so when you get a new agent you usually get a part, then it goes a little bit quiet. They have to prove themselves and then they just sort of forget about you. So I might be doing something shortly. You never know.
Let’s wrap this up with one last question about Deeper: How did you feel the very first time you and Ian listened to the album the whole way through?
Incredibly proud. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I really do think if I never make any more music in my life I can die happy.
Deeper is available now. Lisa Stansfield’s North American tour kicks off October 9 in Toronto. Check out tour dates below:
10/09 Toronto, ON @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
10/10 Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre
10/11 Montreal, QC @ The Wilbur
10/13 Westbury, NY @ The Space at Westbury
10/14 New York, NY @ Highline Ballroom
10/15 Alexandria, VA @ The Birchmere Music Hall
10/17 Philadelphia, PA @ Keswick Theatre
10/18 Atlanta, GA @ Center Stage
10/19 Columbia, SC @ South Carolina Pride
10/21 Chicago, IL @ The Vic Theatre
10/22 Minneapolis, MN @ Pantages Theatre
10/24 San Diego, CA @ Music Box
10/25 Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda
10/26 San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore