Swing Out Sister might just be ready for a new “Breakout.” That breezy piece of British pop became their signature when it wafted into the top 10 of the Hot 100 in 1987, having done the same in the U.K. late the previous year. It announced a debut album, It’s Better To Travel, which hit No. 1 at home and was certified gold in the U.S., generating two Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist. To complete the time capsule, their fellow shortlisters included Cutting Crew, Breakfast Club and Terence Trent D’Arby, who all lost out to Jody Watley.
It’s a musical lifetime later, but the group — then a trio, but comprised since the late ’80s of vocalist Corinne Drewery and instrumentalist Andy Connell — have continued to create quality, jazz-infused pop, and have now arrived at their tenth album. As sometimes happens when a band continues at its craft and waits for the zeitgeist to come back around, media attention in the U.K. and beyond has been warm as Swing Out Sister prepares for the June 22 release of Almost Persuaded.
The self-produced set, self-released on Miso Music, was funded via PledgeMusic, through which it first appeared last November. It’s a decade since the appearance of its predecessor Beautiful Mess and, as Drewery says, the result of many studio experiments. “It’s ten years since our last album, but we have been doing lots of other things in between,” she says.
“This started out as a big band album. We tried several different approaches, and it’s become an amalgam of three different angles. We always want to create something that surprises us as much as our listeners. It’s got the same ingredients, but you don’t want to do the same thing.”
Almost Persuaded boasts a sizable live horn section and shows how the duo’s opulent sound has subtly evolved from those early hits. Their catalog also included a second U.K. top ten single in “Surrender” and subsequent entries such as “Twilight World” and the Barbara Acklin original “Am I The Same Girl.” “You have one, two, three albums and you try different things out,” notes Drewery, “but it’s not until you get quite a bit further down the line that things settle and you find your style.”
That style is typified by the new album’s uplifting “Happier Than Sunshine,” premiering below. “Think of this song as a great big hug and pass it on,” says the lead singer.
“I think there is a little bit of respect in there just for sticking around so long,” says Connell. “The only way we can judge it is at times like this when we’re bringing a record to people. Over the past 20 years or so, we haven’t been perceived [by the media] to be the thing that was required. Something has changed now.
“The one great thing we have, whether you like it or not, is that there’s still a certain amount of name recognition,” he continues. “We go to America and Japan and people go ‘Oh yeah, I vaguely know that,’ so you’ve got a foot in the door.”
Adds Drewery with the group’s trademark, self-deprecating wit: “We’ve had some funny reactions. A friend who’s a Japanese promoter said ‘My husband really likes this record, and he never usually likes your stuff.’ She needn’t quite have put it like that, but thank you.”
Indeed, in addition to their success on both sides of the Atlantic, Swing Out Sister have maintained a vast Japanese following, and tour there often: last summer, after a major North American itinerary, they embarked on an extensive Japanese schedule that included no fewer than six nights at Billboard Live in Tokyo.
“Different countries have their own set of rules,” Drewery says. “People say Japan is all J-Pop, but it’s not. They’re real jazz aficionados and they love the detail and any [musical] references you might make. It’s not a kind of music they can make, so they want to study it.”
But as they prepare for more live work, the pair are also looking forward to their next U.S. visit, not least as the home of such lifetime inspirations as Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb. “We’ve had some great times in America and it’s very close to our hearts,” says Drewery, “because a lot of our inspiration came from there.
“When we first had a hit there, it was weird, because we were making our version of the music from America that really inspired us. We took some of the ingredients of our favorite records, and then they came out differently.”