Corinne Drewery is not one to sit still. As lead singer of Swing Out Sister, she’s been a hard worker for over 20 years, making music that’s hauntingly beautiful, while learning new elements of the recording process along the way.
On the most recent album, learning something new created a bit of chaos.
“This is the first album we’ve [Drewery and SOS partner Andy Connell] produced ourselves,” Drewery said in a recent phone interview from England. “The producer has his work cut out for him or her. Andy and I have our creative juices flowing and put all the stuff together. The producer is the referee, housekeeper and janitor, making the decisions and sometimes even co-writing. We had all these songs and ideas floating around. They were all around in our heads, different bits of recordings, on computers.”
One might say it was a “Beautiful Mess.” That’s how the chaos leading up to deadline was described to them, and that phrase became the inspiration for the name of Swing Out Sister’s latest album, their ninth original full-length disc, recently released in the U.S. on Shanachie a year after its original U.K. release.
The new CD continues a long tradition by SOS in their ability to call back to an earlier era, bringing soundscapes and song structures from the 60s, while at the same time adding a contemporary sheen that feels so in the now. This outing, Drewery and Connell went for a simpler approach, something the Drewery said was required given the additional duties they were performing this go around.
“It’s hard to define where the production stops and the writing starts,” Drewery said. “We said to ourselves we should try producing something on our own. I wouldn’t say it was easy but it kind of makes for a different [experience]. It’s not impeccably organized as producers would provide. There’s not as time to be as meticulous as a producer would. It kind of captured something more intimate between Andy and myself. It’s kind of a musical conversation… more of a performance.”
Drewery also noted her adding longtime vocalist Gina Foster into the mix on writing duties on three songs on the latest album. Foster has been part of the backing vocals in the last couple of albums, and Drewery thought it would be fun to see if writing with her would bear any fruit, which it did in the tracks “Something Every Day,” “Butterfly” and “My State of Mind.”
What hasn’t changed is the sturdy songs that makes this album, like their others, enjoyable. Drewery says that she feels validated that an increasing number of artists, from Amy Winehouse to Adele have reached back to the 60s for inspiration, something she feels is important to keep the music strong.
Drewery said, “We’ve been accused of being nostalgic, retro since the very beginning. We’ve always celebrated music and well-structured songs. I think the golden era of songwriting was the ’60s. … The ’40s to the ’60s. They just made sense.”
She added that even though trends come and go, the classic construction still makes the most sense. “There’s nothing quite as fulfilling as music that has a great chunk. It can be conversation. It can be happy or sad. I think with technology around it becomes a bit fragmented.”
“Beautiful Mess” is a tight set of 10 songs that highlight SOS’s strengths as a duo. There’s the unabashedly ’60s-style song, “I’d Be Happy,” a beautiful horn ornamentation on “Beautiful Mess,” and the funky “My State of Mind.” Like previous SOS albums there’s also an instrumental that calls back to other musical themes on the album; the instrumentals give their albums the feel of being part of a movie score, as the threads of the music interweave. While this isn’t emphasized to the same degree as on previous album “Where Our Love Grows,” it’s a trademark of the duo and is a welcome return here.
One of four bonus tracks added for the U.S. edition is a slowed down, jam-style take on their first hit, “Breakout.” Drewery said it’s fun to revisit an old favorite.
“’Breakout’ is the song that made it possible to be here today, so it’s opened a lot of doors and it’s kind o f been our musical passport throughout the world,” she said. “It’s just given us so many opportunities. I don’t think we should forget the little old song. It meant so much to a lot of people, including us. It’s given us our musical career, really.”
Drewery and Connell are taking their new songs, along with old favorites, on the road as part of a short U.S. visit. They promise some changes versus what they’ve done in the past, yet some familiarity as well.
“We have taken up to 12 people on stage before when we’ve been on tour,” Drewery said. “It’s very stressful. We can emulate the sounds more or less exactly as they are on the record.
“This time, we thought we would see how we would interpret the songs in a more unplugged, jazzy way. It’s more spontaneous; we can change the sets every night as less people have to learn the songs. Some of the new songs fit very well with this intimate sound that we have on ‘Beautiful Mess.’ We wanted to see if that treatment would work well with them. Some of the songs [we’ll be] performing live for the first time.”
Expect the songs to have a bit of a different approach when you hear them live, too. “Whenever we do it we like to reinterpret the song and that’s down to Andy,” Drewery said. “Then he says ‘let’s try it this way’ and change the set. People who come to our shows like that as they don’t know what to expect.”
Drewery is particularly excited about the stop in New York, where she will perform at B.B. King’s Monday, June 8. Her previous visits to New York have been eventful. “I Love Coney Island. We wrote a song called ‘Coney Island Man.’ We had never even been there and I was wishing and willing to go. We finally got there to do those photographs [for the album cover and inside art to fifth album “Shapes and Patterns”]. You can be sure that I’ll get down there when we are in New York.”
Drewery is a bit more relaxed nowadays. Given over 20 years of recording and performing, it’s understandable that now’s a time to take a step back. “At one time every moment, every day would be accounted for,” Drewery said. “We’re liking just seeing what turns up around the corner.”
More information about Swing Out Sister can be found on their Web site, www.swingoutsister.com. Corinne and Andy will perfrom at B.B. King's in New York City Monday, June 8, and ticket information on that performance can be found at http://www.bbkingblues.com/schedule/moreinfo.cgi?id=4736