Sophie Ellis-Bextor is back with album number four, after baby number two, looking and sounding better than ever; but as she once warned us – it’s a Mixed Up World, and juggling young children, with a recording career, international tours, running club nights with husband Richard and her ongoing commitment as the face of cosmetics brand Rimmel, is not without it’s challenges.
How does she manage the balancing act? “I don’t really – it’s quite chaotic, you have to just not fight it. My upbringing was similar because my mum and dad both worked in TV doing funny hours, so I suppose I’m not really designed for consistency.”
In fact the singer who reaches her ten-year anniversary in the pop game this year couldn’t be happier. “I’m having an amazing time right now. It really is the best it’s ever been. I’m still completely excited, and I think that’s vital! There’s nothing more unsexy than a jaded pop star.”
When you hear her new album you’ll understand why Sophie is quite so giddy, “I felt like the album needed to be really positive, and unabashed”, she explains, “if it’s your fourth record you don’t want to be apologetic about it. I like pomposity in pop and confidence and chutzpah.” She’s got chutzpah up to her four-storey hips. Straight To The Heart is a plugged-in pulsating pop juggernaut, which will have Sophie murdering dance floors all over again.
Sophie may be the ultimate pop starlet but she’s no pop puppet – she was heavily involved with all parts of her album, co-writing much of it and working with an in-demand team of writer/producers that includes Freemasons, Greg Kurstin, Calvin Harris, Cathy Dennis, Metronomy, Richard X and Armin Van Buuren.
Freemasons, the team behind those amazing Beyonc’e remixes (and much more besides) have two songs on the record. The first, Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer) was not just a massive success on home soil but went on to become one of her biggest successes on the continent, particularly Russia where it reached number two in the chart. “I did 8 trips to Moscow last year and I’ve even picked up a bit of Russian too – menya zovut Sofiya… my name is Sophie” she says to prove she’s not fibbing.
The second Freemasons song is her forthcoming single Bittersweet, which is out 25 April. A compelling, emotive epic with dramatic wooshes, tick-tocking drum machines and cold eighties synth, Bittersweet is the euphoric, guaranteed pop moment of the spring.
The song Greg Kurstin (Ke$ha, Kylie and Lily Allen) wrote with Sophie and Cathy Dennis is Revolution: and with it’s gritty bass, crunching beats and ear splitting squeals it is a veritable pop uprising that demonstrates the sophisticated madam’s unladylike penchant for tunes that compel you to get ur sweat on. “The Richard X track”, Sophie says tantalisingly, “is like Borderline era Madonna.” Then there’s the much talked of Calvin Harris song Off & On which sounds like it could easily replicate the dizzee success the lanky Scot has become accustomed to.
Since her last album Trip The Light Fantastic in 2007 Sophie hasn’t just been holed up in the studio creating the pop soundtrack to 2010 she’s been on the road, both on her own and supporting born again boy band Take That on their mega sell out Beautiful World tour. “That was brilliant,” she beams, “they’re such lovely guys and they really looked after me. They threw great parties and we were often staying in the same hotel so we’d all hang out.” Sophie was as much of a fan of the boys onstage as off, and could be regularly found in the wings singing along: “I would have loved to have run on for the Lulu part of Relight My Fire but they actually had a bloke sing it.”
Sophie emerged ten years ago with rare poise amidst the most memorable chart scuffle since Brit pop. Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) with Italian producer Spiller, her debut solo release (after splitting with rock band The Audience) has recently been awarded the astonishing accolade of ‘the decade’s most played track on radio.’ “That’s so cool, I’m really proud of that. I thought it would have been something like Can’t Get you Out of My Head.”
Since those early beginnings Sophie has stuck with her record label Polydor/Fascination and they’ve stuck by her, something rare in an industry where everyone from Kylie, Janet and Mariah have at one time been ‘let go’. She has lived through the mid-late noughties mire of landfill Indie and come out the other side lipstick (Coral Queen is a current fave) barely smudged.
On the subject of lippy, Ms E-B always gave good face, so it was no surprise she was chosen along with Kate Moss as the face of Rimmel cosmetics in 2008, and she has just renewed her contract. “They sponsored my tour years back, so there was already a seed there, plus I genuinely like what they do.” She’s not kidding either, Sophie is make-up obsessed, “I’ve still got make-up I had when I was 16, which I’m probably not supposed to do – I love it.”
Isn’t she daunted following in the footsteps of the world’s most famous super model? "I can’t deny that the first day on set for the Rimmel ads I was very conscious of the fact Kate Moss is a modern icon. I just focused on the thought that I was adding to it, rather than carrying on from where she left off, because I’m not daft, I know that’s not happening.
Sophie the entrepreneur expanded her repertoire in 2008 with successful Soho club night Modern Love. She ran the club and DJed with husband Richard Jones (guitarist with indie band The Feeling) in a tag-team playfully dubbed ‘Me and Mr Jones’. “DJing got me back into being really excited about music,” she says, galloping off ten words a second, “wanting to hear old and new stuff really loud and seeing if it filled the dancefloor.” Amazingly Sophie and Richard were also responsible for some serious Carnage. “About a year ago we did a set at Imperial College,” recalls Sophie. “We were playing stuff like 9-5, and David Bowie and Prince, moving into Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx, but when we played Rage Against The Machine they went crazy and nearly knocked down all the security barriers. The promoter told us it was the most lairy reaction they’d ever had to DJs.”
This time spent DJing certainly had an effect on Straight To The Heart. Nearly every song on it is a stiletto snapping dance floor demon. “I think there are two songs that are slower,” Sophie says wracking her brain, “but I’d start writing something and think, ‘oh I like these chords, shall we do a ballad? Nah four to the floor!’”
“I do what I do and I really enjoy it”, says Sophie, “In the past I’ve tried out different things, but I always come back to the stuff I do best, which is electro pop, and it’s also what I really enjoy. Sometimes you can’t fight it. There’s plenty of time for me to do…whatever it is you’re supposed to do when you get old.”