Close up: Interview with Siobhan Fahey

Posted on 4 March 2010
By Amy Roberts
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Most of you fondly remember, with a skipped heartbeat of adoration, Siobhan Fahey as the glam-goth figure from Shakespears Sister’s video for their big hitter of a single ‘Stay’.

Fahey stole the show: visually arresting with a vaudevillian array of dark make-up paired with a sparkling dominatrix catsuit, crown of glittering thorns and facial expressions spanning the sinister and the seductive. She was a subversive breath of fresh hair in a stale industry of uninspired pop music. The song too was pretty fucking amazing too – we played it till the vinyl was practically transparent.

Calling from Los Angeles over a particularly sketchy Skype-line, we’re discussing the transition she made between the mainstream, bubblegum pop stardom of Bananarama to forming the slightly subversive pop group Shakespears Sister. Does she think mainstream pop is finally starting to experiment again with previously underground genres and darker themes?

“I do think there’s signs of that again” she begins, her tone thoughtful and her voice beautifully sultry, “I mean, God – pop music’s become a dirty word because of Pop Idol and manufactured pop taking over the chart and the radio in the past ten years.

“It’s been quite horrific really, so it’s refreshing to see people come along who look more interesting and sound more authentic, writing their own stuff.

“Whenever the world gets too marketed, and too money-obsessed and too status obsessed, then you get a reaction to that. People are sick of manufactured rubbish now – the recession’s a great leveler. Art always gets more interesting in a recession”.

Anyone in particular that she thinks is pushing those boundaries?

“There’s no-one really that I find particularly amazing. The closest thing I’ve come to being intrigued is La Roux.” She pauses, “And obviously Lady Gaga looks amazing, but her music’s appalling. It sounds like Hazell Dean! WAKE UP WORLD!” she declares emphatically, sniggering, “It’s style over content, she’s got an amazing voice but so do a lot of people down the pub, you know?”

Yowza. For some reason we imagined Fahey as intrigued as the rest of us by Gaga’s sexually aggressive stage performances and unrelenting visual style. But now our eyes are open – maybe Gaga really does just sound like ‘Eurotrash from the late 80s’, as Fahey puts it. Maybe we have been suckered in by style – again. Bollocks.

Fahey is an incredibly stylish lady. You can always count on those with punk rock ethics to spearhead an sense of individuality with artful, expressive fashion choices, and to hell with what everyone else is wearing.

“Being an old punk, I believe in your right to look like an individual and express yourself in the way you look. I don’t spend a fortune on clothes – I’m not into the whole idea of wearing labels…” she pauses before laughing warmly at herself, “Although I do make the exception for Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen! Right now I’ve got this really fantastic McQueen suit with amazing space-age shoulder pads on a very narrow cut, like early Roxy Music, jacket with drainpipe pants”.

Colour. Us. Jealous. Understatement? Completely. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven that 1 in 3 people with immaculate taste turn to total dreamy jelly whenever they hear the words ‘McQueen’, ‘Space-age’, ‘Shoulder pads’, ‘Roxy music’, and ‘drainpipe pants’ in the same sentence.

What is abundantly clear is that Fahey – who at 53 years old is at an age which our horrifically ageist society condemns as being too far past 30 to do, well, anything really, particularly if you’re a woman – is still undeniably punk rock. Any woman who can use a music festival as an excuse for a family vacation, deserves a belter of a high five as far as we’re concerned.

Fahey and her two sons (from her marriage to the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart) have been to the Coachella music festival in LA together for the past four years: “My highlight of last year’s festival, which was really an amazing life moment that I actually cherished, was that I saw Leonard Cohen”, she gasps with adulation, “Oh, it was incredible! It was like being in a church when he sang Hallelujah – the whole audience swayed, and held each other and cried – it was amazing. Probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen in my life actually”.

Not only that, but rumour has it Fahey has also done magic mushrooms with her sons (it’s okay, they’re 18 and 21 before you start dialing social services). True story?

She laughs, “It was their friends that gave it to me behind their back! And of course, double standards apply – I mean they were outraged that their mother had taken their friends’ magic mushrooms”.

Which brings us to London in the 80’s. An overspill of excess from the 70’s punk scene combined with an overkill of grandeur from the decades optimism of ‘new money’ meant that drugs were rife, self-destruction was common, and there was plenty of opportunity to fuck up on hedonism.

“The late 70‘s were really quite pivotal times in the culture. I was very young and it was a magical time, but my memory of it – maybe I was hanging out with the right people, or maybe the wrong people – but we weren’t doing drugs.

“Or at least not the drugs that people later got addicted to, you know, cos they were too expensive!

“I guess what happened was that in the mid 80’s, everyone that I knew who had been really inspiring had fallen foul of heroin. I don’t know quite what happened there. It started off with ecstasy…but yeah, I saw a lot of people nosedive.

“I don’t know why – didn’t they read the double page spreads in The News Of The World when they were growing up? I did! And it warned me off! When you’re 10 you salivate over seedy lifestyles.”

Does she pay much attention to the tabloids these days?

“Not any more. I totally cut the tabloids out of my life because it depresses the hell outta me that people are that unscrupulous”.

I tell her about the disturbing trend of tabloid journalisms’ morbid fascination with watching female artists self destruct – almost putting a timer on the sensitive, over-worked and over-exposed minds and bodies of the successful, talented and the famous and waiting for the cynical, money grabbing, messy pay-off.

“Well, I don’t buy the tabloids and I don’t read the tabloids, so it’s news to me that they like to watch female stars unravel. Obviously, Amy Winehouse and her drama was a kind of a national obsession for a few years, and I think that was probably because she’s so brilliant that it’s horrible to see such brilliance go to waste. It’s like McQueen dying – it’s a terrible loss to the culture – it’s our own personal loss, you know?”

Fahey could have wound up as another ‘troubled female star’ herself, especially if the culture would have been as fame-baiting and papp-aggresive as it is now. In 1993 she faced her own battle with a severe depression and admitted herself into a psychiatric unit.

“It was useful to me at that particular junction in my life,” she expounds, openly, “it’s just an opportunity to get off the merry-go-round and be able to take stock of things.

“There was a good friend of mine who followed me into the clinic two weeks after I got admitted so I spent the whole time nursing her!” she laughs.

“I’m not really somebody who thinks that therapy is necessarily the answer to your problems. I’m somebody who’s always been able to identify and talk about my problems to my friends and the people around me anyway.

“It’s probably much more useful to people who aren’t able to do that. I find salvation in taking a more spiritual overview to life and when you can do that, it totally alters your perspective”.

We decide to get away from such a heavy topic of conversation much to Fahey’s delight, “It’s only nine in the morning here!” she shrieks, amused, whilst we apologise and take ratio of the probably uneven and unfair caffeine keel between us, and move on to talking about her music.

Shakespears Sister’s most recent album Songs From A Red Room (the red room in question being Fahey’s actual bedroom, a “fantasy bedroom, with red silk damask walls, like a womb or a sanctuary”), is a delightfully dark pop-synth hidden gem pitched somewhere between the sublimely sinister and the acutely seductive.

Bitter Pill from Songs From A Red Room was partially covered by the Pussycat Dolls, who turned it into a bizarre amateur mash-up with Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff taking place of Fahey’s original chorus. How the Christ did that happen?

“In a totally fortuitous and random way,” she declares, the words audibly clambering fiendish out of the corners of her no doubt tickled grin, “a friend of mine manages the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I’d given him a couple of tracks of mine to listen to and he was going into Interscope to have a meeting about them.”

“Interscope were putting together the Pussycat Dolls project and they were looking for songs, he played them Bitter Pill and the A&R man loved it and they got in touch and asked if they could use it. So I sent them the files, and they replaced my vocals with theirs.”

“It’s a totally different track though. My chorus, which is ‘Bitter pill to swallow, can’t see tomorrow…drowning in sorrow’!” she laughs, “Oh! I think that’s a bit too dark for the Pussycat Dolls, so they didn’t use my chorus, they supplanted it with Donna Summer. So it’s kind of a travesty – a musical travesty – in my view. But hey, financially it paid for me to actually record Songs From A Red Room”.

Shakespears Sister is touring from April 15th, what can we look forward to from the live show?

“Well, I’m really, really happy to be playing live again with the band. The last time I did a Shakespears Sister gig was in 1997, although I was doing some little underground performances in electro clubs a few years ago, but it was really pared down, so it’s great to be playing with a full rock’n’roll band with four fantastic album worths of songs to draw from”.

As to what else to expect from the live show, Fahey’s keeping pretty schtum, except to mention that she’s going to look damned amazing:

“Well, I’ve got a pretty cool costume, that I designed myself. I’ve got a beautiful headdress which is VERY important, since I’m playing very small places and people can probably only see my face. So I’ve gotta have a good head”.

We seriously can’t wait.

Shakespears Sister will be touring the UK at the following dates and venues:

Thu 15th April 2010: O2 Academy, Sheffield
Fri 16th April 2010: O2 Academy, Liverpool
Sat 17th April 2010: O2 ABC, Glasgow
Sun 18th April 2010: O2 Academy, Newcastle
Tue 20th April 2010: O2 Academy, Bristol
Wed 21st April 2010: O2 Academy, Birmingham
Thu 22nd April: London Bloomsbury Ballroom

You can buy tickets here: or from the usual ticket peddlers.

Shakespears Sister official:

Buy Songs From A Red Room here: