Mutya Keisha Siobhan: “Sugababes is at the core of who we are”
In the first of a two-part interview, as Mutya Keisha Siobhan prepare to release their comeback single Flatline, the original Sugababes tell OfficialCharts.com what brought them back together all these years after Overload.
There are some wild fantasies pop fans never dare dream will come true. Like meeting Madonna or duetting with Elton John or even, for some, that the original Sugababes would ever be in the same room again.
Somehow, the impossible has become a reality and Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy – affectionately known to fans as Sugababes 1.0 or the Origibabes – really are back together, and this time it looks like it’s for keeps. The trio have reformed using the only names that really matter to them – their own. Back with a new single Flatline, Mutya Keisha Siobhan (or MKS if you’re feeling very informal) are hoping for their first hit together on the Official Singles Chart for 12 years.
As we walk down the corridor to interview Mutya Keisha Siobhan at YouTube HQ, where the girls have been getting ready for an acoustic session, we’re sure we can hear the sound of raucous laughter and excited, girly chatter. Yet when they were first together, the girls were famous for their surly demeanour and general air that they’d rather be anywhere else but doing the whole ‘popstar’ thing. Apart from plenty of water babbling under the bridge, what's changed?
“We didn’t know about the popstar thing, that’s what it is,” explains Keisha, perching on the arm of a chair in a small room crammed with make-up and bags and general popstar bits-and-bobs. Keisha spent the longest as a Sugababe – from their formation in 1998 until she left in a blaze of headlines 11 years later.
She says: “I remember watching [early interviews] back and just thinking ‘God I can understand totally why people think we were grumpy’.”
“I think we were so young,” says Siobhan, the first of the three to quit Team Sugababes, just before the band found its biggest success. Mutya and Keisha, with new member Heidi Range, had their first Number 1 single Freak Like Me ion 2002, the year after Siobhan's departure.
“Everything then was so live and you’re nervous and you’re a teenager and you don’t know whether you look all right in your clothes…”
“And you’re not media trained!” squeals Keisha, almost squirming with embarrassment at those lost teenage years. “There were times when we’d be talking in an interview and literally straight-faced, answering really professionally and we’d be all like (goes suddenly expressionless and adopts tone of a depressed dalek) ‘Well we released the album’ and ‘Like, yeah, uh, no, we didn’t’.”
Siobhan laughs. “We were really matter of fact weren’t we? Like, people would ask us questions and we’d think about it really seriously. And then answer them.”
Mutya Keisha Siobhan's last single together as Sugababes, Soul Sound, reached Number 30 in July 2001
In an era where cheery, media-friendly bands like Atomic Kitten and Steps were adorning magazine covers sporting neon smiles and fluorescent crop tops, Sugababes seemed like a breath of fresh air – or maybe more of a cool, disdainful breeze – in their baggy tops and laidback attitude.
“Everything was so bright and fun and then we come along and you know… I wouldn’t change it,” beams Keisha. “I think it made us who we are. At the time we couldn’t understand the fuss.”
Back when the girls released their first single Overload, which hit Number 6 in September 2000 and sold 165,000 copies, the internet wasn’t yet a major player in the entertainment world – most people were managing to get online at work. YouTube and Vevo were still only vague 'what ifs' in their creators’ heads and music promotion relied on appearances on TV shows and live performances. Is it possible the band might have found more success first time round if they’d been able to put themselves out there online?
Mutya, next to depart the group in 2005, can hardly believe she ever lived without social media. She lets out a warm, husky laugh and leans forward in her chair. “Yeah there was no… there wasn’t even, like, Twitter. Facebook wasn’t even out there!”
“I’m really into Instagram,” says Siobhan. “You can so put yourself forward and you can get that instant feedback from the fan as well. I suppose the mystery is lovely but for us I think it’s nice that people…”
“You communicate,” interjects Mutya.
“Yeah. It’s great people can know what our personalities are like,” smiles Siobhan. “And Twitter would’ve quite been quite nice.
All grown up!
With Keisha the last remaining founding member of the band to leave Sugababes in 2009, a few excited fans began whispering about the possibility of a reunion between the original three. But could they really do it? How would they even know there was an appetite for them to start recording music again?
Keisha admits she wasn’t sure it was ever going to come off. “We were like, ‘OK let’s go in; let’s see if we still gel and don’t sound like screaming cats together!’” Luckily, their pipes were sounding sweeter than ever, as proven in their comeback gig at Scala in August. (And if you missed that, don't worry: MKS have just announced they'll be embarking on a UK tour in November.)
So now they were talking again and the voices sounded good. Was that enough? What next? It wasn’t only the chance to heal old wounds or say a great big ‘soz for all the rows’ that got them back together, it was the fans – even those from post-Siobhan or -Mutya line-ups – who convinced them to go for it.
“They’ve always been supportive,” says Mutya.
“There’s a lot of goodwill,” agrees Siobhan. “We just had to deliver the music and we feel like we have.”
Says Keisha: “We went into the studio and we felt like the magic, I guess, was still there.”
Siobhan: “We only did the one album together and we knew it had great potential and this was about making sure we worked with great producers to reach that potential.”
Their comeback single, Flatline, sees Dev Hynes on producer duties; he's the man of the moment behind Solange Knowles’s critically acclaimed True EP and rumoured to be working on the next Britney Spears album.
Mutya Keisha Siobhan's first single as non-Sugababes, Flatline, is out now
While the track does feel bang up-to-date, there’s a sense this is the true sequel to material from their first album One Touch, including those famous harmonies that got everyone so excited way back in 2000. One Touch may have peaked only at Number 26 in the Official Albums Chart, but it has sold over 220,000 copies and was also a critics’ favourite. The girls have their own memories of it. Especially when it comes to the cover.
The girls all talk at once and reiminisce about that artwork. Siobhan sticks up for it while Mutya and Keisha shiver at the recollection.
“Oh my God,” cringes Mutya. “That One Touch cover…”
“I LOVE the One Touch cover!” shouts Siobhan. “Why am I the only one? Don't you love it?”
“No way,” laughs Mutya, shaking her head. “I look like I’m about nine!”
“You look so adorable, Mutya!” laughs Keisha. “Like a little girl.”
Mutya rolls her eyes.
“And I love the flower!” says Siobhan.
“…And then my short piece of hair…” cringes Keisha.
Siobhan reminisces about their original logo, which would feature flowers or charmbracelets on some of the single covers.
“Oh, I forgot about that actually,” shrugs Mutya.
The famous cover of Sugababes' debut album One Touch. Complete with controversial flower.
And is the new album cover done? "Yes!" exclaims Keisha, about a second before Siobhan cautiously says: "Errr, maybe". (We'll take that as a yes.)
Despite their air of supercoolness, the girls have always remained solid pop fans. A quick glance at the first singles they bought betrays three hearts bursting with pure pop. Keisha is particularly, um, eclectic: “In the one day, I got Robson & Jerome, Up On The Roof, and Jay Z & Foxy Brown.”
Siobhan laughs. “Mine was Charles and Eddie! Would I Lie To You.”
It’s hard to believe now, but Mutya was a total boyband fanatic. “Yeah, mine was New Kids On The Block.” She starts to sing it. “Uh-oh, uh oh oh , uh-oh, uh-oh. The right stuff!”
Although they have a ‘new’ name, MKS are, of course, a band with a history together – although you could argue much of it was spent apart, the ties were never severed. Even without Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan, the dramas continue: the present members of Sugababes are dealing with their own tensions, as Jade Ewen, who replaced Keisha, claimed yesterday that the current line-up has definitely broken up. Mutya Keisha Siobhan talk sparingly about other members, but refuse to shy away from their past. And it really does feel like their reunion is genuine and based on friendship; the old battle scars barely visible. They have, of course, had some growing up to do, but they seem very chilled around one another. As Siobhan points out: “There’s so much positivity and I don’t like hearing negative things about anybody.”
Keisha continues: “I’m really proud of the legacy of what we’ve done in each line-up. I think it’s something we don’t try to hide away from, to get away from the name Sugababes. We came up with the name when we were 12 years old – it’s really at the core of who we are.”
Siobhan agrees: “Obviously, we love what we’re doing and even I appreciate the different line-ups and I don’t think it’s an issue for us and I hope it’s not for the fans. I mean people have enjoyed the journey and this is our next… our next move.”
And Mutya? She can’t wait to get started. “Is the pressure on?” she muses. “I guess, in a way, but we just wanted to go out there and release the material.”
Mutya shrugs her shoulders and flashes a winning smile, a million miles away from that very first album cover. “It’s just kind of nice to start over again.”
Coming soon: We chat more to Mutya Keisha Siobhan, when the girls look back at their first hit Overload and reveal what they really think of the Sugababes' back catalogue.