Rachel Stevens Biography
You may already know about Rachel. You may know how as one seventh - and then one sixth - of the global S Club phenomenon she changed the pop landscape, and how over four years S Club scored 12 Top 10 hits, including four number ones, and released five albums, amounting to over 13m record sales worldwide. So you’ll also know about the countless awards – two Brits among them – and the sell-out arena tours, and the sponsorship deals with everything from Pepsi to BT, and the TV series broadcast in 110 countries, and the fact that some FHM readers didn’t think she was very ugly.
Paradoxically, while we may already know about Rachel, an idol and an icon for millions of fans around the world, nobody really knows her. Well not yet, anyway. That’s all set to change as Rachel Ex-Club becomes Rachel Stevens, a popstar like no other whose passion and talent for music will be welcomed by anyone whose musical memory recalls a time when popstars did a little bit more than sit around in nice clothes. “In S Club I played a role in a band,” Rachel smiles. “Inevitably with so many of us we were each given labels – ‘this one’s the singer’, ‘this one does the dancing’… But now I can go off and be me. And I’m enjoying being me. My horizon’s wide open now.”
Looking out at her new horizon, 25-year-old Rachel sees an exciting future, but she’s not expecting anything on a plate. “I want people to see me as a new artist,” she says, explaining that her “workaholic tendencies” ruled out any sort of holiday when the S Club party wound down in April. In fact, she can’t begin to think what she might have done in the past six months if she hadn’t gone straight back into the studio. Textbook Aries. “You’ve got to focus on what you’re doing,” she says plainly, “and just do it.” If this doesn’t sound like the laissez-faire approach typical of most pop group graduates… Well, Rachel’s hardly your typical pop group graduate, any more than she’s ever been a typical popstar. This willingness to fling herself back into the world of work is the latest step in a tenacious, focused ambition which one decade ago led a fifteen-year-old Rachel to take on 5,000 hopefuls in a J-17 modelling competition. She won; the prize led to a spell at the London School of Fashion, and with her diploma in hand she went into fashion PR. She put together some dodgy demos, as you do, and when a few things led to a few other things, Rachel Stevens found herself in a band called S Club.
Which rather begs the question, how long has Rachel Stevens been yearning for life as a solo artist? “I suppose,” she says with a mischievous grin, “I’ve always wanted it. I’m a very determined person, and you always have to look to the future. In a way I didn’t want S Club to end - none of us did - but in a bigger way we knew that we all wanted to do our own stuff.”
Given that this is the first time in five years when Rachel’s been by herself, this should really be the point where she denounces her high-octane pop past. She should be out on benders, dissing her back catalogue and embarking on an ill-advised rock sound with talk of being ‘real’. At least, this is how received knowledge tells us she should be doing it. But that’s not the way Rachel operates and while it might be easy to turn your back on your past, it takes more dignity and strength of character - qualities hardly in abundance in today’s Top 40 - to embrace your roots. At any rate, Rachel still loves her S Club work. “Songs like ‘Reach’ and ‘S Club Party’ are pop classics,” she beams, “and I’m really proud that I had a part in them. Pop should never be a dirty word, and I don’t agree that you need to grow up in a garage with a guitar making your fingers bleed in order to be considered a musician. Just because you’ve come from a pop background it doesn’t mean you have no right to make music.”
Anyone doubting Rachel’s right to make music will already be questioning their preconceptions in the light of her debut solo single, the shit-hot, Cathy Dennis-penned slice of girl empowerment ‘Sweet Dreams My LA-Ex’. Produced by Murlyn Music hotshot Bloodshy – the buy behind tunes from Ms Dynamite and Christina Milian - ‘Sweet Dreams’ is brassy, bold and distinctive. It’s typical of Rachel’s solo material in that it sounds like nothing else on the nation’s pop playlist. Nor does it really sound much like anything else on her debut album, Funky Dory (released September 29), a collection of modern pop landmarks at once totally diverse and utterly Rachel. “The writers really got my personality and the direction I want to go in,” Rachel says. “The first single is a great example –the first time I heard it I knew it’s what I wanted.”
In the last month or so Rachel’s been sorting out her CD collection. “It made me laugh,” she smiles. “For a start, there are things in there which I haven’t listened to in a year but I refuse to throw away. What kind of person could throw music away? But the variety of what’s in there is what most took me by surprise.” From Justin and Christina to Coldplay and The Strokes, diversity is the key to Rachel Stevens, in the CDs on her shelf and in the music she makes for other people’s shelves. “I love pop and I love mainstream music, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. This album is the type of music I listen to and am passionate about.”
There’s plenty of passion on ‘Funky Dory’, from the undulating ice-like glide of ‘Silk’ to the sassy funk workout of ‘Glide’, via classic modern pop anthems like ‘Breathe In Breathe Out’ and the smart R&B of ‘Little Secret’. Backroom talents like Anders Bagge (Janet Jackson, Britney) and Mike Peden (Will Young) bring the album to life, with bluechip songwriters ranging from Cathy Dennis to Guy Chambers. Rachel’s even been lending her own hand to the songwriting - a new experience she describes as an absolute thrill. One of the album’s highlights is the title track, mooted as a forthcoming single, which spins a hypnotic pop thumper out of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album track ‘Andy Warhol’. Among Warhol’s various legacies is a philosophy on which Stevens thrives: pop is about more than popularity. Pop is a state of mind. Pop is art. Pop is an art. A pop song is never just a pop song, any more than a tin of soup is ever just a tin of soup.
“S Club wasn’t about taking itself seriously, it was about filling dancefloors, and that’s exactly what we did,” Rachel summarises. “But now, it’s just about me. It’s scary and it’s daunting, but it’s an absolute thrill. I feel brand new.”
Pop can be a tough place: it’s competitive, harsh, turbulent and cruel. Sometimes it can be downright rubbish. But Rachel Stevens is willing and able to take on the world with style, wit and an album of tunes to die for. And she’s going to win. Pop may sometimes be in the gutter, but Rachel Stevens continues to reach for the stars.