Sophie Ellis Bextor Biography
Last updated: 09/01/2011 12:00:00 PM
Sophie Ellis Bextor has been waiting patiently for her time. At just 22, she is a veteran in today's ever-changing music scene. It's five years since she started her career as a pop star. But it's only now in the summer of 2001 that Sophie Ellis Bextor is about to step into the limelight as a solo artist.
As sophisticated front woman in sharp-suited indie-popsters theaudience, she earned the approval of the style cognoscenti; as chart-topping disco diva who sang Spiller's 'Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)' she transformed an Italian deep house groove into one of the most enduring records of recent years. But anyone expecting this elegant star, with the voice of a disco Chrissie Hynde and the poise of a young Audrey Hepburn, to simply retread her Spiller success will be surprised.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor's solo material has sassy grooves and disco licks a-plenty, but like Madonna's finer work it also balances crisply funky dance rhythms with 80s soul, pop dynamics, and real songs. "Sophisticated pop," is how she describes it. "Stuff that doesn't talk down to people. I just want something that has got a bit of conviction to it and a bit of depth. I don't find there's too much of that around."
There's a bountiful of conviction on Sophie's debut album 'Read My Lips'. The lead single 'Take Me Home' has already received a rapturous reception with its cool disco groove, crisp French beats and the mesmerising line: "You deserve a girl like me." 80s soul rhythms jiggle under swish strings and glittery funk guitars for the sassy 'Murder On The Dancefloor'. With its church bells and sense of broken love, the slower 'Move This Mountain' is a theatrical pop drama. The dinky electro-pop 'Everything Falls Into Place' has its tongue in cheek and its white stilettos on. 'Lover' is a seductive march of a groove with off-the-wall synth and melodies.
It's quite a definitive statement: Sophie knows exactly what she wants. "I think there's quite a lot of cowardice in music. I don't mind if it goes wrong, I just want to go for it. This is a great opportunity, I don't wanna look back and think, 'I should have been a bit bolder.'"
It was Sophie Ellis Bextor's voice that first struck the masses. That voice on Spiller's 'Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)' was deliciously infectious, with a sexily-composed vocal that sang, "If this ain't love, why does it feel so good?" The question on everyone's lips was, who's that girl? Weeks later everyone knew the answer. Sophie and Spiller were Number One.
And you can hear this distinct personality in those archly deadpan vocals, clever and velvety, that weave themselves over 'Read My Lips.' This is grown-up pop with a post-watershed groove that tells stories of love, desire and discos with grace and a mischievous tongue in its cheek. "I'm a bit coquettish, it's flirty stuff, I'm 22," chuckles Sophie. "I really like to have a poise when I'm singing, a certain character. Hopefully she's quite bright."
Growing up in London, the daughter of a television director and a television presenter Sophie has always had fairly definite ideas about who she wanted to be. She edited her school newspaper at Godolphin And Latymer and whenever debates about music came up in the playground, would confidently declare: "I prefer the original." Whether she knew it or not. "I was quite outspoken and cheeky and opinionated, but I wasn't like a rule breaker."
By 16 a love of Madonna and Michael Jackson had been swapped by Britpop as Sophie, clad in Adidas, hung out at West End clubs like Popscene. "I loved that very tongue-in-cheek English thing," she says. "I also liked that feeling of being a part of something. I think that's what being a teenager feels like - being with people who understand." She'd already started singing and at the club Uncle Bob's Wedding Reception met musician Billy Reeves and handed him a tape.
Two years later theaudience emerged, dressed in black, with spiky guitar pop and a bona-fide star in the shape of chicly glamorous Ellis-Bextor. Sophie had always felt Britpop was too grubby. "I think whoever's on stage should look like they're supposed to be on stage," she notes. "I think performers should be a bit larger than life."
But despite the media acclaim, two Top 30 singles and a breezily confident album that owed more to classic Pretenders than it did Pulp, theaudience crumbled when Billy Reeves, the brain of the band, walked out. "It was all a bit Spinal Tap, we kept having all these arguments." Sophie was left at something of a crossroads.
During six dispiriting six months Sophie decided a solo career was the next step. Whilst writing solo material Sophie's publisher sent the Spiller track over, then one of four instrumental grooves on the Italian producer's 'Miami' EP. Sophie originally dismissed it but then she started playing around with verses and choruses, eventually writing the final verse and co-writing that famous chorus. "I thought, 'I'll have a nice time doing something, it'll be a real breath of fresh air to do a dance track.' It was still going to be a song-based thing." Sophie could hardly have been prepared for the way the pop world welcomed her with open arms. Because Sophie Ellis-Bextor can sing. And when she sings, you can hear she means it.
"There's so many singers, you watch them and a lot of it is waving around. You don't get this feeling that they're really thinking about what they're saying," she concludes. But just because Sophie is a musician who sings with conviction doesn't alter the album's breezy sense of fun, or its wickedly funky mix of house, electro and pop. For Sophie Ellis-Bextor it's about bringing it all together. "There's music as a way to be famous, and all of that side of it. And there's music because you love singing," she concludes. "For me, I love a good mixture of both."