No offence, but in these days of Ed Sheeran dominating the chart and Adele selling out stadiums across the land, we’ve been hankering for something a little more upbeat and colourful to brighten up a world (and Top 40) that appears to be getting darker by the day. So, the return of the mighty Steps to the pop landscape couldn’t have come at a better time.
And this is a proper return too. To celebrate their 20th anniversary, they’ve gifted us a stone cold banger of a comeback single in ‘Scared Of the Dark’ and an album that they’ve promised is all killer and no filler. Needless to say we’re just a teeny bit excited - and judging by the response their comeback has generated so far, we’re not the only ones.
So, on a very sunny Spring afternoon, Huffington Post UK headed to the pub for a sit down and natter with Claire, H, Faye, Lee and Lisa to talk about all the important stuff like new dance routines, secret WhatsApp groups, Pete Waterman and Faye’s legendary, but perhaps ill-advised, dreadlocks.
Welcome back! How are you all feeling?
H: We’re a bit blown away by it all, really. We didn’t expect this reaction and to have the single get to No.1 on iTunes, the No.1 pre-order for the album, venues selling out with extra venues added.
Lee: I think the tour sold out in three days.
H: We don’t understand how the business works anymore, because it’s changed a lot. We used to do six weeks of TV, radio and interviews and then your single would get released and everyone would go to the shops to buy it. I think from what people have been telling us, [the reaction to ‘Scared Of The Dark’] never happens.
Faye: I think ‘Scared Of The Dark’ is a bit nostalgic because it sounds like us but I think it’s relevant enough to stand up well today. We were a little bit anxious for people to hear it because we didn’t know whether we fitted in anymore, but the reaction has just been incredible.
Claire: We were all together when Ken Bruce played it. Actually hearing it on the radio, it really did sound good.
Lisa: It was like hearing ourselves on the radio for the first time.
H: And we were together for that first time too.
When you first heard ‘Scared Of The Dark’ did you instantly know that had to be the first single?
Lisa: Our management did. They really know their pop because they’ve been doing it for 20 years. I think some of us had concerns because there are such strong tracks on the album and we each have favourites. But when we heard the finished version with our vocals and the production it sounds like an instant Steps classic.
Claire: We obviously get things at demo stage so sometimes it’s really difficult to hear if the song will work.
We always say ‘it’s got to sound like a Steps record’.
Lisa: It’s like looking at a new house - you have to look past the decor.
Claire: It really is amazing how much something changes when we put our vocals on it. We always say ‘it’s got to sound like a Steps record’.
Faye: It was really exciting though because it was the first time we had that much control over the record and which songs went on it and how it was produced.
H: They would remix songs and we’d be like ‘that doesn’t sound like Steps’. We do have a very distinctive sound as a boy/girl group and some producers got it and some didn’t.
And let’s not even get into the key change…
H: (laughs) Are you living for the key change?
Lisa: We were joking that Westlife will be furious.
Is it a different feeling this time compared to when you first started out?
H: We’re 20 years older! (laughs).
Lisa: Well we’ve got more experience. I think we’re all more relaxed now and we’re very comfortable with each other. We’re genuinely good friends and so we’re just having fun with it.
It’s been two years in the making, how did you manage to keep it a secret?
Faye: It’s been really hard though because you can’t keep anything a secret these days.
Lee: I think the biggest thing was keeping the single under wraps so it would be a big shock for everybody.
Everyone is so concerned with being cool - or relevant - these days.
What do you think about the current state of pop?
H: What is the current state of pop?
Lisa: We’ve brought colour to the charts.
Faye: And a bit of drama.
Claire: I think everyone is so concerned with being cool - or relevant - these days.
H: We’ve never been cool or relevant! (laughs).
Claire: Lots of stuff follows the same formula. There’s no diversity any more. That’s probably why people like Adele and Ed Sheeran do so well because they’re not that.
Lee: I listen to Ed Sheeran and a lot of his songs don’t sound like him. I think that’s where he’s been clever.
Obviously you reunited for a documentary and a tour in 2011, but what’s the biggest difference this time around?
Lee: It was more of a reunion then.
Lisa: We had the TV documentary so the story was told where we addressed the split and so on. This time we didn’t have the TV show but it’s shown us that the fanbase is so supportive and strong that we didn’t need the TV show, which is great.
Faye: We’d also exhausted ourselves for that run because we’d done the arena tour and we just needed to go back to our regular lives and figure things out. When we decided to potentially regroup this time it was coming up to the 20th anniversary and we thought let’s go for it one hundred percent.
H: We had to book these arena dates two years ago because everybody wanted them. And to get us all on the same page and in the same room has been a military operation.
It just feels like the time is right for your return with what’s going on in the world… was that deliberate or just coincidence?
Claire: We did an interview the other day and we basically made out that we’d planned all of it… Brexit, Donald Trump.
Faye: I think people are ready to be happy again. And anyone who knows us, it’s about leaving stuff at the door, not caring and having a lovely time.
Lisa: It’s good timing but it wasn’t our motivation.
Lee: A lot of people were saying we needed some light-heartedness back, a bit of colour… it does feel like we’re living in a bit of a worrying time but I didn’t really look at it like that if I’m being honest. I just saw the 20th anniversary and thought we’re just going to do whatever we can do and it does seem to have worked, and been the right time.
So, the video for ‘Scared In The Dark’. Can you tell us anything about it?
Lee: It’ll be fast and frantic.
Claire: Yeah, it’ll be kind of moody.
And what about the dance routine?
All: No we can’t! (all five then demonstrate the key move, let’s just call it a camp ‘swoon’, which involves placing the back of the hand across the eyes).
Take That have done a great job. They sing live and they move really well without looking like idiots.
Have you had to adapt the routine bearing in mind you - and your fans - are all a bit older now, or are you just like ‘sod it, let’s throw everything at it’?
Lisa: Well we’re all fit and we’ve still got the moves. It’s a great, exciting chorus for everyone to join in with.
Lee: I think the thing is we’re old enough to rein it in but the routines are what we’re about. If we just came back and stood behind a microphone stand, everyone would be like ‘what are you doing?’
Faye: We won’t be skipping!
Claire: We need to be able to sing properly too. We want it to sound as good as it looks, so it’s finding a balance.
H: Actually Take That have done a great job. They sing live and they move really well without looking like idiots.
Let’s talk about the new album. You’ve set the bar high with the single… have you got plenty more bangers on the album?
Faye: It’s really clubby.
Claire: There’s no ballads.
Lisa: There are a few mid-tempo songs.
Faye: The boys do ‘Space Between Us’. Then we have ‘Story Of A Heart’, written by Benny and Björn from ABBA.
How did that come about?
Claire: When we first started talking to [management company] Fascination, they always had that in mind for us.
H: It’s quite an obscure, unknown ABBA song.
Pete Waterman was really nice actually. I was quite surprised.
Have you been in contact with Pete Waterman? Has he given his seal of approval?
Claire: We did an interview with him on his radio show. He was really nice actually. I was quite surprised. He was really supportive, and loves the single. The only thing he did say was ‘there’s one thing I’m going to tell you off for’. I was like ‘oh god’ and he said ‘you gave Ken Bruce the first play and you didn’t let me have it.’
Faye: Last time we saw him we did the big PWL show and he sent us all a letter personally thanking us for coming back. He’s always been great.
Was it a very different process this time around when you recorded the album?
Lee: We didn’t see each other this time.
Lisa: It was good, though, as we were trying to keep it under wraps. In the old days we’d all be there until two o’clock in the morning as you’d have to wait your turn.
Claire: You see, I never went home. So I never had the chance of being called at two in the morning. I was too scared to go home in case I got told off.
So is this going to be a permanent comeback like Take That or are you going to disappear again after this album and tour?
Lee: I think we’re just going to see how it goes really. Obviously next year we’re going to be busy and then let’s see what happens because I’m sure we’d all love to keep it going.
Faye: Initially it started off as a 20th year celebration and it’s become so much more than that already. I think we’re going to have to literally wing it! We didn’t realise it was all going to fall into to place so well or have this sort of reaction.
Lisa: It’s not just the UK either. Our management are talking to other countries because there’s a lot of support everywhere.
Claire: Even last time it wasn’t like this. It feels like we’re a proper band. Last time it was really all about the nostalgia, getting the TV show done and that tour.
H: We’ve got through all of our concerns and talked about the split and everything but that’s all in a completely different chapter. We’re all in such a good place now.
Lee: We’re being really supportive of each other. I think in the past it was 24/7 and it was just too much. Now it’s like, let’s get it done in two weeks and then let’s have two weeks off.
Lisa: This time around the new music has given it a new lease of life. You’ve still got that nostalgia but also the excitement that we’ve got new music.
Now you all have families is it difficult to plan stuff?
Faye: We’re trying to be really organised about it so everyone is happy and everything is in place, so we can keep ourselves sane during this period.
What do your kids all think about you being pop stars again?
Lisa: They love it! They’re so supportive.
Faye: All our families are. The enthusiasm… My mum and dad will see us and be like ‘oh didn’t you do well?’.
Lisa: My daughter knows every song, every dance routine. She goes on YouTube to watch us. It’s so touching. It’s also nice that I don’t have to worry about what crap she might be watching!
Lastly, what can we expect from the tour?
Faye: We haven’t even worked out what we’re doing!
Lisa: There’ll be some interesting nods to the past. Lots of fresh ideas and some surprises in there too. It’s going to be a mixture of the old and new.
H: I really want Faye to wear a dreadlock wig.
Faye: The dreadlocks are in discussion.
‘Scared Of the Dark’ is available to download and stream now. The album, ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ is released on 21 April. Tickets for the ‘Party On The Dancefloor Tour’ are available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk.