Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Oh, this? It's NME's legendary, long-running feature Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells, in which we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Sophie Ellis-Bextor!

1: What connects your 2007 album ‘Trip The Light Fantastic’ to ‘Definitely Maybe’ by Oasis?

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: “Oh blimey! [Laughs] Is that a question of brain cells or just general knowledge? It’s not going to be something boring like the same number of tracks, so I don’t know. Other than I listened to ‘Definitely Maybe’ a lot when I was young so I guess there’s some influence lurking in there somewhere…”

WRONG.

Both contain a song called ‘Supersonic’.

“Ah! Well…’Supersonic’ was the bonus track for the UK. It wasn’t on the international album of course – and I’m an international thinker! (Laughs). I did that song with Fred Schneider of The B-52’s who’s as brilliant and bonkers as you’d want him to be. I’m a big fan of his band anyway, and we ended up having a fun week together in New York. He’s a proper old-school club kid. I don’t think you can write songs like that with anyone else really.”

You’ve worked with Alex James. Were you Team Blur or Oasis?
“I never picked sides – I was just a Britpop fan who liked it all.”

2: What do you use to dispose of the competition in the ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ video?

“A few methods. I’ve got a poison ring which I use to poison the drink of one of the dancers. I hide a pair of pants inside the jacket of one of the dancers so that his partner thinks he’s having an affair. I put butter on the floor so a girl breaks her foot and I also chloroform one of the judges. It’s pretty hardcore!”

CORRECT.

Meghan Markle once said it was her favourite song. Has anyone else professed a love for it that’s surprised you?

“I like it when people go public with these things! (Laughs) One of my favourite unexpected times was when I was at a Queen exhibition launch in Camden. Dave Grohl was there with loads of blokes fangirling and following him – my husband [The Feeling bassist Richard Jones] was one of them! Dave came over, put his arm around me and said: ‘You have no idea how much we play your music in our house’. Which I think is the moment my husband was the proudest he’s ever been of me. (Laughs) ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ is his favourite track – that’s the one he plays in his kitchen, apparently. Theres an image for you.”

3: Theaudience won The Alternative Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 with ‘A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed’. Can you name two of the bands you beat?

“Oh golly no! I would have been hard-pushed on the day! I remember doing it at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I’m still not sure that accolade carries much weight, but at least we won.”

WRONG. You could have had: Anouk (Netherlands), Evil Superstars (Belgium), Spring (France), Sofa Surfers (Austria) or Libido (Norway).

“At the time, I was confused by its existence. Nowadays, it would be even more redundant because even though people have a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards Eurovision, the quality of writing has improved. It’s not as ridiculous as it used to be. Maybe there’s no need for an alternative one – because we’re all quite satisfied with the real one. I love Eurovision, personally.

You’ve been asked to represent the UK in the contest before. Will you ever step up?

“No, I would never do it. I love watching it but in the current political climate, there’s zero point because there are zero points!”

What’s your favourite Britpop memory from around that time?

“When I was 15, I snuck out of my house to watch the NME Brat Bus Tour – and got caught. Then when I was 18, I did the Brat Bus Tour with The Stereophonics, Asian Dub Foundation and the Warm Jets – that felt like my gap year. We were the first on, so we’d be onstage while they were still stapling T-shirts to the merch board. Theaudience had only done six gigs when we got signed – it was a good way to learn.”

4: Complete the following lyrics: ‘Cappuccinos amongst the fumes/I breath in, then down the gym…’?

“Is that an audience thing? Wait, I know exactly what that is – it’s ‘Black Holes For The Young’ which I did with the Manics, but I can’t remember the words.”

WRONG. It’s indeed from ‘Black Holes For The Young’, the B-side to the Manic Street Preachers 1998 single ‘The Everlasting’. But the rest of the lyrics are: ‘Yes, I’m on a witch-hunt now/And paracetamol my only drug’.

“That was fun to do. Quite a lot of Manic Street Preachers fans were annoyed I was on it but I was happy. They have very loyal, protective fans so they don’t really want to hear other people getting involved with their family. I understand and respect that. I’ve never performed it live, but it was my first ever guest vocal and it was a lovely compliment to be involved with a band like that.”

5: Which single that topped the charts in over 40 countries did its writer Cathy Dennis claim was originally meant for you?

“’Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’”

CORRECT.

“Although – hand on heart – the first time I ever heard that song was on the radio. I never actually turned it down, which has become an apocryphal story. In fact, I didn’t even know it was written with me in mind until years later when I was writing with Cathy and it came up in conversation. I’m a big believer in serendipity and Kylie completely owned that song. The power and sexiness of it was down to her – it wouldn’t have been the same hit without her.”

6: Which 2001 blockbuster film were you approached for a lead role in?

“Baz Luhrmann was looking around for Moulin Rouge! for people to play Satine, which ended up going to Nicole Kidman.”

CORRECT

“I met him and we sang round the piano had a good chat. He’s an interesting character and lovely man. He was casting his net far and wide to see where inspiration might hit. He met with lots of singers around then. I don’t know how far he’d got in casting the movie at that point.”

7: What number did ‘Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer)’ reach in the Russian charts?

‘Hmmmn, ‘Heartbreak…’ and a couple of songs that came after that all went top three, so it was definitely near the top. It might have been number one. I’ll say three.”

WRONG. It was two.

“There’s lots of mystery surrounding Russia. When I say I play there, sometimes I get divisive reactions and people are surprised. But my first-hand experience is positive. My fans there are as lovely, engaging and diverse as those in the UK. In the terms of the political landscape, I’ve seen some things change but reassuringly there is still a gay scene that exists in Moscow and St Petersburg. But it’s definitely a cause close to my heart that I’m aware needs help and support. They’re a long way behind where we are here – there’s a lot of people that need to be enlightened for sure. But it wasn’t that long ago that things weren’t very good here either….”

Where’s the most far-flung place you’ve heard your music played?

“It’s mind-blowing when I land in a country I’ve never been before – like Buenos Aires – and get recognised by passport control.”

8: ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’ was nominated for the public-voted 2000 Record Of The Year. Who did you lose to?

“God, what won? I remember that night. I performed live on telly. I even remember what I was wearing – because I was still unsigned and the head of Universal came down to watch me. After that, I signed to Polydor which gave me my solo career.”

WRONG. It was Westlife’s ‘My Love’.

“(Wicked cackle) I was thinking it was another dance track! That would make sense. It’s a brilliant song.

 9: What song did you once duet with Dame Edna while Boris Johnson bopped in the background?

“I was going to say ‘Stand By Your Man’ but I’m sure I did that with Rob Brydon instead. Was it an ‘80s-type record like ‘Fame’?
CORRECT.

“I love Dame Edna. I enjoy doing covers but I try to pick songs that are a little off-the-beaten-track – or at least something I’m not going to totally ruin my relationship with it if it’s not very good.”

10: Which of your personal items was displayed at the Business Design Centre in London this year?

“I think – bizarrely! – it was my stamp collection.”

CORRECT. At Stampex Philatelic Exhibition, the UK’s largest stamp show.

“Yeah…I’m not sure how that happened! (Laughs). I had an extensive childhood stamp collection. By the way, I don’t collect stamps now – I stopped when I was 12. Stanley Gibbons – a big company in the world of philately – heard about it and offered to evaluate it. They took it and told me it wasn’t worth anything and asked me to pick it up. Because I didn’t get back to them very promptly about collecting my worthless stamp collection, it somehow ended up being put on display. Which is weird because there’s nothing of value! I don’t know where it is now. Maybe it’s touring the world.”

You collect dolls now. Has a fan ever made you a Sophie Ellis-Bextor doll?

“No, the closest I’ve come to that is there’s a doll from the ‘70s called Blyth. People say it looks like me, which is both a compliment and not. Although she’s got nice, doll-like features, her head is the size of an orange and her body is normal Barbie size – she’s an odd-looking broad! I made a dance track [‘Back 2 Paradise’, Guéna LG & Amir Arfagan featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor] where I was portrayed in the video by this little doll. She had tiny versions of my outfits made – which I got to keep.”

The verdict: 5/10

“That score doesn’t seem that amazing considering I was there for most of it…”

Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s orchestral greatest hits album, ‘The Song Diaries’ is released early next year. Her UK tour kicks off on 2 June. Dates can be found at sophieellisbextor.net