Sugababes have announced their return to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their classic debut album ‘One Touch’, while also working on new music. Check out a new remix of ‘Run For Cover’ by MNEK below, along with our exclusive interview with Siobhán Donaghy and Keisha Buchanan.
Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy, the trio who comprised the original line-up of Sugababes, reclaimed the group’s name in 2019 – after previously recording as Mutya Keisha Siobhan, often shortened to MKS.
After teasing fans of new activity last week, Sugababes have announced that they will be dropping an expanded reissue of ‘One Touch’ this October – featuring demos, rarities and re-workings from the likes of Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) and Metronomy. Today, they’ve also shared a dance remix by MNEK of their 2001 single ‘Run For Cover’, which he also sings on, which you can hear below.
“He’s incredible,” Donaghy tells NME of MNEK. “We’ve been working with him in the studio [on new music] prior to COVID and obviously on this remix – and it’s a relationship that goes back to the [unreleased] MKS record, so he’s definitely someone we’re going to continue collaborating with.”
‘One Touch’ – the only album by the original line-up – was released when the trio were aged 15-16 years old, and received universal acclaim due to its forward-facing blend of pop, R&B and garage, as well as its authentically coming-of-age lyrics.
After many reshuffles (Siobhan left in 2001 amid mental health struggles; Mutya followed in 2005 and Keisha was pushed out in 2009) and a succession of chart hits, the original Sugababes reformed as Mutya Keisha Siobhan in 2013 with the Dev Hynes-produced single ‘Flatline’. Apart from a cover of Sweet Female Attitude’s ‘Flowers’ with DJ Spoony for his ‘Garage Classical’ last year, and a handful of leaked MKS demos, it’s been radio silence – until now.
NME caught up with Keisha and Siobhan to talk about their memories of ‘One Touch’ and forthcoming new music.
How do you feel listening back to ‘One Touch’ now?
Keisha: “It’s nostalgic and I get mixed emotions, because it brings me back to my early teens. It’s special. What I love is that ‘One Touch’ is getting the justice it deserves because even though I love our other albums, I always thought it was a shame it didn’t get the push it truly deserved. Listening back, it still sounds fresh. It was nice listening to some of the demos I hadn’t heard since I was 13 or 14. I was like, ‘Who the hell is this?’ I had no memory of singing them!”
Did it feel special at the time?
Siobhan: “Yes, and we credit [producer] Cameron McVey who got us into writing our own lyrics. He sent us home with a backing track and told us to write anything over the top. Since then, we always wanted to go into every writing session and put our thoughts down on paper. It was stream-of-consciousness – talking about our day-to-day lives, boys and our feelings, and Cam would piece together the best of what we had.”
Keisha: “Our sound came from our harmonies, which was instant and natural.”
Did recording while you were still at school feel like having a dual life?
Keisha: “I didn’t even tell anyone. In the early days, we’d leave school around lunchtime and would be in the studio until 5am and then it would be home, change your uniform and back to school. It was like living a double life. I ask my mum now: ‘What were you thinking?’, but she saw how much we loved it and it was our dream.”
Siobhan: “I told people at my school, but they didn’t understand what I was doing. It had to be top-secret at your school because you guys got into trouble for missing it. But mine were totally cool about it, because my mum used to work in the school office.”
How did you find doing things like NME tours at such a young age?
Siobhan: “That was our first tour! It was bizarre because we were teenagers and our fans were all our age now. We thought: ‘What are they here for?’ Do you remember we played one early gig and Mick Jagger came backstage to say hi? Our parents were thrilled.”
Keisha: “I don’t remember that, but it all felt so random. One of my earliest memories was Pink being at a gig and praising our first single ‘Overload’.”
How do you feel about the current crop of popstars and those on this reissue who grew up listening to you?
Keisha: “I met Jorja Smith the other day and she said how inspired she’d been by ‘One Touch’ and how she looks up to us.”
Siobhan: “But even Dev Hynes grew up on that record as well, so it was nice to work with him [on the 2013 Mutya Keisha Siobhan song ‘Flatline’] because he instantly got us and understood the sound and how to progress it. We’re fortunate to be in the position now that whoever we ask to work with, they tend to say yes.”
This year saw Jesy Nelson leave Little Mix to focus on her mental health. Siobhan, are you pleased that popstars can now talk openly about the subject without the ridicule you faced?
Siobhan: “It wouldn’t have been an option back then to say that, and I’m just so happy that mental health is so widely discussed now. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t suffered from some kind of mental health issue once in their lifetime and everyone needs support in the workplace. There’s this idea you’re living a hugely glamorous life the minute you have one song out, and you must be rolling in it, so you should suck up any nasty comments because you chose that life. That attitude is changing – and is seriously long overdue.”
Keisha, last year you opened up about how racism contributed to a public perception of you as a “bully”, and left you needing therapy….
Keisha: “I wanted to shine a light on fairness. It wasn’t about painting myself as a victim – who isn’t a cow when they’re younger? But a black kid making a mistake is not treated with the same punishment. What did a lot of damage to me mentally and the things I still have to deal with to this day is that perception led into the way I dealt with business and people as I got older, and I became a complete walkover. I never talked about my experiences of being surrounded in toilets by girls who just wanted to fight me. Or how – in other Sugababes’ line-ups, not this one – writing-splits were an issue and when I said: ‘But I wrote more on this song’, I’d be accused of being a bully. That was hard for me.
“I’m appearing in Leigh-Anne Pinnock’s documentary where she takes a deeper look into her experience as someone of colour in Little Mix. It’s uncomfortable to talk about because there’s clearly a difference in the way the media portrays black women and I would just like there to be fairness.”
Siobhan: “Even as a teenager, it was obvious to me that the three of us were treated differently, especially in other countries. Some people would only direct questions to me. It was awkward and obvious to me then what was at the heart of what was going on, but I didn’t know how to address it then.”
Keisha: “To be honest with you Siobhan, I didn’t even notice.”
Siobhan: “I always did.”
Keisha: “I genuinely didn’t, and then I went into every situation on the defensive thinking: ‘They’re not going to like me anyway’. That was my defence-mechanism: show an attitude first to protect myself. In the past 15 years, I’ve done a lot of work to make sense of this all, but it’s had a very damaging effect and – not to get emotional – I feel really good that we can even have this conversation.”
When can we expect to hear new Sugababes’ music then?
Siobhan: “COVID threw a spanner in the works. We were recording before the series of lockdowns in the past year, but we’ve got so much material that we need to work through. We probably need to do a little more recording. As soon as we can get back together in the studio, we’re going to work on something fresh. But there’s a lot of material that I feel we should collate together because it’s some of our best work ever and it would be a shame for it not to be released properly.”
Keisha: “We recorded something quite interesting before lockdown that, for me, I haven’t felt that excited about a song since ‘Flatline’.”
Will we hear something this year?
Siobhan: “It’s hard to put a timeframe on it, but it’s something that can come together super-quickly with the right producer. Hopefully this anniversary will naturally bring everything together and it’ll get easier from there.”
Check back at NME soon for more of our interview with Sugababes.
‘One Touch’ is released October 1 and be available on limited edition tri-colour vinyl, coloured vinyl, 2xCD and digital.