In the fall of 1992, I received a call from the Epic Records press department in New York City. They asked me if I’d like to write a bio for superstar singer Sade. Like most of the young men I’d known in the ‘80s – from soul boys to b-boys – I’d fallen in love with Sade upon the release of her multiplatinum first album Diamond Life in 1984.
“Of course,” I replied, her pretty face and haunting voice drifting through my mind. Along with her constant mates Stuart Matthewman (guitars and sax), Andrew Hale (keyboards) and Paul S. Denman (bass), this would be the group’s first album since 1988’s Stronger Than Pride. Indeed, the world was waiting. The following week, Perry escorted me to Sade’s midtown hotel suite overlooking 6th Avenue. As beautifully sweet as she was wickedly talented, Sade was the anti-diva Diva.
I’m a little nervous.
[laughs] You’re nervous? I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I guess we should start off talking about the new album, Love Deluxe.
Have you heard it?
Yes, I have. Can you talk a little about you and the band working on this album after not being in the studio for a few years?
Well, first of all it’s good that we stopped and didn’t try to make another one off the back of the previous album. You get some perspective on why you’re making a record. But we pretty much approached the album in the way that we always do.
I collect ideas. I collect ideas in my head all the time. The things that most depress you are often the things that you write about.
Do you keep a notebook or diary?
Yeah, I have a little notebook, but I’m always losing it as well; mislaying it. Something will come over me and I’ll suddenly realize I hadn’t seen it lately.
How long have you had it?
About six years. I travel with it and sometimes I look around and can’t find it. I try to write so that it is indecipherable. It can be embarrassing when people go through your private thoughts. Some of the things I write down, they’ll never be on a record. Sometimes the songs don’t come from my lyrics. Maybe Stuart [Matthewman] or Andrew [Hale] will come from a bassline and then we build on that. It depends on each song, really, how it comes to be.
How long does that formulation of ideas take?
We were working on Love Deluxe for about four months, physically making it. Some of the songs on here are things I wanted to write about a long time ago. One in particular was “Like a Tattoo.” That song is about a man who has been in Vietnam, but it’s not really about Vietnam. It’s about war and killing somebody. I met a guy in a bar in New York years ago. It was an Irish bar on 14th Street. The song was my interpretation of what he told me. I tried to write it before, but it didn’t quite work out. I’ve been writing songs since I was a child.
We don’t always agree, but I always get my way.
Are you a perfectionist when it comes to your music?
Yeah…yeah. When you make a record it’s so concrete, you know? You can’t run around and change it once it’s on vinyl. I know I don’t get angry with anyone except myself, really. I hate that I’m so hard on myself, really. I wish I could take it out on other people. It would be easier to blame somebody else, but I’m not that kind of person. So, however long it takes; sometimes the songs come really quickly, they just fall into place. Others you have to manipulate to get what you want out of them so they can say what you want them to say.
You mentioned Stuart Matthewman and Andrew Hale before, but what is your relationship like with bassist Paul Denman?
He’s a really important member of the band. We like the same kinds of music, blues and soul. But, he’s also pretty punky and rocky at the same time.
Did you ever go through a punk phase?
No, no. I mean, I was there on the edge, but I wasn’t that into it. I love what punk did for the music industry, particularly since it gave everybody different ideas of what the music business could be. It liberated the industry and gave people a lot of opportunities. Everything changed around. As for me, I was always Mrs. Soul Woman.
Who were you listening to?
The greats – Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone. I also liked the heavier stuff as well, like Gil Scott-Heron. [pause] But, we were talking about Paul. I always do that, start talking about something else. He doesn’t put in so much when we’re composing; it’s more Andrew and Stuart. We don’t always agree, but I always get my way. It’s great being the only female in there, so… [laughs]
If I were somebody else, I’m not sure I would like Sade.
I would think after all these years, you guys must have a pretty tight relationship.
Yeah. We know what to expect from each other and how to deal with each other as well. It’s good. Sometimes we can work together without any talking, and that’s the best. Sometimes the best songs come out when you discuss them less and just let them happen. It’s almost unreal; almost magical.
What’s your favorite song on Love Deluxe?
If I had to pick one it would be “Cherish the Day,” but I don’t know why. I just like it. I think it’s really quite deep, but at the same time it’s a love song. It’s funny, most of the songs I can’t tell you if I really like them or not; it’s really hard to be objective about it. But, “Cherish the Day,” I know if I heard it on the radio I would say, “God, this is good. Who is this?” The rest of them, I don’t know. Although I’m proud of them, it was the most that we could do at that time; at that moment in time, we did our best. If I were somebody else, I’m not sure I would like Sade.
But, your songs have meant so much to so many. I’m sure people tell you that. Many love affairs have begun to a Sade album.
Yeah. It’s quite a responsibility. I’m sure a lot of people hate me because of that, they’re like, “Yeah, that bitch, Sade, I hate her.” [laughs]
I think people do think of me as this depressed person crying in my ivory tower.
What do you think the biggest misconception about you would be? Do they think you’re some kind of sad poet walking around dressed in all black?
Yeah, I think so, but that’s only because they see one level. We’re a lot of things, but when you’re singing, when you’re presenting yourself, you don’t give everything away. You don’t partially choose, “I’m going to show this, but I’m not going to show that.” But it happens that way. So, the picture someone has of you is never completely true. I think people do think of me as this depressed person crying in my ivory tower.
What I like personally when I listen to other people’s music is when the music makes you feel something. Sad, happy, makes you want to dance, makes you feel elated. Sadness in songs is positive because it brings it out of you; it brings the sadness out. It’s not that the song makes you feel sad, the sadness is already there. The song just makes you recognize it.
Do you consider yourself a romantic?
I don’t think I’ve ever really known what romance is. I’m a mixture of being really idealistic and hopeful, and really pessimistic about our future. I’ve always been like that. Because of my age, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we are going to do, how we are going to get out of this mess. I guess on a big scale, I’m a bit of a pessimist when I look at the world economically, where we are at this stage and how unbalanced everything is. But, individually, as far as people are concerned, I’m an optimist, because I believe there’s a lot of good in people. When it comes to trusting people, I have quite good instincts. I’m a bit witchy; witchy woman. [laughs] I think now, I’m less open than I used to be sometimes, because I have to protect myself.
When did you first became interested in music and thought it was something that you could do professionally?
I wasn’t someone who had a lot of music around me when I was a child, really. I was quite deprived of music, because my mom wasn’t particularly into music. My father is totally into music and surrounds himself with music, but I didn’t grow up with him. When I got to be about 13, I started listening to pirate stations and that really did change my life, because I wasn’t that interested in the pop stations. There are more licensed stations now, but when I was growing up, there weren’t many options. When I was ten, I quite remember liking “Maggie May,” but that was it. I loved that song; I can’t remember liking anything else I heard on standard pop radio. I wasn’t really a Rod Stewart fan, but that one song…
Then, when I was 13 I discovered a pirate radio station that played all sorts of stuff: folk, rock, soul, everything. They played really good music, basically. So, that got me interested and I started collecting albums. At that time, not many girls bought records; they were just listening to the same records as their boyfriends. There was a station called Radio Caroline. The first time I listened to it I heard “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and I was like, “Wow!” In fact, that’s when I also heard “Why Can’t We Live Together” for the first time.
I was pretty much one of the lads, but I was an old soul even when I was a child.
Did you start listening to jazz at that time?
I got into that later. Or, slightly later, when I was 14 or 15 I started listening to Billie Holiday and Miles Davis; Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain. I didn’t like his more rocky stage; I wasn’t so keen on that.
Why? Because you’re a purist?
No, I wouldn’t say that, but I’m not a real jazz buff. There are just certain things that I really love and I can understand. What I could immediately grasp, I took in. I tended not to venture into the stuff that I didn’t understand.
Would you consider your own music jazz?
No, not really, but we are influenced by it. You just try to make a record that you like, that you would buy yourself. We don’t consciously say I want this song to sound like that one, but it creeps in there.
What were you like growing up?
I was pretty much one of the lads, but I was an old soul even when I was a child. I grew up on a council estate in a village. It was the epitome of the English village; our family was accepted really well. I had an older brother who was always very protective of me. My mum was a single parent, which was pretty unusual back then. Even more unusual was that she had two black kids and the village was pure white as the driven snow. But we were accepted and there were no problems, no questions or conflicts because we were different. We were no threat to anybody, but it might’ve been different if we had grown up in the city.
Were you aware then that your family was different?
I don’t think I was, you know. When we moved back from Nigeria, we didn’t have anywhere to go, so first we lived with my grandparents, and then my mom got this job as a nurse. From the first day we moved into the house, I was making friends; no one ever brought up my color. I think that children aren’t naturally racist at all. It’s more about society and culture and their parents. And the history as well. There was one kid who jumped out of the bushes once and insulted me, but I told my big brother, and the next day my brother jumped out at him.
I used to read a lot back then as well, at least up until the age of 15. Whatever book I was reading, that would become my entire life. I was so engrossed in the process of reading. Now I collect books, but I never have time to read them.
Talk a little about performing with the group.
We travel quite a bit. It’s gotten to the point now that I actually like performing. It’s heavy, just the whole experience. You have to deliver, even if you’re not ready for it.
What do you do to prep yourself?
Basically, I’m always late, so I never have time to consider the realities. Late for sound check, late to get ready... That’s my defense.
Do you remember the first time you played live?
That was with the group I started off in; I was the backing vocalist and one night we played at this little club, which was basically a pub with a DJ. People would get together there one night a week; it was outside of London and the stage was made from beer crates. Chipboard we called it. I had these stiletto heels on and when I walked up to the microphone, my shoe got stuck in one of the planks. I kept moving my foot, but it wouldn’t budge. For the first three numbers, my foot was stuck and I couldn’t move. It was good, though, because it was a distraction.
What was the name of the group?
I don’t remember really, but it was two guys from my village that I ran into when I went to see Misty in the Roots, a lovers rock band that was big in England. These guys had a band, but their singer had left. They asked if I wanted to be the singer, but I told them, “I’m not a singer. I’m just a girl who likes to party.” I told them I would try. Eventually somebody was supposed to replace me, but that never happened. I learned more during that time than at any other time in my life. They were sweet blokes, because if it wasn’t for their blind faith in me, I wouldn’t be singing.