Evergreen music veteran Marcella Detroit speaks with Danny Waterson about Shakespears Sister, solo success, new music – and 50 huge years in the music industry.
It’s not often an artist has the opportunity to celebrate 50 years in the music industry. But this month, singer-songwriter Marcella Detroit is celebrating her history as a songwriter, musician, one half of pop duo Shakespears Sister and solo singer across five decades.
Many would be familiar with Detroit’s distinctive voice as one half of Shakespears Sister, with Siobhan Fahey. The pair notched up half a dozen or so hits in the late ’80s and early ’90s, including the catchy alt-pop single ‘You’re History’ (UK #7, Australia #20), the epic ballad ‘Stay’ (UK #1, Australia #3, US #4) and the darkly entertaining ‘I Don’t Care’ (UK #7, Australia #18).
In 2019, the group got back together – 26 years after Detroit departed for solo success – returning with the stunning new single ‘All the Queen’s Horses’ from the critically acclaimed EP Ride Again.
When I suggest that Detroit is far too youthful to be celebrating half a century in showbiz, her reply suggests that music is nothing less than integral to her life.
“I’ve been very fortunate and I do believe music has kept my spirit young. There’s nothing like inspiration running through your soul to make you feel vital and alive,” she tells the Sentinel from her home in Los Angeles.
“Although I usually say that the stress of the music business keeps the blood flowing to my face, giving me a more youthful appearance,” she adds with a laugh.
‘A musical hall-of-fame’
Of course, both before and after Shakespears Sister’s commercial heyday, Detroit has had an extensive career as a musician, session singer, singer-songwriter and solo artist.
In fact, her CV reads like a musical hall-of-fame, Detroit having worked alongside some of most prolific and popular names in the business.
One of her earliest gigs found her opening for David Bowie. Moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1973, Detroit soon had the opportunity to work and collaborate with her idols in their studios and onstage, joining Bob Seger’s band.
“I joined his band when I was 19 and was in it for just over a year,” she recalls.
Legendary American composer and pianist Leon Russell was one of her favourites. She says: “One night I found myself in an elevator with him after one of his shows at Detroit’s Eastown Theatre in 1970. We smiled at each other, that was it.”
Listen carefully to Eric Clapton’s huge hit song ‘Lay Down Sally’ and you will hear Detroit’s background vocals. She co-wrote the song with Clapton, and appeared in his band at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium as part of the massive Live Aid concert in 1985.
The birth of Shakespears Sister
It was in London in 1988, while working on the Shakespears Sister debut album as a songwriter with Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama), that she became a member of Shakespeare Sister – which, to that point, had been a solo act. The songs were turning out so well and the chemistry was such that Siobhan Fahey’s then husband Dave A. Stewart (Eurythmics) suggested they pair up and form a duo.
Shakespears Sister was born.
Across the next several years, Shakespears Sister had two massive albums, Sacred Heart and Hormonally Yours. The band was enormously popular in Australia, thanks to their unique and quirky pop songs accompanied by striking music videos, although they would never have the opportunity to tour here.
Detroit’s involvement with Shakespears Sister came to an abrupt end in early 1993, and she would soon go on to work across other music projects and create her next solo album. The song cycle Jewel, released in 1994, spawned the radio-friendly single ‘I Believe’, which reached the Australian Top 10 and was certified Gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
An eclectic collection of edgy pop, synth sounds, big band numbers and ballads, Jewel showcased Detroit’s extraordinary vocals and songwriting. The album featured three Top 40 UK hit singles including ‘Ain’t Nothing like the Real Thing’ featuring Elton John.
Detroit Down Under
Recalling those frenetic days, she says: “Oh, coming to Australia from London was some of the worst jet lag I’ve ever had! When I came there in 1994 to promote my Jewel album for a few weeks, I never quite got over my jet lag. I always felt exhausted and hardly remember doing any of the shows!”
The perils of jet lag aside, Detroit has been a regular to visitor to Australia over the years. She says: “I remember coming there to Sydney in 1985 working with Clapton; fellow singer Shaun Murphy and I did some serious shopping in Sydney for a few days and got lots of unusual clothes.
“I love Oz and have lots of great friends; I always enjoy visiting. I was last in Melbourne in 2017, and ended up working with a friend of mine named Neil Sheriff who has his own clothing line called Hoodedwept. He asked me if I wanted to create a capsule collection within his line and I asked eagerly, ‘What do you need?’’
In the years following Jewel, Detroit released the albums Feeler (1996), Dancing Madly Sideways (2001) and The Vehicle (2013); formed a blues band, The Marcy Levy Band; and released Christmas album For the Holidays in 2013.
She independently released one of the finest albums of her career in 2015: Gray Matterz, an upbeat pop album full of optimistic, catchy tunes. Perhaps ahead of its time, the album’s uplifting songs such as ‘Turn up the Volume on the Positive’ and ‘England Calling’ sound just as poignant and relevant in 2021.
Then in 2019, Shakespeare Sister reformed and reunited for the Singles Party greatest hits album, the Ride Again E.P featuring brand new songs and a successful UK concert tour.
“It’s amazing how the songs held up over all these years and it was also very fulfilling to be able to create some new music with Siobhan for the Ride Again EP,” Detroit says.
“It was a great experience being back onstage with Shakespears Sister. I appreciate that we were able to have some resolution and clear up misconceptions each of us had about each other and the situation that led to our split.
“Ultimately, Shakespears Sister split over a lack of communication and too many people in between us confusing things,” Detroit says of the break-up and subsequent reunion.
Shortly after Shakespears Sister reformed as a duo, Covid-19 appeared – and Detroit has used the period to get creative again.
“Due to having to be in quarantine for nearly 14 months, like the rest of the world, and being stuck at home, with only my husband, I decided the only way to cope was to be creative. Since the beginning of lockdown which was I believe, March 14th, 2020, I have been writing and have so far written about 70 songs.”
Detroit adds: “It’s funny, Siobhan (Fahey) was the last person my husband and I saw in LA, the night before lockdown.”
Now, celebrating 50 years of a stellar career, Detroit has exciting news plans. Today – Monday, 21 June, 2021 (which also happens to be Detroit’s birthday) – she releases her new single ‘Vicious Bitch’, “a song about “Mother Nature, how she can be so wonderful and then do the unexpected”.
The single is from her forthcoming album Gold. Asked about the Gold collection, Detroit says enthusiastically: “There’s a song on the album by that name, plus it’s my 50-year celebration of my career in music this year. I’m having the single mixed by several people right now and I’m excited to hear what the outcome is.”
She adds: “We’ve just launched a satellite website which is concentrating more on songs, song purchase and merchandise, and the site has a previously unreleased blues/rock album that I did a few years ago.”
Regular followers of Detroit on social media will be aware she enjoys doing spontaneous and entertaining live Q&As and performances, with more planned.
“We’ve decided to do a bi-monthly live stream on my Facebook page.”
A trip Down Under is also in the pipeline, circumstances permitting.
“I hope to come back to Australia sometime soon when it’s safe,” Detroit says excitedly.
”The people are very friendly and there’s so much to see and do. Depending on the situation with the pandemic, hopefully there will be some opportunities to do either solo shows or some shows with Shakespears Sister.”
Watch this space.
Marcella Detroit’s new single ‘Vicious Bitch’ is out now, with first mixes available at www.marcelladetroit.rocks/music. The release date for the forthcoming album Gold is to be announced. For more info, visit Marcella Detroit’s official website, located at https://marcelladetroit.com, and the satellite website – focusing on songs, music purchases and merchandise – at www.marcelladetroit.rocks.
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