HAPPY AFTER ALL
AHEAD OF THEIR FIRST AUSTRALIAN TOUR, ALL SAINTS’ SHAZNAY LEWIS TELLS WHO WHY THE GIRL GROUP HAS GOT IT RIGHT THIS TIME
First time around, after a heady four-year reign from 1997 to 2001 in which they racked up five UK No. 1 singles and enjoyed major success in Australia, All Saints notoriously imploded following a fight over who would wear a certain jacket at a photo shoot. In 2006, their second coming fell apart as quickly as it began. But third time has been the charm for the girl group, who reunited in 2013 and have released two acclaimed albums since, 2016’s Red Flag and Testament earlier this year. Now, they’re headed to Australia to perform live for the first time (from Tues., Jan. 29 alongside Craig David, as well as on the RNB Vine Days tour).
For Shaznay Lewis, 43, the four-piece’s chief songwriter responsible for hits like “Never Ever” and “Pure Shores”, there is one noticeable difference this time. “There’s nobody to get in between anything anymore, so it’s just the four of us left to get on with things ourselves and communicate to each other properly,” she says. “And growth – you cannot underestimate growth. When you’re 20-something, you probably think you’re fully grown and know everything, but now I look back and think, ‘We were babies.’ We knew nothing.”
Jacket disputes aside, one major contributing factor in All Saints’ acrimonious 2001 bust-up was exhaustion – like so many other massive pop acts, the girl group was worked incredibly hard by their record company.
“Being tired and being pulled in different directions,” Lewis confirms. “I was always wanting to hold on to things that were real, because in those situations there were a lot of things around you that weren’t real. I struggled with that a lot. We all did in different ways, and when you have such a huge, life-changing experience and aren’t able to hold on to reality … We all say now that if only we were given the opportunity to take a break, recoup, get it together again, take a deep breath and carry on, but that opportunity never came.”
Taking control of the band has not only made the experience more enjoyable for Lewis and her bandmates Melanie Blatt and sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton, it’s also resulted in some of their best-received music. Unlike many groups from the 1980s and ’90s, All Saints release music that stands alongside their biggest hits – and that fans want to hear performed live.
“Us making the decision to put these last two albums out ourselves was one of the wisest decisions we’ve probably made, creatively,” Lewis says. “It’s allowed us to take our time and not be caught up with completing records for the wrong reasons. We’ve been left alone to work and trust out own instincts and I think that shows.”
Obviously, much of the band’s live show will consist of the songs that made them a success in the first place. “It’s a trip down memory lane,” Lewis says. “These songs have been around a long time but what’s great about performing them is that we didn’t get to tour them first time around. They’ve marinated like a fine wine over the years. We probably enjoy singing them more now than we would have at the time.”
Also more enjoyable for Lewis now is the process of recording, and while she thinks All Saints “don’t sound too different, in terms of what we bring to the table vocally,” she feels there’s a real progression in their music. For one thing, her songwriting has matured.
“When you’re that young, you literally say anything,” she reflects. “I’m more mindful now of putting it out there. There are a few songs – more some of our B-sides – where I go, ‘I can’t believe I said that.’ But that’s what you do when you’re that young. Everything during that stage of your life is magnified – first love, the first time you try anything, your social scene – and being an artist, you will air it all.”
For that reason, Lewis thinks it’s a good thing social media was not around during the initial stage of their career. “It would’ve been awful,” she says with a hearty laugh. “We are so lucky we escaped that. We would’ve been 20 and posting everything.” Perhaps All Saints would only have lasted one album if they’d had Twitter to air their grievances? “Just about,” Lewis agrees.