England’s Stock-Aitken-Waterman production powerhouse made stars out of Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, and Jason Donovan during the late ‘80s. But one of the first vocalists to work under their aegis—albeit with a distinctive delivery and impressive showbiz background all her own—was Leeds native Sid Haywoode. She went on to score a host of pop and club hits in the U.K. and across the Atlantic with “Roses,” “Getting Closer,” and “A Time Like This.” Shortly after her debut album, Arrival, she took a long departure from the recording industry to relocate to New York and focus on personal growth.
Two decades down the line, she’s jumped on board once again with Bounce Back, an independent CD which finds her writing and producing with talent from around the world. She talks with Justin Kantor about her entertainment background and the changes she’s seen since returning to the party.
Tell me about your training at the Corona Stage Academy in London. What did you study?
Corona is a performing arts school. I started as a dancer. I wanted to be a ballet dancer (not a belly dancer!). We studied all different forms of dance, acting, and singing. In the morning, we’d do school work. In the afternoon, we would study our craft and go out to auditions. I would do commercials and movies. All sorts of pay jobs came from my education.
Kind of like Fame, but with a dose of more reality?
Not quite as glamorous!
You had a hard, often topsy-turvy, road to success in the music business—including struggles with your family and gigs that seemed to compromise your integrity as an artist. What were the biggest challenges, and what were the keys to your coming through all of that?
I come from a musical family. My stepfather is American. He was in a group called The Fantastics, and before that, The Velours. He was on Top of the Pops and had a hit record in the ‘70s. I grew up learning about the business. The things that I was taught were to not get too big-headed or believe the hype of the business. It’s kind of like any other business. Everybody has difficulties and obstacles. So, I’ve learn[ed] from all the different experiences. This business has more superficial aspects, since you’re out in front of people. I’m a quite positive person. I try to take the positive out of every situation, learn from it, and use it as an opportunity to grow as a person and artist.
In what particular ways is the entertainment industry like other businesses?
I’m a Buddhist. I’m quite spiritual. I feel that gardeners have a mission. Doctors, nurses, and teachers have a great mission. Everybody has a mission. In show business, the danger is if you start to believe it when people say, “Oh you’re so fabulous!”—if you start really taking on that you are better than other people. We’re entertaining people; it’s not brain surgery. We’re all human beings. We all have something we want to do and try to create value from.
Before your debut recording, you were involved in a diverse selection of movies, music videos, and shows: Superman; The Great Muppet Caper; Top of The Pops; and Blancmange’s video “Waves.” Was that all done in hopes of getting a record deal? How did you come to be a part of it all?
The movies and modeling came from Corona. When I was 16, my first job was The Benny Hill Show. I didn’t take off all my clothes, although I was scantily dressed. I did a couple of skits for the show. I worked primarily as a dancer once I was out of school. Then, at 16, I was on West End—the U.K. equivalent of Broadway. It was a production of the American show, Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. That was incredible. Basically it was an all-American cast. I was working with Amii Stewart and Miquel Brown. It was absolutely incredible. Then I was a dancer in the Top of the Pops “Zoo” dance troupe. Around the same time, I started recording. I met a producer, Mike Myers. He took the tapes to CBS, and we were offered a deal.
You released a number of singles over a two-year period before your album debuted. What were your thoughts on the processes of the music business once you were signed?
When I was offered the deal, I was still doing Top of the Pops. Mike had initially approached CBS for a production deal; but they wanted to sign me directly. I didn’t have management. I was just like, “This is really nice. I better take my friends with me to the meeting.” One of my friends was from Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. I had to scramble to find management. In terms of the recording industry, I wasn’t expecting anything. I was kind of going along for the ride. When the first single came out, I loved having the opportunity to be able to put together performances. That’s still my favorite thing.
I don’t think they really knew where to pigeonhole me at that time. I wasn’t totally R&B. I was a black artist who kind of had those pop elements. It took awhile to put all the elements together for an album. That wasn’t done in the best way.
Once you had your contract and got going with your singles, it wasn’t all easy going by any means. You had bouts with illness and performance injuries which resulted in some setbacks. Did these experiences change your perspective on the music business, or life, in any significant ways?
I’ve been around the industry my whole life. No matter what they do, everybody has ups and downs. It just depends on the way you look at it. It would’ve been great to have more money behind me and commitment from the outset. But Steve Ripley, he’s so amazing. It was because of him pushing and pushing for me that I had the success I did. It was a joyful experience.
You’ve been quoted as saying, “I’m not a celebrity type person. I’m interested in singing and recording great music that I find from my heart and communicating that.” As a result of that, you worked with a nicely varied group of writers and producers in those first few years—Stock Aitken Waterman, George McFarlane, Nick Martinelli, [and] Bruce Nazarian. Even though not all the recordings were mega hits at the time, they’ve all gone on to find legions of devoted listeners over the years. What was the experience like of actually making the music, hearing it played, and promoting it?
That’s what it’s all about. I’m definitely not into celebrity-itis. Just recently, I was watching an interview with Whitney Houston from the ‘80s. She was asked why she loved to sing. She said that when she sings, it’s to communicate with people and to make them feel good. That’s been my philosophy, too. I’ve been fortunate. The creative process has been a journey. To work with quality people and make music that will touch people. That’s the reason I’m only on my second album. I’ve always wanted to make sure that what I do is quality and real. It’s not fluff. I always strive to be a better artist. When I signed with CBS, I started writing. It’s an ongoing journey.
After parting with CBS, you released several independent singles: a remake of “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and “He’s Got Magic” (the rare PWL mix of which is featured on your new CD, Bounce Back). An opportunity was presented to you to sign a contract with PWL. Many people associate you with that sound due to “Getting Closer.” Did you feel like you were becoming a puppet of that sound?
If it’s not a song I’ve written, I have to feel it. So to sign a deal where I don’t have that choice is not something I can do.
What prompted your move to the U.S. at the dawn of the ’90s?
I was a little bit jaded and I needed a break. I came here on holiday and just said, “That’s it. I love New York.” I’d been coming backwards and forwards since I was 13, because of my stepfather.
I wanted to begin a new life and figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted a fresh start to put everything else behind me.
I used to read about that “Haywoode Return” and think, “What is that?” I have no idea. It’s actually only been a couple of years that I’ve been working on Bounce Back,. People write those things about you on the Internet. I had people close to me start really encouraging me to do music again. I remember going to see Corrine Bailey Rae’s first show here in New York. I don’t know why, but I left there feeling really sad that I wasn’t doing any music. We don’t do the same music, but I resonated with her. I grew up in Leeds. So, that was when I first started waking up.
Then, I met producer Peter Wilson from Australia. I started recording with him. Just prior to that, I had started my own company, Wonderlick Productions, with Marco Allegrini. I started doing a lot of writing. That’s how Bounce Back was born. Then, Peter introduced me to Matt Pop in Holland, along with !!Nsane here and a producer in Italy named David Mazzoni. It was all very fun and very transatlantic. I’d do a verse here, and send files to Italy, then back and forth to Australia or Amsterdam, and put it together. It was really joyful to make. I felt it would be a great stepping stone and a reintroduction back into the business.
I was going to put it out with an independent label, and that didn’t end up working out. I had a single release of “Getting Closer” with Energise; but you know how business stuff is. So I had to untangle all that; and that’s why it actually took the time it did.
Did Cherry Pop’s 2010 reissue of your debut album, Arrival, give you inspiration?
Absolutely. I was amazed when people told me how much they were paying for the original CD. It was way out of mybudget! These wonderful music lovers would pay $800! There’s always a time for everything. Everything started cooking. It makes me happy that people are enjoying the music, because that’s why I’m doing it.
Was there a particular song that got you going on the project?
I had begun writing “Kiss Me Good” about eight years ago. I sent that to Peter, and we began to work on that together. I was so happy when it came back. We had a great rapport.
On this album, you showcase your uptempo and downtempo sensibilities. Songs like “Love Eternally” and “If You Give Love” are very danceable, while you show a softer side with “Angel” and the title track. Are there any identifiable ingredients a song must have in order for you to record or perform it?
In general, a hook is really important. It begins with that. In terms of the two sides, Bounce Back is very representative of how I’ve been the last couple of years. I love dance music. I love pop, I love soul. “Bounce Back” has actually been the most downloaded track off the album. It has to come from my heart. If I don’t feel it, I can’t do it. That’s my heart and my eyes. I don’t negotiate with that.
I must tell you that “Shine On” is my favorite selection!
That song means a lot to me, because it’s about coming out of a dark place.
I first listened to the track during my workout. It has that sort of ‘80s feel, like something you’d jam to on a boombox. But it also has a contemporary feel to it with the “Turn it up” hook.
I wanted to do that with this album. Moving forward, it’ll be different. But I really wanted Bounce Back to resonate with my past while moving into my present.
Bounce Back includes updated versions of two of your ‘80s hits, “Roses” and “Getting Closer.” How did you decide on including those, and how did you approach recording them this time around?
People love those songs, so I wanted to include them as a nod to the past, as with “He’s Got Magic.” Peter loved “Getting Closer,” and I always wanted to re-record “Roses.” But the original recording is quite dated because of the Prince influence, so I never knew how to bring it to now. I was jumping up and down when I got the mix back from Matt Pop!
It’s interesting to hear the PWL mix of “He’s Got Magic” in the context of the new songs. It makes me think of the big differences in recording methods from when you first started versus nowadays. What changes did you notice in the process, and did any take you especially by surprise?
We did the vocals in our studio at home. The recording was done in so many different ways. Sometimes we’d start with Marco doing the music and then send it wherever. But all of the vocals I did in my flat. It’s quite different than doing it in a big massive studio. It was a lot more comfortable. But that may be not just because of the environment, but also because of the years I’ve had to become more comfortable with the process. I love how the business has changed. That’s how I could put this record out: you don’t have to wait, you don’t have anyone telling you where to go. I’d like to have more money behind me, of course, so I could do videos and stuff like that. But it’s a great feeling to have your own business.
Your music from the ’80s is notable for its hybrid of pop, R&B, and club sounds. Nowadays, commercial music can be much more fragmented, stylistically. Were you paying attention to these trends while working on the album?
I’m always listening to music and influenced by it. I love pop. “Roses” had different elements—something you can dance to, kind of soulful, and kind of pop in the sense of harkening back to Motown. That’s where I’m at. I’ve always loved dance music. I still love going to clubs to dance. It’s who I am. I really wanted to make sure that I represented that about myself. The next single that comes out is definitely an out-and-out club record. I like experimenting and following my heart. I never look to another artist and say, “I’m gonna do something like that.” That’s not who I am as a person.
The next single you mentioned, I believe, is “Excuses,” which is not on Bounce Back. Does this mean you are moving on from the album?
Bounce Back is definitely not over. We haven’t done heavy promotion of it, so not everybody knows it’s out. I’m super-proud of the album. But I really wanted to do a stomper song—something that you just dance your ass off to. I’m not even thinking beyond that. We can do what we want, so it’s great. We’re not saying no to anything—just going with the flow.
We’ll be doing a video for the song, and I start doing club dates in New York in April. With that, I’ll be performing “Bounce Back,” “Love Eternally,” and “Excuses.” I wrote the song with Marco, and !!!nsane did the original production. We just got back an Ibiza remix from Jrmx. We’ll probably start promoting it in the UK.
Your sense of fashion has been evident from the start of your career. You mentioned in the liner notes to the Arrival CD reissue that you “trained to make sure people are entertained” and referenced your appreciation of drag queens and high glamour. Where do your love of fashion and gay culture stem from?
I’ve been partial to gay culture since I was a teenager. I always loved drag queens. Growing up, I loved Grace Jones and David Bowie. I love the exaggeration of being female. At heart, I’m a tomboy. There are two sides of me. Now, I’m in comfortable mode. I love dressing up. That exaggeration of femininity excites me in terms of performing.
I love fashion. I like to wear and do what I want to, and express myself. I’m having fun with the team I have around with me. It’s incredible and so much fun working with the photographers, makeup artists, hairdressers, and stylists. I’m really proud of how the album looks inside and out. Some fans have said, “Oh, she looks a bit like a drag queen.” I love that. But it’s not like I said, ‘I wanna look like a drag queen.” We just said, “We’ll do this makeup, and let’s not have eyebrows, Let’s have fun with it.”
The whole process of creating and bringing something together and connecting with an audience is exciting. When you do a gig, it’s not about just standing there and having people look at you. It’s about connecting with those people and making sure they leave feeling something: hopefully joy and being entertained. That’s my job, from writing to recording to the final product.