All Saints On Making New Album ‘Red Flag’ & Losing The Original “Pure Shores” Lyrics On A Plane: Interview
“I Know Where It’s At,” “Never Ever,” “Pure Shores,” “Black Coffee” — those are just a few of the iconic songs British quartet All Saints released in the halcyon, pop-filled years leading up to, and after, the turn of the millennium. The ladies went their separate ways in 2001, only to reunite to record their third album in 2006…but then split once again shortly after its released. And that seemed to be the end of that.
Cut to this past January when, nearly a decade after parting ways for a second time, the members of All Saints — Natalie and Nicole Appleton, Melanie Blatt and the London-based group’s primary songwriter, Shaznay Lewis — teased their second turn at a comeback. “One Strike,” an instant pop classic in the vein of the iconic “Pure Shores,” followed soon after, and All Saints’ fourth album Red Flag was released just three days ago. (Pick it up on iTunes.)
Lucky for us, the girls were in a chatty mood, and so we hopped on a trans-Atlantic phone call with Natalie and Nicole, initially, only to have Shaznay join in as a surprise partway through. Read on!
You just did your first show with the new music at Koko in London last week. How did that go?
NATALIE: It was absolutely incredible. It was amazing to have so much support. Literally, it was like watching a show [for us] — the crowd was a performance in itself. We got out of it as much as they did.
And you’ve got a UK tour coming up in October?
NATALIE: Yeah, we’re pretty much good to go, I think.
NICOLE: We just put the tickets on sale, so we haven’t thought about it too much. We were concentrating on our Koko gig, which was amazing. But we’re waiting for that moment to arrive.
The four of you had gone your separate ways for a second time in 2007, but reunited to open for the Backstreet Boys on a 2014 UK tour. How did that come to be?
NATALIE: Basically Shaz got a call from someone that she knows asking if the girls would be up for supporting the Backstreet Boys, just because [both bands are from] the same era and it would go together nicely as a support. And Mel was in Ibiza at the time, so we didn’t know if it was gonna happen. It was a long shot, to be honest. I mean, I was up for it and Nic was up for it, and we made a Facetime call to Mel and asked her. She actually said yes! She flew back, we rehearsed and went on tour. And that was that, really. We got a taste for it and we thought that it would be nice to do some more gigs, and to do our own tour. We never really got to do that with our second album— we actually split up before we could tour it. It’s a box that we’ve always wanted to tick. We were advised that it would be good to maybe put some new music out, and do some new music on the tour. Shaz went away — she was nominated to do it — and she came out with some belters. She dug deep and came out with the goods.
How long did it take for her to write the songs that became the Red Flag album?
NATALIE: About a year. But it didn’t take very long for us to actually record the album. It was quite a quick process.
NICOLE: Robbie, we’ve got Shaz here with us now!
SHAZNAY: Hi! How are you?
I’m good! Thank you for joining. I had just finished asking these two lovely ladies how long it took for you to write the album and they said it was about a year.
SHAZNAY: Yeah. I went in with various producers over a year and started writing. I had a good time.
You all did things differently this time, in that you recorded the album before even thinking about finding a label to distribute it.
SHAZNAY: When we decided that we were going to put more material out, one of the general consensuses between all of us was that we didn’t really want to sign to a major label and sit around a boardroom with loads of people we probably wouldn’t talk to in about three years’ time. We just kind of thought we would love to set up our own label — and also just eliminate the pressure of making a record. So that was already one of our aims, and then our management one day had said that London Records was pretty much…not defunct; it was owned obviously by Universal. But it was just laying dormant. We jokingly said, “Do you reckon he’d let us buy it? Let’s own it!” [Our manager] actually went and asked the head of Universal, and he said, “Oh, please — I can’t just turn around and say yes to anyone who wants to walk in and buy a label.” But he said, “You guys can all take it and run it and put [the album out] through that.” So we kind of liked the idea of that, because it felt like it was full circle. That was obviously the first label we were with and had the success of our first two albums with. We’re the only artists on it and we run it along with our management. It feels good. We never have to walk into any big buildings and have meetings. Doing it this way feels like there’s no pressure, and we’re just kind of four friends doing our thing.
Your previous album, Studio 1, was released 10 years ago, and in that time we’ve seen the rise of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. How often were you getting hit up by All Saints fans over the past decade asking if you’d be getting back together?
NICOLE: Loads of times. They would always be like, “When are you guys coming out with some new music?” Loads of tweets like that. It’s been nice to be able to say, “Well, we’re doing one.”
NATALIE: And here you go.
Your longtime collaborator K-Gee worked on Red Flag, but you also recorded songs with producers like the Invisible Men, Hutch and Utters. How did you choose who to go into the studio with?
SHAZNAY: Everybody that we worked with, we’d kind of heard previous tracks that they’d done with other people and thought, I like that. I’d like to work with that person. The Invisible Men were one of those teams we’d heard. They’re really lovely guys, really cool to work with.
“Puppet On A String” really jumps out as a highlight on this album. It gets my vote for future single release!
SHAZNAY: I did that with Fred Ball. I love that song, too, actually. It was more the melody that came before anything else with that one. The chorus we played around with loads. Usually it’s the chorus that comes first, but with that one the verses came first. It took awhile to get the chorus right. I think once Fred and I had nailed exactly the feel that we were going for, it turned out great.
Another particularly good moment on Red Flag is “Summer Rain.” What inspired this particular track?
SHAZNAY: I wrote “Summer Rain” about — gosh — maybe about eight years ago? That was another song I did with Fred. That was one song I never wanted to give away. To me it felt like an All Saints record. I always kept that track. It’s another where Fred and I had gone through quite a few different musical changes. Originally it had a few more beats in it, which made it sound extremely poppy, and that never quite worked for me. One day while going back in with Fred whilst making this record we revisited the track and just simply took out a few beats, and it completely changed it.
“Fear” is a nice slowed-down ballad moment on the album.
SHAZNAY: I did that with Invisible Men. That song I suppose reflects everything that would possibly come after writing an album, and being scared as to how I felt about stepping back into all of it.
We mentioned the UK tour in the fall. Would you ever consider doing even a one-off show in the States?
NICOLE: Oh, God! Yes, please!
NATALIE: Do you know how much I’d love to do that? We’d love to!
SHAZNAY: That would be the dream. It would be amazing!
Do you come over to the US often?
NATALIE: We come twice a year.
SHAZNAY: Yeah, we come to the States quite a bit.
Last thing I’ll ask about: I personally feel like “Pure Shores” and “Black Coffee” are still two of the best pop singles of the new millennium. What do you remember about recording those with William Orbit?
NICOLE: You wrote the lyrics on a flight for a tour we were on…
SHAZNAY: Oh, yes! “Pure Shores,” I think we were in America?
SHAZNAY: We were in America. I actually wrote the lyrics to “Pure Shores” on a flight over to the States, and by the time I got there I’d left the lyrics on the plane. So I had to rewrite it. [Laughs] I had to write it again. But we had a great time working with William. He’s a very interesting character. I think he probably taught me a lot about writing, because before that I was obviously very general in how you wrote — your pre-chorus, your bridge, your middle eight. William Orbit sometimes heard things in a completely different way. He would sometimes take what I might have thought was a middle eight or a bridge and actually make it the chorus. He opened my eyes — he broadened, I should say, my way at looking at songwriting.
Well, thank you for releasing your new album worldwide, and for chatting with me today.
NICOLE & NATALIE: Thank you!
SHAZNAY: You’ve been lovely. Thank you so much.
SHAZNAY: Take care.
NATALIE: Bye, Robbie!
Red Flag is available now to purchase on iTunes and stream on Spotify.