Why did Sophie find it hard to make a scene?
As her new album is released, Sophie Ellis-Bextor tells Andy Welch how it’s not easy to write about heartache when you’re a happily married mum-of-two
She may be the daughter of a former children’s TV presenter, but Sophie Ellis-Bextor's latest album continues the neat line in the sophisticated, grown-up disco she's been crafting for herself since bursting onto the music scene a decade ago with modern classics like Murder On The Dancefloor and Take Me Home.
Make A Scene, her fourth album, was released earlier this month although it was actually finished more than a year ago.
While the album deals with its fair share of heartbreak and failed romance, in reality Ellis-Bextor is married with two children to Feeling bassist Richard Jones and freely admits to being happier than ever.
“It's tough because the unhappy times in your life can be really creative,” she says.
“When I'm writing now I try to revisit times when I wasn't so content and that can help.
“I haven't shied away from writing happy songs, because I am happy, plus they're quite hard to write and I like that challenge.
“It's sometimes easier to be angry, frustrated, heartbroken or blue than it is to be happy, and it can be tough to be chipper in a song without sounding twee. People do know a bit about me, so I can't really hide and pretend things are different. That said, I want my songs to be like diary entries, so I don't think I can avoid writing happy songs. Luckily disco music is quite hedonistic, and dancing can be euphoric.”
Four albums into her career, the daughter of former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis and TV producer Robin Bextor counts herself incredibly lucky.
She explains: “There is a lot of luck involved, which has only dawned on me in the past three or four years.
“I think when you start out you think you're in control of everything and it's all your choice, but as I've gotten older I've realised that's not the case, and that's how it should be.
“I'm never going to grumble about anything, and I never want to feel like I'm owed anything.
“I think you should always be careful what you wish for, too, because you just might get it. I just want to preserve things as they are.”
There has plenty to keep the 32-year-old busy, as Ellis-Bextor left her record label Universal after a decade and set up her own enterprise EBGB (which stands for Ellis-Bextor Great Britain).
“It's a big thing to have done, leaving a major label, but exciting, and I'm feeling very good about things,” she beams.
“Starting my own label is something I've wanted to do for a little while but the timing had to be right.
“Things have changed so much in the record industry since I started, and things are a lot more immediate now. I felt I wanted to have that spontaneity and you can't really have that when you're signed to a major label.”
Early signs point to her decision being a good one. Make a Scene went in at No 32 — more impressive than it might sound considering Take That released Progress on the same day, which flew to the top of the charts, while the Adele juggernaut shows no signs of slowing.
“I was a little bit nervous but the album's been doing much better than I expected,” she admits.
“It feels like a relief and an achievement, and the team I've got around me I think is the best I've had. I'm very proud.”
Recorded in fits and starts, Make A Scene sees the singer collaborate with the likes of Freemasons, Calvin Harris, Cathy Dennis, Metronomy, Richard X and Armin Van Buuren.
“I've not really stopped touring and recording for the past few years, so recording was sporadic,” she says.
“Writing the song with Calvin, Off & On, was great, and it's really crucial to the album. I think that track and the stuff I did with Freemasons — Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer), which is now a huge hit in Russia, and Bittersweet — are the real pivotal moments on the album.
“Both Calvin and Freemasons make such great, shiny dance music, I just loved working with them.
“The studio is somewhere that's shrouded in a little mystery, I think. There's nothing you can do to prepare for it.
“As a singer I have to be very visible on stage, but in the studio I can be more anonymous.”
Certainly her stunning looks have made her one of British pop’s most recognisable faces, and one might almost say she has hardly aged since entering her thirties.
“Well, I was quite little when I started, I was 21, and I think as well that I wore a lot of make-up so I didn't look like a 21-year-old girl. I've caught up with myself a bit now, I think.”
Make A Scene is out now