Later this month, Ireland welcomes former Sporty Spice Melanie C to play Belfast’s Mandela Hall and Dublin’s Vicar Street on 12th 13th April respectively.
Having sold 80 million records with the Spice Girls and 20 million as a solo artist, Mel C is back after five years with new LP Version of Me and a whole new sound. Combining heartfelt balladry with tracks boasting as much potential on the club circuit, her follow-up to 2012’s Stages sees the English songstress adopt a new approach to lyrics and production, reflecting the new stage she’s at in life.
Ahead of her Irish gigs, I caught up with the woman herself, chatting EDM, pushing creative boundaries and being in the biggest girl group of all time: “The rule is, there are no rules!”
Gigging NI: What is your earliest memory of music? When did you know music was a career you wanted to pursue?
Melanie: “There’s not ever really been a time in my life when there hasn’t been music. With my mum being a singer, she’s been in bands since she was a teenager and it [music] was just there – you don’t really appreciate it until you’re older. It was around the age of eight really – up until that point, I don’t have many really vivid memories, but we moved to a different town then and I started going to dance classes and performances at school. I think that’s when I got the bug and started to see it as a passion and something I’d like to do when I got older. In fact, I never wavered: from the moment I thought about being a professional performer, there was never anything else that I wanted to do.”
GNI: You play Belfast and Dublin on 12th and 13th April and it’s been a while since you last played here, so what are you looking forward to most?
Melanie: “I’m excited to get back because it’s always a good night. They’re certain cities you play and you know you’re in for a good one – the audiences just know how to have a good time and Belfast is definitely up there in the top three, with Dublin and Glasgow actually! Also they are two venues I haven’t played before [Vicar Street in Dublin and Mandela Hall in Belfast] so it’s gonna be really fun. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said how brilliant they are – it’s the size of venue I really like because it’s much more intimate. I feel as a performer as well as a gig-goer, there’s just more atmosphere and you have more of a connection with the audience. Overall, I’m looking forward to that and just getting out there with new music.”
GNI: Five years on from your last release Stages, do you feel you’ve changed your style at all on Version of Me? Was there anything different in the writing or recording process?
Melanie: “I’ve got a new band, a new sound really, and this album is a lot more electronic than anything I’ve done before. I think the fans that have followed my career are in for a treat because it’s quite a different me, a bit of a transformation sound-wise. I think I will surprise people because obviously their perception of me is often [from] my time in the Spice Girls because it was so huge, but I’ve been touring, making music and doing live shows for twenty years now. People are usually pleasantly surprised when they see what I do live.
“Absolutely everything was different creating Version of Me! I’ve got to a point, not only with my work, but with my life, [where] I just felt like I wanted an overhaul. I felt like it was time for a new chapter. Everything I did with the record approaching writing sessions and the production, down to the artwork and collaborators I was working with, I just wanted to be free and have no rules because with pop music, there are certain restraints – you’re expected to compromise to get played on the radio and to reach a certain demographic. So I just said to everyone I work with, “The rule is, there are no rules!”. It’s not completely avant-garde or anything out of the ordinary, but it was just nice to have that freedom and it made me feel more creative. I think the album’s benefitted from going into it with that approach. My first album was hugely successful and obviously it’s a really great album, but as time goes on, I’ve heard the songs so many times, I’m over it. I’m really so excited about this album, I can’t stop listening to it which has to be a good sign!”
GNI: There’s a mixture of slower numbers and more house-influenced tracks (“Numb”) on Version of Me – which do you feel fans and live audiences respond to best? Which is more fun to perform?
Melanie: “I love the variety. Sometimes you can have a song which is very heartfelt or thoughtful and it connects with people, which feels incredible. But then of course whenever I do “I Turn To You” and you’re jumping around and everyone’s going for it, that’s really rewarding on a different level. I suppose it’s a bit of a journey; when you’re making a record, it’s nice to explore the highs and lows – like life really!”
GNI: Lyrically, you explore topics such as identity and motherhood on Version of Me – do you feel as though your lyrics reflect the different stage you’re at in your life? Do you feel as though the themes differ from previous releases?
Melanie: “I think it’s only natural. I’m always inspired by my life and my experiences, and of course they’re really different now. I’ll always go back to times in my life, maybe twenty years ago, but I’m seeing things through different eyes.”
GNI: What would you pinpoint as the standout track on Version of Me?
Melanie: “I find it difficult [to choose] because I was really ruthless on this album. In the past, I’ve had one or two songs on an album that I’m not sure should have made the record. But on this one, if it wasn’t exactly where I wanted it, it wasn’t making the cut. So [through doing that], I’ve made an album I really love and want to listen to.”
GNI: Do you feel that working with producers Sons of Sonix (Stormzy, Ariana Grande) has changed your approach on Version of Me? What inspired you to branch out into a more EDM style?
Melanie: “It’s a style of music I enjoy and I probably would never have chosen to work with Sons of Sonix looking at the artists they’ve produced. Given their ages (early-mid 20s), we’ve been exposed to such different things musically and culturally. It was my publisher that put us together and I’m so pleased that he did because they’re such great guys. We had three writing sessions and all three songs made the record – I don’t think I’ve ever done that before! Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long relationship.”
GNI: You’ve had a very successful solo career, how does that compare to years of being in a group as iconic as the Spice Girls?
Melanie: “It’s incomparable – they’re so different. I’m so grateful for my time with the Spice Girls because I learnt so much and it also enabled me to go on and have a solo career, and that’s something which is more sustainable. It was amazing being a Spice Girl, but we didn’t have any responsibilities back in the nineties – we just worked solid and were away from home all the time. It was perfect at the time because it was what we were all striving for. As you get older, of course now I have a family, I have other things I need to consider and being the master of my own destiny is very important.”
GNI: You duet with Alex Francis, who is singer James Bay’s brother and opening act for your tour (including the Belfast date) on “Hold On” – how did that collaboration come about?
Melanie: “I had the song from the writing sessions of the album, but I never found the right duetting partner and production-wise, it just wasn’t where I wanted it to be. So, being quite ruthless, I knew the song had a home on the album but it just wasn’t ready yet. This name just kept coming up – a guy I worked with in Germany mentioned him [Alex Francis] to me, and so did my agent, so I checked out his Soundcloud and just fell in love with his voice. It’s so raspy and soulful and I was really curious to find out what our voices would sound like together. We sent him the song and he loved it, and we had a singalong on the piano when he came to the studio. It just felt great and the sound all came together.”
GNI: Finally, what inspires you to keep making music at this point in your career?
Melanie: “The love of it – I love performing to people, making music, travelling. Just when I think I’m written out and I’ve said everything I want to say, life throws more at me and that’s my inspiration. Still lots of conflict ahead!”
Melanie C performs in Belfast’s Mandela Hall on 12th April 2017. Buy tickets here.