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Interview with Maggie K de Monde

Monday 06 June 2016
Words Spindle

Veteran singers who are forever new. That’s not a contradiction in terms. Maggie K de Monde has been singing with her band Scarlet Fantastic – and with other performers – for three decades, and always comes up with something fresh to excite and delight us.  Spindle catches up with her on the eve of her new album’s release.

What is your new album, Reverie, about?

The album is a celebration of life and surviving and one of the main themes throughout is about living in the present and not wasting a single moment. The songs have been inspired by life events, travel, nature and dreams. I decided on the title Reverie as I think it pretty much describes the sound and feel of the music. In some songs, notably Taste of you and Take Me Away there is a dreamy/fantasy element.

How long did it take to write and record?

The writing and recording of Reverie took place during the period autumn 2014- winter 2015. Some of the songs were written very quickly indeed, Taste of you and You will Get Through I just sat at my piano and found a few chords and the lyrics just poured out! With Taste of You I was in a heightened frame of mind, a dreamy state and feeling very uplifted- the words came very easily for that one! You will Get Through started off as a poem that I was writing for a friend to make them feel better and then I turned it into a song which in turn made me feel better! The recording process took a little longer as we had to find all the right sounds, instrumentation and feel for each song and to make the album work as a whole piece. I wanted it to be cohesive and to keep the same mood throughout.


What are the musical influences of Reverie?  Some of its tracks, noticeably ‘Church Bells and Starlings’, have a chanson feel reminiscent of singers like Jacques Brel.

I’m flattered you mention Jacques Brel, I’m a huge fan of his work, I always have been. I love the whole chanson genre too! Church Bells and Starlings was inspired by a special moment I had when I was in Iceland. I was staying in an artist friend’s apartment in Reykjavik and I had seen the Northern lights 4 nights in a row and I was feeling pretty full of the magic of the place. It was a Sunday morning and I opened the door and the snow was falling gently, the birds were going crazy in the tree and I could hear the church bells in the distance. It was a moment of “ecstasy” I felt wholly connected to the Universe at that moment, I felt part of something beautiful and much bigger than myself, it was an amazing feeling. I went inside and started scribbling some words and when I came back to UK I turned it into the song Church Bells and Starlings. I have been listening to a lot of soundtracks lately and European and American folk artists and Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg!


Some readers might not know about the early days of Scarlet Fantastic.  Can you tell us how the band started, and what it achieved?

After my band Swans way (which had a chart hit Soul Train in 1984) I formed a band Scarlet Fantastic. We were a duo and my partner was Rick P jones who had also been in Swans way. We were an 80s pop duo and we wrote songs about freedom, nature, life and fantasy. It occurred to me during the recording of my new album that a lot of the themes in the songs were very similar although stylistically the music is very different. This is one of the reasons why I decided to go with the idea of making this new album my 2nd Scarlet Fantastic album, 30 years on!! In 1986 we got our first break. The Tube, the greatest TV show of the time made a film of us, it’s actually still one of my favourite bits of early Scarlet Fantastic material, it’s on Youtube. After this we had quite a bit of interest, we recorded a session for radio one and played a few gigs. Pete Waterman at the time heard our song No Memory and loved it and he offered us a publishing deal and so we went into his famous studio at the time, PWL, and spent 6 months doing night sessions recording our first album, aptly named 24 hours! The first single No Memory hit the charts and became popular in the early 90s in the dance scene. To date it has been remixed no less than 11 times. It still gets played quite often on the radio too!


The 1970s and 1980s (which saw Glam Rock, Punk, New Wave, and the New Romantics) were inspiring times for music and fashion. How do you feel about today’s cultural scene?  Where can young people get their inspiration from now?

Life and youth culture is so very different these days. The internet has such a massive influence on teens. I know this as my son is 16 and he is always online, whether it’s his phone or his computer! However, he is music obsessed and as well as all the new music he hears from his friends he is also listening to classic older stuff such as Nirvana, Coldplay, Bowie and the Stones as well as his rap and grime. I am noticing the impact the 80s is having on fashion today and especially music. It’s always interesting to note how culture seems to be cyclical, how it always seems  to come round and repeat but with new interpretations. I think in the dance culture there are always new styles evolving and designers and musicians with their ear to the “street culture” will always discover new trends and use these influences when creating new work.


How did you meet your husband, Leif, and what influence has he had on your work?

I met Leif when I was living in Dublin in 1990. We were introduced to each other to do some songwriting together but even though we were both in relationships at the time (I was living with someone) we fell instantly in love and hopped on a plane to Turkey where we said our vows 2 weeks later! We were married officially in Camden register office in August 1990. Leif and I have worked together on numerous projects, Reverie being the most recent one. My pop background has been enriched by his Americana background (he is from Virginia USA) Leif is a brilliant producer so he is able to take my ideas and songs and put them into a soundscape that is exactly right for them. It seems to work well. As we are married there is a complete honesty in the way we work. Sometimes there is a bit of a head on collision but we always make things work out in the end. It’s good being able to be this open in a working relationship. Leif has had some very serious health issues and music is the best therapy and the most positive way forward in dealing with these.


You’re based on the south coast, which seems to be a favourite place for musicians and other artists to live. What attracted you to it?

I love the South coast. I love the sea, the nature, the birds! It’s more chilled out than big cities, I can think more clearly!! It’s also called the Sunshine coast and as I’m a great lover of sunshine it helps!! We left London in 2002 when our son Sean Vincent was 2 years old. We needed more space where we could set up a studio and it seemed a good idea to bring our boy up by the sea  although Kensal Rise had been fun whilst we lived there, our London flat was very small.


On your album Union (2011), you had a musical partnership with pianist Martin Watkins (a collaborator with Marc Almond).  Tell us about how you got together, and the way you worked.

One of my dearest friends Clayton Littlewood who wrote Dirty White Boy-Tales of Soho and Goodbye to Soho introduced me to Martin and asked us to write a song for his play Dirty White Boy. We wrote Time for Love which was one of the songs on our Union album. We had a chemistry immediately, Martin is a wonderful piano player and the musical pieces he came up with inspired me, I loved writing with Martin. He would write the piano music and I came up with the vocal melodies and lyrics and that’s how our songs were created. It was a very creative period. Martin used to come down from Manchester to our studio where he and Leif would record all the music for the album Union.


How do you feel about the challenges posed for the music business today by technology, with things like file-sharing and wanting to download music for free? What impact does this have on musicians being able to make a living from their work?

The advances of technology have had both positive and adverse effects. Once you have recorded a song and it has gone online it is very hard to keep track of it completely. Luckily now many online sites have to pay royalties (however small) to songwriters. There is a pressure to give things away which means the source of income for a musician is diminished. Being in the older market myself I’m happy to see the new interest in vinyl and still some music buyers like to have the CD version. For me I like being able to see and to hold something, I know it’s rather old fashioned but that’s how many people of my age are. My son has very few CDs. He streams everything. As a musician you have to make sure that you are signed up properly to all the relevant collection organisations like PRS & PPL who will endeavour to make sure you receive your royalties when they are due.


What led you to re-form Scarlet Fantastic?  Who are its current members, and how did you recruit them?

At the beginning of 1986, as the newly formed Scarlet Fantastic I wrote a manifesto and I called it “The Anti Depression Act 1986” It makes me smile when I read it, full of bright undaunted optimism!  It’s now 2016 & I have made a new Scarlet Fantastic record, I felt it was time to mark my 30th anniversary, time for Scarlet to re emerge! It’s interesting for me to note how I have visited similar themes in these songs but with the addition of 30 years life experience under my belt. My new album Reverie is different stylistically to my 24Hrs album, but I’m different now too. I have never stopped writing songs and living the musical life and I hope I will always find the inspiration to carry on. Leif is very much a part of this new Scarlet, he produced the album. My other band members are local musicians who I have known and respected for a while and I was overjoyed when they were keen to play in my band. Tomas Siroky is my double bass player and Bruce Knapp is on guitar, mandolin and dobro. Leif plays guitar too and sings some vocals with me.


What are the band’s future plans?

We plan on playing as many live gigs as possible this year. The CD of Reverie is available from Amazon on June 3rd and the downloads will be available on the same date from iTunes etc. Between you and me I have another idea for another album up my sleeve for next year!


Reverie  is released on out now


Words Nicky Charlish