Steve Anderson Interview Part One (Little Belter, Kylie, Christophe & Polly)

Readers of Dont Stop The Pop need no introduction to Steve Anderson. Except to say, he's also one very busy man. Not only is he's Kylie Musical director for all her tours, a partnership that started with a remix of Finer Feelings, but has just put together a major pop album in France, arranged the music for Miss Polly Rae and recorded the Little Belter album that soundtracks Elouise's touring spectacle that embarks on the 11th of February around the UK. Now, it was tiring just writing that sentence so I can't imagine how its been for the man who has put that altogether! But thankfully, during a small pause between Little Belter rehearsals and on the day he completed the recording its corresponding album (listen here to snippets), I managed to squeeze some time and Mr.Anderson was able to explain it all....

Steve! Its been ages since we last did an interview! Since last appearing on DSTP, Kylies toured twice and released an album. Busy couple of years! What was your highlight of the last 18 months

Hi - lovely to be asked back to the fabulous Don’t Stop The Pop. So much has happened since we last spoke including the fabulous Aphrodite Les Folies Tour, The Hurly Burly Show, Westlife Proms In The Park, Leona’s Live Lounge, Christophe Willem’s album and producing Kylie at Abbey Road which was a real dream come true.

The music in your shows your involved in are incredibly central to the framing of the concert or musical. In all of Kylie’s tours, Elouise’s Little Belter tour and Polly’s shows, the soundtrack you create, vitalizes songs we’ve long loved even if they’re contemporary classics....

I believe its about what we call the arc of the show. Its easy to put together a bunch of songs you know people will like but you want them to go with you on an emotional journey without realising thats whats happening. William works a lot with lyrics as a base for his ideas which I think is really important. For me its a case of making the music work with everything else that is going on on stage, sometimes the visuals inspire the music and sometimes its the other way around. Ultimately with Kylie just having her as a muse is often enough to inspire greatness.

I love when you re-imagine beloved songs...Like Tainted Love and Live and Let Die in Little Belter. They're completely re-twisted of classic songs and fit like a glove within the production and for the singer. How did those songs end up in the show and how did you look at these massive classics and think: “now, what can I do here?”.

Elouise and I also have a similar way of thinking so when we needed a big opening number we both thought that “Tainted Love” had the amount of darkness and drama required so what if the synth stabs were turned into big band and the whole thing was a lot slower to make it more menacing. “Live And Let Die” was because we already had a Bond section with Bassey songs and were looking for something that she could make her own. I don’t think many female performers have recorded this song and definitely not with a big band feel plus its so massive and iconic it was perfect for the “Little Belter” show especially with the fabulous new choreography by Nikki Pollington who I have worked with a lot on Kylie shows.

Steve's very 2012 version of Vogue

The same applies with Kylie’s classic hits. From your epic re-working of Step Back In Time in X Live to the beautiful ballad version of White Diamond. Does William give the direction to rework it? Or is it generally a constant debate and discussion in the run up to Kylie’s tours between you, Kylie and William.

With Kylie tours its usually a dialogue between Will, Kylie and myself about the style of the songs then I present versions which then get tweaked until they are right. Sometimes it can be instant, other times they need a few revisions but its usually only a few minor things. We’ve tuned ourselves to each other over the years so its often second nature. “White Diamond” was arranged for the film and just happened to fit perfectly into the Hollywood section of the North America Tour - its still one of my favourite things we’ve ever done and her vocal is beautiful.

Polly goes down under.

Polly Rae and the Hurly Burly show have just completed the Australian and NZ rouged leg of their tour with erect ovations at the end amongst the audience. How did that project come together?

Polly originally approached William Baker about working on the Hurly Burly Show back in 2010 and he called me the day after to ask me to do it as he knew I would absolutely love the idea. Will and I have always loved burlesque so finding a girl who could really sing in that genre was a real blessing. It gave us so much to work with and with Terry Ronald and Ashley Wallen completing the creative team it really was so much fun. Basically if it made us smile it went in the show, nothing was off limits, nothing was too ridiculous , we knew Polly and the girls could pull it off (ahem) so we put together a show for Leicester Square Theatre which then turned into the full West End production at The Garrick and is now touring the world. Polly is a true star and electrifying on stage so together with her fabulous girls is a real force to be reckoned with.

It is another project you’ve work closely together with William Baker who you started collaborating on Minogue’s 1998 Intimate and Live tour. From Kylie, Rent, to Polly to Westlife do you feel the collaborative process with Baker stems from the real love of performance, music and presentation of a show?

Will and I have been working together for over 15 years now so are very tuned into each other. He is a true creative visionary and so inspiring it can often just be a quick conversation and I’ve got the whole picture in my head of how something should sound. Its so important for someone like me to have people like him with a vision as I can pretty much make any kind of music work but there is nothing better than being inspired by an idea especially ones that are totally out of the box like turning Its A Sin into Edith Piaf meets The Stripper! I think essentially we have similar taste and are both a little bit nuts which really helps!

Polly’s versions of S&M, Umbrella and Strict Machine are additionally pleasure to one’s aural organs. I can’t listen to the originals anymore without thinking of your arrangements. They transport you to the world of Hurly Burly. How did the creative process begin with these burlesque versions of commercial hits?

Again the songs were chosen due to how they would work visually. “S&M” sung by nuns is funny, “Physical” performed on Gym Balls by girls in neon underwear is funny then something like “Strict Machine” is suggestive anyway and basically an electronic bump and grind song in the first place. “Its A Sin” was down to Polly acting as Mother Superior, “Umbrella” because of the Geisha parasols - basically it went on like that. Every song was picked carefully to fit in with the routine. At the heart of Hurly Burly is a genuine love and respect for the art form. All we wanted to do was bring it slightly up to date with more contemporary songs and versions and I think we achieved that.

With Polly, I suppose there is that tremendous cabaret and burlesque tradition underpinning the arrangements but how do you start with Kylie and Elouise and soundtracking their corresponding shows?

With Kylie she obviously has the most amazing back catalogue to choose from so that is relatively easy. With Elouise we had to pick songs that she sounded superb on, could make her own, were true showstopping classics to fit in with the show and also that would punctuate the storytelling aspect of “Little Belter”.

Rehearsals for Little Belter (featuring Elouise & Jono)

With Elouise was a there natural process of developing her show and its experience during its residency at Madame Jojo’s? Do you think this allowed you to feel the show and get it right before its UK tour?

Absolutely. Madame Jo Jo’s has been crucial for us not only to have a residency in such a beautiful venue with such great history but also enabling us to preview and try out material every month. The show has changed massively since we opened there and has allowed the creative process time to really develop. I’m all about audience reaction and without the luxury of weeks of previews as you would get in the West End this has been the place we’ve really fine tuned the show. Obviously a lot of the additional elements we have in the theatre show wouldn’t fit into Jo Jo’s but I truly believe if the show can work stripped back in a small venue it can only be bigger and better in a lovely theatre.

Have you always wanted to get your hands on a Noel Coward composition?

I do like a fair few of his songs but I’m not really a huge fan. However “If Love Were All” and “Someday I’ll Find You” are the exceptions. I’m much more a Bergman’s person lyrically, ‘Wait” by Barbra Streisand in particular - perfect.

And, when you listen back to If Love Were All what was your first impression?

This was Terry Ronald’s idea to put a Judy song less well known than “Over The Rainbow” in the
Jo Jo’s show and I love it. Not many people can get away with singing Judy but Elouise totally makes it her own.

Do you think Noel would be beaming down?

One would hope so.

How did the setlist come together for Little Belter: a show that is primarily about epic songs and an amazing voice. Was the residency vital in allowing that setlist develop?

Absolutely - as I said before Jo Jo’s is our workshop and with so many songs to choose from that she would sound amazing on its vital we pick the absolute best and also a good mix of tempos to make the show vibrant and fun as well as poignant and beautiful.

Preview of Live & Let Die by Elouise & Steve Anderson

What is your favourite song from Elouise's new album? For me it would have be a toss up between the new version of Live and Let Die as you’ve completely knocked that awful bit in the middle of the original, and turned it into how it really should have been recorded! Quite a feat!

“Live And Let Die” was my idea but the arrangement is by our fabulous MD Francis Goodhand - he just ran with it and came up with a corker! For me my favourite song in the show is “As Long As He Needs Me” as I have always loved that Judy Garland TV arrangement which Francis painstakingly transcribed from a scratchy mono recording. I also adore “Walk Away” as its the first time a female artist has sung it and so different from the Matt Monroe original.

What songs appear in the show but didn't quite make the final cut?

We have tried a few including “One Day I’ll Fly Away” from “Moulin Rouge” and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” but we wanted to go more for songs Elouise could put her own spin on.

Little Belter is very much a celebration of female performers that have gone before and still sparkle today. To me, it is encapsulated in the re-worked version of Madonna’s Vogue which, rather than celebrating celebs highlighted in the original but instead namechecks the likes of Dusty, Lady Gaga, Shirley, Celine, Judy Garland, Aretha, Doris and of course the Supremes, Barbra, Bette and Madonna. The album, and confluent show, is not only about a singers amazing and incredibly tender journey through song but also raises a glass to those who’ve bared their souls on stage and under the spotlight. Is this true?

Absolutely - the show is as much about the singer as it is about the songs and every one you mention is a huge influence on everyone involved in creating Little Belter.

Little Belter Trailer featuring new song Something Tells Me

For me its all about the song Something Tells Me on the Little Belter album. I kind of imagine every one of those performers mentioned in the rap, Elouise herself, Polly and Kylie has, sat in their dressing room wondering the same thoughts…...going through the same experience…feeling the same feelings. A mixture of dread, wonderment, sparkle and excitement…..did you envisage Something Tells Me becoming a dressing room anthem?

I think we set out to write something that would introduce Elouise to the audience in a vulnerable way. She starts the show in a run down dressing room and ends it with her name in lights so the audience take that journey with her. I’ve always loved songs like “Backstage I’m Lonely” but this has more of a Streisand kind of feel to it especially with the more humorous middle section.

Preview the Little Belter album online here

Beyond the original songs on the Little Belter Cast album, it is also an immense thank you to the legendary arrangers and composers of the past that have certainly influenced me growing up. Did this form a core passion in the Little Belter/Elouise project as a whole?

Definitely. I have always been in awe of people like Nelson Riddle, Billy May and Stan Kenton to name but a few. I feel they were the remixers of their day as they took songs and completely reinvented them for the different singers. With me coming from a remix background its very easy to strip away everything but the vocal and think of a unique way to present the song but back then there was only the orchestra instruments to work with which is why I think they delivered such incredible ideas and instrumentation that is as much of a work of art as the song itself. The modern day equivalents are Jeremy Lubbock, Vince Mendoza and David Campbell, all who are heroes of mine.

You’ve often described working with Elouise akin to working with your very own Barbra Streisand powerhouse. Care to expand?

Well she can pretty much sing anything for a start. Also we have very similar taste when it comes to dramatic and emotional vocals and she always pushes me to go even more over the top then usual which is quite a stretch considering I basically live in a world where there is no such thing as ‘too much’! Also I love how she doesn’t sound like anybody but at the same time her voice is timeless yet contemporary. She can re-interpret these classic songs and put her own spin on them without sounding like a tribute - thats a real talent I think. Plus of course she has the pure star quality when it comes to holding an audience so for me that puts her in the Streisand area very easily.

Beyond Elouise’s Little Belter, what next for your work with Elouise? Isn’t a single and follow-up album already in the works?

We are working on an album at the moment which will be new material and some covers in a similar way to how Michael Buble worked on his first 2 albums. We’re hoping to have new material out later this year but hoping to work with orchestras to push the sound even further.

The thrilling strings of Love Takes Over Me by Kylie (one of my Kylie songs) and the immense string section of Tainted Love (Elouise) could both be James Bond songs. Is there a John Barry James Bond anthem in your veins just waiting to be written and recorded?

I love both John Barry and David Arnold so yes there is always an influence especially in the brass sections, how could there not be with Elouise singing at the front!

Popgeek time! Are there arrangements that you, William and Kylie agreed and then went “oooh this might night seem right?” …but you do fondly look back and go “awww’.

Not really - everything we do is only right when we are all happy with it. That process takes a long time and our quality control level is so high that nothing but the absolute best gets through. I pretty much fondly look back at everything we’ve done and go ‘aww’.

So how do you initiate the first song for a monumental Kylie tour like Les Follies. I mean where does one start to piece together an overture for a show that sees Kylie perform on Pegasus, a chariot, on an angel and so forth?

Exactly that - I get a visual brief from William describing what he sees happening on stage and work from there. For Les Folies the show starts and ends with water from the Birth Of Aphrodite from water into Greek mythology going through Heavenly Hosts, Chariots and ending as a Million Dollar Mermaid in amongst fountains. Thats really all it takes for me, then I’m off!

So how many versions overtures did you compose before you realized you had the start befitting Aphrodite?

There were two quite different ideas for the intro and various versions of both but Will is very reactionary so once he hears something it immediately inspires him to know what he wants more or less of. This is great for me as we bat things back and forth to each other and send something to Kylie when we think we have the right one. It usually comes back and forth again for a bit until its signed off by everyone.

Kylie has rarely, if ever, had a fifth single but if there was one song from Aphrodite what track would you have liked to see given single privilege?

I adore “Can't Beat The Feeling” - it just makes me smile and for me is classic Kylie. Sometimes people are shocked that I tend to pick pop songs of hers as my favourites but I am still a massive fan and I love what I call the ‘Kylie moment’ and that song has a bunch of them all going on at the same time! I adore what Stuart did with that album.

Steve Anderson world is incredibly busy at the moment. You’ve just completed work on Christophe’s English version of his Prismophonic album. How was that experience as a whole and when will that English version be made available?

I’m so proud of the Christophe album and was really lucky to pull together such an amazing team for it including Freemasons, Biff Stannard, Karen Poole, Richard X , Cliff Masterson and Sarah deCourcy amongst many others. I love working with Christophe, he’s such a superstar and so ahead of his time in France. It was a brave move for him to make this album in the UK and have all English songs that were then so brilliantly adapted by Zaho for France. We got such great reviews to from people like yourself and Popjustice so I can’t wait for the English version to be released later this year.

The song-writers involved look like a who-who of British and Scandanavian pop! Being at the helm of putting such an album together, where do you start when thinking of songwriters you wish to submit tracks for an album like Christophe’s?

I just surrounded myself with the most talented , loveliest people and sold them on Christophe being a superstar which wasn’t hard. After that the tracks started coming in and I was thrilled with the results. Also there was a lot of songwriting sessions for me and various co -writers most of which ended up on the record.

Right after Christophe’s pop album, you jumped into putting together a new album by Kylie. What was that like?

It has always been a dream of mine to produce a Kylie album with acoustic instruments and also to produce an album at Abbey Road so when the two came together I could not have been happier. I worked with the lovely Colin Elliot on the production who has been responsible for the Richard Hawley albums which all have a beautiful darkness and warmth to them which we wanted to incorporate in this project. Also I knew the back catalogue like the back of my hand but he didn’t so much which was good as he came from a different angle on some of the songs. We recorded a whole bunch of songs , some with orchestra and band, some just band and some just piano or guitar. It was Kylie’s amazing Aphrodite band with a beautiful BV section and we spent the happiest 3 weeks in Abbey Road Studio 2 where the Beatles famously recorded throughout their career. I can’t tell you what an honour it was to go to work there every day only to be eclipsed by how truly great Kylie’s performance is on this record. Its true, honest vocal takes recorded on a beautiful valve mic and left very upfront in the mix as if she’s there right with you in the room. I could not be more proud of what we achieved there and I’m so incredibly thankful of the opportunity to do it, its an experience none of us will ever forget. There will be an YouTube video from the sessions uploaded on the 25th of every month to celebrate Kylie’s 25th Anniversary this year.

Abbey Road Studios is of course steeped in history. Did you happen to squeeze any time popping into the room where Yoko & John lived for months while recording his album?

We were recording in that very room - Studio 2 at Abbey Road is where the Beatles recorded the majority of their material and apparently John and Yoko set up home in the corner. We put the table with the kettle and biscuits over there.



David said...

Fantastic interview! Congratulations and thank you very much :)

Dean said...

Hi, will we ever get part 2 of your interview, I am a Big Steve Anderson fan!