When Steps arrived on the music scene 20 years ago with 5,6,7,8 no one could have guessed that they’d still be a force to be reckoned all these years later.
The five-piece pop group briefly reunited for a Sky Living series, a greatest hits album release and an arena tour. The group also released new album Light Up the World in 2012, which consisted mostly of covers.
Five years have passed and Steps are back to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The group’s latest single Scared of the Dark has been bouncing around the charts for week and their new album Tears on the Dancefloor is currently battling Ed Sheeran to top the album chart.
I caught up with Lee Latchford-Evans to talk about Step’s remarkable comeback, find out more about their new album, and to discuss what the future holds for the much-loved group.
I am so glad that the Steps are back! I hesitate to use the word comeback but what’s it like this time around for you guys?
I think comeback is okay. We had the reunion in 2011/2012 and that was a bit of trial and error for us, it was nostalgia. Everybody seemed to want that back at that point which was fantastic.
I think this time round it’s more a celebration because it’s 20 years. We didn’t really have a choice on what year to come back on if we were going to do a 20 year celebration. It had to be this year so we decided to give it a go. It’s roughly been around two years in the process of talking about it and putting ideas forward, discussing should we do new music or should we not, and to be honest with you the way it happened has surpassed all our expectations. We didn’t expect to be where we are right now and it’s absolutely fantastic.
It seems the country has gone crazy for Steps again. Has the success of Scared of the Dark taken you by surprise?
Yeah I think we have been taken back a little. It’s wonderful – all the fans out there and all the love and support that we get. We are quite blown away by it to be honest. When we first discussed doing new music we were all very sceptical of where we would fit in today’s market. 20 years ago we started and we had some good tracks, great tours and it was right for its time but now the world, the music industry and life is just very different right now. There’s so much social media and with online streaming it’s a very different world but it seems that people want it. People need happy times back in their life and we seem to be providing that and they loved Scared of the Dark. Entering the iTunes chart when it first came out was just fantastic. It’s just floating around the Top 10 again at the moment with the album now out. On iTunes at the moment we’ve got a single in the Top 10, an album in the Top 10 and two videos in the Top 10. It’s all a bit strange! (laughs)
You’re currently fighting Ed Sheeran for the number one spot on the album chart. Did you ever envisage a world where Steps would be going up against Ed Sheeran?
No not at all. Ed Sheeran is doing absolutely phenomenal. We can’t compare ourselves to him at the moment. You look at his streams and his views and they’re in the hundreds of millions. It’s absolutely insane. I think that’s how the world has changed. Back in the day for us you released a song on Monday, everybody goes and buys it, and whoever sold the most by Sunday would chart; they would get to number one with the most sales. It’s quite simple in how it worked. Nowadays there seems to be all these different charts that go on; there’s video charts, online playlist charts, there’s streaming, there’s downloads… there’s all sorts going on. It’s all very new to us and I believe the actual official chart is taken by sales and streams combined. I think with our sales at the moment we are outselling anybody, which again is absolutely phenomenal, but we just don’t have the streams. Our fans I think are more the fans that want that physical CD or record in there because they want it to go with the others and add it to their catalogue.
We do need help with the streaming. I don’t think our fanbase are the ones that stream at the moment. Our fans I think have grown up with us and like I said they want that physical copy in their hands, which I would if I was following an artist. I’d really like to read the album sleeve, I like to see the pictures, I like to store something and collect something but that’s the old school way of doing it. If we can get streams up and get people listening online and on Spotify, maybe we will have a chance of holding onto the number one spot but we’ll have to see.
Tears on the Dancefloor is the perfect album for Steps to release at this stage. I like all of the nods back to when you first came out, particularly the artwork. Did you feel quietly confident that this was the right step or did you really have no idea how the album would be received?
I think we felt confident in ourselves that we were doing what we felt was right for this time. How it worked and how it was perceived is out of our control and we didn’t have a clue what was going to happen once we put it out there. We listened to a lot of songs and we had a few songs written especially us. We put all our ideas down and there was a lot of songs we turned away because we wanted it to be right. I think you are right in saying that this album is the right album for Steps. If you’re a true fan of Steps, I believe personally that this is the album that you would want us to put out there because it is a hint at the past with a nod to the future, and that’s what it’s about. It’s been getting great reviews. The fans seem to love it so I think they’ve done a pretty good job. Hopefully it hangs around for a while.
It must be really sweet for you guys that the snobbier music critics that used to criticise you back in the day are all raving about Tears on the Dancefloor. Does it feel like vindication that you’re finally getting the critical acclaim that you deserve?
Yeah it’s funny because we’ve done quite a lot of interviews and I’m still waiting for the punchline from the critics (laughs) because that’s how it used to be. Because of our success they couldn’t really not write something nice but there was always a little sting in the tail at the end. There was always that ‘I’m still trying to be cool, I still can’t admit that I like Steps because it doesn’t feel right to do that’. Our fans would speak for themselves with our tours selling out and our singles were going top five every time. It was a very strange world living back then, and I don’t mind saying it that I felt like we didn’t get the sort of respect that we deserved from the industry because the stats speak for themselves. We are marmite, you either like us or you hate us (laughs) at the end of the day. I think nowadays it’s a new era, it’s a new world. Most of the reviews I’ve read so far have been very, very positive and it’s wonderful to see. We have to say thank you to everybody out there, they do seem to be embracing Steps this time which is lovely.
I think Tears on the Dancefloor is one of the best pop albums of the past 12 months. You should be really proud of yourselves…
I get the tube every now and again into London to do the interviews and work, and I actually put it on my headphones while I’m just casually going into London. I haven’t done that before with our albums before. I’ve always said in the past I love being in Steps and it’s a phenomenal job to have. It’s become my life and it’s amazing but not every single song I probably would have bought if I wasn’t in Steps whereas this album, I’m paying all the time and I’m really listening to it. I’m getting into it and it is a banging album. The producers and the writers have all done a fantastic job. It just takes you on a journey from start to end and that’s what I love about it.
What can we expect from the tour? Is it a celebration or concentrating more on the new album?
It’s going to be a celebration 100 percent. There will be new songs off this album especially now it’s doing so well. We’re going to have all the hits. We may do some little nods to our videos here and there some with the costumes and ideas and things. We haven’t actually decided 100 percent what it’s going to be yet. We’re just in the middle of going through meetings to plan the tour. Steps tours are always fantastic. It was our baby and what we were always proud of doing. We always made sure that when fans walked through the door they have a great time and that’s what it’s about. Forget all your worries, forget any shit that’s going on in your life right now in the world and just let yourself go and enjoy that couple of hours. Join in with the routines that we do and have a great time. We’ve got to put on a fantastic tour, that’s what we were known for and I think that’s what we’ll do this year.
Speaking of the routines I noticed that there’s a new routine in the Scared of the Dark video. People on social media are going mad for it saying they’re brushing up in anticipation for the tour. Was it important for you to still do those dance routines and connect with fans in that way?
Yeah. I think if you’re a Steps fan, you know what Steps are about and you have to buy into Steps. The reason we’re called Steps is because of the dance steps, we’ve always had a routine to every song we’ve done. Even with the ballads such as Heartbeat we all stand behind the microphone stands or we’ll have the handheld mic and we’ll be performing with one arm. There is a routine to learn with that. It’s not always about the high energy big disco tracks even the ballads can have routines to them as well. That’s the way that we break the fourth wall. We like the audience to join in. We like you guys to feel part of the show, part of the band even so that you just come on a journey with us. I think that’s what separates us from other pop groups. There are thousands of amazing bands out there that are all doing fantastic but we do literally talk to the audience, get them involved and you do what we do onstage. In the future of Steps there’s always going to be routines, definitely!
In terms of the future of Steps should be preparing for a Take That style approach now with new music coming every few years?
I think we just have to play it by ear. It’s difficult to say because if we were all 22 and not had a care in the world then we probably go yes but go for it. There’s children involved, we all have different lives, we all have families and careers and jobs and businesses. There’s a lot more than just the Steps package to think about. We definitely all want it, there’s no reason not to do it. It’s just got to be planned carefully and properly to make it work and to keep everybody sane and happy, and obviously keep giving the public what they want as well. I think with careful planning there’s definitely a way to do it but let’s just get 2017 through and get the tour on the road, see the response and reaction and see where we’re at for 2018.
When you did the reunion tour, there were lots of feelings about the past that went with it and you all had to deal with that stuff. This time round it seems you are all just really enjoying the moment and getting on really well. Are things just better this time around?
Yeah they are. Again I think the children to thank for that because everybody sort of sees life very differently now and I think especially for the others, not necessarily for me as I tended to just be in the middle of everything and got on with it anyway, but some of the others just think ‘you know what that’s really not worth worrying about. There’s more important things to worry about’. This is them getting them selves back because they’re all mums and dads. When they come and do the band I think they’re finding them again. It’s almost like, not a holiday, it’s something to enjoy and something to look forward to. We all respect each other a lot more now. I’m saying that we didn’t in the past but you know what everyone’s going through and you know everyone’s struggles. You know this is hard work to make it work because of things outside of the Steps world. It’s the respect and just enjoying it and making it a happy environment. When we’re doing well it easier to do that (laughs).
Steps’ new album Tears on the Dancefloor is available now.