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Interview: Claire Richards talks about the making of her debut solo album My Wildest Dreams

The Steps singer is flying solo for her latest project and she tells us all about it.

Claire Richards
Credit: Sony Music

Claire Richards is probably best-known as one-fifth of pop group Steps, who have been riding the crest of a very successful comeback the past couple of years.

Having been in the group since 1997, it’s surprising that 22 years on Richards is finally releasing her debut solo album My Wildest Dreams. The album features the singles On My Own, End Before We Start and Shame On You, and it’s a proper pop album, the likes of which the charts have been sorely lacking for a long time.

Ahead of its release on Friday (1st February) I called Claire up to find out how the album came together, discuss being able to showcase the full range of her voice, and to find out how she’s feeling about supporting Celine Dion this summer.

Your debut solo album My Wildest Dreams is released on Friday. I imagine it could have been an easy choice to go down a route that follows what’s in the charts at the moment but thankfully you’ve created a classic pop album. How did it all come together?

Well about three years ago or so we were already working on the Steps album. When Steps as a whole went with Fascination as management, I started talking to them then about wanting to do a solo album and what it might be. I’d been working with Steve Anderson for a while and we’d just been messing about in the studio trying to figure out what kind of music I would do and he had End Before We Start. That was the song that I played to management to say okay this is the road I think we should go down, this is our starting point. That’s when the light bulb went on and everybody said, ‘right yeah okay we can see where this is going now and see exactly what it needs to be.

When we first started all I wanted was to almost take an element from country music, in a sense that all the songs are really heartfelt and there’s a lyric and there’s a meaning to the lyric or story to it, rather than just loads of throw away nonsense with amazing production. The kind of music that I like listening to are proper songs and proper artists. I just wanted to emulate the people that I love listening to.

Well you’ve succeeded. It’s interesting you mentioned the Country angle because I work extensively in country so I’m very familiar with the genre. Something I recognised was that these are storytelling songs, which are what good old fashioned proper pop songs should be. They should have a story rather than singing about nonsense like grinding your backside on the dance floor and that kind of thing…

Yes… also at the end of the day I’m 41-years-old, I’m a happily married mother of two and I’m not going out doing all that kind of stuff. I’m not really, this is going to sound really stupid, but I’m not actually a very good pop star (laughs) in terms of I couldn’t stand on the stage and do all of that on my own. As part of Step it’s very different and we’re a completely different entity. I think we’re kind of slightly unusual anyway but I could never do what Kylie does for example or you know or what all these young pop stars are doing. It has to be authentic and I think the only way for me to be authentic was to stand and sing songs that I could really put all my emotion into and try and portray that to the audience in a way that they would listen to and go, ‘oh my God this is heartbreaking or this is really uplifting or this is really empowering’.

I was really pleased to see the reaction after you performed These Wings on Graham Norton. It seemed like people for the first time were like, ‘wow she can really sing’. Where have these people been for the last 20 years or so, you’ve always been able to sing?

(laughs) Maybe people will start buying all the Steps back catalogue now and see what i was doing before (laughs). It was nice and that was the point. That’s why I chose that song actually to do on there because I suppose it was my chance to go, ‘OK this is why I’m doing it and this is the reason why I’m doing a solo album’. It’s not just because I’ve been in a pop group for 20 odd years and someone thought it was a good idea to give a band member a solo album. There is a reason behind it and I have got something to give and a talent, I suppose to share. All I ever wanted to do was sing and I forgot that for a long time and now all I want to do is sing because I feel confident enough to be able to go out there and say, ‘you know what I can do this and hopefully everybody will like it’. It’s terrifying at the same time (laughs).

That’s what I love about this album. We get to hear so many different parts of your voice, maybe parts that we’ve not even heard before. Obviously we’ve heard you Steps and when you did Popstar to Operastar but this is just different. Liar really shows more of the falsetto and the higher range of your voice. Shame on You is the more bombastic, party, powerhouse side and then you’ve got These Wings where you hit notes that I only dream about hitting when I’m singing in the shower…

(laughs).

Is it nice for you to be able to show off the range that you have and not be constrained by the production or having to share vocals like you’ve always done in Steps?

Yeah it’s nice. It’s a bit strange being able to sing an entire song from start to finish. At least I can’t forget it’s my turn. I have to just keep going. With so many layered vocals in a Steps song or a Steps album, you end up not doing as much as you can and I don’t need to either because there’s somebody to cover all of that. I normally do get the the long loud bits. I always says I’m the long and loud girl or the middle eight and chorus girl (laughs). That’s my job title. It’s nice to be able to to show that it’s got a bit more depth to it and a few more elements that maybe people wouldn’t expect. (Hopefully they’ll hear) I’m a proper singer not just somebody that was lucky enough to get chosen for a pop group 22 years ago.

Claire Richards

Credit: Sony Music

There’s something that Melanie B said when the Spice Girls disbanded and she did her first solo album that has always stuck with me. I remember her saying the first time she went into the studio it was an adjustment to have to sing the high notes and low notes as she never did that in the Spice Girls. Did you have a bit of a journey of learning about what your voice could do with this record?

You know what no because on most Steps records we all do the harmonies and stuff and I generally (do a variety of notes) it anyway. I think I’ve learned how far I can push myself and on this album. I think with Liar especially. The first recording of that song wasn’t great. I remember listening to it back, because I loved it so much and I desperately, desperately wanted it to be on the album, and I don’t know what I was trying to do on the first try of it but it just wasn’t right. We had to leave it and do another couple of songs and then come back to it. It was only when I came back to it…. it was almost (that) I had to sing it wrong to be able to do it right, which I’ve never done. With Steps especially the process is so quick. You just go in and do your bits and you’re done but with that it was definitely way more difficult than I thought. I literally spewed my guts into it (laughs). It sounds awful but that’s how it felt. I was exhausted after recording the one that you hear because I just put everything I possibly could into it.

It’s a very emotive track. The first couple of times I heard it gave me a lump in my throat. I’d be interested to hear the first take because when you say it wasn’t great I’m sure it was much better than most of us could do….

(laughs) I’m hoping that it went in the bin. I don’t ever want to hear that (laughs). I don’t want to take the risk.

We have to talk about the recent announcement that you’re supporting Celine Dion at BST Hyde Park in July. What a perfect pairing. How do you feel about that?

I honestly can’t even still believe it. I didn’t even know I was put up for it. I don’t think anybody dared tell me in case I got too excited and it didn’t happen. I found out on Thursday last week just before I did Graham Norton and I’m just beyond words. When I was a kid there was Whitney, Celine, Barbra and Karen Carpenter – they the four female vocalists I used to listen to all the time and try and sing like and sing their songs. They were the only people I sang songs of. First of all to be anywhere near her… I probably would have gone to it anyway… but to be able to be on the same stage as her and be a support act is just unbelievable. I never ever thought that that day would come. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to feel on the day. It’s quite overwhelming actually.

As part of Steps you’re used to playing to very large crowds and big open air shows but this is next level. There’s going to be thousands and thousands of people there. No pressure…

I know it’s terrifying isn’t it? I went last year to British Summer Time to see Michael Bublé and it was the one day that it rained last summer. It absolutely tipped it down but there were so many people and nobody left. Everyone thought, ‘right. I’m here. I’m here to enjoy the show and I’m not moving’. He stood in the rain and sang everything. It was just incredible the atmosphere was unbelievable. We played Hyde Park years ago as a band when Party in the Park was still in existence but that will certainly be the biggest crowd I’ve sung to in a very, very long time and ever by myself.

I’m planning to come along. It’s going to be a great day…

Yeah! I’m going to make the most of the whole day. I’m just going to get there at the crack of dawn and take it all in all day long.

At the end of 2018 you embarked on your very successful headline tour where you previewed songs from the album. Are there plans to head out on another tour at some point this year?

I hope so. I’d like to but at the moment there are no definite plans. It would be nice too. I think there will hopefully be a few more shows during the summer, not headline ones though. I’d like to but I guess I’ve got to see how the record does now. Those shows were always meant to be a little taster to get out there and for the fans to hear the music for the first time. Fingers crossed, I would love to because I just got my teeth into those and it ended so it would be nice to. That’s what I love more than anything, getting out there and singing live and and getting that reaction from an audience. There’s nothing like it.

If this album doesn’t do well for you I’m going to go protest somewhere because it deserves to be heard and it deserves to do really well for you. As I said in my review it’s one of the best pop albums I’ve heard in a very, very long time…

Oh God don’t, you’ll make me cry. Thank you. It’s just one of those things isn’t it? You can only put your best into something and I honestly don’t think I could have made a better album for myself than I have. If anybody else thinks that that’s good then that’s amazing. If it doesn’t do well then it is what it is. At least I think I can hold my head high and and say I did the absolute best I can and it’s not because it’s rubbish, because I don’t think it’s rubbish, it’s just because it’s not what people want right now or it doesn’t fit in with what pop music is these days I suppose. Hopefully there’ll be an audience out there that will find it and and enjoy it and want to support it, which would be incredible.

I think you’re going to be a bit surprised. When I listened to it, it reminded me of why I love pop music, which is something I’ve forgotten quite a bit in the past few years. I am a 90s more traditional pop, some 80s in there, music fan and that’s what I loved about it. I listened to all 15 tracks from start to finish, didn’t skip any and listened to it all over again straight after…

(laughs) I know, it’s long isn’t it? What used to love about listening to albums is that I would like to listen to them from start to finish and have a whole experience of an album. You don’t do that with many albums anymore. I chose most of these songs because I absolutely loved and could listen to them over and over and over again. I feel like I can’t be the only person that feels that way about these songs because they are really good songs. Hopefully by my vocal being on them, it’s given them something different to maybe the demo.

If I Didn’t Have You is a cover version of an Amanda Marshall song and my version is completely different to hers. I’ve put a little new spin on it. I’ve got to the point now where I just have to let it go and just let it out there and just wait and see what what happens. There’s not really much more that I can do now at this stage. It’s exciting and it’s terrifying and it’s a bit overwhelming. We’ll see where we are next week.

I’m taking it as a good sign that my husband, who listens to not much after the 70s, walked into the room while I was listening to the album and he asked who was singing. I explained it was you and he listened to a few songs and said, ‘this is really good, I might borrow it’. He’s not normally interested in much that I listen to…

Wow! That’s amazing, that’s really nice to hear. I’ve had so much lovely feedback and it’s overwhelming that other people are finally hearing it and people like yourself… you just get it, you get what I tried to do and I think that’s really important. Hopefully people will listen to it and feel the same.

I’m confident they will. I’m also confident the album needs to come out on vinyl at some point. This is an album that would sound gorgeous on vinyl!

Ooo! I’ll have to speak to Sony about that (laughs).

Claire Richard’s debut solo album My Wildest Dreams (order it now) is released via Sony Music on Friday 1st February. Watch the video for Shame On You below:

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