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Interview: Steps tease new album ‘What The Future Holds’ and their 2021 tour

Steps made their debut in 1997 with their single ‘5,6,7,8’. From there the group went on to become one of the biggest pop groups in the world.

After disbanding abruptly in 2001, the band reunited in 2011 for a documentary and the release of ‘The Ultimate Collection’. 2012 saw the release of new album ‘Light Up The World’ and then things went quiet for five years when the group released ‘Tears On The Dancefloor‘.

That album was a huge hit for Steps, peaking at number 2 in the UK Album Chart and achieving Gold certification. It cemented the group’s return to the charts and off the back of it they sold-out a huge arena tour.

Three years later, and in the midst of the global pandemic, Steps have made their delayed return and will release new album ‘What The Future Holds‘ on 27th November. They will also tour in November and December 2021.

I hopped onto Zoom recently to catch up with Faye Tozer, Lee Latchford-Evans, Lisa Scott-Lee and Ian ‘H’ Watkins (Claire was unwell on the day) to talk about ‘What The Future Holds’, reflect on the success of ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ and to discuss next year’s tour…

Hello guys! You must be bowled over by the reaction that ‘What The Future Holds’ has had?

Faye: It was a long time coming to be honest. We’ve been working on this project for about two years or so. Just before lockdown we had everything ready to go and then we got the call saying we had to keep it to ourselves. It’s been a tough time and quite frustrating but actually, as soon as it came out, the social media campaign was so exciting, even for us, let alone the fans. It’s been an incredible overwhelming response and we’re blown away.

You were originally meant to start promoting the album in March but due to the pandemic, everything was postponed. That must have been so disappointing?

H: We were gutted but it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. We postponed everything to far enough in the future that hopefully everybody will be safe and we can just party like we used to then.

I know ‘What The Future Holds’ was written by Sia and recorded prior to the pandemic but its lyrics feel so timely and poignant. Did that sway you when it came to choosing it as the first single?

Lee: I think for us, once we heard it, this was like the flagship song for the album. The lyrics of ‘one foot in the past, one foot in the future’ stood out to the band because that’s exactly what we are at the moment. We’ve had all the hits and the nostalgia, then we had ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ and now we’ve got ‘What The Future Holds’. That lyric alone was the selling point. Obviously, we loved the song, and then with Sia writing it, that was the icing on the cake. But no, it’s not really relevant to what’s happening now (in terms of us) putting it out. It was meant to come out earlier on in the year but everything got put on hold. I’m just glad that we can somehow put it out now and do a bit of promo like we’re doing and just make it work. I do think it is a bit poignant for the time, it wasn’t meant to be, and hopefully fans are loving it and embracing it because we all need a little bit of fun, a little bit of light hearted entertainment atthe moment. These times are a bit bit dire and we don’t really know what is around the corner.

Steps - What The Future Holds
Credit: BMG

One of the things that I’ve loved since this song came out is just seeing all the people on social media filming themselves doing the dance. You’ve given us Steps fans something do during these difficult times haven’t you?

Lisa: (laughs) I honestly do think it’s part of our success story because even from the very beginning with 5,6,7,8 we always had a dance routine that went with our singles and our videos. It puts us in a different vein to other artists. I can’t think of anybody that is still doing that 23 years later like we are. The great thing is that when we’re performing on stage, we always wanted to break down that fourth wall. It’s not just about performing for us, it’s about the audience feeling part of our show and we have a lot of audience participation. When you are performing as part of Steps and you look out at 20,000 people and you’ve got a sea of people doing your dance routines back to you and they’re singing all your words…. I just dance is universal and it makes me feel happy. It’s my happy place. We made it accessible so that all the fans could join in and we always say everybody’s welcome.

Faye: It’s crazy. It’s a huge coincidence that the title of the song is relevant now. It’s quite funny because us as a band and the design of our band, we’re social distanced when we’re actually performing. We never look at each other (laughs) and our little tagline for TikTok (laughs) it’s kind of it’s falling into place for us in a very strange way.

H: I think the only time we’ve actually touched each other, so to speak, in a routine is ‘It’s The Way You Make Me Feel’ when we did some partner work.

Your fans are dying to see you on tour next year. As a Steps fan myself, I’ve been to many a Steps show over the years and they get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Do you feel pressure when you’re planning this tour to beat what you’ve done previously?

Faye: I don’t feel like it’s pressure. We are really excited and this is the time when we get all our creative juices flowing. We’ve got an incredible creative team. This is our baby and this is our favorite time when we’re actually making the tour coming together. At the moment, we definitely know what the staging is going to be and we have the little models so that’s really exciting. Now it’s on to themes and costumes, and lighting and projections and screens. This is a really exciting time. I think the pressure is just to make it as exciting as possible but also give our fans the new look of everything, but still giving them the songs that they want to hear. It’s just finding that balance.

You’ve got so many hits to choose from now and obviously you want to showcase the new album too. Is it a nightmare pulling a setlist together?

Lisa: Do you know what? We do say it’s a great problem to have. We’re just so blessed. We’re so lucky to have such a big back catalogue like that. That’s one of the hardest processes of sitting down and planning all the tours and looking at the setlist. Each time we tour we’re fortunate enough to have released a new album, we’ve got new hits and we know that the fans want to hear the old classics as well as the new ones. It’s definitely a bit of a juggling act thinking, ‘right, which ones did we not perform on the last tour that the fans would like to see now?’. I think also with the help of technology and looking at Spotify and seeing which ones are really popular in streaming, and that kind of helps us in our decision making.

Something you’ve managed to do, which so few bands with your longevity manage, is to release new music your fans actually want to hear. The songs from ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ and your new single sit seamlessly next to the hits. You must be feeling very good about the song picking process now?

Lisa: Yeah, it’s not easy is it guys. We’re lucky that we have so many amazing top writers that submit songs for us. We will sit down as a collective with our management and we’ll listen to them all, and try have an open mind and think, ‘right, well that’s a great song but actually is it Steps? Would that sound right on Steps of today?’ Sometimes some of us will go, ‘Oh, we love that’ and then one person will go ‘no, I really don’t like that. I really don’t want to record that’ mentioning no names but follow my eyes (Lisa looks at H). That did happen on this album, there is a song that H wasn’t very keen on but we all loved it and you love it now, right?

H: Which one?

Lisa: The midtempo…

H: Yeah, I thought the demo sounded a bit Massive Attack, for me. I didn’t really didn’t believe in that one but now I love it. It’s one of my favourites.

Lisa: That’s why I hope you don’t mind me saying because I know you love it now and we just performed it the other day.

H: No, I love it. I absolutely adore it.

Lisa: There you go, a bit of goss (laughs).

Credit: BMG

Did the success of ‘Tears On The Dancefloor’ give you more confidence when it came to picking the songs for this album? You got that album pitch perfect…

Faye: Wow, we absolutely love that album. I think it gave us a confidence and a platform to believe that we could go on and do new original music because before then, I think none of us had dreamed that we’d do another newly recorded album. That was exciting. The album was actually full of bangers and dance floor fillers. This album is actually really quite different. It feels a little bit more intimate in some ways but I think musically and production wise and, like the lyric says on ‘What The Future Holds’ – ‘one foot in the past, and one foot in the future’. Someone said the other day, it’s like new old Steps. It’s got that core of great pop songs with great lyrics but then some of the production really lends itself to what we used to hear and see for the band. It’s gonna be interesting to see what reaction is.

As well as the bangers, you’ve been known for your harmonies on the big ballads over the years. Are we going to get any of those?

Lee: Faye’s just hit the nail on the head there. The last album, it was like a rocket, it just went and it was banger after banger whereas this one I think is a little bit more of a roller coaster. It takes you on a bit more of a journey. It’s got different emotions within it and there’s definitely ballads in there. I think this one is exactly show Faye’s just described it. It is a bit of the past, a bit of the future. There’s nods to old stuff, there’s not to where we might go and you’ve got the power ballads thrown in there as well.

Faye: I think it’s a sing-a-long album more than the last one.

That’s what we need at the moment, and we always need Steps. Is your experience as Steps better now because you can have downtime between albums and go and do your own things before coming back with new music?

Lee: It keeps it real. It keeps us all grounded a bit more. It was just a runaway train when we were younger. We just kept going, kept going and kept going. I don’t think we really knew what was going on in the real world. We just had our own world. Now it’s really nice to jump on that train again go for a few stops, get off, go to reality, and then come back, get on the train again. I think it works really, really well and just keeps us all a little bit sane.

Faye: I think the balance of home life and work life is really, really important for our own sanity but it’s also lovely to be able to support each other in our own projects that are going on. I think it makes Steps stronger for that and our relationship stronger. Every time you don’t see Steps, it’s not that we’re not doing Steps work, we’re just planning the next bit.

The way you’re working together and putting out music is clearly working for both you and your fans. It must be nice to know you don’t have to churn an album out every year and that your fans will be there no matter what…

H: I think it’s nice to have the freedom creatively and it’s important to us, to match if not better, the previous record. It was a really, for us, a leap of faith to release new music last time and ‘Scared Of The Dark’ ticked all of the boxes for us. The criteria is drama, lyrics that are quite dark, a banging tune and a key change, and that literally fits everything that we wanted. Now I think ‘What The Future Holds’ sounds like classic Steps. ‘Scared Of The Dark’ did that for us so it’s up there with ‘One for Sorrow’, ‘Better Best forgotten’ and ‘Love’s Got a Hold On My Heart’. We’ve been doing lots of interviews this past week, and lots of radio stations have done medleys and compilations to introduce us. ‘What The Future Holds’ sounds like classic Steps and I love that about it. It’s just has our blueprint all over it.

Faye: Massive chorus. Love it. Boom! (laughs)

The album’s coming in November but is there anything else that you’ve got coming up or that you’ve got in the works before Christmas?

H: We’ve just filmed the video for our second single and that’s really exciting. The whole setup is something that we’ve never really done before. It’s really cool and really slick. We’ve just had the first edit through and the girls look incredible, and Lee of course.

Lisa: And you H, don’t leave yourself out!

H: Well, I’m not going to say that by myself am I? Gosh!

Lisa: We’ll say it for you! (The video) is quite stylized, actually, the colour palettes and everything. We’ve done every colour under the sun but we’ve found one we haven’t done before. (laughs)

Faye: It’s really exciting. We’re going to be releasing a second single and a second video. When the album comes out, hopefully, we’ll be all allowed to get together and do some more promotion. Hopefully, there’ll be another live performance that we can somehow record and get through to everyone. We’re just kind of having to wait and see what happens around the world a little bit. We still want to be keeping busy.

H: We’re going to be drip feeding some new tracks from the new album as well. We’ve decided on band favourites, to push your way and just to tease you a little bit more. Because we like teasing!

Faye: Also for us to be able to perform them. It’s really exciting having a new album but it’s really nice to actually able to give them to you guys properly.

H: That’s what we do, right? Because we’re in a band, and you should sing when you’re in a band, right?

Faye: Well, I don’t know (laughs).

I saw you performing on ‘The One Show’ recently and social media was blowing up after the performance. You must feel like you’ve got the last laugh when critics tried to dismiss you back in the 90s as a one-hit-wonder and here you are singing live better than any pop band, and selling out arenas…

H: You know what, we have the last laugh. We were always in on the joke. We’d never take ourselves too seriously. It was always the ones that took the mickey, that didn’t understand us. If you were part of our gang, then you got it and we’ve never pretended to be anything that we’re not, which is just pure pop. Just come with us, have fun and that’s what it’s about.

Faye: When we got into the studio and we were recording those songs, having not performed for nearly a year, for me just to be in the room singing and dancing was just such a massive buzz. It was just so exciting to be able to do plus having all of our bandmates face to face, which was quite emotional when we got together. As performers, you know, not just through Steps, it’s really lovely. It was electric and it was brilliant.

Roll on the tour I say…

Lisa: Absolutely. It’s been a tough time for everybody regardless of what industry you’re in and even what country you’re in worldwide. Now’s the time for Steps to sprinkle some of our magic. I think everyone needs a bit of hope and something to look forward to so hopefully we can we can deliver that to everybody out there.

Steps’ single ‘What The Future Holds’ is out now and their album of the same name will be released on 27th November 2020. You can pre-order the album now and get your hands on tickets to their 2021 ‘What The Future Holds’ tour.

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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