Featuring 11 new tracks, including the singles ‘Heartbreak in This City’ with Michelle Visage and ‘Take Me For a Ride’, the album is a continuation of last year’s ‘What The Future Holds’. Continuing to mix classic Steps with newer sounds, the band – Claire Richards, Faye Tozer, Lee Latchford-Evans, Lisa Scott-Lee and Ian ‘H’ Watkins – is gearing up for their arena tour, which kicks off in November.
I caught up with the band recently to talk about the making of the new album, discuss their favourite songs on the record and find out about the upcoming tour…
‘What The Future Holds Pt. 2’ is out and it’s like being back to the classic Steps days when you used to put out an album a year. This is the fastest follow-up we’ve ever had from you…
Claire: Yeah. I guess it was a year in-between before.
Lisa: We used to record them in six weeks in the in the early days. I remember that!
Claire: This is even less than a year because the last one was November.
Faye: This one has been quite interesting because it’s been a completely different idea behind it. We initially thought maybe we would have done a deluxe edition, or something like that, and then it turned into something completely different. Probably because of what’s going on in the world and we couldn’t go off and do the tour and things like that. It sped through a little bit faster.
I’m absolutely loving the record and it’s likely going to be my pop album of 2021. Thank god Steps are still around and making great pop music because pretty much no one else is…
Claire: We’re always a little bit nervous because we have hold of it for so long. This one we’ve had hold of for less time because we did it quite quickly, but releasing it out there and letting other people hear it is always a bit nerve-wracking. We think, ‘oh yeah, we think it’s good but will everybody else?’ (laughs)
You’ve made putting the set list together for your tour incredibly difficult. I’d like to hear all of the songs from ‘What The Future Holds’ and ‘What The Future Holds Pt. 2’ along with all the hits but you can’t really do a four hour show… or can you?
Claire: Oh my god, we really have! We could just have people coming in and out we’d have different sittings. This is the ‘Step One’ era. This is the ‘Steptacular’ era…
Well they do that with ‘Harry Potter’ on the West End don’t they? They do part one then give the audience a few hours off before Part 2…
Claire: We should do a week and each night we do a different album.
Faye: We should have a Steps cruise and different nights are different albums…
Lee: We’ve got seven albums so there’s a week there!
You’re at the point now where you’ve released more albums than you did the first time round…
Claire: …and we’ve been together longer (laughs)
It’s coming up to the 25th anniversary of ‘Step One’, you’re still selling out arena shows and ‘What The Future Holds’ went silver in a month. That must be a great feeling after all these years?
Lee: It feels amazing. I think we’re all surprised. I think we’d be lying if we said we weren’t. We never expected it. To be out there now in this modern world, it’s so different let’s be honest. We’re trying to work out how it all works still and we’re used to these physical copies that we like to put out there for our fans. We’re still doing that now but to be up there with Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran, all these people where we’re battling for UK number one 25 years on is amazing. We couldn’t be prouder but we are surprised at the same time.
Faye: (We’re) very grateful.
You must be feeling good about your chances for number one with this album?
Lee: You say that every time but we never get it (laughs)
Claire: You know what, we don’t ever expect it. Sometimes we think we’re just about to get it but the last two we’ve been pipped at the post by a male solo artist. The Manic Street Preachers are releasing, that would be a bit bittersweet if we managed to get number one over them after they beat us with ‘One For Sorrow’. Streaming is apparently the thing…
Lee: It would be good to get some streams but our sales go with physicals more. That’s where we excel.
Faye: It would be lovely but it doesn’t affect us if we’re not number one. It’s not like we’re gonna get dumped by the record company. It’s different days for us. The fact that we’ve got such an amazing loyal fan base that still keep on asking us to do more and keep buying those tickets…
Claire: That’s been our story throughout our career as well. Back in the day our albums were always number one but singles wise there were weeks when we were number two but any other week of the year it would have been number one. It seems to be our story but we break records even though we’re not number one. Like Faye said, we’re just doing our thing and hoping that the fans still want it and hopefully we gather a few new fans along the way. We’re not avidly sitting there with the chart expecting and waiting for that number one because we know we could still do what we’re going to do anyway.
I watched the live show you did for BBC Radio 2. That’s the first time you’ve performed a live show in a while and the audience was sat down to be COVID compliant. What was that like?
H: We were told that we were going to have 500 people in a mosh pit and then rules and regulations changed and it was like dinner theatre (laughs).
Claire: The one thing that came across from all of them is they were all sat on the edge of their seats with smiles, it was a bit like Christmas morning. They all looked like they were thoroughly enjoying it.
Lee: H always does his ‘woo woo’ when we’re on tour and in an arena everyone’s bopping away and doing it. It’s brilliant. He did it again on this BBC Radio 2 show and they’re all sitting there at these little tables going ‘woo woo! Are we allowed to do it? We’re not sure’.
(the band bursts into laughter)
H: I don’t play that down. (The audience) were actually brilliant and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the first time we’ve been back together. Faye said on the radio the other morning that it was thanks to Radio 2 that they got us here. It’s a monumental thing getting us all in the same country let alone the same room.
Lee: Especially with COVID as well and all those rules and regulations.
H: It was an outstanding night. It was brilliant.
You are going to be one of the first, if not the first, acts to do a major tour as we come out of the pandemic. How are you feeling about it?
Lee: I think it’s just gonna be great to be out there performing. We’ve always said our tours are our babies. That’s what we excel at, that’s what we’re here for, that’s what the audition was back in day one… we want to be performers. We just hope people have the courage to know that it’s okay to come out and watch the show now. Arenas are opening up, sports venues are opening up and people are going out there. They’re experiencing what they used to experience in the past. Tickets are on sale now. Just come along and have a great time because that’s what it’s about, especially in the horrible year and a half now that we’ve had. We need to let ourselves go a bit and just relax and have some fun.
There could be some messy nights. Your fans are always enthusiastic so imagine what they’ll be like if this is their first show in nearly two years…
Lisa: It’s going to be electronic I think. They’re always great audiences but I think even more so it will be on this tour.
H: Everybody has been cooped up for nearly two years. We’re ready and happy – we’re chomping at the bit.
Faye: (It’s as exciting for us) as well because it’s been such a long time in the making. We were going to announce it on the day of the first lockdown – the album and the tour – and we had to sit on our hands. The tour is our baby.
Lee: It’s the icing on the cake. The foundation is what we’re doing now but what we’re about is getting on that stage and performing.
Claire: Making that decision, a year and a half ago to go, ‘right. We’re going to move the tool and we’re going to just postpone everything’ was one of the scariest things I think we’ve (done). I was going, ‘oh it’ll fine, don’t worry. Let’s just carry on doing it’. I don’t think anybody knew that we would be this far down the line and we’ve still not even started rehearsals yet. It’s incredible. We’re just absolutely raring to go.
Faye: Just the energy though of seeing like music and seeing live performances. It’s just a completely different experience that absolutely fills your heart doesn’t it. It’s creating memories. I can’t wait.
On this album you’ve continuing your ethos of mixing classic Steps with newer sounds. It’s a little darker and more mature in places…
Lee: Where do you feel it’s darker?
I think the single ‘Take Me For a Ride’ is darker than anything we’ve heard from you before…
(the band agree)
Faye: … and ‘A Hundred Years of Winter’ too. It’s quite wintery…
H: We went full circle and it was a conscious decision. We went back to Topham and Twigg, they wrote a lot of our original hits – ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘One For Sorrow’ – so it just felt right for this album.
H: And then we slap you in the face with ‘The Slightest Touch’…
(the band bursts into laughter)
Faye: I think (‘Take Me For A Ride’) is relevant to now. I think a lot of people who listen to our music have their theme tunes to their lives as they’ve grown up.
H: What I like about that song is that it’s a conversation, which I think a lot of people can relate to out there. It’s a really quirky one for us.
What are your favourite songs on this album?
Lisa: I would say, for me, ‘A Million Years’ because I love it when we do the pop dance side of things. As soon as that starts… I was really into that one.
Lee: I like ‘High’ just because it’s so different. I think it’s unusual and it’s almost musical theatre. It could be in ‘The Greatest Showman’ or something like that. There’s something different about it than the average pop song.
H: I love, this is the obvious one, ‘The Slightest Touch’ because it’s massive bucket list territory for me. If you were a child of the 80s, or you grew up in the 80s, then Five Star would have been part of your bedroom wall. They were part of mine. I was a member of the fan club. I collected their badges. To have that, it’s just the stuff dreams are made of. A lot of us love Five Star in the band and we brainwashed the other members.
(The band bursts into laughter again)
Had that song been released during the first time around, it would have been a huge number one for you…
Claire: The covers that we’ve done over the years, it sits really well in amongst those. We’ve always made our covers much bigger than the original and I think this one really sits well with ‘Chain Reaction’, ‘Better The Devil You Know’ and ‘Tragedy’.
H: I will say that we can take a lot of the credit for that song because we were working on the original mix and none of us were happy with that. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with producers…
Faye: We didn’t produce it though…
H: No, but the song we originally had to what we have now…
Claire: John Dixon from 7th Heaven should take some credit for it because he just took it to another level and made it exactly what you hear now. He did a great job on it. I don’t know my favourite is, apart from ‘The Slightest Touch’ which is one of my favourites.
Faye: You like to ‘Wasted Tears’…
Claire: Oh, ‘Wasted Tears’. Yeah. It’s one of my favourites. I really like that one. It’s just feels nice and it felt nice to sing as well.
H: What’s your favourite?
I really like ‘A Hundred Days of Winter’. I didn’t realise it was written by Darren Hayes when I first heard it but I think it’s quite different. I also love your vocal on it…
H: Oh, Lee and I sung lead on that. The Darren Hayes connection comes because we share the same birthday. We were born on May 8th. Darren and I connected about 15 years ago. He actually messaged me and he said, ‘Happy Birthday birthday twin’. Every year we message each other and say ‘Happy Birthday birthday twin’. I asked him on the (‘Tears On The Dancefloor’) album if he had any songs and ‘No More Tears On The Dancefloor (which Darren wrote) became the title. Then he gave us ‘A Hundred Years Of Winter’, which I love. That’s my other favourite on the album.
Faye, what’s your favourite song?
Faye: I think for the chapter that it was having Michelle (Visage), do ‘Heartbreak In This City’ was so lovely. The way that all came about, it was just a really fun time in a dark time and it lifted our spirits when things were tough outside. It was great to have that connection and then we’ve ended up doing ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and all these exciting things.
H: We were signed 25 years ago on a one single deal with a line dance song so to be having songs from Sia and Darren Hayes, and doing ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, it feels like such an exciting new era. It’s just mind blowing to me.
Lisa: I did an interview yesterday and they said, ‘you’re bigger now than you ever were’ and I thought, ‘What do you mean?’ (laughs). I thought actually it does feel bigger.
Faye: When you have bands that keep going and have longevity, their fans keep them going but you don’t necessarily hear them on the radio constantly or see them constantly. It’s like Status Quo, they were always going and always releasing new albums, and I only knew them about them through friends but they were still like selling out arenas all over the world and just doing their thing. I feel like we’re a little bit like that. We’ve done our time a little bit, and we can just crack on, but not be in everyone’s face.
H: If you compare us to any band back in our era, I think – correct me if I’m wrong – we’re the only ones still doing it…
Claire: With the full line-up
H: It’s crazy really!
Nobody else is doing what you’re doing and I think that’s why you’re still so successful all these years on. The fans that were with you the first time appreciate that you’re still making decent pop music at a time when pop music just isn’t what it used to be…
Claire: It’s been really important to us. I know from the outside looking in a lot of people, especially back in the day, saw us as a bit of a joke and a bit of a novelty act. We’ve always taken it seriously. We have a laugh but we take our job really seriously and we would never want to put out rubbish material just for the sake of it. Every time we do this, we’re really conscious of the music that we are putting out and making sure it’s what the fans want ultimately. I don’t think any of us would sit back and accept just putting out music for the sake of it just because we can. We always take it very, very seriously and we want to be the best that we can.
H: I think a turning point for us in our career, because it was the first time we’d come back with new music and it had to be such a spectacular song that made a statement, and it did, was ‘Scared Of The Dark’. It was the first new song we’d release for centuries (the band laughs) but it sets the bar and that song stands up with our back catalogue. Everything else since then I think is equal, they’re all absolute bangers.
Claire: ‘What The Future Holds’, the first singles of these new albums have just been massive bangers and exactly what the Steps fans want from us.
H: Radio 2 are playing us now, putting us on the A-List and making us ‘Album of the Week’. We banged on their doors 20 years ago and nobody would sniff at us.
The other reason you’re still selling albums and tickets is because you are great live, which is something that wasn’t recognised the first time round. Listening to your acoustic version of ‘Heartbreak In This City’ on the BBC Radio 2 show really highlights the strength of your vocals and harmonies, and pop music hasn’t always been known as a genre where you get good live vocals…
Claire: That’s true. Back in the day we were renowned for our little headsets…
Claire: Everybody wasn’t. Before us people would go on ‘Top of the Pops’ and wouldn’t even have a microphone.
H: Everybody was!
Faye: There was a time when we weren’t allowed to sing on ‘Top of the Pops’ and a time that we had to sing. It depended on the show and whether you had rehearsal time or not, or whether you were just flown in and chucked on the stage.
Claire: It was never a case that we couldn’t do it, I suppose. The older you get the more you learn as well. I definitely know more about my voice now than I did 25 years ago.
H: The other thing as well is that we didn’t have time in our schedule to devote a morning of soundchecks or the day before we were flying in from Belgium. It was just jam packed. We’d have to turn up to ‘Top of the Pops’ do it and then fly to Holland. We didn’t have the luxury of soundchecks.
Have you started thinking about how you might mark the 25th anniversary of ‘Step One’? I know your fans are keen for vinyl editions of your early albums…
Claire: I think that’s a lovely idea – ‘Step One’, ‘Steptacular’, ‘Buzz’ and maybe ‘Gold’ on vinyl would be nice. We’ve got ideas and the fans have given us ideas. It’d be lovely to mark it and do some things.
Faye: We’ve got wishes.
Claire: We just have to kind of, yeah, what do you think we should do? Let’s just see. Watch this space.
Steps’ new album ‘What The Future Holds Pt. 2’ is out now with a variety of formats available at their official store. Tickets for their upcoming arena tour can be purchased at: ticketmaster-uk.tm7559.net/1jPeD