dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It's Chart Rigger's Totally Amazing Interview With Nicki French! (Part One)

Wow, Nicki French sure can chat up a storm! It's a good thing, too, because all you have to do is read this or this to know that Chart Rigger wouldn't even be online were it not for her music.

So, let's get down to brass tacks. Engergise Records is re-releasing Nicki's 1995 smash "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" in the UK on June 12. Billed as Diva DJs Vs. Nicki French, there are seven awesome new mixes of the track (plus the video) on the single. You can pre-order your copy here from HMV, so it counts toward the official British singles chart. She'll also be performing at G-A-Y the day of the single's release!

To coincide with this, Chart Rigger rang up La French one night and kindly made her skip dinner to talk music. Not only is she full of great anecdotes on the producers she's worked with over the years, her fans and a certain Mr. Simon Cowell, but she also hinted that she's been talking with Mike Stock again. Hmmmm.

But before giving too much away, let's get on with the interview!

CHART RIGGER: First of all, you have some of the friendliest fans on your site's forum.
NICKI FRENCH: Aren't they just? They're fantastic. It wouldn't be the website without them. I've met so many of them now, and they really are such a lovely bunch.

It's almost like a little family, the way they all interact with you. Myself, I'm more of a "lurker."
They are like a little family. There's been a couple times where we've started to disagree - usually about politics! [Laughs] - but eventually we say, "Let’s calm this down. We're supposed to all be having fun on here." But, I'm so grateful to them, because a lot of them have started coming along to different shows that I do around the country, which is amazing!

Speaking of shows, you gayed it up at Australia's Mardi Gras last year. Any naughty stories from that one?
Um, there were a few! [Laughs] Having the costume fittings was quite interesting, because it was in a store where the guy normally kicks out drag queens. I went in there, and bless his heart, he was very sweet, but very shy. So, he wanted to check whether the top was going to work. He'd done a mock-up of it, and there's me, you know, I have no shame. I just whipped my top off. I was wearing a bra underneath, but I could see he was so embarrassed! Bless his heart, he did a great job with everything. Then on the first dress rehearsal, because there was such a quick changeover of outfits, they'd built a cubicle at the back of the stage that you couldn't see from the audience. The first rehearsal for it with the clothing, I was given these two guys that were going to change me and sort everything out. So, we get into the cubicle after the first song to change into the black gear for "I Surrender," and there was no lighting in there! No one had thought about the fact that we had to be able to see what we were doing. So, one of them tried to put my boots on the wrong way round, and it ended up "I Surrender" was halfway through the song before I finally went out there! [Laughs] We had the stage manager holding the back of my outfit together so that I wasn't too embarrassed, because they just couldn't do it. They just could not sort it. In the end, the guy that actually made the clothing had to be in there for the actual show. It worked fine then. But, it was a rather scary moment.

So, what's the furthest you've traveled to perform?
I've done a lot of trips to Brazil in the past, and obviously to the States. Japan I've done many times. But I would probably say Australia is the furthest. Japan was a long one, and I once did a day trip! I went over there, I did the show in the evening and I had to fly back 24 hours later. I didn't have time to get jet lag! I got back and about three days later I was like a zombie.

Growing up, did you take singing lessons?
I didn't actually take my first singing lesson until I was at college, so I was about 17 or 18 years old. It was all classical, and that's how I like it. I like to do lots of classical exercises to warm my voice up, because to belt out a song really puts a strain on the voice. You know, I could sing Mozart or Hayden or Handel till the cows come home. I could sit there and sing that 24 hours a day and not put any strain on my voice. But when I go out and sing a Nicki French set, I'm putting a strain on my voice immediately! [Laughs] It's a very hard thing to do, so you have to make sure your voice is warmed up first.

It sounds like you re-recorded your vocals for the new version of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart."
Yes, I did. The guys weren't too bothered whether I did or not, but I said I wanted to. However small, my voice will have changed over the last ten years, and I wanted to do it differently. Although, one of the producers said, "We want you to sing it as you did originally." So, I changed it very, very slightly, but I put on much more in the way of backing vocals. Unfortunately, you only hear them in the "Tropicana Mix," because all the other versions used the same mix by someone else who just mixed a few of the backing vocals in. But I tried to do a few different things with it. It was very difficult, actually, because I've been singing that song now for over ten years, and you become - not lazy, but you become comfortable with it when you perform. And, to suddenly go back in the studio and have to be very strict and disciplined with how I sang it was very strange. But, I think we did it fine. It was enjoyable again, and it seems to be going down well with the clubs here, which is a good sign.

Alright, 'fess up - did it bother you that the original release just missed hitting #1 in the States?
Ohhh, yes! Of course it did! But at the same time, the fact that it was #2, and that it was the first UK act for goodness-knows-how-many years to get to #2, was just stunning. So, at the time, no, it really didn't. Of course you look back and you think, things would be so different if I'd been #1 rather than #2. But that Canadian man, Mr. [Bryan] Adams took it from me! [Laughs] The sad thing was, I really loved his song, so I couldn't be that upset! It was "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman." I loved that song, so I couldn't be annoyed.

Hmmm. That's very Zen of you. Originally you weren't too keen on doing the cover of "Total Eclipse," right?
Because it was such a strong song. I've got the original by Bonnie Tyler in my record collection. When I had the phone call and they said, "It's a dance version of this song 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart'," I thought, no, it's too strong a song to go down the dance route. You know, it demeans it almost. But, then I thought, well, I'll give it a go. And as soon as I heard the track, I thought it actually does work. After I heard it I was fine. But I was really reticent to start with. I'm very glad I didn't listen to myself that day! [Laughs]

Did you ever get any feedback on your version from Bonnie Tyler?
Not from Bonnie Tyler, although I have heard that she wasn't that keen. But Jim Steinman, the writer, actually contacted the studio a very short time after it had done well in Britain. He left a message for me, and since then I've worked with him. I've still never met him, but I worked with one of his producers. We recorded two of his previous tracks, because he'd heard the second album [French Revolution] and wanted to do something with me. When he was starting up Ravenous Records, he wanted me to be a part of it. Unfortunately, it never actually materialized, but it was amazing working with this man. Someone once said to me, "One of your dreams was to sing backing vocals for Meatloaf - now you're singing lead vocals for the man who made Meatloaf!" Jim Steinman really is a hero of mine.

Those tracks were never actually released?
No. I recorded "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad," which is one of my all-time favorite songs, and "Lovers Again" - both of which I think he'd used basically the backing tracks that had already been used before, possibly by Bonnie Tyler, I think. They sounded great and we were all really pleased with them. I don't know really what went wrong, but basically the contract never really took off with us. Because he's always so busy with so many projects, he couldn't commit himself to me for another couple of years. So in the end, we all agreed that it would be better for all concerned if we all walked away. I couldn't put my career on hold for two years.

That's a shame.
It was a shame, but you know, never say never. It might still happen one day.

Let's go from Jim Steinman to Mike Stock and Matt Aitken. How did they originally become involved with your version of "Total Eclipse"?
It was a guy in their office. The guys from Energise Records, who originally got me to do the first version, knew a man in Mike's office who was their publicity/promotions guy. They passed him the track. He then passed it to Mike, and Mike said, "Yes, I'd like to meet her. Yes, we can do something with this." And that's how it happened, basically. It was just a contact of a contact. It's how it works, isn't it? We all know it's all about who you know. And at that time, I knew nobody. But the other guys did and it just went through those channels.

Your third single with them, "Did You Ever Really Love Me," is really pop perfection.
Without a doubt, that's the best song I've ever recorded in my life. I really do believe that. It's a stunner.

Was there originally a plan to do the full Secrets album with Mike and Matt, or did that come about after the first single took off?
There was a plan once we saw how big "Total Eclipse" was becoming. It was basically when it started to become huge in the States, Mike said, "We've got to do an album. As soon as it's huge in the States, you've got to have an album ready." At this time I was in bed with a slipped disc and I could hardly walk! So I was being driven in to the studio each day and hobbling around. Mike was brilliant! He kept saying, "Do you want to sit down? Do you want to lie down? Do you need some water?" He was brilliant. He really was great, because Matt Aitken has always suffered with back problems. So between them, they understood. We did all the vocals in ten days flat for all the songs. I just had the best time. Mike is so enjoyable to work with in the studio. He really gets the best out of you.

Crikey! You guys threw that album together pretty quick!
They were writing some of the songs when I was going in to record a different one! [Laughs] I think "Did You Ever Really Love Me" was only written in an hour or something. It's the best song they've written in their lives, and it took such a short time.

Still, for the amount of time put into it, it's got some great songs on it.
Aw, thank you. Well, I won't lie - the original plan from Mike was that it would be aimed at the American market, basically. Then it became huge in Brazil and so on, and yet it's never actually been released over in the UK. It was just available on mail order, so I don't know how many it sold over here. I never will.

When all was said and done, were you happy with the way Secrets turned out?
Oh, very! Yes. There are some great songs on there. I now work more and more with a live band. It's a natural progression, and it's just so much more enjoyable than standing up there with backing tracks on your own. You've got all these people around you to feed off, and it's much nicer. And I've always had this dream of performing "Never In A Million Years" with the band, because it sounds like this sort of live-ish type thing, as well.

I'm assuming you were able to take more time recording the second album, French Revolution?
Yes, the new manager I had at the time said, "It would be worth you doing a new album," so we did. I actually managed to get in on the writing side as well, which was an eye-opener for me. But I enjoyed it. I wasn't confident enough to write on my own, to write solo. I'm better working with someone else. That was really good fun. I worked with two different producers [Mark Cyrus and Metro's Gary Miller] who were very different in their styles and the way they worked. It was good for me, but there were times when I thought, I could do with the discipline that Mike [Stock] gives in the studio. You'd never think it, but he's very disciplined in the studio. There were times where he'd say to me, "No, the diction on that's not right. You've got to pronounce it this way." He's quite hot on it. So, I found myself having to discipline myself, because the two producers weren't going to do it. However, it's nice to bring out albums that have different styles. I'm not into two albums that are all one style. I like a few ballads and I like some up-tempos.

Did you read Mike's book?
I bought it, but I haven't yet read it! [Laughs] I read the little bits that mentioned me!

Hello! There's that huge photo...
There's actually a full page photo of me! [Laughs]

What about Pete Waterman's book?
I got halfway through that. I'm still planning to finish that one.

Yeah, but when he goes off about the trains, it's like, babe, just get to "Band Aid 2" already.
Oh, absolutely!

But you do find from reading Mike's book that he is very disciplined, though people sometimes think that his pop songs are extremely simple.
And to make them sound so simple is an incredibly difficult thing. It's a very clever thing to do. He's a very good songwriter. There's a very slight possibility I might even be working with him again.

Hold on, doll, I just dropped the phone on the cat. Really?

That's great!
Yes, so there's a little exclusive for your interview! [Laughs] We talked and we're in discussions as we speak. I mean, I'd love to work with him again. Although we fell out at one point, we got back on track. I've never, ever said a word against his actual work in the studio. I've always said he’s just a magician.

Well, fingers crossed that it works out for you two working together again!
It's not definite, but we're discussing it now.

[To be continued...]

Next week: Nicki gets grilled on the Stock Aitken Waterman reunion, stood up by Simon Cowell at Eurovision and attempts to convince us she's not actually American porn star Nikki French.

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  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger Paul said…

    confession time - i was only really aware of TEOTH by Nikki La French but i will check out her music cos she sounds like a lovely grounded person. Top interview geezer ;)

  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger Paul said…

    D'Oh! My bad. Of course i mean Nicki

  • At 12:17 PM, Blogger MrBrady said…

    Great interview, Nicki is a true personality! It's a shame then that I can't stand the new version of TEOTH. No fault of Nicki's, but someone needs to throw away that Bontempi organ they got 25 Christmases ago!

  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger mobius said…

    I totally agree with Mr Brady. You gotta love Nicki! Fab interview and I can't wait for part 2.


  • At 7:26 PM, Blogger MoogaBoo said…


    Nicki French is a total gem, and so are you - not just for interviewing her long enough to get two weekly installments out of it (it is only two, right?), but because you also lurked on her forum and never told me about it! (I'm signing up as we speak.)

    So glad to hear she's working with Mike again. I so want to hear her Dazzling Diamond mix of Did You Ever... right now. Looking forward to next Friday, too.

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