I love All Saints and I’m proud of what we did but it doesn’t define me, says Shaznay Lewis

“FOR the past 25 years I’ve been known as ‘Shaznay from All Saints’.

“So, it was really important to step away from the band and make this record so I could just be Shaznay Lewis again,” says the singer.

Shaznay Lewis' classy pop album Pages arrives 20 years after her debut record Open, and she admits that the new album came as 'a surprise'

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Shaznay Lewis’ classy pop album Pages arrives 20 years after her debut record Open, and she admits that the new album came as ‘a surprise’Credit: katy gorniak
After 25 years of being known as 'Shaznay from All Saints', she says the new album was really important in allowing her to be 'Shaznay Lewis again'

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After 25 years of being known as ‘Shaznay from All Saints’, she says the new album was really important in allowing her to be ‘Shaznay Lewis again’Credit: katy gorniak
Shaznay, second left, was one quarter of pop band All Saints

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Shaznay, second left, was one quarter of pop band All SaintsCredit: PA:Press Association

At rehearsals at London’s Metropolis Studios, one of our most underrated songwriters and the real talent in girl group All Saints is preparing to release her second solo record.

The classy pop album Pages arrives 20 years after her debut record Open, and Shaznay admits that the new album came as “a surprise”.

“I didn’t think I’d ever make another one after my first one,” she says. “There were lots of changes at my record label so it took me four years to make that first one. By the time I released it in 2004, I was quite burnt out.

“I thought, ‘I don’t think I’ll do this again’.”

READ MORE ON SHAZNAY LEWIS

Shaznay went on to make two more albums with All Saints then, a couple of years ago after a writing session, she came up with an idea for a song that would become Missiles, the assured opening track from Pages.

Shaznay laughs remembering the early days of working on the record with producer and songwriter Ben Cullum, brother of jazz-pop singer Jamie Cullum.

“I was in the garden one day and I sat back with my headphones on and listened to this idea. I was really excited about it.

“So, I went to my friend Ben to produce Missiles and it sparked me to do a project.

‘I needed to break free’

“I was only calling it a ‘project’ with Ben at the time as I suppose ‘project’ is a bit non-committal. But once I’d set myself a deadline and made a certain number of songs, it became an ‘album’.

“And then I started to play it to people and, luckily, they thought it was great, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what happens. And here we are!”

Warm and forthcoming, Shaznay says this solo comeback feels like she is starting again.

I really needed to break free, put my big girl pants on and just get in the car and drive down that road by myself

“Even though I’ve got history, there’s a whole generation out there that do not know who I am,” she tells me. “And it’s exciting. People are liking these songs for what they are rather than just liking it because of where I’ve come from. When (Pages track) Good Mourning went on to a platform I hadn’t heard of called Complex, my teenage son ran into my room saying, ‘Oh my God, Mum, you are on Complex!’.”

The new music includes themes of self-love and acceptance and, on the brilliant Pick You Up, there is a spoken word intro by Self Esteem, aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor.

Shaznay says: “Pick You Up came really from someone close to me that had gone through depression.

“I was writing a message to that person, a message of love.

“When I’d written the song, I wanted some sort of spoken word at the beginning and Rebecca is friends with Johan Hugo, the producer of the song. She was amazing because she sent it on the 11th hour. A voice note — and it was just perfect. I haven’t met her yet.

“I went to see her (Cabaret) show, and I just thought she was amazing. She’s a female force of nature.”

Shaznay says making Pages has been like therapy and helped with her own self-esteem.

“Although I’m kind of driven to write songs in a particular way, sometimes it’s only actually afterwards I look at it, and it’s taught me something about myself as well and given me an understanding about something I was going through that I didn’t realise.

“I’m quite confident, but I’ve been lacking in self-esteem for the past 25 years,” she explains.

“I really needed to break free, put my big girl pants on and just get in the car and drive down that road by myself.

“I’d left the management company that manage All Saints and so, when I started, I was on my own, making the phone calls myself. Something was driving me to do this.”

In All Saints, she was the least showbiz of the band — alongside Melanie Blatt and sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton — often missing out on partying to concentrate on writing songs. The mum-of-two adds: “I feel really settled. I’m comfortable now with the person that I am, more so than I was 20 years ago.

My family’s my gang

“Then, I’d come out of a situation working with lots of people and having a huge entourage, to being on my own. So I felt vulnerable and lonely. But now I go home to a family. That’s my gang.”

Shaznay has been married to her husband, dancer Christian, since 2004 and they have a son Tyler-Xaine, 18, and a daughter Tigerlily, 14, who appear in her video for her stunning single Kiss Of Life — which has a feel of Donna Summer’s State Of Independence and features footage of Shaznay pregnant, along with the babies growing up.

Speaking about motherhood, she says: “The song Got To Let Go is about my struggle about letting go of him. My son’s got a lovely voice but it’s not really his thing, whereas my daughter is musical. She’s a natural and plays piano.

I wrote my first album Open 20 years ago… But in that time, I’ve got married, I’ve had children — I’ve grown up, so Pages felt right as now I’m filling the pages of that open book

“I adore motherhood. It changed me in a good way. Suddenly you understand your own mum more. And there’s more purpose. I remember when I got back with All Saints in 2014 and we toured with the Backstreet Boys, it was the first time I realised that I’d lost some of my mojo. That tour brought it back and I had a purpose for doing it. I adore them.

“That’s why I called this album Pages. I wrote my first album Open 20 years ago from an open perspective as a person. But in that time, I’ve got married, I’ve had children — I’ve grown up, so Pages felt right as now I’m filling the pages of that open book.”

On Tuesday night, the singer played her very first solo gig at London’s Jazz Cafe to a packed-out audience. One of the highlights was Shola Ama and General Levy performing with her for their joint track, the drum ’n’ bass-inspired Good Mourning.

Shaznay says: “That song was produced by Michael Angelo (who was nominated for two Grammy Awards for his work with Sam Smith), and with the track being that style of music, General Levy had to be on it.

“Then Shola, we’ve been friends forever, and we’ve always wanted to do something together.”

Shaznay says she is influenced by different styles of music and loves the freedom there is today to listen to whatever you like.

‘I don’t get nervous’

“There are no boxes now,” she says. “When I was younger, I used to go to Tim Westwood’s night at The Arches in Vauxhall in London and you’d discover a hip hop and R&B act over from America.

“But I’d also go to a New Kids On The Block concert too and sing along and scream for Donnie Wahlberg.”

She has also found there is far more support for female artists nowadays than when she first started in the industry.

Shaznay says: “There’s a lot more sisterhood now, which is great. There also seems to be a lot more togetherness and support between artists and women have become a lot more clued up to any misogynistic behaviour.

“I remember one time with All Saints when Top Of The Pops wanted to record backdrops of us with no tops on. We were adamant we didn’t want to do it and it turned into, ‘Well, if you don’t do it, you can’t do the show’, which didn’t feel right.

“But being in a band, like ours, we were quite renowned for saying, ‘No’. We were upfront and it was probably easier to target people on their own. My cover for Pages shows my neck and shoulders, but then that’s been my decision. When it’s somebody else’s decision, it’s not right.

I’d have to be dead inside if I stopped

“And as for age — I’m 48 now and the only time I remember age being a conversation was probably when we did the Rock Steady single — and I was in my early 30s then!”

Shaznay says she is still friends with her All Saints bandmates and has learnt a lot about her own music style.

“I had the best time on the last two All Saints albums and tours. From a creative point of view, I was really pleased with Red Flag and Testament albums.

“But as a songwriter I think the earlier albums are not cohesive and they’re rushed. We were flying around the world and chucking songs together and, if they had two hits on there, it was fine. But not for me as a songwriter.

I love All Saints and I’m proud of what I achieved with them. But that’s not what defines me. Then, I was just one of four voices

“And it’s not any disrespect to All Saints. Melanie will always be like a sister. When I was starting this project, I said, ‘I don’t think I can do this without you’. And she said, ‘You f***ing better!’. Then she came to watch me on Radio 2’s Piano Room and gave me a pouch of crystals to look after me wherever I go. That’s the kind of relationship I have with Melanie.

“But we are all cool. I love All Saints and I’m proud of what I achieved with them. But that’s not what defines me. Then, I was just one of four voices.

Shaznay Lewis, 48, has opened up on her new solo material, which she recorded with Jamie Cullum's brother Ben

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Shaznay Lewis, 48, has opened up on her new solo material, which she recorded with Jamie Cullum’s brother BenCredit: Getty
All Saints found fame for tracks including Never Ever and Pure Shores

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All Saints found fame for tracks including Never Ever and Pure ShoresCredit: AFP – Getty
Shaznay's first solo album Open was released in 2004 - now she is 'filling in the Page' from the ensuing 20 years

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Shaznay’s first solo album Open was released in 2004 – now she is ‘filling in the Page’ from the ensuing 20 yearsCredit: katy gorniak

“If I was talking about an album with three other people, I don’t think I’d be talking non-stop like I am here. Even though I probably would have fully written it, and they wouldn’t really know too much about the creative process, so it was different.

“Now I feel like I can freely speak, it’s a freedom, it really is.”

After a dazzling night at the Jazz Cafe, Shaznay is looking forward to summer, when she has performances lined up at Glastonbury, London’s Mighty Hoopla and Flackstock festival in Berkshire.

“I don’t get nervous at all, I’m just excited to perform. This is the start of something for me. I love creating and performing. As a person, it’s a huge part of who I am. So I don’t see me stopping anytime soon. I think I’d have to be dead inside if I stopped.”

The album Pages is out today

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The album Pages is out todayCredit: Supplied

SHAZNAY LEWIS

Pages

★★★★☆

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