album review and artist reflections
More Emma Bunton:
A Girl Like Me (2001)
review and interview © Mark Fisher 2004
production © Russell W Elliot 2004
Images © Darren Feinst 2004 | used with permission
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 08 January 2005
click on image to visit artist's website
Emma Bunton is not a newcomer to the music business. Professionally trained in performance arts and with artistic skills spanning singing, songwriting and dance, she became known as "Baby Spice" with the world famous Spice Girls during their reign. She is rapidly becoming the most successful of the lot in her solo career, climbing well past Geri Halliwell. While Emma's first solo album, A Girl Like Me (2001), did extremely well, her new release Free Me is taking the world by storm. She has waited until January 2005 to build momentum for the project in the rest of the world and launch the album in America.
We caught up with Emma during a recent promotional visit to discuss the making of the new album, the direction of her career and her feelings about life and music in this exclusive interview. Her album has a certain and intentional 60s feel to it--some reviewers have made comparisons to John Barry's James Bond themes--and will appeal to a broad audience. It is certainly not a flash in the pan pop album as our review clearly illustrates. Read on. Learn more about the real Emma Bunton!
Musical Discoveries: How are you Emma? From what I have read promoting this new album is keeping you very busy all over the world!
Emma Bunton: Yes! Pretty busy! I have been traveling all over the world. It's been AMAZING! I have just come back from India where I did a little cameo for a Bollywood movie. I have also just come back from Italy. I have just been all over promoting the album and it's been great.
So the album has been released everywhere except America then?
Yes, it's been released everywhere else. The reason for that was that I kind of wanted to take my time with each country. I brought it out in the UK actually earlier this year. Then I released it in Europe and so on. I just wanted to take each country and spend some time out there. The next step is America and I'm really excited about that because obviously it's a big thing for us. It's just kind of happened really in America with the dance mix of "Free Me" doing really well. And then I came out and I have had so much support from everyone. It's just been wonderful!
Have you had other releases since the Spice Girls that weren't released in America?
I did. Yes, I had one album, called A Girl like Me, which did really well. It went gold in the UK and all over. I found with that album that I was still kind of trying to find my feet. There was a lot of naivety in that album. It's kind of like my little baby. I'm sure that I didn't know it then but I probably wasn't as comfortable on that album as I have been with this second album.
Going into record Free Me was just a different experience for me. I think just growing up and kind of figuring out who I was really as a person made it a lot easier. I just became a lot more confident in the studio. I knew exactly how I wanted this album to sound. I worked with some amazing producers and then I wrote all the lyrics. I just felt that this is a stronger album. It's like a diary for me, this album, I have been very honest.
Is perhaps part of the reason that you felt the time was right to bring your music to America?
Absolutely. Because I felt that this was stronger album I was much more confident to come over and spend lots of time.
The Spice Girls were one of the most successful acts in music history and with that comes some backlash after the musical tide changes. You certainly experienced that. Couple that with the fact that other former Spice Girls solo records have been very poorly received here. So how nervous were you/are you, if at all, about whether or not Free Me would be received well?
Right. Well the thing is that our fans have always been so supportive. That's the thing that I kind of hold on to. I have had so many emails from all over the world saying things like, "We want to hear more stuff from you" and that is always such a lovely thing to hear. I think what it is for me the only thing I want to do is that I just want to be myself. I just want to be honest and open and that's exactly what I did with this album.
I love Motown music and I wanted to bring a little of that back in as well. I wanted to have fun with it. I understand the business and being in the Spice Girls was one of the most amazing times of my life. It gave me the opportunity to move on and do solo work. I learned so much from the Spice Girls and I had the best time. So it's been a lovely experience for me and I feel very very lucky that I'm now able to create something for me, you know? On my album I had lots of input and with the videos I came up with lots of ideas. That's all I can do, I just wanna be honest.
People in the States have always been so supportive of me and I want to be able to say "Hey! I've written this album and I want you to be able to get to know me as a person." That's why I'm hoping to spend a lot of time out here. You know, in the UK people have watched me grow up through the press and stuff like that and that's why I want to spend more time in the States. I want people to get to know me in America as well.
Having been out of the musical spotlight for a bit you have been able to sort of remake yourself in some ways, you even mentioned how you have matured, and now you are "Emma Bunton solo artist." What do you want to establish about yourself in that respect? Do you feel that maybe there are some things you'd like people to understand about you that maybe they didn't before?
Well, I think the thing is with me that I have just grown up naturally. When I met the girls I was 19 and I'm now 28, obviously it's just been a natural progression. I have just grown up. I'd like people to know that I do write my own material and that I have lots of input on the production as well. I also want people to get to know that I love having LOTS of fun. I'm very adventurous. I'm very impatient (laughs).
I think that these are the things that my fans and other people want to see. I think they want to see the real Emma and that's why I'm hoping that with this album, when you actually listen to the lyrics and stuff, that you get to know me more. It's really all about sort of "coming out" and doing interviews and doing TV just for people to get to know me. I love having fun and that's something that I've always kept. If I stopped enjoying this I wouldn't be doing it anymore and I think that you can see that in my music and when I perform. I still love it so much.
One of the things that really struck me about the album is that it was much more adult than I expected. When you were in Spice Girls you had a lot of eleven year old fans and a clean cut image. This is obviously edgier than you had been before. Were you concerned at all about that? Meaning that there may be young girls, or rather their parents, which may not be so pleased with the change?
I am very aware of that and I do realize that many of my fans are quite young. But I also have to be myself and grow up the way that I want to. Obviously I'm a young girl and so I do make mistakes but I'm just me. With the pictures on the album and stuff I feel comfortable with it. I'm much more comfortable, as a young woman, with my body and stuff now. I just love it. I love fashion and I love having fun with it. I love high street fashion; I love designer wear, that's just been quite exciting for me. It's exciting to have designers send you clothes! That's been really exciting for me and I just try to have fun with it. I never take myself too seriously apart form when I'm writing. I think that's what it's all about. It's just about having lots of fun with it and not thinking too much. Some people get really serious about everything and all it just gets a bit bogged down. With my music, as with everything about me, it's just about enjoying it.
It's obvious form the press information as well as listening to the album that Free Me is reminiscent of 60s songwriters like those in Motown and Burt Bacharach. What is it about this style that you love so much?
I LOVE Motown. When I was younger my parents used to listen to Motown all the time. My mom was a huge kind of Diana Ross and the Supremes fan and my dad loved Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder so it was constantly playing in our house. I remember that there was so much passion in it and it was also quite raw, you know?
You could hear the drums and you could hear the guitars and there was just something about it that was so special. Of course as I grew up I loved Salt N Pepa and Bananarama and Bell Biv DeVoe. I loved all types of music but there was always something about Motown that stuck with me and I've always listened to the music.
So what I did with my album was, I had all the musicians come into the studio and we did everything live. I think that that picked the element up that I wanted to from the 60s. It was about the rawness and some of the melodies and in some ways the simplicity of it all. Today I find that sometimes all the music has lots of production on it and I wanted to keep my album raw but simple with great melodies. I feel that I achieved exactly what I wanted to. I had in the back of my head how I wanted this album to sound right from the beginning. So working with some great producers we found that special part of the album that I wanted to capture.
So you really did sort of direct every aspect of this.
Yeah I did. I knew exactly how I wanted it to be. Obviously it was something new for the producers, to bring in all of the musicians and everything was live and so they got really excited as well. And I worked with Cathy Dennis, who is a great friend of mine. You know the first day was a little bit of a write off because we ended up chatting over a bottle of wine and some Chinese! (laughs) We ended up just having a bit of a laugh but I love having that repoire with whomever I am writing with so that we can really bounce off each other and know how we want the album to sound. I feel it worked really well for me.
Did you feel, or do you feel now, that it was important for you to be a part of that process of writing and even directing the production and things like that?
Yeah, I think so. I have always been very likely and have always been able to have lots of input. In the Spice Girls we always wrote our own songs and with my first album I wrote all the lyrics. Now with the second album I have written all the lyrics. The reason for that is that when I'm up on stage and I am singing to my fans and people are listening to the songs that I'm singing, it HAS to come from my heart. I feel uncomfortable if I'm up there singing someone else's song or if it's something that I haven't had an experience in that I'm singing about. Again, with the people I'm singing to I have to be open and honest. That's what they want to see. I wouldn't want to go in and see someone else up on stage singing someone else's song that they don't believe in. That's been really important for me.
Have you met any resistance from industry people about writing your own material?
No. That's the thing, being with 19 management as well as the label they have always believed in me as an artist. When I went to them they said, "Go off and write the album." That's one of the reasons the album is called Free Me. I literally went off on my own, worked with producers, and came back to management and said, "Okay, here's the album!" (laughs) Obviously that was a wonderful thing! I have never really had anyone saying "No, no they are going to be…" I have always written my lyrics. For girls, we all write diaries and for me this album is kind of luck my diary.
"Lay Your Love on Me" is a great song and you co-wrote it with the immortal Cathy Dennis. Can you tell our readers a little about the inspiration behind that song and perhaps also how it was working with Cathy Dennis?
(laughs) It's probably the cheekiest song on the album! It's just about when you meet somebody and you have a special time with them. It's kind of that kind of thing. (laughs) Trust you to pick that one! (laughs)
I had to pick that one because Cathy Dennis' name was on it! You said that you enjoyed working with her?
I loved working with her because we are good friends. We just kind of bring out that cheekiness in each other. We kind of just went for it and had a good time. It was a lovely time writing with her. I really enjoyed it.
The other thing that really stands out on this album is the Brazilian flavor it has to it. Have you always been a fan of the Brazilian pop sound?
I have but the real time that I got really into Latin music was when I was filming the video for the song "Free Me." We filmed it in Rio and I got the opportunity to go to a few bars and just…the music there is unbelievable and they way that they dance is all in the hips. It's just fantastic! So I wanted to look back and see kind of what they did in the 60's and I came across "Crickets Sing for Anna Maria." I just thought that that was a big star for this album because, again, I have been influenced so much by Latin music. So, yes, I'm a big fan!
When people finish their first listen to the Free Me album, how do you hope they feel?
For me, music has always been really important. It's kind of been like a diary of my life. I remember the song that I had my first slow dance with a boy to and I remember the song that was playing when I met up with my girlfriends and we went out and partied, you know you remember songs like that. You remember the ones that are very emotional. I want the people who listen to my songs to get some kind of emotion out of them, whether that's getting up and dancing around their bedroom or whether that's having a cry. One of the songs on there, "I'll Be There," is actually about losing people in your life. That song means so much to me because we all lose people that are dear to us but I believe that they are always with us in spirit. I just wanted to bring some kind of emotion out in somebody, whatever that emotion is. I think that that's really important.
You mentioned earlier that you'd be over here doing a lot of promotions. Will you be touring America for Free Me as well?
I'm hoping to. That's gonna be my next thing. You see I'm a bit of a drama queen. (laughs) I love dressing up and I love a real show. So it's something that I really want to do but I want it to have an orchestra and I want it to be quite 60s and quite big so it's something we're working on at the moment. I'm working on promoting it now but then I'd definitely love to tour with it. I have done some gigs in the UK and all over Europe for the last album so my next thing is to come over and do it in America!
Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the new album. Do you have any parting thoughts for the Musical Discoveries readers?
I would just love to say "Thank You!" to everybody for all their support. I know it's been a long time but I'm coming over very soon! I really hope that people enjoy the album and it gives them something. Thank you so much.
Emma Bunton is probably best known as her energetic alter ego, Baby Spice, of the mid-nineties supergroup the Spice Girls. As one fifth of the renowned group Emma achieved massive commercial success through the group's sold out world tours, multi-platinum albums, and one of the biggest merchandising campaigns of all time.
Over the years Emma Bunton's face has become instantly recognizable to a wide range of music enthusiasts. In 2001 Emma released her debut solo album, A Girl Like Me (review) which quickly re-established her as one of pop music's most loveable divas. Free Me is Emma's sophomore effort and will surely win her legions of new fans as well as please longtime fans.
Free Me is not what you'd expect from this ex-Spice Girl. Gone are the days of Baby Spice's cutesy catchphrases, teeny bopper fashion, and girl power references (many of those qualities however were present on her first solo effort). On this album we are introduced to Emma Bunton, a 28-year old woman who has little in common with the then 19-year old Baby Spice. Free Me has a very 60s feel to it. This is definitely still pop music but it has a very "warm" feel to it that reminiscent of 60s Motown artists as well as songwriters like Burt Bacharach.
The 60s influence really comes to the forefront on songs like "Free Me", "I'll Be There", the tongue in cheek "Lay Your Love on Me" (co-written with the immortal Cathy Dennis), and the low key "Something So Beautiful." There is also an underlying Brazilian flavor that pops up from time to time throughout the CD, most notably on Emma's cover of the Latin flavored classic "Crickets Sing for AnaMaria," that gives the album a little bit more depth than you'd expect to hear.
All in all if you like the smooth, polished sounds of Pop, R&B, or Adult Contemporary music you should be pleasantly surprised at what you find on this CD. It's important to note that there is a lot of difference between Emma Bunton solo artist and Emma Bunton the Spice Girl. Free Me is an interesting contrast to her previous work and hopefully it will not meet close minded listeners expecting hit dance songs. You can check out songs samples at Amazon.com as well as EmmaBuntonOfficial.com. Free Me has been released in the USA on 19 Records on 18 Januar7 2005 and is currently available everywhere else.
Return to website contents