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| 11 February 2016 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Sheena Easton 01

Sheena Easton was all set to tour Australia last November, so much so that we did the rounds of interview opportunities and grilled her about her career, the Miami Vice years, working with Prince. motherhood and a lot more. The Perth show got cancelled without explanation (poor ticket sales, we presume?), but here for prosperity is our interview, conducted some time in October 2015.

100% ROCK: Hi Sheena. How are you doing today?

Sheena: I’m good. Thanks. How are you?

100% ROCK: I’m very well. Thank you very much for your time. It’s much appreciated.

Sheena: Oh, thank you for taking the time talk to me.

100% ROCK: Are you calling in from home in Vegas?

Sheena: No, I’m in Los Angeles.

100% ROCK: Okay. Cool. Are you on tour at the moment?

Sheena: No, I’ll be going out next weekend to do a symphony date but not doing a show here this week.

100% ROCK: Yeah, I read about those symphony shows. They sound really amazing.

Sheena: Oh yeah. To be able to perform in front of a 50- or an 80-piece orchestra never gets old. That’s always a thrill every time.

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100% ROCK: I can imagine. When was the last time you were in Australia?

Sheena: Oh God. It’s been a while. I can’t remember exactly when. I’m horrible with dates and time frames. Sometime in the last ten years?

100% ROCK: That’s close enough. I Googled around and tried to find some information but I couldn’t find out your last visit but you’re heading out for a greatest hits tour which is going to be really, really cool. You’ve got such a lot of ground to cover over your career.

Sheena: Yeah. I’ve been around for a while. Yeah, most of the hits that people remember is the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it’s a night of fun and nostalgia and looking back over the years and when I perform with my audiences, you see that kind of, ‘oh, yeah’ look in their eyes when I start a song and they go, ‘oh, I forgot she did that one.’ That’s always a fun thing. There’s the obvious ones, then there’s the ones that they forgot and you’ll see them singing along with the words, so it’s fun. We do it, and then of course I’ll put in a few songs that they might not be expecting in there too. Yeah, it’s a good night. If people remember the music and enjoy that time frame, they usually have a blast.

100% ROCK: Excellent. You’ve never seemed to feel restricted by any specific genre. Do you still feel like you can sing just about anything?

Sheena: Yeah. Well, see I came up in an era where singers were not restricted. I grew up where our radio was Radio One and it played everything from country to pop to novelty to you-name-it. You turn on the radio and you heard it all. Then, I moved to The States in my early 20’s and that’s when I realised that in the states, you have each category of music on a different radio station. If you wanted to hear country, you had to tune into a different station than if you wanted to hear R&B. I guess I didn’t grow up with just my mind focused on one kind of music and that always played into my style. I’m the youngest of six kids so my brothers and sisters that were older, they all had different tastes in music. I would go in and steal their records and play them. I had a really broad musical education.

100% ROCK: Well, that’s it. I think that if you grow up listening to just one style of music, then the music you make is obviously going to sound like that. You need to have this eclectic taste to be able to create something original.

Sheena: Yeah, that can happen. Although to be honest, my friends are musicians and sometimes they’ll say, ‘yeah, my dad listened to nothing but jazz all day and I got totally into heavy metal.’ You can sometimes rebel against the sounds that you’re hearing all the time. I guess maybe if you’re a musician, if you’re drawn to it as a kid, if it’s something that lives within you, I think that you have a natural curiosity to seek out different sounds and to me, it was just always natural to go for great melodies and great songs.

100% ROCK: Your first singles were released, I think, about 35 years ago. How do you make sure that singing them over and over remains interesting not only for your audience but for yourself?

Sheena: I think because I’m not burnt out. I could have easily have gotten burnt out if I kept on just doing the same thing over and over and over and hammering away and keeping on the train so to speak. Sorry to make a pun, but when I was in my early 30’s, I realised that I did not want to just focus on, ‘okay, next album, next tour, next album, next tour,’ and that’s when I decided that I wanted to stay in the business but open my life up to other things and that’s when I decided that I wanted to be a Mum and I wanted to do stuff. That’s when I first did Broadway. I did a year in Man of La Mancha and I started to do more TV acting and cartoon voices and I just started to bring more things into my world.

Then when my kids got to be about five, when it was time for them to settle down and go to school, that’s when I decided, ‘well, I’m not going to keep dragging them all over the country when I have to do shows.’ I decided to pick a place and stick to it so I went and I did two and a half years down in Vegas where I could be with my kids during the day and then when it’s time for them to go to bed, I’m going off to do a show for an hour and a half and then I’ll be back home. I consciously chose a very balanced life and now when I go out to perform, most of the time I’ll go out maybe two weekends a month. I’ll go out and I’ll do a couple of one-nighters or two-nighters. I look forward to it. It’s not like back in the day where it was every single night I was out performing or I was traveling to the next gig and you can get burned out and the songs can get old.

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100% ROCK: You need to have a life as a person as well.

Sheena: Yeah. Plus, I don’t know… maybe it’s because now I feel less pressure to get into a certain box. At my age, I don’t have the pressure of, ‘oh, I’ve got a record coming out and I’ve got to promote it and I’ve got to make the record company happy and I’ve got to do this or that.’ Now it’s like, ‘hey, enjoy it, I hope you enjoy hearing the stuff as much as I enjoy performing it.’ I just feel more comfortable in my skin and I have more fun onstage just being me. I think that my audiences see that and it makes it a fun experience for me. I don’t feel like I’ve got to worry about what people say so much.

100% ROCK: Cool. Did you sing a lot as a child?

Sheena: Oh God, yeah. Yeah, I never stopped. It was one of those things people
often ask me, ‘when did you become a singer? When did you realise you wanted to be a singer?’ Honestly, it’s like my friends who are dancers. They say, ‘oh, I was dancing before I ever took a dance lesson or went to class.’ If it’s in your blood, you do it. I know that when I was real little, I used to be belting out in front of the mirror with the hair brush like every other little kid and pretty soon, I would look out the window and the neighbours would be leaning on the back fence looking up going to my mother, ‘ma’am, didn’t you realise she’s got a nice voice?’ I think as a little kid you know whenever you have adults stop and go, ‘oh, sing that song again,’ then you know every kid loves attention. You go, ‘oh, this is making the adults happy. I’ll keep doing it.’ It just goes on from there.

100% ROCK: Wikipedia, which we always take with a grain of salt, says that you started to think you could do this as a career when you saw Barbara Streisand in The Way We Were. Do you remember how hearing her singing then made you feel inside?

Sheena: Yeah. I loved Streisand before The Way We Were. I knew her work before I heard that, but I do distinctly remember. I’m terrible again with time frames but I was still in high school so I could have been 15 or 16, whatever year that movie came out and I was watching it and the voice just filled the room and the feeling it gave me, I thought, ‘God, I would love to be able to some day make somebody else feel something like that.’ I was at an age when you’re starting to really seriously think about, ‘what do I want to do?’

People say, ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ It was then even though there was nothing that would remotely suggest that a kid from Bellshill, Scotland could go on and do something like that, there was something about it that made me kind of go, ‘I really want to do that and I really want to try.’ I think that’s when I got the idea to, instead of going to University and study something that was non-art-related, that’s when I decided to start investigating going to drama school and then it’s all history from there.

100% ROCK: Yeah, very cool. A lot of people also know you from your many acting roles of course. I was a big fan of Miami Vice back in the day – I’m only a few years younger than you. That must have been a very exiting role to score with the show being so popular at the time.

Sheena: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was one of those things that, as you say, it was very iconic of its time. I have to say, though, that I hadn’t seen it. I think I’ve maybe seen one episode. That time in my life, I didn’t get a chance to watch much TV. I didn’t realise just how amazing it would be to go on Miami Vice. Of course, I knew of Don Johnson and I knew the show was a hit but I didn’t really realise how much of a fan base it had and how huge the following was until they asked me, ‘hey, do you want to come in and talk to the producers because we’re looking to put you in this part?’

When I went in and did it, I would get all these letters and all this stuff from his fans and from the show’s fan base. It blew me away and yeah, I think when we did our wedding scene when our characters got married, they treated it like it was a real couple getting married. We had helicopters flying overhead and we had to keep cutting the cameras because of the noise and ended up on People magazine’s cover. Don Johnson, the Sonny Crockett character that Don made was such a beloved figure that being his on-screen wife almost made me like his wife in real life. The fans went nuts.

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100% ROCK: It’s a bit of a phenomena.

Sheena: Yeah.

100% ROCK: There was some pretty rad hairdos and costumes in that show which have dated a little bit overtime, but you seem to have escaped pretty much unscathed.

Sheena: I’ve had many big hair and many spandex pants and big hairdos and plenty of very ‘80s looking shots of me out there. My kids will sometimes go, ‘Mum, look what I came across online. That’s hysterical. Is that you?’ I’ll go, ‘yes my darling, that’s your mother.’

100% ROCK: I always justify the photos of me with a mullet circa ‘92, they were perfectly in the context of the times – but I’d certainly never go back there again!

Sheena: Exactly. I had many bad perms before the days of when you got a stylist that would come in and somebody who actually had taste and would go, ‘okay. You’ve got to get that outfit off. You look hideous. Here’s ten outfits, pick three of those.’ God, stylists saved my life because I would have been really sorry if I was just going by my own stuff!

100% ROCK: It’s easy to get swept up in that sort of thing, especially when you’re young.

Sheena: Oh yeah, absolutely.

100% ROCK: Is singing a track with the right emotion and delivery like acting in a way?

Sheena: I think in a lot of ways, yeah. I think that no matter what the song is that you’re performing, you’ve got to connect to it whether it’s a real up-beat, very basic party song. If you’re totally depressed, just had a fight with your significant other or if, you know, you can’t be convincing [doing] a party song. Every kind of song, deep songs, it doesn’t matter. You’ve really got to be able to connect to it. I think that I know when I turn on the radio or listen to something I haven’t heard before, it’s the emotion in the artist’s voice that draws you in and that’s what makes you want to pay attention to the lyrics. Yeah, there’s a little bit of that involved. I wouldn’t claim however that singing a pop song is like giving a Meryl Streep performance. You can’t compare it to that degree but there’s elements of acting in singing.

100% ROCK: Absolutely. You live in Vegas nowadays. Do you have any pull at all to the old country?

Sheena: Well, my family all live in England except for I have one brother who lives up across the border [in Scotland] very close to England. My mother passed away. I go over every couple of years to visit my brothers and sisters. I was there just a couple of years ago to see my mom and then a little while later when of course she passed and we had her funeral. I think that because I travel so much with work that I like to be at home when I’m at home and especially raising my kids that was really important to be around with them and for them. Now, both of my kids are 21 and 20 and up and out and living their own lives, so I guess I have a bit more freedom to do stuff like that. Yeah, you never know what’s coming up.

100% ROCK: Cool. Getting back to your musical career, you’ve worked with some stellar names. Kenny Rogers, Prince, Luis Miguel, Nile Rodgers. I guess you can’t help but be inspired working with multi-talented, multi-instrumental geniuses pretty much.

Sheena: Yeah, that’s true. However, sometimes famous, multi-talented big name people – just like if you’re acting and you have director that comes in that’s very successful but their style is more about the technique and the lighting and the shot and the angles. They’re not so much as an actor’s director – you can have the same thing in the studio. You can have a person that knows how to mix a track well, they’re great at coming up with grooves and sounds but they’re not so great with the vocalist. My thing was always I loved working with a producer who knew how to work with a singer. I didn’t care if they were brand new or they’re the hottest thing.

I guess I was spoiled because my first record producer, Chris Neil, he started out as a performer himself so he really knew how to communicate with a singer and get the best out of them. Approach it from a different way. Try a different thing. I think that that’s always very important to have somebody in there that understands the artist and that makes all the world’s difference I think to me.

100% ROCK: Is there a risk when you work with big names like that who have very successful careers behind them that egos get in the way?

Sheena: Absolutely. There’s egos in every part of our industry and when you get two people that have a very firm vision of what the song should sound like or what the direction the album should take, you can have a clash. Hopefully you avoid that long before you ever get into the vocal booth. If there’s enough communication and enough time allowed to spend on the track and building the track, then hopefully you figured out, ‘oh God, we see this song totally differently.’ That has happened to me. I’ve walked away in the middle of recording a track with a couple of people because I’ve said, ‘we just see it completely differently and I can’t do it the way you want me to do it and you don’t want to do it the way I want it and we’re never going to find a middle ground.’

Luckily for me, though, that was rare. That was usually whenever it was something where we needed to do something fast or somebody wanted a track for a movie and it was just like, ‘no, I can’t do that.’ But usually you do best if you’ve sorted your differences out ahead of time and you both get on the same page. You make the compromises that you can make and you move on.

100% ROCK: That makes a lot of sense. Now, it doesn’t take a lot of Googling to discover that there’s a lot of speculation online about your private life…

Sheena: That’s because I’m very private.

100% ROCK: Well, yeah, exactly! But there seems to be a lot of tabloid journalists saying stuff about you which just sounds like rubbish…

Sheena: I gave up paying attention to it a long time ago when I was younger and my life was about putting out records, doing promotion so that you were constantly in the media spotlight and I would literally… back then it was print media, I would pick up a magazine that would have my name, ‘Sheena Easton and so and so are dating’ and I’d go, ‘I’ve never met this person,’ and you’d go, ‘oh my God, they were at the same event I was at. We were literally both at the same charity event. We must have stood next to each other and they took a picture and decided to make a thing out of it.’

I’ve had so many times that that sort of stuff has happened where you just go, ‘what can you do?’ Now, the only thing I can do is I’ve learned to just let people write what they want and I live my life. I don’t seek publicity. I’m not somebody who ever in my career has been a nightclub person or hanging out at the places to be seen. I’ve always tried to have as much privacy offstage and now that my life isn’t all about being in the spotlight, people afford me a bit more privacy and I do appreciate it.

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100% ROCK: It’s weird, that voyeuristic fascination with a celebrity’s private life. People still speculate about you and Prince – it’s like ancient history.

Sheena: Yeah. Well, that will never stop.

100% ROCK: How do you deal with that as a mother though?

Sheena: Oh, well your kids know the truth. You can’t fool a kid. You can’t pretend one thing and another things happening. My kids grew up just going, ‘whatever,’ because they knew, I mean, it’s their Mum. I was very much and still am a hands-on Mum. It wasn’t like, ‘I’ll see you in two weeks after I come back from going off and doing my thing.’ Mum was there to wake them up, get them dressed, get them in their jammies, get them off to school, go pick them up, do their homework, yell at them for cleaning up their room, take them to soccer practice. Then I would be like, ‘okay, Maria’s going to watch you Friday and Saturday because Mum’s going to go do a show and I’ll be back Sunday morning. Don’t talk Maria into giving you too much ice cream. You better eat something sensible.’

They grew up just like the rest of their friends. Sometimes it was their Mum, ‘so and so’s Mum has to work late at the office, so can you pick her up and bring her home with my kid?’ Or so and so’s Dad has a business trip or so and so’s Mum has a business trip. All families have that in their lives now where Mum, Dad goes off and works and comes back. My kids, their lives are the same as all the kids around them.

100% ROCK: That’s excellent. That’s good parenting right there.

Sheena: Well, that was the whole point of it. For me, it was, I choose to be a parent. I didn’t get pregnant and then have to change my life. I adopted both my kids. I made a very conscious choice that I want to be a parent and I want to make that my focus. I wouldn’t have done that if I was younger. I was 36 by the time my son came along. I’d had a very full busy career devoted to just me and what I wanted and it was time for me to go, ‘you know what? No. If you’re going to be a Mum, be a Mum. Don’t just be kind-of-a-Mum.’ That was important to me.

100% ROCK: Cool. Your last studio album was released in 2000. Any plans to record again?

Sheena: No. My fans get mad at me because that’s one of the things that when I get question and answer sessions with the fans, that’s what they want to ask is, ‘when will there be another album?’ The honest truth is I don’t know. If something came along, if a producer called me up and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for an album and I’d love to work with you,’ maybe I would say yes. I don’t know, it would take a lot of .. I would really have to be excited about the idea, so I don’t know. I have no immediate desire to go in and put out anything right now.

100% ROCK: Fair enough. Thank you very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Sheena: Well, I appreciate you taking the time. Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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