Before we start, full disclosure: I’m a HUGE Sheena Easton fan, so I was a bit excited after I got word that Ms. Easton agreed to do a phone interview with me.
And what’s not to love? She a six-time Grammy Award nominee, a two-time winner, winning the award for Best New Artist in 1982 and Best Mexican-American Performance in 1985 for her duet with Mexican singer Luis Miguel on the 1984 single “Me Gustas Tal Como Eres”. She has recorded 15 studio albums, released a total of 55 singles and had 20 consecutive US singles, including 15 Top 40 hits, seven Top 10’s and one number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1981 and 1991. She has received five RIAA-certified Gold albums and one Platinum album. In Canada, she scored three Gold albums and two Platinum albums. With 25 Top 40 international hit singles, Easton has sold over 40 million records worldwide.
Easton also became the first and only recording artist in Billboard history to have a Top 5 hit on each of Billboard’s primary singles charts: “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” (Pop and Adult Contemporary), “We’ve Got Tonight” with Kenny Rogers (Country and Adult Contemporary) and “Sugar Walls” (R&B and Dance).
Here is my Q&A with one of my favorite singers in the world, Ms. Sheena Easton:
The first question, do you have any personal connections to West Hollywood?
Well, I used to live in LA and used to live up in the Hollywood Hills and some of my good friends lived in West Hollywood, That’s my only connection. I spent plenty of time there back in my day.
Is Pepperdine concert going to be your final concert this year?
Yes, it is. I am off, off, off, until next year. I’m taking a little break.
What do you have in store for your fans?
Well, I’m going to be doing hopefully most of the songs are going to know. I’m going to be doing a large cross section of the hits and throwing in some covers, and some stuff that was important to me during the course of my life and I always like to tell the audience a not to be afraid that they’re not gonna be listening to a bunch of brand-new stuff that they don’t know. They’re going to be able to hum along to about 99% of what they hear, I hope.
What’s your favorite song to sing on stage?
I get asked that all the time. It depends night-to-night. It really does. When the song starts up and I look out and I see the faces and I’ll see some people get really excited when they hear the intro to something, I know then that’s their song. That’s the song they came to hear, and I get excited because they’re getting excited. Years ago, when I was younger, and putting out new material, and going on the road all the time, I used to go, ‘I wish I could just do the whole album,’ because you’re excited about your new material and not do all the hits. As I’ve got older, my attitude changed because I really became more grateful for the hits. I could see how much pleasure it brought to people in the room and that made me feel happy. So now I have a real affection for this stuff. People say, ‘you sing something over and over again, don’t you get bored?’ No, because the songs have a whole different flavor each time you play it and because of the reception that it gets.
Has it been fun revisiting your albums with the compilation releases through Cherry Pop Records?
Well, I haven’t really been revisiting [laughs], I guess the fans have, who have been buying them, so from that point of view, it’s fun. I’m getting responses from fans saying ‘I just got the new one and I haven’t listened to that in ages.’ Some of the Cherry Pop releases have a few little bonus cuts on there, things that weren’t on the originals. People are enjoying that. So, from that point of view, it’s fun. From my point of view, I don’t listen to my own stuff. I’m not someone who puts on my albums just to have a fun night in with a glass of wine. I listen to my material, if I’m trying to think of a new thing to add to the set, like I’m going to add in a new piece here which one of the old ones shall I do, and then I’ll listen to different songs and think about new arrangements and stuff. So yeah, I tend not to revisit the old material too often.
Will they be releasing the MCA studio albums?
I have no idea. I have no say in that. I don’t know if they have the rights to them. So, I think it might just be the EMI catalog that they have the rights to. That’s something that you would have to contact them. I don’t know.
This is the question that’s been burning in my head since 1997 with the album ‘No Sound but a Heart’ that got mixed up with the EMI merger to Manhattan Records and was never released in the states until 1999. How was it for you as the artist that your album wasn’t released here? It is such a good album too.
I don’t know. Probably at the time, it bothered me. I’m sure at the time I was like, “oh, God dammit! I spent a lot of time on that…”, but I suppose it’s just years of being on the planet, you just take things in your stride and things are supposed to be how they’re supposed to be. I’m well used to the fact that every album or every single or everything you do and put out isn’t a hit always. I mean, that happens for artists today that are putting out new material. You’re not guaranteed success with something just because you’ve poured your heart into it. You know, when stuff is well received, that’s great. When it isn’t, you just have to get past it and not everything I’ve done was released everywhere. ‘Fabulous’ was done mainly for Europe. I did a couple of things that were just for Japan, South America, and Asia. So, I’m kind of used to that.
What is your favorite album that you’ve ever done?
I like ‘No Strings’, just because that truly was my little vanity project. The record company wasn’t going to let me do it. It was one of those ‘we’re not going to put out a single or promote this. This is not going to be a commercial album.’
My response was that I really want to do this and it’s not going to cost a lot of money. We’re gonna go in the studio with just a small group of musicians and do it like they used to record where you do a couple of takes and you pick the one that you like best. I had a whole story behind the album from start to finish. The album tells a story about looking for love, finding love, and being in love, and swearing off love. I just wanted to tell a story in these songs, and I loved all of these songs.
Finally, they said alright, you can do it. So, I mean, just getting it done was a real victory for me, and it’s just still one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done. It was a great experience.
“For Your Eyes Only” song was a mega hit and you were even seen in the opening credits in the film Plus you are the only artist ever seen in any 007 opening credits. How was it filming that and the success of that song?
It definitely was a song that opened up a whole new world for me basically. Parts of the world that weren’t familiar with me at the time, musically, because I was still very new on the scene, due to Bond films being released all over the world. There’s not a part of the world that you can’t go that those films weren’t put out. So that was my introduction to many parts of the world. It was exciting being a part of the whole Bond family and the Bond franchise and part of that history. I’d grown up listening to Shirley Bassey and all of the great Bond theme songs, so I was super excited to be asked to do that.
As far as filming the opening credits, it was really grueling. It was very technical. It was not glamorous at all, and really hard work. Basically, my head was clamped to this thing to hold me rigid so that when they zoomed in really close on my lips and my eyes so that I didn’t move – even slightly. Because it had to be a very sharp focus because it was done on film and there was no CGI, nothing like that, so when it was blown up and the giant screen, there wasn’t any blur going on. Maurice Binder, who used to design those open titles, he knew exactly what he wanted, and he was very focused on it. I just felt this pressure. I can’t mess this up. So, I was trying to sing it with feeling and to show emotion on my face, but also not move my face too much. It was a strange experience. But years later after doing a lot of acting and voice work – allot of what comes off looking like fun can sometime not be a fun experience actually getting the work done.
You wrote the song “Arms of Orion” and recorded it with Prince. What was it like recording that song?
“Arms Of Orion,” I tell the story about it when I do it on stage. That’s a lyric that I had written about the constellation of Orion, of course.
The constellation of Orion was always very special to me. I’ve always had a lot of trouble sleeping. When you’re kind of up at night and you’re feeling lonely, I used to sit out on my veranda and look up at Orion, which was right above my house. I always felt like he was right above protecting me and so I wrote a lyric. At that time, I used to write a lot of lyrics and Prince would ask to see my book that I’d be scribbling in and he would give me comments. ‘That one’s good. That one’s terrible. That one needs work. That’s a good chorus. That’s a terrible idea. Don’t even bother. Finishing that one.’ He was very supportive.
So, I sent him the lyrics ‘Arms of Orion’. I’d written a bunch of lyrics, and I actually sent them via fax, that’s how long ago it was. I was in Europe, and I got a message back saying, ‘I love this one and I really want to record it with you as a duet. When you get home, let me know, and we’ll go into the studio’. And we ended up doing it and he wanted to put it on the Batman soundtrack that he was working on at the time, and that’s what we did. We went in the studio, he first asked started ‘What do you want for the melody?’ I had sort of a rough melody and I kinda hummed (hums the melody). I was very tentative with the melody, because I wasn’t great with writing melody. I was better with lyrics. Prince took this crumb of a melody idea and he had the melody done in 10 minutes. He was like, ‘go have some lunch and come back in a little bit and we’ll record it.’ So, I think maybe two hours later, he had the basics of the track down and then we recorded it.
And it was one of those moments where I was in the vocal booth and he was sitting behind the desk. We had a mic up and we sang it together. We actually sang, looking at each other’s breathing and we kind of rift off of each other. You know, when we overlapped with each other, none of that was rehearsed. We just kind of sang and felt it out and. That’s how he liked to record. He was very free in the studio. He liked things to happen naturally and even if you had an idea for something, if you made a mistake and sang something weird, but he thought it sounded good, he would keep it. He’d go ‘oh that wasn’t what I wanted, but that’s good, I’ll keep that.’ It was lovely. It was just very fluid and free and I hate to use the word organic, but that’s what it was. It just seemed to come out of the air and so it was a great experience recording it.
What’s one favorite memory of Prince?
Ohh I don’t have one favorite memory of him. I have lots of fond memories of the man. He’s a lovely soul. He was funny. Very funny. He used to make me laugh because he would make fun of me all the time. I appreciate that. It’s a very Scottish thing. We show our affection for people by teasing them and that was him. If he wasn’t making fun of you, he was mad at you.
Was there a song or a collaboration that did not happen? That you wish did?
Yeah, I always wish I had recorded with George Michael, and I always wish I’d done something with Luther and Frank Sinatra. Very different people. Very different vocalists. But all three of them, those would have been dreamed duets for me.
With your 1984 album, Private Heaven spun so many huge hits. Was there any hesitation for moving your good girl image to that Sheena Easton sexy 80s icon that you became?
I really wish I could say there was some sort of conscious that I was going to change my image, but it was nothing like that. It was really a case of as you get older and grow, your taste in music changes. What you’re drawn to is changing. Your experiences have changed. I think that a 45 year old woman singing songs that you would have chosen to sing when you were 16 would be weird. Nobody questions the choice to sing babyish songs as you get older. So that natural progression was there.
I think maybe because “Sugar Walls” was considered to be very naughty lyrics, that it got a lot of attention and so then people just thought that it was a conscious choice. But no, it was a great song that Prince gave me, and I loved it, and I did it. It wasn’t like, ooh, now we’re going to have this crazy bad girl image, but if you listen to any of my albums then and afterwards it was still bouncy pop tunes and some were sexy and some weren’t.
You’ve sung at a lot of gay prides. How is it having a huge gay follow?
I love doing my pride gigs. I love the fact that we literally celebrate it now. We have pride. My daughter is gay. She was just here for a visit and she celebrated pride with her friends in Vegas because we just had it, our pride is late and she had a blast.
Pride is a very important event. I think the last pride I performed at was in Florida this year and one of the speakers got up and said something that I thought was really important. He said, ‘to all of you young gays out there, y’all having a party and having a good time. That’s awesome. But don’t forget this started out as a protest. This started out years ago, you know my age group and older, we had to get out and march in the street and it was a protest. Don’t forget to be an activist.’ I thought that was really cool, because it is nice that my daughter and her generation can take a lot of things for granted. But I do remember, friends, my age group that did have a struggle and did have to fight, and I think it is important that we still remember that there’s still people struggling for those rights today. There’s still states that are trying to take away the rights for the LGBTQ+, and they’re still making it really hard, especially for trans people and trans kids. I think it’s important in our pride events to have a huge party and celebrate, but also remember to keep up the protests and keep up the activism.
Any new music? A new album?
Oh, no, no, no plans for that. It might happen and I’m not saying never, but I’ve nothing planned or in the works.
at 8pm tickets at https://arts.pepperdine.edu/events/2023-2024-season/sheena-easton.htm