“We’re not a happy-clappy band. People think we are. But we’re a lot more than that” - hmv.com talks to The Lighthouse Family
Throughout the 1990s, it felt like pop duo The Lighthouse Family were never off the radio. With their hits like ‘Ocean Drive’, ‘High’ and ‘Lifted’, they were a perennial presence, selling over four million albums in the UK alone during that time.
Then, somewhere in the midst of 2003, after three albums and a shedload of hit singles, it all stopped.
The group, who are made up of vocalist Tunde Baiyewu and keyboardist Paul Tucker, were burnt out and wanted to take a step back. Which they did. Tucker pursued other projects and Baiyewu made two solo albums. They made it clear there was no problem between them in interviews, they were just waiting for the right time to reconnect. It turns out that the right time was a long time coming.
Finally, today (July 5th), a full 18 years after they last released a new album, they deliver Blue Sky In Your Head, their fourth full-length LP.
With the album arriving in store today, we spoke to Baiyewu about coming back together and why they want to deliver an upbeat album for dark times...
It’s been 18 years since the last Lighthouse Family record, how did you start working together again?
“Between the last one and this new one, we have tried to make another album. We’ve tried three times. We’d come together, start and then slowly drift apart again. In the end, we agreed that we’d come back and just do some shows and then go from there. We did that in 2010.”
But you didn’t go back in the studio again…
“What happened this time around was the whole thing put itself together. Our old manager Keith Armstrong, who was with us for the first three records, he called me out of the blue. I’d not spoken to him for years and years. I called him and he told me he’d been for a meeting at Polydor and that they keep asking him to speak to us and ask if we’d make another record, because they’d really like one.”
That must have been nice to hear…
“It was a strange thing. I’d had a very vivid dream with Keith Armstrong in it. We were in this accountant’s office and he was just sat there. I’d not seen him for so long. Four months later I get a missed call. This really felt like it came to us and that made it feel like the right time to stick with us.”
How often have you and Paul spoken over the years? Has it been constant or fleeting?
“It hasn’t been constant, but I wouldn’t say it was fleeting either. We went as far as re-signing to Sony to make a record and we couldn’t do it. He went back to living in Ibiza and I went off my way. But, from those failed attempts, the genesis for a few of the songs on this record were there. ‘Clouds’, ‘Waterloo Street’, ‘Super Eight’, they were all demos from six or seven years ago.”
Had you built up a lot of songs over those 18 years?
“We’ve never stopped working. If you’re a creative person, you have to do it. We put down all the ideas we had when we came back together, but we wrote a lot of it from scratch. Songwriting for us is like swimming or riding a bike. That’s how it felt.”
But you’re different people now, you must have different influences now…
“It still starts with a melody. We guide each other to the endpoint. Sometimes we can work by ourselves to a full song and then it’s production where the other one comes in. But you’re right, over those 18 years we’ve grown as people and the approach was a bit different. We knew, on this record, we had to step back a bit and really work out ‘What is a Lighthouse Family record? What values do we have?’.”
What did you decide?
“We decided it was songs that might be about difficult subject matter, but with hope in there. We’re not a happy-clappy band. People think we are. But we’re a lot more than that. People tell us our songs always make them feel good. Take ‘High’, it starts with ‘When you’re close to tears remember someday this will all be over’. It’s not exactly upbeat! But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Once we understood that, we knew what we were doing.”
You’d recaptured the spark…
“Yes, but we also knew that we couldn’t make a record that just sounded like what we did in the 1990s. We wanted to move on with production and not be afraid of the blank page. Slowly, we got there. I think this record says everything about what we are. ‘Blue Sky In Your Head’ is an archetypal Lighthouse Family idea. It’s soul, but not in the way you think of typical soul music. It’s spiritual without being obvious. We extract the spiritual from the day to day.”
How did you decide on writers and producers?
“We wanted to work with new people. Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby, who produced our third record Whatever Gets You Through the Day, we worked with them a bit. But everybody else was new, we knew we wanted to freshen things up.”
Was it good fun?
“Oh yeah. If it hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have done it. It was nerve-wracking. Facing that blank page always is. We didn’t know if we could still do this. We knew we could write songs, but could we write songs that stood up to what we’d done? Especially our first two records. Ocean Drive and Postcards From Heaven are such high bars. Making something that matched up was a tall order, but we think we’ve done it and we think it fits into 2019.”
Without changing everything…
“That’s right. I remember reading a comment online that said ‘I heard Lighthouse Family is making a new album. I hope they don’t make some euro-techno, four to the floor type album in the name of reinvention’.”
And you haven’t.
“No, we haven’t. Thank god.”
What kind of record is it lyrically? You’ve said it’s a hopeful record…
“I think so. It’s a record that makes you feel good. I want to take people and put them somewhere else in their imagination. Somewhere better. With all the crazy stuff going on in the world, we’re in such a crazy political situation, you need a holiday in your head, something to make you feel good. This is a feel-good record, but without being happy-clappy.”
How are your live plans shaping up?
“We’ve got a tour coming up in November, that’s sold out, which is brilliant. We’re adding new shows all the time and we’re out again in February. We’re out in Europe as well. I can’t wait to get back out there and see everyone.”
What’s your live set going to be like?
“We’re going to be doing all those songs people know. ‘Lifted’, ‘Ocean Drive’, ‘High’, ‘Lost In Space’, that’s what people want to hear. We’ll do a couple of songs from the new record and if we get good feedback we might add more.”
Having come back together, are you determined to keep going now?
“I really want to make another Lighthouse Family record. We signed a six-album deal in 1993 and we’ve only made three records. I think we’ve got another three to do at least. Also, performing is great, I love seeing people sing our songs. But me and Paul love creating and being locked in a cave working on a song. I think we’ll always want to do that.”
The Lighthouse Family’s new album Blue Sky In Your Head is out now in hmv stores.