Formed in 1994 from the emergence of Acid House and Rave and with a striking techno punk rock sound, Republica were a huge part of the iconic ‘90s Britpop movement. Their 1996 self-titled album sold three million worldwide and colossal hits such as the rousing Ready To Go (still heard in sports stadiums around the globe) and the delicious Drop Dead Gorgeous are as recognisable and relevant today as they were back then.
The band were hugely successful, securing top 5 slots in the UK, America and Europe and worked with a wide range of influential artists including Gary Numan. Republica’s second album Speed Ballads was released in 1998 but didn’t get the push it deserved due to the closure of their record company Deconstruction in the release week. The band took a hiatus in 2001, during which Saffron guested on tracks with artists such as Junkie XL and The Cure.
Republica reformed in 2010, performing a string of dates including a comeback gig at London’s 02 Islington Academy and issued Ready To Go 2010’ Following a stunning return in 2013 with their critically acclaimed EP Christiana Obey and high-profile European festival appearances, Republica headlined the Q Alternative Live Music stage at Brighton Pride 2014 and embarked on a sell-out nationwide 20th anniversary tour with Space. A highly anticipated new album will be released in 2015.
Nicola Greenbrook caught up with the exuberant (and still drop dead gorgeous) lead singer Saffron on a sunlit London evening ahead of Republica’s gig at Under the Bridge on 29 May 2015. She chatted warmly about the band’s exciting new material, why supporting up and coming new artists is essential, meeting Mick Jones and how it really felt to be part of the Britpop revolution…
Lovely to meet you Saffron! Having made a triumphant return in 2013 with the release of the Christiana Obey EP and a sold-out UK tour, Republica are returning to London next Friday to perform music from the new album alongside some of your best-known tracks. How are you feeling?
We are very excited! The main reason for the gig is to play our new music. Ben Dead Silence, who has been with us for quite a few years and almost part of our band, works at Under the Bridge [UTB]. He said UTB has the best sound system in London and it would be really good to try out some of our new songs. We played a number of shows last year, including in London at Garage, KOKO and The Forum but this is more of an intimate venue for us to perform our new songs for the first time to our hardcore fans and friends.
Our live sound has always been of extreme importance, because our music in essence has such a big electronic bed of synthesiser. It’s very important for that to be presented live. On this new album we’ve attained lots more analogue synthesisers so it’s important we’re able to produce what we’ve done in the studio and for it to be presented to a live arena. We have so much going on; drums, obviously vocals, but also guitar over this huge bed of synthesis.
How does it feel to be adding new songs to the setlist, do you get nervous or excited about showcasing new material to your hardcore and new fans?
We don’t know what’s going to happen, but because in the last couple of years we’ve had such a brilliant response to our new songs, as well as obviously the old ones, it’s quite important we keep adding new material. We’re so happy with the new tracks that we wanted to add more than one to the set. I know our fans will give us a good reaction to it, because they are great!
Talking of the fans, there’s a feverish excitement on social media about the Under The Bridge gig and this seems to be matched by your own natural energy and enthusiasm – what do you love the most about performing live? What do you get a real buzz out of?
We’ve been together for twenty-one years and so for us it’s a huge achievement to be together that long. We’re in a place where we’re so excited with the new songs we’ve written. I think it’s important to gift them to our fans who have stayed loyal all this time. They’re very sweet; they travel and follow us everywhere and are all friends as well – they meet up which I really like! I think of our gigs as more of a party with our friends and it’s a gift to see people smile and for them to have a memorable evening. Our gigs are always legendary, we were doing it before anyone came to see us and we’re doing it now!
On social media, our fans will talk about one of our songs, an old or a new one, and remember a special moment in their life, like Ready To Go or Drop Dead Gorgeous – it could be a football match, leaving college etc. These are things that are really important to people that I didn’t know about before social media. It is wonderful to be able to gift that to people and for them to tell you about it.
You seem to be really happy with how the new album is going?
Yes, we are really pleased. We’ve really concentrated on the song writing, so I think they’re some of the best songs we’ve done. Although every artist probably says that! What’s so important to us has always been the songs, but obviously it’s the sound that lets people know it’s us; I think we have a certain sound with electronics, guitar and punky vocals.
What can we expect from the new material in terms of the direction and style and has the band drawn any influences from other artists?
We’ve used a lot more analogue synthesisers and gone a bit more electronic then perhaps what people are used to, but different songs have different sounds. Having that many synthesisers we are obviously trying to utilise them all! It’s very hard to write songs that go over electronic music and that’s always been what we wanted to achieve; to improve on that.
I think influence-wise we all share the same influences and that’s why we formed a band. Obviously we love punk rock, indie, and dance music because we were all from acid house music. We were always a fan of Simple Minds, Human League, and those early synthesiser groups that wrote great songs as well.
Being a big supporter of female artists in general, it’s wonderful to see a couple of people out there at the moment who are on fire – they are upping their game in song writing and production. Florence and The Machine’s new album is stunning. The track Delilah is a fantastic song. For an artist who’s had all that success and the pressures that come with it, to be able to write that kind of quality of songs, all at the same time is really wonderful. She has really become an artist in her prime.
What does performing live in London mean to you, does that mean anything special to you?
London is always a homecoming show. Last year we went on tour with our friends Space who are from Merseyside, and who are great fun and we did a double headline tour with them, which was wonderful. Obviously for them, their hometown is Liverpool, ours is London and so we would swap who would go on first and last and it worked really well as we’ve got a similar audience base. It’s just really good fun to be out with your friends.
Have you performed at Under The Bridge before, or is it your first time?
No. I’d never even heard of it before; I didn’t know it had existed. It’s a beautiful place. The sound is incredible! It’s very intimate and the sound system is great.
Do you have a personal favourite Republica song from the discography that you’ll be performing or are there just too many?!
There are too many! It’s interesting though as I do have favourite tracks that I don’t think we’ve ever done live like Don’t You Ever or songs that wouldn’t necessarily come across live.
I love them all, but it’s difficult because it’s not about me, it’s for the listener. They always request different songs so we always listen to the fans – it’s not about what we really want! We get requests for some of the less well known songs and feedback from fans saying ‘please play this one’ or ‘we’d really like to hear this’ etc and frontrunners come out.
I then have to say to Tim (Dorney) ‘We have to do it all again, get that part reprogrammed!’ but it is great that someone is giving us that feedback. Sometimes they weren’t necessarily hits or album tracks but it’s the fan’s favourite, and that’s what important.
Can you tell me a bit more about your support acts – Tenek and Kenelis?
Tenek – Peter Steer and Geoff Pinckney – are very dear friends of ours. I met Pete through my dear friend Gary Numan nearly 20 years ago when we did a duet with Gary on Are Friends Electric? for the Album Random, Vol 1: A Gary Numan Tribute. They are fantastic producers of 1980s-sound electronica and did a mix of Christiana Obey. They’re a really underrated group and big on the dark electronic scene.
Kenelis is singer-songwriter Mel Sanson who won the Brighton Music Awards Viewers Choice Award in 2013. Republica headlined Brighton Gay Pride in 2014 and she got us to headline the Q Live Music Stage and we sang Drop Dead Gorgeous as a duet. She’s a wonderful singer-songwriter. It’s important for us to support our friends.
Kenelis recently said ‘People often ask me, what is making it? My new reply would be…. THIS!!! Kenelis + Republica!!’ and described you as ‘a musical hero’. How important to you is it to keep influencing other artists who are just starting out or who are quite new to the scene?
It’s always so important to encourage new up and coming artists. I remember when I first started there were three artists I met who I really admired and respected. They helped and encouraged me when I was nineteen years old; Mick Jones from The Clash, Jah Wobble from Public Image Ltd and Matt Johnson of The The.
Mick Jones came to our first ever gig and we only had three songs! He was really kind backstage and said ‘You’ve got potential but you need to write more songs!’. We blagged our way into this party at the Royal Albert Hall so that was our first gig. A week later we were playing at Vauxhall Arches to about three people! I grew up with PiL, and Jah Wobble wrote me a song that helped me when I was a solo artist. It was amazing that, someone who you’ve grown up with, who you’ve saved your pocket money to go and buy their album or their single and who mean so much to you, not only talk to you but come up to you and say ‘you can do it’. That really motivates and drives you.
So much so that in the last couple of years I’ve mentored at The Brighton Institute of Modern Music and the Bristol Institute of Modern Music in Live Summer Masterclasses with the kids there. It’s fantastic, I’ve really enjoyed it and take that part very seriously.
You’ve done some amazing collaborations with such a wide range of incredible artists in your career to date; including Fuel My Fire with The Prodigy (The Fat of the Land 1997), and The Cure on Just Say Yes. Anthem by N-Joi still sounds as relevant today as it did then. What was it like to perform it back in the day?
I was in a band called N-Joi and we were friends with The Prodigy; both bands were from Essex so I really trod the boards at illegal raves in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s! It was wonderful, a social revolution of music and people that was really, truly underground. It had never been done before; people were writing their own music and with the advance of technology producing their own tracks and it was a purely organic scene. It was a great experience doing hundreds of gigs.
Mark Franklin and Nigel Champion were, and still remain, seminal as producers of electronic music and are still seen in such high regard. You have to respect an artist’s desire or ambition – it was all about the music then, they weren’t interested in anything else. If it wasn’t going to be played by Fabio and Grooverider – that was it. I still don’t think even they realised how much they encouraged other artists and seminal music to be played. It was the punk rock of then, the antithesis of everything today. It was not a talent show, not judged by anybody; it was ‘I’ve done this, I’ve been influenced by my favourite DJ or my favourite night out with my friend, and I’ve written this piece, I’ve expressed myself in this way and I’m putting it out there’.
You recently cited Than.Eye – King Snake as the best video you’ve seen in a while. Are there any new artists out there that have currently caught your attention?
Yes, that’s an incredible video. There are so many! A new band called Yak are really amazing; I think they’re going to do really well. Kwabs has an amazing voice; that’s really something – it actually makes me really happy that something so organic made it and got to that point. Beth Hart is great. Courtney Barnett is a new really exciting artist from Australia. Bands like Slaves are really good, fresh and exciting and vicious and punk, and you need that sound to be coming out of your radio. There’s a really interesting singer-songwriter on Alan McGee’s label, John McCullagh & The Escorts. It’s nice just to randomly listen to music that people send me, and to Annie Mac – she plays some incredible stuff from across the board. She really loves her rock and punk stuff as well as the dance. She’s so important.
90’s Brit-pop was undoubtedly a great time – I was a gawky teenager in my Gazelles but you were part of the revolution! Can you describe what it was like to be in such a hugely successful band at that really special time?
It’s interesting, I was talking to my friends Nicole and Natalie Appleton about this the other day at The Prodigy gig in Brighton. We were saying how really exciting it was. Literally nearly every week there was a new single, or a new album or a new gig coming out and there were so many British bands given the chance and quite rightly so. It was such a big scene in that sense and now everything seems too watered down, nothing to kind of follow or be individual.
At every gig or a club night there were so many bands and it was such an exciting time. Quite a few of the bands in the last year have either come back or reformed; Cast are back, Shed Seven, Echobelly, Skunk Anansie and Space. Some of us never really went away and I still write music. I was with my friend Mark Morriss from The Bluetones the other day. He does his own solo stuff now and he played with the comedian Matt Berry’s band who are amazing. He brought out this album on vinyl called Opium and it’s really good. We are big fans of The Wonder Stuff who play one tour a year and Garage are back with their 20th anniversary tour which is amazing.
On the Under The Bridge website, you’re described as an ‘iconic and fiery front woman’. With the rise of female-fronted rock/indie bands of the 1990s, how did it feel to be part of that movement, i.e. with Garbage, No Doubt, Elastica, Sleeper etc.?
Apart from the fact of having to kick a lot more doors down, before you do a thing if it doesn’t exist, you have to make it exist. People weren’t playing female-fronted bands because there weren’t any. Or, if there were, they weren’t playing them, so you had to get yourself into position to make them; you make yourself known and heard.
Especially for No Doubt; in America their JustA Girl track was being played on the radio and they had been together for fifteen years before that. Unbelievably they couldn’t get anywhere but MTV picked up that record. In some ways it really helped us, as suddenly it was ‘what’s this, are there any others, who are they’? and the interest was sparked.
What’s important is, whatever gender you are, it was a time of British songwriting; songs that were being made and played in Britain and being played in the US. We were very lucky as we were one of the bands who managed to be successful in America, but if you’d have said that before, my money would not have been on us because of the punky element of my voice – or because I was from South London and talked like a Cockney! But somehow it did transfer over to other countries, which was very really exciting; we got to go to lots of different places.
Republica sold an incredible three million albums between 1996 and 1999, and Ready To Go and Drop Dead Gorgeous, amongst others, are still instantly recognisable and relevant in 2015. Do you still get a sense of pride knowing how much of an influence the band and you have?
Who would have thought it; twenty-one years later they are still being played all over the place! We did not foresee it, it’s absolutely wonderful. The songs are gifts, they are almost immortal. They’ll last when we’re all gone but if they can exist or carry on bringing a smile to someone’s face wherever they are in the world then that’s great but we never thought it. I’ll meet kids that don’t know me or the band, but they know the song from the football terraces in Sunderland or from lots of football matches, NFL, and New York Rangers ice hockey team in America.
I get a real sense of pride especially from those kids who aren’t even twenty yet and know our songs. I think ‘You do? How?!’ You have to be proud of that wonderful achievement. Music is very powerful. Playing Brighton Pride last year, the amount of couples that came up to me was amazing and there was a lot of love in the field. Drop Dead Gorgeous has always been a big gay anthem and they’ve always supported us. It was really wonderful.
So, what’s next for Republica, after this live concert? Any more tour dates and what are you planning to do with the new album?
We haven’t finished the new album yet but we’re nearly there! We’ll be performing the new songs, seeing the reaction, and then finishing the rest of it. Then having to choose which songs will go on it as we write loads. I think it doesn’t matter, we should put them all on there, otherwise no one going to hear them ever! A couple of the songs we actually wrote years ago and other songs that we thought we should look at again, we have basically rewritten them, brought them up to date, or finished them. We’re really really happy with what we’ve written at the moment.
Then we’ll go into mixing it, or maybe putting it out to a couple of friends or people who we really respect to mix it for us and give another ear to it. We write, record and produce all of our own things and we’ve only really worked with a few other people that we really think are good. Going back to the Britpop thing, it’s so essential. It’s sad today it’s the complete opposite to that, someone else is doing it, writing it, someone else telling you what to do and what to wear. I couldn’t imagine; that’s kind of everything we’re not! I have no idea why it us swung back that way.
If Wikipedia is not telling fibs, I noticed it’s your birthday on 3 June. Will the gig be part of the birthday celebrations?
Yes! What a way to celebrate. My birthday date is correct, but there are lots of lies online about, for example, my hometown and my age. I’m very proud of my age and anyway, what’s the definition of age?!
I’ll never forget what Courtney Love said to me once – if there’s ten things in an interview; nine great ones, and a really bad one that attacks you personally, it’s human nature to go to that one. I’ve had to learn to have a very tough skin in this business and certainly at the beginning being a female as well, a lot of our early interviews were not good but I had to get used to it. People were focusing on the fact that I just happened to front a band and I was female. That was relevant but this is a band and it’s not about me – I wanted them to talk about our music, our songs; those are the important things!
Interview by Nicola Greenbrook and portraits By Kalpesh Patel. London. May 2015.
Nicola has her own great website called Material Whirl right here: https://materialwhirl.wordpress.com/
Republica will be playing at Under the Bridge on Friday 29 May 2015 supported by Tenek and Kenelis.
Please check https://underthebridge.ticketabc.com/events/republic/ and http://www.facebook.com/officialrepublica for details.