July 24, 2019 Interview – Sara Dallin of Bananarama
During the 1980s there were many artists that rose to international fame thanks to their unique approach to creating music. From Depeche Mode to The Cure, Culture Club to Tears of Fears, one could simply not forget the UK Pop outfit known as Bananarama. Formed some three plus decades ago, their mix of Pop, Dance, and Alternative vibes led them to become one of the most successful all-female bands of all time. With songs such as “Cruel Summer,” “Robert De Niro’s Waiting…,” “Venus,” as well as “I Heard a Rumour,” among others, Bananarama would top charts time and time again.
Still actively touring the world all these years later, they are back in 2019 with a brand new collection of songs. Set for release in the USA on July 26th, In Stereo is not only their eleventh overall album but their first in ten long years. A welcomed return from a familiar name, founding member Sara Dallin sat down to chat about the longevity of Bananarama, the decision to release a new album now, the potential for a return to the USA, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Bananarama has been together for nearly four decades and, in that time, has earned the title of one of the most successful all-female bands of all-time. First, tell us, how would you describe the journey of the band?
Sara Dallin – A quite incredible one really. I was a teenager when I started and had absolutely no plans or idea that it would last quite this long. We very much grew up in the public eye, learned to write songs, and hone that skill in the public eye. We never went to stage school or anything like that, so the first five or six years was a learning process. Once we realized we were pretty good at writing songs and seemed to be having hits, it became more of a serious business, but still with the same element of fun which we started out with as kids.
The journey has been amazing, and the fact that it has lasted so long, I’m absolutely so grateful for. Now Keren (Woodward) and I get to tour all over the world because we were fortunate to be around during the birthplace of MTV where our videos were shown everywhere; it was much easier for people to see who we were. Consequently, we had hits worldwide so we are still able to tour, make music, and do the job I absolutely love.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it has been a fantastic experience. What is great about Bananarama’s music is it crosses genres. Yes, the music is very Pop and Dance orientated, but you were also a part of what people like to call the New Wave scene. Tell us about crossing over and mixing genres of music.
Sara Dallin – I think we started out as quite Alternative. We were in a magazine which is like the fashion bible called The Face. “Cruel Summer” was a really different type of music, I don’t think anyone had heard that type of thing. The same when we worked with Fun Boy Three for “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It),” I think the whole style was very different. I think when you’re young you do experiment and make all kinds of different music.
I know America called it New Wave, but I guess it really was. It was a do-it-yourself attitude from the Punk era when we were kids in school where anyone can get up and have a go. Although Keren and I were trained in piano and we were in choirs, you don’t really imagine two girls can make a band. It’s usually guys with guitars, so it was quite hard to become established and be respected. Certainly with the longevity I think we can be afforded some kind of respect that we’ve lasted this long and have a really good body of work behind us.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. When you look back to when you broke in the U.S. market around 1984, what was that time like for you?
Sara Dallin – That was absolutely thrilling. When we had our first Top 10 hit in America with “Cruel Summer” we made the video in New York. That was the first time we had ever been in America, so like most kids in the UK, we had grown up watching American films and Starsky and Hutch, so my only idea of it was palm trees in the west and skyscrapers in the east. To actually be there was the most thrilling and exciting thing; the sounds, the smells, and everything about it was fabulous. We were young enough to really enjoy it and we had a great time. To actually say we had a hit in America was the icing on the cake.
Cryptic Rock – That is really cool. You have a new album, entitled In Stereo, which was released around the world in April, but now will be released on July 26th in the USA. Your first studio album in a decade, what was the writing and recording process like?
Sara Dallin – It is something we had written over a couple of years not really knowing how or when it would be released. After a while, when we had done a lot of tours and fans were asking through social media, we thought we have a body of work here so let’s just self-release. We got the team around us who we worked with in the past; we’ve obviously been in the business long enough to know who does TV, radio, etc.
We put the team together ourselves, and you know it’s actually quite thrilling to be in control of absolutely everything that goes on. At the end of the day it’s our money and we’re not going to waste it. It was fun to do and relaxing. Obviously music has moved on where people do crowdfunding and you need a certain amount of money, but there are ways to releasing and reaching people now that back in the ’80s there wasn’t. I really enjoyed the process.
Cryptic Rock – The end result came out quite good. As mentioned, it is the first album from Bananarama in ten years. What inspired the decision to go back in the studio and do an album after that length of time?
Sara Dallin – We had done EPs and released odd tracks on the internet, but had never actually consolidated them for a whole album. I don’t know what it is, is it timing or where you are in your life? Or like I say, we were aware fans really wanted new music. We just sat down and put together songs that we had written over the past couple of years and wrote five or six new ones, as well. We have worked with Ian Masterson on our last three albums and it is great to see something come to fruition and for it to be successful. It was a really good process.
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. You have toured the UK in 2019, but will there be a new US tour this year too?
Sara Dallin – That is something I would love to do. Let’s see how this album goes, if there are venues and places for us to play that would be amazing. I would love to come out to the USA and tour.
Cryptic Rock – It would be exciting to see you return. You actually did a tour in the USA in 2018 including a show in the heart of New York City at Playstation Theater. What was that tour like?
Sara Dallin – It was exciting. I think the last time we toured the United States was in 2012, and before that it was our 1989 world tour. We haven’t played a lot in the States, so to actually get there to play for fans who have been waiting so long to see us, it was really exciting. We all had a great time and loved it.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully you will be back sooner than later. We spoke about the longevity of the band and Bananarama has hits which are still played a lot on the radio today. In fact, “Cruel Summer” is one of those songs that remains beloved by listeners. How does it feel that the song is still so popular all these years later?
Sara Dallin – It is one of my favorite songs. I remember staying at the Sunset Marquis – we had been to breakfast at some diner, we were walking back, and we saw Mike Tyson sitting outside in his limo and he started singing “Cruel Summer” to us. We thought, “How does this man know this song?” When you are in the UK, you don’t know what is going on in America and how well a song is doing.
We would go to the beach and it was playing constantly in Santa Monica, it was amazing. That song really caught the imagination of the American people more than anyone else. Obviously it was very much thanks to the movie The Karate Kid (1984). The story goes someone heard the song while driving down the freeway and said, “I want that in my film,” and it was a huge boost for us. I think it’s a great song and one of the few songs I don’t tire of singing, I really love it.
Cryptic Rock – It is a very unique song. They say everything is cyclical and it seems to be true because synthesizers have come back in a big way in Pop music in recent years. It is interesting to see the sounds of the ’80s coming back.
Sara Dallin – I know, I have a daughter in her twenties. She will play me something and I will say, “Yeah, that was done by Depeche Mode back in the ’80s.” Obviously it has a more modern twist and a slightly different sound, but as you say, it does go in cycles. I love synthesizers, I love Depeche Mode and that kind of music. The Weeknd, Daft Punk, etc… all use that kind of stuff, it’s great.
Cryptic Rock – It’s interesting to see people are appreciating that style again. Out of curiosity, have any new artists contacted you about collaborating with them?
Sara Dallin – No, they haven’t, but that is something we’ve thought about recently. It would be great to do that sort of thing; that is something we could look into.
Cryptic Rock – That would be fun to see happen. As mentioned, Bananarama are approaching their fortieth anniversary. Success is important, but there needs to be something else beyond that for longevity, right?
Sara Dallin – Yes, Keren and I have been best friends since we were kids; we’ve been best friends since we were around seven or eight. We left home together and formed a group together, so there is that chemistry. We were drawn together as children because we used to write plays, record songs on tape recorders, and we wanted to do the same type of thing. Fashion-wise and music-wise we liked the same type of thing.
I think we’re quite different as people and we have different roles in the group, but I think that’s what makes the two of us work well together. You definitely have to have a sense of humor, a sense of fun, and don’t take it massively seriously, because there are far more important things in the world. It is something we are not pompous about and we know what the music is; it lifts you up, it’s memories, and it shouldn’t be taken as anything more than that. I think we have a really positive attitude about it.
Cryptic Rock – That positive outlook certainly has led to great things. As you said you started training on piano. What are some of your musical influences?
Sara Dallin – I think on a female level it would definitely be Debbie Harry and Blondie. When I was a kid, there weren’t that many females I could relate to. I loved her music because it was edgy Pop, plus her image, her attitude, and the whole Punk thing, was quite inspirational for a little kid.
I also definitely loved Roxy Music with Bryan Ferry when that started out. I loved Patti Smith. Those are my really early influences, but I like all kinds of music. I wouldn’t say it was one type of thing. Most definitely that Glam and Punk Rock though, and Debbie Harry like I said.
Cryptic Rock – Those are some great influences. Last question, if you are a fan of either Sci-Fi or Horror films, do you have any favorite films?
Sara Dallin – You know what? I hate Horror movies only because I get so scared by them. (Laughs) I more go to see Thrillers and Dramas. I do like Star Trek though. I really go to the movies quite a lot, usually every week, but we’ve been very busy the last couple of months. The movies are a fabulous escape and I love it.