Sandra St. Victor is back, with a great, new, Mark De Clive-Lowe produced solo album and a family life in Europe. Chris Wells catches up with his favourite Mack Diva.
Sandra St. Victor wakes up jet-lagged. She’s temporarily back in New York, the city she used to call home, preparing for a gig that will launch her brand new album, Oya’s Daughter in the States – so the previous night she’d stayed up way past her Dutch bedtime, getting the band real tight. Now there’s this damn journalist Skyping her right on time in the a.m. for an interview. Is the former Family Stander sure that she wants all this solo artist hassle again? Damn right, she is.
It’s been 12 years since Gemini: Both Sides, a staggering 17 since Mack Diva Saves The World, and the time has come to step back in the arena with a whole album of her own. It seems that producer and roving beatmaker Mark De Clive-Lowe has been the catalyst on the new project, having sparked Sandra’s interest through his work on St. Victor’s SSV’s Sinner Child experimental EP release in 2010.
“We did this thing My Spheres, a soulful dance EP, and Mark said, ‘We got to do an album’. He literally had this whole album, all of the tracks except for maybe two, in a form that he felt was a complete album already – just in need of the front end. It was even sequenced!
“At first I was kinda, ‘Do you think I can’t sequence my own album?’ ‘Cause I have sequenced every album I have ever been on, including the Family Stand – I have always been in on that discussion. I know have a good ear for that. But then I realised he had done it right! I just wrote over the tracks as you hear them and I added maybe two songs. I think we flipped only one sequence in the end.
“Now I look on him as some kind of mad musical scientist who brought a fresh slice to the soulful stuff I like. We call it ‘Future Soul’. I love what he has done and what he has inspired for me to do.”
Sandra has lived in Holland since 2003. The previous year she’d visited her daughter at university in Amsterdam, planning on, as she calls it, “gypsying around Europe for a while.” She never got any further, meeting and marrying a Dutchman and giving birth to two more daughters, now aged eight and 10.
How has she found her adopted country after life in NYC and international stardom in The Stand?
“It’s a whole lot more organised, in every way – the polar opposite of me! There’s an intricate balance going on. If you say to someone, ‘Hey, let’s get together for coffee this afternoon – 2.30pm?’ Well, they mean 2.30pm! You have to be there. Social things, like a birthday party, they are very particular about their mores and traditions, even on walking into the house. If I have a birthday party for my daughter, the parents arrive and congratulate me. ‘But it’s not my birthday’, I say. ‘Ah, no, it’s your daughter’s birthday’. OK. And if you forget when you go round, you have to go back and say it. I’d originally had the idea that it was a pretty laid-back place, but it’s really not like that.”
And, of course, she now speaks Dutch.
“Yeah, I picked that up. It’s not an easy language to learn. My kids are speaking Dutch, though, so I certainly don’t want them hanging round the house with their girlfriends, talking over my head!”
On the music side, progress has been more difficult. With The Stand on long-term hold – Peter Lord is currently in California writing a screenplay for US TV, while Jeff Smith is in New York working on all kinds of projects – Sandra soon discovered that she had to be proactive if she wanted to work the European scene. Her most successful venture saw the formation of Daughters Of Soul, a two-hour touring show featuring Nona Hendryx, Joyce Kennedy [of Mother’s Finest], Deniece Williams, Caron Wheller, Lalah Hathaway, Indira Khan [daughter of Chaka], Simone [daughter of Nina Simone] and Leah McCrae [daughter of George & Gwen], that played festivals in Nice, Java, Pori and elsewhere.
“It has been very different,” reflects Sandra. “I had the idea – I still have – that it’s a global community now and you can do anything wherever you are in the world, so long as you have an internet connection. It’s not true.
“Once you’re out of the arena or the loop – in my case, New York – it’s definitely soon ‘out of sight, out of mind’. You would think you could make a phone call or leave an email and everything would be OK. But really, people still need to see you around. A lot of gigs that I would get by being there, last minute maybe, they don’t think of me, ‘cause I’m in Holland. People assume I won’t be able to make it. But I can jump on a plane like anybody else. So I had to reach out say, ‘Call me’.”
Sandra’s other way to beat the problem has been to travel around Europe with just her guitar player, doing acoustic gigs wherever she can.
“We go to Italy, France, Germany… some really cool places. That works really well.”
The album, meanwhile, reviewed in our October 2013 print issue, finds Sandra on good form. A particular stand-out is the seven-minute jazzy mid-tempo tune, Eternal. Sandra reveals the inspiration behind the lyric:
“I had a friend, I called him my soulmate. I stupidly left him. He was my boyfriend during the Mack Diva period, actually. I left him because… well, without going into too much detail, I thought this other situation was better for me. Basically, I was young and dumb.
“Years later I meet him again and that thing was still there. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ And I’m hooked up now, so’s he, so what? But we became friends instead and then… well, he died. I don’t wanna bum your favourite song down, but it’s kinda about that.”
Death, it seems, is a recurring theme on Oya’s Daughter. The track Sugarfoot Is Dead, for example, was sparked by the recent passing of the former Ohio Players frontman.
“I’m a fan of Ohio Players songs, of course, but I don’t know why… I guess when Sugarfoot passed I just looked around at the landscape and thought, ‘Who is left now?’ So many have popped off recently. Those cats who I grew up groovin’ to are no longer around. And Sugarfoot was one of those guys who taught me to funk. When I heard that track of Mark’s the words just came out.”
And then Stuff Momma Used To Say finds Sandra recalling her long deceased mum with a great deal of fondness:
“’Just keep your dress down and your pants up’, right,” she laughs, quoting her own lyric. “Thankfully, I haven’t had to start on that with my youngest daughters yet. But my oldest, yes!
“My mom has gone now, but that was how I was brought up. She was very southern and busy with trying not to let us get involved in a certain, predictable mindset. She introduced us to classical music, for example; tried to get us outside of the neighbourhood. She literally did serve chicken wings in china bowls. But when that ‘country’ side came out, it was real. I miss her a lot. That is a fun song to write, to giggle about her.”
As to the near future, Sandra plans to promote Oya’s Daughter as much as possible around Europe, and especially here in the UK, which she regards as her base for the funky, soulful solo stuff. The door remains open to more Family Stand projects along the way – their last, 2007’s In A Thousand Years, is still available to download through Bandcamp.
In the meantime, her two younger daughters are still discovering their mother’s celebrity former lifestyle:
“Ha, yeah, sometimes I find that the parents of friends of theirs have shown their kids videos of me singing on stage somewhere, so when my kids come home they say, ‘Mom, I saw you on this video where you sang in front of 50,000 people!’ Why didn’t you tell us?’ So far they haven’t found anything too embarrassing. God knows, I embarrass them enough.”
Sandra St. Victor’s album Oya’s Daughter is on Shanachie Records and is available now.