For the average Australian music fan, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s career might as well have begun and ended a decade ago with her multi-hit-spawning debut album Read My Lips.
But, as with many of the best pop stars (see also: Annie, Robyn, Nicola Roberts), Bextor’s music has remained a slightly underground, cult proposition ever since, relished by forward-thinking pop lovers.
She’s currently on album four, the outstanding Make A Scene, and will mark it with her first Australian shows since her brief run as a chart-troubling rival to Britney, Christina et al all those years ago.
“I feel like I have little pockets of fans all over the world, which is brilliant, but I’m quite embarrassed it’s taken me so long to get to places like Australia again,” Ellis-Bextor told the Star Observer during a snatched phone conversation at Gatwick Airport earlier this month.
“Hopefully I’ll deliver a good show by means of an apology.”
She’ll be in the country for a week, leaving her two young children and husband (Richard Jones, bassist for fellow cultish Brit popsters The Feeling) in the UK.
While her shows will be relatively brief — 40-minute sets for queer crowds at Sydney’s Homesexual and Melbourne’s GH — she said fans could expect to hear much-loved tracks like Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer) and, of course, Murder on the Dancefloor.
“I’m doing club shows because I haven’t got my band with me, but don’t worry, it’ll be a real party set, with all the greatest hits,” she said.
As well as the more pop-driven highlights of her first three albums, Ellis-Bextor will showcase the eclectic dancefloor sounds of Make A Scene — an album littered with big-name DJ collaborations.
The album finally saw the light of day in April after an agonising four-year wait for fans who waited patiently as release dates came and went. But Ellis-Bextor, glamorously aloof as ever, wasn’t about to apologise for the delays.
“It wasn’t frustrating for me. It’d been four years since the last record, and in that time I’d toured that album, then had a baby, then taken my time to work on Make A Scene.”
“I’m often the reason things take a long time, because I really enjoy the process of writing and recording. You’ve got to spend a long time with those songs once they’re out there, so I don’t rush them. I’m not really in any hurry.”
It’s this attitude that perhaps best explains why she’s very much a cult pop star — and happy to stay that way.
“Sometimes I think it’s a case of ‘careful what you wish for’, because the way things are at the moment, I work a lot, I travel the world, but I also manage to have a family life and raise my kids. I don’t want to wish for anything that would upset the balance of what makes me happy. So I’ll settle for cult — that sounds good to me.”
Aside from the expected commercial dance collaborations with Calvin Harris and handbag house mavens the Freemasons, Make A Scene (which will be released locally via Shock Records to coincide with her visit) sees Ellis-Bextor team up with indie dance hipsters Metronomy and folk gloomster Ed Harcourt.
It’s this refusal to be pigeonholed that’s defined her career thus far — after all, who would’ve predicted the frontwoman for arch Britpop also-rans theaudience would’ve emerged from their 1999 split to voice the biggest house song of 2000, Spiller’s Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)?
“I’m still intrigued by the whole dance scene — Deadmau5, Chase & Status — or I could do something a bit more alternative. I haven’t got a clear idea of who I want to work with next, but I love working with unexpected people,” she mused.
“Dance music is such a big part of what I do, and I love it. If I could, I’d do two projects simultaneously — something dance, then something different. I am particularly interested in the ‘something different’, because I feel like I need to challenge myself a little bit.”
Testing her musical boundaries has always been important for Ellis-Bextor, who once memorably said “there’s nothing more unsexy than a jaded pop star”. More than a decade into the occupation, does she still have the passion to continue?
“Probably now more than ever, really. The longer it keeps going, the more I realise I’m one of the lucky ones, doing what I do. I’ve never had to get a proper job — brilliant!”
INFO: Sophie Ellis-Bextor plays Melbourne’s GH Hotel on October 1 (sold out) and Sydney’s Homesexual White on October 2. Tickets via www.inthedark.com.au