Sheena Easton, hailing from a small town outside Glasgow, Scotland, rocketed to stardom back in 1980 when she was signed to a record contract with EMI Records. Television viewers across the UK got to see her dreams unfold via a precursor to reality television, the program The Big Time, produced by and broadcast on the BBC. Her initial singles, “Modern Girl” and “Morning Train (9 to 5),” became hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
From those beginnings, Easton racked up fifteen Top 40 hits in the United States, some of the most fondly remembered being the James Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only,” “Strut,” “Sugar Walls,” and “The Lover in Me.” Her songs have made appearances on five different Billboard charts: pop, adult contemporary, country, dance and R&B. Worldwide, her album sales are in excess of 20 million.
I got to speak to Sheena Easton in a Hotspots exclusive interview just before she headlines the entertainment at Fort Lauderdale Pride on March 1 and 2.
How many times a year do you get to come down to South Florida?
Not often enough! I like that part of the world. This trip I have two shows in Florida in the same week. I can’t remember the last time I was down here. Sadly it isn’t as simple as ‘do I get to come down so many times a year.’
Which places must you go to when you’re down here?
When I work, I tend to travel early in the morning, especially if we’re going somewhere away from the West Coast. We travel all day, we get a hotel, I rent a movie, we order in room service, I go to sleep, I wake up and take a walk, then we prepare and set up for the gig and perform. I get the most time when there are multiple gigs over a number of days, and then I’ll be honest, the first thing our group and I look for are great places to eat. I like anything spicy, anything with chili and garlic. I’m a big fan of Thai food and Chinese food and Mexican food and Cuban food.
Same-sex couples recently filed a lawsuit in Florida suing for the right to marry.
And rightly so.
How long do you think it will take before marriage equality becomes legal nationwide?
I don’t think it’s going to be too long. I know it’s terribly frustrating and horrendous to wait even an hour or a day when you’re in the position of not having your equality and your rights granted to you. It must be tiring to hear bulls–t reasons as to why you shouldn’t have equal rights. I know, looking back, it seemed like only ten years ago, it felt like it was never going to happen. Five years ago, we were getting closer. Now we’re seeing all the dominoes tumble, and when politicians and lawmakers talk about public opinion, there has been a great sway of public opinion for marriage equality. And that’s not to mention younger people, who think, “What, why can’t people marry?”
I think it will happen in the next few years. Ten would be stretching it.
Were you surprised to hear it was legalized in Scotland?
No, I was not. That’s where I’m from. It’s a nation of honest and good-hearted people and they realized it’s a no-brainer. I don’t find Scottish people to be narrow-minded or sticks-in-the-mud or set in their ways just because they can be.
I think Scottish people are not afraid of change because they’re a nation of fighters. Scotland, like a lot of countries, has a great tradition of being the underdog and fighting for what they believe is right. So I think it makes sense that Scotland, and perhaps other smaller nations, tend to be more activist in those ways.
Originally you were featured on BBC’s The Big Time. How much of your initial success do you attribute to your appearance on this program?
I think that any artist, when they are brought to the attention of the public, no matter how they are introduced, you can’t deny that that’s their jumping off point. I’d like to think that if [The Big Time] hadn’t happened, I would have succeeded either way, but you just don’t know for sure. There’s the butterfly effect…if you change one thing, everything changes. Every choice I made, good or bad, resulted in me getting to this point today.
A reader question: What’s your favorite song out of all of your hits, and why?
That changes completely from day to day. Obviously I don’t sit around listening to my own music, and when I perform my hits in a show, sometimes one particular song gets a reaction from someone, or I’ll get a note from someone telling me why that song means a lot to them, and then I’ll perform it and then that song will mean something more at that point to me.
I don’t mean to duck the question, but I will say that “For Your Eyes Only” is the song that is most requested of me. It’s famous, it’s a Bond theme, it’s something people in a group can agree on if some like my ballads, or some like my up-tempo work, or some people like the song I did with Kenny Rogers. “For Your Eyes Only” is definitely the most requested.
A reader question: I am wondering about “Sugar Walls.” How did Prince pitch this song to you to record? What were your thoughts when Tipper Gore placed that song on the “Filthy Fifteen”?
First of all, Prince is very prolific, and he writes a great deal of songs that he has no intention of recording himself. He writes them and, in his mind, he has the voice of another artist performing it. I got a phone call from my management and someone said that Prince had a song for me, and would I like to perform it. I got reel-to-reel tapes to listen to it, because that’s how you listened to a sample back then, and I thought it was a great song. A couple of days later, we went into the studio and I cut the lyric track immediately.
The song had already done its thing on the charts when it was listed on the Filthy Fifteen. I said as much then and I feel the same way now; I said if a parent feels that a song on the radio is unsuitable for their kids, then they shouldn’t let their kids listen to it. I did that as a parent with my kids. I said, “When you understand what the lyrics mean, then we can have a conversation about them and what the song is about.” If you don’t like the message of “Sugar Walls,” then fine, knock yourself out, don’t let your five-year-old hear it.
A reader question: The last album you released was over a decade ago. Do you miss recording and are there any plans for you to return to the studio?
I don’t miss recording just for the sake of it. I don’t miss having a record company say, “Hey, we need an album, go and make one. You’re contractually obligated.”
I don’t know if I would record anything again. If I did, it would really be fan-driven and something I’d want to put on my website. If someone came to me and said, “Hey, I want to make this kind of song” and I was excited about it, then I would be more than interested to do it. Just recording stuff for the sake of making money? Not interested, no thanks.
Right now I am not actively looking for something like that. My kids are growing up, they’re 18 and 19. I like my life now, I go out and do two, three shows a month on the weekends. For all my career even when I was recording albums, I was touring non-stop, all over the world. I was always a touring artist. I love work now because I love what I’m doing.
Out of the singers on the radio today, which ones do you like the most?
My tastes are so diverse. I like anything from Hunter Hayes on the country station to Christina [Aguilera]…I guess she’s not new anymore but she’s still my favorite. She has such a great instrument; she can blow anyone out of the water. I also like Rihanna and Adele and about ten different country artists.
My son keeps me up to date with the new edgy stuff; he’ll say “hey, mom, you have to listen to this, they only have 3,000 followers on YouTube.” He keeps me in the loop with the songs that wouldn’t be stuff I hum when I’m in the shower.
My affinity lies with artists with great voices or songs with amazing lyrics.