Marcella Detroit is best known for her work with the American/British pop duo Shakspear’s Sister and their number one hit ‘Stay’, which spent eight weeks in early 1992 at the top of the UK charts.

A torch song to a departing lover, it found Detroit taking the lead vocal. Its iconic accompanying video set aboard an abandoned space station saw her battling with her band mate Siobhan Fahey, as a leeringly camp angel of death, over the body of Detroit’s comatose boyfriend.

Detroit (whose real name is Marcy Levy) began her musical career in her home city of Detroit in the early 1970's as a backing vocalist and worked and toured with blues artists such as Bob Seger, Leon Russell and Eric Clapton.

In the late 1980's she joined Shakespear’s Sister, which Fahey had formed as a solo project after the leaving the all-girl pop trio Bananarama. Initially a hired hand, Detroit then became a permanent member at the suggestion of Fahey’s then husband, the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, in time for the group’s second single, ‘You’re History’, which reached number 7 in the UK charts. Detroit and Fahey stayed together for two albums, ‘Sacred Heart’ (1989) and ‘Hormonally Yours’ (1992) and another seven singles including ‘Stay’, their only number one, but broke up in 1993 when tensions started to evolve between them.

While Fahey has continued to put out occasional albums as Shakespear’s Sister, Detroit has gone on to release five previous solo albums and another LP, ‘The Upside of Being Down’, with her blues project the Marcella Levy Band.

‘Grey Matterz’, her latest solo album’, combines Detroit’s trademark sharply witty and often surreal lyrics with disco tracks, electro-synth numbers and piano ballads. Funk-driven ,soaring opening pop anthem ‘Digital Age’, reflects on the often negative effect of internet culture. Disco anthem ‘Drag Queen’ involves synthesised violins and tells of a dream that Detroit had about kissing Australian drag queen Courtney Act, while ‘England Calling’ is a heartfelt tribute to Detroit’s producer husband Lance Aston.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Marcella Detroit about ‘Grey Matterz’.

PB: Iggy Pop once said that that he sees Iggy Pop and James Osterberg as two different personalities, the Iggy Pop persona as being a grander and wilder extension of himself and James Osterberg as being the real him. You have recorded all your albums since Shakespear's Sister as Marcella Detroit, except for your 2005 blues album 'The Upside of Being Down' which was recorded with the Marcy Levy Band. Do you see Marcella Detroit and Marcy Levy similarly as being two separate but connected entities?

MD: Marcy Levy, [me], is the name I used when I started out in the music business. Back then I was more of a purist and was influenced by music that was more “rootsy” i.e., blues, soul, r&b, folk blues and rock. When I started working with Shakespear’s Sister I adopted the name Marcella Detroit. I found that I was exposed to different kinds of music and enjoyed it, still bringing my influences to the band but in a more experimental way.

Music I did as Marcy Levy is different than Marcella Detroit. Yet, they are both still “me”. As my acting teacher once said, “you are stuck with the character and the character is stuck with you”. If you’re asking are these two entities different personalities, I suppose they are, but only different musical personalities.

I did my blues album in 2005 because I felt like what I was doing was becoming contrived and I wanted to get back to my roots and centre myself again. I don’t necessarily feel I’m two different personalities, although, when I’m performing, onstage or in the studio, I’m channelling my higher self and when I get lost in it, it’s the most fun of all with no limits, just pure inspiration and creativity flowing.

PB: You appeared on a UK 2010 TV show called 'From Pop Star to Opera Star' after finding out that Andrea Bocelli would be coaching the semi-finalists. You got through to the semi-finals but Andrea unfortunately pulled out which must have been a disappointment. What do you think you learnt from the experience and been able to bring to your music from it which you may not have done before?

MD: Yes, it was a little disappointing that Mr. Bocelli was not part of the semi-finals. However, when they told me he would be coaching us for the semi-finals, it really inspired me. In my mind, I was thinking. “Semi-finals or bust”. How amazing it would’ve been to be mentored by him, to meet him, to work with him; that was a dream of mine, so I pushed myself to get to that point. They gave me some very difficult arias, and upon hearing some of them I thought, “I can’t do that”!!! But I really surprised myself and I’m proud of what I did.

I truly enjoyed singing with the orchestra live every Friday night for the show, that was incredibly inspirational and something I’d dreamed of doing as a kid. I feel it broadened my appreciation for opera even more and my love for classical music and probably has influenced my writing and vocals. I believe all life experiences do that however big or small, it all has some kind of influence.

PB: You started 'Gray Matterz' without any big plan after a sabbatical from song writing and have ended up with an album which you have described as being "about what I've been up to in the past year". Has it surprised you how autobiographical it has turned out?

MD: I took a brief sabbatical from songwriting at the time because I felt very disillusioned with the music business. I didn’t write anything for about 4 months, which for me, is a long time but then I got the bug again and felt the need to be creative. I’m not surprised with how autobiographical the album turned out at all!

When I write for myself, as the artist, I write about things that are going on in my life or my observations of the world around me; in that case, I do not write about what I don’t know about anymore. When writing for and with others, I have to put myself in their “shoes” and get to know them and get on the same page as them and learn about what they want to convey.

PB; You recorded, produced, mixed and mastered your previous album 'The Vehicle' in just sixteen days. How long did 'Gray Mattersz' take in comparison?

MD: ‘Gray Matterz’ took a bit longer but it is that kind of album, not a live album. The point of ‘The Vehicle’ album was that I wanted to do it with a live band, like in the old days, where you’d go in and cut an album in a few weeks and it was done. I didn’t want to labour over it. ‘Gray Matterz’ from start to finish probably took nearly a year from when I wrote the first song until recording everything and finishing it. At first I didn’t know it was going to be an album. I started writing with no particular genre in mind but the songs just kept flowing and after about six songs started sounding very cohesive, I just thought, “Ok, now this is sounding like an album,” and I was inspired to finish it.

PB: There is a real home grown/cottage industry element to this album. It has been released on your own label Make Zee Records. Three of the songs were co-written with your husband Lance and your son Maxwell has done some wonderful work with the front cover art. You have worked with some very big labels such as London Records with Shakespear's Sister in the past. Working with a big label and self-releasing material must be very different experiences. How has working on this album been, in comparison to working with a bigger label? Is it an experience you have enjoyed any more or less?

MD: They both have their benefits. Of course, when you’re working with big labels you have their whole team involved which include promo, marketing, radio plugging and money to handle all that’s necessary. When you’re doing it on your own it’s a different story. Being independent has its advantages, being in charge of your own destiny is very appealing. It’s also quite costly and we still have the hurdle of getting the word out that an album has been done. It’s not an easy task. Right now, I’ve hired a PR company and another company to get my music to radio.

I always enjoy the creative process. The business side of things can be daunting but I like being in control of who I am as an artist. If you’re not careful, you can lose yourself along the way by becoming too homogenized by the desires of others. I’m a little too much of a results oriented person, so right now, I’m just looking to find happiness in the process rather than the outcome.

PB: 'Digital Age' examines the pluses and negatives of social media and shows real concerns about its effect on people and especially on the young. Overall do you see the minuses of social media out balancing the positives or vice versa?

D: It’s hard to say. I do think we are in an age where so many incredible things are happening. If you would’ve told me when I was a child that I’d be able to have a “computer” in my hand and be able to make calls on it and find out anything in the world that I wanted to know at any time, I would’ve thought you were insane! I do think though that technology has prompted us to be less socially interactive on a face to face basis and I find people to be more closed off.

I see children spending way too much time on their devices and not being able to just have some good old “fun”, just being outside playing with their friends. I rarely see any kids in my neighbourhood anymore outside playing. It’s a little weird, but that’s the way the world has gone.

PB: 'Drag Queen' was inspired by a dream that you had about the Australian drag queen Courtney Act. Who is she and is it true that you have done some songwriting with her?

MD: Courtney Act is a drag queen that I met through a mutual friend. She performed at a party of his and my friend suggested we write together. Courtney is Australian and was a contestant on ‘Pop Idol’ in Australia. She’s also been on a show over here called ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and did quite well, she’s pretty well known around the world. As I’d mentioned, I’d met her as a drag queen. When we wrote together, she was her “male” self, a guy named Shane Jenek. When she opened the door as Shane, I was really taken with how gorgeous she also was as a man. Not only that, Shane was so sweet and vulnerable.

I found myself, when I got home, having a little crush on him and had a dream that I was kissing her, the drag queen version of her, in my dream. I woke up and thought, “Okay, I’ve got to write a song about this!” Sounds confusing I know, right?? But really, she’s gorgeous as a queen and also as a man. Oh, and I should mention, she has an amazing voice and a “body of life”!!!

PB: 'England Calling' highlights your love affair with England. Your husband is English. Beyond him, what is the appeal to you of England and hopefully Britain (I'm Scottish) and what do like best about it?

MD: Last year I was musing at how wonderful England has been to me: working with Eric Clapton, Shakespear’s Sister, Elton John, and it gave me my husband. I was sitting around one day and got a phone call. It was someone from England calling me about an opportunity. Suddenly the title, ‘England Calling’ came into my head and I had to write a song about it, my second home. I just love the sense history over in the UK. You walk out on the street and you see and feel it. I feel so inspired and alive over there.

I love London, I love the countryside, love Scotland as well; the audience in Glasgow reminds me of Detroit, funnily enough! They are very receptive and appreciative. I also love Ireland and Wales and feel like I belong more over in the UK than anywhere. Perhaps I lived there in a past life, I don’t know, it just feels so natural to me to be there.

PB: You have recently started a new business venture Song Seamstress in which you provide custom built songs and songwriting coaching. How does this work?

MD: I ask people to let me know what special occasion they’d like me to craft a special song for them for. Then I ask them what genre they’d like the song to be in. I talk to them and get more information on the person and relationship they want me to write the song about and I go from there. I love a challenge and to write something to order.

PB: You are apparently working on your autobiography. When do you hope it will be published? Will it be focusing on your entire career from your early days working with Bob Seger and Eric Clapton until current times?

MD: Ha, well I’ve edited it about 4four times now! I’m not sure it will ever come out. It’s perhaps a little too personal. It’s a journal on my entire career.

PB: You toured the UK twice in 2013 to promote 'The Vehicle'. Will you be touring over here to promote 'Grey Matterz'?

MD: I hope to! We shall see what the music gods have in store.

PB: Thank you.

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