High expectations for singer Tasmin's return

More than a decade after she shot to fame with a number one single, West Yorkshire singer Tasmin Archer tells SARAH FREEMAN about writer's block, her return from the pop wilderness and why, this time, she's doing it all her own way.

It may not be quite possible to put a face to the name, it may be a struggle to remember the title of her number one single and, 10 years since her last album, you would be forgiven for thinking she'd become yet another casualty of the fickle industry of pop. But as with Lisa Stansfield or Neneh Cherry, the mention of the name Tasmin Archer reawakens dim and distant memories buried in musical history.

It was 1992 when the Bradford-born singer released her first album, Great Expectations, which spawned the smash hit Sleeping Satellite, and which saw her and her band begin months of endless touring, radio and TV appearances, which, in hindsight, she says set them on the road to "absolute exhaustion".

At the risk of sounding bitter about her rise and fall from the top of the charts, she's quick to add that it was a fantastic experience, and can't speak highly enough of the people she got to work with and the doors that were opened for her. But having split with record company EMI, she was suddenly struck by writer's block and endless unfinished songs began to pile up.

"After Great Expectations, there was a lot of pressure from EMI to keep the second album very mainstream pop," says Tasmin, who still lives in West Yorkshire. "I don't think you can make an album by committee, and I really had to dig my heels in to make the record I wanted to. By 1998 I'd had enough, not of the music, but of the industry and thought I'd have a bit of time off.

"I needed a break, but I always knew music would be a part of my life. I was still jotting things down and starting songs, but I could never finish anything. I had heard about writer's block, but until then I hadn't realised what it meant. It was really strange, I still felt creative, but something was stopping me completing anything."

Writer's block has plagued many artists, including the late author Douglas Adams, and after reading all she could about the condition, Tasmin decided she needed some distractions in her life, taking up painting and, perhaps more unusually, buying a season ticket for Sunderland FC.

"I needed to do something creative which had an end result. If you have writer's block, obsessing about it is the worst thing you can do and I knew that whatever else happened I had to get on with things. My partner John is a massive Sunderland fan; I went with him to a game and, that was it, I was hooked.

"Turning to football didn't cure the writer's block, but it helped. In the end there was no Eureka moment, it just gradually lifted. Suddenly I was able to finish all those half-written songs."

Tasmin and John, who played on her debut album, decided to go it alone, setting up an independent record label and, when the writer's block lifted, they turned the bedroom of their home into a studio.

The result is the album On and a new single Every Time I Want It (Effect is Monotony).

"Our neighbours have been very understanding," she laughs.

"The equipment we use is very sensitive, and there were times when it picked up the sound of a flushing toilet or a plane flying overhead. Setting up our own record label has been a steep learning curve, but to be in control of everything from start to finish is fantastic.

"With EMI, in many ways, we had been spoiled with the studios we'd worked in and the producers we'd had, and although it's been hard without the support or the money of a big company, it's also been a lot of fun.

"The title almost chose itself – I was off for a while, but now everything is back on.

"As we've gone along, we've put songs on the internet for people to download and the response we've had so far has been good. Hopefully, support for the album will build and build, and at the moment we are just trying to secure airplay and get our music out there.

"The only thing is that because we are also looking after the business side of the album we haven't had time to tour or play any gigs, but we are hoping that when this record is up and running by itself we will get a chance. It's the one side I really miss."

Though Tasmin is busy promoting the single and the album, it's unlikely to achieve the stellar success of Great Expectations, but this time around that's exactly how she wants it.

"From the outside, people thought Sleeping Satellite was an overnight success," she says. "It wasn't quite like that, but it did happen very quickly and things did go a little mad for a while. The hard thing about it was the travelling, we'd wake up one day and be flying to Italy. The next day we'd be in France. We were living in such close confines with other people that it was inevitable that we'd get on each other's nerves.

"At the start you get swept along with it, but by the end I was just so tired that I said, 'Right this year I'm going to make sure I eat properly, I'm going to sleep and I'm going to look after myself'. That was one marathon I wasn't prepared to run.

"I'd be lying if there wasn't a slight dent to my ego when it came to an end, but there was also a sense of relief."

While the fame went, the money from the publishing deal they had secured early on meant Tasmin, who once worked in the offices of Leeds Magistrates' Court, has been able to pursue her first love of music.

And while she's revelling in her new-found independence, she knows that even after being out of the spotlight for a decade, some things will never change. "Music has always been a part of my life and it always will be," she says. "At the moment I'm quite into the Dixie Chicks. They've got an attitude that I like, and I think music should be thought-provoking, but I also like the Queens Of The Stone Age. I just like good music and something with a bit of an edge.

"The songs on his album are basically about people and how they live their lives, but what really drives me is the melodies. My brother was a big influence on me. Unusually for a black guy he was into The Smiths and the Sex Pistols. My mother liked a wide array of music, my sister was into '70s funk and my other brother was into Abba and Kate Bush.

"I don't like putting things in boxes, but if you don't someone else will so I suppose our music can be best be described as alternative pop. I've never been quite sure what that means, but it's the best label I can come up with.

"I feel I've got back to why I started doing this in the first place, but I've learned from everything that's happened along the way."


To buy the album, visit www.tasminarcher.com