Siobhan De Mare, the iconic voice behind Mono, Violet Indiana, and most recently Swoone, spoke with Alexander Pearson about her career, life, loves, and music. De Mare was introduced to global audiences in Cuaron’s version of Great Expectations in the 1990s. The track, “Life in Mono” introduced a generation of hipster viewers to trip hop and became a musically aromatic remembrance of that place in time.
Alexander and Siobhan connected and had one of the surprisingly intimate conversations about real stuff that you might find. It happened as follows:
Siobhan De Mare: The Interview
Alexander Pearson This is Alexander Pearson with The Celebrity Cafe interviewing Siobhan de Mare of Mono, Violet Indiana, and Swoone. How are you doing today?
Siobhan de Mare : I’m very well, thank you.
Alexander Pearson I’m very glad to hear that.
Siobhan de Mare How are you doing?
Alexander Pearson I’m doing well too, thank you. Did you have a good Halloween?
Siobhan de Mare …Yes, we don’t celebrate quite as much as you do in America, cause obviously it’s an American thing, but I think we are doing our best here to emulate kind of our own version.
Alexander Pearson Ok, well I’d like to start out talking a little bit about your childhood. So, I… You know, I tried to do as much research as I could, but…
There’s only, like, four surviving interviews of you on the internet, and two of them are in Spanish! So, my impression of your childhood is that many of your family were in the entertainment industry, is that true?
Siobhan de Mare Yes, that’s absolutely true! There were probably three members of my family that were from that background, and then probably loads of generations or thereabouts of people who become musicians or artists on some level.
Alexander Pearson Mmhmm?
Siobhan de Mare So, my father was in a very famous band called The Shadows. He was the drummer and they had a lot of #1 hits, one of them being “Apache”, another one being “Diamond”, and they’re sort of quite iconic. A very iconic 60s band, I think that even The Beatles were influenced by. So that was my dad’s band, chiming in, and then my grandfather was the gong-banger on the Rank Trailer movie, that sort of violent chord roils that played the gong before the movie begins, that was my grandfather. And then my grandmother was a dancer, and she used to dance for Cherry Baptiste, she was one of her backup dancers, so it was loads of us; we all kind of gravitated towards that world for some reason… I guess this speaks to our temperament.
Alexander Pearson Well, my experience is that musical talent does tend to run in families… and it’s quite clear that whatever sort of musical talent was running in your family went directly to you, Siobhan.
Siobhan DiMare Wow! Well, I think for me it was a bit of a case of not really being that good at anything else…
Siobhan de Mare It was like, yeah I think I can actually do this quite well. I’m not great at science or biology or definitely not math; my English grammar is not too bad, literally, but music was one of those things where I was like, “Yeah, this feels really comfortable; I think I’ll do this…” – and people really seemed to like what I’m doing, so I’ll go down this road.
Alexander Pearson Yeah, people responded very well to your singing style, whether back when you were doing – I think they at the time were calling Mono a “retro-futurism” album – but now it’s more known as trip-hop, then you went on to do shoe-gazer and lots of other stuff (genres). You have what I would consider a very sultry sort of singing voice and it really expands the range of the songs that you’re in.
Siobhan DiMare Yeah, I think the reason that I kind of developed that technique and style was because it seemed to lend itself to the kind of music that I was doing with Martin (Virgo) at the time, so before that I was a bit of a frustrated soul diva. There was only a little work and I couldn’t compete with, Chaka Kahn, or people like that, so I thought, “What am I doing here?” So I thought why don’t I tame it down, tone it down, and then I met Martin Burgess of Mono and he played me that Life in Mono backing track and he said, “How do you fancy singing over this?” And so I just tried different techniques and then he said, “That’s it! YES!” And that was it. So that’s how it all started. And then I kind of started writing the album with him and it all just became very dreamy and that ambient-atmospheric and there was… As Lucretius said, we evolved and become something very organic, natural. So I’m glad that happened, because then it helped springboard me into all the other projects, including Violent Indiana with Robin Guthrie, which was another one of those quite dreamy… although I a bit more dynamic, I think, than Mono.
Alexander Pearson Well, there’s several years of growth as an artist, in between those albums. So I don’t think we should be surprised at all that the sound of Violet Indiana is more complex, because you, as an artist, had grown by then.
Siobhan de Mare Yes! I think I had grown, also, with my confidence, and also because, with Robin, when we started recording he literally said, “Listen, I don’t write lyrics. The last girl I worked with, she didn’t really have lyrics; she just used to do melodies and harmonies, so if you’re going to do lyrics – here’s a pen.” So he gave me the pen and I started writing and singing, and then I was like, “Great! Now I get to do all the lyrics!” Whereas with Mono, it was a totally different dynamic – we had to share everything, whereas all of a sudden the onus was on ME. He said, “Yeah, I’m going to do the music, you’re going to do the melody and the lyrics, and we’re going to do loads of beautiful albums together.” And that was it. And it was great. So it gave me that confidence to kind of expand a bit more and maybe include some other aspects of my singing dynamic.
Alexander Pearson That’s very interesting. I tracked down a video interview you did here in Los Angeles (in I think 2003?) with Robin Guthrie, and you said that, especially for Violet Indiana, that for song writing you had basically no influences – that you were writing about and singing about your life, almost like a diary.
Siobhan de Mare Oh yeah, I’m still doing that.
Alexander Pearson So that’s now your preferred method of song writing or was that always the direction you were moving in?
Siobhan de Mare Well it seems with me that I kind of can’t do it any other way, which is why I don’t sing other people’s songs. So, if someone sends me ideas and lyrics, I very rarely get involved unless I’m writing the lyrics. Not because I’m a control freak, but because I have to feel it to sing it – so normally I just write about my life. Which is very revealing and does leave me slightly vulnerable. But hey…
Alexander Pearson Yeah, it might leave you vulnerable, but I think that’s what people respond to. You have such a dynamic voice, but you put yourself out there with the things that you sing about, and I think it resonates.
Siobhan de Mare Well that’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping people will connect with what’s going on, because obviously we’re just human beings at the end of the day and we’re just a series of emotions and reactions, so I’m hoping that they WILL connect with that and feel that through the way I deliver the vocals. That’s the plan.
Alexander Pearson Ok, is it true that you took a break from Violet Indiana to have a child?
Siobhan de Mare I did! I did take a break to have a child; I think I took, whilst I was pregnant with my oldest son, I’ve had another baby since then…
Alexander Pearson Congratulations!
Siobhan de Mare Thanks very much, and then I kind of… Robin moved to France and it became a bit more complicated to record. So, I think we did do one more album, I think, at the time. But it was quite difficult to do – as in long distance romance, long distance recording is QUITE difficult. So, I think we kind of left it there. And then I was a bit confused – life and music and wondering who I was as a person, and going through all that stuff and I’d think, “Well, what do I do next?” And then BAMN! Along came Gary Bruce, who’s part of Swoone, the Swoone lot, and that’s how it happened. We formed a band together and I was able to do a new album, which is coming out in America, actually.
Alexander Pearson When is it coming out? From all the information that I could find, I could only identify that in 2015 a new album was supposed to be coming out “soon.”
Siobhan de Mare Yes, and then lots of things happened, and, for one reason or another, we kind of kept taking a break from recording and then getting back together. There was so many things going on in both our lives that we didn’t really get to finish the album with the quickness that we had wanted. Yeah, so we’ve taken our time and we’ve had some help with production and stuff. We just literally were trying some ideas out and Saint Marie Records contacted me and said, “We would like to release ANYTHING you’ve been involved in from the past. We love your vocals, we love what you’re about; what do you have?” And I said, “Well, (blank) won’t agree to re-release any Mono, Violet Indiana will be tied up, but I’ve got this NEW band – would you like to listen to it?” So he listened to it, over at Saint Marie Records, and then he said, “This is amazing; I’d love to be part of this! Please sign with us.” So that’s what we did, and then we were off to publishing deals in London. So it all kind of happened. We’re just waiting for a release date in the new year, so it will probably around March in the new year. So hopefully they’ll like that one as much, it’s quite an emotional album and I’m hoping people that will be able to connect with it as much as they have with my previous material.
Alexander Pearson That’s interesting. You said that this is a more emotional album, but from my impression of you it sounds like you already put an awful lot of emotion into your previous albums; I mean you invested a lot of yourself into it. So what was it about THIS album, in particular, that really stands out as truly emotional to you?
Siobhan de Mare Ok, well I think in my personal life I was probably at a breaking point, and I’d gotten to the point where, romantically, I’d given up and was in a terrible headspace. I mean, I’m not in that place NOW, but when I started writing the album I was in a very… I don’t know, a very strange headspace. I’d kind of giving up on life, on love, and all these wonderful things – all these dreams and aspirations, everything. It was sort of a very sad time for me, and the only way I could really express those emotions was through my music. So I was keeping a very brave face, and then I was sneaking off to the studios, releasing these emotions by music. And it was like my little world, where I felt safe, where I could go and sing about all these things going on in my life and… it felt very cathartic.
Alexander Pearson Ok, so you are, I hope, doing a little better now? Did creating the album help to alleviate some of the… emotions that were raging out of control, or has it been a matter of time healing all wounds?
Siobhan de Mare Yeah, I think it was reflective of my personal life back then, which thankfully is not in that place anymore, and if I wrote an album now it would probably be QUITE different. But I think at the time – yes, that’s what it was. It was quite healing and it was nice to get all of those emotions out, and when I listen back now some of those lyrics are quite powerful, quite edgy… I don’t know, I think maybe I was a bit daring on some of the lyrics. But you know what? It was honest. And that’s what you want, I think, as an artist – the honesty transferred through and people connect with the honesty. So, it was an honest piece of art that reflected that time of my life, and hopefully I’ll do the same as I move on and progress in life, as you do, on your journey.
Alexander Pearson That’s a great segue to my next question. So, once this album is released, what do you plan for the future? Are you going to be releasing more under Swoone, or are you looking for other songwriting partners? What’s next for Siobhan?
Siobhan de Mare You know what? Yeah, there’s a show in London called Joel Collins (I don’t know if it comes out in America), but I would love to be on Joel Collins. I’d love to do a Bond film; there many things on that bucket list, I think, before I die in this life, I would love to do all these different things, tick these boxes. You know, I did a few film scores, back in the day, I did Great Expectations, obviously, then I used my new experience extensively in incidental music that was one with Numi’s work in a film that she did. Then, I’ve done lots of things through media, but I’d like to get that one big song, where you go, “Wow, that’s it.” So, I’d like to do another album with Swoone because I think we’re a great partnership, and then I’ll be open to other offers that come in after that… Other writing teams or featuring on tracks, I’m all about that, but they have to be right – I don’t just jump to anything, but if something tugs at my heartstrings and I feel it would work with what I’m doing then I’m all about the (blank).
Alexander Pearson Alright, phenomenal. Let’s go ahead and we’ll round out the interview there. I just have a couple of extraneous questions that I didn’t get to, do you mind if I ask them?
Siobhan de Mare Of course!
Alexander Pearson Ok. I read in a 1996, or maybe it was 1997 (I don’t know anymore), interview with you that you originally picked the name Mono from an album of Phil Spectre’s “Back to Mono”, which was on the wall in the studio where you were recording. Is that true?
Siobhan DiMare Hmmmmmmmmmm…. I can’t remember. You know, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know if that’s true. It seems to me there was a selection of names and we were kind of like going through the list, but I wouldn’t like to say that it’s a FACT, but it’s a possibility. In case I get sued.
Alexander Pearson Hey, look, no worries – it’s been 20 years!
Siobhan de Mare (Laughing) Exactly! You know what? It was brilliant, there were so many things going on at that time; we weren’t even a band when we met. We were two people that were literally trying out some ideas, and then our manager went, “Right! You guys are going to be a band!” And… what are we going to be called? And it was all kind of up in the air and then it was like a big thing with the publishers – who’s going to write the songs, what’s the band members going to be, do we even want to be a band? It was kind of like an arranged marriage. And I’m not sure it was a good idea…. but it worked for a while.
Alexander Pearson Hmmmm… An arranged marriage…. that’s such an interesting way of looking at it. Yes, I can absolutely see… I mean, it’s like fine, I guess we get along “in theory”… but when you take away that organic part of a relationship, it can sort of leave you….
Siobhan de Mare Exactly! And then when you really get to know a person and you see different parts of their personality, it doesn’t always necessarily work – although it should on paper. Technically we probably should have done another album; we did try, but it ended up not going well because we were having creative conflicts, and all the same issues were coming back. So, it was one of those things like when you break up with someone and then you try and get back together and then all the problems that were there before start to crop up again and you think, “THAT’S why we’re not together anymore…”
Alexander Pearson Yeah, I’ve certainly lived that before…
I wanted to ask you about the singing lessons that you took as a child with… Soula Kopsini… Did I say that right?
Siobhan de Mare Sorry, could you say that again?
Alexander Pearson While reading some of your biographical info, I learned that when you were a child you took singing lessons from Greek Actress Soula Kopsini, and I wanted to ask you…
Siobhan de Mare I DID! Oh my god! What did you want to ask me about her, sorry?
Alexander Pearson Well, I just wanted to ask you about your experience. My impression was that it was mostly to sort of build up your singing stamina?
Siobhan de Mare Oh, she was… she’s been a really dear friend of mine. She was basically, Soula Kopsini, she was a Greek movie star in the early 70’s. Very youthful, kind of blonde Bridget-Bardot-type, that featured in mainly art movies back in the day. And she was fantastic because she was one of the first direct meeting of a professional woman. She helped me with stamina and breathing. She was emotionally very, very supportive, because I was really SO SHY when I started, and my grandfather, who was a Swedish psychiatrist, when I got to about 15 he said, “Ok, Siobhan, what are you going to do?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know! I don’t really know what I’m very good at. I’d quite like to be an actress.” He said, “Ok, what else?” I said, “I’d like to play the trumpet!” And he said, “Ok, I’ll buy you a trumpet.” And he got me a trumpet, and then he said, “Ok, I’m going to pay for you to go and have some singing lessons with this wonderful Greek actress, a movie star. She’s apparently doing singing lessons around the corner.” So I went to see her, and she was straight to the point. She was like, “If you want to be a singer you’re going to have to develop your confidence, your self-esteem. You’re going to have to perform in front of me, you’ll have to come back next week with a song.” And I was like, “I can’t do a whole song, but I know a bit of a song!” And she was like, “Well, what’s nonsense. You need to go learn a song and come back next week. Otherwise, don’t bother. I don’t want to waste your grandfather’s money.” And I was really quite shocked, I thought, “She’s quite rude!” But, actually, she was right. So I went home, and I learned a song, and I came back and she was like, “No! It’s not very good. Come back next week. No. No.” And then she (blank), she helped with my breathing technique, and she helped develop my self-esteem and my confidence, which was very important – because I didn’t ever know how I’d perform in front of a crowd. That was a really big thing for me and she just totally helped to embrace that whole side of me. And so I’m very thankful to her and she still comes over and has a go at me and has a cup of tea, and we stil end up laughing and talking and crying, all at the same time! With a lot of cake.
Alexander Pearson That’s incredible. I’m glad to hear that you’re so close.
Siobhan de Mare Honestly, she’s very responsible for my career.
Alexander Pearson Yeah, it sounds like Grandpa de Mare and Soula Kopsini are the REAL powers behind the Siobhan Brand!
Siobhan de Mare Absolutely! They were so inspirational and there are certain magical people in your life that just… they have that little thing about them; they’ve got wings, I’m sure. And they carry you when you think you can’t even stand up; they lift you up and they help you to fly again. They were definitely, those two, very important people at that time. They helped me follow through on my journey through this music business which, as you know, is a very strange one – you never know what’s going to happen next.
Alexander Pearson One day you’re living in Paris, the next you’re in a famous band with a song in a famous movie!
Siobhan de Mare There you go! It’s very, very unpredictable. The music world. One minute everyone’s taking your call and you’re flying high and you’re going round in great big taxis, and the next minute you can get arrested. So it all just kind of goes with the territory, but the great thing about it is it’s so unpredictable, so you kind of don’t really give up. You keep on thinking, “Wow, well maybe I will go do that song again and maybe I will get back in the studio.” For me, luckily I’ve had a lot of support through social media, where people have said, “We really want to hear you sing again! We really want to hear another album! What are you doing now? We can’t wait, we want to buy it!” So it inspires me and encourages me and just makes me want to do more.
Alexander Pearson It’s so true. I was on a YouTube video of, I think, Life in Mono, actually, and I was looking at the comments and they were almost universally positive, they were like, “Where has Siobhan been? Why hasn’t Siobhan done a,” It’s so funny you mentioned you wanted to do a Bond movie theme, because it seems like your fans are unanimous in “Why haven’t they had Siobhan de Mare do James Bond?! Because whoever they got to do the last one, sucks.”
Siobhan de Mare Exactly!! Like, helloooooo, come on! That would honestly be it for me, that would be the icing on the cake. But that’s my new publishers. Come on, you got to talk to (blank) “Yeah we’d love to, you know everybody wants that same gig.” And it’s like, ‘Well, come on! I’m one of those people, so make it happen.” It would be amazing if that call came through. So, you know, fingers crossed that something like that would happen and that would just relaunch my career back into the limelight again and I can come over to America, do some more shows; I’d love it, absolutely. Play live again all over the world. It would be absolutely amazing.
Alexander Pearson Well, I know we’d love to have you because as far as I can tell, while your fanbase may have gotten a little older over the years, they are still there and they’re still very responsive to the sound of your voice.
Siobhan de Mare So sweet and so lovely and I get messages every day that are just like that, so encouraging. So, I’m here, I’m ready, and the new Swoone album, hopefully, people will connect with that and it will just springboard me into great things again. And I’m so thankful of the support of America because they were so behind that first little Mono album. I mean, we even had Madonna at one of our gigs at El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles. I remember my manager saying, “Madonna’s here!” And I was like, “Madonna!? Oh my goodness!” I mean, what an honor! The Queen of Pop was in the audience of MY GIG, and apparently we were her favorite band at the time. I mean, it’s like… it’s insane. I think we couldn’t even process what was happening at the time. So, we both felt really honored to have that level of success amongst some of the greatest artists…
Alexander Pearson So… I think that is the perfect place for us to wrap up!
Siobhan de Mare Thank you so much, I really appreciate the interview! I had a good time.
We appreciate it too; thanks Siobhan!