There is a moment in every artist’s life when, with a little nod to Janet Jackson, fairy godmother of the modern diva, they feel the irresistible urge to step it up and take full control. For Alesha Dixon, that time is now. In a glittering career that has transformed her from Home Counties hopeful to household name Alesha has earned her stripes in the music business. Now it’s time to prove it, front of house and behind the scenes.
Alesha Dixon has worn many hats over her astonishing 16-year career. She opened her musical hand as a finger-snapping Rude Girl, one third of the brilliant Misteeq, part of the original bedrock UKG scene that went on to take the world (nobody brrrrrapped better than Alesha). Next she was the sleek millennial solo proposition, a finely tuned groove machine. In an unexpected career diversion – seriously, who takes the career swerve from 2step to the Ballroom? – she fashioned a brilliant second career as Saturday teatime TV royalty, first at Strictly then Britain’s Got Talent. For her re-entry to pop’s top sphere in 2015, she is all about doing it her way.
Alesha Dixon has taken creative and business control of every aspect of her fourth solo record. It will be the first release on her Precious Stone Records label. This time she’s the boss. ‘It feels great. I find the whole thing funny, in a way. Precious Stone Records? Little old me? But I also take it very seriously.’
‘I feel like in many ways, I’ve done it all,’ Alesha says. ‘The whole music industry, the craziness, the pressure, the politics, you do get a buzz off it and want to be a part of it. I’ve been lucky that I’ve experienced small independents and huge majors, platinum albums and albums not coming out. I’ve been round the block on what the industry can do with you. But what I’ve never done is taken complete control of it all.’
Alesha is the singer and author of 9 top 10 singles and 3 platinum albums. Her musical gifts have been rewarded with MOBO awards and Brit nominations. Her effervescent single, The Boy Does Nothing, is a million-seller and reached the top 10 in 12 global territories. Her album The Alesha Show was one of only five platinum albums in Britain in 2010. She has proven time and again that British musical talent, delivered sincerely, from the heart and on point, can slay on the world stage.
Now is the time to do everything on her terms. ‘I’ve got all that wealth of knowledge and I’m in the best place emotionally that I’ve been in my entire life. Put the two together and it’s added up to making the best and most personal record of my life which is all about doing it for the love. It’s all come back to the music.’
Alesha first thought about heading back into the musical milieu as long ago as 2012. ‘Then I fell pregnant with my little girl and that put it on hold for two years. You can’t seriously hope to give everything you need to a record while you’re breast-feeding,’ she says, letting out one of British pop’s most distinctive and defining laughs.
After wrapping the 2014 series of BGT she stepped stridently back into the studio. ‘I just wanted to feel that buzz again. Writing is second nature to me. I think most songs are pre-written, without wanting to sound too mystical about it. The good ones are, anyway. Going into the studio is just a way of downloading them. You can only take into the studio your own life experience and the people you’ve met along the way. You’re accessing something. Your soul has already decided what it is you want to say. You just have to be open to it.’
Because she’s the kind of artist that always needs her music to sound fresh and of a moment, she scrapped all previous work and started with a clean slate. In a tiny studio in Sweden she first hit musical gold-dust on a song that sounded in exactly the mould of her frame of mind, that reminded her why she was so in love with music in the first place.
The big, bold, current sound of Do It For Love sounded exactly where she wanted to be musically. This wasn’t music being made to major label instruction, it was intuitive and delivered from the heart. ‘People will think it’s a love song but it’s actually about my love of music and how much I worship it and that’s what I’m doing it for now. After I had that one, I knew there was an album bursting to come out of me.’
Setting up business by herself was not an easy decision to make. Once she’d made sense of the move, it panned out perfectly for Alesha. ‘The traditional route of signing to a label as an artist doesn’t appeal to me so much because I’m not an 18-year-old trying to get my first break. I’ve got more of a business head now and I don’t want to sign away a 360degree deal in order to catch the breaks. That’s the practical reason. But on a more personal and creative level I didn’t want to have to answer to anyone about the record. I’ve done the whole thing. I’ve been across everything creatively and taken it by the reigns. I do love the thrill and the chase of the music industry machine but the days of me needing my song to go top 10 are long gone.’
Something in the change of her frame of mind, this new confidence running clearly through the album is attributable to the changes in Alesha since becoming a mother. She’s even named and dedicated the mid-paced beauty Azura to her daughter.
Much as she’s immensely proud of the opening single from the suite, the brand new equality anthem The Way We Are, she won’t be disquieting herself with its stats. ‘That gauge of commercial success is not what I’m going to bed at night thinking about anymore.’ As well as the countless triumphs Ms Dixon has enjoyed in her brilliant career, there have been lows, too. ‘I’ve been there, believe me. I’ve lived it. I can remember getting a phone call from my manager when a radio station didn’t play a song from my first solo album. I remember crying on the phone, that feeling that this can’t happen without that support. That sucks. You’ve worked on this thing for a year and a half, it’s all you care about, it’s all you really know in that time and suddenly it’s all gone. I said to myself I refuse to ever feel like that again.’
If she’s thankful for the good times, she has to be grateful for the bad, too. ‘I can weirdly look back at that time quite fondly. It was an important thing for me to go through, it shifted something. I do think every single experience you have in life sets you up for the next one. What I did say, from that moment was that I had to empower myself and get myself into a position where I would never go back to that feeling.’ Her outlook has flipped 360degrees into positivity. ‘I’ve made a record I love, I’ve funded it, I’ve put it out and I’ve kind of got the attitude of whatever will be, will be. First and foremost I had to love it. It’s scary, but I did it.’
Throughout it all, she’s kept her sense of humour. ‘I have been on a journey and what I’m very good at doing is putting life into perspective. There are so many people out there doing jobs that they don’t love. There are so many people struggling. I don’t want to get too deep but every day I give thanks that I’m doing something I love, with a roof over my head, with security and these things I never take for granted. And I’ve done that through music. Music has always been my salvation, right from the beginning.’ Her new album is Alesha’s favourite yet. ‘This sounds like the future.’