An Interview with Stella Grundy of Intastella
The former Intastella singer was a key player in the ‘Madchester’ scene of the early nineties. Although still a songwriter, she is also now a respected writer and actress. Matt Callard caught up with her as she prepares to take her new outfit, The Stella Grundy Band, on the road…
Although you’ve had other bands and ventured into different areas of the arts, you’re probably still best-known for Intastella and your part in ‘Madchester’. 25-years on, do you look back fondly? How much of it is a bit of a blur?
I think the fact that it’s 25 years ago means in some ways its easy to look back on that time as a whole and pretty positively. For me, there are plenty of disasters but they are funny now. Of course, my last theatre/gig project The Rise and Fall of a Northern Star was semi autobiographical and based before and during the so called ‘Madchester’ era. So I delved into my memories. There are a lot of blurred edges. Such a lot happened in a short space of time. I remember a lot of excitement, head scratching and many hours in the back of a van.
Intastella was an important link in the ‘Madchester’ chain, connecting the Mondays’ dance-rock with pure dance acts like 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald – what are the musical highs and lows of ‘Madchester’ for you?
“Fair share of clashes”
I kind of struggle with ‘Madchester’ as a distinct time. It was a term used by journalists around music, fashion, DJs, clubs, lifestyle, really. It was over quite quickly, as things that get very popular are. I believe it generated from Manchester’s love for 60’s psychedelia and tunes like ‘The Message’ by Grand Master Flash heard in the echoey Hacienda. The highs? The main song that was a kind of signature for this time was ‘Fools Gold’ by The Stone Roses. The lows? The bands that then adopted this ‘Madchester’ style.
At the time, Intastella seemed on the cusp of the big time. Why didn’t the band quite make it to the mainstream?
Hmm… I think we wanted to write pop songs but we were, as a group, too left-field in our tastes and attitude. Looking back it probably wasn’t the best idea signing to MCA. Major labels were attracted on mass to Manchester bands around 1990. However, they also had entrenched ideas on how to market a female singer. Let’s say we had our fair share of clashes and we definitely made mistakes. I am glad we did fight for our artistic freedom. We weren’t commercially successful but we created original-sounding music that I am proud of.
Intastella released three excellent albums – but did the ‘Madchester’ thing become a bit of an albatross through Britpop and beyond?
Being linked to a trend as a band is a bit unhealthy unless, of course, you started that trend. I mean, I always try to do things differently, experiment, be unlike anything else. If the interest or lack of interest in your music is in relation to where you come from then it’s flawed. I am proud to be northern, no doubt, but it was and still is easier to get attention if you’re based in London. It’s like, ‘Yeah, we’ve had enough of travelling up to Manchester now.’ I think there were a couple of occasions when I thought we were being critiqued or ignored because we stayed in Manchester.
What are your personal highlights and low lights from that time?
Personal highlights were the laughs. To be honest, it was a slog, but our tours were great fun. The bizarre people you meet around the country. And it’s often the out-of-the-way places that are the most fun. Highlights are our free gig and video shoot on Southport Beach. Low lights are my mum getting frustrated listening to Radio 1 for hours to hear us and writing letters to the DJs to complain when they didn’t.
“Blurring the lines between band and theatre”
You subsequently have a career as an actress, songwriter and writer – was that always part of the plan or did that develop later?
Oh no, I had no ambitions to be an actor. Although I did like dressing up, jumping around and being a bit dramatic. I stopped doing Intastella around ’98. I had my daughter Nico in ’99 and wrote a few songs which were featured in the film Alcohol Years. A change was needed. A close friend suggested I should try acting so I got Nico in a nursery and went back to College. I did a theatre studies degree. That’s were I started to write scripts for theatre and film and I continued to do that when I graduated.
How does writing and acting compare creatively with being in a band?
They all have different challenges and there are many similarities. Working with a cast can be like working with a band. Collaborating with a music producer is similar to working with a director. I was in bands for so long it took about 15 years before I wanted to do it again. There was a live band in my production Nico Icon Play with actors and musicians. Blurring the lines between band and theatre. That was, and is, my aim. Writing is a solitary activity and you have godlike control while it’s on the page.
You are starting a new band project – The Stella Grundy Band – how did this come about? Who is on-board?
The band started with the recording of my first solo album The Rise And Fall Of A Northern Star. Nine songs from the score of my theatre production feature legendary bassist Jah Wobble (PIL). This theatre/gig/album project is a kind of crossover of contemporary music into theatre. It was always my ambition to play these songs with a band. Now I’ve got the musicians together and we are doing live gigs with a narrative and multi-media elements from 2D and 3D artists and film makers. But it is still essentially a rock and roll gig. The band is Karen Leatham on bass guitar, Martin Bolt on lead guitar, Ben Knott on keyboards and electronics and Ian Budgie Jones on drums.
What are you hoping to achieve? Good times? See where it goes? Or is there a plan?
I’m hoping to raise the profile of my album and get people to listen to it and the songs I’ve written. I also want the buzz of playing in a band that is rocking, big beats, dub bass and space noises. So many bands from the eighties and nineties are back on the road or never went away. This is new stuff. There is a loose plan that constantly changes.
What is happening immediately for the new band? Tours, records, festivals?
Next is a London show at the Dublin Castle in Camden. I’m recording new songs in Manchester and London studios working with producer Mike Bennett (Ian Brown, The Fall). The album and remix EP launch in February. I’m also making The Rise and Fall of a Northern Star into a radio play with a cameo appearance from Stephen Fry to feature on Soho Radio.
Stella Grundy Band Image by Paul Husband