How we made: Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer


Tasmin Archer, singer/songwriter

I’d had quite a few jobs to pay the bills while writing music – including working in the front kiosk at Leeds magistrates’ court, collecting fines and doing a bit of admin – and I was helping out at Flexible Response Studios when an engineer introduced me to my future bandmates, John Beck and John Hughes.

I didn’t consider any of our songs a hit at the time of writing. The first time I can remember anybody picking Sleeping Satellite out as special was when we met Julian Mendelsohn, a producer who’d helmed It’s a Sin by the Pet Shop Boys and Liza Minnelli’s Results album. He was very enthusiastic about the song.

After we had the melody, chords and general arrangement with a few vowel sounds, John Hughes finished the lyrics. The line, “I blame you for the moonlit sky / And the dream that died” isn’t a criticism of man’s arrogance in leaving Earth, but more about the lack of further space exploration that might have led to a better understanding of ecological issues.

The song’s two weeks at No 1 and ongoing popularity allowed us to tour Europe and beyond. We’d done a fair bit of promo prior to topping the charts, so it was an intense year in terms of international travel.

I wouldn’t for one minute compare a No 1 record with entering space, but it was a high bar we set ourselves with that first single. We didn’t want to make a copycat second album, and EMI were generally supportive of that.

There was then a change of personnel at a senior level, and we were encouraged to record more commercial material. We dug our heels in, and I got a very short phone call one day from the new label head saying they weren’t picking up our third LP. Despite once saying I keep the Brit award we won in our kitchen for tenderising steak, I’m very grateful Sleeping Satellite was enjoyed by so many people.

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The “orrery on an underlit table” video for the US market was made because our American label saw us as an alternative act. It must have worked, as we were nominated for an MTV award in the alternative category, and got to attend the ceremony in LA. Neil Young, Pearl Jam and Madonna were performing live. Kurt Cobain and members of REM and Aerosmith were sitting directly behind us.

In the end, we lost out to Stone Temple Pilots, and spent most of the after party talking to Jonathan Ross. Brits gravitating together.

John Hughes, guitarist/songwriter

Our demo was rejected by every label we could get it to, but then Ian McAndrew, who was just starting out in management, got to hear it. He networked like crazy, got us a publishing deal with Virgin Music, and we were signed to EMI.

The general structure and melody of Sleeping Satellite were written in the summer of 1989. I’d read an article about the 20th anniversary of the moon landing. That momentous event and the lack of lunar exploration in the intervening years struck a chord with me.

‘We never worried about success putting pressure on our romantic relationship’ … Archer and Hughes at the Brits, 1993.
‘We never worried about success putting pressure on our romantic relationship’ … Archer and Hughes at the Brits, 1993. Photograph: JM Enternational/Rex/Shutterstock

I wasn’t disappointed when the record entered the charts in the 30s: reaching the Top 40 usually meant a Top of the Pops appearance. Back then, this often involved live vocals over the backing track, so we had no choice but to mime playing the instruments.

The dry ice was a bit OTT, though. It became a staple of our appearances on the programme, and didn’t do much to help promote the free boots we were offered on the day of show’s recording.

We were on the road supporting Curtis Stigers on his UK tour when we found out Sleeping Satellite had got to No 1. Coupled with performing acoustically at the 1993 Brit awards, it helped push the Great Expectations album to platinum in the UK.

Tasmin and I never worried about these successes putting pressure on our romantic relationship. Certain people in the record company would have preferred me out of the way because they thought they’d be able to more easily manipulate Tasmin. They never realised it would probably have had the opposite effect.

There’s little room for creative empathy at the top of those institutions if it threatens profit, and once you are aware of that you can understand the label’s modus operandi. The differences we had with EMI over our second album, Bloom [1996], are all water under the bridge now. Record company directors and employees can be under a lot of pressure, too.

When I began recording with Tasmin, we called ourselves the Archers as a tongue-in-cheek way of getting label execs’ attention. We half hoped they’d think we were soap stars gone musical. Until this year, we haven’t released anything as “Tasmin Archer” in over a decade: we continued to write and record, but privately. And while not releasing our songs was an indulgence that a worldwide hit in the 90s (and a non-extravagant lifestyle) allowed us, we recently have had a change of mood. This time, though, the intention is to do it ourselves. Just a bunch of songs we like and had fun producing.



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