How I wrote ‘Stay’ by Shakespears Sister
An inter-species tale of unrequited love provided the surprising inspiration for one of the most memorable songs of the 1990s
There was a time in the early 1990s when Shakespears Sister truly enjoyed a moment in the sun (or perhaps moon). The duo of Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit brought together influences as divergent as reggae, pop, punk and soul to create their own unique sound. That musical alchemy clearly worked and their second album, 1992’s Hormonally Yours went on to spend 55 weeks on the charts, gaining Double Platinum status along the way.
Much of that success was down to the single Stay, a gothic pop masterpiece which haunted the music world for many months. Helped in no small part by an appropriately eerie video, directed by Sophie Muller, the song perfectly showcased the contrast between Fahey and Detroit, as well as highlighting the latter’s distinctive vocals.
So it’s over to the reformed bandmates to reveal all…
Siobhan Fahey: “We’d written about half a dozen songs for the album which went on to become Hormonally Yours. I would go over every morning to Marcy’s and work in her demo studio.
“Dave [Stewart] had this idea that we needed to write a song that highlighted Marcy’s great voice and said he had an idea. I hadn’t heard his idea until he sat down…”
Marcella Detroit: “…Right, he came over at 09:30 in the morning one day and my husband came to wake me up, I’m a late riser. ‘Hey, Siobhan and Dave are here, get up, Dave’s got an idea for a song.’ I got the coffee and we all went to my little studio and he started to play this idea… a really beautiful idea.
“When we started the album it was a concept album. We were going to try and write about this film that we wanted to purchase the rights to called Cat-Women Of The Moon.”
SF: “It was a 3D B-movie from the 50s that was going cheap. We thought if we buy it we can write some new scenes and shoot them and put ourselves in and it would be a video album but it was a bridge too far for London Records. So the film idea didn’t come to pass but it did inspire many of the songs. The moon imagery and that extraterrestrial vibe.”
MD: “Stay… each of us had different characters that we identified with in the movie and then in this one scene my character was falling in love with an earthling and he was telling her that he had to leave and go back to earth, so that’s what that song was inspired by.”
SF: “Dave had the chords and the melody…”
MD: “…He had the first verse, he started playing it and singing and we got to the chorus where he had these chords and I just started singing, ‘Stay with me.’ It just happened, a little moment of magic.”
SF: “And then I started scribbling some lyrics and it was pretty quick.”
MD: “Yeah, then you came up with the rest of the lyrics and that was it. We then demoed it at my little home studio.”
SF: “Yeah the final recording is pretty faithful to the original demo, even the funny keyboard sound is on the demo.”
MD: “That was all on the demo, our background vocals and also my lead vocal. I did that at my home studio. That is the difference between technology now and then. Back then, I would send the tape reel over and they couldn’t quite get it to sync up. There was a problem with syncing it up, near the end it just started to go off. So Chris Thomas who was producing it had a little bit of a hard time but they finally got it to work properly. Then everything else was recorded properly, Siobhan’s vocal and any other things that needed to be added. We did the recording in a few different places.
“We did some stuff with Steve Ferrera and this bass player Ian [Maidman] who was so good. We actually put that down at George Harrison’s studio in Friar Park where we initially started the recording.”
SF: “In fact, we recorded most of the album at Friar Park, which was very auspicious. So so generous of George and his wife and son to have us there for a month and lend us his studio.
“I seem to recall that, at the time that we demoed it, Dave was making an album with Chris Thomas. Chris Thomas was producing his album so he was round the house when we brought the cassette home and freaked out and went, ‘That’s a No 1 record, I’ll produce it if you want.’
“It has got a classic melody. For us though it was just another song for the album that we were writing.”
MD: “And then very unusual, conflicting lyrics. It starts out all sweet, the subject is about this unrequited love and then it gets a little bit nasty. There was a great dichotomy between Siobhan and my characters.”’