5, 6, 7, 8. Steps? Yes!

Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

It’s the way they make you feel, you know, good just by being their natural selves during a free-wheeling Conversation.

If the Steps are fun to watch and listen – and dance to – they’re even more fun to talk to. They don’t hold back and they laugh a lot, as if they don’t take life that seriously even if they really do, especially where their collective career is concerned, taking careful steps together along the way these past four years.

With their looks, the three girls could have been beauty queens and the two guys could have been movie actors — or, brace yourselves, centerfold models. Ian Watkins is popularly known simply as "H" because he’s hyperactive while Lee Evans looks strikingly like Ben Affleck.

Lisa Scott-Lee, the raven-haired cutie, has an affinity to the Philippines and Filipinos (find out for yourselves in the course of the Conversation). Claire Richards could be a model with her whistlebait figure and Faye Tozer could represent UK anytime — if she wants to — in any international beauty contest.

But the quintet wouldn’t do anything else but sing — together.

Since 1997 when they became Steps and they recorded their first single, 5, 6, 7, 8, their lives have never been the same again, not when they’re now considered one of the biggest acts in Britain. 5, 6, 7, 8 became a huge international hit (including in these islands). It was followed by Last Thing On My Mind in 1998, also another hit. That same year, the group came up with its first album, Step One, and still another one (Steptacular) a year later. Last month, the Steps completed their third album, Buzz (Jive Records, released in the Philippines by Universal Records), with It’s The Way You Make Me Feel as carrier single.

From UK, the Steps proceeded to begin their conquest of America when they were invited by Britney Spears on her first headline-making tour of North America, with them spending all of July and August in 1999 in Canada and the USA. They have also taken a big, decisive and quite successful step into Asian territory (including the Philippines which they have visited twice).

Steps were in Tokyo two weeks ago to launch the Buzz album. Part of the promo was a Steps contest conducted in three Japanese cities (Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka) where two winners each were chosen out of first a hundred contestants winnowed down to 20 for the finals in Osaka (where the four winners from Tokyo and Nagoya competed with 20 more finalists, with the top six vying for the grand prize, a $70,000 red Camaro, and the second prize which was a trip for two to Guam with $2,000 pocket money). The Philippine radio promo was sponsored by Skechers and Fibisco Biscuits.

Conversations sat down with Steps for a brief one-on-one the morning after their showcase at the Velfarre Disco in downtown Tokyo. Here are excerpts:

Why do you call yourselves Steps instead of some other name?

Well, maybe it’s because, more than the singing, it’s the dancing that we do, and all the new dance steps that we love to experiment with and introduce to the public. We were asked the same questions by fans when we went to the Philippines where people love singing and dancing — and trying new dance steps.

Faye: The premise behind Steps is that life is always sunny in Stepsworld and Steps would almost always be found partying, enjoying all those steps.

How were you organized? Did all of you have to audition?

Oh, yes, we had auditions four years ago. The five of us blend together very well and that’s how we got started. We clicked at once.

Were you friends before you became a group?

No, we were not. We got to know each other only after we started working as Steps. And I think one of the main reasons why we were picked was because we actually go on so well.

Sound-wise and looks-wise, you all go together well.

I guess we’re just lucky.

Can you give a brief description of yourselves and how you got into the group?

Well, I’ve been singing and dancing all my life. Before Steps, I was touring the UK and other countries abroad, including Japan, as a professional dancer and singer. Being here in Japan again brings back lots of beautiful memories in me.

H: They call me "H," for Hyperactive, and that’s what I am — hyperactive. I‘ve been doing stage since I was very young and I kind of got stuck there. I even completed summer seasons as an entertainer in a kiddie holiday camp. I was always very mischievous when I was very young but I never gave my mom any problem, just lots of fun. I was so hyperactive that my mom wanted to channel my energy to something productive. She got me into stage and shows and that’s how I got started in this business.

Claire: Before Steps? Well, I was just biding my time, without nothing much to do after I left the girl group TSD, the first group I’ve ever joined. When the chance to join Steps came along, I grabbed it and I haven’t had any regrets whatsoever. We are such a fun group, taking every step of the way together.

Lee: I did some very small things in theater. For a while, I thought I’d become a professional football player because I love playing football very much. (Note: Told that he looked a lot like Ben Affleck, Lee blushed and joked, "He looks like me!")

Faye: Before Steps? Well, I was the star of a cabaret band which performed at a major hotel in London.

You could have been a Miss United Kingdom, just like Lisa and Claire who are also beauty-queen material.

Is that so? Oh, but I’d rather be a singer and a dancer. That’s where my heart is and where I want to channel all my energy.

Did you all come from the same place in UK?

No. We come from all over UK, from different places in UK.

Lisa, I understand that you have a soft spot for the Philippines where your grandfather grew up before he migrated to UK.

(eyes sparkling): Yeah, you’re right. That’s why they call me Lisa Manila (Sounds like Liza Minnelli, doesn’t it? — RFL). My grandfather’s name is Jason Lee and he did grow in the Philippines. He’s the namesake of the action star (from Hong Kong). I’ve been to Manila twice, with the Steps, and I’ve always enjoyed my stay there. It felt just like home.

How different is your latest album, Buzz that is, from the previous two, Step One (a triple platinum in the Philippines) and Steptacular (a "gold")?

Well, for Buzz, we have teamed up with some of the world’s hottest writers and producers, in an effort to show our all-around creative talents to the full. We recorded tracks in America (with Andy Goldmark, and Riprock & Alex G) and Sweden (with David Jruger, Jorgen Olofssen and Andreas Carlsson from the world-famous Cheiron team). We also co-wrote five songs ourselves.

Buzz’s lead single, It’s The Way You Make Me Feel, sounds suspiciously like Ronan Keating’s hit song The Way You Make Me Feel. Is it just coincidence or deliberate?

No, not at all. We didn’t write the song. This thing happens often because there’s no copyright on song titles. It’s The Way You Make Me Feel was actually written two years ago; it just took a bit longer for us to record it.

You’re always on the road together. Do you ever have time for yourselves, away from each other?

We’re always together, whether at work or at play.

Lisa: But we do find time for our (respective) families.

Do you have a love life?

Oh, yes, we do. (Adding with a laugh) But we’d rather not talk about it. It’s our private life so it will remain private.

Okay, Faye, could you update us on your bandmates’ marital status?

(Reluctantly): Well, the two boys are still single but they’re dating lots of girls. All of us girls have boyfriends. We’re all happily in love!

How are you alike and how are you different from each other?

I guess we are so alike in so many ways that we hardly notice any difference, if ever there is.

Who’s the most moody in the group?

We all have our moods.

And the most hot-tempered?

We all have temper, but not so hot. (Laughs)

Faye: I should say that H may be head-strong sometimes but he’s not hot-tempered.

There was a rumor that the Steps were breaking up because Faye was leaving the group. True or false?

It’s not true. It came out in the English tabloids. You know how the tabloids are…they sometimes put out stories which are not at all true.

Being now the hottest act in UK today, what’s the Steps’ next important step?

Make more albums. In the meantime, we’re busy promoting Buzz around the world and we hope to go back to the Philippines before the year ends.

H: I have a big fan in the Philippines named Romeo. He has been writing letters to magazines praising me. I want to say hi to him. "Hi Romeo!"

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