In our previous encounters with The Saturdays, we’d always built up this impression of Vanessa White being the quietest of the lot. And who can blame us, or her? The youngest in a group of five boisterous pop favourites is always bound to be overshadowed by a louder voice.
So it surprises us to see an assured and erudite White when we meet her one evening in Soho, ahead of the release of her Chapter One EP (which includes a brand new track with Wretch 32, below). She may have been forged from a girl group but seems free of its trappings – rather than toe an expected line, she’s delivering sensual R&B jams that could match any international rival. More to the point, it becomes very clear that she’s just as big a fan of listening to new music as she is making it – in fact, we catch her mid-flow singing the praises of Tinashe as we sit down for a chat…
Tinashe is kind of the vibe we’re getting from your new stuff. Is that more of what you’re listening to these days?
It’s kind of what I’ve been listening to my whole life really. Even on the tour bus with The Saturdays! Ever since we had this break I’ve been exploring this kind of style.
Now you say “break”. Mollie’s doing her own thing, Una and Frankie have got their kids, Rochelle is busy presenting…
Everyone’s just so busy! But I think we needed a break – this would have been the ninth year, and doing anything for nine years would need a break. We just need time to breathe and do our own stuff. There’s been a lot of speculation, but we haven’t split at all. We just don’t know when we’re gonna do stuff. It will happen at some point, I just don’t know when!
Just so long as it’s not a complete end. Our hearts couldn’t take it – we’re big fans of The Sats here. Are you all still in touch then?
Still in touch, still on the group chat…
There’s a group chat? Imagine someone getting their hands on that…
No! Everything is on the group chat!
“There are times when I can take a step back, but being with five girls sometimes… there’s just too much going on”
What do the girls think of your solo stuff?
They like it! They’re always messaging me saying it’s so nice – because obviously they know how obsessed I am with all of this anyway. So they’ve been really supportive.
We were surprised that you were first out of the blocks. In all our previous encounters we just thought you were the quiet one…
No, totally. I used to be really quiet – now you can’t shut me up! There are times when I can take a step back, but being with five girls sometimes… there’s just too much going on. Everyone wants to say something and sometimes it’s nice to just chill.
With the solo work, you started with Relationship Goals and Don’t Wanna Be Your Lover. The vibe is a lot different to the Saturdays stuff. Where does that inspiration come from?
It really makes me laugh because when we started with these songs, the titles were a bit like I’m covering all bases! They’re things that I’ve been through, and a lot of women have as well.
In terms of people you’re working with, have you kept it here or are you heading to the States?
You know what, I’ve kept it here. I will go over there at some point this year, but I made a conscious decision that this is where I’m from, this is where it’s at. I don’t wanna go down the whole American R&B route. I wanna keep it as British as possible.
What was the US like for you, especially as you did your E! reality series out there?
I have a love-hate relationship with LA. At the moment I love it, but I think back then I didn’t love it as much. It made me realise how much a London girl I was. I was very homesick.
Right then. Let’s sod everything else and talk about Vanessa and what she’s into.
I like the sound of that! So last night I got obsessed with the new Tinashe song that she dropped while I was in my bed. Also I’ve been obsessed with this guy Anderson Paak. I can’t stop listening to his album. And then while I was listening to Tinashe, another one of his tracks dropped and I was like “fuck yes!”; other than that, Kehlani obviously.
See, now you’ve said you listen to all of this stuff, we really can’t imagine you listening to The Saturdays…
(Laughs) Well… no. I don’t really know what to say! Obviously I really enjoy Sats stuff, but this is my personal taste. When you’re in a group, that was your thing even though you all had your own individual taste.
Well, Zayn Malik recently said that he never really wanted to be in 1D, but joined because the opportunity was there. You were very young when you joined; did you have the same sort of feeling, especially as his music is a similar R&B vein?
When I was younger I just knew I wanted to sing. At that point in my life I was 17, I was doing every single audition going. I saw labels so many times, and this was something that just happened. I had no idea it was going to work out the way it did. And I’m so grateful – don’t get me wrong – but this was always my goal. I’m happy.
We’re glad you said that, because anyone who doesn’t like All Fired Up is no friend of ours.
No no, still the biggest fan of All Fired Up. Let’s not get it twisted!
Is it also a case that you’ve lived with these songs for so long now that you’re just a bit, well, sick of them?
I wouldn’t say sick. I really enjoyed doing all of it. It just feels like it’s me now and not having to create something that everyone likes. Which is nice.
You haven’t done a solo live show yet. Would you incorporate a solo Sats song in it?
I don’t think so, no. I’m going to stick to a clean slate. I just think they’re too different.
Well what if someone turns up to one of your gigs and shouts out Sats requests though?
Do you know what, if I’d had a few drinks at that point I probably would!
What about a cover for the live show?
Well, we’ve literally just been thinking about that. If you’ve got any ideas let me know! I would genuinely appreciate that.
We have dozens (which, in fact, we’ve compiled in a Spotify playlist at the bottom of this piece). The thing is, you don’t wanna do the ones that everyone does. Hotline Bling can go fuck itself.
No, no, that’s been done. I heard Dua Lipa did The Weeknd’s song.
He’s a bit overrated though…
I love The Weeknd, but because I was a fan from such an early point. The mixtapes!
You strike us as someone who would release a mixtape though, to be honest.
(Laughs) Yeah! Love a mixtape!
Exactly. This mixtape is fire, plus a fire emoji. Anyway, in terms of the UK scene, who is there that you’re keen to work with?
Oh, Nao. How can I forget her – she’s amazing.
“I also still like to listen to the stuff I grew up with, like Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott; that’s what I was listening to when I was younger and I always go back to them.”
We do cover people like Nao and upcoming R&B female stars on PressPLAY. Do you feel like the weight of the Saturdays holds you back from that sort of ‘cool’ entry?
No. I’m happy about everything that’s happened. When I was doing all of this I was a bit concerned, because obviously it’s a big change and I didn’t know how people were going to respond to that. But so far so good, I’m so happy. I’m very lucky. I wasn’t sure whether Sats fans would get it, but I haven’t had one bad comment from the fans. I think they’ve all just grown up as well. But I wouldn’t change anything.
In terms of the British scene, a lot of our awards seem to be overlooking urban acts like that though. Do you think there’s still a place for R&B from the UK?
A billion, trillion percent. Why not? There’s not enough of us I don’t think. The more the merrier. I think it’s ridiculous – Little Simz is amazing, I’ve seen her live. So it’s wrong. People like this, especially from the UK, need to be recognised. But you know what, it’s going to come back around. I can feel it.
Speaking of things coming back around though: girl groups…
Yes! All Saints are coming back. And I watched the new Little Mix video, which reminded me of the Spice Girls – Goodbye. I tried to be Mel B in the Spice Girls but I never really fit.
There wasn’t an Asian one so we made our own – Tandoori Spice. Anyway, the thing about The Sats that we like is that you didn’t have a Sarah Harding in your group; you could all sing.
Oh stop! (Laughs) Stop it! Don’t do that to me. I can’t even cope. No comment!
But in terms of your style, which of The Sats would suit a collaboration the most?
I’d say Rochelle and I were always into the same music. We were both into our R&B so probably Rochelle. That could happen.
The thing we’ve noticed here today, what with the mention of Tinashe and Little Mix, is that you’re really on top of all this stuff. Do you want to come and write for us?
(Laughs) I love it. I just love it. I just really love watching people’s videos and know what’s going on. But I also still like to listen to the stuff I grew up with, like Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, that’s what I was listening to when I was younger and I always go back to them.
So the future for Vanessa then. You’ve done one EP, what’s next?
Well, I called it Chapter One for a reason. I’m actually going to get to Chapter Two! These four songs fit together for the first one, but I feel Chapter Two will be slightly more uptempo and a selection of songs which will all fit together in that department. Something you play in the club.
What’s the status with the labels at the moment?
I’m literally going in and seeing what I like and what I don’t like. I’m starting from the bottom and actually really enjoying it.
Final question, the one we ask everyone. Favourite Beyonce song.
I’ve got too many! This one was recent, and it’ll always be my song. (Starts singing) What’s that one called? Party! Great song. But the one I like was previously on a Destiny’s Child album – Dangerously In Love – and then she released it on her own. That one.
Maybe that should be your cover.
I’m not covering a Beyonce song! No way!