“She’s On Fire was a one-take song. It took no more than 30 minutes to write – ‘Let’s write about something sexy, that all men fantasise about.’ I didn’t have to think about it, it just happened.” – Bo Saris
She’s On Fire is one of the most sensational launch singles of recent times, and the story behind its creator Bo Saris is equally remarkable.
From being a soul music fan in small-town Netherlands to giving up mainland European stardom for happily starting afresh in London, Bo has patiently waited his chance to show the whole world what he can achieve with his unique, stratospheric voice.
Bo is so determined not to play on expectations that the viral video for She’s On Fire neatly used footage of Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield apparently singing along, fitting in with the cheeky cool and timeless nature of the song itself.
“The video kept that air of mystery about me and the song,” explains Bo. “It’ll be a nice surprise when people see me, so it’s good if anyone is confused.”
People are already clamouring to see Bo in action in the UK, with She’s On Fire tearing up radio playlists. It’s the first taste of an album he’s been working on with an all-British cast of producers and co-writers such as Alicia Keys/Amy Winehouse producer Johnny Rockstar and Olly Murs songwriter Grant Black.
“Everyone speaks good English in the Netherlands, so my English was 95% there,” smiles Bo. “I’ve got that last 5% since moving to England. If I write something where my English is a little off, now I have people who can correct me.”
Bo moved to England because, after his latest arena tour back in the Netherlands, he thought ‘What more can I do? There should be more than this.’
“Now I can create my story the way I want it to be. The only difference I have over someone starting from scratch is that I’ve got a lot of gig-miles. Also, London has a very vibrant scene. It’s a great environment for people who are creative in music and all the arts.”
Bo grew up as the son of acclaimed jazz singer Ge Titulaer, who has duetted with George Benson and Al Jarreau, and a mother who introduced Bo to soul music. (Saris is mum’s maiden name.)
“Dad played jazz and mum played soul around the house, so I just fell in love with that music,” he shrugs. Bo always had perfect pitch and could tell when people were singing in tune. “But until I was 10, when my older sisters brought friends around and they started singing, I thought everyone could do that.”
Soon graduating to writing songs, Bo first busked aged 17 in southern Spain when his mum moved there, covering his childhood favourites like Bill Withers, Prince and Marvin Gaye. A self-released album in 2002 didn’t trouble the charts, so Bo entered the Dutch version of Pop Idol in 2004. And won...
“I always had my own plan and stuck with what I wanted to do,” he reasons. “It can be hard, but you have to be happy as an artist. I fought very hard to keep that. It’s a bit of a circus, but you have to stay grounded and work with it.”
A series of successful albums and native stardom followed, before that creative itch took Bo to London – via a meeting with elusive superstar Bill Withers, after Bo performed at a tribute show in Amsterdam attended by the retired soul great.
“I love the simplicity to Bill’s music,” enthuses Bo. “He made music in such an elegant way, and he has a beautiful personality too. I’m working with Bill’s daughter Kori now, she’s so cool and sweet.”
It’s a simplicity that’s in Bo’s music too, as typified by She’s On Fire. It helps that songwriting comes naturally.
“If I have to, I can force myself to start writing and come up with ideas,” he states. “But usually the inspiration strikes. Melodies or topics to write about always come quite easily. I have a lot of fantasies so, if I don’t write from my own experiences, I always have my fantasy life.”
So, is She’s On Fire truth or fantasy? “Both! I was listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye when I wrote it. It goes in phases – I’ll listen to a lot of an artist really heavily, then not at all for a few years. The greats always come back in a circle, though.
“She’s On Fire is the most authentic vintage-sounding track I’ve written so far. Some songs have a more modern twist, but where you can still hear a classic influence. That music is what sits best for me.”
He sits well with the recent soul revival wave of Amy Winehouse, Plan B, Jamie Lidell, Adele and Cee-Lo Green. But, as Bo says, “It’s not about genres. People want to put music in a box, but there were no rules with Adele’s success. She made it hard for people to categorise her – she has soul, pop, rock and jazz influences, yet she transcends them. So did Amy Winehouse. The industry is divided. You have very commercial music that’s about trends, but you also have people who just make beautiful songs and I’m happy those people are out there.”
Bo is too modest to align himself with those beautiful songmakers. But one listen to his joyful music makes it obvious: Bo Saris rises above any trends.