‘My God, we were mobbed so much!’ – how we made Overload, by Sugababes

‘Some people thought our vocals sounded sarcastic. I felt like I was just being a normal teenager, moody as hell’

Siobhán Donaghy, vocals/co-writer

We made Overload at Mayfair Studios in Primrose Hill. We were running between two rooms, recording the poppier stuff for our debut album, One Touch, with Matt Rowe, who was famous for his work with the Spice Girls. And then, in the other room, working on Overload with [co-producer/writer] Cameron McVey and his team. The writing process was pretty organic, everyone adding lyrics and melodies. But for me, Cameron was instrumental in Overload. He has a way of pulling the best out of you, and he loved to ask us what was going on with our schooling, our mates, going out.

Overload is definitely a coming-of-age tale. We were thinking about boys, talking about boys. Emotions run so high at that age. So Cameron would take lines from our conversations, like: “Strange fear I ain’t felt for years.” I’ve experienced that feeling so many times, but that line is more about being a teenager and having butterflies in your tummy.

I always loved the line: “I’m on overload in my head.” I feel like that is my life. I think a lot of people of my generation probably have undiagnosed ADHD, and I felt like that as a teenager, enormously. It’s something I thought would dissipate with the years, but it hasn’t, really.

We recorded our vocals on a handheld mic, just a quick demo, one take. The idea was that you’d come back and do it properly later. At least, that’s what Cameron told us, which meant we were completely relaxed. My vocal on Overload is quite pitchy – but that was exactly what he wanted to capture, the raw emotion in the moment.

Tracy Bennett, the head of London Records, took the brilliant decision to release Overload as our first single in September 2000. They sent a seven-inch white label to Radio 1 and it snowballed from there. It just seemed to open doors so quickly. It was incredible. But in terms of our mental health, all three of us have taken a hit over the years and, for me, it was back then that I did. We were dealing with all the regular teenage stuff. And then, there was the added pressure of delivering on that kind of level, because people were looking at us and they thought it was so amazing, straight from the get-go.

I’ve never heard anything that sounds like Overload. Even the guitar solo is mental. We were just fortunate to be part of that creative team, and the magic happened. It could have been anyone, but it was us.

Mutya Buena, vocals/co-writer

It was hard to sing the Overload vocals at first, because it’s got that weird key at the beginning. In rehearsals, Siobhan would sometimes start too high or too low. The line I sang solo was “The tension is incredible / Boy I’m in charge”, which is the most intimate part of the song, about a guy and a girl. I used to always cringe singing it, but now it’s a favourite of mine.

‘We crossed boundaries’ … Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhán Donaghy in early 2001.
‘We crossed boundaries’ … Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhán Donaghy in early 2001. Photograph: Dave Tonge/Getty Images

Some people thought our vocals sounded nonchalant or sarcastic. I felt like I was just being a normal teenager, moody as hell. Even now, I think people are sometimes a little intimidated by me, not sure whether to say “hi”. But I’m the friendliest person and I wouldn’t hurt a fly.

At first, after Overload came out, I was still doing schoolwork and going home to my mum and getting told to wash the dishes. But life did change. People wanted us. I felt like I was living the Overload lyric: “Train comes, I don’t know its destination.”

My God, we were mobbed so much, male and female fans waiting at our hotels or the airport. I used to think: “How the hell did you know we were coming?” Eventually, I did start missing out on friends and family birthdays and things. But if I could talk to my younger self now, I’d tell myself to be more appreciative ​of the experiences we had.

Overload seems so long ago. But as much as it might feel ancient, it still sounds current. The bassline is iconic. When people hear that, you know what song is coming. Vocally, we hit the R&B and soul, but musically, I can’t tell you what Overload is. It’s not your usual pop song. It’s got a bit of everything. A bit of indie. A hip-hop drumbeat. Overload is actually an overloaded type of song. That’s why we were able to cross boundaries, from the NME awards to the Mobos and Brits.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the track. I was listening the other day and I got so teary-eyed, like: “Fucking hell, we created something so beautiful at such a young age.” When I hear it, it’s like: “Grab a beer and get wasted.” It’s just an easy song.

One Touch: Remastered 20th anniversary edition is out now.


Interviews by Henry Yates

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gabrielle: how we made Dreams
‘I was singing Luther Vandross covers in a club and a woman said: “This is as good as it’s going to get for you.” I went home and wrote Dreams’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

01, Mar, 2021 @3:25 PM

Article image
Skunk Anansie: how we made Weak
‘It was a vulnerable moment that turned into a moment of strength. It was basically me saying: I am never going to be hit by anyone ever again’

Interview by Henry Yates

06, Sep, 2021 @1:32 PM

Article image
How we made: Big Country on Chance
‘The idea of wearing checked shirts came from Bruce Springsteen – plus you could buy them cheap at Millets!’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

10, Jan, 2022 @4:50 PM

Article image
The Fratellis: how we made Chelsea Dagger
‘My girlfriend was a burlesque dancer who used the name Chelsea Dagger. It was a play on Britney Spears’

Interviews by Henry Yates

29, Mar, 2021 @1:54 PM

Article image
‘My mum made outfits for us to wear on Top of the Pops’: how the Real Thing made You to Me Are Everything
‘I took a white label record to my local hangout in Liverpool. The DJ put it on and the floor filled up. We knew then we were on the button’

Interviews by Sarfraz Manzoor

08, Aug, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
How we made: Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer
‘Getting to No 1 was a high – but I wouldn’t for one minute compare it with going into space’

Interviews by George Bass

24, May, 2021 @2:09 PM

Article image
Betty Boo on how she made Doin’ the Do
‘Much later, someone told me it was actually slang for cunnilingus’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

21, Jun, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Barenaked Ladies: how we made One Week
‘When the label told us it was going to be the lead track, I said: “You can’t do that. We’re a serious band”’

Interviews by Rich Pelley

16, Aug, 2021 @1:55 PM

Article image
‘We sent Kate Bush a thank you letter’: how Utah Saints made Something Good
‘Hardware in 1992 was very basic. We had to pitch-bend Kate’s vocal it to keep it in time, which is why it goes “oo-oo-aye”’

George Bass

01, Aug, 2022 @12:52 PM

Article image
How we made: Billy Bragg’s A New England
‘We heard John Peel on the radio asking for a mushroom biryani, so dropped one off at the BBC. Later that night, he played my record and I was away’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

24, Jan, 2022 @3:22 PM