October 24, 2021

‘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.

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.