Stuart Matthewman knows that when people come to see Sade, they’re not thinking about him.
Nor about Paul Spencer Denman and Andrew Hale.
But the fact of the matter is that even though Nigerian-born Helen Folasade “Sade” Adu, with her exotic, angular looks and strikingly sultry voice, commands the spotlight, Sade is actually a band, a quartet that has written, recorded and performed together since forming 18 years ago in London. The guys are very much on an equal footing with their Nigerian-born singer — except in the public perception.
But guitarist Matthewman says the “other three” members of the band are OK with that.
“We have no problem,” he says. “We know everyone is coming to see Sade (the person), but I think most people pick up on the fact that we are a band as well. It’s never been Sade at the front with a bunch of musicians hidden in back; we’ve all got personalities and we all kind of play off each other. We all have known each other for years and love each other and hang out. I think you get that vibe when you see us.
“And Sade feels very comfortable with us. She can say whatever she wants to and can be completely honest. We don’t even have a musical director among us; it’s just whoever is paying attention at the time.”
Sade, the band, has every reason to be happy with its lot, of course. Despite long gaps between releases, the group has won four Grammy Awards and sold 50 million copies worldwide of its six studio albums, notching five Top 40 hits in the U.S. with “Smooth Operator” and “The Sweetest Taboo” each reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its first five albums are triple- or quadruple-platinum, and last year’s “Soldier of Love” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
And “The Ultimate Collection,” a two-disc set featuring four new songs, hit No. 7 when it was released in May.
Fans, of course, wish Sade could be more prolific, but Matthewman says the group firmly subscribes to the notion that good things come to those who wait.
“We do things when Sade (the person) is ready,” Matthewman explains. “She has to have lived her life and have something to write about. She can’t just sit down and write songs. She’s a homegirl. She’s got family and friends and she has stuff that she does. She’s a private person — not remotely reclusive, but she doesn’t hang out with other celebrities or go to openings and the usual celebrity things. She’s just a regular girl with a family who hangs out with friends.
“We all have our lives, really, and we love to get together to work. But obviously we can’t force (Sade) into the studio so we get on with our own things and wait for her to be ready.”
The result through the years, Matthewman says, has been “a strange view of time” in the band’s world — and particularly for Sade, who resides in rural Stroud, England, with her second husband and a daughter and stepson and, Matthewman says, tends to be oblivious to the long gaps between albums (10 years between “Lovers Rock” and “Soldier of Love”) and even the fact that it’s been a decade since the group was last on the road.
“Sade more than anyone else ... she’ll think we just made a record last year when, in fact, it’s been two years. Or 10,” Matthewman says with a laugh. “She has a different ... I don’t know if it’s a Nigerian idea of time but she just has a different concept of time than the rest of us.”
Compiling “The Ultimate Collection” to accompany this year’s Sade Live Tour made the group members “feel old,” Matthewman said, but it also gave the quartet a chance to get a longview perspective of its accomplishments since “Your Love is King” came out in 1984.
“I know people maybe think of Sade as having one sound, but it’s quite a quirky mix of stuff over the years,” the guitarist explains. Nevertheless, the Sade signature remains a smooth and sophisticated blend of soul, jazz and World Music styles — which the group’s label wasn’t sure had a shot at success in its early days.
“When we put out ‘Smooth Operator,’ I remember at the time the record company saying they didn’t know what to do with it,” Matthewman remembers. “You had a bit of saxophone and Sade starts talking, and then the chorus doesn’t come in and there’s a bass solo. ... They were like, ‘We have to re-do this song. There’s now way we can get this on the radio.’ But when they released it, it was the biggest thing.
“So it’s quite interesting hearing it back and having all those memories.”
Sade creates some new stories on “The Ultimate Collection,” too. Jay-Z’s remix of “The Moon and the Sky” was “just a collaboration of people appreciating each other’s style of music,” Matthewman says. “I think he had a respect for what we were doing. It wasn’t any ‘Let’s get a big name to work with us and get a big hit out of it’ or anything like that.”
And “Still In Love With You,” the first single from “The Ultimate Collection,” comes from another surprising source — a rare ballad from the catalog of Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy.
“I was always a Thin Lizzy fan as a kid in England, and I just loved that song,” Matthewman says. “We’ve always listened to music together, and I played that song for Sade once and she loved it. And then when we were rehearsing for the tour and our manager said we should have some new songs for the album, Sade said, ‘What was the Thin Lizzy song we used to love?’
“So we found a YouTube clip of it and thought, ‘Oh my goodness. What a beautiful song!’ We literally did it live in the studio when we were rehearsing for the tour, and it sounds just like it could be one of our own songs, the way she’s interpreted it.”
The Sade Live tour, meanwhile, has shown that absence has certainly made fan’s hearts grow stronger. The trek ranked No. 27 on the trade magazine PollStar’s mid-year report of the Top 50 tours, grossing $20 million. It wraps its North American leg on Sept. 9, then resumes in Europe in early November. Matthewman says South America and Australia are being considered for 2012, but after the long wait for the “Soldier of Love” album Matthewman says there’s also an appetite to get cracking on its successor sooner rather than later.
But he also knows better than to make promises.
“Of course it will happen — it’s just a matter of when,” he says. “The thing about Sade is that whatever she does, she puts 100 percent into it. So if we are doing an album, she likes to be cut off from everyday kind of stuff. So as long as things are pretty smooth in her life and she’s got nothing in particular going on, then she feels she can concentrate and not be bugged and just be in the studio and get on with it.
“After this tour I’m sure she’ll want a break. So we’ll just have to wait for the right time — just like we always do.”
Sade and John Legend perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapeer Road at I-75. Tickets are $52.50-$152.50. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to