"I heard I had taken time off to have two kids," says Polish-born pop singer Basia, chuckling at one of the prominent rumors about her nearly four year absence from the music scene. "That's as silly as any of the other rumors. People's imaginations were running wild."
That's bound to happen when an artist who makes million-selling albums--1987's "Time and Tide" and 1990's "London Warsaw New York"--drops out for a few years. Known for her bouncy, pop-oriented blends of soul and samba, Basia finally confronted the rumors in May with her third Epic album, "The Sweetest Illusion."
Off to a slower-than-expected start, the album peaked at No. 27 on the charts and has now fallen to No. 144. However, the collection should get a strong boost from her new tour, which begins a Southern California swing tonight at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
In her West Hollywood hotel this week, Basia, who's last name is Trzetrzelewska, sits in the dining room staring at the glorious view of the city while she explains what she really did during that hiatus.
"Nothing that exciting or dramatic--liking having children or a breakdown or kicking a drug habit," she says, firing her words at her usual machine-gun speed. "I was working on the album for quite a bit of the time. But we kept missing deadlines--five of them. I kept getting distracted. I think I was still winding down from all that recording and touring in the second half of the '80s."
The slender singer--who brings to mind someone with a coffee overload--slows down a second, as if to let her mouth catch up with her mind. Taking a sip of her coffee-- decaf , she claims--she resumes her mile-a-minute chatter, still half-glancing at the spectacular view.
"Looking back, I see work had been eating me up a little bit," she says, revving up again. "One record overlapped the other. It was work, work, work. I was trying to get my creative energy back. So what I kept doing was going back home."
Basia, who lives outside of London with her band's trumpet player, Kevin Robinson, was referring to her birthplace--Poland.
"I missed home and was missing out on so much that was happening with my family," she explains, looking forlorn. "My mom is getting older for one thing and I want to spend as much time as I can with her. I'm from a big family and I love that atmosphere."
But those trips did serve a business purpose too.
"It gave me something to write about," says Basia, who composes the lyrics of her songs, while keyboardist Danny White writes the music. "In my songs there are stories about people in my family. They're great source material but that's not why I love being around them."
Breaking away from her family has never been easy. As a teen in the late '70s, Basia was singing with an all-female Warsaw band that worked throughout Eastern Europe, which led to a club opportunity in Chicago in 1979. But she moved to London so she could advance her musical career and still be fairly close to Poland. She signed a solo contract with Epic in 1986.
"I wanted a chance to do soul and Latin music, which I've always loved, in a pop framework," says Basia, who won't reveal her true age, jokingly claiming to be 34.
Singing pop songs exotically flavored with both soul and samba rhythms, Basia has carved out a niche in the U.S. market--much like Sade--that's fairly unique for a foreign-born female singer.
Wary of falling into a rut, Basia tried something a little different on this album.
"I do more ballads," she offers. "I didn't want to get stuck on dance-oriented music. I was sort of hiding behind those dance grooves. I don't do that so much on this album."
Another change is that her voice is a little deeper.
"That's because I took vocal lessons, which brought out that side of my voice," she says. "But it's also because of the influence of Anita Baker. I love the deep side of her voice and I listen to her CDs constantly."
Winding down a bit, speaking at a lazier pace than usual, Basia reflects about recording the album. "I'm satisfied with it," she says. "The only thing I wouldn't do again is take so long working on it. I think I'm past whatever I was going through when I was making the album. I feel rejuvenated again."
* Basia performs at 8 tonight at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in Irvine, $26.50-$52.50, (714) 855-4515; 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, $19.50-$32.50, (213) 480-3232; at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Embarcadaro Marina Park in San Diego, $23.50-$37.50, (619) 570-1222.