Katie Melua: “I stopped being afraid to portray life honestly”

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is‘ve been guilty of singing about romantic love like everything is meant to go on forever, ”says Katie Melua. ” But it’s not. And it is normal that this is not the case. The singer is probably even better known for her sentimental ballads that she released as a teenager, but she’s now 36 and her worldview is a little different. In August, she separated from her eight-year-old husband, World Superbike rider James Toseland, then 39. “We’re both perfectionists,” she says. “So we both wanted to ‘do it right’. But in the end, I think we both accepted that it was over and decided to perfect the art of letting go. I turned to nature for support and saw the leaves falling in a beautiful cycle.

Therefore, Melua’s eighth release bears none of the raw wounds of the classic “Divorce Album”. It is, on the contrary, a richly autumnal affair, on which Melua’s clear and soft voice is enveloped in brown conker strings and retro-jazz bass grooves. Twisted flute phrases and glowing brass embers complete the audio hygge. The sound, it seems, was inspired by Melua’s love for lush, easy-to-listen records from the sixties and seventies, like Ramsey Lewis’s jazzy. Son of Mother Nature (1968) and the 1974 bossa nova classic by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina Elisa and Tom.

Doe-eyed jazz-lite brand Melua made her a star when she released her chart-topping debut album, Cancel search, in 2003. But, even though I’ve been snorted about his music in the past, the keenly titled Album n ° 8 forced me to reassess her, and I admit it a few minutes after our interview with Zoom, she was beaming from West London.

“It’s absolutely fine,” she laughs. “I knew it would be a challenge, getting the audience to see how I matured and follow the narrative. When I started I was only 18 years old. A lot of people who bought my records were over three times my age! My audience has probably gotten younger with each album, which is quite unusual.

Today Melua says she understands why she wasn’t considered cool when she first pierced. While contemporaries like Amy Winehouse – who said she “preferred having AIDS to cats” rather than collaborating with Melua – wrote their own music, Melua sang songs by pop creator and “chef Womble” Mike Batt. .

Melua’s New Album Is A Rich Fall Story(Rosie-Matheson)

“What people didn’t understand,” she says, “is that I was brought up in a Georgian culture, where we are taught to respect our elders. I saw music as a profession, and as a teenager I was truly honored to be apprenticed to an experienced songwriter like Mike Batt. Songs he wrote like “The Closest Thing to Crazy” and “Nine Million Bicycles” sounded like classics to me. Although her metropolitan teenage peers had their radios locked to pirate stations, she was honored to be playlisted by Middlebrow Radio 2. “The support from Terry Wogan was wonderful too – he’s a legend!” I have learned so much from the folks at Radio 2, and I am proud of the way they have encouraged me to mature. Now I write my own lyrics and work with musicians that I have assembled myself. My new job represents who I am, and what I have seen in life, and I am grateful to everyone who has followed me so far.

The daughter of a heart surgeon, Melua was born in Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city, in 1984. She spent her early years with her grandparents in the capital, Tbilisi, where she carried buckets of water to ‘with five floors. family apartment. But, despite the material difficulties, she lights up by describing the city, in which she returned to record parts of Album n ° 8.

“Tbilisi shines with electrical possibilities,” she said. “I still feel very much alive there. There are the boy gangs who keep their friendships uncompromising. The women chat late into the night and play backgammon and card games. The warm summer air always mingles with the fresh lavash bread, baked around every corner. The streets are cobbled and incredibly steep in the old town, which is full of wooden houses with curved balconies with vines growing around them.

The singer returned to Tbilisi to record parts of ‘Album No 8’(Rosie Matheson)

In recent years, Melua has returned to Georgia regularly and made music there now that the quality of recording studios in the area has improved. “My grandfather is a chef,” she continues, “and when I was a child he used to have huge parties – even in the 90s, when the electricity was cut and the water and gas were hot. were hard to find. I remember the tables full of food and the wine tasting ceremony with a lot of toast. I hardly ever drink, so I’ve never really tasted the traditional amber wine that you take down from a ram’s horn. But I still love to listen to poems while making toast. Sometimes those nights ended with Grandpa and his friends shooting guns into the night sky in celebration. I guess my parents did a good job making sure my six year old wasn’t too scared!

Little Melua learned to sing with her family during the power outages that prevailed throughout town, developing the pristine voice she now refuses to have a big head and simply attributes to “the anatomy of my nose.” and from my throat – like a doctor’s daughter I like this description without a puff! ”

She was only eight years old when her parents moved to the UK. They first lived in Belfast, then in Surrey and London. The shy young Georgian woman was “fascinated” by British culture. “In Georgia, people are very loud, explosive, like the Italians,” she explains. “All the big emotions are on the surface. In England, I was curious about reserve and order. All the wild feelings were underneath.

She was also bewildered by the English ambivalence around hard work and success. “In Georgia, everyone wants to achieve as much as possible. In England not all people are like that. Or they hide it. I wanted to be a singer. My parents knew I could sing. They thought that by taking me to the land of The Beatles and Queen, they had done 90% of the job. Against all odds, it turned out they were right and things worked out for me.

As a teenager, Melua, like her early 2000s peers Adele and Amy Winehouse, attended the BRIT School, where Mike Batt saw her singing a song she wrote about the death of her idol, Eva. Cassidy. Batt signed her to her label Dramatico and produced her first three albums. It first sold 11 million copies and enabled him to buy his parents a house in leafy Holland Park. In her mid-20s, Melua is said to have amassed a fortune of £ 18million, making her the seventh richest UK musician under the age of 30.

In the following decade, however, success was not so easy. In May 2010, she released her fourth album, The House, produced by techno-whiz William Orbit, who had made Madonna’s Ray of Light, and co-written by Guy Chambers, best known for his work with Robbie Williams. As critics praised his decision to “swap a Womble for a con … relocate the 21st century old maid,” sales declined and Melua began to falter under the pressure.

She said she was overwhelmed by marketing meetings in which she was shown photos of her “average fan”: a man in his forties or fifties who drove a Volvo and shop at Asda. Melua had no idea how to “target” this imaginary audience and suffered an acute psychotic attack in September 2010, which resulted in her being hospitalized for six months.

She doesn’t want to come back to it today, but in interviews over the past few years she has been blunt about the experience. In 2018, Melua declared Le Daily Telegraph: “I was completely out of it. Not oblivious, but having a really terrible paranoia. I couldn’t sleep for I don’t know how many days and had some really chronic nightmares, like you were in an apocalyptic movie. She was put on antipsychotics for four months and on antidepressants for two years.

Even though she feared her return to the music industry could trigger a relapse, Melua was back making albums with Batt in 2012 and 2013. In 2016, she split from her former mentor and made a album without his help. In winter was recorded with the Gori Women’s Choir of Georgia. A grown-up seasonal treasure, the record featured crystal-clear covers of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Ukrainian vocals “The Little Swallow” alongside new self-written songs such as “Dreams On Fire,” on which she asked: ” If all your dreams were on fire, which one would you save?

A student still impatient, Melua took a writing class at Faber & Faber before writing the songs for Album n ° 8. “I read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles and essays by Flannery O’Connor. I read Virginia Woolf’s journals and loved the way she described her changing emotions.

“Even this year, I believe we can find joy,” says the singer(Rosie Matheson)

Reading Woolf plugged Melua into “the English I wanted to celebrate on this album.” On a song like “English Manner”, I wanted to show the awkwardness of expressing love in this calm and reserved culture. I thought a lot about the stories of the characters and the seaside in the south of England, where the story of the song takes place. The sea, the cool breeze, the yellow cliffs, the surfers and smoking are all mentioned in the lyrics.

While “English Manner” describes an ambiguous love triangle with pictorial grace (“his wife’s hair had golden waves / she’s in a painting with a mulberry tree”), several songs show Melua calling for more realistic expectations of the romance. “I think we’ve given love a little too much airtime,” she sighs against the bluesy mix of “Airtime”. “A Love Like That,” meanwhile, asks how it’s possible to maintain the early intensity of a new love against a melody that springs from the stems of Minnie Riperton’s psychedelic single “The Flowers” ​​from 1970. Melua says that the use of Riperton’s melody was an idea that came from producer / arranger Leo Abrahams, who placed the strings around it “like a Greek choir”.

Although she drops the rose-tinted glasses Album n ° 8, every song offers hope. “I had a beautiful marriage,” says Melua, who is still friends with her ex-husband. “So these songs about readjusting our attitudes towards love are neither angry nor bitter. The hope is that if we release the pressure, we can learn to better accept ourselves and each other.

“Now I’m older,” she smiles – still at 22 – “I’ve stopped being afraid to portray life with truth. But I still recognize the greatness of the human spirit in its ability to handle this reality. Because I believe that life is good. Even this year, I believe we can find joy.

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