Interview: Katie Melua

An Interview with Katie Melua
Original Interview from RockFusion Online Archives

At RockFusion Online we’re all about the music and bringing you closer to the people that make it, we don’t believe in genres. So bearing that in mind I gave Katie a call last week for a quick interview ahead of her UK tour. We talk about her recent marriage, shed some light on her relationship with producer Mike Batt as well as covering a host of other topics such as the new album and upcoming tour as well as a couple of other things.

Well first thing is I’d like to say congratulations on getting married, how’s married life treating you so far?

Aw, thank you very much. It’s been pretty cool actually! I got married on the first of September and it was my birthday on the 16th so my flat is literally drowning in cards which is pretty nice, I mean I really like it. But it’s been great. There is something slightly different, but all in all nothing much has changed. It’s wonderful, just how I like it.

Your new single Walls of the World came out last Monday. Would you say it’s one of your favourite tracks from the album?

I always find it absolutely impossible to pick a favourite, I know that’s a really dull answer to your question. Although when I think about it I may do, Cry of the Lone Wolf which is a song I wrote with Mike Batt and it’s kind of got that Americana, bluegrass, folk feel to it. I do love Walls of the World though. I loved filming the video to it up in Norway. I had a gig there up in this really sort of northern hemisphere festival up in the mountains and we filmed the video to I there. I think it’s just lovely song, it’s beautiful. Plenty of melody and some really heartfelt lyrics which definitely matches my personal situation at the moment.

It certainly is a great video and it looked absolutely freezing as well.

Yeah it was! Although it was the end of their summer so it wasn’t as cold as it can get, but I did have to brave it. I couldn’t wear  a ski suit which is what I’d have liked to have worn!

Secret Symphony is your 5th album, what was the inspiration on having an orchestra as such an important part of the album?

Well, I did a gig a few years ago with an orchestra I think in about 2007 and I was just so inspired and so happy with it and when I came off stage I was determined that one day I’d make an album with an orchestra and where they played a massive part. So just after last years tour I had a few chats with Mike and thought it was the right time to do it. So we started on it in June 2011 and he’s phenomenal at arranging strings and getting the best out of an orchestra both in the subtle understated ways and of course big ways as well.

As a result of that was it a difficult album to record? Did the inclusion of the orchestra on such a scale change the way you approached the recording of it?

Well yeah. Although we’ve always had orchestras on an album before, it was always a case of do the rhythm tracks first get them out the way, get the singing and vocals done and then the orchestra would come in and be the icing on the cake. Whereas this time the orchestra was in our mind from the moment we where writing and picking the songs. So that was different, we needed to make sure the songs where sympathetic to an orchestral treatment. But the actual recording of the album wasn’t all that different as once knew what we where doing with the songs it was pretty similar to what I’d done in the past.

You’ve said this is your “singers album”. Do you approach material others have written differently from what you approach your own writing?

Yeah pretty much. For years I tried to get rid of that distinction as I think it’s important to put as much of yourself as you can into any song that you sing. You can’t just jump in and sing someone else’s song if you can’t relate to it in some way. But still no matter how much you try there are subtle differences, personally as a singer I feel singing other peoples songs is slightly more natural. Well maybe that’s the wrong word.

What I mean is you aren’t so insecure about the song because you picked it because you love it and connect to it. Whereas if you’ve written it yourself it’s your sort of diary of an emotion or an event in your life. As a song writer you’re always thinking in ways to improve your songs. If someone else has written it though that’s so far away from your mind and you’re just there to sing it.

How’s the tour preparation going?

It’s going well. Well we’ve been doing it so long now we only have about a week of rehearsal time starting on the first of October and that keeps it all sort of fresh and exciting. Today we’re trying to find the string players. Just now I’m trying to think out a setlist. We’ll be having a nice little string quartet and I’m sure they’ll be beautiful players, although I’m only meeting them today I’m sure they’ll be brilliant.

It’s the Secret Symphony Tour so there’ll be a lot of the new album mixed in with all the old favourites people love to hear, Closest Thing to Crazy, Nine Million Bicycles, that sort of thing which I still love to sing and then I think it’s important to have some really lovely intimate moments with the strings and then as always we’ll rock out a bit to give people a little variety.

How do you keep your voice in shape when your out on the road?

Well I don’t have to worry about straining my voice because I don’t really push my voice night after night the way someone in a rock band would. I don’t belt it out, my singing is quite understated so physically my voice doesn’t get strained but to me the biggest worry is getting a cold or flu and you lose your voice, at which point you’re pretty much fucked. I’m going to get the flu jab done even though I’m not in the bracket that needs it. After years of the odd gig getting postponed because you caught a cold is just a horrible feeling, you get a little paranoid about it. Plenty of honey, lots of hot water and try not to get trashed every night.

Throughout  your career you’ve worked closely with Mike Batt, how did this relationship come about?

Well how it came about I was at the Brit school down in Croydon, I was just about to start my 2nd year. It was actually 10 years ago this week because I’d just turned 18 and every Wednesday we’d have people come in from the industry and we’d hold auditions for various different projects. Mike happened to come in on a particular Wednesday and I sang him a song called Faraway Voice which I’d just written. That particular song is about Eva Cassidy and I was huge fan of hers and what made me play him that song was that he’d written on the piece of paper he was looking for a musician and singer in the style of Eva Cassidy. So I thought he may have liked the song, and luckily I was right and that was how it all started.

You mentioned Eva Cassidy there, now you done a duet with Eva Cassidy on a TV show called Duet Impossible and you also had the Christmas single of Over the Rainbow a couple of years ago too, was it a little surreal taking on these projects and singing with Eva on these occasions?

Well first of all it was just amazing to have permission from her family and record company to use her multi tracks so we could add my voice to it. I’d listened to her for years before and I’d had her in my head before, but actually knowing that my voice was going on her record it just made me listen to her in a completely different way and I could hear how much sensitivity and beauty there was in every single phrase she sang and that was quite an amazing revelation.

If I was to pick up your iPod what would be the last thing you listened too?

Oh, that’s a good question! This is going to sound really dull but it was actually myself (laughs). I’ve been listening to a lot of my material trying to sort out the set list for the tour so I’m just going back and having a listen. I don’t really ever listen to myself. Twisted from The House is what’s on at the moment, just checking that out to see if we can resurrect that in some way for the tour.

Any surprises on there?

Well it depends on what people think would be surprising. I have The Libertines, Madonna and Mariah Carey. Nick Cave? Sometimes the most random stuff finds it way onto your iPod. Seasick Steve’s on here too…

You’ve been called an adrenaline junkie in the past, you love roller coasters, run fairs and even been sky diving on more than one occasion. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

The craziest thing I’ve ever done? I think the gig under water at the bottom of a gas rig was pretty mental. That was really fun. The training for it was just incredible! We had all this amazing modern technology to train us all up on what to do from jumping down from the helicopter down to the rig getting in the lifeboats etc only to find that the lift to get us down to the very bottom was this rickety old thing that took 10mins! It was a bit of a mad experience.

by Edward Laing

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