Rebecca Ferguson: Soulful reflections
Known nationwide for her authentically-soulful, brooding vocals that saw her finish runner-up in the 2010 series of high-profile UK TV talent show ‘The X-Factor’, Liverpool-born-and-raised singer/songwriter Rebecca Ferguson this month releases her highly-anticipated debut album "Heaven" alongside its passionate, acoustic-guitar-accompanied lead-off single "Nothing’s Real But Love."
Interestingly, with "Heaven" containing all new material - all impressively co-written by Rebecca herself - the soul-drenched 10-track set finds Ferguson mainly hooking-up with sometime Adele/Duffy songwriter/producer Eg White, in addition to occasional studio collaborations with producer/songwriters Fraser T. Smith (N-Dubz/Tinchy Styder) and Jonny Lattimer (the man behind Ellie Goulding’s ‘Starry Eyed’). All of which results in its emotive musical moods ranging from the punchy, message-laden grooves of "Glitter & Gold;" and funky, fully-orchestrated "Fairytale"; to searingly honest ballads like the hauntingly vulnerable "Shoulder to Shoulder" and piano-accompanied, shimmering "Teach Me How To Love."
Indeed, despite her raw-but-stunning first audition on last year’s ‘X-Factor’ singing Sam Cooke’s "A Change Is Gonna Come" (which has impressively had over 2.9 million views alone on You Tube) revealing Rebecca as the painfully shy, woefully under-confident mother-of-two she was at the time, today it’s nevertheless a bubbly and chatty - yet still likeably-humble and “normal” Ms. Ferguson - who meets up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for early-evening drinks at (appropriately!) Liverpool Street’s upmarket Eastway Brasserie. Where she happily discusses - her soft-spoken, instantly-recognisable Liverpudlian tones occasionally punctuated by surprisingly big laughs (!) - her highly-anticipated new album and single; her deceptively tough route to eventually finding fame on ‘The X-Factor’; plus of course the highs and lows of her time on “that competition”!
PETE: What did you mainly want to achieve with your debut album?
REBECCA: “The big thing for me was to make an album that really RESONATED with people - a record they could connect to and get something FROM. Like, say, when I was writing a song like "Teach Me How To Be Loved," I was hoping people would listen to it and think ‘Oh, I’VE felt like that when I’VE split up from my boyfriend’… So yeah, lyrically I guess it’s mostly just me putting down in writing things I’ve been through in the past and life lessons that I’ve learnt FROM that - or, if I was going through something at the time, I’d maybe write about THAT.”
PETE: Your main songwriting/production collaborator for the project has been sometime Adele/Duffy collaborator Eg White. What was your relationship like in the studio?
REBECCA: “The reason I was relaxed enough to write most of the album with Eg was basically because he’s just someone I could really open up to and someone who totally got me as an ARTIST. Plus on a personal level I think he’s one of the most down-to-earth, humble, unassuming people you could ever MEET!
PETE: So what’s the story behind the materialism-decrying message of the album’s first single - the acoustic ballad "Nothing’s Real But Love"?
REBECCA: “It’s basically talking about how we get so concerned about stuff like money and cars that it overtakes our lives and we forget what’s really important is FAMILY. I mean, I actually remember the day I wrote it with Eg. Something had upset me, and I was like ‘You know, people just forget what’s important’... And then I literally just said ‘It’s not your money, it’s not your car - it’s LOVE!’ - and straightaway we were both like ‘Oh, we’ve got a SONG here!’!.. And, while I know it sounds cheesy, I genuinely do think those sentiments are TRUE! I mean, before I joined ‘The X-Factor’ I was a student, I was struggling, I was trying to make a better life for me and the kids... And at the same time people would be saying ‘Oh, money doesn’t bring you happiness’ - and I’d be like ‘Whatever - tell that to my empty FRIDGE!’… But then, after I came off the show, things started going well - I was getting paid highly for the gigs I was doing, I was able to afford things I couldn’t before... But at the time I was thinking ‘No, this isn’t making me HAPPY - it’s my FAMILY that’s always made me happy’... And I still STICK by that! Because, while I do think all these other things are brilliant, ultimately what’s important is LOVE!”
PETE: So, with you succeeding as runner-up on ‘The X-Factor’ due to your singing talent alone, was it then difficult - on coming out of the competition - to persuade the powers-that-be that you’re also a talented songwriter?
REBECCA: “Yes, that was hard. Because like the first couple of months after the show, people were automatically thinking ‘Oh, she’s out of ‘X-Factor’, she won’t be able to write’… Whereas I was like ‘No, I CAN write - I’ve been writing songs for YEARS!’… And so in the end it was actually Eg that championed it really. In that he’d sit people around the room, play them the music and say ‘Look, this girl can WRITE!’… Plus he’d be on the phone to the label or whoever, going ‘When she goes to that studio today make sure she WRITES - because she’s BRILLIANT!’!... You know, he was really good in that way. And then from there various other writers started giving feedback to the label and to my management... To the point where the label eventually backed off and basically said ‘OK, we’re gonna let you co-write the whole ALBUM!’… Which is why you have the record you now HAVE!”
READ MORE OF REBECCA FERGUSON'S INTERVIEW IN OUR END OF YEAR PRINTED EDITION (CLICK TO ORDER BELOW)... WHAT DOES REBECCA THINK OF THE X-FACTOR AND THE PROCESS THAT HAS MADE HER A STAR + HOW HER TRIP TO AMERICA TO MEET P DIDDY DIDN'T GO QUITE TO PLAN.
The album "Heaven" and single "Nothing’s Real But Love" are out now, both through RCA
Words PETE LEWIS