Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Paloma Faith: Keeping Faith

Paloma Faith
Paloma Faith Paloma Faith Paloma Faith Paloma Faith

With her current, critically-acclaimed sophomore LP “Fall To Grace” having debuted at an impressive Number Two in the UK chart, this month sees pop-soul singer/songwriter, actress and style icon Paloma Faith releasing said album’s second single - the lilting, Prince-influenced “30 Minute Love Affair”, in which she wistfully recounts the true experience of a fleeting meeting with a busker in London’s Leicester Square when she was just 14.

Indeed, largely produced in London by the esteemed Nellee Hooper (Madonna/Bjork/Gwen Stefani), the sonically-varied yet artistically-cohesive “Fall To Grace” boasts personalised musical moods ranging from its string-laden, Top 10 offshoot single “Picking Up The Pieces” and the punchy disco throb of “Blood, Sweat & Tears”; to the stripped-down, acoustic-piano-accompanied ballad “Just Be” and the astute social observations of the poignant “Black & Blue." Its 12 tracks finding Paloma collaborating with “name” songwriters like Francis White (Adele); Wayne Hector (Britney Spears); and even film-score composer David Arnold (“James Bond”). All of which are topped-off vocally by her now-signature blend of bluesy power and husky emotion, which has often seen her compared favourably to fellow Brit-soul girls like Amy Winehouse and Duffy.

Born Paloma Faith Blomfield in July 1985 in Hackney, East London to a Spanish father and English mother who split up when she was just two years old, Paloma was raised by her mother in Stoke Newington before going on to study for a degree in contemporary dance at The Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Following which she then went on to study for an MA in theatre directing at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design - funding her studies by working numerous part-time jobs, including a sales assistant at luxury underwear brand Agent Provocateur; a burlesque singer; a life model; and a magician’s assistant!

… Fast-forward to summer 2012, and it’s an instantly-likeable and down-to-earth Ms. Faith who calls up “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing in-depth interview. During which the 26-year-old petite songstress discusses her aforementioned current album’s blend of retro-referencing soul and sassy, contemporary pop; plus the diverse life experiences that have moulded her into the captivating chanteuse-cum-theatrical fashion chameleon that she is today.

The title of her current, sophomore album “Fall To Grace”

“Well, “Fall To Grace” is obviously like a play on the saying ‘fall FROM grace’. And it basically stems from when I wrote the song “Agony” and the line in it that says ‘No time to waste, let’s fall from grace’. Which was about being kind of self-destructive and going out with somebody who’s not very GOOD for you. And what happened was, I was in the pub with friends discussing it and they were like ‘But that’s not YOU though! You’re more the kind of person who comes out of all those bad situations into a POSITIVE place - which is almost like the opposite of what you’ve WRITTEN! What about ‘fall TO grace?’!... And from that it just STUCK - to where it became the title of the ALBUM!... So yeah, “Fall To Grace” is basically just me touching on that whole thing of taking bad situations and turning them into HOPEFUL ones.”

How Paloma breaks it down musically

“Funnily enough, I think one artist I was very strongly influenced by, vocally and melodically, on this album was Etta James. Mainly because, when I was on tour around the last album, I was constantly finding myself wanting to sing Etta James songs and loving the FEELING of singing Etta James songs - and I eventually worked out the reason why was because they were in the right REGISTER for me. So, though when I was writing the first record I wasn’t always thinking about my own needs as a vocalist and what I felt comfortable singing, this time I did want to make sure the whole record was in the right REGISTER. But then while in that way Etta was definitely an influence, at the same time I never wanted to be like a PASTICHE. So, though the fact that I am totally into the past and I do surround myself with Fifties and Sixties stuff will mean that that will have an inevitable influence on what I do, at the same time I still think I do it in a contemporary WAY. Which is why from the start I said I wanted this album to be something that people would play in their cars for like pimped-out rides with a bit of sub-bass on it. Because with me coming from Hackney, I did grow up around that whole like sound-system in-the-boot-of-the-car-type stuff. Which I think explains why on this record you do get that blend of the old with the NEW.”

Hooking up for the first time with noted producer Nellee Hooper of Madonna/Bjork/Gwen Stefani fame

“Well, what happened was, I was in the situation at my label where my A&R for my FIRST record left Sony in the middle of me writing this NEW record. And so there was like a period of time when I was basically on my own arranging writing sessions with my managers. Which meant I was sort of writing songs without worrying about production for AGES. So, once I’d got a selection of songs together that I really liked and my new A&R - Colin Barlow - had stepped in, I had a meeting with him where he was like ‘I think your songs are brilliant - who do you want to PRODUCE them?’... So I said ‘I don’t really KNOW. But I do want it to be like a film soundtrack of my life while at the same time really CONTEMPORARY’… So he was like ‘I can only think of one person’ - and that person was NELLEE! So he arranged for the two of us to meet, and I guess I was LUCKY! Because - though Nellee has met loads of people and said he DIDN’T want to work with them - he did agree to work with ME!... So then from there he brought in Jake Gosling - who produced Ed Sheeran’s album - as his co-producer/programmer-type person. And what I think they each brought to the table individually was that Jake brought that kinda sub-bass, slightly gritty/dirty/deep side of stuff while Nellee I’d say basically gave me a LANGUAGE! In that, while I’ve always expressed myself in the same way to people that I work with - which is usually through pictures to give atmosphere to the song - he was the first person to truly interpret what I’d shown him perfectly in a sonic WAY. Which is why I always tell people that he’s like my TRANSLATOR!”

Paloma’s early upbringing in East London’s Hackney and the way it’s impacted on her

“Well, my parents were divorced when I was very young. So I ended up having two different lives with each of them. But then, at the same time, they were both really into MUSIC. Like my dad was a huge jazz fanatic, while my mum was into a lot of Sixties soul and Motown... All of which really influenced me to where I basically learnt to sing by sort of impersonating the voices that I liked and trying to copy the people I was IMPRESSED by... And then in terms of the area itself, there’s no question that if you grow up in Hackney you are exposed to a lot of cultures, a lot of different types of music, and a lot of different ways of APPRECIATING music. And so I guess that, more than anything else, is what’s made me who I AM! In that I think I’m very relaxed in a lot of different situations - which in turn has probably had an influence as well on my sort of chameleonic attitude to STYLE. Because I’ve always been somebody that adapted very quickly and I’ve never felt defined as one THING.

Her time spent at Central St. Martins College of Art And Design - where she attained a Masters in Theatre Directing and Design - and how impacts on her artistry today

“Well, the MA was probably the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever DONE. I mean, it exposed me to a lot of different people who came from different creative backgrounds - books, film… And so I think that, and obviously studying stuff like set design, has all very much influenced the way I’m very hands-on with my VISUALS. Like I design EVERYTHING, to where every set that I perform on arises from an idea that I’ve had. And the same goes for the ARTWORK. In that that usually results from me going into a room saying ‘This is what I want to conjure up’, showing the pictures - and then whoever I’m working with brings their bit as a response to my ideas. Which at the end of the day is what makes it all so PERSONAL. Because there’s no-one really doing it FOR me.”

How Paloma feels the fact that she worked in a succession of odd-jobs to fund her studies has also influenced her music today

“Well, when you’ve been the cleaner AND the singer, you can’t be JUDGEMENTAL of anyone! And I definitely think that my preoccupation with compassion and understanding for people has come from the fact that, before my music career kind of took off, I always had loads and loads of jobs all at the same TIME! Because I’ve always given people the time, and I’ve always been INTERESTED in people. Which is why I think in every situation I’ve BEEN in I have managed to forge RELATIONSHIPS with everybody! Like I’ve just got to walk down Berwick Street market, and I know EVERYONE! I know all the stall owners, I know the dry-cleaning people, I know the window-cleaner who does all the windows in Soho... You know, literally everyone in that part of Central London knows me from when I used to work as a shop girl at (luxury lingerie store) Agent Provocateur! And so, because these are all people that have stories to tell, I feel like by exposing myself to that and being someone who’s very sociable I have been able to sort of LEARN from a lot of these people and channel that understanding into my music and my LYRICS.”

Current and future plans in general

“Well, the album is obviously a big focus at the moment. And because we’re gonna try and go more international with it than we did on the first record, I have got a few trips to America planned. Plus I’ve also been doing a bit of acting. Like there’s a P.G. Wodehouse comedy drama (“Blandings”) that’ll be on the BBC at the end of this year which I’m in one episode of... And then from there I think my plan for 2013 is basically to tour the WORLD! You know, I just want don’t wanna stop GIGGING next year! Which is why this year I’m laying the foundations for that by speaking to all you journalists and just generally making the world listen - so that next year I’ll be able to go out and actually MEET everyone! Because my new band is mind-blowingly good, and I do feel we really have upped our game MASSIVELY!... So yeah, as usual you can expect the UNEXPECTED - with a big 90-minute set that’ll hopefully transport everybody to another WORLD!”

Paloma’s 2013 UK tour runs from January 23 to February 17 - taking in such venues as O2 Apollo, Manchester (23); O2 Academy, Glasgow (28); Wolves City Hall, Wolverhampton (2); Brighton Centre, Brighton (4); and Hammersmith Apollo, London (7)

The single “30 Minute Love Affair” and album “Fall To Grace” are both out now through RCA/Sony Music


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