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Issue 1084

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Feature

Paloma Faith: You gotta have faith

Paloma Faith @bluesandsoul.com
Paloma Faith @bluesandsoul.com

Pioneered by the brassy, sassy stomp of its Pharrell Williams-produced lead-off single âCanât Rely On Youâ, this month sees the eagerly-anticipated arrival of âA Perfect Contradictionâ - the third album from multi-Platinum-selling soul/pop singer-songwriter, actress and style icon Paloma Faith. Which, accurately described as her most upbeat set to date, prestigiously boasts input from an impressive array of modern-day music icons - including (in addition to aforementioned man-of-the moment Pharrell) Grammy-winning songwriter supreme Diane Warren; Sade co-writer Stuart Mattehwman; US contemporary soul men John Legend and Raphael Saadiq; plus East London soul-boy-cum-rapper Plan B.

Indeed, largely written by Paloma while living anonymously in New York for two months last year, âA Perfect Contradictionâ interestingly finds her returning to her early soul-girl roots by displaying influences as diverse as classic Stax, Phil Spector, Sixties girl-groups, Seventies disco and early-Eighties R&B on an 11-track set whose musical moods range from the strident charge of âOther Womanâ and raunchy funk of âTake Meâ to the cinematic strings of the wall-of-sound ballad âOnly Love Can Hurt Like Thisâ and buoyant thump of âMouth To Mouthâ. All of which are vocally topped-off by her now-signature blend of bluesy power and husky emotion, which has often see her compared favourably to fellow Brit-soul girls like Amy Winehouse and Duffy.

Born Paloma Faith Blomfield in July 1981 in Hackney, East London to a Spanish father and English mother who divorced when she was just four 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 Londonâs 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 magicianâs assistant!

Nevertheless, having been strongly influenced vocally by such soul and jazz icons as Etta James and Billie Holiday, it was while fronting her then-band - Paloma & The Penetrators (!) - at a cabaret show that the trilingual Ms. Faith was first spotted by an A&R man for Epic Records. Which ultimately, in 2008, led to her signing her current record-deal with Sony Music. All of which in turn resulted in her debut album - 2009âs double-Platinum-selling âDo You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?â -eventually hitting the UK Top 10 and additionally earning her a BRIT nomination for Best British Female along the way. During which time the multi-talented Paloma also successfully pursued an acting career via roles including Sally (girlfriend to Tom Waitsâ the Devil) in Terry Gilliamâs 2009 movie âThe Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassusâ and Clara Thornhill in the 2009 horror film âDreadâ.

Meanwhile, summer 2012 would next see Palomaâs critically-acclaimed sophomore set âFall To Graceâ debuting at an impressive Number Two in the UK while also spawning her highest-charting single to date with the Top 10 hit âPicking Up The Piecesâ before going on to again attain double-Platinum status - ultimately leading to two prestigious BRIT nominations in 2013 for Best Female and Best Album.

⦠Which neatly brings us back to the present-day. As February 2014 finds an ever- likeable Ms Faith reacquainting herself with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing interview. During which the petite chanteuse-cum-fashion-chameleon discusses her intriguingly-titled new LP, its impressive list of big-name contributors, plus the classic soul influences that inspired it.

PETE: Letâs start by discussing the title to your new album, âA Perfect Contradictionâ

PALOMA: âWell, as with the previous titles to my albums, itâs got multiple meanings! It actually all began when I was talking to Pharrell and telling him that I like people who are a mix of the perfect contradiction - to which he was like âOh, you should call your ALBUM thatâ! Which, when I thought about it, I realised was actually a great IDEA. Because not only is this new album like a perfect contradiction to my last one in terms of its tone, but conceptually with the songs I was also analysing the kind of idea that in life you canât really experience joy and happiness unless youâve experienced the OPPOSITE. Like itâs our embracing of that beautiful blend of the right mix of light-and-shade that helps us become who we ARE really... Plus I do also see myself fitting into the whole âPerfect Contradictionâ theme as a PERSON, in that people are always trying to pigeonhole me and I think they find it quite DIFFICULT.â

PETE: And whatâs the thinking behind the albumâs striking artwork, which depicts six very different Palomaâs?

PALOMA: âWell, for the video to the first single - the Pharrell track âCanât Rely On Youâ - we basically created these five characters that either leave ME or I leave THEM. And those five characters are actually what weâre gonna develop throughout the campaign with all the videos going FORWARD. You know, itâs basically going to be about building on the narrative of the relationships that I have with these different PEOPLE... And so in terms of the Palomaâs that are on the album cover, the five that are holding the naked one do kind of represent those five different characters while the naked one is supposed to be like the Paloma without all the superficial elements - you know, stripped-back, vulnerable and exposed, and being supported by all the kind of brave-FACED ones if you like.â

PETE: So letâs discuss a few of the other big names that feature on âA Perfect Contradictionââ¦

PALOMA: âWell, I first met Raphael Saadiq when I opened for Prince in Copenhagen because he happened to be playing there too. And though at first I was a little bit starstruck because Iâd been a fan of his for so long - right back to the days of Tony Toni Tone - once I got chatting to him it was like âIt would be really cool to WORK with youâ. And what I found especially great about working with Raphael is that, while when I usually go to sessions I have to explain a lot of stuff and play a lot of references, with him I didnât HAVE to. I just went in and felt that musically he totally GOT it without me really needing to SAY anything, which was just totally amazing... Then another person I really clicked with was Stuart Matthewman, whoâs Sadeâs co-writer. Basically I found him very easy to work with because to me heâs really like a beautiful FACILITATOR. In that I could just hum something to him and, though it could seem like a really shoddy idea, heâd somehow immediately just play the right chords that would make it sound like something really SPECIAL⦠So yeah, I think working with Stuart was actually one of the best co-writing experiences Iâve ever HAD - just because he works in very simple WAYS. Which I found is also the case with John LEGEND. You know, working with John itâs just you and an instrument, and so what youâre doing is not affected by any particular sound or STYLE. Instead itâs very ORGANIC.â

The single âCanât Rely On Youâ is out now; the album âA Perfect Contradictionâ follows March 10, both through RCA/Sony Music

To read more from our fascinating interview with Paloma Faith, including her thought process when creating her new album âA Perfect Contradictionâ and her collaboration with Pharrell Williams, just click below to order your print copy now.
Words PETE LEWIS

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