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Katie Melua - The IndieLondon interview

Katie Melua

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KATIE Melua talks to us exclusively about working with William Orbit on her latest album, The House, and pushing herself in new directions creatively.

She also talks about how she’s coping with success and the celebrity surrounding her – including the worst story she found about herself on Google – as well as why her ‘pinch me’ moments come with a heavy dose of everyday reality.

Q. We’re big fans of your fourth album, The House. What made you decide to work with William Orbit?
Katie Melua: It was just one of those things that happened. Basically, I kind of wrote a bunch of songs with a different array of people, from Guy Chambers to Rick Nowels, over a period of a year, last year, and my previous producer and manager, Mike Batt, sent them to William. He also sent them to a couple of other producers, but William got back straight away and the things he said about the music were so good and so interesting that I was immediately fascinated.

Q. And were you already aware of what he could bring to your music, from past collaborations he’s done with Madonna and Blur?
Katie Melua: Oh yeah, I mean he’s kind of a legendary producer… In fact, six months before this happened, I thought to myself there was no way that William Orbit would want to work with me [laughs]! But he got what I was trying to do and he got the music. He also seemed to be really open to my ideas, just as I was open to his, and so we had a really good time in the studio. We’ve also become really good friends, which is lovely. In fact, I’ve just come from a radio show where I played one of the album’s songs live with William, which is something I hadn’t done before. It was lovely and we, of course, had a little catch-up afterwards.

Q. Will you work with him again?
Katie Melua: I hope so! We’ve spoken about making a soundtrack for a film together, but at the moment I’m on the road, touring and promoting this record. I try and keep my mind set and focused on the things I’m doing, so that’s my primary source of attention right now. But I’d like to think we’ll definitely work together again in the future.

Q. Did you feel an extra amount of pressure ahead of the release of The House, given that it does mark a change of direction for you in many ways?
Katie Melua: Yes, in a way, but in another sense, the amount of time I took to develop it kind of melted that pressure away… as in the time I gave myself for writing it. Mike [Batt] also really understood that… I think he could tell I was feeling pressurised, because he was such a big part of my previous three albums. In fact, I’d say he was half of the creative process on those albums. So, when we decided that it was time to end that [process] following the release of that third album, it took a long time for me to build up the confidence to do it without him. But the time I took helped me to do that.

Q. And likewise, when the album came out to such critical acclaim and was another huge success, did that feel like a kind of vindication for deciding to push yourself creatively in other ways?
Katie Melua: It was kind of a massive release, yes. But you always want more… you know, you get to somewhere form the steps you’ve taken that have been small along the way, and then you suddenly find yourself somewhere you’d never have imagined being five years ago. But then that doesn’t feel as catastrophically volcanic as it first did anymore, so you want something more catastrophically volcanic to happen… if you know what I mean? But I think it’s good to want more because it keeps you moving, and it keeps you alive.

Q. So, what inspired the themes behind The House? It seems to explore issues of identity a lot…
Katie Melua: Absolutely, identity has a big part to play. Take the title track, The House, for example, it’s a bit of a pivotal track for the album and a corner of it that’s interesting for me to talk about. The theme that influenced it was the idea of taking my imagination and creativity and writing as far as I could and not being afraid of doing it, or afraid of sounding silly or pretentious, or sounding simple. It was about just trying to free it up. I’m definitely not there yet, but it’s a step towards that and starting that mind game.

Katie Melua

Q. One of my favourite tracks is Twisted? So, what inspired that?
Katie Melua: Really? The origins of that stem from a night out… I was seeing a mate who was in a band and the gig was in this pub in Finchley, I think. It was something like two years ago and the evening itself was called ‘Twisted’. I remember reading the ticket as I was waiting to go in – or rather it was a stamp on my hand – and thinking: “Ooh, that’s a good song title!” I just like that word… it meant something to me, even though I wasn’t sure what. Then I met Rick Nowles for some writing sessions… he’s such a huge hit maker. Ironically, I’m someone who shies away from making obvious hits… I can’t explain why but I’m kind of drawn more towards and fascinated by really simple songs. Anyway, he asked if I had any words or lyrics and I said: “Twisted.” In the context of writing, I knew exactly what the song was about. It kind of reflected this really mad relationship thing I was going through at the time.

Q. Will you be releasing it as a single?
Katie Melua: It’s actually the first single in America, so you’re locking into the American thing at the moment. But I hope it’ll also get a release over here.

Q. With remixes? It’s ripe for a remix too…
Katie Melua: There is a remix, but it was done for US radio. They hardly touched it, which is really great. I love it when they mash your stuff up, but for this they just brought up the bass and drums. It’s really great.

Q. How is the European tour going? You still have the UK to come…
Katie Melua: Exactly. It’s exhausting but fun. I’m kind of getting used to being on planes every week [laughs]. But you end up making the best of it. I’m actually in the UK tomorrow checking out the special effects for the UK gigs and I’m really excited about it and looking forward to seeing how they move the performance element forward for it. The gigs are mainly built around material from The House, but I’ll also be doing some songs from the previous records. It’s so much fun because each gig kind of takes on a life of its own. It’s so weird to have the contrast of the old and the new material, but I think they kind of morph and it creates quite an amazing experience.

Q. I look forward to catching a show… so, given how much success you’ve enjoyed do you still get pinch me moments?
Katie Melua: I guess I do, but they tend to be… for instance, the pinching moment I had today was seeing William again and playing a song with him and then I had a really, really lovely glass of wine with a really good friend of mine, named Tom. I’ve just been so busy recently that I’ve not really been able to spend time with my mates. He was telling me about an incredible day he had enjoyed and his delight at telling me that was a pinching moment for me. When you don’t see friends for such a long time, you end up appreciating that glass of wine.

Katie Melua, The House

Q. So, is that kind of a reality check for you as well?
Katie Melua: For me, the reality that I live in is planes, gigs and interviews. So, actually, that’s why a glass of wine with a mate is so special from where I’m standing.

Q. So, how do you cope with the celebrity aspect of it all, and particularly the tabloid element, with rumours about your relationships and private life? Do you try and ignore it?
Katie Melua: I ignore it as best I can… but you go through phases of thinking your world is falling apart, because you have no privacy anymore, and then you go, ‘oh fuck it’ and you realise that other people have it much worse than you. And then there are other times, when you think other people have it better than you too. I guess you have to go with how you feel on the day.

Q. Do you read your own press?
Katie Melua: Well, my publicist sends me stuff, but usually the nice things that have been written about me [laughs]. But sometimes, when you’re feeling a bit insecure, you do that terrible thing and Google yourself and you come across all the worst stuff that’s been written about you – and that only makes you feel more insecure! It’s kind of like a chicken and egg scenario.

Q. So what’s the oddest thing you’ve found about yourself after Googling?
Katie Melua: I recently found someone bitching about my chin. They were saying I’ve got the ugliest chin in show-business! Right now I’m laughing at it because I’m not in an insecure mood. But I wasn’t very happy at the time, before I went online, and subsequently found it [laughs].

Q. That’s highly unfair… you have a lovely face! Finally, as time’s running out on us, can I ask what the greatest piece of advice is you’ve been given or heard?
Katie Melua: The best piece of advice I’ve had is that if everything seems to be going so fast for you, don’t panic… it’ll be OK. It’s going fast because that’s life… sometimes it speeds up, and sometimes it slows down but that’s what makes life so exciting. A friend of mine told me that yesterday, in fact… she’s amazing. Another really nice little saying that I read in a book, which also just popped into my mind, is that the biggest bond you’ll ever have is between you and your desires. I like that one too.

Read our review of The House or view photos of Katie Melua

  1. Quality read… can;‘t wait for London gig. Love the album. Different but good all the same!

    Jane    Aug 23    #