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Lotte Mullan - The IndieLondon interview

Lotte Mullan

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TALENTED singer-songwriter Lotte Mullan released her debut album, Plain Jane, on Monday (August 2) and immediately impressed. She talks exclusively to IndieLondon about her journey towards getting the album released, the inspirations behind some of her songs and creating her own record label.

She also talks about the artists that have influenced her, the advice that has come in most handy and reveals some of her forthcoming tour dates, including a tour of every Cafe Nero in the country!

Q. Congratulations on getting your album out, it’s great! How does it feel to finally be able to release it?
Lotte Mullan: Like giving birth after a three year labour! I’m very happy as after a few detours I got to make the record exactly how I’d envisioned. It’s the sound of people in a room – recorded mostly live, just me and my band in a studio for two weeks. We did a track a day and then moved on…like The Animals did with House of The Rising Sun (except I think they did that in about half an hour!).

Q. There are so many good songs on the LP but one of our favourites is the really rather raunchy take on Ben Taylor’s Wicked Way. What made that ripe for revisiting and in such a great way?
Lotte Mullan: Well, I think it’s a really interesting idea, to be that honest with someone and say: “I’m really only interested in sleeping with you…” But what’s most interesting is that coming from a guy it can sound quite sleazy and misogynistic but from a woman it’s interpreted as a feminist statement! I’ve often opened my set with it in rowdy bars and it soon silences the room!

*Q. Conversely, La La Love You is one of the album’s breeziest, what inspired that?
Lotte Mullan: That song was a present to me from a good friend of mine, Jinder – we decided to put each other’s songs on our records in the hope that one of us will make some money! He wrote it about the music industry but when I sing it I think about the ticking of my biological clock!

Q. We love the bluesy vibe and raw honesty of Alright With Me? Is that as much a message of empowerment to your fans as it is a declaration of self-confidence?
Lotte Mullan: Well, it started out as a message of empowerment for my younger sister who’d had a confidence crisis after being bullied at school and since I’ve been playing it live it’s taken on a whole new life form – it’s the one song people always comment on. One guy came up to me after a gig and asked me to write down the lyrics for his daughter who had been suffering from depression.

Since then, I did a school tour of 50 schools around the country, playing the song in assemblies and talking to kids about confidence – it was a great experience. The kids really got involved and hearing 300 voices chanting “I’m alright with me” was really something. It’s wonderful if people can feel empowered by something that started out as a simple, personal message and I’m pleased as I don’t write that many really happy songs! The sad ones are easier.

Q. We felt heartbroken for you when listening to the lyrics of Would You Be So Kind? What triggered that? It’s another of the album’s highlights in our opinion…
Lotte Mullan: It’s about that age old scenario of loving someone who doesn’t love you in the way you want them to and basically saying: “Please put me out of my misery!”

Q. You’ve had a fascinating journey to this point… including your Tom Waits experiment? How badly did that affect your voice afterwards at the time? And why Tom Waits?
Lotte Mullan: Well, I couldn’t really sing or speak for three months so I think my friends and family quite enjoyed it! Basically, in imitating a sound that was not my own I strained my voice really badly and got nodules which funnily enough made my voice really raspy like Tom Waits! The trouble is I kept losing it so it wasn’t a sustainable sound. I’ve always loved blues and rock singers who have that raw power in their vocals and big sound that commands a room; most of the singers I listen to are men – unfortunatley, I’m a small squeaky girl!

The experience made me realise that you have to find your own sound. As a storyteller the most important thing is honesty and if your singing in someone else’s voice how can you expect people to believe what you’re singing? I’m still a massive Tom Waits fan though. For me, he’s the consumate songwriter and performer because he can make me cry and also make me want to go out and break stuff – not many people can do both!

Q. Did you stay friends with the boy who introduced you to old blues and folk from the ‘30s? How much of an eye-opener was hearing that music for the first time?
Lotte Mullan: Hearing early blues and country music completley defined music for me… Because it’s the roots of all the music I grew up listening too (Rock ‘n’ roll and soul music). When I first heard it I just thought ‘that’s it!’ It just had this really primal pull and because the main focus is storytelling it really clicked for me. That’s how I got into music, I used to tell my Mum all these stories when I was a kid accompanied by me bashing on the piano – totally unmusical – it was just a way to dramatise the story. My poor Mum… she was studying and doing a million different jobs and would come home to me dancing around hyperactively and demanding she listen to me.

The thing about Country and Blues for me as well is that it’s classic – it won’t date because it’s not reliant on production or a music video to make it mean something.

Q. How was overcoming your parents’ divorce when so young? And what do they feel about your success now?
Lotte Mullan: It was interesting to have a window into two very different worlds – my Dad lived in the city, was gigging every weekend, so I got to meet lots of different characters in bars and clubs and that’s where I feel very at home. But I grew up with my Mum in the countryside, so I also feel very much like a country girl and I spent a lot of time entertaining myself when she was working, which is where a lot of the stories and songs come from.

Q. Having seen the music industry from inside and outside of a major label, what lessons did you find most invaluable?
Lotte Mullan: Well, working in the industry has given me a lot of contacts and has been really helpful in me plugging this record. I’m under no illusions when it comes to all the glamour of cocaine, hookers and fast cars – it’s just a business like any other. It’s an interesting time at the moment for independent artists like myself… we’ll see where the next year takes me!

Lotte Mullan

Q. How useful is the Internet as a tool in helping to find success if a record label isn’t interested?
Lotte Mullan: Invaluable – up until recently I’ve been a bit of a technophobe and just wanted to sit at home strumming my acoustic guitar, but I’ve had to wake up to the fact that the Internet is the means by which many people hear about new music, so I’m trying to embrace it. Mainly simple stuff like keeping a mailing list and letting people know what I’m up to, and keeping in touch with online sites like yourself.

Q. You’ve recently been playing several London gigs, so what’s been some of your favourite memories? And do you have more dates lined up as the year progresses?
Lotte Mullan: I had a great residency at the Bedford in Balham and put on nights Blues/Country/Folk nights with some of my friends and fellow artists – Marcus Bonfanti, Jinder and Juan Zelada. They’d be packed out with at least 100 people every time, which is unusual for a singer-songwriter night!

My next big date is with the guys at Green Note in Camden on August 19, which will be great fun – it’s a lovely venue with amazing food. In fact, the music is kind of secondary when the food is that good [laughs]!

Q. Indeed, what else lies in store this year?
Lotte Mullan: I’m doing a mini tour with the friends mentioned above in August and then I’m going on a solo tour of nearly every Café Nero in the country, being paid in coffee! The single (Can’t Find The Words) is out at the end of September, so you should hear me on the airwaves.

Q. Do you have plans for releasing your material in America? As we state in our review, I can easily hear a couple of songs making the soundtrack to shows such as Grey’s Anatomy
Lotte Mullan: I’d love that! One of the things I’d most like to do is tour America! I plan to do the Blues highway along Route 66 at some point (in a Cadillac of course!).

Q. What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve been given and what advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Lotte Mullan: Never say no to a gig, however small! As long as there are more people in the audience than on-stage you’re fine!

Q. How easy was it to found Raindog Records? And what else are you working on in that capacity?
Lotte Mullan: It’s just me at the moment, with a few people helping me out as and when I need it. I’d love to sign some other artists in the future and tour with like minded artists like The Band did with Janis Joplin in the ’70s.

Q. If you could cover another song, what would it be and why?
Lotte Mullan: It would have to be Jolene by Dolly Parton. It’s just the most perfect song about jealousy ever written.

Q. And is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with (duet-wise) on future records?
Lotte Mullan: Johnny Cash would be my ultimate, but too late now, so I’d go for Dolly Parton or Jack White. They would be really interesting.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your own iPod player at the moment?
Lotte Mullan: Ryan Adams – Sweet Carolina
Tom Waits – Heart of Saturday Night
The Beatles – If I Fell
The SteelDrivers – Four Walls
John Prine – In Spite of Ourselves
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
Dolly Parton – Everything she’s ever written!
Led Zepplin – What Is and What Should Never Be
The Band – The Weight
Bob Dylan – It Aint You Babe

Read our review of Plain Jane