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Teddy Thompson - The IndieLondon interview

Teddy Thompson

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TEDDY Thompson talks exclusively to us about his latest album Bella and the inspiration behind many of the songs.

He also discusses his career to date, why he fluctuates between attitudes towards it and how he goes about writing songs and keeping them personal. He also recalls some of his best live memories and opening for Elton John in front of 20,000 people in Moscow.

Q. We really enjoyed listening to Bella, it’s a great album – what made you decide the time was right for some candid reflections on love?
Teddy Thompson: Oh, that’s what I always do! What else is there to write about? I considered a jazz odyssey but then remembered that I hate jazz.

Q. The album is called Bella – and yet there’s no song of the same name – how come?
Teddy Thompson: Well, it’s named for my ex girlfriend and although there’s no song called Bella, most of them are about her. It also means beautiful of course, which I liked.

Q. Looking For A Girl is really amusing and catchy – what inspired you to write it? And what is your perfect woman?
Teddy Thompson: That was really the most off the cuff song I wrote. Took about 15 minutes. I was toiling to finish up all the ones I had been working on for years and then that just popped out as a light hearted, almost throwawy. Of course, that’s the one everyone liked. Typical.

Q. Conversely, Over and Over contains some really striking string arrangements. How did that song come together?
Teddy Thompson: That’s a song I like a lot. I was going for a sort of hypnotic round and round thing. I never really heard strings on it when I was writing it but David, the producer, had an idea for a middle eastern feel and I love what he did.

Q. How much fun was it recording your duet with Jenni Muldaur? Are the lyrics all your own, or did she contribute to some of her responses? Was it fun to write? It reminded me a little of Let’s Duet from the Walk Hard soundtrack…
Teddy Thompson: Haaaaa. Perfect! I was thinking more Mickey and Sylvia. I always had Jenni in mind because she has that ‘50’s girl thing. Brenda Lee-esque. She ad libbed a bit but mostly just in the phrasing. We kept my original lyrics.

Q. And did you enjoy recreating a retro pop vibe on The One I Can’t Have? Was that inspired by any one woman in particular?
Teddy Thompson: I was looking at a picture in my apartment of Truman Capote dancing with Marylin Monroe when I came up with the title. I always kind of feel like the dumpy little man chasing after women who are out of my league.

Q. How was working with David Kahne as producer?
Teddy Thompson: We had our ups and downs at the beginning. I can get very cold and annoyed easily and he is someone I found hard to read initially but we figured it out and I’m very grateful to him for the work he did here.

Q. You’ve been recording and performing for so long now – how do you feel about the way your career is shaping up?
Teddy Thompson: Ummm, I vacillate between feeling grateful for what I have in such hard times for the music business and being frustrated that I haven’t moved up more quickly. It can be dispiriting to play the same small clubs tour after tour. You think: “When am I going to get to theatres, maybe even arenas?” But maybe that’s not on the cards for me, maybe I don’t have a wide enough appeal. Most days, I am happy to have the best job in the world.

Teddy Thompson

Q. Given your family’s musical background, was it always going to be a career in music for you? And how easy was it to pursue?
Teddy Thompson: Not at all. Could’ve been anything, I just wasn’t that good at other things. I’d say it was fairly easy starting out as I did in LA, meeting some great friends and musicians and landing a record deal. That’s where the hard work began though.

Q. You’re based in New York now… do you miss England or even LA where you spent a lot of your early recording years?
Teddy Thompson: I come to London a lot. I feel almost as if I live in both places. LA I like to visit now but I can’t see moving back there unless this thing between me and Kim Kardashian turns into something serious.

Q. You must have some amazing live memories – how was opening for Elton John, for instance?
Teddy Thompson: Trippy. A very surreal experience. I opened for him in places like Moscow, in front of 20,000 people who had know idea who I was and didn’t speak English. And I was playing solo.

Q. What are some of your other favourite live memories? Does the vibe differ between the UK and the US?
Teddy Thompson: US audiences tend to be more vocal. They know how to “whoop”. But UK audiences tend to be very knowledgable. I’ve been lucky enough to sing with Emmy Lou Harris a few times and that is special.

Q. When it comes to song-writing, how do you stop yourself from becoming too personal and giving too much away?
Teddy Thompson: Oh, I don’t. I just put it all out there. If anything, I try to remind myself to be as honest as possible all the time. Why hold back?

Q. And similarly what is it like getting live responses from audiences when you’re performing songs that are so close to your heart and your own feelings?
Teddy Thompson: Well, some songs are harder to sing every night than others. More wrenching or requiring more effort emotionally. Other songs you’re just thinking about getting the guitar part right.

Q. Which artists inspire you?
Teddy Thompson: Too many to name but Ray Charles is a constant.

Q. What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve learned in reaching this point to date?
Teddy Thompson: Don’t stay out all night before live radio or TV!

Q. If you could cover any track, what would it be and why?
Teddy Thompson: I’d like to be able to cover Beat It or Billie Jean and really sing it like that and dance but I can’t, it’s not me.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Teddy Thompson: It’s 11 actually. The whole of my new record. I have to keep reminding myself of parts and lyrics while we’re rehearsing.

Read our review of Bella