By Chris Hammond
Stellar success is difficult to maintain in any industry. The entertainment trade in particular is notoriously unforgiving and increasingly fickle. Artists come and artists go. Generally when they go, they never come back. In recent years one musician has surprised many, not only with her staying power, but also her ability to draw new listeners towards her music. From her blues inspired debut ‘Call Off The Search’ to this year’s subtle electro-pop album ‘The House’ – Katie Melua seems to be going from strength to strength. Speaking to Scotcampus, the velvet voiced, singer-songwriter describes the recent changes in her style and how keeping things fresh has helped her music.
“I can’t believe some of the things that have happened this year,” starts Katie. “If you’d have asked me about them a few years ago I’d have said ‘oh my god, fuck off there’s just no way’, but now that they’ve happened – it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I dunno, I’m trying to learn just to enjoy it and enjoy myself and not take myself too seriously.”
When Katie refers to all that has happened over the last twelve months, she can point towards numerous changes, not only in the creation of her music, but also the way it’s perceived by both the public and the press. Her recent album ‘The House’ is not only the first of Katie’s not to have been produced by her one-time songwriting partner Mike Batt, it’s also the first to really showcase her diverse influences. “It (recording the album) did move quite quickly. The point where I had the most time was when I was writing the songs and that was really good because I needed a lot of time to do that. Mike had taught me so much and was such a big part of the music, it made me quite nervous about suddenly being the only one responsible for it. So with the writing I just gave myself a lot of time and went to work with some incredible writers.”
Whilst this increased personal creativity and responsibility had much to do with the different sound on ‘The House’, Katie can also cite the influence of renowned composer William Orbit who produced the album. “Mike, who is still my manager, sent this tune to William Orbit. We were in a bit of a rush because I was quite keen to get going as the songs were fresh. Then we heard William was excited and looking forward to working with us, it took him about two days to say yes and we were in the studio within two weeks. We didn’t know that he was retired and because of that Mike had the courage to send him a demo, he just got back straight away. I instantly liked him and I liked what he was saying about the music and it just felt right.”
Having been influenced by musicians as diverse as Nick Cave and MGMT, as well as working alongside William Orbit, has led to her latest release being perhaps her best received. Mixing her undoubtedly strong vocal talents with more pop-focused electronic backing has led to her work becoming increasing popular with an audience who might not have enjoyed her previous output. With this recent change of direction, is she risking her popularity with fans who have been with her from the start? “People said that after I made ‘Piece By Piece’ (her second album).
What are you going to do? You just get on with it and do it. That’s not to say the fear isn’t there – it definitely is there but it tends to come when you’re feeling rubbish about something else. I think you just need to accept it or be left fearful. I don’t think that people like change, I mean I don’t like change myself so you sometimes have to accept that you’re not always gonna have the same kind of thoughts as you had when you were 18. You just have to go with it. I think I just had hope and I just knew the direction was right. It’ll probably change again in the future; it’s just a case of accepting it.”
Whilst Katie is most famous for her music, she also managed to make a brief but memorable appearance in Edgar Wright’s spoof Hammer Horror-style Grindhouse movie trailer ‘Don’t’ back in 2007. Now with the accompanying bogus Robert Rodriguez preview ‘Machete’ being made into a feature length flick, does Katie feel tempted to give acting a proper go? “Not particularly”, she says. “I do love the movie world and I do love going to see films but it was kind of like a fun one off. One of the things I’m now actively pursuing though is writing songs for films.”
One of the soundtracks Katie has contributed to is for a biographic film about the primatologist Jane Goodall, one of the key scientists behind the study of chimpanzee behaviour. Obviously this work is different from her usual recording, but is it any more difficult? “I think it would be difficult if you hadn’t done it before and it was totally unknown, but I know people who say that about living in the UK. I used to live in Georgia and the West was this exotic difficult thing to pursue, but then we just step by step got over it and we moved over. Soon we were living here for a year, then it was two years and then three years and soon I was having an English education and I didn’t have an accent anymore . . . it’s just like that really.”
Katie Melua’s latest album ‘The House’ is out now and her UK tour starts on the 4th of December. You can catch her in Glasgow at the Royal Concert Hall on the 9th May 2011. See www.katiemelua.com for full tour dates and ticket details.