Paloma Faith: 'I didn't like my first album'
Former magician's assistant and underwear saleswoman Paloma Faith finally found her calling in 2009 with the release of her debut album Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?
The record generated top 20 singles New York and Stone Cold Sober, and went platinum in the UK.
With her kooky, vintage fashion sense, Faith became an instantly recognisable presence on the music scene.
But then she disappeared for 18 months, to write and record the follow-up.
Two weeks ago, she emerged from the shadows to premier the first single, Picking Up The Pieces, a strident, string-laden "mega-ballad" produced by Nellee Hooper (Madonna, Bjork, U2).
With the album finished, Faith sat down to speak to the BBC about the writing process, and how she learned to stand up to her record label.
Hello, Paloma. When we saw you at the Brit Awards in February you said you had two weeks left to put the "icing and cherries" on the album. What did you mean?
We'd done the main bulk of the work, and we were listening to see what fine-tuning could be done; adding the odd synth.
Do you ever change the lyrics at the last moment?
No. I stay true to my lyrics. If I go back and look at them in hindsight, the emotions I had when I wrote them have passed. It feels unjustified to change them.
End Quote Paloma Faith on her debut album
There was a certain degree of manipulation because I felt indebted, somehow, to the record label for signing me”
Picking Up The Pieces is about loving someone who hasn't got over their last relationship. Is it based on real life?
I've experienced it on a few occasions, and so have quite a few people I know. But I didn't go into any of those experiences specifically.
Why did you call the album Fall To Grace?
I'm a glass half-full kind of gal and I suppose the title is insinuating that. The normal turn of phrase is "fall from grace" but I wanted to turn it around. Taking tragic situations and falling away from them into something more hopeful.
Nellee Hooper said the album was like a collection of short stories.
Completely. I'm very affected by what I watch and read. I read a lot of fiction and I go to the cinema constantly. I'm an avid film fan, so I tend to think in pictures.
What was the last film you saw?
It was Shame, the new Steve McQueen film. I could understand why a lot of people didn't like it - it's very shocking. But I do think sex addiction is a very modern addiction. It's more common than people realise.
Do you think it has become acceptable?
It's acceptable amongst people of both genders, and I find that uncomfortable.
I'm very anti-pornography; the objectification of women. It surprises me that most women of my generation aren't. There are a lot of weird body-image messages in porn.
How does that square with your past as a burlesque dancer?
All my sexuality is about celebrating myself as a woman, and what I am naturally - ie not skinny - and accepting what I have. It's not the sort of sexuality that's geared towards the male gaze.
In the burlesque circuit I was involved with, the majority of the audience either were women, or they were men who accepted women for what they were and found them sexy.
I'm not anti-sexuality. I'm against that internet porn, the sort that Shame talks about, which is geared towards weird objectification.
Your stage outfits are certainly flamboyant without being sexual. And they seem more practical than, say, Lady Gaga's outfits.
Practical is maybe not the right word. I wouldn't be able to do a 10-mile walk in some of the heels I wear. But it is important I can be relaxed. I place more importance on what I have to say than what I look like. If I'm trussed up and uncomfortable, I can't concentrate on what I'm talking about.
Actually, your Glastonbury outfit wasn't especially practical...
Those big balloons! You should have seen the chafing I got from that! The difference is that I don't let anyone know how uncomfortable it is. I'm grimacing beneath the smile.
At the Brits you said you had mixed feelings about your debut album. What did you mean?
The first time round, I knew what I wanted but I didn't necessarily have the confidence to stick to my guns. There was a certain degree of manipulation because I felt indebted, somehow, to the record label for signing me.
Was it the songs or the production?
I was too preoccupied with getting people to understand what I wanted stylistically, so I'd neglect the song-writing. You see, every song was produced by the person who wrote it with me. It was like a compilation.
Was there one song that signposted the way for Fall To Grace?
In terms of song-writing, it was the title track - Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful. But I wasn't wholeheartedly happy with any of the production on the first record.
On this record, I wrote the songs for the songs' sake. I wrote on piano and guitar, and I totally focused on the structure and the melody.
It was only a year and a half later, when I had a collection of demos, that I thought: "Right, now I need to sort out what it sounds like."
Which is where Nellee comes in...
We just got on really well. What was really important for me was that he understood my language. I'm very visual, and the way I speak is often in pictures or metaphors. Sometimes musicians find that difficult because I don't speak "their" language.
Nellee has such a vast knowledge of art and film, he could listen to what I had to say and translate it for the musicians. It's almost like I found my perfect interpreter.
Can you describe how that works in practice?
There's a song called Agony, for example. The demo sounded like an Abba song, which I really didn't want. So I went to Nellee and I played him soundtracks by Angelo Badalamenti, and talked about David Lynch films like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet.
I was, like: "I want to be Isabella Rosselini, and I want midget cowboys walking past!".
I would talk to him like that, and he would translate it into sound.
What are your ambitions for the album?
I'd like to travel with it and meet the rest of the world.
You've switched to a different record label. Does that give you more opportunities abroad?
Both the labels are part of Sony, so it's all under the same roof. I've just been wagging my finger a bit more at the international team, so maybe that will help.
Are you good at telling people off?
I'm very good at it. I'm the daughter of a teacher!
Sometimes people cower in the corner when they see me in the office.
Do you have a bad reputation?
Not for being obnoxious, but for being honest. Sometimes people fear the truth. They'd rather not speak to you than know what you really think. But I have an inability to lie. I try and soften the blow a little... but I don't really mince my words.