Interview – Frankmusik.
Photo by SteveB
An edited version of this interview originally appeared in Metro and the Nottingham Evening Post.
You’ve had an interesting ride this year. Right at the start of the year, when fewer people were aware of you, you were on a big arena tour with Keane. Did you scale up comfortably to the demands of an arena?
I learnt a lot from that tour. The biggest lesson that I learnt was to not get really drunk in Manchester the weekend before, and then not being able to sing for half of the tour. I got ill. But I was very unhappy throughout, due to the amount of things that I had to throw myself into for the first time. I’m not one of those people who bodes well with throwing myself into new situations.
Then you went to the opposite extreme. You did the “Live and Lost” tour, where you went round the country with 20 quid in your back pocket, relying on the kindness of fans. Was that a good experience?
It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t realise it at the time, due to the fact that I hated it. I was ill with tonsillitis, and it knocked me completely sideways. But it was amazing to see people come together for a common cause, and it was very humbling. I’m not just being schmaltzy, it really was. It was a rather bizarre idea that was brought to the table by the record label. I really didn’t want to do it, but I’m glad I did.
So there was a process of forging closer links with members of your audience than most artists would experience?
The conclusion I came to was like this. Everyone nowadays owns a digital camera, but no one seems to put their photographs into print these days. I was taking my digital friends and bringing them into the reality of a print, by meeting them and engaging with them on a human level. The internet is such an un-human thing in so many ways, and it does deteriorate our social ability to communicate with people in ways that we’ve been doing for thousands of years. So I was trying to take things back to a very real place. Throwing myself into some rather bizarre situations with complete strangers is always going to create a lot of exciting human interactions.
Now that period is over, do you continue to engage directly with your fans?
I engage in conversations. I end up in relationships with some of them. There’s no real boundaries, due to the fact that I’ve always seen myself as the same as anyone else. I would never want to put myself on a pedestal, or separate myself from anyone with the job that I do. I don’t think it’s right.
Having looked through your press clippings, I’ve rarely seen such a polarised reaction to one artist. People think you’re either the future of pop, or the living embodiment of everything that’s wrong with pop, and there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot in the middle. How do you deal with that?
As Oscar Wilde once said, I would rather weigh my press than read it. It doesn’t matter how much press there is, as long as there’s lots of it. Answering your point on the polarised opinion, I feel that it’s better to be somewhere of an extreme than somewhere very averagely in the middle. The NME review gave me one star, which was a horrific journalist writing these horrible things about me. I found that journalist’s old band, and it was the biggest load of crap I’d ever heard in my life. It’s just people’s opinions. I didn’t start making music because I cared about what anyone thought, so I should carry on that way.
How do you feel about attempts to label you as part of an Eighties synth-pop revival, along with artists such as Little Boots and La Roux?
I hate feeling like I’m the only intelligent person on this fucking planet sometimes. If people actually looked a little bit deeper, they would realise that La Roux, Victoria Hesketh [aka Little Boots] and myself are all pretty much of the same age. We all grew up in the Eighties, and we have a very idealised view of Eighties music – without having a social or political attachment, which you guys would have remembered. We have taken the influence of the Eighties, which is what we grew up with, and put it in our sound, due to the fact that’s probably what impacted us the most. It’s just the same as the Kooks or any other band looking back to the Sixties – to do Beatles music basically, but no one really says that. Indie music is the Sixties and Seventies revival, but synth-pop has got such a character to it, that it’s very easily associated.
As someone who does remember Eighties synth-pop from the first time round, I’m curious as to which aspects people of your generation choose to revive. To me, it’s interesting to see you twist it in new ways. I remember glam-rockers in the Seventies being criticised for supposedly ripping off Fifties rock and roll, and so it goes on. But if you’re younger, you don’t get weighed down by this whole idea that it’s revivalist.
Exactly. There’s a journalist called Paul Morley who did a very interesting article about me, and he kind of summed up all of us, to some degree. We don’t have the weight or the history attached to us, which older people would have had remembering the Eighties – from Thatcherism to anything else. We take the music videos, we take the music, and we don’t really go any deeper than that. We make our own interpretations. But I wouldn’t say that I was ever trying to re-affirm nostalgia. There’s a fine line between being nostalgic, and just using something as an inspiration.
I’m a bit confused by what your next single is going to be. Is it Time Will Tell, or is it Three Little Words again?
Do you want to know what my next single is? There isn’t one. I spoke to the label, and I told them I didn’t want to do any more singles from this album. I just wanted to move straight on to the next album, while I still felt like I wanted to. You can promote and promote a record until it’s dead, but I feel like I would be flogging a dead horse. Why not just say: that record did well, let’s move on, get another record out for very early next year, and just keep on being fresh. You need to be fresh in this day and age. You don’t have time to wait around. I’m moving straight on.
Your first album (Complete Me) is highly personal, in that it dealt with the disintegration and break-up of a relationship. So you wouldn’t want to be trapped for too long, reliving experiences that you’ve probably moved on from.
You’re actually the first person to say that to me – not just as a journalist, but in general – and you’re very right. I would like to write a whole new album that is moved on from that experience. I don’t really want to write about relationships for a while. I don’t want to write about anything to do with love, to some degree.
Well, how the hell are you going to get a date? Because they’re going to think: oh, I’m gonna be album number two.
Well that’s what’s happened, yeah. That has happened. That’s why I’m moving to Los Angeles, where I’m not so known. (Laughs)
Oh God, really? Well, that’s one way of dealing with it.
Yeah, I think it’s a pretty good way. And I’ll get a suntan at the same time.
Do you have an idea of what the next lot of material is going to address? Are you going to go for a unified theme, in the same way as Complete Me?
No. I had a lot to prove to myself on the first record. I wanted to produce and write the whole thing myself. I had additional help from a few other people on production, but every single word was written by me. On this next album, I don’t want it to be so personal. Some will say that I’m selling out, but I will say that I’m liberating myself. I want to be able to write a record that isn’t so tied down – and I haven’t got anything else to write about from my personal life. I don’t want to write about that. I want to have something to hold back. So I’m going to be working with some writers, and collaborating a bit more. The next record is going to be very different. It’s going to be even more pop than this album. So it’s a different way of doing things. You’ve got keep on keeping everybody guessing.
As to who you might be collaborating with, are there any names you can drop?
I’m going to try and get Tinchy Stryder on the record, because we’re old friends. I’m going to try a couple of other people, such as Sophie Ellis Bextor and Taio Cruz. Taio is someone I’ve started to become friends with this year, and it would be great to collaborate with him. We’ve got a shared friend who is a producer, who I think will want to work on a track with us. And I want to work with some American artists as well.
Any remix projects on the go? I’ve got Alexandra Burke’s name scribbled down here, and I can’t remember why.
I was supposed to do some writing for her, but since the time we were supposed to speak, [I decided that] I didn’t want to write for anyone else. I needed to write for myself. I’m working with an up and coming artist called Ellie Goulding, who is a really talented songwriter. And there’s another guy called Starsmith who’s going to be coming on tour with me. I don’t want to work with big names because they’re big names. I want to work with people who excite me and interest me.
And you were involved with a charity single for War Child?
It was a mixture, a mish-mash of artists – from Pixie Lott to N-Dubz and myself. It’s the Killers song: I Got Soul (But I’m Not A Soldier) [aka All These Things That I’ve Done]. We performed it at the MOBOs. It was a great experience. To be honest with you, I had no idea what it was all about until after I’d done the recording. I’m not gonna lie! But it’s an amazing charity. I don’t really pay much heed to charities, due to the fact that I only associate them with very annoying people in the street with clipboards, and those painfully schmaltzy adverts you get on TV. But War Child is something that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.
2009 must have been a pretty momentous year, all things considered. A year of great changes, I would imagine. Is there one particular highlight?
Getting to the end of 2009 with my head still screwed on. To be honest, you’re on autopilot when you do this. You can never really know what to expect. Any expectations you have on something is bollocks. It will never be what you think it is. But I think the biggest highlight for me is 2009 as a whole. So many things happened, and it’s a huge bookmark in my life. I’m sure I haven’t absorbed even a fraction of what’s happened this past year. I’ll probably look back in ten years, and it will start to make some sort of sense. But as a whole, it’s just been a bloody great year, and I hope that I have many more to come.
What do you think you’ve learned about yourself along the way?
Not to worry so much. To take control of situations when you really have to, but to let people do their jobs to their furthest potential, without getting in the way. I don’t trust anyone generally, but I feel that it’s driving me slightly crazy, trying to be in control of everything at all times. It’s impossible. And the other thing I’ve learnt is to not have a girlfriend, until I stop being a musician.
Well, I wish you well in your newly monastic existence in Los Angeles.
I’m looking forward to it!