Following a well-received appearance on last week’s Later, which drew praise from Sandie Shaw and John Prescott alike, 31-year old Rumer has quickly become one of the most hotly tipped new acts of the autumn. Ahead of next month’s Nottingham show, supporting Jools Holland at the Royal Concert Hall, she spoke to Mike Atkinson.
Your performance on Later seems to have created quite a buzz. Sandie Shaw even singled you out for praise on the show.
I know! She is one of my favourite Bacharach singers. I know there are so many, but she’s a gorgeous singer.
Did you get to meet her?
I didn’t actually, no. I think people’s schedules are so intense that they just disappear. But I think I went to the bar where all the punters go; I don’t think it was for the proper famous people.
Was that your first TV performance?
(Long pause) Do you know what, that probably was! I’ve done live radio, which is actually a good rehearsal for TV. When that little light goes on, you think: oh my God, I’m live! If you’ve done that a few times, it does prepare you.
Just after the show, I went onto Twitter and searched on your name, just to see what people were saying about your performance. Then I spotted a tweet from John Prescott, of all people. The next thing I know, he’s written an article for The Guardian, praising you to the heavens. I think you’ve inspired him to take up music journalism.
He’s after your job! It was a very good piece – very interesting. It’s quite funny, isn’t it, how you can just be watching telly of an evening, and then tweet something, and then the next minute you’re a music journalist. He was on Twitter, and the music editor of The Guardian said: “Prezza, I can make you the next Lester Bangs. What do you reckon, 400 words?” And Prezza went: “OK, I’ll have a go.”
The buzz is spreading. I checked Amazon the next day, and your album was in their Top 10. It’s not even out until November, so that must be a bit frustrating.
I know; it was one below Seal. And Seal’s been on the telly, and in the magazines, and doing a proper promo. And I haven’t done anything! I know the record company are going to spend money, but they haven’t started yet.
Are you prepared for all this excitement?
No, I’m not thin enough yet! I need six more months. I need to run around and lose a few more pounds. Apart from that, I am ready! (Laughs)
You’ve been working for this moment for a very long time. I gather that for a lot of that time, it was like bashing your head against a wall, and not getting very far, and having to do loads of service-level jobs. That must be a huge test of an artist’s commitment. How did you maintain your resolve?
It got to the point where I was getting quite Zen. I just thought: it doesn’t matter what you do. I quite enjoyed cleaning, and I’d do it again. If ever it all dissolved, and I ended up cleaning toilets again, I think I could be Zen about it. Because I don’t think your value is what you do. I think we all play an equal role in life, and I don’t think it matters what we do for our jobs.
How did things start coming together? Was there a particular turning point?
When I met (producer) Steve Brown, that was when I had a chance. He was a very successful man; a rich, benevolent man. Not in the music industry; he does TV and comedy and stuff like that. But because he’d started off in bands, before he went pro, he related to me. He never had a shot at it, and so he gave me a chance. He had the money, and he just put everything on his pad.
He was a self-made man: a working class guy, taught himself how to read music, how to arrange, worked his way up, was a grafter, and gradually became very successful. And he was just thinking that it was time to give something back.
So when you started collaborating with him, did that steer you in a particular musical direction? Did it focus you towards these lushly orchestrated love ballads?
I think I always wanted them to be like that. I’d written them like that, but I could never realise them like that. My love of music came from movie musicals and old-fashioned songwriters like Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, all those lovely old-fashioned American writers. The music always wanted to be like that. It always wanted to be grand and lush.
Had you heard the arrangements in your head?
Yeah, I did. But I never dreamed that they would be like that. The only way was to do harmonies: just going “ba-ba-ba” and “la-la-la” and pretending. I couldn’t have the trumpets, the orchestra, the brass – so I would do all these little harmonies.
Along the way, had you dabbled in working in other genres?
I was in a band for a little while, called La Honda. I wouldn’t say it was indie, but it was a four-part harmony, rock and roll / country group. It was melodic, but it had a kind of soft-rock vibe to it. I’ve also put vocals on downbeat dance tracks.
There’s not some dance white label lying around in a warehouse somewhere?
Oh yeah. There’s a definitely a white label.
Long Long Day is a cover of Paul Simon, but are the other songs on your album all your own compositions?
Long Long Day isn’t on the album. There are ten songs that are my songs, and the other one is a cover by Bread: the theme from Goodbye Girl. It was the record company’s call. I think the MD’s children liked it!
To what extent are your songs autobiographical?
Oh, I think they all are. Sometimes fiction tells a story better than the truth. So a lot of them are stories, but they’re stories that are embedded in the truth. [The new single] Aretha, for example, is a story, but there are loads of true elements in it. And I think it tells a lot of people’s stories.
I find Slow quite an intriguing song. If you’re not giving it your full attention, you might think it was just a sweet song about being in love – but then you focus in, and discover something of a twist in its tail. By the end you’re thinking: oh hang on, it’s changed, he doesn’t want this.
(Laughs) Well, they never do! And this is the thing. It’s not that he doesn’t want it, it’s just that men tend to will you not to screw it up. In the beginning of relationship, they desperately want the female not to overdo it, you know? In a way, they’re willing you not to push it. Like saying “I love you” too quickly, or stuff like that.
It’s interesting what you’ve done with the chorus. I think you described it as being like a Greek chorus. I was confused at first. I was thinking: who is this “they”?
They’re the angels. The Greek chorus was the PR company’s words, but actually I believe in angels. I completely, 100%, believe in angels. And angels are in all my songs. You can hear them; you’ll hear the “they” in all the songs. Their voices are all there. And you think: where are they coming from? And they’re not coming from me. They’re angels. I know this sounds a bit funny! (Laughs)
No, it sounds really intriguing. It makes me want to get hold of the album. Now, shall we grasp the Karen Carpenter nettle? Because the Karen Carpenter comparisons are being thrown around like mad at the moment. I think it’s because you’re at that stage where people are throwing around comparisons in order to get a handle on your sound. Does it bug you a bit, having everyone going on about Karen Carpenter?
No, I think it’s nice that people are thinking of her. I’m happy to be a reminder, if you like. I’m a Carpenters fan. So if it helps people to remember to put their Carpenters CD on, and to think about Karen and how wonderful she was, and how tragic it was, I think that’s good.
I’ve not heard you performing any uptempo numbers. Does that ever happen?
Well, I did a charity gig recently for Pakistan, when I did Jambalaya (On The Bayou). But the flavour of the album is very moody, emotional and ethereal.
So it would break the spell if you suddenly went: come on everybody, get up on your feet?
Well, it’s a bit like a Leonard Cohen concert. I don’t think I’d expect him to suddenly start leaping up and down. There was a review in The Guardian, saying that I could have been a bit more upbeat. Fair enough, but it depends what you go out on a night for. There’s plenty of music that’s uptempo.
If you were forced to perform an uptempo song on stage, or else face unspeakably dire consequences, what song might you pick?
I’d probably pick Upside Down by Diana Ross, or Wedding Bell Blues by the Fifth Dimension. I love upbeat music, and my concert is not upbeat – but it is uplifting. It’s a different kind of experience. It’s a more cerebral experience – like theatre or poetry.