"I’m on a musical adventure"
Million-selling singer-songwriter Katie Melua tells swissinfo.ch about her new album, going on tour and Swiss dolls’ houses.
The 25-year-old, who was born in Georgia but grew up in Britain, is set to play three gigs in Switzerland this year: at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July, and then in Geneva and Zurich in November as part of a European tour.
“I’d love to kill you with a kiss,” she whispers – not to swissinfo.ch, but on a ballad from her new album The House, which retains the intimacy of her previous work.
Nevertheless, the 12 songs – produced by Madonna’s former producer William Orbit – contain several surprises, from the cabaret-like “A Moment of Madness” to “God on the Drums, Devil on the Bass”, which veers towards dance music.
swissinfo.ch: Your fourth studio album comes out on May 24. What’s all the promotion like?
Katie Melua: I haven’t done it for a long time – I took a year off last year. I remember finding it very sort of frustrating and repetitive, but that’s because I’d been doing it for six years non-stop. I would make an album, promote it for six months and then go on tour for six months – album, promotion, tour – so I did get very tired of it.
But because I’ve taken a year out, I feel a lot more energised and excited talking about my record. I feel like I’m ready for it now.
swissinfo.ch: As part of the promotion you’ll be taking part in the Mister Switzerland competition this Saturday. This will be like an extension of the video to your song The Flood, when you were surrounded by half-naked men...
K.M.: I know! Isn’t it crazy? The video [see link] is exactly about that basically! I should try to get some of the contenders to do the dance from the video.
swissinfo.ch: Here are some of the lyrics from that song: “See the rock that you hold onto/is it gonna save you when the earth begins to crumble?” Does that reflect your current frame of mind?
K.M.: Yes, the thing is though, the song is full of metaphors and the main message, that I tell myself, is to be free and to let go and to surrender to yourself and your power. It’s not a song about natural disasters like volcanoes!
swissinfo.ch: Two years ago you told me you were going to work without your long-term producer Mike Batt. Now you’ve done that, do you feel like you’ve passed a sort of crossroads?
K.M.: I do a little bit, but I feel there are crossroads every single day. I try to think as little as possible when making music; I try to feel it rather than think about it.
swissinfo.ch: Some of your new collaborators are very famous - William Orbit worked with Madonna and Guy Chambers with Robbie Williams. Working with people like this, was there a risk of losing part of your identity?
K.M.: I didn’t really worry about that, because I worked with lots of people last year and it was with Guy and William and Rick Nowels where I found myself the most. I think you can tell that in the songs. It was a case of just working with many people and seeing who you click with – and they were the people I clicked with the most.
It was funny because William came on board quite last-minute – I’d already finished all the songs by the time they were sent to him – and he had just the right reaction to them.
And another reason why I wasn’t afraid of William making it into a dance record was because when he heard the songs it was the acoustic, sort of serious songs that he was most inspired by, not the dance songs. That was interesting: that someone who’s known for his electronic work was more intrigued by the melancholy.
swissinfo.ch: Although this album shows a new Katie Melua, it’s still very recognisably Katie Melua...
K.M.: I just wanted to make music that felt right. But I think you should challenge yourself and jump off high buildings sometimes – metaphorically! – because you can’t remain in a safe place. Music isn’t about safety; it’s about exploration and adventure. I feel like I’m on a musical adventure, and that excites me.
swissinfo.ch: You wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 songs on this album, but I heard that you threw away a lot of lyrics.
K.M.: The writing was more word-based and about writing poetry than writing songs and I tried to put those words to music, but it just wasn’t working – it was too long, too ornate, too much about the words themselves rather than the inspiration.
[Throwing away music] is one of the most difficult things to do and if you master that, you’re on your way to being a good writer. You have to be able to let go.
swissinfo.ch: There is one cover on the album – The One I Love is Gone – which is not written by a young techno-pop guy but by Bill Monroe, considered the godfather of bluegrass. Why did you choose this song?
K.M.: I really didn’t intend to have any covers on this album, but a friend gave me a CD of old blues and folk and this was a song that I just sang one day and I’ve never had a song that’s tasted like that in my mouth! I know that sounds bizarre, but that’s the best way I can describe it. It just tastes amazing. Every vowel, every syllable and every note seems to just fit like a glove, and I just couldn’t imagine not having it on the album.
swissinfo.ch: In July you start a five-month European tour. How will this album influence the show?
K.M.: I think it will influence it in a big way, but I also love playing the older songs, so I’ll still be doing that. But when songs are fresh it’s always very exciting, so there’ll be some surprises but also the things that people love.
swissinfo.ch: The tour will feature a couple of dates in Switzerland, where you are very popular. You’ve often played here – do you have any particular memories?
K.M.: I know people go on about watches and chocolate and banks, but the best thing you guys do is exquisite Victorian dolls’ house furniture. The best pieces of furniture in my doll’s house are from Switzerland.
Bernard Léchot, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from French by Thomas Stephens)
Ketevan Melua was born in 1984 in Georgia, then part of the Soviet Union.
In 1993, following the Georgian Civil War, the family moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and then onto London when she was 14. Melua became a British citizen in 2005.
In November 2003, she released her first album, Call off the Search, which reached the top of the British album charts and sold 1.8 million copies in five months. Her second album, Piece by Piece, was released in September 2005 and to date has gone platinum four times. Melua released her third studio album, Pictures, in October 2007, which was the last of her albums to be made in collaboration with Mike Batt.
On October 2, 2006, Melua entered the Guinness Book of Records for playing the deepest underwater concert 303 metres below sea level on the Norwegian Statoil's Troll A platform in the North Sea. She later described achieving the record as "the most surreal gig I have ever done".
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