10 minutes with Katie Melua
PUBLISHED: 14:53 07 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:00 07 October 2020
The singer, who spent her teenage years living in Redhill, is due to release her new record, Album No.8 on October 16
Your new album, aptly titled Album No.8, is your eighth in 17 years. Do you still get excited?
We’ve been working on it for a long time now and can’t wait to share it with everyone. When you’re in the middle of writing and recording it’s tricky to be completely objective about how you feel about it or what you think about it. The dust has settled a bit and I’m getting moments where I catch it while my brother practices guitar to the songs for example, and I almost hear it objectively. It is the greatest job in the world. I just can’t wait for it to be out there.
When you’re making a record is there a pressure to really make it be something?
I try to make the record I want to listen to. I think a lot about the experience of listening. In a way “make the record I want to make” is something I’ve always thought of as a brilliantly egotistical thought but I think “what kind of record would I need as a listener?” So, I think of it like that. What kind of experience do I want to create for a listener? And that listener has to be me because that’s the person I know the best.
I wanted this new record to feel like a celebration of great musicianship, of great record- making but also intimate and with a real, sincere, genuine connection between the record’s voice and the listener.
When you’re writing where do you get your influences from?
I listen to great records from across the history of music and I get inspired from observing life, what’s happening around me, observing nature and observing human relations. I find there’s a lot of inspiration in the world, there’s too much actually, it comes at us at such a great pace. But writing helps to almost isolate and distil things down to their more bare elements, I think that’s why we enjoy art, it’s almost like a mirror of our world, but ordered, considered and more singular.
You have a song on the new album called Airtime which has the line “I think we’ve given love too much airtime”. What do you mean?
There is a real gap between what I’ve seen in culture about love and what I’ve seen in reality and I’m interested in seeing how a record might bridge that gap.
‘Airtime’ is about the notion of the traditional concept of ‘forever love’ that is so prevalent in mainstream culture. I have sung some great romantic love songs myself but as I’ve gotten older the reality of life has shown me that when records just celebrate that early passionate, sparky love it’s not enough for me. I think it’s important to honestly observe your life and to put that into your music and your words.
Do you think love has been over-glamourised in culture?
Yeah, it’s glamourised and also quite sexualised and in quite an unrealistic way. In films and TV shows it is presented as this true version of real love, but it really isn’t, sex rarely looks like the sex we see on screen. I think that is a problem, it’s stirring all of us up into thinking ‘oh you know that’s the ideal’ And if the ideal looks like that, then we’re always gonna be a bit unsatisfied with our life. Which seems unfair to the real vibrancy of life to me.
How has the year been so far for you?
When lockdown started we had just completed recording the new album in England and in Georgia. So we needed to finish it and start preparing for the release. That meant that everything had to be done remotely including the final mixes for the album so I quickly learnt some new skills.
I also needed to do a photo shoot for the album, the photographer Rosie Matheson taught me to use a film camera and I got to shoot the album cover. Taking the photos changed my perception of how I see the world around me and my visual senses are now more heightened as a result. I’ve just bought my own film camera so intend to keep taking photos.
You’ve been posting at-home acoustic performances online. Are you missing performing live on stage?
So much. I really miss bringing the music to life every night on stage. I also miss the band and our crew. We have been rehearsing recently because we need to be ready for when the gigs restart and also for the release of Album no 8.
You said you recorded part of the album in Georgia. What does Georgia mean to you?
Georgia is my homeland, it’s where I was born, I lived there until I was eight years old, my whole extended family are still there and we kept our roots very active. Georgia was my holiday place and recently I’ve been getting to know Georgia as an adult and as a place to work and work with the Georgian creatives, and that’s been really fascinating.
For a long time, it was just a place we’d go on holiday, so I just knew my group of friends and my family, but now I’m starting to get to know people further afield there and I love it. I love seeing how people there work and they have very different philosophies and ways of working and I love the fact that I speak the language and I know two cultures so deeply - I know English culture as an immigrant and I know Georgian culture because I’m from there. So, the two perspectives are invaluable to me.
How do you balance those two identities?
I try not to get too burdened by the idea of finding an identity. I know existentialism is a big topic for a lot of people but you know I’m just grateful to have the life I have and the two beautiful cultures I have, they come with very different perspectives but I just try and enjoy it.
Would you say that your music and your songwriting is influenced equally by your Georgian background and by Britain as well?
Yes, 100 per cent. The culture and arts from both countries has massively influenced me. I think my songwriting is influenced just by my view of the world - I have a very calm view of the world. Modern life is just so busy, there’s a relentless pace. That’s why I’m so grateful that we are having a chance to pause and reflect now.
You lived in Surrey for some time too. What did you enjoy most about living here and did you have any favourite spots or places to visit?
I used to live on Nutfield Road, up on top of that hill. I didn’t really hang out [at home] much because we moved there when I was just starting The Brit School, and so I tended to get the train from Redhill to Selhurst, change in East Croydon. I was always at the train station in Redhill!
Because we lived on top of the hill the view of the Surrey downs was incredible and very close to our house there was a lake with watersports, and we’d go out on canoes and go windsurfing.
Would the teenage Katie that was at The Brit School have expected to be here now doing this?
I would have dreamt of it, but I don’t know if I would have expected it. Because there was this subconscious pessimism that underlined everything. It came from needing things to happen quickly, a sort of desperation from thinking there was a deadline, or the industry wouldn’t have you when you’re older. That’s my favourite thing, to still be making records with the best people at 35.
It’s 17 years since you released your first album. What are the highlights from that time?
The highlights are probably playing those great shows with my band and the freedom we have on stage. We perform these beautiful classical songs but it is also hard to perform those songs and do them justice....to really serve those songs is a very difficult thing. I’ve had some incredible musicians in the band and getting that experience in front of an audience. Those are the highlights. Specific shows would be: Blue Balls Festival in Switzerland, The Montreux Jazz Festival also in Switzerland, playing the Royal Albert Hall, playing the O2 Arena. Then the other highlight is going to work with the Gori Women’s Choir in Georgia and, when we recorded the In Winter album, building a studio out of the boxes of equipment we took out from London. Also, just finishing and completing every single album is a highlight because it’s not easy to make records.
Katie Melua Album No. 8 is released on October 16 via BMG. katiemelua.com