RACHEL FULLER: The full interview

 

From our 2005 archives …..

Without doubt, one of my 3 most played CDs last year is the debut album from Rachel Fuller – ‘Cigarettes and Housework’. It’s my personal choice for 2004. Her music is hard to categorize. I hate putting music in pigeon holes, but occasionally an indication of genre helps. It is, I suppose, hybrid rock/pop. Carefully crafted lyrics with an edge, mainly poignant, of a quality that makes most other popular music I heard last year sound vacuous.

From an audio perspective which, after all, is the catalyst for these newsletters, this is an outstanding album. Great, clean uncluttered production and top notch backing musicians. Every now and then, coming out of nowhere, a debut album arrives which is so fresh, so vivid, so compelling and so confident that you wonder about the chemistry that created it. This CD is one of that rare breed. I went to investigate.

Rachel – how happy are you with your debut ‘Cigarettes & Housework?

Very. It took around 18 months to complete and was really hard work! But overall I'm pleased with it. It’s only been launched in the US so far. We’re hoping to release in the UK this year.

How do you respond to reviews?

Well (pause) I pretty much try to ignore them. You have to be a bit distanced from this sort of thing. In the main, the reviews have been positive – but of course there have been a couple of negative ones too.

Do the negative ones hurt?

(Laughs) No, not really. They’re just one person’s opinion, but I do try to look for the constructive elements in a less than enthusiastic review.

Who’s your target market?

I guess the same people who listen to Norah Jones and Dido

Once the recording was completed, were you sick of it and wanting to start on the next one?

(Pause) no, not really. Its very hard to be detached when you’re in the middle of it, but I then didn’t listen to it for 6 months or so and then I came back to it pretty fresh, and I loved it. I'm proud of it. Not too many faults.

Would you correct anything now?

No.

There’s no filler, the songs are strong. How did you achieve that?

I had 25 self-composed songs to pick from which I’d been composing for some while. I start with the arrangement on the piano and I pretty much hear any orchestral parts in my head. Then I write the lyric, although recently I’ve been inspired lyrically first. I guess my writing is quite structured and disciplined, never used to be.

You wrote them with you as the singer in mind – presumably?

(Laughs). No, not initially. I never really saw myself as a singer. No way. Not ever. Well (pause) I used to sing in the car and the bath! I would sing along to the radio, a bit of mimicry I suppose but nothing serious. So (pause) never say never!

Okay, I’ll come back to that later. Meanwhile – you aren’t a newcomer to music really – right?

True. I started performing when I was 12. Not rock though, and not singing either. Classical piano music.

Were you a prodigy?

(Slightly uncomfortable shifting on the chair) Well (long pause) yes I suppose so. Not sure I like the word. But yes, I was confident and very competent at the piano at an early age.

So …….?

So from a very early age I was performing recitals of Romantic composers such as Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy. I'm still inspired by classical music, especially I love the romantics.

Rumor has it you were teaching piano when you were 12

Yes, true.

And you were composing too, even then?

Well yes – orchestral works.

Were any performed?

One was performed by the London Philharmonic at The Royal Festival Hall.

How old were you then?

(Laughs) 10. I was petrified!

Were you influenced by non-classic music as a teenager?

Pretty much, yes. I grew up listening to Abba and The Carpenters. Then when I was in my early teens and started to buy my own music I was a big fan of Joni Mitchell, Prince, early Stevie Wonder and The Beatles. I’m a bit of a geek, still listen to the same stuff!

Did you intend to follow a music career?

I won an Organ Scholarship to Oxford University, but I didn’t go. It was definitely time to rebel, shave my head, wear Doctor Martins and hang out with reprobates.

How did the crematorium period come about?

Well, the local crematorium needed an organist and I needed a job. I liked it, and it was better than working at MacDonald’s. I was there on and off for 2 years playing for funerals, sometimes 11 in one day. God, I was only 17, looking back it was a bit of a dark thing to do but I got to wear a lot of black and it suited my teenage angst. (and was really well paid).

Did it have a lasting impact?

Yes – well – sort of. ‘Lament’ on my CD is part of that, but only a bit. I started writing it sometime before, as a teenager. I was inspired by the film Amadeus. Dying young, unrecognized, misunderstood genius. (laughs) It wasn’t a death wish though.

Did you take requests at the crematorium?

(A slightly withering look) Well of course mourners or the deceased sometimes want a favourite song played, so yes I did take requests – (laughs) – and there was limited scope for occasional improvisation too.

So you left, and then ……?

I drifted around a bit, for a few years in fact, doing studio work as a pianist and things like that. I became an arranger and orchestrator.

I sense that was the beginning of another significant path – right?

I was invited to orchestrate a Scarlatti harpsichord sonata on Pete Townshend’s ‘The Lifehouse Chronicles’ which was definitely a different challenge. He overheard me singing and liked my voice . He encouraged me to record my own songs, so with his help, I recorded a demo.

But you hadn’t seen yourself as a singer?

Not up to that point, no. I had a lot of confidence in my arranging and composing; orchestration etc. – but very low confidence in my own voice. I had no thoughts of performing live. Not at all. Never. I’d been entertaining the idea of becoming a film composer. Not a performer.

So what happened then?

Pete introduced me to a young producer called Ashley Alexander and we started to produce some demos together. My confidence grew and on a trip to New ~York, Universal records signed me as a solo artist after they heard the demos. It happened very quickly which is very unusual, I still hadn’t ever done a live performance. I was given a budget, and I started work.

The CD is remarkably self-assured. Not just the lyrics and the singing, but the backing band. How did that come about?

It fell together. My partner introduced me to Pino, the bass player who knew the drummer, who knew the keyboard player – and so on. All of them unbelievably talented musicians and great guys.

The ‘Cigarettes’ bit I can understand; but housework?

It’s an emotional thing really. I liked tidiness. When I lived on my own, the first thing I did in the morning was the housework – trying to make sense of it all.

Naked?

Naked!

Err – quite an striking image

(Big grin, big pause) Lots of women do their housework naked!

Right, err, moving swiftly on – so, here you were, with songs initially written for other vocalists with a new band. Was your vision corrupted, diluted, enhanced – or what?

Not diluted or corrupted. No. definitely improved.

Is that usual?

No idea. I can’t speak for others but if may have something to do with my demos. My demos are full blown productions, not rough sketches. It’s planned, laid out, defined. At a pinch, they could probably be officially released.

So what’s happening in the US with the CD?

Barnes & Noble heard a sampler of the album and Steve Riggio, the CEO, contacted me to do special promotion in 600 of their stores across America.

What about the UK?

I’ve been talking recently with the record company here and we’re hoping to release before the summer. It’ll coincide with a VH1 show that I worked on with Jerry Hall (my friend and neighbor).

Any live dates?

I'm doing two gigs in the USA at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. After that, probably a 25 gig tour in the UK.

Are your nervous?

Not as much as I was initially, no. My first proper gig, apart from friends and crew at the studio, was at ‘Joe’s Pub’ in New York which holds about 150 people. My nervousness vanished as I started to perform. I recently performed one of my songs at Ronnie Scotts. It was a cabaret evening hosted by Eddie Izzard which is scheduled to air on Radio 2 this Easter. I played a song called Around This Table, which was a ‘Country Recitation’ with Jerry Hall. Singing with a spoken overlay.

After that?

Well, hopefully the 25 gig tour. Nothing huge. Low key, simple places that hold around 150 people. I like the idea of my first shows to be fairly intimate. After that, well who knows?

What are you listening to these days?

Still Stevie Wonder, the man is a genius. Alison Krauss, Tori Amos. Her new album didn’t get a too good a review, but I like. Mainly I surf the music channels but I’m still a geek.

Any thoughts re the follow up CD?

I’ve got around 30 songs written now. I’ll probably start work in September or October on a second album depending on how things work out.

You’ve not abandoned your classic roots though?

Not abandoned, no. I'm focused on this career. I love it. but the classical stuff runs pretty deep too.

Could you be described as having to musical careers then?

I suppose so. Two parallel careers.

Do you still teach piano?

No. I haven’t done that for a long time.

How do you feel about the facts that music in schools isn’t on the curriculum?

I didn’t know that. I'm shocked. It’s (pause) insane. That’s the best word.

So music isn’t just a business for you?

It’s a major part of my life.

Is music a civilizing force?

I think it depends on the music but you have to hope that a person who loves romantic classical music must be okay, at least to some degree (although I think a lot of psychopathic serial killers have liked classical music?). My belief is that people find the music they need. Like the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s not my kind of thing but I do recognise how brilliant he is at what he does and it appeals to a large market. These people have found something in his music.

‘Cigarettes & Housework’ on an ordinary home system. Any thoughts?

Well, a lot is lost, especially on the bass when compared to the playback in the studio. I love solid deep bass and its hard to get that impact in an ordinary domestic situation.

What’s the thinking behind the final mix of your CD?

The mix is aimed at my target market, So it reflects to some extent the quality of the equipment they’re likely to be listening to my music on. So play-back in the car is important for example. I’ve got a reasonable car stereo. Nothing exotic. So on a personal level I want the finished mix to sound at least reasonable on a car stereo. Then it should sound reasonable on a typical home system. I'm not aiming for the hi-fi ‘nut’.

But your CD sounds superb on an upmarket home set-up.

Thanks. My wish is for my next album is going to be recorded on analogue tape though, although no one makes tape anymore! Might have to go underground to find some.

Why?

Because I can hear the difference on playback. Analogue is more natural, warmer – (long pause) more organic.

Thank you Rachel

Thank you too