Paloma Faith talks motherhood and music ahead of her Birmingham gig
Quirky songstress Paloma Faith is celebrating her first number one album by hitting the road. She talks movie stars, music and motherhood. . .
At last. At long, long flipping last.The eternal bridesmaid has finally become a bride.
Paloma Faith has spent a career being the nearly-woman. Her debut album, Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful was a double-platinum hit that shifted an impressive 750,000 copies. But it stalled at number two on the UK charts, just shy of the top spot.
Her sophomore record, Fall to Grace, was a similar record: get to number two. Stop. Shift 750,000 records. Earn a couple of platinum discs. And when she released her third record, A Perfect Contradiction, guess what? Oh, OK you’ve got it: get to number two. Stop. Shift 750,000 records. Earn a couple of platinum discs.
You get to thinking if only the record company could organise itself a bit better and make sure that rump of 750,000 Paloma fans could all go out on the same day . . .
In November, it was fourth time lucky. Release the record. Boom. Number one. Paloma may affect indifference, but in her heart of hearts she’s thrilled.
She remains one of the biggest deals in UK music; one of only two British female artists this decade to have their last three albums go double platinum in the UK.
And her new record, The Architect, will surely make it four in a row. The record is her first in more than three years and also the first since giving birth to her first child. It features an array of acclaimed co-writers, producers and collaborators including: Sia, John Legend, Jesse Shatkin, TMS, Starsmith, Tobias Jesso Jr., Eg White, Rag’n’Bone Man, actor Samuel L. Jackson and journalist and activist Owen Jones.
Paloma, who won the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist in 2015 following the phenomenal success of her last record, 2014’s A Perfect Contradiction, explores both personal and political themes on the album.
And while the music is classic Paloma – with sweeping orchestral tracks, smooth soul, sleek disco grooves and stomping electro pop all featured on the album – the lyrics raise social and political questions, and cover powerful and topical themes, such as motherhood, social anxiety, wealth inequality, technology’s impact on feelings of alienation . . . oh and also the future of the Western world, Donald Trump, Brexit and the refugee crisis – all within the confines of classic pop.
She says: “The Architect is a social observation record. I was adamant that I wouldn’t write about love. I wanted to look outside of myself. I’m coming at politics from the perspective of the common man or woman, observing why people are suffering. Each song on the record is about a different pocket of the socio-political world that I’ve been delving into.
“I wanted to write something more modern. On previous albums I’ve been more concerned with the past, but now I’m looking forward because of motherhood and wanting to change things for a better future. It’s a marriage of old and new.”
Title track The Architect features – if you can imagine it – Paloma as Mother Nature, singing to humanity, while Guilty reflects on the Brexit vote from the perspective of a Leave voter who regrets their choice. Lead single Crybaby ponders whether war would cease to exist if men successfully dealt with their emotions, and ‘Lost and Lonely’ is sung from the viewpoint of a skeleton.
The album also includes the track Warrior written by Sia, which Paloma interprets to be about the refugee crisis, a duet with John Legend, I’ll Be Gentle, and two spoken word interludes – album opener Evolution which is performed by acclaimed actor Samuel L. Jackson and Politics of Hope which is a political commentary by Owen Jones. String arrangements on The Architect, Warrior and I’ll Be Gentle were written by David Arnold, the celebrated film and TV composer best known for his work on James Bond and Sherlock.
Paloma took her time over the record. She thought long and hard about the world into which her daughter, has been born. She gave birth to her first child with Leyman Lahcine in December 2016 by emergency caesarean.
“I’ve wanted to write an album that said something about the world and the moment in time we’re in. I watched an interview with Nina Simone and she said we have a duty to speak about the world and not just about ourselves. That really stuck a chord with me. It’s true. I was brought up listening to a lot of 60s and 70s music. The majority I was raised on wasn’t about heartbreak or love. It was about taking responsibility for each other and community and kindness and understanding and I found that really important in making me the person I am.”
Paloma went back to the classics when she was making The Architect. She listened to the likes of Marvin Gaye, a man who was championing environmental causes several decades before Global Warming became part of our vocabulary.
“The particular reference I kept returning to was Marvin Gaye and What’s Going On. It sounds like baby making music but it was actually about the Vietnam War. When you scrape away people’s political views and what makes them different, beneath that, we all have things that make us the same. That’s where the solution to conflict lies. I was thinking a lot about that when writing the album.
“I was breaking my social concerns down into categories, loneliness, Brexit, climate change, empathy, Trump, homelessness, war and so on. There’s all kinds of things coming up in it. There’s a lot of more universal stuff. I felt duty bound. I was pregnant so I was thinking differently about what I was bringing this person into. That’s the kind of gist of the record.”
Though the record was written over a period of time and some political events have moved on – Trump has been elected, Theresa May has flunked an election, the world continues to get warmer and bombs continue to reign down on the Middle East – it remains relevant.
“It feels very current and very important. The video for Crybaby is quite exciting for me. It’s set in this dystopian world. It’s very relevant.”
The record marks something of a departure because Paloma teamed up with actor Samuel L Jackson and political reporter Owen Jones, who contributed to Evolution and Politics of Hope.
“Samuel and Owen are just speaking, basically, like, I wanted to say some stuff and Owen Jones captivates me because he really appeals to my way of looking at politics. He speaks about politics but his intention is always hope and unity. I think a lot of people don’t really have that. I find the mainstream political language very divisive and I don’t like it.
“So I think there’s something about the way he Owen articulates that appeals to me because it’s inclusive. He’s speaking on there about one of his ideas, which is called the politics of hope. He’s always got the best intentions. He’s trying to be positive, whether or not you agree with him.
“And then when it comes to Samuel, well, he just has one of the most captivating voices around. If you hear it, people listen. I’d written a piece, which I kept returning to when I was doing the album, to remind myself what it was I was trying to say. The full thing features in the booklet of the album. A bit of it is edited down and I met Samuel and helped him with his charity, One For The Boys, about male testicular cancer. He said I’d done so much that he owed me a favour. I called that favour in.”
And yet, perhaps it’s not so surprising that Paloma has recorded a modern, political album. In truth, the Brit Award-winner and Voice UK coach has long pinned her colours to the mast. An artist with a very obvious social conscience, she’s long had a sense of duty and responsibility about the ideas she projects into the wider world. Motherhood has been a catalyst for renewed change.
“I’m aware that people young and old will listen and watch the music I make. Being a mother hasn’t changed me as an artist. But I do think in terms of being a person, I’m less narcissistic. I want to raise a child to become that sort of person. The most important lesson isn’t about being academic or strong or successful, the most successful attribute I could wish for of a person is empathy and kindness. I’ve dealt with that within the context of the album. It comes down to Marvin Gaye’s record.”
Paloma will shortly be hitting the road.
She’s announced a UK arena tour, which starts at Leeds Arena on March 2 and reaches Birmingham’s Genting Arena on March 21. Her baby will be with her throughout. Childcare will be organised and their bond will remain as strong as iron.
“My mother was the apple of my eye and she was working when I was a child but our relationship was really strong. So the baby is coming with me. I don’t know what I’ll do at the shows yet but this album in a way is very different because it’s now and the future, not now and the past – that’s the previous work.
“This record is about looking forward. How can we improve. How can we become a better race of people.”
Paloma has led a remarkable career. In addition to shifting 750,000 records per album, she’s also enjoyed a successful TV and film career, first appearing in Holby Blue in 2007 and subsequently featuring as Tinker Bell in the TV film Peter & Wendy. She was a judge on The Voice UK while her musical career has led to a huge number of awards and nominations.
And yet those achievements have not sated her yet. There’s still fuel in her fire, the hunger still burns.
“It’s kind of weird because I’m the person who every time I get to the top of a ladder I see the next ladder. I’ve been told off by management and family because I don’t celebrate, I look at who’s done better. I’ve always done that. I went to a failing school and it was celebrated if you did well in a failing school. I never did.
“I look forward. I’m quite oblivious to what goes on around me. I think I’m a bit of a natural dreamer, so I don’t notice. When I’m walking in the street with somebody, they say ‘someone’s looking at me’. I say ‘really?’ I think I’d go mad if I noticed. I’d just hide. I couldn’t cope. There’s always better. I don’t feel I’ve achieved.”
At the end of her present tour, she’ll take time out to be with her daughter. She hopes to travel – it’s one of her obsessions – and has an extensive wish list of places that she’d like to go.
“I love travelling a lot. I really like hot weather, particularly. I am obsessed by films and I like reading, too, I am currently reading The Glass Castle, which is amazing. It’s autobiographical, it’s about this girl and in the opening chapter it says: ‘I saw my parents looking in the dumpster for food this morning.’ That’s the opening. It’s written by a professional journalist who’s quite successful. Then it looks back on their childhood. It’s so amazing. Her parents have these amazing views on how to live and she was raised in that. She becomes moderately conventional, considering her background. It makes you think about life.
“But, yes, I really love travelling. I really want to go all round South America because I’ve never been and I’ve got quite a few fans now so I’m hoping my work will take me. I really enjoyed Tokyo, that’s amazing. I’ve been to obscure places for work that I wouldn’t go to if I didn’t do this. The next place is Croatia. I want to have a summer holiday there.”