June 20, 2011

Interview: A music summit with Nerina Pallot

A few days back I wrote about Nerina Pallot's new album, Year Of The Wolf. It could be argued that it's this record, her fourth, that is Nerina's most self-realized, as if she has finally found her true place in pop music. What this says to me is important: that some of our best musicians need time to develop; that one single and one album do not predict how their music will stretch and mature over time. I am not the only one who loves this record: as I post this, it's just hit the UK Top 40.

Whenever I get the chance to talk to a musician, I think it's important to ask them very specifically about the music they love. Pay attention, because Nerina may lead you to some albums or artists you've never heard of or bothered with...

XO: I kept thinking about the classic singer/songwriters of the 70's when I heard your new album, Nerina. I mean artists like Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Laura Nyro, Linda Ronstadt and especially Bonnie Raitt. I can guess some of their albums are touchstones for you? Which ones?

Nerina: All of them have made really important albums for me. Funnily enough Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time album is both a musical and psychological influence - she was a journeyman musician for so many years and people thought her A&R man at Capitol was mad signing her at such a (relatively) late age - and look what that album became for her. So as well as being a massive fan of her voice and guitar playing, she's one of those artists who serves as a beacon of just keeping on keeping on, doing your thing, and hopefully one day you build your audience to that level, just by being yourself.

I wear my Joni (Mitchell) influence on my sleeve - I guess Blue and Hissing of the Summer Lawns are the two that I listen to most. So many Elton John records I love, but Tumbleweed Connection and specifically Come Down In Time on that album have been constant musical references for me over the years. Laura Nyro's album with Labelle was one I can recall having a long chat/worship fest about with Bernard Butler while we were making the album [ed: hear a track from it, It's Gonna Take A Miracle].

So so glad you picked up on the Ronstadt. I met Peter Asher a few years ago and kind of surprised him with my obsession for the album of standards she made with Nelson Riddle that he produced. My mother's friend in Boston sent her that album, but it was I who listened to it religiously as a kid. I'm obsessed with Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Sinatra and Ella - that to me is the pinnacle of modern popular music, so the Ronstadt records are so dear to me. It was through them that I discovered orchestration. I dream of doing an album like that one day.

Elton John Come Down In Time:

Linda Ronstadt What'll I Do:

You mentioned your love of Joni. Court And Spark is, I think, the greatest and most unflinching album about searching for love.

Love Court and Spark. My radio plugger and I frequently refer to what he does as "stoking the starmaking machinery behind the popular song"! [ed: that line is from Free Man In Paris - hear it now]

History Boys is one of your finest songs ever. Ever. How did it come about? You tweeted that to me that you were sort of nervous to put it out into the world. Why? Criticism?

Wow, what a lovely thing to say. Thank you. It's a very painful song for me to sing, I have to hold it together when I play it. And I feel so strongly about the subject matter, even more so since I had my son. When I was younger, I was so angry about what was going in the Middle East - now it just makes me feel hopelessly sad. It's always young kids who come back in boxes - always the boys who are raised with a real sense of patriotism, who go out to do something so frightening and brave while leaders who have never seen action and would never dream of allowing their own sons to go to the front line - pretty much career politicians raising career politicians -make these decisions that have a fatal impact on so many young lives, both servicemen and civilians. And I was thinking of these mothers, who have held their sons in their arms, fretted over childhood fevers, first days at school, their first steps, all those things. And then to have to bury their kids? It's unnatural in the order of things. It fucking breaks my heart.

Here it is, History Boys...

On the last album, It Starts was really about finally finding the ONE [hear it now]. And now this album has Put Your Hands Up, which is so ebullient. That line, "I just see stars when I'm with you" - it's everyone's dream of love. Is writing about love hard - I mean the happy side of love? Was this song for anyone in particular? If anyone wrote a song like this for me, I'd literally need to go to the hospital. I'd pass out.

Ha ha! Put Your Hands Up really started off from reading Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea and the desperate, hopeless love Antoinette has for Mr. Rochester, to the point of voodoo potions and black magic. So the chorus is from the point of view from a slightly unhinged woman begging her man to love her. But the second verse - that's totally about my husband. I was incredibly lonely until I met him and he quite simply changed my life. So like It Starts, it's about the same man.

Thanks so much, Nerina. I have to take this chance to tell you this album is truly your best.

You're welcome... and thank you! I am so pleased you are enjoying the album. I had to make a decision after The Graduate whether I would go the whole hog down the poptastic route or just not think about it and make whatever came out of me without worrying about radio, etc. I think I've done the right thing. I just need Kylie* to keep making records so I can let my bubblegum pop alter ego loose every once in a while!

Nerina Pallot Put Your Hands Up...

*Nerina wrote two recent Kylie tracks,
Better Than Today and Aphrodite


CarolynG said...

First thing after work this afternoon I'm getting this album. It's 6 am, the sun's just coming up & I'm sitting here with a little tear in my eye over this "I was incredibly lonely until I met him and he quite simply changed my life." Such a beautiful thing to say. It's what I imagine most of us dream of. I literally got a catch in my throat reading that.

You were right when you tweeted me that the musical influences are one's I'd relate to. It's so great to read about people with such varied musical influences.

xolondon said...

I am not sure if it's on US iTunes, so I ordered my CD copy from Amazon UK. There is a big fab vinyl version, but it's apparently been recalled due to some errors.

She's a proper lovely person. No star drama, just a woman who loves making music.

music obsessive said...

Hi - nice interview with one of my favourite artists. I have to agree with you that 'History boys' is probably her best song ever. The acoustic version on YouTube just makes me cry. Nerina has a real genuineness and warmth about her that is devoid of the sort of icy contempt that the likes of Whitney Houston and Maria Carey generate.