On her double album Ultimate Collection Katie Melua looks back on her fifteen year spanning career. In 2003 she entered the music scene at the age of nineteen with Call Off The Search. Her subtle vocal songs and her playful metaphysical lyrics were a musical relief in the days when hip-hop and dance dominated the charts. In 2010 Katie Melua had a nervous breakdown and she ended up in hospital. She even lost her interest in music during that period. But Melua came back strong, she married and she stopped her collaboration with song-writing partner Mike Batt. Melua recorded an album with the Gori Women’s Choir in Georgia, from the country where she was born 34 years ago. This autumn she tours with her new band and with the choir that masters the ancient Georgian tradition of polyphonic singing. An interview with a singer who seems to be more happy than ever.
Three songs on this album refer to Eva Cassidy: ‘Fields of Gold’ (in her version, but with a deliciously greasy Hammond-B3-organ), ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and the posthumous duet with Eva ‘What A Wonderful World. Does Eva still inspire you?
Of course she does. She is just amazing! Her choice of key is spectacular, the sensitivity of her vocals is impressive and she adds so much variation to the songs: yes, she is a huge inspiration. Eva always chose good songs to sing. As a singer these are all iconic pieces of Western popular culture.
How often do you listen to her music?
Actually I listened to some of her songs yesterday before I went on stage. She is awesome, she is great!
As a young girl Eva locked herself up in her room to listen to music and to practise her singing and her playing. Did you do the same when you had that age?
I listened to a lot of music, but I started singing when I was older, about seventeen. When I was young I listened to Queen and Led Zeppelin and rock music that my Georgian uncle brought from the 70’s and 80’s. But Eva Cassidy was the first singer-songwriter that I got into. She opened the door for me to discover people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. Eva Cassidy was definitely the starting point.
Are you able to live a relatively normal life in London?
I like walking in the street and observing people and I love being in nature. If I couldn’t do that anymore I would become claustrophobic. Fame is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes I think it’s not me the people are listening to but the thing that we make. But I love what I do and I have had so much success, so I am lucky.
Is it true that you write fewer songs that before?
I am still working on in it but people underestimate how difficult it is to write a good song. I value clarity in a lyric, I want it to sound like a conversation. A good song sounds as if it writing it was very easy but the opposite is true. I have to improve and polish them for days, even weeks. And there are so many good classic songs.
Why did you choose for a female-only choir?
I wasn’t looking for a female choir. I came across their recordings by chance. I was discriminating for Georgian artists. They sounded powerful and musical in their polyphonic singing.
Why this renewed interest in Georgia? Are you homesick?
I think so yes. It’s a very special country and I appreciate the Georgian traditions. People have so much respect for each other. From an artistic point of view it is very interesting for me; Georgian music adds an extra layer to my music. It’s a very different culture from the one I’ve grown up with in Belfast and London. It’s beautiful to mix these two cultures on stage.
On your In Winter album you sing some Christmas songs. What do these songs mean to you?
As artistic works they are astonishing. My religion is definitely music. I am hypnotized by it, I am in love with it. These Christmas songs are great pieces of art.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to continue making good records and continue doing good gigs for people. This is not about being the high point of the charts. If we can be sustainable without that, this is a good life.
You don’t sing ‘silly love songs’ but you seem to prefer philosophical lyrics or songs about the planets and the stars. How interested are you in astronomy?
I am interested in planets because I like science fiction. My dad had a giant telescope and he always invited me to come outside so it runs in the family a bit. Just as an amateur. Brian May has a PHd in astronomy but my interest is not that serious. As a matter of fact I realize more and more how magical life on earth is. I recently visited the botanical garden in Oslo and the trees had these astonishing autumn colours. We live on such a beautiful planet!
Katie Melua – BMG