Paloma Faith has been blessed with a vocal talent that appears to channel the style, if not actual soul, of Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Etta James, and more of the best female artistry in music.
This year, the award-winning and multi-platinum artist will debut with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) at the Sydney Opera House. On Friday 6 April, in an exclusive performance, Faith will perform songs from her new album The Architect including ‘Guilty’, ‘Cry Baby’, ‘‘Til I’m Done’ and other favourites such as ‘Can’t Rely on You’, ‘Picking up the Pieces’ and the ARIA #1 4 x platinum hit ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’.
Here, Paloma chats with Cream about’ keeping it real’ on the net, the cheek of suggestive band names, and a relatively new genre of music being tagged ‘sadcore’.
Oh, and she also mishears my sister’s dog’s name for an abbreviation for ‘blowjob’. Go figure.
Interview by Antonino Tati
Some people might assume, Paloma, that your second name is a made-up one.
Yes, but Faith is not my actual surname; it’s the second name on my birth certificate. You know how people are called ‘Mary Jane’? Well I’m ‘Paloma Faith’.
A middle name, then. A lot of your songs are about glimmers of hope at the end of dark passages, which also makes me think of your name. Do you believe in self-fulfilling prophecy, that your name helps shape some of the things you deliver in life?
Yeah, I do think that. Put it this way, it would be weird if I had a name like Paloma Faith and I’d worked in IT, wouldn’t it?
You write or at least co-write a lot of the songs you sing. I’d like to know what comes first, the music or the lyrics?
A lot of the lyrics are mine but because I don’t play any instrument I tend to go in with musicians and they write the music, then I write or add to the lyrics. That said, I usually write the words first, and the music is shaped around the lyrics. Well, a bit of both, really. If I hear some music, I’ll start humming melodies and I’ll restructure the words I’ve written to fit around those melodies. It sort of becomes what it is in its own way, kind of organically.
(My sister Melina has left her dog C-Jay with me, and puppy begins to yelp in the background.)
Excuse me one moment, Paloma. I have a little poodle here who is causing a bit of trouble, barking and making me lose concentration. [I shout to the dog:] ‘C-Jay, stop it! I’m on the phone.’
What’s his name? BJ?
Is his name BJ?
No, no, it’s C-Jay. We thought we’d give him a bit of a hip-hop name.
Oh. I like that. But I thought you’d called him BJ, as in blowjob.
You’re too funny. Speaking of hip-hop connections, you’ve worked with Pharrell Williams, but even then your music came across as sort of ‘sadcore’.
I don’t even know what that is.
Well, it’s kind of how some people categorise music from the likes of Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. That style where there’s a bit of a sad vibe going on in the lyrics but there’s grit to the music. Would you agree some of your music is sadcore?
I would, actually. I suppose a lot of my music is about turning tragedy into hope, coming out of bad situations and making them hopeful. I try to somehow channel some of the old records that I love. But then I might make an ‘It’s all gone to shit, so fuck it, let’s have a dance’ kind of record. The old greats were great at turning sad situations into something that sounds hopeful. Judy Garland’s Over the Rainbow is a perfect example of that.
Who are some of the other greats you like to channel?
Etta James is my biggest vocal inspiration. I really like Erykah Badu. And I love Candi Staton, Tina Turner… all the way back to Billie Holiday. For some songs, I might reflect on things that have been tough but almost celebrating that aspect. After all, if you haven’t been to the bottom, you wouldn’t be able to recognise how it is to feel really amazing.
Hey, is it true that one of the first bands you were in was called Paloma & The Penetrators?
Did you get any negative feedback about that name?
Nobody seemed to pick up on it. But I suppose I’m too evil too soon. I do have a very dark sense of humour and I tend to revel in getting into trouble. I enjoy being told off and making people feel that their social expectations of me are being challenged.
Well, conservatism can be quite boring and it’s a good thing to challenge authority now and then.
And now’s the time to do it, really, what with the internet and all its democracy. Wave that flag, I say!
I’d love to but the problem is that on the internet people are surprisingly conservative.
Although people love to leave negative comments on blogs and reviews, so long as they can have a fake name attached to it.
Yes, there’s a lot of anger on the net and I think a lot of that anger comes from the repression of not being free to really be themselves. But the thing is, it’s on the net where people should feel they can be themselves.
To another medium – film – you’ve been in a few movies including ‘The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus’ alongside Heath Ledger. Did you get to hang out with Heath much?
I did, yes.
That would have been around the time he was making ‘The Dark Knight’. How did you find him to be: laid-back or stressed out?
He was both, really. I mean he said to me that The Dark Knight had really fucked with his head. He said it was really full-on and that Jack Nicholson had told him not to do it. He wasn’t that well and he was finding it hard to sleep. And he seemed stressed.
He was a great guy, and may he rest in peace. But back to the subjects at hand, how do compare acting to, say, getting on stage and performing?
I’ve always embodied a certain level of character in order to perform songs, the same as I do as an actress. I tend to, like, try and become a character or a hyper-real version of myself when I’m singing, and when I’m talking in between I’m back to me. Whereas with acting it’s constantly being somebody else.
Tickets on sale: 10am Friday 9 February 2017
Dates: 8pm Friday 6 April 2018
Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Prices: Tickets from $89
Bookings: sydneysymphony.com or SSO Box Office on (02) 8215 4600
Note: The above interview is originally featured in the music interview anthology There’s Your Quote, Mate by Cream founding editor Antonino Tati, published through New Holland and available here.