Nerina Pallot on escaping shadow of Kylie ahead of Norwich gig
- Credit: Archant
She wrote hits for Kylie and X Factor stars and found herself pigeonholed as pop. Now outspoken Brit-nominated singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot has taken control with the album she really wanted to make and is coming to Norwich.
Don't get Nerina Pallot started. The self-confessed grump, voracious reader and voracious writer – and very occasionally voracious drinker – tells certainly it like it is. Albeit with some wit, a ready smile and not a little panache.
The Brit-nominated singer-songwriter has written for the likes of Kylie Minogue and a fistful of X Factor hopefuls, but she is brutally honest about the experience.
'I can't say Kylie wasn't good money – it was,' she says. 'But I only saw it as a means to an end: funding my own records. But after a while it became so soul-destroying. Not necessarily for me, but because of all these young artists – they're being filled with all this hope. And you know that unless the second single goes, it's over for them. I saw that time and time again. I don't want to be a part of that. It's grim.'
Pallot wrote two songs, one of them the title track, for Kylie's 2010 album Aphrodite. She admits that the experience, plus spells co-writing with Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera's Beautiful) and Rob Davis (Minogue's Can't Get You Out Of My Head), helped her improve her chorus-writing skills. 'But that didn't translate to a radio single for me. Cause my heart wasn't in it. Cause that's not who I am.'
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She is no longer a fan of co-writing generally: 'I'll never do it again for love or money. I'm actually really down on people who co-write.'
She is also down on how she was marketed on her first two albums: 'Very pop, very mainstream, and it was all about being nice. A journalist said: 'Her hair is too glossy to take her seriously.' I hated it at the time but she was right! Although, to be honest, it is nice to see yourself looking pretty.'
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Now a new Nerina Pallot has emerged — a smart artist who talks straight and writes beautifully. Her new album is Stay Lucky, her sixth, and she's releasing it at the age of 43.
The Jersey-born, London-based musician played her first gig in 1995, which means she's been doing this for 22 years. Is she bothered about any of those numbers? What do you think? 'I've only now just got a handle on it. I don't know why we have this massive issue with age.'
After her years of song writing for others the album is very much about herself. She wrote it, played guitar and piano and synths and percussion on it, produced it, and, after relationships with three different major labels, she's also released it on her own label, Idaho Records.
'That's allowed me to be free,' she notes, clearly happy at the decision. 'When I think about why I went pop on my third album [2009's The Graduate] – which was a disaster for me; I lost a lot of fans – it was because my label were breathing down my neck after the second one,' Pallot says of 2005's Fires.
It sold 100,000 copies and earned her Brit and Ivor Novello award nominations. 'They were telling me it should have sold 10 million, if only it had had a radio single. So what that led to was me trying to do that – and then doing stuff with Kylie.'
Now that she's free, she can 'indulge herself'. This meant a year of EPs, released one a month in 2014 – and it means, further down the line from Stay Lucky, more new songs that are 'way more out-there – there's one that's a bit Roy Ayers. Actually, that might make this album. But I will only do what I want to do. And as long as I can keep living, I won't stop.'
Stay Lucky was recorded over two productive weekends in London's legendary RAK studios. The speed belies the lovely, unhurried expansiveness of an album that is, truly and deeply, her most personal, most warmly emotional album yet.
Even as she led from the front, it's also her most collaborative record. Pallot was aided, abetted and enriched by a thrillingly diverse selection of musicians. The players include three members of Michael Kiwanuka's touring band, including Norfolk drummer and vibraphonist Lewis Wright, who took taking time out from his other day-job, as a member of acclaimed young British jazz quartet Empirical.
The album's brass arranger is Noel Langley, probably the most respected British jazz trumpeter, while Bernard Butler (who co-produced her fourth album Year of the Wolf) plays guitar on three tracks.
As Pallot notes typically pithily: 'I've basically made a totally muso record, which is a great or terrible thing depending on how you feel about six-minute songs and sax solos.'
Sonically, Stay Lucky speaks to the Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg records (notably the latter's second album, '5.55', which featured Air) that this quarter-French woman loves so much.
Lyrically, for all her forcefully expressed opinions, its an intimate album despite the political times in which it was recorded.
'What's interesting is I've never made a less political record. I've never made a record that is so basically about one thing. I know lots of artists say this, but this is the record that truly means the most to me. There's not a word or rhyme that I've compromised on. There's no point where I go 'that'll do'. And I've definitely done that on previous records.
'But, you know,' she shrugs happily, 'all my records have done what they deserved to do. I didn't make Back To Black the year Amy Winehouse made it. I made a very decent record that wasn't embarrassing, and it was nice to be in the same category as her at the Brits that year. But I didn't make a record as amazing as she did, and she deserved the success.'
Stay Lucky is the culmination of those years, those records, those experiences – even the time Joe McElderry did one of her songs ('To be fair, it was a cover, not a co-write, and he's a very nice chap').
Nerina Pallot wouldn't have it any other way. 'I feel like I've got the best career because I've never had enough success for it to be demanded that I do the same thing over and over again. I would go completely mental having to do the same successful record again!'
• Nerina Pallot plays Waterfront Studio, Norwich, on April 21, 6.30pm, £18.50, 01603 508050, ueaticketbookings.co.uk• Stay Lucky is out now