Katie Melua inspired by the Cotswolds for her new album
PUBLISHED: 16:33 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:33 08 October 2020
The singer found the Cotswold countryside provided just the peace and inspiration she needed to write her latest album
Georgian-born British singer-songwriter Katie Melua has been working for the last few years on her latest album, the beautifully penned Album No.8.
It’s a very personal reflection of Katie’s life since stepping away from her working partnership with Mike Batt, and shows a greater maturity following her return four years ago to her birthplace, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, where she recorded ten seasonal songs with the Gori Women’s Choir.
The songwriting process can be an intense one, and so Katie found herself seeking the peace of the Cotswold countryside to isolate and find inspiration at the beginning of the year. We caught up with her on the eve of the release of Album No.8 to find out more...
I heard you performing on Loose Ends [BBC Radio 4] recently, Katie, doing a stripped-back version of A Love Like That from your new album. It was beautiful, but you must be missing the live experience?
Oh, my god! To be honest, performance was meant to be happening now, and of course touring for me tends to be just once a year for a month or so. When the pandemic hit, I was mixing the new record, so I’d got used to the idea that the tour wouldn’t be happening, but the hardest thing is not seeing my crew who would be on the road all the time... it’s knowing how their lives must have been affected by it. I just can’t wait to get out there so that we can all get that world back on its feet. I’m lucky in as much as I’m an artist, so I can put all my energy into my work, but the industry has been putting the time to good use with Zoom meetings, looking at how things can be done better for everyone – so that’s a positive.
For your two recent music videos, you and actor Billy Howle had to be tested and self-isolate ready for shooting. There is a genuine warmth that comes through on both of your performances, so did this enforced isolation help?
We isolated separately, so I like to think it’s the music! I just think music has an amazing ability to allow a lot of barriers to come down. I knew we had a very brief period on screen together, so I emailed Billy a load of questions – “Where did you grow up?”; “What was your childhood like?”; “What books do you read?” - so that it felt like we kind of knew each other before we even met. For me, the songs had to be as honest and genuine as possible, and I think – I hope – you can hear that when you listen to the record.
The Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra’s parts, arranged by Leo Abrahams, are achingly beautiful. Is this how you heard them sounding in your head?
I think in my wildest dreams I did, but I didn’t know it was possible! Before making a record, we always listen to music, and I’ve been listening to a lot of work by Charles Stepney recently [the American record producer] who did very pioneering string arrangements for great pop records. I also played some of Giya Kancheli’s work – he’s a great Georgian composer – and hoped that some spark of these great artists would come through in the studio. But it wasn’t until I was in Leno Records – this old Soviet-built recording studio – where I actually got to hear the strings for the first time and I realised that we were actually really going for it!
How did you come to write your new album in the Cotswolds?
The writing of the record took a good three years, but in January of 2019 I realised that to get the songs finished I’d need to spend some time completely on my own. I had my friend Carol Hoffmann and her husband Lenny over for dinner and I happened to mention that I was looking for somewhere to work in the countryside. They immediately said, “Well, why not use our cottage!” I was blown away by their generosity, and I got to stay in the most beautiful place in the countryside at Charlton Abbots. I was there without a car and so had all my food delivered by ‘All Plants’ [a vegetarian meal delivery service], and the local pub was a 30-minute walk away, so it was pretty isolated.
Did your surroundings influence the songs – both lyrically and musically?
It massively did, yes. It rained for the first week, but when the sun came out I started to venture out and discovered a couple of horses in the field next door. There is actually a song on the album, Maybe I Dreamt, inspired by Pina Bausch, the great German modern choreographer. There was a phrase I heard her say about an experience she had with a horse in her studio where it was reacting to dance movements. And so, on day 10 or 11, when I was struggling with that particular song, I thought maybe I should go outside and meet the horses.
I walked out, and the horse was completely uninterested in me. So, I waited half an hour, which turned to an hour... I was really trying to connect with it but nothing seemed to be working. Eventually, it came over to me, but I as I was quite nervous – I’ve never ridden horses – I initially stepped back. When I did get the courage to go over to it, though, it promptly urinated! It was clearly not interested in me putting it in my art.
Katie Melua’s Album No.8 is released by BMG on October 16.