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Music Interview

Rumer

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Singer-songwriter Rumer
There's always a bit of mystery surrounding an artist who decides to go by first name only. In Rumer's case, that it's a stage name makes her all the more interesting. An Anglo-Pakistani singer-songwriter born Sarah Joyce, she's already been given the thumbs up by Elton John and Burt Bacharach... and her debut album's not even out 'til Monday! Intrigued and mightily impressed with her first two singles, the gorgeous 'Slow' and 'Aretha', we met up with the lady herself to find out more.

How would you describe your new single, 'Aretha'?
"It's a very soulful ballad about a little girl who goes to school listening to Aretha Franklin on her headphones. She's having trouble at school and her mother's suffering from mental illness and she hasn't get anyone to talk to, but Aretha Franklin comes to life and encourages her and speaks to her through her imagination."

Was there any reason why you chose Aretha Franklin?
"She's the Queen of Soul! If you're going to write about somebody who embodies the spirit of music itself you go to the top of the list - and there she is! Her voice is probably the closest you get to God. There's an incredible amount of passion and heartbreak in her voice as she's lost a lot of family members. She's just got something in her voice that puts her at the top of the tree and there's no negotiation."

What did you think about Beyoncé's claim that Tina Turner is the Queen of Soul?
"I nearly jumped out of my chair! It was awful. I love Tina Turner and she's amazing, but she's not Aretha Franklin. You can't dethrone the Queen of Soul live on television!"

Is the song based on personal experience?
"There's definitely some personal experience in there, but it's primarily a fiction with a theatrical element. There are elements of truth in it although the story as it's told isn't exactly what happened. In a way it's like an actor playing a role and using some of their experience in developing the character."

Were you pleased with the response to the last single, 'Slow'?
"It was amazing! It really captured people's imagination. Sometimes when I do shows I see couples looking at each other and reaching out for each others' hands. Someone wrote me an email saying he hadn't been romantic with his wife in 20 years, but he grabbed her and slow danced her in the lounge to 'Slow'. I'm glad the music's actually making an impact on people emotionally."

You've been making music for ten years. How did you eventually get signed?
"Through old-fashioned tenacity and ruthless business sense. I'm a bit Asian, so I'm naturally smart in business. You just get a nose for who to work with and you surround yourself with good people. It's survival of the fittest and it's incredibly hard."

Your sound's so classic - did you worry it wouldn't appeal to the download generation?
"Not really. We're unusual here because we're doing CD singles which they don't do anymore. We didn't put them in Sainsbury or Tesco or anything but we did put them on Amazon and we sold quite a few. You'd be surprised. I mean, I wouldn't buy a CD single!"

Why do you go by the name "Rumer"?
"My mother was a fan of the author Rumer Godden. You could say she named me Sarah when I was born, but also inadvertently named me Rumer after she died. She left me a list of books about India to read when she died. One of them was written by Rumer Godden and when I read the list the name spoke to me. In a way she gave me the name for my next phase of life without her."

Did you also think it would make a good stage name?
Absolutely! It's a romantic sounding name. It gives the impression of a dark, mysterious singer."

You moved around a lot during your childhood - has that influenced your music?
"Not really. Moving around a lot meant we weren't really affected by Western culture. There was always a lot of creativity in our house and music was always playing. A rolling stone gathers no moss and if you keep moving you're not affected by cultural society as much, so you're inventive."

How would you describe the Rumer sound then?
"I think it's a singer-songwriter album with a jazz/soul feel. It's as nice to listen to as Norah Jones or Diana Krall if you're a jazz fan. You can put it on in the background and just chill out with it in a jazzy way, but if you're a singer/songwriter fan you can tune in lyrically and emotionally as well."

You've been praised by some legendary artists. Has that boosted your confidence?
"Definitely. People like Burt Bacharach and Elton John didn't wait to find out what my campaign looked like or how many records I sold or what my outfits were like. They just intuitively responded to the record which is great. It also establishes a tone. My record label only just started advertising the album now, but when you've already got those people behind you, you feel flanked."

Why is the album called "Seasons Of My Soul"?
"Mainly because it took me so long to make the album that I noticed that the songs were coming round again. I'd have these moods in my soul that would come around like seasons over the years and the songs matched the moods. It was like an emotional landscape. There are different shades, different feels and different colours to the album. Some people have been saying that 'Slow' is an autumnal song and so is 'Aretha' in a way."

This year has been all about Auto-Tune and electropop. Do you think it's time for more classic-sounding music to make a comeback?
"I think that sort of music is dreadful but I watch The X Factor on a Saturday night so I'm guilty of buying into it. We haven't had any decent music for a long time. I've heard that because my album is doing well on pre-orders and it's looking like it will be successful, it's causing a big stir in all the labels. Everyone's saying it's the start of a trend and you know how they like to follow trends. Hopefully next time these record labels go to a singer/songwriter night and see someone like me on a stool, they'll think, 'Rumer sold records so maybe this person can sell records too'. That would be something, wouldn't it? To start a revolution - I would love that."

Rumer releases Seasons Of My Soul on November 1.

Additional reporting by Philippa Warr.

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