An Interview with Katie Melua
Georgian native Katie Melua gets back to her roots with her new record ‘In Winter’, and explains why making a concept album felt like such a courageous move…
It is unusual to find Joni Mitchell’s ‘River‘ alongside Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘All-Night Vigil’. But that’s exactly what happens on Katie Melua’s latest record, In Winter. For her seventh studio album, the raven-haired beauty decided to take a different approach to the artistic process. On it she enlists the Gori Women’s Choir and co-produces for the first time. The result is a haunting and deeply personal concept album that enchants from the very first listen.
“The idea for the record came from a conversation with a friend a few winters ago,” reveals Katie. “We were lamenting the fact that there didn’t seem to be a go-to album for us to listen to during the winter months. An album that would fill the house with wonderful warm and poignant songs. So, that’s how the album was born – out of necessity!”
Combining new material with classic wintery gems like Ukrainian carol, ‘The Little Swallow’, the album has a fluidity that is rare even for entirely original records. Part of this is due to the singer’s decision to build the record around the 25-strong women’s choir who she discovers whilst researching music from her homeland. “I was mesmerised by their tone and sonic richness. They are essentially a vocal orchestra,” explains the 32-year-old.
“You have to take on the responsibility of being the decision maker”
Since her 2003 debut Call Off The Search, which releases when she is only 19, Melua has been the poster girl for a certain brand of Radio-2-friendly, folk-pop. The protégé of Mike Batt, In Winter is Melua’s first album without the famed producer. Her decision to take more creative control was a difficult one.
She recalls a meeting with her management where she had to ‘have a word with herself’ in order to pluck up the courage to suggest she co-produce In Winter. She goes on to say: “I do have lots of
experience. I’ve made six albums as an artist. But it’s a whole different thing when you have to take on the responsibility of being the decision maker. Because then you know that whatever decision you make on whatever take you choose, the whole project depends on it. The success of how it moves forward depends on it. That’s a different level of responsibility.”
With a clear vision in her mind, Melua and co-producer Adam ‘Cecil’ Bartlett (whose engineering credits include PJ Harvey and Marianne Faithfull) set off to Georgia with 12 boxes of equipment. Their plan is to build a makeshift studio in the small town of Gori. “The experience was just incredible and reminded me how lucky I am to make music for a living. The women in the choir just worked so hard and treat their vocal practice like a fine art,” says Melua.
“Their passion made me feel like I was making my first record”
“The choir has never actually toured extensively like this in Europe. In fact, they’d never recorded with headphones before! Also it reminded me how incredibly unique it is to be living in the UK where there is such a heritage of pop music and to potentially have a chance to make a record that’s going to be released on a Western label. Their enthusiasm and passion for it made me feel like I was making my first record.”
She may have had her doubts, but In Winter is a remarkable effort proving Melua’s graduation from teen sensation to serious artist, as the haunting vocals layer up to create a blanket of sound that will keep you warm till Spring.