Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
October 17, 2012
In her native England where her new album “Fall to Grace” debuted at number two, Paloma Faith performs to an average of 5,000 people. She recently played for a crowd of 40,000 as part of a BBC radio event, also featuring Emeli Sande and Jessie J.
During her first U.S. tour, the remarkable 27-year-old singer (who’s approaching 300,000 twitter followers) says she’s playing to about 200 per night.
“Which is kind of strange but also exciting,” says Faith, whose record comes out Dec. 4 in the states. “I kind of get [why] somebody like Prince does his big arena [show] and then does his after-show, which is more intimate because there’s something so beautiful about playing in that capacity.”
In fact, Prince has shown his support for Faith, and it’s easy to see why the artist’s old-fashioned pop songs—which she says aim to inject hope into tragic situations—would catch on in America, especially when they hear her Adele-sized voice. By the way, Faith’s resume spans from recently running with the Olympic torch in stilettos to playing the devil’s girlfriend in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”
In Chicago for the first time before her show last month at Martyrs’, the charming, open Faith talked about fearing that no Americans would come to her shows, her friendship with Adele and how her feet were feeling after that Olympic run.
How do you feel your shows in the states have gone so far?
Amazing! I’m really astonished because when I was on my way to the states I was really worried that nobody was going to come and see me play. Because I’m British; we usually err on the side of self-deprecation. [Laughs] I just spent nights going, “Oh, god, they don’t even know I exist. This is too early for tour!” But actually there’s a lot of people who have come to the shows who also have my debut album and [are] genuine American fans and I feel so happy about it.
And your new one is on Spotify, so people can hear it before it’s out here.
Yeah, that’s exciting for me. And also I just really enjoy the American audiences I’ve met so far because they give you instant feedback. Whereas in Britain you have to go online to figure out what people thought because they’re a very reserved culture.
What feedback have you gotten so far?
It’s like whooping and cheering. People in the middle of the song going, “Yeah! Sing it!” And all that. And I love that.
People in the UK don’t whoop?
No, everyone’s just like (claps politely).
How surreal is it to go from playing for 5,000 or 40,000 people to 200? Is it a weird transition?
No, I’m not somebody who ever gets used to a particular position. Every time somebody says, “We’d like to take you for dinner” I get excited for a free meal, no matter how many times it happens. So I would say to people, I come from a background of always working. I started my first job when I was 14; if I had to go back to working in the lingerie shop that I worked at for three years selling pants and bras to people then I would. So I don’t feel remotely it’s a step back. I feel it’s a luxury because I’m enjoying the intimacy and the connection with the people. Obviously I would like to progress, for it to be an escalation as opposed to … because it’s expensive to come to America and even to do a small gig. It doesn’t fund the flight. It’s the label putting goodwill in. It won’t happen that often if it doesn’t get bigger, I’m aware of that.
In England is that something people talk about in the music community, breaking out in the U.S.? Is there any type of logic to it? I’m a big Arctic Monkeys fan and have always wanted them to catch on here in the same way.
I think it’s because they use a lot of local language and stuff and their accents are really strong. So I think maybe people don’t relate to that so much. There is talk about it, but it is kind of one of those things that’s a rarity. It’s very rare for a British act to break America. Many have tried, me included. Well, this is my first [attempt]. But the general consensus is that Amy [Winehouse] and Adele were anomalies, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true. I just think that they’re exceptionally talented and exceptionally brilliant and I think that America is very good at recognizing real talent. Whereas in the UK audiences might find someone more appealing because they said something funny on television. [There] they buy more into a person. Whereas I think in America people are genuinely big music lovers, and when it’s good music you can’t deny that.
You give us a lot of credit; I like that. Speaking of Amy, I read you were offered a spot in her band at one point?
Not really. I think sometimes in the media you say something flippantly and it follows you around for years. Basically I was at a party when her first record was out which was called “Frank” and I met her, and I was a big fan straightaway. She liked the way I dressed and she came up to me and she was like, “Do you play anything? I’m trying to put a band together, and you look really cool.” And I was like, “No.” Yeah, that’s it.
In the past you both promoted and headlined shows at a club where Adele performed as well. What, if anything, did you learn from her during that period?
Well, I was promoting a night where I was trying to showcase artists I admired and respected and also played myself. I just wanted to create a club night that was different and appreciative of real, homegrown music without any kind of extra. She just obviously has always been an undeniably talented vocalist. I talk about her, I get goosebumps. The thing is what she does is she just makes us feel how we feel in a way. She makes it acceptable. She’s always done that, and it’s strange because when I first heard her sing, I think she was about 17, and it was like she carried all the world’s joy and pain and everything inside her but she was like a kid. So it was strange, but I’m really happy for her. I think she’s amazing.
What reaction did she have to your work? Do you think she picked up any tips from you?
No, we didn’t really have that conversation. We’re just both really supportive of each other. There have been times where we’ve both been at awards ceremonies and she’s gone, “Oh, my friend Paloma’s there. Listen out for her.” We don’t sit there going, “I learned this from you.” It’s like, “Let’s have a drink and talk about what was on TV last night.” [Laughs]
What was on TV last night?
[Laughs] I don’t have a television. I just learn from everyone else.
Why don’t more people wear stilettos while running with the Olympic torch?
[Laughs] I don’t know. I just do everything my own way, so when they said to me, “There’s a regulation track suit,” something inside of me died. [Laughs] So I thought I had to do this my own [way]. And I asked them if I could customize it and they said no, but I did it anyway.
How were your feet feeling afterward?
Fine, it was only 300 meters.
How far could you have gone?
Well, I’ve run for a lot of buses in stilettos. Much faster. They wanted a leisurely place so they could take a flattering photograph.
On wanting to see blues in Chicago: “I think I’m a blues singer really that tries to make a bit of money [combining] that with the pop. So I’m really looking forward to going and probably try and get up on stage and do some songs.”
Why she’s not frustrated by the success of lesser singers like Britney Spears or Katy Perry: “I’m not really that kind of person. The beauty of music is that there’s something for everyone. And I feel like there’s space for everyone. Unfortunately because of the current climate in music there are less artists actually getting released because there are less record deals going around, but I wouldn’t undermine the ability of artists like that because I could never sing and do a dance routine at the same time. That stuff makes me feel fear. [Laughs] And also [I] probably couldn’t sustain that amount of time without my weight fluctuating up and down either. [Laughs] So I’m pleased that there’s room for everyone.”
When and why she got into the vintage style: “I think since I hit puberty because I kind of realized that my body wasn’t going to be androgynous, so I started looking for a style that accentuated femininity and I think that’s why I ended up dressing [in the style of the] ‘40s and ‘50s.”
What it takes to embarrass her: “Quite a lot to embarrass me. I feel like I’m sort of probably a 60-year-old woman trapped in a 27-year-old’s body because I feel uninhibited.”
If she’ll act anymore, following “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”: “Yeah, I do [want to]. I haven’t had that much time to go to auditions recently because I’ve just been promoting this record. It’s 100 percent something that I enjoy doing and that I would like to do more of.”
Guilty pleasure movies: “I’m not guilty about much; it takes a lot to embarrass me. All the ones I’m thinking of are actually quite good. I’ll give you a few: ‘Neverending Story,’ ‘Labyrinth,’ ‘Coming to America,’ ‘Big,’ ‘Gremlins.’ They’re all brilliant childhood movies.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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