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Katie Melua: No fear of heights


Katie Melua very well could be the biggest star in the world who you’ve yet to hear of. At least if an informal poll of my Twitter followers is any indication.

Only 25 years old, Melua’s first three albums, Call Off the Search, Piece by Piece and Pictures, sold over ten million copies world wide. She quickly became the highest selling female artist from the UK globally. Her jazz pop compositions and introspective lyrics, along with her story of growing up in war-torn Georgia, found its place amongst the hearts and ears of UK’s record buying public.

Her latest album, The House, which comes out today in the US is her most introspective and emotional album to date. Produced by William Orbit, best known for Madonna’s Ray of Light and Blur’s 13 albums, it is a departure from her previous efforts, leaving most of the jazz tendencies behind. It was also the first album she made without Mike Batt producing. She explained in a telephone interview he produced her first three albums “and wrote a lot of the songs and he’s my manager and the head of the indie label I’m with, Dramatico.” She further elaborated, “we have a really great relationship but we knew that there would come a point where the creative aspect of how we work, there was time for a change. That time came with this record, so initially, that was enough of a different step from what I had ever done before. It was also quite daunting because he was such a big part of the music and creative process, so I kind of realized I needed as much time as I could to really work on the songs, trying to develop a concept of the album.”

The album is a mature and thoughtful exploration of life and its challenges. Her voice sounds mature, confident and gorgeous. The House begins with “I’d Love to Kill You,” which is sweeter than the title implies with Melua cooing over minimal instrumentation “I’d love to kill you with a kiss; I’d like to strike you down with bliss.” The first single “The Flood” is garnering the most attention with the Telegraph saying “lead single The Flood is the best thing she has done, a restrained, thoughtful, slow-burning drama that lifts unexpectedly into a time-shifting pop dance groove.”

My favorite song, though, is “God on the Drums, Devil on the Bass,” a big, expansive number that is as intelligent as its title demands, and one that makes for a kick-ass rhythm section. When she was writing it, she said “It was pretty clear that the song lyrically had to be about life, that the own way we can define the good is if we have the balance of it, too. It felt like a really big song and i wasn’t finished with it, but I really wanted it on the record. One of the only people who I knew that was an incredible writer and could finish it was Mike, so I asked him to finish it for me and he did.”

Batt’s involvement, though, was reduced compared to the first three albums. She told me “this is the first record where I pretty much wrote almost all of the songs. I’d always written but Mike is such an incredible writer that he filled that role the most. This time around, it was down to me.”

The House was the first album Orbit produced in several years. On working with him, Melua said, “the funny thing is that we didn’t know that he was retired, in this sort of self-imposed retirement. I don’t think he really had produced an album for a really long time. Mike just sent him the songs, I had never met him, Mike didn’t know him, so it was a case of just sending him the songs and he just got back to us straight away. That was it.” She added, though, “at first I was really flattered but thought ‘oh, but what if he wants to turn me into a big ol’ dancing queen?’ I didn’t have to worry about that for too long because he really understood the organic way that I make music. I think we made an album that’s not too similar to how he worked in the past. We had our live band record as much live as we could have in the first month.”

Melua is like a lot of artists who have achieved considerable success throughout the world but has found success in the US elusive (think of Kylie Minogue or Robbie Williams, for example), yet when asked if she has any expectations for how The House should perform in the US, she said “having been born in Georgia and having moved to England and the amount of traveling I’ve done, you realize there isn’t a huge difference from people in different countries and everyone is equal and everyone is a human being and everyone has a heart and the capacity to enjoy music and be inspired by it. The expectations I have are no different than from anywhere else.”

What has helped Melua connect with her audiences is the attitude she takes towards her music and fans, as she told me “what I love most about music is that after four albums, it still continues to mystify me; the day I feel like I’ve figured it all out is when I want to stop. I can’t see that happening because the best thing about music is that the songs constantly change, they don’t really stay solid and if you let them go and let the audience and the listener turn them into their own music, that’s when it is so incredible and beautiful.”

She said she didn’t have a specific goal of becoming a musician or a pop star but said when asked about what inspired her to follow that path, she explained, “I didn’t really have a dream or a plan about this, but what I do remember is being six years old and it was in Georgia and the electricity had gone out and my mother had sat at the piano and played Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ I remember the feeling I had in my stomach and it felt like the perfect moment; the music just filled my heart, I don’t know how to describe it, love maybe. All that I’ve tried to do with my music is to keep that feeling alive and to keep going after it. That’s probably what gave me this obsession with music; it was never about being a singer or songwriter but about that feeling.”

{Photo by Rebecca Litchfield.}


Chris Burlingame is the editor of Another Rainy Saturday.