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Keeping the faith: Paloma Faith’s defiant style

©Epic Records
Paloma Faith (©Epic Records)

The latest British pop siren melds classic American influences with an outsized personality and bold vocal style

By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music

When British pop singer-songwriter Paloma Faith released her debut album, "Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?," in 2009, she aimed her outsized personality and bold vocal style at a homeland audience. However, her stylistic foundation in an array of classic American singers' styles and tracks like "Smoke & Mirrors," and the obvious hit candidate "New York," quickly generated early buzz across the pond (even rapper Ghostface Killah jumped on the latter track's remix).

Born Paloma Faith Blomfield in the Cockney stronghold of London's Hackney borough, the would-be singer and actress held a number of odd jobs, including a magician's assistant and burlesque cabaret singer, before becoming a platinum recording artist in the U.K. As Paloma Faith, she's now focusing on building a U.S. audience with the release of "Fall to Grace," the sophomore full-length that released on Dec. 4. MSN Music caught up with her on her first U.S. mini-tour where she detailed the journey from domestic to global stardom, and how her voice is her most prized possession.

MSN Music: Are you excited that the album is out in the U.S. this week?

Paloma Faith: I'm so excited! I really hope that people buy it! I'm doing quite a lot of TV this trip, so hopefully that will make more people aware of me in a short space of time. Because I'm really enjoying spending time here and meeting people, but the only way that I'll kind of continue to keep coming here is if there's a demand for it. So if that keeps on growing, then that means I can keep coming back. So I'm kind of excited and nervous at the same time.

What did you want to change from the first album, coming into the second one?

Well, basically, on my first album, I came from nothing. So I was kind of, to some extent, at the mercy of my record company, because they held the power. Nobody knew who I was and I didn't really have a solid ground in which to launch myself on  so I ended up writing for a really long time, getting rid of so many songs. On some of the songs I got what I wanted, but the majority I sort of had to compromise on the production and the way that I wanted it to work. On this record I didn't because I'd already established myself, so I had a little bit of worth and value. I was able to have a lot more creative control. My A&R [rep] made great suggestions of whom I should work with. As soon as I worked with them, he just let me get on with it.

More on Paloma Faith

Who are some of the people that you worked with this time?

Nellee Hooper and Jake Gosling produced it, and they were the producers for most of it. Then I had guest people on it, like David Arnold on "Streets of Glory" and Al Shux on "Freedom." Then with the writing, I'd written pretty much most of the songs when one of my old people were still at the label, but we hadn't gone into production yet.

It must have felt liberating coming into this project.

It was liberating  the only thing was the old label was, like, exceptional when it came to pushing my songwriting. Then when it came to production, we didn't see eye to eye. Whereas with this guy, he's a bit looser and it's like, everything's got pros and cons. I've really enjoyed working on this record, and I think I'm the type of artist who flourishes when encouraged to be free and sort of go with my thoughts.

Listening to this album versus listening to your last one, there's such a fundamental difference.

I think I was just more true and honest in this new one. What happened was, when I was touring the first one, I used to sing covers on the tour and get such an amazing reaction. I used to think, "Is it because I'm singing in my own voice?" Like, I'm singing Etta James songs and I'm singing in the way that I should sing, so I was like, "That's how I should write!"

So I started to write like the people I admire, and the people whose songs I felt comfortable singing. People like Etta James, Chaka Khan, Peggy Lee, even like Grace Jones. I mean, not her voice but just the style. Like, Aretha Franklin throughout the ages, Tina Turner, there are so many. I was just like, listening to all these voices and trying to tap into what it was about them that I loved so much. They're all strong women who, when they sing about tragedy, there's still a strength to it. I think that's what I've channeled into this record.

Bing: How did Paloma Faith fare on the Billboard charts?

Which song on the album do you feel like you hold the closest to you?

Well, all of them, because they all mark a sort of place in time, but I think probably the one that I can see lasting through time kind is probably "Just Be." I don't know, I think that's probably the one that makes me feel most accomplished as a songwriter.

While bringing this album to America, was there anything that you were told you had to change about yourself to fit the U.S. audience?

Yeah, but the thing about me is I just tell everyone to p--- off. You can't tell me what to do. I just laugh. They did do it a little bit at the beginning. They were like, "So how are you going to wear your hair tonight?" And I'd say, "Exactly how I want to!" Then they'd laugh and then I'd say, "Look, you wanted to bring me over here for who I am, so let me do it." In the end, now they just don't say anything. So I mean, I just think like, you can't be anything other than yourself.

I think that it's actually a myth that Americans want everything to be spoon-fed to them. With the success of Adele, there's proof of that. She does everything the way she wants to do it. You'll always see Adele wearing the same outfit about 17 times. It doesn't matter to her! Americans embrace her because she's pure talent, and I think that it's a new door in sort of international world taste, really. I think people feel suspicious of manufactured things now. I think what's kind of succeeding more is truth.

Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.

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