December 1, 2020 Interview – Katie Melua
Recording her first album while only 19, two decades later Katie Melua has sustained international stardom. Originally from Tbilisi, in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Melua moved to the UK at the age of eight, and quickly found her calling with music. Now one of England’s most successful artists with a catalog that has been certified 56 times platinum around the world, Melua still finds inspiration with her eighth studio record, Album No. 8.
Released on October 16, 2020, Album No. 8 finds Melua breaking new ground as a songwriter, becoming the first of her efforts to feature all her own lyrics. A wonderfully composed collection of songs, it is her eighth consecutive UK Top 10 album, and now, on December 4th, she will be performing in her first-ever livestream event at London’s historic Rivoli Ballroom. Happy to be celebrating the release of the new music, Melua took the time to discuss her career, her growth as an artist, the importance of culture, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for over 17 years now. In that time you have attained a mass of success with chart-topping and top selling albums. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your journey in music to this point?
Katie Melua – I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of listening to music and how music can change my emotions. So as an artist and as a performer, I placed a great deal of importance on the listening experience. At the start I worked with brilliant composers and producers who showed me how the traditions of making records in the UK worked, but now as I grow through the industry, I have to find my own path; and that for me lies in writing words and exploring the lyric side of songwriting. So, my latest record, my 8th one, brings together a number of years of research in what the purpose of a song is and how to capture the best of life in song form.
Cryptic Rock – The years of experience are certainly paying off. You have a very unique style that unifies Jazz, Blues, Pop, and Folk. Early on, what influenced your approach as a performer and songwriter?
Katie Melua – I listened a lot to Eva Cassidy as a teenager. I loved Classical music and I loved Led Zeppelin. I was never focused on any one genre; I always loved music for its emotional qualities. Recently, I’m a big fan of the band and the great Brazilian record Elis & Tom, as well as Brad Mehldau, so I still have a wide variety of genres that I adore. I really believe that what we listen to massively informs us.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and when we are open to all genres we become more diversely informed. Judging by your music, you appear to be someone who is very keen on culture and history. Are these two things that have always interested you? Furthermore, what have you learned from your cultural/historical interests over the years?
Katie Melua – I have definitely always been interested in culture and history. Coming from Georgia, history and tradition are something that my whole family placed a great deal of importance on. I do notice in England, because everything tends to be put in separate categories, that the appreciation of history and culture isn’t as mainstream. But then I really deem what I do as a part of the tradition of record making.
One of my favorite essays is by T. S. Eliot called Tradition and the Individual Talent, where it talks about the work that an artist creates will always sit in the tradition of the culture they are born into because the audience cannot erase from their memory what already exists. So I know that when I make a record, I am adding to a beautiful and exquisite musical culture.
Cryptic Rock – It is so refreshing to hear your appreciation for such cultural aspects. You recently released your eighth studio album on Friday, October 16th. Entitled Album No. 8, it is a really delightful collection of songs. What was the writing and recording process like for this new collection?
Katie Melua – It was new for me because it was the first time where I was in a position where the lyrics were entirely my own. And that grew from the fact I realized I had to write the words on my own and take my time on them. The harmonic and musical compositions were in collaboration with some of the best co-composers in the UK, and because of the skill set that is already there in musical composition, we were able to work relatively quickly on the music. But when it came to the words and my desire in making them as good as I possibly could, I needed to do that part alone. Leo Abrahams, as the producer, was an incredible help in nurturing that process along.
Cryptic Rock – You did an exceptional job of creating a beautiful story in the lyrics. The album has a running theme of love throughout each song. What inspired this lyrical direction?
Katie Melua – Actually, all the writing courses I took definitely advised against worn out topics like love. But I couldn’t completely avoid it. What I was working with was the tradition of my own records, which dealt with love from the fairytale angle, and I felt that as a 36-year-old woman I had to take the topic and bring it into maturity for the catalogue of songs that I perform on stage.
Cryptic Rock – It works well and feels very real. Another striking aspect of the album is the instrumentation. What was it like working with the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra?
Katie Melua – The Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra actually had Giya Kancehli as a very active patron. Giya’s piece “Mourned By the Wind” was one of the strong references when making Album No.8. This orchestra has really grown in the last 12 years as Georgia has started to find its feet, and then I have to say that Leo Abrahams arranged the strings, and he told me that his aim was to have “every musical phrase reflect and react to the lyrics.”
Cryptic Rock – It certainly does! Beyond music you have also done some acting. Would you consider doing more acting in the future? If so, what type of projects would interest you?
Katie Melua – The quick answer is no. I would be delighted to work in film, but create music for it or write songs for it. So working on a musical in the style of the types that were made during the Great American Songbook would deeply fascinate me.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully you have that opportunity to work on a musical soon. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror/Sci-fi films, do you have any favorites and why are they your favorites?
Katie Melua – The most influential film for me as a child was Aliens (1986), Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley had a profound effect on my identity as a woman. I actually hoped to grow up as wise and as strong as her.