wears the trousers magazine

paloma faith: in the land of faith, believe
September 14, 2009, 9:50 am
Filed under: feature, video, words in edgeways | Tags: , , , ,


words in edgeways with paloma faith

“Someone introduced me to someone the other day and said, ‘This is Paloma, she’s a lovely bunch of people’.”

Paloma Faith is one of those people who you meet and you just know it’s gonna happen for them. A face on the London cabaret scene for many years, it seems like it was just a question of time before she found herself where she is now. That is, sitting in the plush airy offices of the mother of all media conglomerates, Sony, whose record label Epic she signed with last year. Exhausted from a rapturously received show, and afterparty of course, the previous night, she’s lounging (well, almost) on a couch, as the media turnstile clatters round and round before her: journalist in, journalist out. Never one to let her appearance guard down, even today Paloma is dressed to the nines, sporting a floor-length spangled skirt in rainbow colours, red/orange heels and tights, and a bright yellow top with matching beret. Perfectly manicured and painted nails protrude from already long, slim fingers. Just another day at the office really.

It’s the perfect package. Paloma’s background is rich and fascinating. Brought up single-handedly by her mum in Hackney, she trained as a dancer and has already had quite a career as a performer, with stints as a magician’s assistant and a burlesque dancer. In her most recent incarnation as an actress, she enjoyed success most can only dream of. Though she’s currently best known for her role as Andrea The Emo in ‘St Trinian’s’, she will soon star alongside the late Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus’. Yet, despite these achievements, Paloma has put all that business behind her. Though she doesn’t play a single instrument, she decided that music was her best medium for expression and sought out experienced musicians to write with. And with a voice like hers, who can blame her? The result? She signs to a major label and her first single, ‘Stone Cold Sober’, becomes a massive hit. In fact, its release date had to be brought forward, it was getting so much airplay.

But whose package is it? For someone who’s been very outspoken against the record industry’s treatment of powerful women, I wonder why she wasn’t more wary of signing to a major? “Because I don’t think I’m easily manipulated,” she states confidently. “They knew what they were getting into and so did I, and I feel that what we’ve come out with as a result is better than what I would have done if I’d gone with an indie. One of my concerns about art and culture is that I’m not pretentious, hopefully, and not elitist. And I always said that I wanted to do something that was available to everyone, and in the back of my head I wanted to sign to a major for that reason. Because I think that they know how to make it not separatist. I don’t want to be that way. We’re all human. That’s what unites us, whether or not one’s a circus trapeze artist and one’s a bank clerk or whatever – there are universal symptoms of the human condition that bring us all together.”

She’s got a point. Why keep art on the fringes? Difference is only difference until it’s embraced by the mainstream. And the mainstream can’t embrace something it’s not exposed to. She’s pretty philosophical about it, confident that this route is right for her. “I just hope it doesn’t fail miserably so they’re like, ‘okay, we’ll just go back to sticking to what we’re used to ‘cos that would be a shame for the industry. That is essentially why labels do that; because they do need to sell records. If they take a risk with someone like me and it doesn’t do so well they will go back to doing what they’ve tried and tested.”

Live, Paloma’s shows are pure theatre. Her much talked about gig at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts gig in June saw her performing within a fully dressed stage set complete with fake snowstorm, a Hans Bellmer doll, tiny chairs, giant dominoes to be pushed over, balloons to be blown up. And no silence. In between songs she played what she describes as a “sound landscape”, abstract noises like the sound you make when you run your finger round the rim of a wineglass. Paloma herself describes the atmosphere she creates as “David Lynch-y. Sort of like cellos, that kind of dark edge.”

Her debut album, Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?, is due for release this September. The few snippets Wears The Trousers has been treated to are big, bold numbers, just like the singles. Booming brass, full strings and slick production showing off Paloma’s huge bluesy voice to the full. Paloma describes it as being “Kind of eclectic. Because I am. With my multi-personality disorder!” she cackles. It’s a theme she has an interesting take on, and one she addresses in the song ‘Broken Doll’. “It’s kind of my tag line,” she explains. “The first line is, ‘I don’t claim to be perfect, I know I’m damaged goods’ – everyone is and I think that’s a wonderful thing – so it’s like, let’s celebrate not just the perfections but also the imperfections. I don’t think anybody’s one dimensional. I think we’re expected to be and everyone’s always being asked, ‘Who are you? What are you about?’, and I think, ‘Why?’

“Every relationship I’ve ever had, the bloke’s been like, ‘You contradict yourself every five seconds’, and I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with that? I’m a human being! I change my mind – what’s the problem?!’ You know, like yesterday I wanted a cup of tea and a biscuit and today I’m not eating biscuits. Deal with it!” She continues, animated now. “I don’t understand why we’re always expected to define ourselves and you know this kind of weird sort of semi-middle class ideal of like (adopting affected accent) ‘finding yourself’ I find is weird. I mean, what’s the point? Why can’t you just be multiple?” she asks, dissolving into laughter. So no therapy for this Norith London resident in the near future. How very refreshing.


"I don't think I'm easily manipulated"

By this point it feels that enough time has passed in the interview to mention the elephant in the room, the name on everybody’s lips when they talk about Paloma Faith: Amy Winehouse. There is, let’s face it, more than a passing similarity between them: their voices, their musical style and their whole look. And this similarity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Surely it’s no coincidence, given the campaign’s message, that a Winehouse-sounding track, Paloma’s ‘I Just Wait’, was used for the ‘Alcohol: Know Your Limits’ television ad. Paloma herself is more than happy to be associated with the project and has very strong opinions on the whole topic. “I’m a social drinker,” she states. “I’d say it takes me about three glasses of wine to get drunk and then I’m tipsy and that’s enough. And I really know my limit. I don’t like to get out of control. I think that in the UK there is this really terrible attitude towards alcohol. It’s binge drinking central here. The reason why I think it’s a big problem is because everyone does it and therefore it’s acceptable. I don’t know why everyone’s got to do it every weekend to the point where they can barely talk and they’re staggering and being sick in the road. Like when you walk up Kingsland Road [in Dalston, North London] on a Friday night it’s just sick every few metres and it’s just like, ‘This is not normal!’, and I don’t think the generations before us did that. I really strongly believe that by the time my generation gets old liver transplants and liver problems will be really common.”

Okay, so we’re convinced Paloma’s not going to take that same nosedive into the world of crack-pipes and Jack Daniels, but you’ve gotta admit it’s a neat publicity hook. How many people have asked themselves whether the ad men really had the gall to use an Amy Winehouse track for that campaign? Paloma must have seemed like a godsend. And then on top of that she releases a single called ‘Stone Cold Sober’. I ask her whether the title is a deliberate nod to Ms Winehouse. There’s a long pause. Then she looks up, minxy expression on her face. “I’ll leave that open to interpretation!” she says, laughing hard. Actually the pair did meet once, way back in the day. A pre-beehived and tattooed Amy apparently approached Paloma and commented on how much she liked her look. And, yes you’ve guessed it, Paloma was sporting tattoos and a beehive at the time. “I don’t think people copy each other,” Paloma muses when pressed on the topic, “but she obviously admired it and liked it and then maybe she looked at other things and…” She smiles coyly, “I don’t know!”

One thing’s for sure, the visual part of the package is most definitely Paloma. She’s had the whole vintage clothes bug for years and says she’s the first port of call for her friends when they’re going to fancy dress parties. “I don’t spend loads of money on clothes – I don’t really know how to! My label said they’d give me some money for clothes and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to spend it’, ‘cos I only know how to do bargains! So I just bought loads of stuff rather than one really expensive dress.” I can’t really imagine she has dressing down days, but there must be times when she just pulls on some old jeans and a top to go down the road for some milk. “I’ve got casual clothes but I generally wear like 1940s working mens’ clothes, when I’m in casual. Just men’s clothes like Diane Keaton. I dress a bit like her on a casual day. Like brogues and trousers and a tie and shirt.” I ask her if she would ever consider going on stage in anything other than a costume and her response is emphatic: “No. Never.”

Paloma is a great combination of warm and carefree, yet is clearly very smart and strong enough to get what she wants. She attributes this attitude to having had a lot of rejection in her early career both as a dancer and an actress, auditioning for tons of parts and not getting any. She was also thrown out of ballet school at 13 for being “too curvy”. Nice. So her ability to bounce back even stronger was getting plenty of training. She was also surrounded by plenty of strong female role models when she was growing up. “My family’s very female heavy and at Christmases and stuff they are the loudest! The men sort of go and retire in the other room quietly,” she laughs. “My mum’s amazing. My mum brought me up herself and I think she did a great job of being mum and dad.” Indeed, her mum made her move out of home at 18 because she wanted her to be independent, which Paloma sees that as no bad thing at all. In fact, she said the same thing to her half sister, from her dad’s side, who lived with her for a while when she was younger.

So there was plenty of both nature and nurture to propel her into the strong independent woman she is today. That said, when you’ve got charisma and that just-can’t-put-your-finger-on-it thing that successful people have, things just happen. And Paloma really does have that thing. She tells me a story of how she was once rehearsing for a dance piece and not doing well at all. Thankfully, she thought, she was part of the chorus so would at least be well hidden. But bizarrely the choreographer pulled her out and told her she would be dancing a lead role, right out in front of everyone. His reasoning was that people would spend all their time looking at her anyway, so she may as well be the focal point. That’s the thing about Paloma. Her forthcoming album may have had everything Epic could throw at it – great songwriters, polished production, a full orchestra and choir – but it is her effortlessly powerful voice which is at the heart of the package. No costume, no record company, no set dressing or makeover would work without this. And in turn that voice will stand alone and succeed without any of it.

Sacha Whitmarsh
Paloma’s new single, ‘New York’, is out today. Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? arrives September 28th.


‘New York’


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