“All that history made me work that much harder” – hmv.com talks to Rebecca Ferguson
Jazz albums, or albums in general, don’t come much more iconic than Billie Holiday’s seminal 1956 effort Lady Sings The Blues.
Holiday’s life had descended into a blur of booze and drugs in the years leading up to the album and her voice was not what it had once been, but she somehow managed to pull together a remarkable, ghostly performance out and create an LP that is still regarded as one of the best there is.
To cover this album is a little like covering the whole of Nevermind, or The Dark Side Of The Moon, but former X-Factor finalist Rebecca Ferguson is doing his damndest. We chat to her about the daunting prospect of taking on Billie Holiday’s songs, recording in LA and her plans to take the record out live.
How long did the new album take to come together?
“In all it was about a year. We started by just playing around with things, then we moved to demos and then we moved in to Capitol Studios and did it all live with these amazing musicians.”
When did you decide that making Lady Sings The Blues was what you wanted to do next?
“It actually found me more than anything. People had suggested I should do it, I had real reservations about it at first because I’ve always written new music, but I listened to the songs, heard how good they were, fell in love with them and I just really enjoyed singing them.”
Was it daunting at all? They’re quite iconic songs…
“It was a little bit, especially some of them. I didn’t want to mimic anyone, I wanted to make my own versions, I listened to Billie Holiday through once then not again because I didn’t want her melodies to stick in my head. I wanted to put my own spin on the songs.”
How much did you know about Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings The Blues?
“I knew about Billie Holiday’s life, I’d actually had to study her while I was in college. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t mimicking her in any way at all. I wanted to make sure that it all came from my heart.”
How was recording at Capitol Studios? A lot of iconic records have been made there…
“It’s probably the best studio I’ve ever been in, it’s so lovely. The musicians we worked with were just class, they’d worked with greats like Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, it took me a while to realise what I was involved with, but all that history made me work that much harder.”
“We did it all live, so if I got something wrong, all the musicians had to stop, that made me really work on my singing. It made me very disciplined.”
How did you find working in Los Angeles?
“I really love LA. I try to go once or twice a year at least. It’s such a relaxed, happy place. I don’t know if I could live there full time though, but I'd love to do a few months of the year.”
What’s your favourite track on the album?
“Probably ‘Fire and Mellow’, I really feel like I put own spin on it, ‘My Man’ as well. I like each one in different ways, ‘Embraceable You’ is a really sweet track, it reminds me of Arabella (Ferguson’s newly born daughter) who I was carrying while we made the album.”
What are your plans to take the record out live?
“I’ve done some shows and I’m doing some more in March, hopefully I’ll be doing a tour at the end of the year. I think that’ll be a Lady Sings The Blues tour, I might mix it up with some of my other songs, but the general vibe will be quite jazz clubby.”
Has this experience of working with all these fantastic musicians given you the itch to start work on your next album?
“It was the first time I’d had to be really technical, I had to learn to read sheet music and follow this huge band. It’s made me look at my next record and want to be a lot more disciplined. I wanted everything to be perfect, I wanted to make a classy album, with my next album I’ll go in with that same ear.”
Rebecca Ferguson’s new album Lady Sings The Blues is released on Monday (March 9th). You can pre-order the album in hmv stores across the UK now.