"I wanted to look at the world around me rather than the world inside my mind..." - Paloma Faith talks making new album The Architect
Paloma Faith’s 2014 album A Perfect Contradiction took her into the big leagues. By the time she’d finished touring in support of the album she’d sold over a million copies, delivered six singles, two of which went Top 10, picked up a Brit Award for Best British Female and sold out arenas all over the country. For its follow-up you’d expect the 36-year-old to be trying to repeat the trick, but there’s nothing of the sort going on.
For her new LP The Architect, Faith has taken inspiration from soul heavyweights like Marvin Gaye and Etta James and has set out to create an album with its eye trained on the issues that divide the country. Brexit, inequality and the environment, all laid bare.
We spoke to her about her aims for this album, how she balanced being a new mother with recording the LP and how she came to collaborate with John Legend, Samuel L. Jackson and political journalist Owen Jones...
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on A Perfect Contradiction?
“I was thinking about people like Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Etta James, Annie Lennox and Nina Simone. I was thinking about them and what it is I loved so much about them. I’ve realised that all of my favourite songs of theirs are the ones with politics and social commentary and I was wondering why I never do that, and neither does anyone else around at the moment. So with this album, I wanted to look at the world around me rather than the world inside my mind.”
Were any records key influences in how you went about things?
“Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On has been a big one. It’s so relevant to what’s going on at the moment. It’s an album about love and kindness, but it’s written against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I felt like there’s enough going on socially and politically for me to write a whole album about it.”
Did that mean you had to change your whole way of working?
“I did. I had to push myself to look at the news an awful lot more. I used to cower away from it, I thought it was too depressing and I didn’t want to take it on, a lot of it felt slanted and full of propaganda. But this time I delved deep and really looked into it, how news is delivered, how channels put agendas and angles on things and how the media can influence and betray people. There’s a few songs that dealt with that.”
Which tracks in particular?
“‘Guilty’ is about the people who thought they were voting for one thing when they voted for Brexit and then realised that wasn’t what they were getting and regretted it. The deluxe version has a track called ‘Price Of Fame’, which I wrote right after I’d seen the film about Amy Winehouse, it really struck a chord with me, how no one can look after someone and how the media played such a role in her demise, how they made her laughing stock when she was suffering so much. So I wrote a song for her with the band she recorded Back To Black with.”
Did wanting to write about weightier topics affect the producers and writers you chose to collaborate with?
“Not really. I didn’t want this album to fade into obscurity, I wanted this album to be more commercial than any other album I’ve written because it needs to be talked about and written about more than any of the others. I wanted to start a conversation about social responsibility.”
How did the process of making this album compare to your previous LPs?
“My process was a bit cursed this time, I’d just had a baby. I wrote a lot of it while I was pregnant, but I had to go back and re-record after I gave birth, mostly because I was convinced my voice had improved after childbirth. I had to nip in and out of the studio like a yo-yo because I was breastfeeding and it just felt like a mad time. I was trying to be my old self in the studio, but also dealing with the shellshock of being a new mother. It made the process really different. Previously I’d just camp out in the studio, but I couldn’t. I tried to be really focused when I was there, but I knew I’d have to leave again quite quickly.”
How was the lyrical process for this album?
“I’m always writing. It’s my thing. I can’t really play so writing the words are really important to me, the lyrics have to read well on the page. This process was the first time where I’ve had to be a lot more collaborative on the words. Before this, I’d never let anyone go near a single word, but I had to cede a bit of control because for so much of the recording I couldn’t be there. I’d go away and look after the baby and I’d come back and if progress had been made with lyrics then I didn’t want to just demand it be scrapped just because I hadn’t written it. This record weirdly feels more personal than ever because I was so adamant about the subject matter and that it wouldn’t be a love album, but also more collaborative than ever because of where I was in my life.”
When did you decide it was going to be called The Architect?
“Well into my pregnancy. I’d written the song before I got pregnant. It was a heartbreak song, it was the world singing to humanity about how disappointed she was about how the world had ruined her. So as I literally grew and grew it just seemed more and more appropriate. The world singing to humanity is the key theme of the record, I felt an affinity with Mother Nature because I was making a person.”
You’ve got some great guests on the album, you’ve got a duet with John Legend...
“I wrote that song with Zak Abel, who’s this brilliant new artist, and when I played it to people they kept telling me it sounded like a John Legend song. I’d written with John for my previous album and so I sent it to him and asked if he’d be up for singing and he did.”
And Samuel L. Jackson too!
“Sam was different. I’d done some stuff for his charity and he said to me ‘I owe you a favour’, which I took with a pinch of salt, but he reassured me that he was a man of his world and so I got him to do something for the album.”
And Owen Jones...
“I took Owen on tour for my last record. I was really inspired by him, he brings hope to politics and I love how fair his belief system is. When I asked him to open for me lots of people were really cynical about it, so I thought I’d turn the knife!”
Finally, how’s your live show coming together?
“I’m still planning it. But the same things I have always have will be there. My band is always s**t hot. This album feels like a big departure from my previous three. This is an album written looking forward rather than looking back, I’ve always felt quite nostalgic and that’s been represented by my live show. We’ve always had a retro feel, and this time it’ll be more forward-looking. I’ll still have the hits in there though, don’t worry.”