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Interview: Nerina Pallot

Nerina Pallot has been in the business for over ten years. Over that time she has released four studio albums, been on countless tours and written for numerous people including X Factor alumni, Diana Vickers, and the queen of glitter and sparkles, Kylie Mingoue. Throughout this time things haven’t always been plain sailing, with Nerina hopping between record labels, starting her own label and some confusing issues regarding releases. In 2011, she released the completely brilliant and underrated Year of the Wolf, which featured the effervescent, and insanely catchy, ‘Put Your Hands Up’. From day one she has had built a loyal following of fans who crave the work that she creates, and one thing is certain; she knows how to write a brilliant pop song.

Nerina’s illustrious career has lead her to do something almost unprecedented. We caught up the the singer to find out just what musical madness she’s plotting, being proposed to on Valentine’s Day and why Perez Hilton is cunt…

Planet Notion: Hello Nerina. You’ve been busy this year. Can you explain what it is you’ve been doing?
Nerina Pallot:
I’m doing an EP release each month for the whole of 2014. Although EPs are roughly half an album, I don’t think anyone’s put out as many in that space, so it’s quite labour intensive. I just got sick of the album, tour, single… that whole cycle.  Also, I think I’m at a point in my career where I can pretty much make it up now. I’ve also realised that a true fan base don’t really care about those cycles. They just care about hearing as much music as they can get their hands on.  So I just sort of floated the idea around and got a lot of positive responses and thought I’d try it.

PN: To me it seems quite a daunting prospect. How do you cope with that?
It’s daunting in that I that I don’t want it to just be sixty songs that are all the same. I’m not daunted by having to write songs because I’m always writing. I think anybody who makes creative work, whether they’re writing songs or painting, is always doing it, so the output is not the issue. Obviously there’s quality and doing something that, artistically, is a little bit different each time.

PN: How do you find time to do anything else?
[Laughs] I’ve got to say, I’ve always been a bit of a sado; I’ve always just been doing music, so even when I wasn’t in the studio doing my own stuff, I was always doing something for someone else. I just find that if I don’t do anything my mind gets a bit despondent. I’m definitely one of those people that have a work ethic, not because I’ve got a work ethic but because I have a slight dark mind that if left unattended goes to dark places.

PN: Was there an explosion of musical creativity where you just had to get it all out?
Yes and no. I didn’t have that much sitting around waiting to be released. A lot of it has been written on the fly; each month it’s cut and put it. It’s a genuinely organic process. But I had been really creative last year with lots of different things, and I think one of the pros of being on a major label is you can get mass exposure, but one of the cons of it is that there’s a very long period between making something and it seeing the light of day. Now that I’m doing it on my own label again, I don’t have that period of waiting; I can just work, put it out and off we go. It’s really satisfying.

If you were starting out in your career it would be quite difficult to do this because you need an established fan base. I’m luck in that years of putting out records have built that. I think by the time you get four albums, a decade in, you have a fan base who are fairly committed, so they’re more open to experimentation.

PN: The first EP was called ‘The Hold Tight’, followed by ‘We Should Break Up’ and now the third, ‘When The Morning Stars Sang Together’. Can you explain the titles?
‘The Hold Tight’ is one of those songs that sat around for about a year. I’d started playing it live and people were saying that I should record it because they really liked it. It seemed like a nice analogy for a new year. That felt quite natural to pick that as a title.

‘We Should Break Up’ was an anti-valentines thing. I thought it was quite funny. Also, it’s true. Most of my songs have a kernel of truth in them, and that one was about a lunatic who proposed to me on Valentine’s Day years ago. The weird thing is I actually got married on Valentine’s Day, not to a lunatic but to my very nice husband. But years previously, a complete nutcase decided to do the actual proposal on Valentine’s Day when I was planning to break-up with him.

PN: Oh no!
Talk about awkward moments. It was a in a massive argument and while I was trying to break up with him. He got this box out of his pocket and threw it at me saying, “Do you want this fucking ring or not?” [Laughs].

PN: So will each EP have a theme?
No, not really. As the songs come together I start to see where songs fit together.

PN: When you’re writing, do you hold some songs back?
Yeah, definitely. It’s a tricky one because I want to make EPs that have a theme, but at the same time if I dropped some quite programmed things in one go…I know a lot of my fans like the very ballad-y side of what I’ve done. So it’s that thing of keeping people happy, but also keeping myself happy creatively. I think I’m learning there’s a compromise.

PN: What else are you learning about yourself as a songwriter?
That I can actually do things when I set myself a time frame; I don’t need to procrastinate. Also, that I’m quite versatile and that I like different things. I think all artists will say this: over the course of your work you run the risk of repeating yourself. When you do it in such a condensed form you definitely see where you repeat yourself. I’m learning that that’s definitely a weakness; certain things melodically that I tend to use that I want to stop being so comfortable with.

PN: It must be interesting to be able to put your work under the microscope like that.
It is, but you also have to move on quite quickly. When I think back to my very first album, to my ears it’s like nails on a blackboard. I was still learning how to sing, how to write songs and I wasn’t as proficient a musician as I am now. For me, technically, there are so many faults and lyrically it’s quite weak. But, I was so attached to it. It took me a long time to accept that it wasn’t going to be a number one album. It’s just really not that good, and it got as much as it deserves. I couldn’t move on then. Now, I literally finish a song, mix it, it’s fast. It’s quite nice as it’s objective. I think it’s a good thing, as you need to invest in your work while you’re making it, but then you just have to go, “it’s done.”

PN: What can you tell me about the albums that are coming after the EPs?
What we’re doing is we’re going to make an album that’s 12 tracks. It may not be one track off each EP, it might be. We’ll package it properly and do a vinyl. Then at the beginning next year I’ll put out a new record that hopefully this EP thing will transition to. It’s much more programmed and R&B – when I say R&B I don’t mean Mariah, I mean I’m a middle-class white girl. I’m not in the hood.

I’ve sort of been put in this box of singer songwriter, and that’s fine as it’s served me well and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure people think I go home and just listen to endless Ben Howard, Alanis Morissette and Amy McDonald albums. No! Apart from Alanis Morissette, I’ve never bought any of those. No.

My issue in my life has been reconciling the music that I listen to and the music that I make. It’s so different. I want to be authentic, so it’s been a natural process to go into the R&B stuff that I’ve always loved. It’s just when I opened my mouth at 17/18 I didn’t sing in that way. For some reason this folky voice came out of me. I couldn’t try and be something I wasn’t; I think you’d hear if I was being mannered. It’s been a natural process that musically I’m trying to move to things that I feel more responsive towards.

PN: You write songs for other people. Is there a different process you go through than if you’re writing for yourself?
It depends on the person. Most of the things I’ve had cut were things that I’d previously written already, so I wasn’t writing bespoke. However, for the Kylie album, Aphrodite, that was bespoke. I’d already started working with her, and we had a chat. From that conversation came ‘Aphrodite’. In that sense, yes, because I’d never write those lyrics for someone like me, but for Kylie that’s totally who she is.

PN: What are you like in the studio?
Previously, I’d be there till four or five in the morning. Now I have a child I can’t do that. I have to focus. It depends what I’m doing. If I’m recording then I’m really bossy; you have to be a human dynamo because there’s so much to get done. When I’m mixing, Andrew who I work with tends to do the manual mixing and I’ll fiddle around. I generally sit on the sofa reading a novel unless something grates.

Mixing is a very different thing from recording. They both happen in the studio, but they’re wildly different creative processes.

PN: Do you enjoy doing the programmed stuff?
I mean I don’t do it as much as I used to because I’m married to someone who’s a really good programmer. But, I’m of a generation who grew up with the first hard-drive recording and stuff, so it’s been an obsession of mine since I was a teenager.

PN: Would you ever do an album of full out bangers?
Yes I’m planning to! I’d love to! I genuinely love that music, and I totally get why people like David Guetta are really popular.

PN: At the moment whom are you listening to?
Lorde! I mean lyrically how can a 17 year-old write those lyrics, it’s just insane. Her mum’s a poet, so probably words have been a massive focus from her. We love Clean Bandit. I’ve loved them since Mozart’s House.

PN: Have you heard the new Sia single?
‘Chandelier’? Yes, it’s insane! One listen and you’re like, ‘this is a complete banger!’ I mean I can’t understand a single word she’s singing, ever. It’s Sia language.

PN: What do you think about her being a sort of promo hermit, especially after that Perez Hilton drama?
She doesn’t need to. She’s writing the best pop songs out there. She’s wicked. It’s a shame she doesn’t do more press because she’s actually a hoot. She’s mental.

I also think that’s more reflective on Perez than Sia. I don’t think anyone’s going to come away not liking Sia anymore, it’s more likely to be, “Perez you’re a complete cunt.” I love him, but he’s become a stamp of shame if he likes you.

PN: Once the EPs and the albums are done what are you going to do?
Have a holiday!

Nerina Pallot releases the third EP in the series, ‘When the Morning Stars Sang Together’, on 30th March 2014

- Images: Tommy Reynolds

- Alim Kheraj

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