Prior to her only Irish date this year, the million selling artist talks to Folk and Tumble, about famous collaborations, life choices, and her return to writing her own material.
FT: You really burst onto the big stage, with your album ‘Seasons of My Soul’, duetting with Elton John, and Burt Bacharach among others. Was there a point, or a particular event when you realised, ‘I’ve made it’?
R: I suppose one of the biggest things was standing on the stage of the London Pallidum with Burt Bacharach, and singing with him while he was playing the piano. I looked around, saw who I was playing with, and thought, ‘Wow this is amazing. This is the dream’!
FT: That must have been quite a feeling. And you’ve collaborated with many amazing artists since then. You’ve also covered many songs by other artists. I really got into your music more through your original songs, rather than your covers, as fine as those interpretations are. Aretha in particular is a favourite of mine, and I am sure many of your fans. It touches on mental health, not a subject visited by many other songwriters. I wonder if you think, because you cover so many other artists, and do so many covers, do you think that has in any way diminished your reputation as a songwriter?
R: Yeah, Maybe. I suppose that always the worry as a songwriter, that people will judge you for not writing. The way I saw it was, I didn’t sign my record deal, until I was 30, and by the time I was 34 or 35, I was in that place of wanting to have a family, and that just took priority to be honest with you. I realised that I couldn’t do both for this period of time, to raise a young child and be as creative in the same way, as I had been creative in the past. I simply couldn’t do both. So I chose to be a mother to a young child. I prioritised that, over writing for a period.
There are other aspects of my creativity that I did explore at that time. ‘Nashville Tears’ was an exploration of my interest in preservation, and my interest in the traditional song form, same with the Bacharach songbook, I enjoy doing other’s songbooks, because I learn a lot. I learn a lot about writers, I learn a lot about singing. It’s part of my education and development. So I could have done nothing, left those years blank, but I chose to do these projects in the interim. Now my son is now 5, and I’m writing again. But I’m not the same person I was in my 20s when I was unstable. During ‘Seasons of My Soul’, I was very unstable. A lot of the music on that album was my fragility and vulnerability reflected in that period of time. I can’t recreate that, I can’t recreate the enormity of losing your mother at 23, and what that meant. Or the instability of your 20s, or the immaturity of love and loss, in terms of heartbreak. You grow older, you get married, you have children, and you change. Certainly, My process changed. Before, I was someone who was very curious, being interested in all sorts of things, and talk to people who are slightly darker, or having relationships with people who might not have been a good idea. Now to do that would be irresponsible. The inner work has changed too, the ‘Diving for Pearls’, and going into one’s own psyche, mining your own past, I simply don’t have the time to do that and be a parent. I just can’t do both, it’s as simple as that. I’m getting back into writing again and I just do the best I can.
FT: Your vocal style is smooth and soulful, It’s been labelled easy Listening. There is a blues element to it, which I love, but it’s a soft blues. Have you considered a change of style, perhaps a bit rockier, or a rawer bluesy sound?
R: Yeah, I can do it. I’ve got a lot more in the tank, than I actually show, but I like to only bring it out, when the song demands it, like on ‘Aretha’, You know the performance on the record is pretty tame, but I definitely do much bluesier now live on stage. I don’t know, I don’t use everything I’ve got. Because It’s kind of frivolous. If the song demands it. If I’m singing a bluesy song, like there’s a song I’ll be singing in Derry, I lived in the American South for a number of years, and I really got immersed in that southern soul, rock sound, and that’s definitely influenced me, and its helped me grow as a musician, so I think I am singing with a bit more grit, and blues.
FT: Are you very self-Critical towards yourself?
R: Yeah, I suppose I can be. Criticism is a good servant, but a bad master. You can’t be too critical of yourself, or you wouldn’t actually make anything at all. Obviously, I have high standards for myself, and being critical, is a big part of being creative, you have to be critical as you’re making things.
FT: You’ve collaborated with so many amazing artists, is there any particular artist you would like to work with in the future?
R: Yeah! Neil Diamond, I’d love to work with Neil. Gordon Lightfoot.
FT: Aretha Franklin?
R: Well I wouldn’t be sure what sort of collaborations would be available, because she is the queen, so you know, you cant collaborate with Aretha, you know, Aretha is simply the Queen. I would love to sit with her and be in the studio when she is working, but I wouldn’t imagine that would even be possible.
FT: There are so many great songwriters out there and so many great songs, how do you decide, which song to cover, What makes a Rumer song?
R: There’s a few reasons. If I think that a song could do with being shared again or if I think that I can understand it, or interpret it, emotionally in a certain way, Or If I relate to it, and it speaks to me personally. With Hugh Prestwood, when I heard ‘Oklahoma Stray’ for the first time, I thought how could I not know this man’s work, because I love music. I thought if I didn’t know who Hugh Prestwood was, then other people wouldn’t either, So I really was on a mission to dive into his catalogue of work and create a piece of work that would really introduce him to people as well.
FT: You have a new album out at the moment, ‘B sides and Rarities’. I heard the single, ‘Roses’, and really thought you are doing yourself a disservice by calling the album B sides. It’s a really beautiful collection. Can you tell us a bit more about how it came about?
R: Well thank you. This is ‘B sides and Rarities, Volume 2’. Now volume 1 came about because genuinely people at the gigs didn’t want tea towels, or mugs, they really wanted music and they wanted rarities and extra songs, and people came up to me with CDs they had made themselves of random tracks that I had done, from here there and everywhere, and they had made their own album cover with photos from the internet, and turn up at gigs with them. So I thought, I’ve got to do this properly for people. Properly mixed and mastered, making it nice, putting a neat finish to it, and people really liked it. So B-sides 2 is more material for the same reasons. ‘Roses’ and ‘Old fashioned Girl’ were from my initial demos for ‘Into Colour’. So it’s material that has been around in some shape or form, and liked by the fans.
FT: You’ve joined up with Judie Tzuke, Julia Fordham and Beverley Craven (collectively known as Woman to Woman). How did that come about?
R: Yeah, I’m just a guest on their tour. Beverley Craven had asked to become involved in a charity auction she was doing, for a Hospice, and I was glad to help, and we had a few conversations about music and I think Beverley felt I might be a good addition to the tour, and I thought, I could learn, because I’m always interested in learning, and growing as an artist, and I thought what better than learning from three older stateswomen, and I’m definitely learning already, because I’m doing writing sessions with Judie Tzuke, and I absolutely love Judie, and I’m doing some backing vocals for Beverley, and she is clever, musically really, really clever. And Julia, my husband’s been writing with Julia. So it’s been really nice to meet people, three different voices and also to talk to people about what it’s like doing shows, and getting nervous and the little idiosyncrasies around doing performances. On stage, I’ll sing with them for a block, and they’ll sing on some of mine. They really make a lovely sound together.
FT: So aside from the ‘Woman to Woman’ tour, and the new album ‘B sides’, what’s next for Rumer?
R: Well writing, I’m finally at a point where I’m writing again and realising it’s been a long time since I’ve written a record. I’ve got my marching orders Damian, so I’ve got to write a record, and I hope people have been okay with the time elapsed since the last one that I’d written. I’ve learned a lot from living in the South of America, the songbook records, and the various collaborations, so I definitely have a lot to bring to the next record and meet people.
FT: I really look forward to your next musical chapter, and thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, it’s been a real pleasure!
R: I’ve really enjoyed it, hopefully see you at the gig.
Tickets for the show at Derry’s Christ Church on the 19th August are available at musiccapital.org