The crazy thing about overnight success is that it always
takes a hell of a long time to achieve. When retro-vibed and
striking British singer Rumer released her debut album Seasons of
My Soul in late 2010 in Europe, most of the stories pointed out
that the singer was working at a coffeeshop when she was
discovered. What those stories didn’t point out was that she had
been striving for that break for over a decade before it came.
However, when it did come, she
embraced it. Seasons of My Soul became huge in her native
England, getting gushing reviews, going gold and spawning four
singles, including the smashes “Slow” and “Aretha.”
She quickly passed onto the radar
of legendary musicians and songwriters, making
fans and gaining collaborators like Elton John, Jools
Holland (the former member of Squeeze who went on to be England’s
top TV musical show host) and Burt Bacharach.
This acclaimed album was finally
released in the US just last month, topping the iTunes album sales
charts after a recent appearance of the CBS Sunday Morning
In the meantime, her British
follow-up CD, Boys Don’t Cry, a group of covers of songs by
male songwriters of the 70s, is due for an April release back home.
It’s planned to come out in the States next year.
Rumer is also in the early phases
of her next album of original material. She has a few songs
written, and says she would love to be able to record the album in
the US – specifically in the city of Philadelphia, which she has
visited a few times since the original release of Seasons of My
Soul and just has a vibe that she feels would nurture her
Rumer was nice enough to call us
from the road on a short US jaunt to talk to us about her music and
You were born in Pakistan, but
moved to England as a young girl. What are some of your first
musical memories? When did you decide singing was going to be your
When I first moved to the UK, I
got obsessed with Judy Garland. Judy Garland was on the TV when we
landed. I watched every single movie. I think I just became
transfixed by her. She was my role model in life. I wanted to be
I read in Mojo that about two years ago, you were working at a coffee shop and
someone overheard you singing. Now, obviously, you have been trying
to get noticed as a musician for at least a decade with several
different bands or names. What exactly happened to finally get you
Just a long process, really. I
tried to record my songs with various different producers, but I was
working around my job. I couldn’t afford… I’d have to save up money
to buy studio time. There was just never enough to really develop
anything. So, I met [British composer] Steve [Brown], who saw me
singing at a club. He said, “would you like to come to sing?” A
lot of people said to me over the years, “Do you want to come to my
studio?” and such and such. But, there was just something about him
and he was willing and generous. Not just generous with his time
and his money, but also his spirit. He put the whole album on his
You had previously recorded
some of the songs under your real name [Sarah
Joyce] in 2007, such as
“Come to Me High” and “Slow.” How do you feel you were able to improve
on them on the new album?
In context. They are in that
jazzy context that they always wanted to be in. Whereas on my own,
I can play the piano, I can play the guitar. The recordings I made
were very simple.
Suddenly last year in Europe,
your career exploded when “Slow” became a big hit and the album
started to get raves. How surreal was it when suddenly you were all
over the radio and TV?
It was really surreal, yes.
Crazy. It was extraordinary. For the first time I did a radio
interview. Making that transition. Now, obviously, radio
interviews are normal and everything else. Back then, everything
was new and terrifying. Terrifying – because it happened really
quickly. Overnight almost. It just hit the radio and caught fire
on radio. Suddenly I was selling out big theaters and going on TV
shows. It just happened.
You also did a song as a
tribute to Aretha Franklin, which I found interesting because her
style is very different from yours. How did Aretha influence you as
an artist and even just as a fan?
She has an amazing soul. She’s
got this spiritual… I mean, my life has always been about music and
faith, because my family was Christian and we played in church. My
brothers and sisters played in church and sang hymns and everything
else. Music was very much a part of that. For me, music and
spirituality, music and hymns, and music and prayer were always the
same thing. Listening to Aretha Franklin is really familiar. It
feels really warm and familiar. It’s like prayer.
I read that you said that “Take
Me As I Am,” which has more of a gospel feel, was inspired by Laura
Nyro, while “Thankful” was more like Joni Mitchell. How much do you
enjoy being able to channel your influences in your songwriting?
Who were some of the others?
I don’t do it consciously. But
“Take Me As I Am,” I remember a friend of mine played me this song
called “I Talked With My Man Today,” which was originally called “I
Talked With My God Today,” which gave me the idea for the
production. Lots of different influences. That Laura Nyro and
Labelle album [Gonna Take a Miracle] was a big influence,
because that was the only song on the album that had the backing
vocalists on it. “Thankful”… an album like Hejira,
listening to that gave me permission to write a song like
“Thankful,” which is a structureless poem set to music. So not
necessarily, I’m not doing it on purpose. I just feel that it is
possible to do things differently.
One thing that I find
fascinating about your songs is that the lyrics are often much more
emotionally vulnerable and disturbing than the lush music and
polished production hints at. Why do you find that dichotomy of
interest as a songwriter?
To be completely honest with you,
it’s an element of subterfuge. It’s getting it into people’s
houses. (laughs) You know, you can’t say, “Hi, here I am!
This is really deep. This is really existential. This going to
really make you cry. This is going to make you think about your
life.” You can’t do that. You have to just softly waft in, you
know? Just drift in to people’s houses. Then, if they want to
listen to the lyrics, they can.
Apparently, before Seasons of My
Soulwas even released, Burt Bacharach got a hold
of a copy and decided he had to write some songs specifically for
you. How did you find out he was a fan, and what has it been like
working with one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years?
incredibly humbling experience. Quite extraordinary. I find myself
trying to remember it. I can’t even believe it. It was fantastic.
I think he just heard there was this new chick on the block and he
wanted to pitch me a song for the album. The album was already
done, so the songs that he was pitching weren’t going to fit. So I
recorded one of them for a special, with “Alfie” as the B-side, and
released it as a special Christmas CD and 7-inch.
Will the Bacharach EP be
released in the States?
I don’t know. I’ll have to ask.
It’s called Rumer Sings Bacharach at Christmas. We should.
Elton John and Jools Holland
have also been very vocal supporters of your music. How amazing is
it that such well-known and respected musicians are fans of your
It’s great. When you meet people
like that, they’re just nice people. What I love about Jools
Holland is he’s extremely warm, but also, he’s extremely
knowledgeable. He’ll know… like you’ll say, “Who are those people
that played saxophone on Percy Mayfield?” He’ll know. You can’t
find it anywhere on the internet. You can’t find it in an
encyclopedia. He knows, because he’s got such an incredible music
history knowledge. It’s like having dons and professors. It’s
wonderful. Elton is just one of these people who you put out your
hand to shake his hand and he goes for a hug. He doesn’t want to
shake your hand, he wants to give you a hug. He’s a really, really
I love your cover of “Goodbye
Girl.” It doesn’t seem to be the most obvious choice for a cover –
why did you feel the song was something that you wanted to tackle?
Well I recorded that song for
Boys Don’t Cry, which is a selection of songs that I’ve recorded
from the 70s by male writers. The record company stole it. They
just wanted it. (laughs) The MD’s kids really liked it. I
didn’t mind, because it’s nice song. But it wasn’t meant to be on
the album. But that’s just a song that I liked.
You also do “Come Saturday
Morning” and the Beach Boys’ “Warmth of the Sun” on the “Aretha” CD
single, plus you have done some Bacharach songs live. As a
songwriter, do you find it easier or harder to perform someone
I think it’s a joy. It’s like an
actor. If you’re an actor, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, no, I only
perform my own plays.” Or my own films. You wouldn’t, because you
restrict your development as a artist. For me, I love to write
music, but I love to sing other people’s works, because it gives me
an insight into their emotional world. It helps me understand the
I heard your stage name is a
tribute to author Rumer Godden. How did she inspire you?
I don’t really
know. She’s one of my mum’s favorite authors. I haven’t actually
read any of her books.
So you just liked the name,
resonated with me, interestingly. Then later on I found that it
Seasons of My
Soul has been out in Europe for over a year. How did feel
to be getting a US release and how is the US tour going?
Oh, it’s great. I love it. I get
to play small venues, which I didn’t get a chance to do before. I
get to meet everybody after the show, which is great. I get to talk
to every single person, which is lovely. I love to come out and
What would people be surprised
to know about you?
I don’t know. I’m pretty transparent.
Everything I am is on display. They’d probably get surprised that I
get very insecure. I doubt myself. I think that would surprise
them… that I do doubt myself.
How would you like for people
to see your career?
I’d just like people to think it
was passionate. That every album I’ve made has been a passion
project. It was a portion of my spirit that I made like a gift to
people. It was never about money. It was never about fame or
fortune. It was all about sharing and connecting with people.
Being human together and being alive together.
Are there any misconceptions
you’d like to clear up?
I wouldn’t want to say, because
then I’d be highlighting what they were. (laughs)