Katie Melua

Katie Melua is one of those artists you come across just once in a lifetime. Initial press quotes tagged her as the next Norah Jones, but Melua is very much her own woman with a life so rich in experience. Living in Moscow, Georgia, Belfast and currently residing just outside London 19 year old Melua has seen political discontent and poverty first hand and it's these experiences that come across in her songwriting debuts on "Call Off The Search". The rest of the album has been written by Mike Batt, famous for the Wombles, but also a man who has worked with some of the greatest singers and records the world has heard. Designer Magazine introduces you to Katie Melua.

Q: The last couple of months must have been so strange for you. Going from such a small profile, to being picked up by Radio 2, the Royal Variety show and being tipped for the Xmas Number 1 slot. How was it?
A:  I've always love music and I never really thought god I wanna be famous, it's just that the music for me has been a passion. I've been doing this for quite a while now, playing gigs here and there for the last 4 years and the last couple of years I have been working away in my bedroom writing songs, so even though people say "God, it's happened so fast" to me it's been a long long haul. It's great to get some feedback in now and see that people are enjoying the music.

It's very flattering being tipped for the Xmas number 1, but it's a bit silly I think. We weren't even going to release it for Xmas and it's nice for people to say it's going to Number 1 at Xmas or anytime at all. Realistically speaking it's such a hard market and to be honest I think the single is for us a tool to lead people onto the album rather than trying to get a number 1 single or anything like that. I'm not a singles act at all.

Q: You're signed for a 5 album deal. It's quite a pressure for someone just turned 19?
A: Obviously it's not a major, but it's great to have done that. There's no pressure cos in the record company there's only 3 people running it and it's such a laid back feel. They're all in it for the music which is really cool so we'll just take it slowly and see how it goes.

Q: How's it working with Mike Batt, the man famous for bringing the Wombles to TOTPs?
A: To be honest because i've only lived in England for 5 years I didn't know much about him or the Wombles or anything else he'd done. As I got to know him I was told by other people he'd done that but I also found out he was an amazing conductor and worked with people like Art Garkfunkel, Elkie Brooks and really great performers as a producer and a writer so it's a real privilege to work with him.

Q: Going back to something you said earlier about not wanting to be famous. Didn't you enter a TV Talent Show - the equivalent of Pop Idol in it's day?
A: That was a bit of a mad moment. I was just a kid and I thought heck I'll do it. I was in a little youth club and they did a little competition which I won. It's turns out they'd been approached by a TV Program for a show called "Star Up Their Nose", a taking the piss out of "Stars In Your Eyes" sort of thing. I did Mariah Carey and I look back now and think what was going on there!!!

Q: Growing up you've lived in so many places and taken in so many experiences. How does that sort of nomadic existent effect you?
A: I lived in Moscow when I was a toddler so I don't remember much of it. Georgia, I lived there till I was 8 and all my family are from there and then we moved over to Belfast because my dad got a job there. After living there for 5 years I came over and have lived in England ever since. Living in places like Georgia and also Belfast, which I guess living in England it's not viewed as the safest place ever...living there you always find that people are so nice and their spirit always lives on. It's not that they're happy, but they're funnier and they laugh more and enjoy the little things in life. Even though these places have political down thing, I always found they were warm lovely places and people should go and visit them.

I remember things in Georgia in about 93 / 94 and we'd just broken away from the Communist thing in 1990 and I remember little things like going down to get buckets of water because we were living in flats that didn't have very good water at all. I had to go down to the garden and fill up two buckets with garden hoses and take it back up 5 flights of stairs. And things like not having electricity in the wintertime.

Q: And this upbringing at one time inspired you to want to follow a career in politics?
A: I wanted a load of different things and politics was one of the cool things I wanted to do. I just felt that famous people or musicians had more power over young people than politicians do. I do like to talk about social things in my songs, but I'm not planning to go into politics. I do think the two are very closely entwined and you can talk about stuff in songs which is what I try to do.

There's a song on the album called "Belfast" which talks about the political situation but it's not a "Hey everyone stop fighting and make love" type of thing. It's talks about humans over there are still humans and they're still brilliant people.

Q: A lot of singer songwriters, local provincial ones in particular, talk about the same old subjects. It's must be refreshing to write something different and off the beaten track.
A: To be honest I'm crap at writing love songs. I just find it so hard because so many great love songs have already been written. I want to write about something I really feel strongly about. I used to play places like the 12 Bar in London, a fantastic quirky place that is about 3 metres wide, and I'd still love to do places like that. For me I love performing live and you have to do that whole scene to hone your art.

Q: The patronage of Terry Wogan and et all does seem to be transferring through to sales. On the Amazon you're currently ranked at 15 in Terms of Album Sales.
A: I didn't know that actually. Oh My God. It's brilliant that people are actually liking the music cos that's what it's about. I'm in the music and it does surprise you that people in the music industry aren't always in it just for the music. It's weird, I don't know why that is...I do know why that is. It's because it's the way the world is and it's all about looks and manufactured bands.

We do need a change in the industry and going to music college I was always surrounded by people who were into really good music and not the manufactured thing. It's been a long time coming and there's so much good music out there, it's the fact it's not in the mainstream charts so that probably needs to happen. Kids need to hear good music. When I was 14 or 15 I was into the whole Spice Girls and I was a huge fan, but two years ago I heard The Beatles, Led Zepellin, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and I was like f**king hell I've been born in the wrong bloody decade.

Q: Is it the just the elder statesmen you listen to now?
A: I do listen to a lot of older stuff, but I'm always on the look out for new stuff. I'm absolutely amazed by a new guy called Jack Johnston, he's really huge in America and it's so frustrating because not a lot of people have heard of him over here. Everyone has to go and buy his album "On And On", I think you can get it on Amazon as well. It's hard to describe him because he's quite original, but if you like Bob Dylan, Coldplay and Tom Waits you'll really like him.

Q: This album, "Call Of The Search", has already received a lot of critical acclaim. Where do you see yourself 2 years down the line?
A: I'd say this is the singing album I've done and on the next album I'd like to do more of a songwriting styled album. At the moment I'm really into minimal production so I'd really like to give that a go just basic going back to the roots production wise. I'd love to carry on working with Mike, and I'm sure I will do, but I'm sure he's got ideas of other producers and friends he'll suggest. And then there's the tour early next year.

The single "Closest Thing To Crazy" is out now
The album "Call Off The Search" is out now on Dramatico
Katie Melua is expected to tour early in 2004
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