Corinne Bailey Rae

Even if you don’t know the 38-year-old British songbird, you may find yourself starting to sing along when her hit single Put Your Records On starts playing. Since her humble beginnings singing in church, Corinne Bailey Rae has come a long, long way. Among a bunch of other accolades, the jazz singer has most notably won Grammys for Album of the Year and Best R&B Performance. What sets her apart from most acts however, is her incredible onstage performance. Lucky for us, she’s in town next week to perform at SingJazz 2017. We catch up with her ahead of the show to pick her brains about her latest album and what jazz means to her.

Your latest album sounds quite different from your previous ones. What was the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration behind this record was really instinct, nature, and the body – how we can learn from our hearts? I think that we all have a core sense of self, and the heart that tells us what we’re feeling, and what we’re thinking. I think that it’s really important to follow our instinct and our intuition, to learn from nature, to listen to our bodies, and pay attention to our dreams and our subconscious. That’s what this record is all about; the heart speaks in whispers, and we have to tune in to that and drown out all this chaos and noise around us.

I wanted the album to be acoustic, but I also wanted it to be noisy and electronic. I wanted to be experimental, and really wanted to grow as I was doing it – as a writer and as a producer. I’ve tried to do something different to what I’ve done before, and the next thing will be different to this, again. I just feel like I want to keep growing.

How did you get drawn to Jazz music, and how did you start playing?

Jazz itself is a hybrid of so many different things. Jazz really has a lot of edge, it’s been used to make a lot of statements and a lot of protests. It’s been used to demonstrate a lot of beauty, anger, fear and existential angst. It’s an intellectual music, but at the same time it’s very visceral and physical as well. So, I think jazz is a really broad term, because you could do a Led Zeppelin song and play jazz, or you could do a Jimi Hendrix song and play jazz. Both those artists, really were influenced by jazz in the sense that they felt free to improvise and have long extended sections where nobody knew what would happen next. There was interplay between the drums, and the guitar, and the bass – it wasn’t just everyone playing the chords so the singer could sing on top. It was complicated music. 

I think that my background in indie music really feeds into jazz. It’s funny how I get to play at all these different festivals – sometimes I’m playing at a pop festival, and I feel sort of too jazzy for the pop festival. Then I’ll play a jazz festival and feel too poppy for that festival. I’ve played at rock festivals, where I feel too soul, and then I’ll play at soul things where I’ll feel like – my thing is too noisy and weird for this soul event. So, I quite like not really fitting in anywhere, and I’m quite happy to play at a jazz event and feel like we don’t really fit in. Because jazz itself keeps pushing at the edges, pushing the boundaries. Real jazz, I think, should never feel too safe and cozy. It should always have some element of something that’s challenging or surprising, or unexpected. 

Obviously, Put Your Records On is a crowd favourite, but do you have a favourite song to perform live?

I love playing Put Your Records On, just because I love seeing people’s reactions to it, and I love hearing people sing along. That’s always nice. I really like playing ‘Like A Star’ as well, because I feel like it’s a moment in a set where everything just gets really intimate, even if you’re playing in a big festival. I have enjoyed playing new songs like Been To The Moon, because I think it’s sort of cheeky, and I get to be playful in the song. And sometimes we play Diving For Hearts from The Sea, which is really sort of heavy, and aggressive, and it’s about Led Zeppelin before. I love just really getting into my guitar, and doing something which is quite wild and gets extreme. I like to play that as well, which is almost at the opposite end of what I do. 

Which other acts are you looking forward to watching/playing alongside at SingJazz? 

I don’t even know who is on the bill for the rest of the Singapore Jazz Festival, but I’m really hoping to get there early and just be able to see a whole day’s performance. I love traveling around the world and seeing what different performers are saying.

I feel like I can learn so much and I think that’s important as well, to see what the audience likea, who’s out there, how people look and what they’re wearing, and how they respond to the people who have played before you. I think it’s all important in setting up your show. I’m looking forward to hearing who else is on the bill, I don’t even know yet. I just know once we got asked to do it, and it was in Singapore, I said yes.

What’s on your most played playlist right now?

I really love indie music – that’s one of my backgrounds, playing in a loud electric guitar band. I like the chaos of that, the new punk sound. I like to play drums, so I’d like to be in a band playing that kind of music, banging on the drums or something, or just playing guitar, working on riffs and solos. 

I also listen to hip hop. I’m really into Kendrick Lamar’s work right now, and I absolutely loved the Childish Gambino record that just came out. That’s really almost sort of funk, you know, it’s a bit like P. Funk by Parliament.

Whenever I hear a great record it’s like “Oh I love that!”, and I get really into it. It could even just be sort of abstract, electronic stuff.

So I think good music has that power to keep turning your head, and bringing you onto a different path. I’m just constantly listening out. At the moment, I’ve got this app called ‘Radio’, and it plays you music from all around the world in all the decades since, so I’ve just been lying around listening to Ethiopian music from the 70s. It’s so interesting!

If you did not end up becoming a jazz musician what can you see yourself doing?

That’s a really good question. I love writing – literature and sitting in libraries; I enjoyed studying English Literature at university, so maybe I would be writing something. Perhaps writing short stories, or little short films.

Oh but I love dancing too, as a way of telling stories. How much you can take from a mime, or a gesture, or a small piece of acting really blows my mind. I don’t know, I feel like I’d still like to be communicating, and creating stuff. So yeah, who knows? I really like ceramics as well, so maybe I’d be making pots, or something!

Just a quick fun question, if you are given an elephant where would you hide it?

Wow, hmm. Where would you hide it? Well, I love the idea of riding an elephant, I’ve never done that before. And I think that elephants are so big, they probably don’t mind people riding them for a little bit. So I’d probably ride it somewhere, maybe ride it into a jungle, and hide it. Or, if I was in a city I’d probably find a big old warehouse or something, and keep it in there. Of course, you couldn’t keep it there for long, I think. You should definitely get it back into the wild. You know, I’ve never seen one in real life, so I’d definitely want to spend some time with it before I have to ride it back to the jungle.

Catch Corinne Bailey Rae live at Sing-Jazz 2017, happening from 31 March – 2 April at Marina Bay Sands. Get your tickets and more information here

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