Miriam Balanescu speaks to Corinne Bailey Rae about her approach to writing, producing and performing music, ahead of the singer’s appearance at Cambridge Club Festival in June
For Corinne Bailey Rae, lockdown – returning home to Leeds after a spell touring the world – was strange to say the least. “Music is about being inspired in front of an audience, fed by the reaction of people. I’m not the sort of artist that will work on their own in a studio or on a laptop. I like to be around people and other musicians,” she says.
Hopping across continents with her four-year-old daughter while performing, Japan, South Africa, South America and the US on their list, “it was weird to have a couple of years where that didn’t define me,” she says.
Back with her band, Corinne has just unleashed a new single, ‘You Are’, with Smoko Ono. “I’ve been working on and off in Chicago and am really inspired by a building called the Stony Island Arts Bank,” she says of its inception. Taking a slice of inspiration from psychedelia, she says: “As my career’s unfolded, I’ve felt more freedom to express the music that I love. I came from a background in indie guitars with band Helen. Playing my first record, it was almost the opposite – I was used to shouting over guitars and it was amazing to play with a more conversational, gentle style.”
“With the third record, I spent a lot of time in LA and was into Thundercat and Moses Sumney. There was all this beautiful textured music with loads of synths. I was reaching out for this music that I love. I want to do that as an artist – continue to expand.”
On the comeback of noughties music, the era when her single ‘Put Your Records On’ became a smash hit, she says: “The music was emotional, all about deep feelings. Sometimes you go through phases where everything’s more cool, distant and even medicated. I can see why people want to go back to that era. I’m all about thinking about music in a nonlinear way.”
Drawing on bygone funk and soul, Corinne believes bringing music back from the past can bolster your own sound. “It’s a way of feeling a strong integration, not being arrogant enough to think you can invent music or standing on the shoulders of what’s come before. I love to have old things that I think are valuable and try to do something fresh, bringing my own point of view to it.”
Corinne explains her song-writing process: “I am looking, experiencing and trying to find phrases to make that moment stay clear in my mind. Sometimes when you write, words and ideas come out that I didn’t know were inside me.”
After a bad experience at university where her music was edited by someone else, Corinne taught herself to engineer and produce. “When making my first record, I was lucky to work with Steve Chrisanthou and basically terrorise him in the studio all day, saying: ‘I like that. I don’t like that.’” She continues: “What I’ve done on upcoming records is take loads of risks. I know how to use the studio as an instrument, so I’m going for it. That’s brought my recorded sound closer to my sound.”
Performing at Cambridge Club Festival, she is looking forward to the invigorating feel of festivals: “At a festival, you spin the wheel. I quite like that energy because I like to try to win people over.”