Words/Interview by Ed King / Photography by Katja Ogrin
Nerina Pallot closed her seven date UK tour last Sunday, playing her final show at The Glee Club in Birmingham. On the road throughout February, Pallot has been touring her latest EP; the appropriately (for some) titled ‘Lonely Valentine Club’.
With four original new tracks, plus a cover of Ce Ce Peniston’s 1991 Dance hit ‘Finally’, the ‘Lonely Valentine Club’ EP was released on Feb 12th – through her own label, Idaho.
“I guess, like a lot of people, I’ve have had a bit of overkill from Hallmark holidays,” explains Nerina Pallot, about the title of her new EP and tour, “you know the schmaltzy, cheesy, enforced stuff. I wanted to do something that acknowledged Valentine’s Day, but in a different way.”
Considering my most exciting Valentine’s Day was spent in an airport waiting lounge, I welcome the alternative. But what about her audience – are they loved up or lonesome?
“I’d say it’s a mix actually. There are quite a few couples, very loved up – and the single people who very much relate to it. But my fans are quite a wide cross section anyway, and I see that at the gigs – it’s not one kind of person. But I hope that they go home happier rather than I ruined their relationship at the end of the gig.”
Nerina Pallot is known for her live performances, and an audience that will travel to see her; many coming to several shows on her self-promoted tours. But how has this latest on the road endeavor gone down?
“It’s been great,” laughs Pallot, “I’ve been really enjoying myself. But I’m not with my band on this tour, I’m solo, so it’s a different kind of vibe. It’s quite intense but it’s actually been really lovely.” Anywhere stood out so far? “I was in Manchester last night and I haven’t played Manchester in ages. Then I was in Bristol last weekend and I haven’t been there in about three years, so it’s been really great to reconnect with audiences I haven’t seen in a while.”
Sounds busy, do you get a chance to enjoy it? “I love playing live. I’m always doing gigs in one capacity or another, but I haven’t done a proper tour in over a year.”
Nerina Pallot has been on my ‘must catch’ list for years, but thanks to one sea or another I’ve missed every bill. The last time she performed in Birmingham was at the O2 Academy in October 2011, but this time she’s back at The Glee Club; a venue arguably better suited to a stripped back solo show, but one she’s not played at since October 2009.
“It’s special,” explains Pallot, about returning to the Arcadian venue, “I love going back to play there. It’s such a warm place… I don’t know if we have anywhere like that in London, we could do with somewhere like that in London.” As I start to ask if I can quote her for the Birmingham City Council website…
“I think it’s just the enthusiasm,” Pallot continues, “and Markus (Sargeant – The Glee Club’s long standing music promoter) is such a massive music lover; and you can tell when someone’s in charge of a venue and they’re passionate about music, it’s definitely got a vibe of its own that he’s been creating over the years. I just love it. And there’s a lovely piano there which make the solo shows so much better, the piano’s great.”
Excited about seeing Nerina Pallot behind a decent set of keys, I start to enquire further; but get cut short by the scampering shrieks of her son, Wolfie, in the background. Answering the globally recognisable call of “mmmuuuuuuummmmyyyy”, Nerina Pallot switches off interview mode and tends to her son.
“My little boy,” I regognise the pride from my sister’s voice, “we take him with us wherever we can, within reason. I miss him if I don’t see him when I’m touring, if I don’t see him for a couple of nights I get really sad. I was in Germany last year, touring, and I found that really hard to be away from him.” Children are surprisingly robust (to a man with none to look after) but how’s life as a miniature roadie?
“He’s really adaptable. He’s been backstage with me since he was seven weeks old so he’s kind of used to that. And when they’re his age they’re just really curious, everything’s new to him. I think it’s us adults. We get set in our ways and like things a certain way, we get a bit more critical of things. Children are fairly adaptable.”
I start to feel intrusive. Both Pallot and her husband/producer, Andrew Chatterley, have been remarkably approachable, but I’m careful of getting too colloquial. And children are amongst the most private of things.
I ask about the new EP, ‘Lonely Valentine Club’; it carried a different feel to the pop productions of Pallot’s last studio album. Was that a deliberate shift?
“Well it’s not a premeditated approach,” explains Pallot, “it’s just… I’m actually about a third of the way through my new album, and I had these songs that just started to make sense together but that didn’t feel like a whole album, and weren’t on a subject matter that I wanted to go with for 10 or 11 songs.
Then I did this cover of a Ce Ce Peniston song,” the 1991 Dance hit ‘Finally’, “and thought, that’s how it should be, it should be just a melancholy love song. Then, as I was going on tour in February, I thought it would be fun to try and get that together for then.” Is that a bit unorthodox? “I decided to go on tour first, then I made an EP – rather than the other way round. A bit back to front…”
So, why ‘Finally’?
“I like doing covers that you would never imagine my music to be like, last year I was doing ‘Umbrella’ by Rhianna, the year before that was Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’. But I loved ‘Finally’ growing up, it was always a really cool school disco song, and it felt really good to sing. It worked when I brought it down, it just seemed to naturally fit.”
To be honest it, surprised the hell out of me; a potential appropriation disaster that turned into a highlight. Very laid back, soft keys and snare – Pallot makes it truly her own. “It’s got very subliminal beats,” continues Pallot, “they’re not in your face. I love that kind of ambient/electro sound – and that approach to songs, where you have an element of groove but it’s not ‘banging’, it’s not a club classics kind of thing.”
Now we’ve established Dubstep or Grime as unlikely progressions, is this the sound to expect on album number five?
“I don’t know. There’s a song called ‘Once’ which feels…” an elongated “ooonnccceeee” comes from Pallot’s son in the background, “it’s one of the ones I’ve just done with my band, and we went into the studio to try and cut something a bit more developed, but… I don’t know, I’m still writing, and I’m starting to get an idea of where it’s going,” I get the feeling there’s three of us in this part of the conversation. “When I’ve got to about 17 or 18 tracks then it starts to fall into place, I start to feel my album is ready. Then it’s just a question of culling and making things fit, more, together.”
Is that a difficult process, the cull?
“It is and it isn’t,” contests Pallot. “My last album was fun because I had to cut it really fast, as I was heavily pregnant, and I really liked it for its freshness. But now I’m quite in a lucky space, this is my fifth album and I’m in no hurry – I mean, I don’t want to take five years to finish it, but I don’t see the need to finish the album just so I can go on tour.”
“I’ve always had my own autonomy,” explains Pallot, “since my second album I’ve had my own record label that I’ve licensed to major labels, and I’ve always felt very firmly about keeping control of what I do – that’s really important to me. It’s important to me to dictate how everything is and how it should sound and how it should look. But I can’t lie, we work with major labels because they have the marketing spend that I personally don’t have. It’s finding a happy medium.”
The doorbell rings, signaling a car to tonight’s venue – the Edinburgh Pleasance Theatre, and the end to our conversation. Just enough time for an interview-by-numbers closing question, what’s next for Nerina Pallot?
“My aim is to finish the album by the end of the summer,” contemplates Pallot, “so I foresee myself in the studio more than anything else.” I sense this has been asked before, “but I’m not in a rush to finish it, I just want to make a really good album.
But I’m really excited about playing at the literary festival in Hay on Wye, they’re just starting to announce different acts. It’s run with the main programme, and I’ve always wanted to go to that. I think it’s going to be fun.”
Anywhere else new you’re playing this year? “There’ll be the usually bits and bobs, festivalwise, that come in; but one of the quirkiest places is a gig I’ve got planned in Cornwall. It’s at the Minack Theatre, an outdoor venue, in the middle of a cliff overlooking the sea…”
Sounds dangerous, I wonder what the insurance premium is. “Its weather dependent,” answers Pallot, and leaves for her Valentine’s night at the theatre.
Lonely Valentine Club EP is available for digital download, through Nerina Pallot’s own website and the usual online retailers.
For more on Nerina Pallot, visit http://www.nerinapallot.com