Heather Peace... Act II (Img: Andrew Whitton)
Interview: Heather Peace
Published on April 18th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Waterloo Road star Heather Peace is all set to redouble her talents in the eyes of the masses by releasing her debut album Fairytales on 21st May through PledgeMusic (click here to pledge and thereby pre-order your copy), before embarking on a twelve-date UK tour the very next day.
Rocksucker enjoyed a delightful natter with her in anticipation of this wave of activity, which in fact shall be kicked off with the release of her debut single “Better Than You” on 30th April. Why, isn’t this the video?…
Were all of the songs on the album self-written?
Yeah, they’re all original tracks, although one was co-written with Jill Jackson and a few were co-written with Horse. The other nine were all just myself. It’s always good to do a bit of co-writing so you can get a different feel, otherwise you can get stuck in a pattern.
How long have you been writing and singing for?
It’s really weird, I’ve been writing songs since I was 14, but I look back over the lyric books and they were so naive! They were about falling out with people at school and stuff like that. The piano riff at the beginning of “Better Than You” is actually a riff I’ve had since I was 14 for a totally different song. I’m classically trained on the piano so there are quite a lot of classical-esque riffs all over the album. I guess it’s just been a case of having lots of different structures and stuff that I’ve always had, then piecing them all together. Obviously the lyrics have changed; I couldn’t sing the stuff that I wrote then, sweet as it might have been! (Laughs)
How long have you been performing these songs for?
Some of them for about eighteen months to two years now. “Fairytales” was the last song I wrote and I think that was about six months ago. As soon as I complete a song I write down the date in my book so I’ve got all the dates written down. The hardcore gigging of it has been great, because hopefully it sits really well now vocally. Now it’s just about trying to produce the sound that’s on the album on tour, because it’s gone much bigger than I thought! We’re working out different ways of doing that.
Has all the gigging been a learning process for you?
Oh yeah, without a doubt. Singing is something I’ve always done, but when I started gigging a couple of years ago I didn’t have the confidence to play my own stuff in front of an audience so I played loads of covers, and without telling anyone I’d stick one of mine in between two really well-known ones. At first I was trying to judge whether or not the audience could tell that it was something that wasn’t famous, and then when I got more confident I started announcing that it was a song by myself. Now we’re doing all my own stuff and I only really do covers during an encore. It’s taken a long time to get that confidence to sing when people just want to come and hear you. It was weird getting my head round that. (Laughs)
Are you classically trained on the piano? (Rocksucker would like to blame the drowsy effects of cold medicine on either not noticing or forgetting that Heather had already referred to her classical training, and of course thank her for not bringing that up!)
Yeah, I did all my grades on piano, and taught myself guitar. That’s been a process in itself because I went out gigging with the guitar and I used to get really nervous playing the piano in front of people. I just couldn’t see the shapes any more. It’s almost like you get trapped in a box when you get classically trained and you read music; you don’t process how something’s structured, you just read the notes. So going away and playing the guitar and then coming back to the piano, it all suddenly made sense. All the classical stuff and all the stuff I played on the guitar, it just came together.
Best of both worlds!
How did you go about teaching yourself to play guitar?
I did an actor-muso show – there were lots of those because they’re cheaper – called Return to the Forbidden Planet, and all the actors in it played two or three instruments. Everyone in it had a main instrument, and then you had to play two or three others, and because it was rock and roll and therefore quite basic, guitar was my second instrument and drums was my third. I was really bad on drums! So I started learning the guitar then, and the lads whose first instrument it was started teaching me a few riffs, blues riffs and rock and roll riffs, and then all I did was get a great big chord anthology book, and if I liked the song then I’d learn the chords.
When I got stuck, there was a teacher in Brighton who I’d go to see maybe once a month. I think I learnt “Heaven” by DJ Sammy first! I got him to teach me that in a kind of jazz way, or in a pluck-y way, and that’s just how it happened. I didn’t have any structured lessons, but when I got stuck on something I thought, “I’d better give Michael a call and go and have an hour with him.” (Laughs)
“My Only Way”, a beautiful song which Heather assured me shall feature on the album with full “strings and gospel choir” treatment!
What was it like working on the album with Nigel Wright?
He’s a great friend, I’ve been on holiday with him and his wife I don’t know how many times. We totally love each other first and foremost so it’s brilliant, but I was nervous because he doesn’t say a lot, so if he pays you a compliment then it’s usually because he’s really pleased. He was originally only meant to oversee it, but because he wasn’t working and he loves music we got him 100% of the time, constantly in the studio. He became hooked on the project and he wrote all the string parts that are on three of the tracks.
It was funny, one day I went into Sphere Studios, which is where Adele recorded 21 – we just had the odd day there because it’s expensive – and I thought there was going to be a four-piece string section, but when I got in there there was twelve of them (laughs). I phoned my manager Sarah and said, “Don’t have a coronary, but just to let you know there are twelve musicians!” Nigel said, “I’ve written a part for twenty, you’re lucky I’ve managed to get it down to twelve.” We kept doing extra gigs to pay for all the musicians that played on the album! It’s been a labour of love for all of us, I think.
Will this upcoming tour be your first?
No, we did one last April, but as a trio. This time there’s going to be five of us. It’s about the same capacity venues, but it’s going to be the full album. I was struggling to think of how we could recreate the strings live, and there’s quite a lot of Hammond organ on the album, but I’ve just found this absolutely amazing keyboardist who also plays the violin so we’re going to interweave that. Luckily all my band are vocalists, so there’s a strict day where I’ve said, “Right, you’re going to have to be a gospel choir!” (Laughs)
There’s going to be quite a lot of work going into it this time. You always want to take another step up; I thought about stripping it right back again but Nigel said to me, “Heather, you stripped it right back last year, this is going to be your second tour and it’s the album so you have to get it near as damn it to what’s on the disc.” So I’ve had to put my thinking cap on quite a bit. We’ve played with the idea of using a click track, but I thought that would be a bit naff so we’re not doing that.
Have you done the triathlon yet?
No, it’s the only thing I haven’t managed to do this year! My swimming’s rubbish. I did four marathons and I’m over that, so I’ve done quite a bit of swimming training. My dad used to swim really well and I took him to Thailand at Christmas, so I’m getting a bit better. I thought I’d do it in April but it’s more likely to be September now!
Are there any up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Yeah, there’s a young girl called AMiTY who’s going to be supporting us on the tour. To me she’s like a young KT Tunstall; she has the beatbox on her foot, she plays harmonica and she works with a loop machine live onstage. She’s absolutely splendid, and she’s doing it the right way by writing her own stuff and gigging constantly, rather than going on a talent show and having people say, “Ooh, haven’t you got a lovely voice?”
I’ve got her on Twitter and she seems to play a gig about three or four times a week; I’ve got massive respect for people who do it that way. When are they going to make a TV show for people who can go on and play an original piece, show people what they’ve got? The X Factor was great at first, but you can be the best singer in the world on it and I just wouldn’t be bothered.
Glorified karaoke is what it is.
I know so many people who can sing! I just think it’s had its day, you know. They should be promoting proper talents out there who are working hard. I don’t think a lot of youngsters realise that you’ve got to be willing to do this stuff for nothing. It isn’t a case of just going, “Ooh, there I am, I’m famous!” You have to love it enough to be prepared to do it for free, because that’s what happens for two or three years. (Laughs)
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Nina Simone, Prince, Michael Jackson…can I have the Jackson 5 stuff as part of that as well?
Oh, go on then.
I’d have to take a musical star with me, so I’d take Barbara Streisand, including all the Broadway tracks. And Massive Attack. There’s something for every mood there. Massive Attack or Sade…oh, I don’t know!
Heather Peace, thank you.
Heather Peace will release her much-anticipated debut solo album Fairytales on 21st May following the release of her debut single “Better Than You” on 30th April. You can pre-order a copy of the album here. For more information, including a list of live dates, please visit www.heatherpeace.com or the Heather Peace Facebook page.