Interview: Helen Boulding
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Helen Boulding might be a genius. Just ask her. She’ll tell you about how, at age 17, she landed a recording contract with a major music label. How she left her native Sheffield to become a professional songwriter in London, producing Top 5 hits for artists like 911 and Alex Parks. If you value your dignity, don’t even think about matching wits with her on English indie-rock trivia. But the most genius-like quality about Boulding, 34, has nothing to do with hit singles or million pound contracts. For 15 years, she has dedicated herself to crafting deeply personal songs that fuse a raw pop sensibility with influences as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Bat for Lashes – and made a steady living in the process. Still based in London, TNS sat down with Helen to discuss influences, the industry and balancing music and motherhood. It’s been a couple of months since your last album, Calling All Angels. What has the response been so far? Press-wise it’s been really great. We’ve been getting solid reviews and Graham Norton gave my single it some airplay on Radio 2, which was good. I’d like to get back to the start of your career. Tell us about some of your earliest musical influences. I’m influenced by great song writing as much as good records. Growing up, I listened to contemporary pop but was also into the music my parents listened to – dusty records in the attic by Hendrix, the Beatles, country and western, even a bit of Abba. The sorts of things people in my age group weren’t listening to. When you were first given a record contract as a teenager, was it strange having other artists sing your songs? I quite liked it actually. As an artist, you are restricted because you can’t really do a ballad, a pop song and then suddenly do a hip hop song on one record, you know? Writing for other artists enables you to show all the other sides to your personality – it’s like putting on a costume and acting. I love it. Two of the artists you wrote songs for unfortunately burned out fairly soon into their careers. Boyband 911 split in February 2000 and now occasionally perform on the university nightclub circuit, and Fame Academy winner Alex Parks’ second album flopped and she later parted ways with her label. As someone active in the industry as an indie artist, what’s your take on the way bigger labels develop and promote talent? Is it a bust? I think bigger labels are out of touch, honestly. At least the artists you mentioned had their records put out – there have been artists I’ve worked with whose albums have barely seen the light of day thanks to major labels. As an indie musician you do your own artwork, produce your album, decide your own direction, and write the songs – and the finished product has you all over it. It either works or it doesn’t. Major labels will bring in the same stylist they use for other acts, the same producers that they like to use, the same jobbing songwriters – and they get so caught up with manufacturing artists that the product loses authenticity. Is artists and repertoire to blame?
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