Interview: Kirsty Almeida
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Stood back-stage at Summer Sundae festival the Kirsty Almeida I meet is instantly friendly, offering me a cup of tea and initially asking me about my day, my life - the reality is different from the eccentric diva portrayed by her label pushed press blurb.
Stepping out for a walk around the festival site the chat turns to her performance a short time before, "It was great, we were lucky because it was raining and we do this sticker thing, where we go out and sticker everyone to let people know there's a gig on. When it's raining, that's perfect because people come inside."
The short set simply exploded with energy - a funky, foot-stomping, fun-filled fiesta, that brightened the damp day out side. It is this fact that has seen Almeida booked for festival appearances all summer.
"We've been really lucky because we have done every single weekend playing different festivals this summer. Kendal Calling was a brilliant gig, because it was in the Croissant Neuf tent and they really look after their artists - it was really rammed. The Big Chill was a good one, Secret Garden....they were all good, Glastonbury. We were really lucky because we played on the Avalon stage and we had a few thousand people just bouncing up and down at 1 in the afternoon on a Sunday. They're all special in their own way."
"We have a really eclectic mix of songs, so we pick out the songs that work for festivals or if we play an intimate club show, it is a completely different set to when we play festivals. Plus we have different versions of songs."
Her blend of classic jazz, pop, soul and ska sounds with a worldly and modern edge certainly offers itself to reworkings. In fact, the first time I became aware of Almeida as an artist was her collaboration with Ninja Tune legend Mr Scruff on 'Pickled Spider' (which I later discovered was a remix of Almeida's tune 'Spider' from the new album).
It seems like an unlikely collaboration. How did she come to work with a purveyor of cartoonesque breakbeat?
"He is on the Manchester scene and I had an album out before this one because I sent it to him just as a gift and other people in Manchester to show what we had done and he loved that album. And then he came to one of my gigs and he really enjoyed it. Years later we were like 'We need a remix' and thought 'what about Scruff, he's in Manchester' - what a good choice!"
"He's really supportive and also he's a really hard worker. You know he did it really quickly and really well and then he made a video to go with it. He really pushed it, he did the artwork for it."
"He played at the Big Chill and we were all there on our night off and he actually played 'Pickled Spider' about three quarters through his set. We were like 'please play the track, please play the track' and he played it, it was brilliant!"
Our minds start spinning on the people she could work with, I ask who she would really like to take a pop at one of her songs.
"Bjork. I'd love to see what she would do with one of my songs. Tom Waits as well actually, I would love to see what he would do with a song."
The talk turns to someone she has worked with Youth (member of Killing Joke and legendary producer) who produced this new album.
"The gave me loads of producers in three days 'speed producing' and they said 'you'll know which one it is". On producer thirteen I didn't know, and I met Youth and just knew I wanted to work with him. My songs wanted to be heard by him, I was playing him them on the stereo and thinking 'I must play him this one as well, and this one.' I was just interested in his opinion."
"He's a maverick, a complete bohemian maverick. He's just a very good artist, and a very good visual artist. He's not strange, well not for me. A lot of people think I am strange."
His method of working fitted in with Almeida's wishes to keep the album sounding fresh and organic.
"We did it in twelve days it was really fast. We consciously made it that way, the songs were already done and we rehearsed for two weeks before and then we recorded in twelve days that's how the producer worked. Because he had such good musicians to hand, he said he didn't want to faff about to much because we would over think it."
"You can over think stuff and suddenly you have too many notes on something that just needed two. It can loose some of its magic and soul."
The rain starts again forcing us inside a tent, giving Kirsty the excuse to look at the jewellery stall she has been eyeing, discussing Moroccan style-necklaces and the weird concept of 'festival chic' as we shelter from the downpour.
Moving on and back more serious questions Almeida talks of her wishes for this new album coming out on Decca on August 30. In this age of throw-away pop and here-today-gone-tomorrow pop stardom she has a definitive wish for Pure Blue Green.
"I'm really excited. I hope it will be a slow-burner, I don't want it to be something that does really well and then everybody forgets about it and we can't do all the things we are being asked to do. I would like it to go at a steady pace, so that we can deal with that pace and we are getting the right sort of gigs, with the right audiences and I would like it to just keep building."
The album itself is infused with musical styles from all over the globe, obviously affected by Kirsty's globe-trotting life. Born in the UK, brought up in Gibraltar, she travelled the world as a kid (Venezuela, Singapore, Florida, the Philippines), partly because of her Gibraltarian dad's work and partly because of the disintegration of her parent's chaotic marriage her music whilst maintaining a classic pop sensibility is full of cultural diversity.
"I'd like to see what would have happened if I had been someone who lived in just one place her whole life would I be the same? I think musically all the places I have lived have really made a difference."
"I think America. I listened to a lot of World Music when I was in America like Mexican, salsa and Latino music."
Thematically the release takes on pretty standard themes of love and life, obviously written from a personal place the lyrics appear to have a heart-felt honesty. I wonder where these songs came from?
"It's literally a snippet of my life that lasted two months. I haven't gone any further back than that or any further forward. I lived in Sheffield for two months to write an album and I just wrote what I was feeling at that moment about my life in those two months."
Pure Blue Green has the potential to be a demographic-hopping hit. We know the 'youth' (that's us!) don't really buy music these days, taking it for free digitally. The industry is getting pretty mad about this constant 'theft' how does Kirsty feel about this?
"I don't think it is stealing, it's only the record industry that made that mess. You know they were told about it years before and they did nothing about it, because they didn't think it was going to kick off as much as it has."
"I would give it all away, because I love doing the live thing and I want to get into making films and I write stories and do artwork, so I would happily give the music away for free and charge a little bit more on live gigs but have the funding to do really great, entertaining gigs so it's not just another gig. Find other ways of making things work."
"People are still going to download it all they are doing is taking away from the record label. They have spent a lot of money on it, but I am not sure what on as I didn't get paid or my band."
"That's what I do, There's so much dross out there, it's not really fair to have to buy everything to hear it. I download loads of stuff, but if I really like something I then go out and buy it or I'll buy a gig ticket to give something back to the artist."
The album is all Kirsty Almeida from back to front even the album artwork was painted by her hand.
"On this album I have done all the artwork, there's twelve canvasses about half a metre squared and I painted each page and a photographer photographed it and that's the artwork."
So Pure Blue Green is the perfect introduction to Kirsty Almeida - an honest, classic artist in the making. In a world of X Factor and Ga Ga dominated pop she could not be more welcome.
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