Her look may be a blatant nod to classic silver-screen vamps like Mae West and Marilyn Monroe, but British retro-pop singer Paloma Faith has a vision of love that’s all her own. “It’s not all about romantic love,” she says of Fall to Grace, her American debut and the follow-up to her first outing, Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?, which was released in the U.K. in 2009 and has since gone platinum. “People always assume my music is about relationships, but some of it is about family and friends. It’s about love in all its guises.” Faith describes the forthcoming collection as “a film soundtrack with a contemporary bottom end and a nostalgic top end.” As for her era-defined style, Faith says, “I think this nostalgic revival we’re having for vintage clothing is about reclaiming sensuality and celebrating our curves for ourselves or for other women or for gay men. I think that’s what post-feminism is about: taking it back.”
You had a lot of other gigs before becoming an actor and musician. You were even sawed in half.
Yes, by magicians. I don’t think being a magician’s assistant is as glamorous a job as it seems. I remember once having to sit in a box with a rabbit for like a whole hour—to be part of the last trick—before jumping out of the box at the end. And I just remember looking at this rabbit and thinking, Are you as bored as I am?
Your first encounter with a major label didn’t go so well. What happened?
Well, they invited me for a showcase, and I was really tired. I had been filming something for television the morning before—an acting job—and I had been up since about five. It was this rep and his right-hand man, and he was sending text messages. So I stopped the band and said, “Look, when you’ve finished your text messaging, I’m going to play my showcase for you.” He was so shocked that I’d said it, and the band was really uncomfortable. And I was like, “What’s the point of inviting someone to play you their stuff if you’re not even paying attention?” So he said sorry and put his phone in his pocket and we carried on. But after, he was a bit rude and said, “You sound like Amy Winehouse. What you gonna do about it?” I said, “Well, I think she’s amazing… and if you’ve got anything to do with my career, I’d rather sing in pubs for the rest of my life,” Then I left. Nine months later, he wrote me a letter of apology, and I signed with him.
You’re planning on touring the U.S. this fall. As a Brit, what are your impressions of New York City?
Every time I come it’s like I’m in a movie because my experience of America mainly comes from films. The other day we went to Chinatown for some food, and I was just singing the Gremlins song. I feel really at home here. It’s like the darker part of America. They get my sense of humor.
What do you think of L.A.?
I like half of it—the weird part. Like the people who run The Dresden Room and the tiki bars and the people in Silverlake. But I’m not really suited to that Hollywood type. I just feel like they’re all staring at my unshaven armpits. I’m not perfect, and this new record is about celebrating imperfections.
The name of your new album is Fall to Grace. That’s an interesting play on words.
It was supposed to be Fall From Grace because the song “Agony” has that line in it. But I was out having a drink with friends and I said, “What do think about Fall From Grace?” And they were like, “That doesn’t suit you. You’ve been through so much, and you’re a ‘glass half full’ person. Your music sounds so full of hope even if it’s about tragedy.” So we came up with this idea of falling to grace, as in taking hard situations and growing positive from them, turning tragedy into hope.
How is this album different from your first album?
I was allowed a lot more freedom. I was involved in every single step of the production process. Every word said is from me, I was there for the mixing and mastering, and I basically came up with all the ideas for the visuals. I worked with the photographer and the director of the videos, so everything’s got my stamp on it. The first record wasn’t like that. I was controlled more. I’m prouder of this record. I’ve made the soundtrack to a film about my life.
It’s a lot of love songs.
Yes, but it’s not all about romantic love. People always assume it’s about relationships, but some of it is about family and friends. It’s about love in all its guises.
“30 Love Affair” is based on a very fleeting teenage fling you had.
I was only 14. So I met this busker who I thought was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, and we sang Tracy Chapman songs together for about half an hour. I said I really wanted to see him again, and he said, “I’m here every day.” I went back every day for about 10 days and he was never there. It’s about how sometimes you need somebody, and it’s better that you spent only half an hour together, because forever they will remain the most amazing person you ever met—because you never got to know their faults.
You’ve said that one of the new songs, “Just Be,” is about what real love. What is real love?
“Just Be” is a love song for people who are actually in love. To me, most love songs sound like the person who’s written them has only known the other person for three months. “Just Be” is about people who are really in it for the long term—like enduring love, you know? Forgiving the person they love for their faults and their inadequacies.
What do you think is the greatest love song ever written?
Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” I think it’s amazing. The lyrics aren’t particularly outstanding, but it was the way he sang it, how he delivered it. It’s so full of love and so celebratory of love. Also, I grew up with the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” and that’s what my mum taught me: that the only thing you need in life is love. And I really believe it. Like, friendship, family, romance, in all its guises. I think my confidence comes from the fact that I have a lot of love around me, and I give a lot of it.
You spent some time with Prince at a festival last year, and he mentored you a bit. What’s the greatest lesson you learned from Prince?
It was my first time on an international stage. I had such bad anxiety—I was like Woody Allen the whole weekend. I explained it to Prince, and he gave me a few tips. But just the fact that he involved me and said things like “You’re part of the family now” spurred me to believe in myself, to go out and really step up my game.
You describe your style as post-feminist. What do you mean by that?
Well, in the ‘40s and ’50s, which is my favorite era for fashion, I suppose it was all about the male gaze, and then the ’60s revolted against that, when women burned their bras and didn’t wear shoes, and I suppose everything was about androgyny. The ’40s and ’50s were more about titillation than about exposing it all. I think my style is about that. I think this nostalgic revival we’re having for vintage clothing is about reclaiming sensuality and celebrating our curves for ourselves or for other women or gay men. I think that’s what post-feminism is about: taking it back.
Some people say you look like a drag queen.
Yes! I like it. The drag queens I know have better taste in clothes than most people [laughs].
Photography by Marton Perlaki