Few artists these days have what people like to call “the voice.” Paloma Faith has it – a force of nature so strong that it could lift the whole world up with just one note.
Already certified double platinum in the U.K., the 27-year-old British sensation known for her emo-pop theatricality recently dropped her second album, Fall to Grace, on American soil.
Faith recently filled us in on the story behind that big voice, the reason for all her bear friends and why you’ll never see a Twitter pic of her stoned.
Are you ready to take over the States with Fall to Grace?
I’m feeling really good about it. I’m really excited about new possibilities and the future and what it may bring and all those things. I’d also like for it to work, but if it doesn’t, then I’ll go back with my tail between my legs.
You’ve called “Blood, Sweats & Tears” your gay anthem. How did that come to be?
When I was writing it, I was listening to a little Chaka Khan and I was like, “I wanna do a diva-disco song that people can put their hands in the air to.” That’s what I came up with. All my male gay friends – it’s their favorite song.
It’s also just your gay male sensibility that you’ve admitted to having.
Absolutely. I’m definitely a tranny. You know, in America, that’s considered offensive to say, but over here it’s considered a compliment. I love the word “tranny” and I love calling myself one.
Have you gotten some flack for using that word in the U.S.?
Yeah, but I’m not changing it, because that’s what we do over here. It’s acceptable over here. We have whole nights called things like “Tranny-tastic.” I was at a festival the other day and 20 drag queens passed me and went, “Paloma, the trannies love you!” (Laughs)
Why do you think trannies adore you?
Because my wardrobe’s very similar. I love to dress up, and one of my best friends is a drag queen and he’s always calling me up going, “Can I borrow something?” (Laughs)
Do you ever borrow clothes from your tranny friends?
Sometimes, yeah. I borrowed a cape from one of them this week. I just enjoy dressing up a lot. The difference between being a fashionista and a drag queen is when you’re a drag queen, you don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s why I consider myself a drag queen.
What you wear, though, seems very consciously selected. Most female artists – Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Florence Welch, for instance – have very distinct styles. You do, as well. How do you define yours?
As Hollywood glamour, at this point. But occasionally I’ll throw in something a bit funny. Last night I went to this Amy Winehouse Foundation Ball, and I dressed really elegantly in all black and everyone was saying how much they loved my hat, which I basically made out of a net curtain and some safety pins – like what old ladies have in their house – and everyone was going, “Who designed the hat?” And I was like, “Me! It’s a net curtain I bought on eBay.” I was in my house with my stylist and he was like, “I have this dress but I don’t have anything to put on your head.” I said, “Don’t kill me, but I’ve got some net curtains upstairs.” (Laughs)
So you wore them.
With these pop stars doing everything from wearing meat dresses to cupcakes, does it make it harder to be original?
It’s not something that concerns me or that I’m trying to be. I don’t think about other people. I just think about who I am and I just rely on being honest about myself, so I don’t really care what they’re doing, to be quite honest.
You have quite the gay fan base – and a lot of bear friends. How did you end up with more bears than twinks?
I think I’m looking for a father figure. (Laughs) I just love cuddling big, bearded men. I’ve got a group of bear friends called Bearlesque and they do bear burlesque.
Where does that big voice of yours come from?
I’ve worked for it. I don’t think it was something that has been with me forever. You know how when you do interviews with singers and quite often they’re like, “I was singing when I was a kid and it just came”? It didn’t for me.
First and foremost I was a creative mind – an artist. And then I was doing all sorts of things at the same time, and I started to do cabaret and use my voice in it. People were like, “Oh, it’s good! Your voice has potential.” At that point it wasn’t as strong. I sort of learned.
Then I started to write songs – what I was trying to say was more important than the technique side of it. I wanted to write lyrics that moved people, so it was all about the lyrics and the way I performed it on stage. In the last kind of year or so, I took singing lessons, because I just thought I should probably learn how to not lose my voice. I think you can hear the difference between the vocals on the first and second album. This album is a lot stronger vocally.
In the Out4Marriage video you shot, you acknowledged that everyone should be able to marry. Why is this important to you?
Marriage equality is important to me because everyone is entitled to do whatever the hell they want. I performed recently at a club called G-A-Y in London and I said, “Personally I don’t want to get married and I don’t necessarily believe in marriage, but that doesn’t mean that a homosexual or lesbian couple shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice themselves.” I just believe that everyone should be free to choose. If everyone can’t marry, we should just abolish marriage entirely.
One of my favorite lines off this album comes from “Black & Blue,” when you say, “I know people who use chat rooms as confessionals.”
Do you relate to that?
Well, maybe. I told a friend, “I wonder if she wrote that about Manhunt or Gay.com.” Have you ever used one as a confessional?
(Laughs) I haven’t, you know. I’m not really that technologically minded. I probably couldn’t even figure out how to use one of those sites, so no. But I do know people who use chat rooms as confessionals. I think a lot of people do, even people in the public eye who are going on Twitter posting pictures – like Rihanna looking stoned. It’s the new thing. It’s like whispering a secret into a tree, but in this case the whole world is listening. It’s quite strange to me. I’m a bit more private.
You strike me as this woman who, like gay men, loves her big-voiced divas. Besides Chaka Khan, who are some of your other favorites?
My all-time favorite is probably Etta James. I always tell people she was my singing teacher, because I learned to sing by trying to impersonate her way of singing. I love Tina Turner, Grace Jones – not the biggest vocals, just the massive personality – and Edith Piaf. High drama.
Are you saying you’re high drama?
I think so, but I try to tone it down, because sometimes people get afraid. I am known to collapse on the floor in a writhing mess or pass out. People are always like, “Oh my god, what’s she doing?”
I trained originally as a dancer and was famously told from a guy in my dance school, “The problem with you, Paloma, is you’re useless – but the other problem is, nobody can take their eyes off you, because you’ve got something that commands attention. So now all the audience’s eyes are being drawn toward the most useless girl on the stage; you’re going to have to do something with that in your life, but I know it’s not gonna be dance.”
I bumped into him about three years later at the airport; he put his bags down and went, “I fucking told you.” (Laughs) My taste always goes toward extremes. I feel like in order to find the truth you have to go to extremes – that’s just the way that I live my life. It’s just balancing between polar opposites. Mediocrity scares me. I’m so afraid of it.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.