Music
4:59 am
Sat April 6, 2013

Charlotte Church Returns, A 'Beautiful Wreck' In A Digital Age

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 4:30 pm

Charlotte Church was just 12 years old when she made her 1998 debut album, Voice of an Angel — and that's what she seemed to posses. The tween rocketed into success with classical and religious music, singing for the pope, the Clintons, Nelson Mandela and the queen of England.

"If I look at it cynically, I was just a little bit of a freak, really: This small little girl with this big adult voice," Church says. "And I was a commodity for a while, you know. But I think that's also just the bare truth of it, really. People are always curious about child stars."

Over the years, Church has lent her astonishing voice to musicals, pop standards and folk. She has started a family and even hosted her own talk show. Now, she has a new album out, One & Two, which the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper has described as a "bonkers orchestral fusion of Kate Bush, Bjork and Radiohead."

Here, Church speaks with NPR's Scott Simon about her young fame and the evolution of her sound.


Interview Highlights

On singing for world leaders

"It's not that weird, actually. Because when I was, you know, that young — 12 to 16 — generally you're pretty fearless, and it just wasn't that much of a big deal. If I did it nowadays whilst I'm an adult, it would be a huge deal. But back then they were just people to me. I knew who they were and I knew how important they were, but I didn't quite understand what was going on. And so I just enjoyed going to all of the, you know, the cool places and the nice food."

On the song "Beautiful Wreck"

"This song is basically about consumerism and commercialism. I'm really not a fan of a lot of chart music and the uses of inhuman elements such as Auto-Tune and timed rhythmical things, you know — that everything is super perfect. So "Beautiful Wreck" is sort of about, you know, cast yourself out on that island. Be that totally different musical experience and don't be afraid of that. That's totally fine. There's room for everyone. Why be salty brine water when you could be something else? You could be a beautiful wreck."

On the song "How Not to Be Surprised When You're a Ghost"

"There's a Nabokov novel called Pale Fire, and at the start of Pale Fire there's a 999-line cyclical poem which has a really interesting idea about death. [The song is] basically about the idea that everybody who would currently still be alive — everybody who was passed — will all be there when you get there, which in itself may cause some problems. Say if you have had a partner or a friend or whatever who has died, and then you have a new partner and everybody's there together. ... The idea is if you can make that work, then that's your heaven. If you can't make it work, then that's sort of your hell."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In 1998, Charlotte Church, just 12 years old - that's not a slip - 12 years old, released her debut album, "Voice of an Angel."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHARLOTTE CHURCH: (Singing) (unintelligible)

SIMON: And that's what Charlotte Church seemed to possess - the young woman who rocketed into success with classical and religious music singing for the Pope, the Clintons, Nelson Mandela and the queen of England. But over the years, Charlotte Church has lent her astonishing voice to also singing musicals, pop standards and folk. And she started a family, hosted her own talk show, and Charlotte Church has a new album out now, which the UK's Guardian newspaper has described as a bonkers orchestral fusion of Kate Bush, Bjork And Radiohead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHURCH: (Singing) I've got glitter in my (unintelligible) to go by you...

SIMON: Charlotte Church joins us now from our New York Bureau. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHURCH: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What do you think about that description?

CHURCH: I like it.

(LAUGHTER)

CHURCH: I like that a lot. Thank you.

SIMON: Why did you begin to branch out out of classical?

CHURCH: Well, I think by the time I got to 16, I wanted to write my own music, really. I just wanted to branch out. I wanted something with a beat 'cause I'm massively about rhythm. And I also really craved the credibility from my peers. I just wanted to try something different, really.

SIMON: I doubt you'll remember this, but in 1999, you were interviewed on this network. My longtime colleague Liane Hansen, now retired, asked you - I guess you were then, what, 12 years old - about your earliest memory of singing. Here's your answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

CHURCH: Being in a holiday camp and singing "Ghostbusters" and check, check, check, check, check in, which apparently you don't have in America.

LIANE HANSEN, HOST:

What is that?

CHURCH: It goes (Singing) check, check, check, check, check in, lay a little light for me.

Oh, my goodness.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: That's a seriously adorable little girl, isn't it?

CHURCH: Yeah. I was pretty cute.

SIMON: What's that make you feel to hear that voice?

CHURCH: It's quite funny and kind of sweet and sentimental. But, I don't know, I sound really posh. I think I've gotten much more Welsh-y as I got older.

SIMON: You know, you might have been trying to sound posh then.

CHURCH: I don't think, no. I went to private school for a little bit 'cause I got a scholarship as a choir girl. And so I started talking with a plum in my mouth. As soon as I left school, etc., then started to get my Welsh accent back.

SIMON: Let's listen to another song from this album. This one is "How Not to Be Surprised When You're a Ghost."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO BE SURPRISED WHEN YOU'RE A GHOST")

CHURCH: (Singing) Your love for me is different, who got here before you, will love you like she did back then. Your love who's not by your side will soon be here with you, to talk to you, to sort you out, we offer you (unintelligible). It seems how much you will be surprised when you're a ghost...

SIMON: Not being surprised when you're a ghost. Help me through this metaphor.

CHURCH: There's a Nabokov novel called "Pale Fire."

SIMON: Yes.

CHURCH: And at the start of "Pale Fire," there's a 999-line cyclical poem, which has a really interesting idea...

SIMON: I always flip through that.

(LAUGHTER)

CHURCH: Yeah, which has a really interesting idea about death. And the idea of the song is that basically about the idea that everybody who would currently still be alive, everybody who has passed will all be there when you get there. Which in itself may cause some problems, say if you have had a partner or a friend or whatever who has died. And then you have a new partner and everybody's dead together, you know? So, the idea is if you can make that work then that's your heaven. If you can't make it work then that's sort of your hell. So, that is, in a nutshell, kind of what "How Not to be Surprised When You're a Ghost" is about.

SIMON: Boy, this is not the theme from "Ghostbusters," is it?

CHURCH: No, it's definitely not the theme from "Ghostbusters."

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: What's it like to look back at your time when - nice to meet you, Your Holiness, nice to meet you, Mr. Mandela, nice to meet you, President and Mrs. Clinton?

CHURCH: It's not that weird actually because when I was, you know, that young - 12 to 16 - generally, you're pretty fearless. And it just wasn't that much of a big deal. If I did it nowadays whilst I'm an adult, it would be a huge deal. But back then, they were just people to me. I knew who they were and I knew how important they were but I didn't quite understand what was going on. And so I just enjoyed going to all of this, you know, the cool places and the nice food.

SIMON: Can you understand better now at this particular point in your life why those very prominent adults might be especially touched by meeting a child who seemed to have a heaven-sent voice?

CHURCH: If I look at it cynically, I was just a little bit of a freak really - this small, little girl with this big adult voice. And I was a commodity for a while, you know. But I think that's also just the bare truth of it, really. People are always curious about child stars anyway, and everybody loves a talented freak.

(LAUGHTER)

CHURCH: That's really cynical.

SIMON: Well, I don't find you a freak but you do nicely set up this next song we want to play from your album.

CHURCH: OK.

SIMON: "Beautiful Wreck."

CHURCH: Yes, "Beautiful Wreck."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUTIFUL WRECK")

CHURCH: (Singing) With all respect, I have to tell you, your interest, what you won't buy, you wouldn't get anyway...

SIMON: What's this song about?

CHURCH: This song is basically about this consumerism and commercialism. I'm really not a fan of a lot of chart music and the uses of inhuman elements, such as auto-tune and timed rhythmical things, you know, that everything is super perfect. So, "Beautiful Wreck" is sort of about, you know, cast yourself out on that island, be that totally different musical experience and don't be afraid of that. That's totally fine. There's room for everyone. Why be salty brine water when you could be something else? You can be a beautiful wreck.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUTIFUL WRECK")

CHURCH: (Singing) Well, stand by yourself on the shore when you're here, and (unintelligible) I'm a beautiful wreck. I'm a beautiful wreck...

SIMON: Charlotte Church in New York. Her new album, "One & Two," out now in the United States. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHURCH: Thank you very much. I've had a good time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUTIFUL WRECK")

CHURCH: (Singing) Beautiful wreck.... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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