NPR Story
9:30 am
Sat November 24, 2012

Songwriter Paloma Faith's 'Fall To Grace'

Originally published on Sat November 24, 2012 1:48 pm

Paloma Faith has been described as smart, vivacious, red-streaked and a singular talent. Before breaking into the music business, Faith worked as a magician's assistant and a dancer. She debuted as a solo artist in the UK in 2009 with the album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? Her latest album is no less provocatively titled — it's called Fall to Grace.

"Initially, I was going to call it 'Fall From Grace,' " the singer says. "And then someone said to me, 'That doesn't really seem like you. You're more like the opposite; you're somebody who's come from hard situations, but you always look on the bright side and try to inject hope into things.' "

Here, Faith speaks with NPR's Scott Simon about the making of Fall to Grace and how she found her way to singing and songwriting after trying her hand at nearly every other kind of performance.


Interview Highlights

On her singing and speaking voices

"I sound like a 10-year-old kid when I talk, and then when I sing I sound like a woman — even to the point where sometimes I'm at home and someone will call about the gas bill or something and say, 'Hi, could I speak to the person who pays the bills, please?' I'm like, 'That's me!' There's nothing I can do about it. You either love it or hate it."

On becoming a songwriter

"I sang, initially, just for fun, in cover bands and stuff. And then, people started to actually come and say, 'Wow, you've got a great voice. I want to hear more of you; you should write your own songs.' So I did start doing it, but I never really thought it would be a career. I suppose I learned to sing just by emulating singers that I admired, people like Etta James and Billie Holiday. ... I feel really lucky, but I don't think that I was born with it. I think that I worked really hard to become this."

On the song "30 Minute Love Affair"

"I met this guy in the street who was playing guitar, and I thought that he was probably the most beautiful person I'd ever met. I sat with him for about 30 minutes and sang Tracy Chapman songs with him. I asked him if I could see him again, and he said that he was there every single day and if I went back I could see him anytime I wanted. I went back every day for about 10 days and he was never there again. And I was heartbroken because I was 14 and I was naive. I thought that we had a connection, which I was obviously wrong about."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPSIDE DOWN")

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Paloma Faith has been described as smart, vivacious, red-streaked - and a singular talent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPSIDE DOWN")

PALOMA FAITH: (Singing) Angels watching over me with smiles upon their face, 'cause I...

SIMON: That's the song "Upside Down," taken from Paloma Faith's 2009 debut album in the United Kingdom. Before breaking into the music business, Paloma Faith worked as a magician's assistant, and a dancer. Now, she has also acted alongside Tom Waits and Colin Firth. Paloma Faith's latest album is "Fall To Grace."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICKING UP THE PIECES")

FAITH: (Singing) Lost, now she's gone, and I'm picking up the pieces. I want to cry, but you don't see that I'm the one by your side 'cause she's gone...

SIMON: And she joins us in Studio 4A. Thanks so much for being with us.

FAITH: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Tell me about this title, "Fall To Grace."

FAITH: Initially, I was going to call it "Fall From Grace." And then someone said to me, that doesn't really seem like you; you're more like the opposite. You're somebody who's come from hard situations, but you always look on the bright side. And you try and inject hope into things.

So I decided to just flip that expression around and say "Fall To Grace," - as opposed to "Fall From Grace" - so that it implies that I've been through some bad things, but I haven't lost my hope.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK AND BLUE")

FAITH: (Singing) I know a man who fills his emptiness with strangers...

There's a song - in particular - that I'm quite proud of, on the record, called "Black and Blue," which is more of a social commentary about people not judging one another. And so it actually goes through romantic relationships and family relationships.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK AND BLUE")

FAITH: (Singing) I know people who use chat rooms as confessionals, I know down and outs who once were, once they were professionals. Wipe it off your sleeve, your superiority. Don't roll your eyes, my sweet.

SIMON: Do you think of your speaking voice as being different from your performing voice?

FAITH: Absolutely. I sound like a 10-year-old kid, when I talk. And then when I sing, I sound like a woman - but even to the point where sometimes, I'm at home, and someone will call about - like, the gas bill, or something; and say, hi, could I speak to the person that pays the bills, please? I'm like, that's me. So...

(LAUGHTER)

FAITH: There's nothing I can do about it. You'll either love it, or hate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY LEGS ARE WEAK")

FAITH: (Singing) I'm collecting people's tears they cry because they miss you...

SIMON: Growing up, when did you first realize you had that voice?

FAITH: Probably, last week - I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

FAITH: It kind of happened very - sort of slowly and quite late, really.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY LEGS ARE WEAK")

FAITH: (Singing) Pictures in my head suddenly appear. Why'd you have to go away? It's all not very clear...

I sang in Italy, just for fun; and in covers bands and stuff. And then people started to actually come and say, wow, you've got a great voice. I want to hear more of you; you should write your own songs. So I did start doing it, but I never really thought it'd be a career. And I suppose I learned to sing by just emulating singers that I admired; people like Etta James and Billie Holiday.

SIMON: You've - certainly - been compared to Etta James, for example. But of course, I'm going to say it's one thing to imitate someone; it's another thing to...

FAITH: Well, I wrote all these songs, so...

SIMON: ...really sound - you know, (laughter) to have a voice like theirs.

FAITH: Well, I feel really lucky, but I don't think that I was born with it. I think that I worked hard to become this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY LEGS ARE WEAK)

FAITH: (Singing) Goodbye, sweet angel, sail away on teary seas. Tattooed the times we had on my memory. Funeral flowers won't make me believe...

SIMON: Do you like performing?

FAITH: I love performing. I basically do this to perform, because it's the only thing I really know how to do. Everything I've ever done, has been performance-based. And it's all been things like being a ghost on a ghost train - which you don't have here, but that's like being in the haunted house, on the fairground; and cabaret performer; and I sang in burlesque clubs. So when I write songs, there's always a focus in my mind of how I'm going to deliver them, and what will go with them visually.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "30 MINUTE LOVE AFFAIR")

FAITH: (Singing) Thirty-minute love affair, all in the blink of an eye. There you were, standing there, I heard an angel cry...

SIMON: This song that - "30 Minute Love Affair"; story behind this?

FAITH: I met this guy in the street who was playing guitar, and I thought he was probably the most beautiful person I've ever met. I sat with him for about 30 minutes, and sang Tracy Chapman songs with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "30 MINUTE LOVE AFFAIR")

FAITH: (Singing) I met a stranger singing songs, sat in that doorway; I belonged with him, just talking...

I asked him if I could see him again. So - he said that he was there every single day and if I went back, I could see him anytime I wanted. And I went back every day, for about 10 days, and he was never there again. I was heartbroken because I was 14, and I was naive, and I thought that we had a connection - which I was obviously wrong about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "30 MINUTE LOVE AFFAIR")

FAITH: (Singing) Sometimes it's better just to let them go, 'cause your illusion's more than what you could know. Thirty-minute love affair...

But the song really is a homage to those moments in life where you have fleeting encounters with people, and maybe you were like, really taken by somebody. And it's almost celebrating; that that's almost better than if you'd got to know them because they'll always remain perfect, in your memory.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "30 MINUTE LOVE AFFAIR")

FAITH: (Singing) Thirty-minute love affair, a 30-minute love affair.

SIMON: You're going to perform "Just Be."

FAITH: Yeah.

SIMON: Anything you can tell us about this song?

FAITH: Well, it's a pretty special one to me, I think. I wrote it because I felt like love songs that I'd listened to, throughout time, almost sounded like they were written by people who'd only been in a relationship for three months. And I feel like the holy grail of a proper relationship, is longevity.

SIMON: Well, I can't wait to hear this. Paloma Faith, thanks so much for being with us.

FAITH: Thanks for having me. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST BE")

FAITH: (Singing) Let's get old together, let's be unhappy forever, 'cause there's no one else in this world that I'd rather be unhappy with...

SIMON: That's the fabulous Paloma Faith, in NPR Studio 4A; accompanied by Dominic Pipkin, on piano; and her vocalist, Baby Sol. Paloma Faith's new CD, "Fall To Grace," comes out on December 4th.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST BE")

FAITH: (Singing) Let's go our separate ways in the night like two moths, but know that you're flying home to me. I was born thinking it would all be dreaming, but I know that I wouldn't be happy that way. You wear me out with frustration and heartache and anger, but we wait for the wave just to wash it away. Don't say nothing; just sit next to me. Don't say nothing - shh. Just be, just be, just be. Let's let go together, let us unfold one another, and watch all the little things that once drew me to you eventually get on my nerves. I wear you out with frustration and heartache and anger, but we wait for the wave just to wash...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.