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17 October 2020 00:34

So I just think that there’s a joy in discovering things in the music world.

Some artists might be having a tough time finding inspiration for their work these admittedly dark days. Not Soviet Georgian-born, British-based singer/songwriter Katie Melua—she not only stumbles across new sources of influence on an almost daily basis, she has also spent much of her life aggressively seeking them out, regardless of medium, genre or original time period. On her plush new set alone—matter-of-factly dubbed Album No. 8, underscored by the lilting textures of the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra—she drew from disparate recording artists like Brad Meldau, Charles Stepney, Terry Callier, Ramsey Lewis, even vintage Cole Porter, plus the choreography of Germany's Pina Bausch and the writings of folk trailblazer Bob Dylan via his Chronicles Vol. 1 tome, in which she highlighted any musician she hadn't heard of. Meanwhile, her seven-year marriage to James Toseland was ending, so to strengthen her songwriting skills to deal with such private topics more metaphorically, she enrolled in an actual short-fiction-writing course at London's Faber Academy. Having started her career with Call Off the Search in 2003, then in only three years becoming the U.K.'s best-selling female artist, the chanteuse didn't necessarily need to push herself—she has a huge core audience overseas that hangs on her every word.

Katie Melua: Finding Inspiration from Flannery O'Connor to Cole Porter

Paste: Curiosity — it's probably the most important asset for any artist with longevity, right? And I think it's just always been a part of my life and my nature. But when I moved to Belfast, I of course went to the local library, and I was just blown away. So that's when I first noticed that my curiosity was completely switched on — the first time I went to a library and understood how books made me feel. The literary world is just the world that I'm massively inspired by, and it's been a particularly important part of the making of Album No. 8. I've always been fascinated by the mysticism that surrounds songwriting, and particularly lyric writing. So for me, where I've been able to find a certain world that inspires my imagination is anything to do with the literary world—delving into poetry books, going to study fiction writing at the Faber Academy. Because I think people just know my music, but I wouldn't say that my face is as well-known. And this was a three-month course in short story writing, and I went there quietly every week. And in going through courses like that, you learn how writers develop their style, which you can then apply to how you're developing yours. So now, for me, it's about creating a world with a certain sense of style to it, while making sure that it rings true and also stands up to all the traditions that exist in our industry. But then suddenly, you had that in Tarantino's work, so I felt like he was the godparent of that cinematic development. So if you listen to my song "Airtime," of course there's a breakup in there, But I was more interested in how to take certain personal stories and treat them with respect, but also honesty, so the story is just hinted at but never completely black and white. Melua: I think I went through something like that in 2010, so that was a kittle bit early. And sure, success is brilliant and positive, and it's always welcome. So a spirit of discovery, a spirit of honesty in the music has become much more important to me, and to respect yourself and your body and your capabilities. So from that, I suddenly got fascinated with being in the studio and working with real musicians, and discovering what was actually possible with songs. And I still feel like I've only just started in the music industry, because microphones were invented when? So I think there's still a lot to discover, and that quest is what keeps me interested, fascinated. If anything has gone wrong in my life — and I know this is a cheesy thing to say — but one has to look at it as a lesson, as something one has to overcome as a sort of challenge. So overall, I think I have a pretty positive view of the world. However, you can choose to get completely immobilized by all of that and feel utterly wretched, or you can look at how many people around you are pulling you up—look at the love that's been on display alongside the pandemic. So it's all about thinking, "Where am I going to get my inspiration from? Am I going to wallow in all the injustices plaguing the world or am I going to get involved in, say, all the charity work that's being done and rally around the brilliant people that are making amazing strides forward in—and for—society?" So, as a creator, I try to maintain a certain optimistic aesthetic, and I don't torture myself. Paste: You've explored a great deal of the outside world so far—skydiving, taking flying lessons, even performing live deep beneath the ocean at one point in 2006. If you do that through your writing, I think what happens on a daily basis is, you write as you dig deeper into your brain, your thoughts, your feelings, and your memories, and it ends up on records but really relieves your mind of those negative things. Paste: And for any other topic you want to research, you now have the Internet, so there's no excuse for not mastering said topic. For example, I've always said that I wanted to dive into folk music properly. But I would just look at the Internet and not know where to start. Like, my uncles worked so hard to educate me as a kid, so I knew who Led Zeppelin was, I knew who Black Sabbath was. So I just think that there's a joy in discovering things in the music world. And when we went into the studio on this record, Bob Ezrin was involved as an executive producer. And make sure you know them,, and know what they feel like when you perform them. So I think it's important to know those traditions. You may want to rebel against them, of course, but it's important to know them. Paste: And film plays a big part in your life, too, right? The guy who produced Album No. 8, Leo Abrahams, introduced me to it, and I loved it, I felt like my life was completely changed. But I think that you digest as much as you can so you can justify yourself the right to create, to make music.