Rebecca Ferguson is no ordinary X Factor alumni. In fact, her time on the show (and the sometime stigma attached to it) was all but forgotten following the release of her debut album “Heaven”. Rebecca co-wrote “Heaven” with a who’s who of the most credible songwriters in the industry, including Eg White, Fraser T Smith, and Brian Higgins. And it may have passed people by – including myself – that Rebecca’s album rapidly reached platinum sales, receiving no less that 4 out of 5 stars throughout the national press. Simon Cowell was apparently “blown away” by the record. All from a girl who didn’t even make it past the first round on four previous talent show attempts – a true testament that with persistence, talent always pays off. Now Rebecca is back with the release of the deluxe edition of “Heaven”, and new single “Backtrack”.
HEAVEN WAS THE FASTEST SELLING DEBUT ALBUM BY A FEMALE ARTIST IN 2011. THAT’S A PRETTY IMPRESSIVE ACCOLADE. HOW DID THAT FEEL?
I couldn’t believe the success, to be honest. It was just weird! I say weird because I’d been in the studio for months and months working on it. I was that busy that I didn’t even listen to what was going on in the charts. I didn’t know how anyone would perceive it. I turned to Eg White (hit songwriter for the likes of Adele, Duffy, Will Young) and said if people don’t like it, I really don’t know what more I’ve got to give. Then all of a sudden I kept on getting good news and good emails, and it was a whirlwind. I feel really blessed and grateful.
YOU CO-WROTE THE TRACKS ON YOUR ALBUM. I HEARD THAT AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER PEOPLE DIDN’T KNOW THAT YOU COULD WRITE AND WERE BRINGING SONGS IN FOR YOU. YOU PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN AND SAID THAT YOU NEEDED TO WRITE IN ORDER TO BE RECEIVED AS A CREDIBLE ARTIST.
YOU MUST BE PLEASED THAT YOU HAD THAT TENACITY, BECAUSE THE SONGS WENT ON TO RECEIVE SUCH CRITICAL ACCLAIM?
I think if you’re a new artist, you’re going to be fearful aren’t you? You’re going to be fearful that you’re going to make the wrong decisions. And there are so many times when I had to make people trust my gut instinct. That’s hard, because you’re working for people who have been in the industry for God knows how long. Sometimes you just have a gut feeling saying “No”. I remember there was a time when someone wanted me to put a cover on the first release of “Heaven”. I knew at the time it wasn’t the right thing to do, because I knew that everyone that interviews you, as an X Factor contestant, will ask, “Is it an album of covers?” I wanted to say, “No, actually. I wrote and helped produce the whole album”. It’s nice that the decisions that I have made have proved to be right. And when your decisions are right, people start to trust you and you get a lot more freedom creatively.
HAD YOU ANY EXPERIENCE IN SONG-WRITING PRIOR TO THAT?
I’ve always been writing since I was little. In the schoolyard, I always used to make up rhymes and poems. It’s funny because my daughter – she’s 8 – and she’s writing her own music. It’s just natural, coming to her. And it’s something that always came from me too. There’s one song that I wrote years and years ago that I recently revisited, and may consider putting on my next album.
WHY DO YOU THINK YOUR ALBUM WAS SO SUCCESSFUL, AND YET THE SERIES WINNER MATT CARDLE HAS BEEN A LOT LESS SO?
I don’t really know why that turned out the way it was. It’s just down to the public really and who they listen to. I know he had a platinum album though. All I will say is that I don’t know how long my career will last but longevity for me is about being yourself. It has to come from your heart. I can’t be contrived, it just doesn’t last if it’s not genuine – people may buy into you for a moment, but it will pass because you’re not truly believed. You know what I loved about Amy Winehouse, she wouldn’t say what a media trainer would love. She was who she was and she sold millions of records, and Adele’s another example of that. She’s like, this is me, take it or leave it and I think people love them because they’re believable.
NOW YOU’RE RELEASING A DELUXE EDITION OF HEAVEN WITH NEW TRACKS ON IT, SO WHAT CAN THE READERS EXPECT FROM IT?
I think if you’ve already got “Heaven” you can download these extra five, and if you haven’t got Heaven you’ve got the benefit of these five songs. The “Take Care” cover (of Drake & Rihanna’s hit song) is a bit more dancey, and the cover of “Strange & Beautiful” is just a song that I love. It’s really haunting and moving. “Back Track” I really wanted on Heaven but it wasn’t ready yet, it’s just an upbeat, catchy song. One of the ones I really love is “Good Days, Bad Days”. I wrote it at Xenomania and literally wrote it in one take! He played me the instrumental and then put me on the microphone and just made me sing out. Sing whatever comes into your head. And that’s literally what we’ve got.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE DOWN AT XENOMANIA? IS IT LIKE A LITTLE HUB OF POP MAGIC?
It’s a house. He (Brian Higgins) works differently with different artists but with me he said just get on the mike and sing what’s in your head. I was like, “This is great!” No sitting there fussing about words. The same with “Mr Bright Eyes”. It was written in the exact same way. It was so free.
THE INFLUENCES THAT SHINE THROUGH ON MANY OF THE ALBUM TRACKS ARE QUITE OLD SCHOOL, WOULD YOU SAY?
I get compared to a lot of old school artists. I’m a big fan of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. I started really getting into them when I was in my late teens. I noticed how when they sang the notes aren’t perfect, it’s just completely from the soul. They do amazing things from the voice. I’m inspired so much by artists that sing like that.
ONE OF THE NEW TRACKS “I’LL COUNT THE DAYS” WHICH WILL BE FEATURED IN THE NEXT SERIES OF DOWNTON ABBEY, WAS WRITTEN BY DON BLACK WHO PENNED “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”. HOW DID IT FEEL TO SING A SONG BY A LEGENDARY SONGWRITER LIKE THAT? DID YOU GET TO MEET HIM?
I was picked. It’s a period drama and they wanted someone with a different sounding voice to go over it. So I was flattered. It’s funny cos I was classically trained years ago and I had to go back to some of that which was weird because I’m terrible at pronouncing my words! I didn’t know he wrote that you know! That’s amazing! He did look like a little mini genius.
WILL YOUR NEXT ALBUM HAVE A SIMILAR FEEL OR WILL YOU TAKE IT IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION?
I just can’t wait to write it. I’m going to take next year off and spend the year in the studio. I’m going to pour my heart and soul into it again, and write about everything that I’ve been going through. I just can’t wait to get back in the studio.
WE ALL KNOW THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS TOUGH, BUT YOU RECENTLY SAID THAT YOU COLLAPSED FROM THE PRESSURE YOU WERE PUT UNDER. DO YOU THINK THAT IT’S ONLY POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE REAL SUCCESS IN THE INDUSTRY IF YOU PUSH YOURSELVES TO THOSE EXTREME LIMITS – IT SEEMS TO BE AN ON GOING TREND WITH THE LIKES OF LADY GAGA, JUSTIN BIEBER ETC?
This is my opinion on it. You should never be ill for something that is meant to be enjoyed. If your audience knew you was that ill they probably wouldn’t want to come and see you. My fans if they knew how ill I was at that time wouldn’t have wanted to come and watch me. And I personally wouldn’t want to go and watch anyone that was killing themselves to be on stage. That’s not nice. God bless her soul, Amy Winehouse, and I absolutely adore her, but when she was really ill on stage, I was thinking in my mind, how are you all there standing watching that? Music is there for people to enjoy and it should never, ever make you ill. You should work hard, really bloody hard, but not to the point where you become ill.
HAS IT BEEN A SHOCK THAT THERE IS THIS DARKER SIDE OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
In the music industry there are so many lovely people. It’s just the opportunists that you meet really. I’ve got such a lovely team around me but you’re always going to get opportunists who aren’t in it for music, they’re in it for money. I think they’re the ones you have to watch out for.
WHAT IS THE MOST PLAYED SONG ON YOUR IPOD?
Coma Cat by Ten Snake. It’s a bit of a Scouse anthem thing!
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM COLLABORATION?
At the moment Calvin Harris. I’d love to work with Calvin
SO THAT MIGHT INDICATE YOU’RE KEEN TO DO SOME MORE UPBEAT TRACKS?
Definitely, yeah. I love dance music. When you listen to this song that I told you about you’ll see what I mean!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SENSE OF STYLE?
It changes really, but generally it’s quite classic. I’m a big fan of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe… I love that old Hollywood glamour look. It depends how I feel, like my hair it changes every day.
WHAT WILL BE YOUR KEY GO-TO PIECES FOR AUTUMN/WINTER?
I can’t afford it, but those Alexander McQueen new range of coats, I love that style. And a good boot. You’ve got to have a good boot.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT YOURSELF?
I don’t think people know me fully yet. People think I’m very quiet – and I am quiet – but I have lots of sides to me.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS?
I’m releasing another track just before Christmas. And then I’m hopefully going on tour in America in January. I’ve done a lot of key shows this year.
IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED? TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA?
Definitely. It’s always on everyone’s wish list but I’m not beating myself up about doing it. I’ve got so many lovely fans around the world. It would be lovely if everything went really well over there but I’m content how I am now.
WHO ARE YOUR IDOLS?
My mum is my idol. Oh God who else! I got so many. People who inspire me. Spiritual people inspire me like Gandhi and Jesus, people who have got good souls. Aretha Franklin again, such an amazing singer.
THANK YOU REBECCA!