London-based Rebekah Delgado has produced a marvelously theatrical self funded album entitled ‘Don’t Sleep’ unlike many one or two track albums that are padded out with filler. Don’t Sleep resembles more of a musical novel to be explored and savoured: its themes and sounds shifting from from sprawlingly cinematic (‘Lamentine’) and perky French Pop about self gratification (‘Manage A Moi’) to Nick Cave-esque blood soaked gypsy waltzes(‘Little Boy Blue’ and ‘Scoundrel’). Don’t Sleep seems to have an Eastern European presence hanging over its sound and aesthetic(starting with the album cover), thus these shadow over her historical murder ballad narratives and rousing observations of tough times laced with insomnia and depression led by Spanish guitars, pianos and grand melodies (‘Don’t Sleep’, ‘Sing You Through the Storm’). These songs are threaded together with Delgado’s husky weathered tone residing somewhere between Kirsty Mccoll and Amanda Palmer, but sounding utterly knowing, devilish and laced with black humour. Don’t Sleep is a pop album of great worth. We caught up with the very talented flame haired lady herself for a little Q & A session…..
-Hi Rebekah, how are you?
-How does being solo differ from being in a band? Does it give you more artistic control?
I definitely have more artistic control now. Well, I have 100% artistic control so that’s as much as a person can get really. It also means that to a great extent I don’t need to pander to the needs, demands or egos of others. That’s very liberating but the camaraderie was missed. Luckily, I now have an amazing group of music-makers and trouble-makers around me now that come in and
out of the live thing as needed. They’re pretty magic, I’m very happy I found them.
-As a solo artist is there a sense that you’re less concerned about ‘making it’ and more concerned about the music?
I want these songs to be heard by as many people as possible so I guess in that sense I’m very concerned about making it. Going solo just forced me to write more, to step away from the admin for a while and concentrate on music. Writing the album coincided with me having a basement I could write in that was out of earshot. Having somewhere to rehearse and experiment makes a huge difference.
-We love your new album ‘Don’t Sleep’. We read that much of it was written during periods of chronic insomnia, do you find that the best time to write? What do you start with the words a melody, a note? Or does it vary each time?
Most of the songs on the album were written in winter in a basement in the wee small hours, accompanied by whisky. Winter is the black sheep of all seasons – it’s a good time to write and I’m doing just that now. I could see my insomnia as a bad thing, but looking at it positively I’m awake at this magic time that most people miss.
Most of these songs – the words came first. Half-written rhymes or trains of thought or vague ideas pieced together. Then when some music came into my head that I liked I’d see if it worked with anything I’d written. In (the song) Don’t Sleep, the words and music made each other. With Lamentine and Sing You Through The Storm it was the music that came first and the words after. Some songs do just write themselves. Others you fight with for weeks or longer until it or you get beaten into submission.
-We’ve seen you called ‘a female Nick Cave’ who or what are your musical inspirations?
Leonard Cohen, yes Nick Cave, Jacques Brel, flamenco, pop music (especially French), punk/new- wave, arab. Basically these things and a huge amount of random torrented music from all over the world that I found on the interweb. I love ear worms and I love word play.
-Over what period was ‘Don’t Sleep’ written? The album reminds me of a novel with each chapter reflecting a different mood, sound and narrative was that intentional?
When shaping (deciding the order of) the album, it was important that the songs sounded like they belonged together and that they flowed into each other. It took a while to figure that out.
Most of the songs were written in the months after I decided to go solo – so the very end of 2009-March 2010. A couple of songs on there were written before and after that time and one song was co-written. In The Hunger That Never Sleeps – the words were written just before I recorded that vocal take as a guide vocal but it just worked so I kept it.
I had no funding so it took a long time to find a way to record the album – hence the gap in writing the album and getting it out there. In the end I gave up trying to beg a studio for it and it was recorded in a bedroom. I taught myself Pro-tools so I could do a large chunk of the recording and editing in the absence of being able to pay someone. It was made with my friend and talented long time co-conspirator Micky Strickson.
-Who created the album cover?
I moved to a new part of London a few months ago (Hornsey a.k.a. The Sticks) and on my first night out here I randomly bumped into a friend. We decided it should be party time so we ended up dragging some bedraggled people stranded at the bus stop in the rain back to her house to make said party. It transpired one of aforementioned bedraggled people had an artist friend called Magnus Irvin whose work fitted perfectly with what I wanted. The cover is a take on artwork by Spanish artist Goya, who is one of my favourites. Perfect timing, that.
-Songs like ‘Little Boy Blue’ and ‘Lamentine’ and ‘Scoundrelle’ seem to have very definite narratives as dark tales of murder, love and revenge did you set out to create character studies are they inspired in any way by literature?
I like telling stories or hinting at them and leaving the rest to the imagination. Imaginations are sexy.
My songs aren’t inspired by literature, I just like the feel of story-telling. There may be a murmur of fairytales and folk tales in there as I was pretty into those when I was little. Especially trying to decipher or imagine the original message or hidden message before it became a fairy tale. Old Russian folk tales are great for that.
Scoundrelle almost didn’t get recorded let alone released as, you know when you’ve written something that scares you, well – that’s not the first thing that occurs to you would be a good thing to release. I got talked around though. When it got described as a scary kind of ‘Jolene’, I learned to like it.
-As well as the more narrative songs there are intensely personal ones too. Like ‘Sing you through the storm’ was that an attempt to write something communal that will help someone through a bad time? I heard the drunk choir sang backing who are they?!
Sing You Through The Storm was written for my friend who was going through a bad time. I wanted to write something like Bridge Over Troubled Water but then this end sing-along weirdly linked itself in with it in my head and became part of it. Controversial, that ending.
The Drunk Choir happened when the album recording began in earnest and I needed backing vox. I Facebooked out for people and we recorded upstairs at The Camden Head in early 2011. We might have got drunk, hence the Drunk Choir moniker. From then on some of them would turn up at live shows singing along. It became part of the Cabaret thing I’m dabbling in, too.
-The album shifts musically quite a bit, from Spanish guitars and French Pop to gypsy waltzes, Don’t Sleep seems to have an Eastern European flavour at certain points. Are these different sounds a reflection of the various different types of music you listen to?
Yes. As above, I have many, many songs torrented from the internet. The kind that make housemates and party people past and present raise at least one eyebrow at me. Romanian gypsies and Moroccan festivals and old Scottish men and Spanish folk and Flamenco and Klezmer music and all kinds of random the interweb has spluttered out.
-How did you put a backing band together?
The band’s made up almost exclusively of people I met in various places when I was boozed. It’s a good place to start. There are also friends of friends I’ve found over Facebook and one old friend in there too.
-Your album launch at Bush hall recently included cabaret from subversive burlesque/ underground vaudeville act The Late Night Shop, acrobat Andres Felipe, Flamenco guitarist Joseph Warwick and accordion from Tom Baker. Alongside support from the talented Mr Tom Hickox. How did it go? And is the idea behind adding these extra performers an attempt to create a more theatrical environment for your live shows?
Yes, and it was pretty ambitious. I wanted it to have another era quality to it. Supports were dressed pre and inter war, and the Don’t Sleep part was Victoriana for the first half (we did it in two acts so it was theatrical and also like two sides of vinyl). I also wanted it to feel European as opposed to British, and quite a lot of the planning was geared around that. The Cabaret gigs I’ve been playing have been quite inspiring – there’s a dark, debauched underbelly lurking out there and I wanted that as part of my show.
What’s been your favourite live experience so far? And do you prefer intimate shows?
My favourite shows to play are the ones where the audience gets what I’m doing, whatever size the crowd is. The ones where they sing along to the signs (we hold up cardboard signs for the drunk choir bits) are brilliant – always catches me by surprise when that happens, I love it.
-Is it easier being a solo female in the industry these days? Or are there still barriers and boxes that the still mostly male dominated music media try to put you in?
What I find annoying is a fair few recent album reviews have only compared me to other women. You might think that reasonable except I haven’t really been very influenced by many female singer-songwriters. Yes, my voice is female but I’m also playing instruments and writing music and writing words – all these things should not be gendered. Female is not a genre.
I don’t listen to many of my contemporaries so I have no idea where I fit in. I do hope I’m doing something a bit different, though – I find most singer-songwriters pretty boring (which is partly why I’ve held off going solo for so long). I’ve always considered myself to be a punk of sorts even though there’s very little tangible trace of that left. I know Amanda Palmer’s work and she’s
great. It’s good to know that women in their 30s who won’t give up and were (and still are) disregarded by an old-fashioned music industry can take over the world. The problem with the fan-funding model though is that you need to have fans (almost always created by investment from old-fashioned record labels or at least the capital to tour) in the first place. It means that people like me who have had success in previous guises but never the investment, are in pretty difficult territory.
Apart from that I think some things come easier on account of being female, while some things (like being taken seriously) are much harder. There are occasions like in sound check where I’m apprehensive of repeatedly asking for what I need in case I get a reputation as a diva. Then there are the annoying dichotomies like – men are eccentric or genius while women are mad, men are plain-speaking while women are bitchy, men are hard-working while women are obsessive. I used to think about sex/gender issues all the time but I try not to these days and just get on with it. Men are ace for the most part, it’s just these constructs that are annoying.
-Is it time consuming being a musician in 2012 having to deal with admin and social networking and promotion as much as actually being able to perform?
Yes it’s a nightmare, mainly because of my crazy work ethic. When I first started I took up the DIY challenge wholeheartedly and I did it well. After years and years of doing it with previous bands though, I would totally, genuinely LOVE to never have to organise anything music-related ever, ever again. Sometimes organising is so time-consuming I go weeks forgetting I’m actually
supposed to be a musician. That’s because I’ve always been very ambitious, but you have to work that hard behind the scenes be to get anywhere in the current music industry, unless you have an X Factor voice and X Factor ambition.
What are your future plans? Do you have a UK tour lined up?
My future plans are to find some investment so I can find a way record the next album. I can’t wait all that time again recording something in a bedroom and relying on someone else’s good will and snippets of free time – that would drive me nutzoid. I’d love to tour also so I need an agent and investment for that also. So – a manager, funds, agent and probably a publisher too, please. Thanks.
-If you weren’t in this music business, what sort of business might you likely pursue?
I would probably be in Paris. Maybe I’d be a vampire. I’d definitely be a time traveller. I guess I could have been a writer.
-What inspires you?
People with a twinkle in their eye. People who can use words well. People who know a lot about the things I’m interested in. People who think out of the box and can make you look at everything in a totally different light. Travelling’s pretty inspiring too.
-Tell us about your favourite item of clothing?
-Know any jokes?
Q: Why do seals have flat willies?
A: *claps between legs while making a honking seal noise*
-The world seems to be speeding up. Do you embrace technology or yearn to run away to Somerset where you’ll live under a piece of tarpaulin for the rest of your days?
Definitely not Somerset. I hear Sunset’s good this time of year, though. I can’t imagine not living close to a city right now. But time changes you, so we’ll see what transpires. I like technology; I can learn a billion things lying in bed pressing buttons with this here machine in front of me.
-What music can you recommend?
I have to recommend mine. Giz a listen.