Paloma Faith is frazzled enough to warn us she's feeling a little “weirded out” before we ask her a single question
Having retreated for 18 months following the platinum success of her debut album, the Hackney- born songbird has returned to the limelight with thumping thick-skinned anthem Picking Up The Pieces. Unfortunately for Faith, the single's official release in May (and subsequent arrival of second album Fall To Grace) has reawakened the tabloids' thirst for her kooky, vintage shtick - and her personal life.
It's a slight surprise that she's quite so thrown by the arrival of paparazzi outside her house, because she demonstrates no such unease over recent major modifications to her record label life.
Having seen Sony mentors Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington leave Epic last year, Faith has hopped over to RCA for the follow-up to 2010's Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?, working with fellow newbie, label MD Colin Barlow.
Rather than allow these unfamiliar surroundings to put her off, she says they have inspired a forthright demand for personal creative control. Manager Jamie Binns at Lateral agrees, commenting that she noticeably became the "captain of her ship" following the changeover.
Surprisingly, Faith looks back on her last mega- successful record with mixed feelings: although she appreciates its breakthrough status and still adores some of its standout moments, she also sees it as a token of her uncertainty as a fledgling artist. Too many of its ideas clash; too much of its sound is steeped in other people's ideas.
This time round, alongside producer Nellee Hooper (Bjork, Massive Attack, Madonna) and co- producer Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran), she's wrestled her way to the auteur's chair.
And as she tells Music Week, now she's worked out how to "push my battles", she's starting to demand truly global support from Sony HQ...
How has your sound progressed from Do You Want The Truth... to Fall To Grace?
When I made my debut record, I was dealing with the whole music industry. Everything was a first. Now I've been through it once, I've learnt what [the label's] role is - when to listen to them and when not to. This record is much more true to what I set out to do in the first place.
I'm a massive film fanatic so I've always been spouting off about being cinematic, but I wasn't necessarily as involved creatively on the last album. I was with the writing, but not production or the later stages like mixing and mastering. On this record I've had a say right to the last detail.
What's changed within Sony to give you control?
I've got a bit more worth now. And because I know my worth, I'm not as sheepish about standing up for what I want. Also, I've accepted that the music industry is a business. That's their concern so I shouldn't worry about their creative opinions, and I don't anymore. I've stopped listening. Like with photographers, I go: "Just call me. Don't bother speaking to them." [laughs]
Did you personally pick Nellee Hooper to produce the record?
I was really lucky with the label changeover that I got to work with Colin Barlow. Because I'm a little bit of a dreamer in my own little world - which tends to be quite old-fashioned - I don't really have my finger on the pulse. Colin translated my desire to sound a certain way into introducing Nellee Hooper. It was a brilliant suggestion.
You had a famously close relationship with Nick and Jo - who still manage your publishing - before they left Epic. Has it been tough making a record without them?
There's pros and cons. I like being given the freedom I've got to be creative this time round, but I've also sometimes felt a little too out on my own.
Jo and Nick groom everything to the last little detail. Sometimes I miss that attention. But I'm lucky that I've got amazing management. What I miss from the label, Lateral have stepped in and taken on.
I used to speak to Jo every single day, but I don't have that anymore. It's a bit different.When you all like each other and you all work hard, when you achieve it feels better. You can celebrate together. But it's early days [with RCA] - Colin Barlow's only been in the Sony building since January. The main concern is making a brilliant record I'm really proud of, and I feel like I've done that. If I'm honest, I didn't feel like that last time.
That's a surprise...
I loved what [Do You Want The Truth...] was, but I always wanted to be the sort of recording artist that marks a moment with a record that has a consistent sound. To me, my debut was more of a compilation. I'd written those songs over a period of five years and each track was produced by a different person so it didn't really have a coherent sonic to it.
What advice would you give to a young artist, knowing what you know now?
You have to forgive yourself. If you have personal failures or make mistakes - or if you don't get signed first time or you get dropped - so long as you have something to offer people, keep persevering.
Indie labels sometimes question the amount of creative freedom an artist gets within a profit- hunting major. What's your take?
Because a major label throws quite a lot of money at things, they're usually a bit more tentative, whereas an indie maybe doesn't throw as much. So [a major] is always worried about throwing it at the wrong person.
But I think once, as in my case, they realise they can take a bit more of a risk, you can get given a huge amount of freedom. For me, that's come from a combination of things: I've gone straight to my label as well as people in the industry [and shown] that if I don't like something, I will tell a journalist. I think they're afraid they'll have to listen to me because it's kind of true.
I sort of demand freedom in the sense that if I don't get it, I won't play the game. It's my way or the highway. If you like it let's go with it, and if you don't then drop me. I've said to Nick [Raphael] on a few occasions: "Go on, drop me then." It's the way I am: it's partly a lie, but also I'm pretty confident about my creative judgment.
Who's the best music executive you've worked with?
In the sense of caring and nurturing on a personal level - helping and giving confidence - I'd say Jo Charrington. But my managers are amazing; they've been with me since before I had a deal or anything.
Managers can be blamed for ruining careers. What makes Lateral so good?
Their ability to know if I'm not happy with the way something's gone. Rather than be arrogant, they just change it and make it better. They're quite a transient management company. I'm a workaholic and a massive multitasker. People don't generally do things at my pace. Rather than lose me, they decided to employ someone on those day-to-day things. That means they can think about the bigger picture without me getting panicky that nothing is getting done. I'm quite demanding in some ways. If I send an email out I expect a reply quite quickly. More than being a diva, that's more because my memory's terrible.
Forget Sony and industry interests for a moment: what are your ambitions for this record?
I'd love to buy a house [laughs]. I'd like to make a few waves in America and internationally. The last record did really well in the UK and I'm so grateful for everything that happened here. But considering I speak three languages I'd like to use my ability to fit into lots of different cultures. I don't think anyone [at Sony] really utilised that on the last record.
I've been waggling my finger at Sony International people at parties who remain from the first album. They all look a bit scared. I saw one of them at the Sony post-Brits party. He cowered into the corner and said: "I know what you're going to say! I promise I'll do it!"