For our first interview here on Stereo Stokey I met up with wonderful singer & songwriter Tallulah Rendall. We met in The Defoe to do the interview, and to tell you the truth, I was shitting myself. Turned out there was no need for that at all, and we had a great chat about lions, Shirley Bassey, and all sorts really…
Here you go… Enjoy!
Hi Tallulah, thank you so much for agreeing to do this. So how long have you lived in Stokey?
I’ve lived here a year and a half.
Oh wow, and I thought I was a newbie. What brought you here?
My friend Joantoni, who plays in a band called Satellites and lives in Allerton Road.
We were hanging out a lot and after a while I moved here.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from London, but I’ve lived pretty much everywhere. My Dad is Australian so I lived in Sydney for a while but I’ve always moved around. I lived in Manchester for a while, for four years and then I moved back here in 2002.
Well, that’s certainly good for us. How long have you been playing music?
I’ve been singing since I was six, a child… a baby really. I started playing the guitar when I was 14 and I’ve been doing it full time for about ten or eleven years now.
How would you describe your music?
Someone has described it as spooky rock. I would say it’s somewhere between delicate and pretty full on. There’s loads of multilayered vocals and guitars, all very cinematic.
I’ve seen some videos of you playing solo. Which do you prefer, solo or playing in a band?
I prefer playing in the band because I’ve played solo for so many years. When you play with a band the songs kind of really reinvent themselves and you get lost in the music a bit more. Some songs work really really well solo and some of them don’t because they’re meant to be with a band and they’re meant to have those multiple layers, you know.
My band has evolved a lot over time. They are all great friends, and I’m really glad to have them in my life.
Do you use any of the Stokey rehearsal or recording studios, like Zen, Karma or so?
Audio Underground we used to use… but also, Joantoni had a rehearsal space in his house where my friend Antti’s band Everything On Black used to practice.
Have you played a lot around Stokey?
No, no I haven’t actually.
Uh, right, awkward… let’s skip that question hey. Well I guess there aren’t many music venues around here.
No, they’re mostly open mic nights, aren’t they, apart from maybe Bardens.
I’ve played a lot down in Shoreditch, in 93 Feet East, Cargo and the Vibe Bar. I’ve played all those places but I’ve never actually played in Stokey. People’s houses but not in public.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this one before: you played at Shirley Bassey’s 70th birthday. What was that all about? How did that happen?
Oh, I met her a long long time ago and she became a friend. She was really supportive, giving words of wisdom and encouragement.
When she was doing her party someone asked if I know some circus performers because I play lots of festivals, and they invited me to come and book some performers. So I got very involved in that side of it and then one day she said she would really like me to play. So I said OK of course.
I did three songs, two of mine and then I wanted to do a song that was really important to her. There is one of her tracks which is called Living Tree. It’s a great song. I mean you’d love to do her Bond track but there’s no way in hell that I’d try and bust that out. That just would have been suicide.
It was a really intimidating gig because I went on after her. So she came on and did a few songs, and then nobody really had a clue who I was. They were quite big boots to fill but it was a great gig, it was a really good gig.
It’s really weird to see Shirley Bassey rocking out in the audience after she’s just played. It’s pretty surreal. She’s got a great spirit. She’s just a real force of nature when she sings.
You seem to be very well connected anyway. You’ve played Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Latitude…and you haven’t even released much so far. What’s your secret?
I just work really hard and I’m lucky that there’s people who are really supportive and who enjoy what I do.
Any advice for others?
It’s really hard. Annoyingly enough you just kind of have to work hard I mean, you really have to fight for it and find creative ways in. It’s definitely not easy. I wish there was some secret bit of advice I could give someone but there really isn’t.
You’ve set up your own record company, Transducer Records. Have you had bad experiences with labels?
No, I just finished writing this record and I wanted to record it, and there was no money and no way to do that, so the only way to go was to find some people to invest in it.
I went around doing showcases and convinced various people to back me. I wrote some music for a short film by Rebel Penfold-Russell, who did Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and basically I managed to get them to agree to invest in me. We managed to convince Marius to be the executive producer for the album.
There are so many people who are songwriters, so you just have to do something slightly different. It seemed the only option that was available if I wanted to release the record. It’s now being released on the 1st of June through Genepool/Universal Music.
If another label came along and wanted to sign me, fantastic, but having my own record company means I was able to be amazingly creative with the album. It’s actually coming out as a book. Each of the songs has a painting and a short piece of poetry or prose to go with it. It’s a very visual, conceptual experience, not just another download, and that was very important to me. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to do that with any existing label.
I’ve been allowed to be amazingly creative with what I do and I’ve worked with very interesting people who have supported me.
But it is very unnerving because you need a whole infrastructure. I’ve just signed this deal with Genepool who work with Universal for the distribution of the record. I’m also working with a PR guy, and we have an intern in the label… so now there’s suddenly a big bunch of people where for the last ten years there was only me.
Wow, sounds like a lot of work.
It’s a shitload of work! But it’s good. Today I was writing till three and then for the rest of the day it’s businessy stuff. But it’s cool. I’m not very good at writing in the afternoon anyway, I’m a real morning writer, and that’s when I’m really creative but later in the day my brain gets occupied with something else.
Your single “Time Away” has just come out. Want to tell me a bit about it?
Yes, on the 23rd of February, last Monday. It’s funny cause that’s the one track I didn’t think was going to make it onto the album. It’s a really old song and I’ve moved on so much since I’ve written it, but Marius and Matt, the other producer, were really keen that I did it. So it’s really ironic that it ended up being a single. It worked out well I guess.
And next is your album, Libellus.
Yes, I’m organising a small festival on the 3rd of June to launch it. I wanted something slightly different, so I’m doing it at Café de Paris in Piccadilly, and there will burlesque performers, trapeze artists, and all kinds of weird and wonderful things, a real treat for the senses.
There’s also a lot of remixing happening at the moment, and we’re doing a video this weekend on Radio Caroline, the old tanker which was the first pirate radio station back in the 60s to play the Stones and Led Zep. You have to take your passport to get on to it, and they still have the record room and all. I’m really looking forward to exploring the place.
Oh, and I just started writing the next record as well, and this one will be done live.
What does the name of the album refer to?
Oh yeah, that’s kind of weird. I was reading a book by Iris Murdoch called The Sea and the character in it talked about Libellus as being this piece of poetry that comes alive. I just loved that. It’s what the album is to me… this thing that’s just growing and growing and growing and then morphs into this different thing. But if you actually google it it means a whole bunch of weird shit, like a pagan manuscript, or just a book. It’s just the interpretation I’ve taken.
I liked the viral story idea you used for the “Only You” single. [Every one of these singles had a unique word on it which together made up a story that could be downloaded.] Anything else planned like this?
Yeah, we’ve got a couple of ideas. Leading up to the album release we will be sending out weekly mails to all the people on our mailing list with a short Quicktime movie and an option to save up a pound a week for the album via PayPal. We’ll be trying things like that. And the book will also come out in electronic form, so there might be an option to make that viral as well.
I’m really intrigued by the whole viral thing. It’s really interesting what makes people get involved. My dad in the 70s had a lion. It’s just a kind of thing we grew up with. We had home movies and all. And then last year someone put a 2 minute clip on YouTube of this lion coming down a hill and jumping into their arms, and that went completely mental. Like 150million people around the world watched it. People just seemed totally touched by the humanity of it, this beautiful little piece of footage of this genuine friendship seemed to really resonate with them. I just became really intrigued with why people were so enamoured by it. It’s a really genuine and heart warming thing, it catches your eye and it makes you smile, and I just love that.
Right, anything I’ve forgotten to ask?
One thing people always ask me is what my influences are. Actually I thought you were going to ask me that, so I thought about it the other day in the car, and I realised that this influence thing, the way people always say you sound like this or that, it’s really not important. They always ask if I’m really into Kate Bush, and, well, I like some of her stuff but that’s it. I’m a massive Patti Smith fan, I think Horses is a great record, but it’s more about the artist, about the kind of people they are, because there’s something amazingly inspiring about artists, musicians, about the people that they are, sometimes much more so than their actual music.
So who are other people like that?
I really like PJ Harvey or Nick Cave: I love the fact that he gets up every day, puts on his suit and goes upstairs and he sits and writes from 8 to 6 or whatever. It’s his job.
But I also love AC/DC, ZZ Top and Radiohead, the Stones, Bat for Lashes and an artist called Camille… I’m just really intrigued by musicians that come up with inventive ways of doing things. Or Sigur Ros, I saw them at Latitude and I was almost in tears. It’s just the most proper spine tingling beautiful thing.
And then we were done. Thank you very much again, Tallulah, and good luck with the album launch! We’ll be keeping an eye out for you for sure!
Tallulah’s album Libellus is out on 1 June, and you can already download her single Time Away right now on Amazon.