Rebecca Ferguson, singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Simon Cowell, using Frank Sinatra’s microphone to record Lady Sings The Blues, her new album and her forthcoming tour
Rebecca Ferguson is a British singer and songwriter. She came to prominence in 2010 when she was the runner-up on the seventh series of The X Factor, losing to the winner that year, Matt Cardle. She subsequently signed a joint record deal with Syco Music and Epic Records in the UK. She later signed in the United States to Columbia Records.
Ferguson’s debut album, Heaven was released in December 2011 to both commercial and critical success, peaking at number three in the UK. Co-written by Ferguson, it was certified two times platinum in the UK and platinum in Ireland. Her second studio album, Freedom, was released two years later and was again met with positive reviews from critics together with commercial success in the United Kingdom.
In August 2014 Ferguson tweeted that she was back in the studio confirming the work of a third studio album and subsequently Lady Sings The Blues was released in March 2015. She has now completed work on her fourth album which she hopes to release in September.
Whilst at home looking after her three children, she managed to find the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.
Hi Rebecca how are you?
Hi Kevin, I’m fine thanks are you ok?
I’m very well thank you and thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
No worries, thanks for wanting to interview me.
And just how is life treating Rebecca Ferguson at this moment in time?
Life is good, it is really good actually. I’m happy for once; I’ve not been that for a long time now but I’m happy. So yes life is really good at this moment in time.
I have to ask you, how are things going with your fourth album?
Things are great and in fact the album is all done. I’m at the exciting part now, waiting to get it out there and see if people like it. It really is nerve-wracking (laughter).
What can you tell me about the new album?
For me it is a follow-up to my first album Heaven; it is an extension of that but I would like to think that I have progressed a lot more since then. This album is very personal to me. I have tried to write about the ups and downs of relationships, together with what has been happening in my life. I am getting lots of emails regarding planning meetings so whilst things are busy it is also very exciting.
When are you looking to release the album?
I don’t have an exact date as yet but I am looking to get the album out there by the end of September.
Just in time for the tour?
Yes that’s right. Whilst the majority of the songs on the tour will be from the first and second albums, there will be a few songs from Lady Sings The Blues and I will be introducing a few songs from the new album.
Do you have a title yet for the new album?
You know what, I have but they won’t let me tell you (laughter). The management are intending on making a big announcement so they won’t let me tell you, sorry.
You have written all of the songs on the new album; is writing something that comes easy to you?
(Laughter) I have to be honest with you and say yes, writing songs does come very easy. I find writing easier than singing if I am honest.
Do you write both the lyrics and the melody?
Yes I do both and I also help with the production as well.
Which comes first, lyrics or melody?
Usually it is always the melody that comes first and then the lyrics follow later.
Are you happy with the album?
Yes I am and I have been really fussy with it because I want it to be really good. I know that everyone says that but I didn’t want to rush it, I just wanted it to be perfect so I have spent time on it. However, I am so nervous now because I just hope that people like it.
Now that the album is finished can you relax or are you constantly thinking that you could have done it better?
I never relax (laughter). I can never relax, I become a crazy woman leading up to the release of the album (laughter). I am a nightmare and I will be sending twenty emails everyday asking people if this is okay, is that okay, will this outfit be okay for the launch and stuff like that(laughter). Once the album is out there I can finally relax and everything is fine. At the end of the day this is my life and I have been working hard on this album so I just want it to be presented in the best way that it can be.
Are you already thinking about the next album?
(Laughter) I haven’t even thought about that, not really. The only thing that I have thought is that when I start writing for the next album I want it to be more acoustic than anything that I have recorded before. I shouldn’t even be thinking that far ahead but I might record an acoustic EP of four or five songs. That is something that I would really like to do but I am not even on that yet (laughter). I am completely focused on my fourth album at the minute (laughter).
Will you be releasing your fourth album on vinyl?
(Laughter) everyone is asking me that so I am going to have to speak to my label and see what I can do about that. I think that it has to be an option although it could well prove to be cost inhibitive.
Being an old soulie I have to ask you about your last album Lady Sings The Blues. Were you happy with how well it was received?
I have to say that I was and I thought that the album was really good. I was surprised with the reaction to the album because people can be so snobby about The X Factor and cover versions. I was very aware of that stigma and it worried me to be honest. I wanted to make the album faultless to the point where whether you liked Billie Holiday, whether you liked me, you couldn’t deny that it was a good record. I spent days perfecting that album to the point where I thought if people don’t like Jazz that’s fine, if people don’t like me that’s fine, but I wanted to make sure that we did Lady Sings The Blues the justice that it deserved in the sense that you couldn’t deny that it was well made.
And that is what I think that Troy Miller the producer and I managed to do. Yes I agree that it was received well but we really did work hard on that album.
Before you agreed to make the album had you heard the Diana Ross version or seen her in the film?
Yes, we both watched the film and we both thought that she was unbelievable. I personally think that Diana Ross as an actress was unbelievable. In fact it was watching the film that made me want to do the project. I thought that she was totally amazing.
Were you nervous about being faced with two icons, Billie Holiday and Diana Ross?
The pressure was really on me (laughter). It had to be classy didn’t it but I think that I did alright though. I was very nervous in case it went the other way but I have to say that I am proud of the album.
You recorded the album in the Capitol Studios over in Los Angeles. That must have been exciting for you following in the footsteps of some of the greats including Frank Sinatra?
It was amazing, it really was and I loved it. The musicians that we worked with were all absolutely brilliant. Some of them had worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Sammy Davies Jr and yes even Frank Sinatra himself. In fact they had worked with almost all of the Jazz greats. It was a real blessing for me to be there with them all.
It must have been a little nerve-wracking for you when you stood in the recording studio and thought about all of the legends that had stood there before you?
It was, it really was but I have to tell you that the entire album was recorded using Frank Sinatra’s microphone; just how cool is that (laughter). It really was amazing and we were so well looked after. When you walk down the corridors in the studio they are covered with pictures of all of the greats who have recorded there; it is lovely, really great.
What a thing to be able to tell people that you recorded the album on Frank Sinatra’s microphone.
(Laughter) I know and it doesn’t get much better than that does it (laughter). It really did help because at that time I was going through such a sad time when I was over there recording the album. I was pregnant and the father of my baby had left me; I was so depressed. So going over to Los Angeles was really nice because it enabled me to escape from all of the reality that was going on in my life. It was so nice for me to be around talented people and people who could tell me stories about Sammy Davies Jr. It really was a good little escape for me.
Your rescheduled tour of the UK starts in October. Are you looking forward to that?
Yes I am, I can’t wait, really can’t wait. I really do enjoy touring and I want everyone who comes along to the shows to have a really good time. It is really going to be a positive, fun show. It annoyed me when the tour had to be rescheduled because I always want my fans to be treated with respect and a lot of what happens behind the scenes I have no control over whatsoever and I don’t think that people realise that. That side of things is not in my control. That really did upset me but I intend to make it up to my fans, making sure that they all have an amazing night.
You have briefly mentioned The X Factor, what is Simon Cowell like to work with?
The one thing that I will say about Simon is that he is exactly the same as he is on the show. He was great with me and he really did give me an enormous amount of support so I really can’t knock him. He was always there for me and without his support I most definitely wouldn’t be where I am today. I have nothing bad to say about Simon, I am really grateful for what he has done for me.
If I had to push you to choose just one, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Oh god there has been so many (laughter). There are two things that spring to mind, singing with Lionel Richie is one and touring America is the other. Lionel is a really nice person and for me to be able to sing with him was amazing, it really was.
Who has inspired you?
I would have to say that would be all of the musicians and writers who help me record Lady Sings The Blues. They all were truly unbelievable.
Who were you listening to while you were growing up?
It was a mixture really. I would listen to the radio quite a lot but I was always a big fan of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Cher. I have to say that Tracy Chapman was a big influence on me. I love Gospel music and I like people who are a little bit political; people who have got something to say in their music. I love the 80’s music probably because it was a little bit political (laughter). I love artists who aren’t scared to say what they are feeling otherwise the whole music thing gets a little bit bland.
There are not that many characters in the music business anymore.
That’s right, Michael Jackson is no longer with us and he is an irreplaceable talent, as is Prince. When you have got that irreplaceable talent it allows you to say what you want to say. The problem is that there simply isn’t the talent there anymore and the artists are now replaceable and so they are scared to sing about what they believe in. And I have to say that personally I find that really, really sad.
Testing your memory now, what was the first record that you bought?
The first record that I personally bought would have been The Corrs but before that I had been bought albums by Cher and Whitney Houston.
What was the last song that made you cry?
That’s easy, that would be Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) – Sanvean; it truly is a wonderful song and an amazing piece of music.
In the short period of time that you have been in the music business does it worry you that streaming has taken over from record sales?
The problem is that people out there simply do not know what is happening to the music business. In my opinion there is far too much free music out there. It’s all fun and games for the user but it is no good for the industry and it certainly is no good for music. People like me who are in the music business need to earn money and let me tell you that it is becoming more difficult every year. Pretty soon there will be no more new music for the people out there to stream. I don’t think that it is a worry for now but in my opinion in ten years we will be very worried.
In the five years that I have been involved in the music business the record sales have dropped drastically. It really is a problem that the record executives need to get their heads around straight away otherwise the whole industry will simply die. It’s not fair that everyone wants music for free. At the end of the day it is an industry and the artists who spend their lives making the music want paying for that. It is an art and a craft that deserves to be treated with respect and the artists deserve to be paid fairly for their work.
The people in charge really do need to sit down and get a grip on streaming. I am very lucky that seventy percent of my fans will go out and actually buy my albums. I am so lucky that I have got that market but having said that it is still difficult because the market is constantly changing; it is still difficult.
On a lighter note who do you listen to now when you have some down time?
At the minute I am concentrating on up and coming artists such as Anne-Marie. I think that she is wonderful. I also like Alessia Cara and think that she is doing some wonderful work. They are both young upcoming artists and I like the fact that they have both got a little bit of attitude about them. I think that they are both great.
If you could record with any one person who would it be?
I know that this will probably sound controversial but probably Kanye West. As much as he is a controversial character he is like marmite; people either love him or they hate him, but he is undeniably a great producer. He is a good writer and producer so probably Kanye West. I think that would be very interesting.
On that note Rebecca let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am looking forward to seeing you here in Nottingham.
Thanks Kevin, it’s been nice speaking to you and please make sure that you say hi when I get to Nottingham. Bye for now.