It’s not everyday you meet someone as comfortable discussing the merits of postcolonial literature as they are in championing their admiration for peak-PWL period Kylie Minogue, but then it’s not everyday a talent as genuine and uncompromised as Nerina Pallot emerges from the sea of production line pop.
Attentive students of the airwaves will already know Nerina’s name from her on-off flirtations with the charts over the past decade or more recently her songwriting credits for the likes of Miss Minogue. But that’s only part of the story – as her new album ‘The Year Of The Wolf’ resolutely displays.
Produced entirely with Britpop guitar legend Bernard Butler, ‘The Year Of The Wolf’ is, simply put, the accumulation of Nerina’s talents honed over the years. It runs the gamut of Nerina’s love of euphoric pop songs with big heart-bursting choruses like lead single Put Your Hands Up to sweeping, classical rhapsodies like History Boys - bridging the gap between pop and art that has often confounded her audience.
“The thing is, they’re all me equally,” says Nerina. “I don’t understand people who are snobby about pop – I know how hard it is to write a good pop song. Just listen to the backing vocals on any Abba record – they’re so intricate and amazing. That’s great pop.”
Typically for Nerina, the perky pop-rush of Put Your Hands Up contrasts with its lyrical inspiration. “I’d just read ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ the prequel to Jane Eyre. It’s mental – all voodoo and obsessive love and I wanted to write a song about that. Because I hate all the Brontë and Jane Austen stuff – I wish women would stop reading that shit. Mr Darcy isn’t going to turn up on a fucking horse and save you.”
Working with Butler tore up the rulebook for Nerina, “I’d always admired Bernard. I loved ‘The Sound of McAlmont & Butler,’”says Nerina. “Before I started this album I really thought about what was missing from stuff I’ve done before. I’ve never paid enough attention to groove – I realised that during working on the Kylie album. And I was missing guitar. Bernard helped bring all that back.”
And how. Turn Me On Again zips along with heady va-va-voom (“People over-intellectualise pop sometimes – good pop should be three and half minutes about sex really” she succinctly states) while the autobiographical I Think deftly manages to combine military drums and schoolyard chants with a snappy chorus of ‘don’t give me your shit’, delivered with such charm that you can’t help fall under its spell.
Nerina’s love affair with music all began when her parents brought home a piano they’d bought at an auction for £30. By the time she was 13 she was writing her own songs, influenced by her early idols Kate Bush and Elton John. But being a teenager in Jersey in the 90s was million miles away from the music business. She’d send demo tapes off to London and her heart would sink when they’d be sent back. She’d watch local bands “and think ‘I could do that’ but I was wearing braces and I was a girl and I knew they’d never let me join.”
Encouraged by her mum who had been a jazz singer in the 70s (“pretty unusual coming from an Asian background – she used sing to Astrud Gilberto and Shirley Bassey songs and wear a sari, that was her schtick”) Nerina earnt a music scholarship, left Jersey and was on her way.
Nerina’s story is either a testament to the tenacity and self-belief it takes to make it in the business or simply the only option available (“I was a bit rubbish at everything else” she shrugs). Either way, by her 20s Nerina had signed a major label deal and released her debut album ‘Dear Frustrated Superstar,’ which despite glowing reviews failed to set the charts alight. Nerina continued to juggle ‘soul-destroying’ jobs, bouts of depression and all-night writing sessions in the years that followed, eventually re-mortgaging her flat to finance her second album ‘Fires’. It paid off – denting the airplay charts and shifting over 10,000 copies, despite being on her own indie label (Nerina credits reading the KLF’s tongue-in-cheek music biz guide ‘The Manual’ for that) before being picked up by Warners and gatecrashing the top 20 with ‘Everybody’s Gone To War.’
Nerina’s recent successful foray into songwriter for hire is, she reckons, more a happy stroke of luck than any grand masterplan. “Her A&R liked a song I’d recorded and said he wanted it for Kylie. Months later Kylie turned up at our studio in the shittiest part of North London and we started doing songs for her ‘Aphrodite’ album. I didn’t tell her I had all her old records, it might seem a bit stalkerish.”
Although she won’t admit it (most people would have given up and gone home”) it seems fair to say that Nerina is now a particular high-point in her life and career. Her personal life took an expected turn a few years back, when she met her future husband (record producer Andy Chatterley, now father of her newborn son, Wolfgang) after he contacted her through a mutual friend after seeing her on TV. “Yes I know it sound bonkers, but when first I saw him at Wapping tube station I immediately thought ‘I’m going to marry this man.’ Half an hour later we were in the pub and he proposed to me. The wedding was six weeks later on Valentine’s Day.”
Much of ‘The Year Of The Wolf’ was written and recorded during her pregnancy last year and although she doesn’t like to go on about it (“a lot of women act like they’re the first person to ever have a baby and it’s so boring”) it certainly seems to have brought her creativity to a whole new level. The haunting History Boys in particular has an emotional depth only hinted at in her previous work.
“Actually I had just found out I was pregnant when I wrote that, and I was certain I was going to have a son. The same week Tony Blair was back at the Chilcot Inquiry and they showed all these women on TV who had lost their sons in the war. There was this overwhelming sense of empathy I had, and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I think I wrote that at about 3 in the morning. That song means a lot to me.”
Now having quietly built up a loyal fanbase and respect from her peers (she’s earnt both Ivor Novello and Brit nods) as well as travelled some of the more bizarre byways being a sometimes pop-star offers (including admitting her love for eating cat food to Russell Brand on live telly) Nerina is now signed to major label Geffen with the best album of her career up her sleeve. It looks like 2011 is going to be a good year.
“Well, I hope people like it,” she smiles. “You make a record to the best of your ability, but the truth is you don’t know whether it’s going to be number 1 or number 100 – nobody knows. And you can’t think about that, you just have to make the music as honest and real as you can.”
‘Put Your Hands Up’ is released on 22 May ‘The Year Of The Wolf’ is released on 30 May
For further information please contact Sundraj Sreenivasan at Supersonic PR 0207 033 7992 or Sundraj@supersonicpr.com
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