Paloma Faith Breaks Down New Album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’ & Tells The Most Amazing Diane Warren Story Ever: Interview
This week saw the stateside release of Paloma Faith‘s third album A Perfect Contradiction, a set of disco-tinged soul jams the big-voiced British singer spent time writing and recording in America with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Raphael Saadiq, Diane Warren and Chris Braide. And, oh, what a story Paloma has to tell about the road to taking on Motown-esque, Warren-penned ballad “Only Love Can Hurt Like This.” It’s a tale that involves Paloma at first rejecting the song, Diane’s unwavering insistence and, also, a string of expletives hurled (lovingly?) Faith’s way over several months.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Head below to experience Idolator’s full chat with Paloma.
First of all, you looked fantastic on The Late Show With David Letterman recently. Who designed the dress you were wearing? PALOMA FAITH: That’s a Giles [Deacon] dress, a British designer. Kylie [Minogue] wears a lot of his stuff, I think they’re good friends. I’ve been on Letterman once before, and I was less nervous this time. I feel like the confidence from a couple of number ones has given me less nerves, which makes my performances stronger. Although the dress was so tight that at one point I went to hit the high octave and I thought I was going to faint. I had to stay alive just until the end of the song. It was a bit small!
Congratulations, also, on topping the UK chart for the first time with “Changing.” How did you come to feature on that particular Sigma track? PF: I just really liked the song. I usually say no to features, but I’m all about music. So when I first heard it, I was like, “Wow, this is a great song.”
Your album cover for A Perfect Contradiction features you re-enacting Caravaggio’s The Entombment Of Christ. Why that painting in particular? PF: I really like that era of art. I worked with photographer David Standish on the previous record’s artwork, and he knows that I’m really into that type of art. The reason why I like the Renaissance era is its pull between heaven and hell — so the shadow bits are really dark and the lights are really light. It was the perfect contradiction. It seemed appropriate to revisit that style. So we talked about different characters that I came up with who could embody different types of love and attachment. He showed me a few paintings that he thought would be good, compositionally, and [The Entombment Of Christ] was one of them.
You spent time in the states making A Perfect Contradiction, and worked with several big American songwriters. How did Pharrell Williams come to co-write and produce “Can’t Rely On You”? PF: I was actually at the Met Gala, and he just approached me out of the crowd and was singing one of my songs to me from my first album, which wasn’t released in the states. So I was quite surprised, because he knew something that hadn’t come here. He just said, “I think you’re really cool. Let’s work!” I was a bit awkward, because I’ve idolized him since N.E.R.D. He took my phone out my hand and put his number in it.
You also wrote a couple tracks with Raphael Saadiq. How did you two come together? PF: I was opening for Prince in Copenhagen, and [Saadiq] was there as well. I’ve always been a fan of him, I’ve been buying his records since I was like 13. I thought, Pharrell wants to work with me so I might as well just bite the bullet and just try. So I approached him myself, and he was up for it.
The dancey track “Mouth To Mouth” is one of the fruits of that pairing. PF: It’s my favorite. I was listening to loads of disco, and he’d come up with an idea for me that had a bit of a ska vibe — kind of like The Cure meets The Specials — and I loved it. But I wanted to write a disco album, so I was playing these songs to get him into it. We then wrote the background for the song really quickly. Then we worked with his 17-year-old nephew Dylan — he’s from a band called Smashing Hearts. Dylan’s super talented! To be able at the age of 17 to stand up in a room full of people as experienced as Raphael Saadiq and be just on-point, that was quite surprising. [Dylan] actually played the guitar solo on “Love Only Leaves You Lonely.”
Okay, so the bits I’ve heard about this Diane Warren story, and how you came to record “Only Love Can Hurt Like This,” seem quite iconic. Do tell — in full! PF: She asked to meet me, and I don’t really know who anyone is and I’m not really that bothered, so I basically said no. My manager was like, “Well, perhaps you should Google her and just realize who Diane Warren is before you say no.” So I Googled her, and realized she’s written every karaoke song that I’ve ever sung. I didn’t want to sing a song written by somebody else, but I wanted to meet her because she seemed like a fucking important person. So I went to meet her and instantly we got along, because I’m blunt as well. I wouldn’t say we’re the same but I really respect the fact that she is who she is, and I see through when people are being false. So I just instantly liked her. I told her, “We can be friends, but I’m not singing any of your songs!” And she was like, “Fucking bitch!” So three months passed, and I hadn’t seen her again. It was Boxing Day and I was really hungover, because you’re notoriously drunk on Christmas…well, we are in England. I was at a restaurant with my friend and we were drowning our sorrows, and I got this phone call from Diane Warren. She goes, “Hey, cunt, are you gonna fucking sing my song or what?” I was like, “First of all, I haven’t even heard the song, so no.” She was going to play me the song, but I said, “Please don’t. You’re an artist and you’re creative, and I’m going to say no. And you’re going to take it personally, so just don’t bother.” She goes, “I can take it — I’m tough!” So she sung it to me over the phone, and she’s not a really good singer. But I just knew from the moment I heard it that it’s a song I wished I’d written. It was saying everything in such a simple way that I’ve tried to say. It’s the sentiment, like I’m a tragic romantic and I don’t feel anything for sentimental love songs. It’s like torture! [Diane] asked me what I thought and I go, “You’re a fucking bitch!” She goes, “Ha! I told you that you were gonna fucking sing it, cunt!” When we got our first number one with it in Australia, she bought me a really beautiful bracelet. It was a lovely gold and she had it engraved, and when I opened the box it said, This is a gift to you for our number one.” It was engraved “#1 Cunt” in really nice handwriting. It wasn’t until I looked up close to it, and I thought, Does that say what I think it does?
Cunt wait for @Palomafaith show tonite!!!!
— Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) October 5, 2014
That is the most amazing story anyone has ever told since the dawn of time. Another brilliant disco-pop track on the album is “Impossible Heart.” PF: I wrote that one with Chris Braide, and he’s also British but he lives in L.A. He’s a massive Prince fan, and we’ve always gotten along well because of that. I was listening to loads of Chaka Khan and Prince stuff, and I went to him and said I wanted it to be a bit of that. At the time that I wrote, I’d had a lot of long-term relationships and I’d fallen in love with somebody who lived in New York and I lived in London. I was so pissed off with myself because it was the most compatible I’ve been with anyone and he lives seven hours away by plane. And I’ve done all of those things that [the song] says — like I’ve fallen in love with gay men! I’ve been that person who just makes life difficult for myself. Luckily it’s resolved now!
A Perfect Contradiction has become such a huge success for you in England. How did making this album compare to doing the first two? PF: Because I’ve established myself in such a big way in the UK, and it was starting to become a quiet noise in the states, I had sort of gotten myself to a stage where for the first time ever in my career I was free to approach people that I wasn’t able to in the past. I think we live in a very fickle time in music; not many people are long term. I think you have to earn your badges now. No one is gonna work with you with your first album out. They’re like, “Well she won’t be around for long anyway.” So it isn’t until you’ve earned some stripes. I feel like this album was me working with my idols and the people whose work I’ve admired. I’ve always been somebody who’s really into soul music, I consider this [album] to be a history of soul, from the ’50s to the ’90s. That’s what I set out to do. Soul originally comes from America, from blues and gospel and early R&B. That’s the world of music that I listen to and that I’m inspired by. Not as much current American music, but old American music. So I just wanted to work with people who understood that in the way that I did. In Britain, I worked with a lot of artists who I found didn’t really get the essence of it. I was brought up with just that type of music – it was in my veins. So whereas in England, people are brought up with a mix of everything. But I wanted some purity. [America] seemed like a good place to work with people who grew up with that same history of music. The Beatles ripped off soul music and sold it back, which is what I’m doing too! Paul [McCartney] came into one of my rehearsals recently. I heard him before I saw him, and I just said “Hello, God!” I said, “Oh I’m just muddling through, what’ve you been doing?” And he goes, “Same thing really, just muddling through for a long time.” That’s reassuring to know everyone’s muddling through.
It seems like the inevitable person for you to collaborate with next is Prince. PF: I’ve asked Prince to work on this one, but he was enigmatic.
Last one for you: Will we see you taking on any more acting roles in the near future? PF: I’ve just changed agents, so I’m having an experiment to see if that helps to get more edgy things. I really want a challenge with my acting. I know what it’s like to be Paloma Faith; I don’t really want to be me in films. I’d like a challenge with it. I’m not taking anything too close to what I actually am anymore. It’s inevitable — like I always get sent comedy scripts. I feel like it’s kind of inevitable to me that I’ll end up doing some comedy. But I don’t want to be that yet, because it’s obvious to people that I’m good at it. I was quite good at it as a kid —I used to enter talent shows. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to do something serious and gritty and hard.
Paloma Faith’s third album A Perfect Contradiction is out now in the US, and you can purchase it on iTunes here.