Annabel Jones On Debut EP ‘Libelle’ & Bittersweet Pop: Interview

Mike Wass | May 18, 2016 12:00 pm
Annabel Jones' "IOU" Video
Annabel plays a demented cat lady in eye-popping "IOU" video.

After fronting several bands, Annabel Jones decided to venture out on her own in 2014 and casually dropped one of the best songs of that year with soaring synth-ballad “Magnetic.” It was only a matter of time before she got snapped up by a major label and, sure enough, the singer/songwriter’s official debut single, “IOU,” arrived in March via Atlantic Records. That was followed by a sophisticated set of biting, bittersweet pop songs called Libelle.

I recently caught up with the Brit to discuss her journey from alternative band-babe to rising pop star. She revealed the catalyst for the, in retrospect, genius decision to go it alone and explained how being in America has influenced her sound. The 27-year-old also shed some light on that demented “IOU” video and accounted for the title of her EP. Get to know the newcomer a whole lot better in our Q&A below.

After playing in various bands, what was the catalyst for you deciding to go it alone?
The guy that was in my last band, Bluebell, his brother died suddenly in a tragic accident. Then, less than a year later my dad [Monkees singer Davy Jones] died. That basically just stopped us both in our tracks. We tried to go on for a bit longer, but it just… after you go through something like that, it totally changes your perspective on everything in the whole world. I did a lot of looking at myself. I did a lot of, I hate to say it, but soul searching.

My dad was helping me pay my rent when he died. Basically, I no longer had the support of him and I had to join the real world. That was a wake up call because I didn’t realize that even though I thought I was super independent, and I didn’t need anybody and nobody was helping me and I was paying my own way, in the back of my head was always like, “If I do fall down, I know that my dad will save me.”

Well, after he died, I didn’t have that anymore. I had to start looking after myself. I started working my balls off. Working seven days a week just doing any job I could get because I really didn’t want to lose my apartment. During that time, I decided that I wanted to start writing with other people and maybe consider pursuing songwriting rather than being an artist. I did that for a year. It was not for me at all. I just got to point where I was just tired.

I felt like I had nothing to lose, so I came to L.A. for a couple weeks, met [songwriter] Evan Bogart and did a couple of sessions with him. To be honest, at that time I had completely let go of being an artist. I genuinely thought, “This isn’t going to happen for me. Maybe I don’t even want this.” I think it was just everything that was going on in my life at the time rather than anything else.

They gave me the opportunity to sign with them. I thought, “Do I want to be a cleaner or a child’s party entertainer or whatever? Or do I just go for it?” I just thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to do it.” I signed with them and then we did “Magnetic” a year later.

How did you get introduced to Evan? That’s a pretty good hook-up.
My mum went to a wedding in the desert here in California. She met a lady called Wendy, who she just loved. They just hit it off and had the best time together. Mum came home and for six months she was pestering me about this person. “Find Wendy online. She’s a really nice woman. You’re going to love her.” I’m like, “I’m not just going to talk to some random woman on Facebook.”

I was not going to add someone on Facebook and be like, “Hey, you met my mum. She says you’re really nice, so I’m going to be friends with you.” My mum literally wouldn’t stop about it, so I did eventually. I was like, “Hey, Wendy. Just wanted to let you know my mum adores you.” Whatever. “So nice to meet you.” We became friends on Facebook. She saw me posting things from Bluebell and she shared them with Evan. Evan then emailed me.

So, I flew to L.A. and we just hit it off. We just had a really good time. It felt so natural and so easy and I felt so comfortable. It was the most comfortable creative experience I’d ever had and I just knew that it was the right fit. You know? I’d had a lot of offers from different people in the past and different opportunities, but nothing ever felt right. When I met Evan and Eman [Emanuel Kiriakou], I was like, “This is it.”

When did you record “Magnetic”?
About a year later. It took us a year to get everything together from that point. Then I came over and we made an EP, which I ended up scrapping because I was like, “This isn’t good enough.”

Was “Magnetic” from that scrapped EP?
No, there was another EP before it. It just wasn’t right. It was really good, the songs were really good, but it just felt like old Annabel. It didn’t feel like me moving forward. I just said, “Can you just give me another chance?” We got together, Andrew Goldstein, Emanuel, Evan, and I, and we wrote “Magnetic.” I think we all just knew it was special. I was like, “This is who I am. This is the direction that we need to go in.”

Bluebell was a little more alternative. What made you decide to embrace pop?
I’ve always loved pop music growing up. I was obsessed with pop music. I also liked a lot of rock bands, a lot of punk and nu metal. That was my world. I always say Brody Dalle and Britney Spears were my poster girls. They were my heroes. I think I knew I had it in me and I knew that it was something that I just needed to explore. I think it was a confidence thing. I think that’s what attracted me to Evan and Emanuel. I just thought like, this is my chance to try something completely new.

Does coming from the alternative world give you an edge in putting a fresh perspective on pop?
I think so. With alternative music and singer/songwriter music, the lyrics are at the heart of it. Your message is everything. I think we can both agree that in most modern pop, there’s no real message.

Apart from popping bottles and hitting up the club.
Which is great, but we have different sides to ourself. The person we are on Saturday night is not the person that we are on Tuesday at 9:00 pm in our house alone. I know pop is going into a new phase right now where people are looking for songs that mean something. When you listen to all the songs The Chainsmokers have out at the moment, the messages in them are so strong. It’s dance music and it’s dance-pop, but it’s saying something important.

Does it bother you when you get compared to other British synth-pop divas?
It is very flattering to be compared to anyone that is doing really well. Obviously there is a element of that that feels good. I have always wanted to forge my own path and make my own lane and create my own world. I have always been like that since I was a little girl. I’ve always lived in my own world and I continue to want to do that. Not only do I want to live in my own world, I now want to invite people into it.

Do you think that working with American producers sets your sound apart from a lot of Brits?
Yeah, definitely. I think that I’ve been able to marry the really sort of alternative, singer-songwriter, underground, sort of British side of me to that world that we’re talking about popping bottles, being in the club. When I first signed with Evan and Emanuel, Emanuel was like, “Could you write a song about something other than your family for once? I mean, come on. Can’t you just write a love song?” I was like, “No.”

We still laugh about it. I’ve started writing love songs now. It’s just a matter of time, but I don’t know. I think that it has changed my sound. I think that being at the studio as well influences you. In every different room in the studio you’ve got people doing what is predominantly hip-hop and pop. I think that’s definitely had an influence on me for sure.

Let’s talk “IOU.” It’s a change of pace for you.
Yeah. When we decided that we were going to release “IOU,” I genuinely didn’t think that people were going to like it. I thought that people were going to find it too polarizing. So far people have liked me sad and ethereal. That’s what they know of me and that’s what they want from me. I thought this is either going to be a really good thing or everyone’s going to be like, “No, we only like you when you’re sad.”

I think that in “IOU” you can definitely hear that I’ve been listening to hip-hop radio. Also, the music at the studio is so loud. When you’re sitting having lunch, you’re hearing music coming in from, for example, Future’s session. It’s going into your subconscious. It does. It goes into your subconscious. When I’m here, I literally only listen to hip-hop radio. It’s weird. I don’t listen to it at home. It’s part of being here.

“IOU” sounds like a fuck-you song. Is it autobiographical?
It’s about an ex-boyfriend I had when I was a teenager. I actually saw him in L.A.. We went out and we met up. I just felt like I was making him sad. I felt like spending time with me wasn’t fun or nice or pleasurable for him. I felt like I was making him sad. We had a conversation where I basically was like, “I know I was a cunt to you when we were teenagers and I’m sorry.” I never really apologized to him before.

When we said goodbye, I was like, “I think I need to stop reaching out to you because I don’t think that I make you happy and I don’t want to be doing that. I don’t want to be making someone unhappy.” Also, it is a kind of fuck you. It’s like a fuck-you, but it’s also a fuck-me too. We both were dickheads and sorry.

How do you go from that sentiment to making a video full of cats and half-naked men?
Well, the good thing about doing pop music is you can be absurd. In fact, people like it when you’re absurd. I was walking home from the gym one day and I just started having this little daydream about cat videos. Imagine if I was a cat in a cat video. I started thinking about all the things that cats do. I thought I should do a video where I’m like, doing the things that cats do.

We were getting all these treatments in from directors and I didn’t like anything. It was taking ages. I just made a treatment myself and I sent it to the label. They were like, “Oh, okay. Let’s do it.” I was like, “Oh, all right.” The video is a daydream. It’s me with my cats. It’s about being a crazy cat lady and then falling asleep and having a daydream where you wake up in a world where the cats are sexy men. They’re your cat gang. You’re the fucking boss bitch of the pussy gang.

I’m sorry if you’ve answered this a million times, but why is the EP called Libelle?
Okay. I am obsessed with Marie Antoinette. And the concept of everything that happened to her. She was sold off by Austria to France to try and bridge the gap between the countries. At age 14, she crossed the border. She was sold off, basically. Her husband, Louis, was also a child. They had this weight of the world put on them. They had to save France. They had to produce an heir. They were kids.

Marie Antoinette she was so hated. She was regularly misquoted and the country basically turned against her. They blamed the financial crisis and the deficit on her. I think they called her Madame Deficit because she had this lavish lifestyle and she loved everything to be custom-made. She had big parties and she gambled. At that time, there was a pamphlet that went around, which would be the equivalent of The National Enquirer. It was called a libelle.

In it would be all this slander against Marie Antoinette and Louis, and anyone that was a political figure. It was an act of rebellion against them. It had a huge amount to do with why they became so hated and why she became so hated. Ultimately they were run out of the country and she was beheaded. That is a pattern that I see happen through history again and again and again. Take Amy Winehouse.

It happens, and it continues to happen in pop music especially and our celebrity culture that we have. That’s what happens. If you’re not careful and you don’t keep your wits about you they’ll build you up and build you up and build you up, and then they’ll fucking cut your head off. That’s why I called it Libelle. It just really resonated with me. The fact that the Libellists were anarchists against the monarchy, but also the fact that these were just kids that were put in this situation. You know, it just resonated with me.

I heard there’s a video for “Magnetic.” How does that fit into the rollout?
I made the video for “Magnetic” before I signed with Atlantic. That’s why it never came out and that’s why it was this long thing and confusing. When you sign your contracts you sell everything to them, so it becomes theirs. The video was mine. I didn’t sell it. It’s just confusing bureaucracy stuff, but it’s all sorted now. The plan is to release it. We’ll probably do a new video for “Happy” and then put the “Magnetic” one online just as some bonus content.

Anyone living away from their loved ones can identify with “Happy.” Did you realize you were tapping into something so universal and relatable?
Honestly, when I write songs I am writing them for me. It’s a selfish act. I don’t really like explaining my songs because I want you to be able to see yourself and have your experience within the song. If I sit here and lay it out for you, like from A to Z, then there’s no room for you in that. I do try and keep things either slightly metaphorical or just universal and keep things open to allow people to find themselves in the song. I think that “Happy,” for me, is about being far away from my boyfriend. It’s also about being far away from my friends and family, about being far away from the smell of the sheets at your mum’s house when you go and visit her.

After a while that stuff feels heavy. When you’re away from people it feels heavy. You just want to say to someone, “Tell me something that’s going to lift me up. You know? And give me just that moment of levity. I need that.” The bittersweetness of life is one of my favorite things. I think you can hear that on the EP. If it’s going to be really upbeat, the chances are the lyrics are going to be introspective and thoughtful.

One more question. How far along is the album. Will it just be the EP and five more tracks, which seems to be the trend these days.
I don’t want to do that. I’m fighting for it not to be like that. As a music consumer and a music fan there’s nothing that pisses me off more than buying an album which I’ve already got half of. It costs you more money, basically, to make a full album. My album is half done. I’d say more than half done. It would be so easy to put the EP on the album and then call it a day.

I just don’t want to do that. I really, really, really don’t want to do that. For me, it needs to be a whole new body of work. If anything, they can be bonus tracks. I’m saying that on the record, Atlantic! If I can fight that, I will. I intend on doing it. Even if we did that and then I release another EP shortly afterwards, it’s super important to me for there be a fresh stream of content for people to have. I need that.

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