Thursday, 21 January 2010

Annie


With her new album out now and a string of live shows under her belt, Annie is back to pick up where she left off.

Annie is a pretty happy person at the moment.  Her new album Don’t Stop is finally out after a lot of record company wrangling that delayed the release, keeping her fans waiting.

Diplomatic as ever, Annie admits “it was a little bit frustrating, they kept on delaying.  Now I’m on my own record label and running it myself, it’s really exciting to be in control yourself.” 

Being in control gave Annie the chance to do what she wanted, and not be influenced by record label bigwigs and profit margins. “The album works against itself,” Annie says. “I like there to be two things happening at once; pop and cool, happy and sad.”

“It’s definitely quite important to be very focused and know what you want and where you’re going,” she tells me, “cos so many people will try to tell you what’s right and what you shouldn’t do and what you should do, like tell you to go in all sorts of directions and it can be really difficult.  I feel that, especially now when I’m running my own label and stuff, its much more work but at the same time I have more control and I feel more focused, I know more where I’m going and what I want.”

Don’t Stop reflects this focus, and it’s eclectic mix of pop and indie is sure to entice many new fans to the fold, as will the fantastic collaborations on the album, including Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and Datarock.  Working with others is something Annie values.  “It’s always great to get others opinions,” she says.  “I usually mix my demos there and then meet up with different producers and artists and sort of go from there.” 

Despite the rosy looking future and famous fans, things didn’t always go so smoothly for the Norwegian pop star.  She had problems with her record label, and even after releasing a track list there was no definite date for the album’s release.

“It was confusing for me," Annie says, “because nobody had said what I'd been doing was crap.  If I'd had everyone going 'look, you're not really very good at this, have you thought about working in a shop' it would have been one thing, but… Well, it was a strange situation.”

Strange comes up a lot for Annie, as she calls her music ‘pop with strange edges’.  Her unique blend of indie, pop and dance makes her music more than your average chart fodder.  This might be due to the mix of music in her home country of Norway. 

“It’s such a small country, people who listen to a lot of techno will then go and watch an indie band because there’s not enough bands, you’re gonna get really bored with the one thing.”  Unlike the virtual segregation of music that goes on in the UK and US markets, Norwegian music fans have learnt to cultivate taste that has a wide range. 

Her weird aesthetic was reflected when she joined the recent Wonky Pop tour as a DJ.  The wonky label seems to fit well with her, and a sense of oddness is something that comes naturally to Annie.  “The songwriting part of it’s very important to me and I guess you could categorise that as the more traditional side.  When it comes to the production I’m inspired so many different things so I always try to keep it a bit more interesting I guess.”

As well as her stint as DJ on that tour, Annie also DJs at clubs and parties all over Europe.  Is it something she likes better than playing her own stuff live?  “I like both, but I think to play records for me has always been fun, I buy a lot of records, I still buy vinyl, I’m such a music fan, to go out and play for people instead of just drinking and dancing, I find that much more fun.  Playing live is great but its definitely much more challenging.  DJing is more fun while playing live feels more like work.”

It’s her love of music that makes Annie such an original popstar.  She writes all her own lyrics and melodies, giving her the credibility that many others can’t manage.  “I can listen to artists and hear if the lyrics are written by someone else.  It can sometimes be a really big difference.”

“It's weird when people tell me that they like me but would never listen to Kylie Minogue or Britney. I'm not quite sure why, but I'm seen as, you know, somehow cool. My music is the pop that they're allowed to like,” she says. “At least for the moment.”

Don’t Stop is out now on Totally.  W myspace.com/anniemusic

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Little Boots


Victoria Hesketh, aka Little Boots, has been pretty busy this year, what with being the ‘saviour of pop’ and everything. I caught up with her to find out how she’s handling the hype.

After a year of waiting, Little Boots’ debut album Hands has finally hit the shelves, and it’s being getting great reviews that have gone somewhere towards justifying the hype that surrounded the steadfastly normal Northern girl who, 18 months ago, was covering Madonna and Human League songs in her bedroom and posting them on YouTube.

This DIY approach garnered a lot of attention for the singer-songwriter. She was on all the Hot Lists at the beginning of 2009, and touted as one to watch by the music press. The mass hype saw Little Boots grace numerous covers and featured in everything from The Sun to NME. Her star seemed to rising faster than the speed of sound.

‘I’m not Jesus,’ Victoria told me in our recent interview, saying she thinks the best thing she can do is ‘just to kind of ignore it and keep my head down and just focus on doing what I do and being a good musician and songwriter and performer at live shows, that’s what matters, that’s what I care about.’

Her passion for music is evident, even in the DIY YouTube videos shot in her bedroom, where she covers pop songs on a weird looking Tenori-On (a Japanese sequencer) wearing her pyjamas. She’s come a long way from the 16 year old who failed an audition for Pop Idol, which was a stroke of luck as Victoria realised she didn’t want to be another manufactured pop star. Instead, she decided to go her own route, and after a stint in the band Dead Disco, who very nearly made it, her solo efforts really captured the attention of the mass music media.

Hype is a pretty mixed blessing, especially for an aspiring young artist, ‘It was really great and I had some amazing opportunities from that and it was a great, great thing,’ she told me, ‘but I think at the same time everyone automatically judges you on three songs and decides what you should be able to do and it kind of gets a bit impossible to live up to it all really.’

Judging her from only three songs is a mistake, as the singer has some pretty big plans for the future already. Hampered not by imagination but only cash flow, the spectacle of Little Boots live is certainly something worth seeing, which Victoria wants to build on in the future. ‘I’ve got a few plans, I’d love to do loads of stuff, but I think it’s just a case of building it up gradually, adding a bit at a time, you know?’ Her ideas include fibreglass wolves, but unfortunately she’s been unable to source any sturdy enough to withstand the frenetic live shows.

Did growing up in Blackpool, with its gaudy glamour and seedy seaside vibe feed her flights of fancy? ‘I suppose, I think I’ve just always had a really vivid imagination, I’ve always been into anything that’s fantasy or fairy tale or otherworldly, I don’t know whether that comes from Blackpool or not, it’s just how I’ve been,’ she tells me. Wherever her imagination comes from, it’s a key element that has put Little Boots up there with the raft of female electro musicians that are dominating the charts at the moment.

Female artists like La Roux, VV Brown and Lady Gaga have, like Little Boots, been getting a lot of hype recently, but having her music pigeon holed with these musicians isn’t necessarily something Victoria is comfortable with. ‘People like to paint this whole movement of female artists, we’re all completely different but it’s a bit silly really. I can see why people do it and it’s quite an exciting time, you know that there are so many musicians and artists doing interesting things, but I think it can be quite narrow minded to shove us all in one box and say that’s a genre,’ she says.

Even with all the differences between the artists, there’s no ignoring the fact that the ladies have been trampling all over the indie landfill that seemed to be a fixture at the top of the charts not so long ago. I asked whether she thought the public had gotten bored of boys in bands. ‘Yeah, that’s how music works isn’t it, every time something gets overdone something else comes along, I’m sure this time next year we’ll be sick of electric girls and be eyeing up something else.’

Pop music is undergoing a bit of a renaissance at the moment, with critics going into raptures over the new pop artists, one even crediting Little Boots as the ‘saviour’ of pop. She agrees, ‘I think people’s attitudes are changing, and pop’s quite cool at the minute. People are getting less snobbish about it now because the pop music that’s happening at the minute is more interesting.’

Hands is out now on Atlantic. www.littlebootsmusic.co.uk


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Frankmusik


The future is here, and it’s electric, as evidenced by the number of acts in the charts eschewing guitars and amps for synths and samples. Croydon born singer songwriter Frankmusik, real name Vincent Frank, is certainly forward thinking, as I found out during our interview.

He’s been geotagged by his record company, allowing fans to track his every move. It all sounds a bit Big Brother to me, but Vincent isn’t fazed by the fact that his location is common knowledge. ‘People say it’s gimmicky like major label record stuff, but even if I wasn’t signed up to major record label I’d have it set up anyway, I think it’s amazing, I love it!’ he told me when we spoke recently.

The idea that anyone can know “my exact satellite navigation position, by the accuracy of six foot. I wanna have the internet inside me, I wanna be able to just check my emails by blinking,” he enthuses. “I love it, technology, we’re all like a slave to it anyway, so we might as well embrace it as much as possible.”

His enthusiasm has led Vincent not only into the charts, but also into some other, less enviable positions. In February, he took part in the Live and Lost challenge, which saw him making his way around the country on tour armed with only £20 and his Blackberry. He used MySpace to organise food and shelter through the generosity of his fans, who also made gig suggestions. The singer seemed to take it in his stride, but tour took its toll.

“The main reason why I found it such a struggle was because I had tonsillitis the whole time,” he revealed. “I was there and I had to sing and be happy and excited and enjoy it, like I really wanna go fucking sleep, I just wanna go home, but it humbled me massively when you see the support and reaction I got from people.”

Despite feeling rough, Vincent managed to complete the tour and the subsequent show was aired on Channel 4. As with other pop stars who grew up in the increasingly Internet savvy age, he’s used technology to reach his fans and invites them to do the same. Unsurprisingly, he sees the Internet as a great resource for the music industry.

He’s outspoken on the issue of illegal downloads, blaming the industry for punishing punters because they’re behind the times technology wise. “It’s not stealing, it’s something that’s happening that the industry’s not ready for yet, they can only call it stealing ‘cos they haven’t found a way of exploiting it for themselves, which is actually the problem they’re having.” In a time when a Boston University graduate student was sued for $4.5 million by a major record label for infringing copyright on 30 songs, it’s evident that Vincent’s onto something there.

He’s still optimistic that the music industry isn’t going to crumble away, however. “That’s different from the social side music, I mean music is kind of in the fabric of all our lives, whether we want it there or not. It’s our soundtrack isn’t it?”

The soundtrack that Frankmusik has produced is a distinctive electro-tinged album that borrows heavily from the 80s, and he sites Electric Light Orchestra as his biggest influence. Another band he admires are The Pet Shop Boys, who he supported on their recent tour.

“They kind of epitomise a specific sound and they have an identity through their music, you know, they have a huge gay following, they also have a huge following across all ages and sexes, it’s not just for guys or just for the girls,” he says, adding “the one thing that I really respect and appreciate about them is how many hits they have actually made. When you see their live show you forget how many massive songs they had, and the demographic that they have is just brilliant.”

Vincent is keen to reach a wide demographic himself, and the blurring of genres going on in music at the moment is going some way to making pop cool again. “Music technology’s become cheaper so therefore people can have the power again, which got lost for about ten to 15 years,” the singer said. “It’s bringing it back to what pop music should, which is people without any agendas creating.”

Creating is what Frankmusik is all about, and Vincent is understandably proud of the fact that he’s written and produced his own album. “I will not have anyone write a single lyric of any of my songs, I’m not one of these people who believes that pop should be written for other people,” he told me, quickly adding “just for my own stuff. If you’re a beautiful looking girl and you can dance and sing but you can’t write songs, well fair enough it’s the only thing missing from the package, but someone like me, who’s a bloke next door who can’t really dance and can just about sing, it’s better if you can do everything yourself, and get it done properly without having to rely on other people.”

This approach is mirrored by many of the current crop of stars, with artists like La Roux, Little Boots and VV Brown carving out their musical niches with their own lyrics, their own production and their own instruments. It seems pop is a serious business now, and Vincent puts this down to technology too. “With the Internet and such, it’s harder to pull the wool over people’s eyes, people can immediately tell if something is fake or not.”

“With the power of the Internet you can listen to anything you want at any given time. I think their borders are opening up sort of thing, to a world of music they wouldn’t necessarily have the power of listening to, ten, 15 years ago.”

If technology is the way forward, then Frankmusik is going to be on the crest of the wave.

Complete Me is out now on Island. www.frankmusik.com

The Specials


2 TONE celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and The Specials are on the road again. I take a look back on three decades of music that shaped a generation.

Almost 30 years since Ghost Town reached number one to the backdrop of record level unemployment, strikes and violent protests in the street, The Specials are back, with an uncannily familiar atmosphere of political and social upheavel.

2009 marks the 30th anniversary of 2 Tone, a musical sub-genre named after the record label started by Jerry Dammers, organ player and creative force behind The Specials. 2 Tone records kick-started the careers of bands including Madness, Bad Manners, The Beat and The Selecter, and had Elvis Costello and the Attractions on the books.

2 Tone was primarily influenced by Ska and reggae, music that came over with the Windrush, and fused it with elements of the British Punk scene that was striking a chord with teenagers in the late 70s.

Dammers said “I saw punk as a piss-take of rock music, as rock music comitting suicide, and it was great and it was really funny, but I couldn't believe people took it as a serious musical genre which they then had to copy. It seemed to be a bit more healthy to have an integrated kind of British music, rather than white people playing rock and black people playing their music. Ska was an integration of the two.”

He wanted to create “a weird new music that was a Jamaican-British crossover” that united the country’s youth, going beyond the boundaries of race and culture. The band that came from that ideal was The Specials, integrating the aggro punk sound with the beats of reggae and ska. Not everything went smoothly though, as bassist Horace Panter recalled. “I used to have reggae lessons, Lynval (Golding) used to come round my flat, play records and go, 'Listen, mon! De bass should sound like dis! I got the hang of it eventually."

The core identity of the band wasn’t solidified until the 1978 On Patrol tour, where they supported The Clash. It was during that tour, at the gig at London’s Music Machine, that Neville Staple went from roadie to adding his toasting to the mix. There was also trouble from racist skinheads at the Bracknell gig, which led to the band deciding that they were going to stand up against racism and the right.

"It was obvious the Mod/skinhead revival was coming and I was trying to find a way to make sure it didn't go the way of the NF,” Dammers said. “I idealistically thought, we have to get through to these people, and that's when we got the image together and started using ska rather than reggae.” The look also came together on the tour, with the band adopting a cohesive image of tonic suits and pork pie hats, a style seen on Jamaican rude boys but also similar to the mod wardrobe.

It was through their Clash connection that the band hooked up with legendary manager Bernie Rhodes, who got them some European gigs, including one in Paris that saw him immortalised in the first of The Specials’ songs to hit the charts. The opening line of ‘Gangsters’, ‘Bernie Rhodes knows, don’t argue’ howled by an angry sounding Staple, refers to a now mythical incident at a Paris hotel when the band’s instruments were confiscated to pay someone else’s debt. (The Damned had stayed there previously and smashed the hotel up and left, refusing to play their bill.)

In the end, a scary combination of Rhodes and the gun toting venue manager led to the band getting their guitars back and being able to play the gig. But the European dates were the beginning of the end for the band’s relationship with Rhodes. Ironically, Chrysalis signed The Specials after the success of ‘Gangsters’ and they hooked up with a new tour manager, Rick Rogers, who had previously worked with The Damned.

After signing The Selecter and Madness to the 2 Tone label, things really took off, a UK tour for the label culminated in all three bands appearing on Top Of The Pops on the same day, something most labels could only dream of. A US tour soon followed, but it wasn’t the resounding success tour manager Rogers envisioned.

"It's hard to believe now, but at the time, the concept of retro did not exist in America at all," Dammers recalled. " We arrived at the airport in our tonic suits and pork pie hats, ready to take America by storm, and this bloke who picked us up in the minibus said to Rick, 'Say, are these guys mental patients?' He really thought we were from a mental hospital because of the suits and short hair".

Any good feeling that existed between the band was destroyed by the gigs at LA’s Whisky A-Go-Go, where they took up an eight night residence, playing two shows a day. This is identified by many of members of The Specials as the point when they stopped getting on. In his book, Ska’d For Life, Panter notes that they finished the tour as seven individuals, rather than the unified band they had been when they first arrived in the States.

When they got back to the UK, the band had stolen the chart top spot from label mates Madness with The Specials Live EP. They also had their fourth consecutive top ten single, ‘Rat Race’, an anti-student rant penned by guitarist Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers. But racial tension was still simmering beneath the surface, and Golding was attacked by skinheads leaving the Moonlight Club in Hampstead.

"I got beat up badly," he said. "My ribs were smashed in. It was a frightening experience. It was a racist attack, it was because I was walking down the road with two white girls." It was this experience that prompted Golding to write the B-side ‘Why?’. Despite their anti-racist stance and the fact that the band had two black musicians in it, members of the right wing National Front continued to turn up at Specials’ gigs.

“It made no sense whatsoever, racists liking The Specials and what we were saying. I’ve thought of that many times…why some took to us…but haven’t been able to figure it out. Two black guys and a Jew fronting the band. The black and white imagery and Unity messages. Songs like ‘It Doesn’t Make It Alright’ can’t spell it out any clearer. In many ways though I do believe it was good they came. You have to bring them in and talk to them. You can’t change anything by not talking to people.” Golding said.

Even though they stood united on issues of race and equality, this wasn’t enough to stop the band splitting in 1981, shortly after Ghost Town reached number one. This left a bitter taste in Dammers mouth, as he recalled. "After more or less getting on my knees and begging the band to do the song, I thought after it got to number one that I'd proved myself to the band, that they were going to realise that I knew what I was doing," he said. "We had popularity and critical acclaim. We got to Top Of The Pops, and Neville came into the dressing room and announced they were leaving. I was really, really upset."

Panter and drummer John Bradbury remained for a while and, along with Rhoda Dhakar from The Bodysnatchers, they continued to produce music under the slightly altered moniker The Specials AKA. A third album emerged, In The Studio, but despite the hefty wedge spent in the making, it failed to set the charts alight. It did produce stand out tracks ‘What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend’ (the only Specials tune Dammers’ sings on) and the amazing ‘Free Nelson Mandela’. The song highlighted the plight of Mandela at a time when the establishment still dismissed him as a terrorist. Bradbury is understandably proud of the song. “It really woke people up," he said. "A lot of people had never heard of the guy before that."

It’s not surprising that the UK tour marking the 30th anniversary of 2 Tone (albeit without Dammers) sold out within hours of tickets going on sale. It’s easy to connect to a band that boasts blistering tunes and lyrics that are still relevant.

The political stance that The Specials stuck to is what keeps their fans loyal and brings new rude boys and girls into the fold all the time, making them true music legends.

www.thespecials.com

VV Brown


Top of the Hot List and one to watch for 2009, VV Brown hit the big time this year. We talk fame, fashion and festivals.

VV Brown has music in her blood. She counts piano, organ, drums, bass, melodica, recorder, trumpet and (one stringed) guitar among the instruments she can squeeze a tune out of, and, at the age of 15, she was touring Japan in a funk band.

It wasn’t long before VV found herself in LA, writing songs for the Pussycat Dolls and recording her debut album. Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t a good one. The big time producers polished all the originality out of her music and she found herself in a tempestuous relationship with a guy from LA. In the end, VV decided to come home.

Was there ever a point when she considering giving up on music altogether? “There were moments when I thought I’d never make it, and that I was crazy to chase a dream that kept me broke and sad all the time,” she says. “Deep down in my gut I knew it was what I wanted though, I always went back to music, I never felt complete without it.”

Her determination certainly paid off; she’s been on every hot list worth reading, and has a bunch of live dates and festivals lined up in front of her. I’d heard that she’s playing Glastonbury this year. “Yeah, it’s all confirmed, I’ll be on the main stage!” VV replies, obviously excited about the prospect.

She loves playing festivals, she tells me. “It’s a chance to get really crazy. It’s genuinely free and you can listen to good music. The crowds are up for a laugh and there’s lots of dancing. It’s a real musical community who are really free.” There’s an added bonus for VV this year too. “My mum’s coming with her caravan – so God help everyone!” She says, laughing.

Technically, this is VV’s second coming. The debut album she recorded in LA was never released, much to her relief, as she wasn’t happy with the way it turned out. Is she happy with Travelling Like The Light? “Absolutely happy. The album represents who I am, which is something I wanted from the beginning.” And you can really hear the pride in her voice as she enthuses about the record.

VV is at the forefront of a wave of female pop artists with electro-infected tunes, including Little Boots and La Roux. Could this be the year for solo female artists to take over the charts?

“The industry has been monopolised by female artists for a while,” she says. “Last year it was Duffy, Gabriella Cilmi, the year before we had Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Kate Nash and before that Corinne Bailey Ray. I don’t know why but for some reason girls tend to be solo artists and boys are in bands.”

I suggest it might be because it’s hard for a female musician to get her voice heard over some of the noisy male egos out there. She disagrees with this. “I think psychologically women are emotionally stronger, whereas men need groups. They gravitate towards groups in society and you see it in music too.” VV would still like to see bands with all girls back in music. “It’s a gap in the market,” she says. “It would be cool to have more girl groups, there are a lot of solo girls out there but not many groups, it would be great if there were more.”

The lack of all-female bands out there is a sorry state of affairs. There have been few strong girl groups since the Riot Grrrl of the early 90s, when bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney were part of a revolution grrrl style that, unfortunately, barely dented the charts.

VV is excited by the idea of starting her own group of kick-ass female musicians. “That’d be wicked; it could be a new project, an all girl group. No one would know who we are, we’d never do any gigs, or we’d do them in masks so no-one could recognise us!” Given her considerable musical abilities, it doesn’t sound like such a crazy idea. “Yeah, that’d be great, and we could be called ‘Mask’!”

It could be a project involving some of the amazing female solo artists around at the moment, often mentioned in the same breath by music journalists. Does being lumped together in the same group get on her nerves? “A tiny bit. Sometimes lazy journalists just compare us and think we’re all the same, when we’re not at all. It’s like they put you in this gladiator ring to see who’ll make it, who’ll be the biggest. It’s a bit frustrating.”

‘”What’s beautiful about it though is that because we’re lumped together we bump into each other all the time. I see Little Boots all the time and La Roux as well sometimes. We do gigs together. It’s nice cause you get to be more friendly.”

VV’s style is definitely all her own, however hard lazy journalists try to squeeze her into a convenient generic box. She describes her style as “musical mashed potatoes”, with elements of doo-wop Motown melodies, pop, 50s rock ‘n’ roll and electro all present. Travelling Like The Light is a pretty upbeat affair, with bouncing melodies and sparkling refrains. Most of the lyrical content is raw and full of lines about emotional damage inflicted by the guy from LA she had a difficult relationship with. Does she find it easier to tackle painful emotions in this way, combining them with ‘happy’ sounds?

“I don’t know. It’s not the way I write that helps me tackle my emotions. It’s just what comes out and I happened to have made up happy melodies. There’s not one way to tackle emotions. Letting it out, like vomiting, is my way of expression. I can’t control what comes out,” VV says. Her style of writing is pretty freestyle, with lyrics coming together quickly. Is this her writing technique? “For me it’s the way I write. I can’t stand it when someone’s writes a song and analyses one word, like the word ‘the’ for 3 hours. If it’s not working or clicking I don’t push it. Songs are given to you, you don’t take them, I believe the universe gives them to you.”

With all the recognition her music has been getting, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be long before VV becomes a star. Is fame a curse or a blessing? “That’s a really good question,” she pauses to give it some thought. “It’s a curse. Some artists sell millions of records but you wouldn’t deem them famous. I think the definition of famous is someone who’s constantly hounded by the press…But you need fame to sell lots of records, and have a good lifestyle, which is a blessing.” It seems like there’s no black or white answer to this one.

“It can’t be a curse or a blessing. It depends how far it goes. Like Chris Martin, he’s really famous, but I never see him in Heat. Then there’s Amy Winehouse, it’s not her fault she’s always in the newspapers,” she says. The idea of being snapped worse for wear and splashed all over the trash rags is obviously abhorrent to VV. But she’s still savvy enough to realise the importance of fame, especially when it comes to making sure her music is heard.

After such a fantastic start to the year, is there anything left for VV to achieve? “I’d love to have a headline tour, and play the O2 Shepherd’s Bush, and have a top 40 album. And play the main stage at Glastonbury,” she says, with a laugh. “Just consistency and credibility really. And I’d love to be on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, that would be amazing. And it’d be great to go on Jonathan Ross.” Given how much she’s done so far, before her first album has even been released, I suggest that it all sounds achievable.

“I hope so! I’d love to go on Jonathan Ross and sit in that chair. I’d be totally crazy, I’d sit on his lap and jump up on the table!” I hope Wossy is paying attention.

Travelling Like The Light is out now on Island. www.vvbrown.com

Bat For Lashes


Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for a second time, Brighton born Bat For Lashes, aka Natasha Khan, has been enchanting listeners with her new album, Two Suns. I caught up with Natasha to find out about her latest release.

Released in 2007 to critical acclaim, Bat For Lashes’ debut album Fur And Gold gained a Mercury Music Prize nomination that had many bookies backing Natasha over favourite Amy Winehouse and eventual winners The Klaxons.

The second album is notoriously difficult, many musicians touted as the next big thing by the fickle music press have seen their careers crumble when their subsequent offering fails to live up to the hype.

Rather than churn out another carbon copy of Fur and Gold, Natasha has instead created a magical, concept driven album that embraces the horizons that have expanded since she was writing the first album after her day job as a nursery school teacher.

Two Suns reflects her lifestyle at the time, and the experience of writing was radically different to the first, as she tells me. “I was actually living all over the world, being catapulted into lots of different bizarre situations and travelling so much and trying to keep my life together.” The album was inspired by the difficulty of splitting her life between different countries.

“I felt quite conflicted, and fragmented, wherever I was I didn’t feel like I was quite at home,” Natasha says. It was while she was dividing her time between Brighton and Brooklyn, where her boyfriend, Will Lemon of the band Moon & Moon, was living, that Pearl was born.

Pearl is the embodiment of the idea of duality that runs through the album, a representation of a different aspect of Natasha’s personality. She explains, “Pearl came about as a manifestation of New York for me really, she represents the destruction of New York and how it’s quite hard to live there and just my psychological state while I was staying there.”

Pearl was an outlet, and a way to cope with New York’s hectic party lifestyle, as well as another form of artistic expression. Natasha tells me it all started as a “private art project”, inspired by filmmakers and artists like David Lynch, Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbuss.

“I didn’t go out as Pearl or anything like that,” she says, ‘it was just one more in many aspects of me kind of developing a world really, kind of creating a world in itself and with imagery and music and I think that’s how I’ve always worked since I was small really, I’ve always done the two things together.”

Inspiration for the album also came from the Californian desert, which Natasha visited during her time in the US. “I made films there and I took lots of pictures and kind of just, absorbed it really. It really filled me up with inspiration,” she says. The actual writing, though, was done at home in Brighton. “When I write I have to come home and be in my little house and in a place where all my instruments are, and I can just relax and no-one bothers me.”

Natasha’s very specific vision was enhanced by some great guest spots, including a duet with Scott Walker on ‘The Big Sleep’, which came about after she sent him a copy of the song as a ‘dare’ to herself. His vocal adds an extra dimension to the song, “When I’d first written the song I’d always heard Scott Walker or a man’s voice on the record,” Natasha says. She always had a definite vision for the song, as with all her music.

“The whole piano part was written with the vocal and everything was on there. I waited ‘til the very end to present it to him and asked him to just add what he felt was good and necessary,” she tells me. “I’m quite controlling,” she adds, with a self-deprecating laugh. It’s this vision, though, that makes the album a successful piece of art as well as a seamless piece of music.

This synergy of art and music is again reflected in the duality represented by Pearl, who, at the end of the album, disappears back into the ether. Was this a cathartic experience? “The album does come full circle and there is a resolution at the end, and I suppose Pearl sinking down into my subconscious after having thrashed and ranted through the album and been this presence, I think it is cathartic for her to subside at the end.” But does that mean she’s finished with Pearl now?

“I think for the moment, well I haven’t completely finished with her because I’ve got to take her on the road now for a year or two, so I’m kind of living in that exploration of her, but I think in a more kind of personal way I’ve finished with her. I don’t know if she’ll resurface, she’s probably sort of presently in a subterranean aspect of me, but for the next record I want to do something different again.” Natasha says.

The live dates will see Pearl back, but not in a literal sense. “It’s not like Pearl comes out now, and I’m gonna be blond for a minute. When I’m doing the songs I don’t feel like this is a Pearl song and this is a Natasha song or anything that kind of black and white,” she explains. Some of the music critics have taken the idea of Pearl literally, though. Comparisons to Sasha Fierce, Beyonce’s pneumatic alter ego, abound, which Natasha finds ridiculous. “I didn’t even know who Sasha Fierce was, I read about that and I was like, what are they going on about? They’re like ‘Natasha’s been listening a bit too much to Beyonce’ and I’m like, are you for real?” She tells me, laughing.

Natasha doesn’t take herself as serious as some of the critics seem to. “I feel like it’s difficult because people are like, oh that could be really pretentious or whatever, and perhaps people can take it that way, but for me it really is me just doing my thing, and I sometimes can be quite na├»ve I think, I’m like yeah, put her on the cover, I think it’ll be really beautiful visually to show that, and I’m just wittling away doing my thing and then people always have these massive grandiose opinions about everything which I think is hysterical really.” She says, adding, “I think it’s that kind of lazy way of pigeon holing things and being black and white about things without having to think about the intricacies of them.”

Anyone lucky enough to catch Bat For Lashes at a festival this summer can expect a real musical experience, and Natasha explains that the show is really dynamic, with lots of drumming and dancey elements. “I feel quite excited about really taking it out into the world in a physical way and really letting people absorb it and feel the soulfulness and the realness of the music,” she says, obviously excited by the idea.

Is she looking forward to the festivals this year? “They’re completely different and usually much more shambolic and frightening cause it’s all very quick change overs and you don’t get time to soundcheck, it’s just all a bit like aaahh! when you’re at festivals, but it’s fun cause you get to see other bands play and bump into friends and if the weather’s good it’s brilliant!” Natasha says.

I ask her for any top festival tips. “I think it’s mainly the wellies, you know, the wet wipes and as much booze as possible!”

Two Suns is out now on Parlophone. www.batforlashes.co.uk