Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Singer Sarah Joyce’s second album is relaxing and breezy despite her producer leaving before its completion, says Ed Power
SARAH JOYCE, aka Rumer, is speaking in Dr Who metaphors. “Making my new album was like opening the door to the Tardis,” says the soul singer. “From the outside, it looks small. Then, you get into it, and it’s much bigger than you imagined.” Boys Don’t Cry is a collection of soft-focused 1970s covers. It’s a breezy, relaxing listen. There is little inkling of the fraught circumstances in which it was recorded. Rumer and her long-time mentor and producer, Steve Brown, had a bitter falling out. They have not been in contact since. She wells up at the mention of his name.
"I thought, ‘what a disaster’," says Joyce. "It was a mess. I suspected I was going to have to ring everyone up and apologise. ‘Sorry, it didn’t work out, I’ve had to scrap it’."
Joyce has been through a lot. Touring her million-selling debut album, the Carpenters-esque Seasons of My Soul, she suffered mood swings and panic attacks. An introvert, it was difficult for her to come to terms with fame. She felt like the loneliest person on earth.
"It was strange," she says. "It was like I was in a spaceship, quite literally inhabiting an unnatural environment. I would go from a house to a car to an airport to a studio. It went on for months and months. During that time, I don’t think I was exposed to anything other than air-conditioning."
Her dramatic personal life was a difficulty. Aged 11, Rumer discovered her real father was a Pakistani cook with whom her mother had an affair while the family was living in Islamabad. She was asked about it in interviews, re-opening old wounds.
"I don’t do censorship," she says. "And I’m not very good at recognising people’s jobs either. If I’m talking to a journalist, I don’t see them as that. I think, ‘oh, you’re a human being’. You ask a question and I’ll answer it. Whenever I read an interview where the journalist asks a question and the person says, ‘oh I don’t want to talk about that’, I get quite annoyed. I’m interested in knowing why they are trying to protect themselves in that fashion. I don’t do that. Sometimes I say things and later I feel embarrassed. That’s the way I am."
We last spoke shortly before her first record came out. Joyce was chatty, irreverent and normal. Eighteen months later, the singer is more remote. She waxes metaphysical and talks about how painful it is to be divorced from the ‘natural world’. It is a far cry from 2010, when her major worry was whether anyone would come to see her perform.
At 32, she is no overnight sensation. Joyce had success in 2001 with her indie group La Honda. But she was dating the guitarist, and when they broke up so did the band. Her mum got sick, so Joyce left London to nurse her in a small village near Wales. For nearly a year, Joyce rarely left the house.
After her mother died, Joyce went back to London to rekindle her career. No luck until, at an open-mic evening, she was seen by Brown, a respected producer. Six months later, she was signed to a major record deal and everyone from Elton John to British politician John Prescott was declaring her the year’s most exciting talent.
Rumer finished Boys Don’t Cry without Brown. As the follow-up to a global hit, it’s strange, featuring obscure songs by Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Webb and others.
"The process was like cleaning out a room," she says. "At the start, you open the cupboard and take everything out and suddenly it’s messier than when you began. There’s a point where you start to feel overwhelmed by the scale of it all. You think ‘oh my God, oh my God, this is not going to work out’. However, I got there in the end. I think this is a brave project. And a substantial one."
Did the songs mean a lot to her? “It was a recent exploration for me,” she says. “They weren’t part of my childhood. With some of them, you do wonder, ‘why would you want to improve them’? With a song like Terry Reid’s Brave Awakening — how are you going to sing it better than him? That isn’t the idea. I wasn’t trying to better it. I wanted to share it with people.”
Boys Don’t Cry is out now.
Photography: Walter Briski, Jr.