Teenage kicks

Tal­ent-spot­ted aged 14, glo­be­trot­ting aged 16, top of the charts aged 18 – and now with the im­mi­nent release of her de­but al­bum of “soul­ful pop”, Pixie Lott is set­ting her sights on world dom­i­na­tion, she tells Brian Boyd

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

WHEN THE 18-year-old Pixie Lott went straight to num­ber one last month with her de­but sin­gle, Mama Do, it wasn’t just a case of “Pixie who?”, it marked the first time in aeons that a Bri­tish fe­male artist de­buted at num­ber one without first hav­ing emerged from a re­al­ity TV show. Com­ing across as Duffy’s sassier younger sis­ter, Pixie in­jects her retro r’n’b sound with large doses of pop and she seems to be custom made for a gen­er­a­tion who now fol­low their pop stars through Twit­ter rather than Smash Hits.

This can all be traced back to Amy Wine­house’s Back To Black. Fol­low­ing that al­bum’s huge global suc­cess, record com­pa­nies sent out A&R search par­ties to sign up any fe­male solo artist who could carry a note. The gen­der damn burst first with Adele, then Duffy and now a whole new distaff set – Florence and the Ma­chine, Lit­tle Boots, La Roux – who have set up res­i­dence at the higher ends of the charts.

There is a cer­tain grown-up arty ec­cen­tric­ity to most of th­ese break­through acts; what’s miss­ing from the over­all pic­ture is a mu­si­cal nod to that fine fe­male pop tra­di­tion that can be traced back to Bana­narama and the much­ma­ligned but ac­tu­ally very good Sham­poo.

It is on this pop pedestal that Pixie Lott is aim­ing to po­si­tion her­self.

“There’s plenty of stuff I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced yet,” says Lott, “so my mu­si­cal con­cerns are of the pop-mu­sic va­ri­ety. The first sin­gle, Mama Do, is all about sneak­ing out of the house without your par­ents know­ing and go­ing off to be a bit naughty with some­one. It re­lates to my age and my ex­pe­ri­ence – to do any­thing else would be false. Ev­ery­thing on the al­bum is about some­thing that has hap­pened to me, di­rectly or in­di­rectly and it’s just a case of us­ing those emo­tions. If you have to call it some­thing call it ‘soul­ful pop’, but there’s bits of r’n’b in there too.”

She draws a dis­tinc­tion be­tween her “fun, happy and dancey” songs and her “emo­tional heart­break” ones. “With the sad­der songs, I find that they can help me get things off my chest – so I love the bal­lads,” she says. “The hap­pier songs are all about the sort of silly things that hap­pen to you when you are 18.”

You re­ally only get an idea of just how young she is when she says that she grew up singing Take That songs. “But in terms of in­flu­ences I am re­ally in­spired by the ‘big voices’ – Whit­ney Hous­ton, Mariah Carey. In terms of soul mu­sic, the big guy there for me would be Ste­vie Won­der.”

Her real name is Vic­to­ria but she has al­ways been called Pixie by her fam­ily: “I was so small and looked like a fairy when I was re­ally young.” From Es­sex (where she still lives), she says there’s a video clip of her some­where singing a Dina Car­roll song when she was just three years of age. “Aged five, I was al­ready do­ing karaoke.”

She’s a grad­u­ate of the fa­mous Italia Conti School, a show­biz-ori­en­tated school whose alumni in­clude Rus­sell Brand and Naomi Camp­bell.

“You can get the odd stage-school brat, but for me it was just an amaz­ing place to be. It gave me a great train­ing in mu­si­cal the­atre, but that’s some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent to what I do now. In mu­si­cal the­atre, you’re play­ing some­body else but when you’re out there do­ing your own ma­te­rial, it’s just you and it can be ter­ri­fy­ing. I still find it a bit weird go­ing on stage as my­self. I had never sung in front of any­one else be­fore I went to that school be­cause I was a re­ally shy child, but I soon got over that, I had to get over that be­cause per­for­mance was such a big part of the ed­u­ca­tion,” she says.

When she was just 14, she was scour­ing a copy of the trade mag­a­zine The Stage when she came across an ad for looking for “the next pop diva – must be be­tween 16 and 21”.

“I re­mem­ber go­ing down and there was this huge queue of girls and I was only al­lowed to be there be­cause I had pestered so much,” she says. She made an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion on the man who placed the ad – the mu­sic in­dus­try fig­ure David So­nen­berg, who has man­aged The Fugees and the Black Eyed Peas. She got the gig but a few weeks later had to sheep­ishly tell him “by the way, about my age . . .”

For the past four years, Pixie has been busy sign­ing a record deal and trav­el­ling around the world meet­ing up with pro­duc­ers and co-song­writ­ers.

“I do co-write the songs and it was just a case of meet­ing up with the right col­lab­o­ra­tors. I’ve been all over the place meet­ing some re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced and in­ter­est­ing song­writ­ers – At­lanta, New York, Los An­ge­les and a few times to Den­mark also. The first cowrites were very scary, but you get a bit more con­fi­dent as you go along. I think there’s been a big im­prove­ment in my work,” she says.

There’s some­thing very en­dear­ing about Pixie Lott. Whole­some (in her own way) and dis­play­ing none of the “gimme gimme gimme” at­ti­tude of the typ­i­cal stage-school grad­u­ate, she talks ex­cit­edly about play­ing a gig with a full or­ches­tra and how she al­most passed out when Mama Do went straight to num­ber one. “I know how lucky I’ve been. I was work­ing with some of the big­gest names in the in­dus­try when I was just 14,” she says. “And the only rea­son that hap­pened is be­cause peo­ple kept telling me ‘you have to do some­thing with your voice’ when I was younger.”

The de­but al­bum, Turn It Up is re­leased in the first week of Septem­ber. What strikes most is how many sin­gles could be taken off

it. At one mo­ment, Pixie Lott is do­ing bub­blegum pop, an­other she’s car­ry­ing off a torch song with aplomb. It’s an al­bum of such pop strength that ap­par­ently bat­tle plans are be­ing drawn up for the US mar­ket.

“Yes, but you know how this busi­ness works – it changes all the time,” she says. And for a mo­ment at least, Pixie Lott sounds as old as a 21-year-old.

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