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
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.