Is that Dusty calling?
Candie Payne’s startling voice and sultry delivery is both of the 1960s and timeless. Andrew Perry meets her
‘Ilike to think that the way I sing, and the subjects I sing about, are a good representation of me,” says Candie Payne, a confident 24-year-old from Liverpool. “I’m tough, and I’m straightforward, but I’m very sensitive and very emotional.” She blushes a little at having revealed so much, but soon re-establishes her tough-cookie exterior. “Just because I can be vulnerable, that doesn’t mean I’m a wuss.”
Released earlier this summer, Payne’s debut album introduced her as a white soul singer of rare class and individuality. Called I Wish I Could Have Loved You More, it was recorded in collaboration with Simon Dine, whose earlier productions under the alias Noonday Underground, have been described as “future-retro”, for their modernistic assemblage of beats, orchestration and sitary textures from 1960s pop.
The combination of Payne’s startling voice and sultry meditations on love’s entanglements with Dine’s soundworld takes the album into premier-league territory. For any fan of northern soul, Dusty Springfield or Portishead, the album really is a godsend.
The duo met four years ago, amid the tight-knit Liverpudlian indie scene, in which Payne’s elder siblings are deeply involved. Her brother Sean drums with the Zutons, but Payne herself never really dreamt of becoming a musician – music was just something that was always in the air at home. When she was just four years old, her father landed a job in New York, and moved the whole Payne clan to Queens. It was there that she began to notice her parents’ listening tastes.
“My mum’s an absolute sucker for swing,” she says. “People like Sophie Tucker, Artie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald. They always had records on in the house, rather than the TV.”
When they moved back to Liverpool, her eldest brother, Howie, would “sit me down and make me watch Sounds of the 70s and The Old Grey Whistle Test” (he later fronted the classic rock-inspired group, the Stands).
In her teens, she started to investigate for herself all the sounds that her various family members had played to her but, although she had always sung by pure instinct around the house, she didn’t go public with her vocal gift, until a local indie band called Tramp Attack asked her to sing Dolly Parton’s Jolene on stage with them. “Singing on stage was never something that I wanted to do,” she says. “It was more like a dare. Actually doing it, it was a feeling like I’d never had doing anything else before. I was completely in the moment.”
Bitten by the performance bug, for a year or so she sang in another local group, Edgar Jones and the Joneses. When she met Simon Dine in 2003, they connected immediately over their mutual love for Dionne Warwick’s Do You Know the Way to San José?. Unlike that song’s authors, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Dine wasn’t up to providing words for the tracks they worked on together – he was just happy to tinker around anonymously in the studio with beats and samples, leaving Payne to face an unforeseen challenge – lyric-writing.
“Simon is the music, and I’m the words,” she explains. “We write completely separately. I write in verse form, then he’ll write the music based on the mood of my lyrics, then we go into the studio and put it all together.”
Thanks to Dine’s soul-boy obsessions, and the breadth of Payne’s musical upbringing, the record has an appealingly timeless quality. With her elegant, crystalline voice, and sensual if often rather frosty lyrics, Payne cuts the kind of lofty, unattainable figure long absent from today’s reveal-all pop/celeb landscape. Slim, elfin and doe-eyed, and prone to bursting into Scouser-next-door laughter, in person she’s perhaps more Cilla than Dusty or Ella, but she aspires to emulate those kind of singers for all the right reasons.
“I really admire their style of singing,” she says, “for the benefit of the song rather than the singer. It’s tempting to try and out-fancy everybody else, but I always remind myself of Roberta Flack and Billie Holiday, who did just enough. It’s harder to sing a straight note and layer it with emotion, than do all your gymnastics. That’s the challenge.”
In an effort to bridge the chasm between the subtle beauty of Payne’s debut, and the contemporary pop scene, her label, Sony, have commissioned a remix of One More Chance from the album, by Mark Ronson – the hotshot producer, whose previous clients include Amy Winehouse, Robbie Williams and Lily Allen. It has succeeded in securing Payne’s first toe-hold on radio playlists, where her subtle allure stands out and shines among more famous competition.
Candie Payne’s single ‘One More Chance’ (Deltasonic) is out on Sept 3.
‘It’s tempting to out-fancy everybody else, but I remind myself of Roberta Flack and Billie Holiday, who did just enough’: Candie Payne