Katie Melua was only 19 years old when her 2003 debut album, Call Off the Search, was released; it became the biggest-selling album in the U.K. the following year, thanks to Batt-penned singles like the title track and “Closest Thing to Crazy.” Her second album, 2005’s Piece by Piece. Was equally successful, thanks to the hit single “Nine Million Bicycles.” Still, Melua was frustrated, because these songs were written by Mike Batt, her manager and producer.
Determined to become a full-fledged songwriter, Melua began taking a more dominant role in the process. In 2010, she released her fourth album, The House (produced by William Orbit), which contained the hit single “The Flood,” which she co-wrote with Guy Chambers and Lauren Christy. Now, on her latest release, Album No. 8 (out on October 16 via BMG), Melua has fully taken over all lyric-writing duties.
Given her own experience learning the ropes, Melua has advice for other aspiring songwriters. First, she says, “I wish someone had told me earlier how much the space that I wrote in mattered. And what I mean by that is, creating sort of an imaginary place of worship. Somewhere where you just use it to write. It could be by your favorite window or it could be a desk with a few items that you find inspiring. I think that’s important.
“And the other thing I would say is to always go easy on yourself and never to rush,” Melua continues. “The trickiest thing about songwriting is, a short form minimalist art form like songs have the ability to suddenly make someone very rich and famous. And while that’s incredible, I think it’s also quite a weight on the writer. I’m really interested in letting go of that. And I think then we can really pioneer and we can really create.”
For inspiration, Melua has looks to other artists – and not just her fellow musicians. “I’m a big reader, and I love poetry as well,” she says, citing poets Fiona Sampson and Anne Carson, in particular. She also has struck up a friendship with painter Levan Lagidze, who lives in Georgia (the former Soviet country where Melua was born and raised before her family relocated to the U.K. when she was eight years old).
“He’s considered one of the living legends,” Melua says of Lagidze. “When I met him I was the only one in the gallery at the time.” Since that initial meeting, “We’re on the phone every other day and we talk about our process and how we work, and I get to learn so much from him. That’s been really invaluable.”
Melua says Lagidze’s advice, which is applicable to any artistic endeavor, is: “Pay attention to your state. If it doesn’t work, don’t say, ‘I’m not good enough.’ Just really observe your mood and your state. Respect yourself and don’t torture yourself. That could mean stop, relax, take it easy, give yourself a little break. Or it could mean carry on but watch your state. Listen to your inner voice.”
Katie Melua’s Album No. 8 was released on October 16, we spoke with her for a feature in our print issue. You can read that here.