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Singer Ricki-Lee has got confidence like the Australian government has false promises. On the phone to Cream, she talks about her new album Fear & Freedom, the joy of performance and making music videos, a recent contract with Covergirl, and finding flattery in drag queens’ routines of her songs. Interview by Antonino Tati.
Do I call you Ricki or Ricki-Lee?
Whatever you like, really. On the birth certificate it’s with the hyphen, after Ricki-Lee Jones.
I see. So your Mum liked Ricki-Lee Jones?
Yep, Chuckie’s In Love was her favourite song.
Oh, then you might be familiar with a little-known fact that electronic outfit The Orb once released a song called Little Fluffy Clouds that was basically snippets of an interview with Ricki-Lee Jones put to psychedlic music.
No, but I need to familiarise myself with it, for sure.
Goodness, yes. If you’re named after the woman, you really need to hear it. It’s really quite a trippy, cult-classic rave track.
Wow, I love the sound of it.
Now you yourself are making dance music these days. What genres of music did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of Motown and old-school R&B. Even old soul music, like The Tempations. Then I was obsessed with Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Boys II Men… all that kind of stuff I absolutely loved.
Bringing it closer to music of today: one publication described you as a cross between Beyoncé and Kylie. Would you agree to that, so far as your sound goes?
That is a huge compliment to me. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Beyoncé and Kylie so do be mentioned in that league is a huge compliment. Of course as artists we draw from the people that we listen to. I’ve been inspired my whole life by so many artists: Janet to Gaga, Madonna to Katy Perry. And Pink. All people who are out-there; outspoken and strong. People who are unafraid to say what they think and be the person that they are. They don’t hide from that nor censor or filter themselves.
Would you say there’s a certain degree of packaging involved with presenting an artist to his or her audience?
Well I don’t see myself as a product or package. I see myself as an artist from the ground up: from writing the songs to producing them, to coming up with the concepts of my videos. Yes, I have an amazing team of people that I work with but I am in control of all of that, so I’m certainly not an artist that’s a puppet.
So far as your look goes, you’ve kind of sexed it up [suddenly]
(see image above).
Suddenly! I’ve always dressed this way, really. I love fashion and I love playing up to different parts of my personality. I’ve never been a girl who wears frills and florals.
But there was a bit more talk at the start of this year, in the way of “The girl grows into a woman” type thing…
Yeah, and I suppose my age has something to do with it. I’m a 26-year-old woman now. I’m not 18 like I was when I released my first album. Back then I wasn’t hundred per cent sure of who I was; I was still growing into that. Now, as a woman, I think I’ve evolved into a woman who is very confident in herself. Basically, I always have been a confident person but nowadays I really know what I like and what I don’t. And I think I’m a bit more fearless with everything in my life; I’ll try things now that I never have before. With fashion, I don’t try to please anyone else with what I wear. I just wear what I like. And to me, fashion’s just another extension of your creativity as an artist and as a person.
Who are a few of your favourite Australian designers?
I really like Manning Cartell. I like Scanlan & Theodore. I wear lots of Willow, and there are plenty of others. There are some amazing Australian designers out there.
Good to see you supporting them. Away from ‘the look’, and into the music. Your third album Fear & Freedom will be out August 17. When you complete an album, do you ever hit yourself across the head, minutes, hours or days later and think, “I wish I’d done that track that way instead of this way before it was sent to mastering…”
No, actually, because I’m in on the entire process from the beginning, and nothing gets to mastering before I’ve given my final seal of approval. Like, with Do It Like That, I was adamant that we had to have those marching bands style of drums in the chorus. There are things that I don’t give into. I have very strong ideas, production-wise, and I work very closely with the producers and with the people that are mixing my songs. I know every instrument, every sound effect, every note, everything. I’m a bit anal when it comes to all of that. In a nutshell, we don’t settle until we’re happy. And that’s because I’ve been in situations in the past where I’ve had a record label decide on my behalf when the songs are finished but as an artist I believed they were only fifty per cent finished, but I’m at the age now where – if my name’s going to be on this – you bet that it’s going to be something that I’m 100 per cent proud of.
What are a couple of stand-out tracks on the album that you think are going to blow people away?
I think the new single Crazy. I’ve performed it a couple of times and the reaction that I’ve been given by the crowd is out-of-control. People actually go crazy when they hear that song. The other song that’s been getting an amazing response is Burn It Down, which is really uplifting and motivating, about rising above anything that’s ever held you down or held you back before. It’s that declaration of saying, “I’m better than this, I can do what I want, and nothing is gonna stop me”. It’s one of those stomping anthems that people can turn to when they need a little inspiration and motivation.
Have critics’ response been good so far?
Well I did a show last month and I performed these songs from the album that people had never heard before, yet people were singing to them by the end of each song. To me that was a great indication that I had achieved what I wanted to achieve, which was to write a killer pop album.
You recently announced live shows. What do you love most about performing live?
The thing I love the most is that every show is a challenge. Every audience is different and it’s amazing familiar faces at shows and also seeing brand new faces. I love seeing the way people react and sing along to the lyrics that I wrote from my own experiences and my own life. It’s great seeing people moved or inspired by the songs. As for any dislikes, I don’t think I have any.
What’s the most bizarre place you’ve been that you’ve heard one of your songs being played?
I might be at a gay club with some friends, and when the drag queens are up there doing a show to one of my songs, that is the most bizarre and beautiful things. They dress up like you, and get a costume designed to look like one right out of your video. I mean, a man dressed up as a woman, miming along to your own song: it’s amazing and I love it. And as they say, imitation is the [highest] form of flattery.
So it’s always a compliment, yeah?
You’ve been busy on the makeup front at the moment, being the face of Covergirl. Are you excited about that?
Really excited. Covergirl is such an iconic brand that represents everyday women who embrace confidence and who they are, and the makeup is all about enhancing your natural beauty. So growing up with it, and seeing the easy-breezy Covergirl line I’m so honoured to be a part of it now. I like the idea of a brand giving women confidence to embrace, and enhance, who they are. I myself love playing with makeup and transforming my looks.
On that note, is variety the name of the game in music these days? Do you have to constantly reinvent yourself to appeal to a broad range of people thanks to media like the internet?
Not really, because I think everyone seeks out what they like. You just have to stay true to who you are as an artist and true to your style and your own values, and those that relate to it will be drawn to it.
Tell me about your new video for Crazy.
I personally love it. I wanted to shoot it in a mental institution and I wanted to play the patient and the Nazi nurse and the psychologist. Funnily enough, my muse for the psychologist was Victoria Beckham: really quite cold and stark and looking down her nose…
Let’s just say ‘bitchy’?
Ricki-Lee’s Crazy is now available on iTunes.
The album Fear & Freedom will be out August 17 through EMI Music.
Ricki-Lee tours the east coast with her ‘Fear & Freedom’ live tour in September, playing Billboard in Melbourne on September 5, Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on September 6, and The Family ‘Fluffy’ in Brisbane on September 9. Information and tickets available at www.moshtix.com.au. She has also announced a Westfield appearance tour, starting in Queensland and ending in Western Australia. Get all the information for her Westfield appearance tour at www.westfield.com.au.
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