London-based musician Nadine Khouri has this week shared her latest single, You Got A Fire. It’s the first track from her upcoming album, Lost Continents which will see the light of day early next year. The album was produced by producer John Parish, well known collaborator of PJ Harvey, in Toybox Studios with a band Nadine hand-picked herself.
You Got A Fire is a slow-burning, meander of a track, building from Nadine’s gently plucked ukelele, it gradually swells via the introduction of other voices and instruments, to a droning hazy-crescendo. Recalling the work of Nina Nastasia, Low or Mazzy Star; it’s an ambitious, soulful, slice of dream-pop, and a tantalising glimpse of the album to follow.
Ahead of the release of a new single, we were lucky enough to be able to ask Nadine a few questions and find out more about her influences, background and the making of the album.
FTR:Who is Nadine Khouri?
A singer who finds self-descriptions kind of weird.
FTR:You’ve got a new single, You Got A Fire coming out, what can you tell us about the song?
It’s the first song I ever wrote on ukulele. It’s a lullaby to an imaginary lover.
FTR:Your press release describes you as “a composer, musician, lyrical poet and singer”. Which of those do you consider to be most important to you?
Definitely singing as it’s the most immediate.
FTR:Tell us about your writing process, do you start with the words or the music?
It really depends on the song… Sometimes they come together (the best) sometimes all I have to work with is a lyrical line or a melody.
FTR:Your upcoming album was recorded by Producer John Parish, who’s obviously known for his work with PJ Harvey. How did that come about?
I gave John a CD and he asked me to contribute vocals to his track ‘Baby’s Coming’ which was released on the vinyl version of ‘Screenplay’. We’d been in touch since, so when the time finally came to make my own record, he was interested in working together.
FTR:What drew you into wanting to work with John?
I’ve always loved his work. Besides the amazing sounds he gets and experience as a producer, he’s also a real gentleman, so I thought we’d get on.
FTR:What can you tell us about the recording sessions? We noted you worked with some interesting collaborators.
We recorded the album up in Bristol at Toybox Studios with John and Ali Chant. J Allen (keys, vocals) and Ruban Byrne (guitar, vocals) who I’ve worked with a lot previously were on the session, as were Huw Bennett (double-bass) and Jean-Marc Butty (drums) both of whom I’d met about a month prior. Also Florian Tanant (who by a stroke of luck happened to be passing through Bristol around the same time) came in to play piano on a few tracks and Emma Smith (violin) added some strings on a couple. We were recording live, without a click, and I was usually playing an instrument at the same time as singing. I’d rarely ever committed a live vocal take as a final take so I was quite nervous because obviously I wanted to do my best; it happened many times on the record and in the end, I found those first single takes to be way more satisfying and real, emotionally-speaking.
FTR:Why do you write music?
Ha, that’s almost as hard as your opening question! It makes me feel good.
FTR:Who are your musical influences, in particular who influenced this upcoming album? What were you listening to while you were composing it?
I love Lhasa de Sela for her voice and spirit. My favourite bands growing up were Sparklehorse, Mazzy Star and Stina Nordenstam – artists whose work is very intimate & dreamy, teetering between sweetness and melancholy. At the time of writing, I was listening to Low and Talk Talk; I love their approach to sound and space on their albums. Also, some of Chilly Gonzales’ productions (Metals & Solo Piano II) I was listening to the piano and arrangement ideas on those.
FTR:You were born in Lebanon and then displaced by the Civil War there, do you remember much of the Country, and do you think it has influenced your work?
I don’t know to what extent it’s influenced my music, but I’ve always felt like an outsider after we moved away. I suppose you could say displacement was a driving force behind needing to create my own kind of (musical) space… I still go to Beirut, so of course I remember, but the city I remember as a child is different place entirely.
FTR:You first started performing after moving to New York, do you think the city was important to inspiring you to make music?
Yes, definitely. I went there when I was quite young with a lot of preconceived notions of what New York would be like, since so many of my favourite singers had made it their home… It was probably naïve, but I started playing regularly solo in bars in the Lower East side and in Brooklyn. It gave me the freedom to sing and write whatever I wanted – since I was essentially singing to strangers – so that was a pretty liberating and empowering feeling!
FTR:You’re now living back in London, what brought that move about? How do you think it compares to New York in terms of being a musician?
I was living in New York during George Bush’s presidency so politically it was a pretty depressing time to be there. I tired of it after a while and wanted to be closer to my family, so I moved back. In terms of being a musician, I think there’s more music happening in New York in general, but I found what was happening in London to be really interesting around the time I moved back.
FTR:What are your aspirations for the album? Do you think it’s still possible, or realistic, to make a career as a musician?
As with any work that gets recorded, I think the main aspiration for it is to be heard, really. I think it’s extremely hard to make a career out of it. I don’t know a musician who actually got into this business to “make money” as opposed to enough to get by and make more work.
FTR:You’ve played some shows in really interesting places recently, what drew you to Cecil Sharp House or the foyer of Royal Festival Hall?
I love the Southbank and go there often so was really chuffed to be afforded the opportunity to play there. Cecil Sharp House I discovered more recently; it’s a wonderful place and I was glad to be invited.
FTR:You use a lot of interesting instrumentation on your records. Do you learn to play them first or just throw yourself head first into it?
I wrote some of the new album on midi actually. So basic piano parts and string/brass pads helped me get a better grasp of my songs. I’ll usually just pick up an instrument and try to write something on it. It can be freeing to write on something other than guitar sometimes!
FTR: There’s been a lot of discussion about the lack of opportunities for women in the music industry. Do you feel it has hindered your career? Do you feel the pressure to be a role model?
I’ve felt it in some dealings with musicians or promoters in the past, but I feel it’s made me fight for what I love and really value what I have. As a whole, I’ve found people to be supportive regardless; I don’t see myself in that way, but if a younger woman is inspired by the work, of course that’s great.
FTR: Do you feel part of any particular music scene? What other bands/musicians should we be listening to?
Not particularly. I usually write remotely and listen to all sorts of music. At the moment, Hejira, Xylouris White, Little Lions, Eska, Adrian Crowley.
FTR: How do you feel the Internet has affected the music industry? Do you think streaming sites like Spotify are good for musicians?
Of course, it’s wildly changed how we access, sell, record, listen to music. I feel a lot of the channels eventually get replaced with something else and we have to keep adapting though… The amazing thing about it in relation to music is that it defies geography, so someone can just as easily be discovering new music whether they’re based in India or Peru or anywhere with wifi. Equally, it’s pretty awesome to be able to bounce musical ideas back and forth with my friend in New York and work that way. It’s democratised the process a great deal, but obviously the market’s over-saturated and ironically, it’s really hard to get heard even when you’ve got your finished product!
FTR: What’s next for you? Have you thought of what happens once the albums out?
In the immediate future, I’m going to try to catch up on some desperately-needed sleep. Otherwise, my hope is to be able to take the show on the road in 2016 and start writing for the next album.
You Got A Fire is out November 13th. Nadine plays some live dates in London in the upcoming weeks, click HERE for details.