'My voice? It came from a box under my mum's bed'
Overnight fame, bizarre interview questions, exploding oysters ... What have the past two months been like for Duffy? The singer's diary tells all
Interviews by Chris Salmon
Friday February 8, 2008
My first single came out at the start of this month. Since then, everything has gone a bit crazy. It was only a limited edition 7in, meant as a little introduction to my music, but now I'm getting all this attention. It's funny, I spent four years working on my album and I've hardly even discussed my music with my friends or family, so it feels quite odd that so many people are suddenly interested. The result is that I seem to be spending a lot of my time talking about myself. I'd never sit down with one of my mates from home and get in-depth about who I am, what I've done and why I did it, but I'm doing that all the time now, with interviewers. I'm actually learning a lot about myself through it, but some questions are impossible. They often ask, "Where did you get your voice from?". How do you answer that? I wish I could say something exciting like, "I found it hidden in a box under my mother's bed labelled 'Voice'," but it's just my voice! It's like asking someone with brown eyes where they got them.
I'm going to Paris with my sisters for Christmas, to stay in a posh hotel with a spa. The idea is to kick back and relax, because I'm straight back into Duffy singing mode on January 2. I looked at the diary today and there's literally only one week off in the whole of 2008. It's a bit daunting, but it's exhilarating, too. It feels like, wow, this is really happening.
January 2 2008
It was back to work with a bang this morning; I had to get up at 6.30am to perform an acoustic set on Radio 4 Woman's Hour. I was a bit concerned they'd ask me about politics or something and I'd be out of my depth. My mother tongue is Welsh and it's a very fast language, so I sometimes worry that I don't articulate myself very well in English. But it seemed to go well.
I had a great time in Paris with my sisters, just sightseeing and chilling out. Then we came back to London and threw a big 1940s party at our house for New Year's Eve. My friends insisted on killing the music and putting Jools Holland's Hootenanny on the telly, because I was on it. Recording it was a mad experience; I met Kylie, Lulu and Paul McCartney and then sang a duet with Eddie Floyd. It still feels very strange to be hanging out with people like that. New Year's Eve is always a reflective time, but I felt quite emotional at midnight. I really don't know what's around the corner for me this year. I suppose that's the same for loads of people, though. I have friends back home in Wales who are looking for new jobs, or who've just come back from travelling, who are in the same boat. Me releasing a record isn't really any different.
Apparently I've been in quite a few "ones to watch" lists, which is nice. I don't really read the press or watch the news, but I feel very lucky to be included. Like every musician, I do want my record to reach lots of people. Talking of which, I'm off to America on Sunday for my first proper work trip over there.
Hello from America! I'm not really sure what day it is, to be honest. We flew in, had dinner and haven't really stopped since. It's been a whirlwind of meetings, interviews and performances; I even had to sing in a boardroom. I'm not complaining, though. The last time I visited New York, the only singing I did was in the shower, so it's cool to be performing to all these important-looking people.
The big difference with the interviews here is that they're not as aware of my background as they are in the UK, where they always ask about things like working with Bernard Butler as producer on the album. Actually, Bernard was one of three producers I worked with, but he's the one people tend to ask about because they know him from Suede. The others were Steve Booker and Jimmy Hogarth. I'd write the lyrics and the melodies, then those guys would arrange the song around them. Some people seem to assume the album was all written for me, but I don't mind too much as long as they enjoy listening to it. I know they're my words and melodies.
I came second in the BBC's Sound of 2008 poll last week, which was pretty amazing. Adele was top and apparently she was really nice about me in her interview. We haven't crossed paths yet, but I love her voice and we're hoping to meet up soon and go to a gig or something. I certainly don't want us to be pitted against each other.
Oh, and my other big news is that somebody's made a Wikipedia entry for me! They've got my birthday and where I live wrong but, hey, it's a start.
America was great, but hopping about like that does take a bit of getting used to. We went from New York to Seattle to LA to London in five days. It's not all glamour, that's for sure. The day after we got back I was meant to go to church at 9am because my keyboard player was getting engaged and they were having a little ceremony. But I slept through my alarm and didn't wake until 4pm. I felt awful about it, but my body clock was all over the place.
I went to France the next day for a TV show and something amazing happened: we got in a taxi in Paris and my song Mercy came on the radio! I'd never just randomly heard it on the radio before, let alone in a foreign country, so I got completely overexcited and called my mum. Afterwards, the DJ was like, "Blah blah Duffy, blah blah chanteuse, blah blah Dusty Springfield", which was pretty funny. The whole Dusty Springfield comparison thing has genuinely come as a surprise to me. I respect her so, so much, but, in my head, we really don't sound alike. The other thing I get a lot of is that I'm a naive little girl from Wales, but I'm 23 and I've lived in London for two years. Admittedly, though, the town where I grew up, Nefyn, was pretty remote, and there wasn't much to do. When we were about 12 me and my two best friends, Delyth and Delyth (we call them "the two Delyths"), would go to my dad's shed, light candles, tell spooky stories and smoke lots of cigarettes. Actually, maybe that's where I got my voice from.
Last night I played the second of four weekly gigs I'm doing at a club in London called the Pigalle. They've both been absolutely brilliant. I've found recently that you can get side-tracked by things that aren't so much about the music, but these shows felt like they cut away all the bullshit. Talking of which, some cynics seem to think I'm getting too much hype, but what I can do? The music hasn't changed since we finished the record last year. I guess I've just got to prove that I'm worthy of the attention.
I've also been getting quite a few people saying that I called myself Duffy, rather than my full name, Amy Duffy, to avoid references to Amy Winehouse or Amy Macdonald. That's just silly. Duffy is my surname, it's what everyone called me at school and it's what I decided about six years ago that I wanted to be known as.
But the thing I'm finding most difficult is people describing my music as retro or "60s-sounding". I put so much into my music that I would hate anyone to think it was contrived. The record absorbed so many eras. I think the song Rockferry sounds like 1958 when they were all freaking out about the atom bomb and writing these big, desperate songs. Then you have the more stomping Motown of the 60s, the percussion-driven Marvin Gaye-type stuff from the 70s, a bit of 80s Sade and even some noughties programming. And while we're on the subject of slightly annoying things, I seem to have developed a fear of flying. Sigh.
I had another really enjoyable Pigalle show last night. It's such a pleasure to be able to sing rather than talk about myself. The interviewers seem to know so much about me now too; people have even been asking me, about my twin sister, Katie. Having said that, someone in Germany this week asked what it's like to have a dad who ran a TV show. I had to tell them he's a pub landlord in Nefyn.
There's not much time to sight-see on these trips abroad, but I have been trying some adventurous food. My sisters tell this story of me ordering a lime milkshake when I was seven and my mum forcing me to drink it even though it was disgusting. I don't think I learned my lesson. In Seattle, I had an oyster the size of my hand, but when I bit into it, it squidged all over my face and I started heaving. Then, in Germany, I ordered beef cheek, before realising that's basically cow face.
Everything seems to be shaping up amazingly well for the album and my diary is crazy busy. But it is getting harder to keep in touch with my friends. I think I'm noticing them changing a little too. Or maybe I'm changing and I just don't realise. Like, one friend texted me the other day saying, "You're well on your way now." I didn't really understand, so I texted back saying "What do you mean?" and apparently she got really upset. I honestly didn't mean it badly. They're all so excited for me and I love them to bits, but they seem to put more weight on my words now. I guess I'll just have to be really careful what I say.
I'm at Koko in Camden today, to film the Album Chart Show. Actually, it's a big week for TV appearances - I'm on Jonathan Ross's show too. If I'd been on that four months ago I would've been insanely nervous. I did a Radio 2 Maida Vale session for Simon Mayo last year, which was only my third ever gig, and I was petrified. But by the time I did Dermot O'Leary's Radio 2 show a fortnight ago, it just felt natural and fun.
I suppose the response I've had so far has helped with that. I know my music serves a purpose now. And I feel I'm getting closer to working out why I've put so many years into doing all this. I don't do it for kicks. I'm not going "Woo-hoo! I'm so high from this!" I make music because something drives me to do it and now I'm starting to understand what that is. It's things like those small moments when you get a reaction from the crowd or hear that somebody really loves a particular song on the record. That might sound silly, but it's true.
It's all a bit of a whirlwind right now, but I think I'm keeping my feet on the ground. If anything, I've been taking myself less seriously as I go along. In fact, I told a white lie in an interview in Germany last week, when I said that I used to be a roller-blade waitress.
Sometimes I do wish I had a tougher skin, because I'm dealing with so many people and situations and you have to learn to brush a lot of things off. But I've got my first proper tour coming up, my single's getting played on the radio, everyone seems excited about my album and even the weather's lovely today. It's all good for me right now.