Sunday, November 23, 2008

23 Nov: Duffy Interview featured in Sunday Times Mag

Duffy was featured in the mag that comes with the Sunday times. They used the same photo as was seen on the Daily Mail's You mag.

Duffy: Determined to keep a level head in New York

This has been the Welsh girl-next-door’s year — and an emotional rollercoaster

The singer on stage at New York’s Webster Hall sounds like Duffy, but looks like Jessica Rabbit. Poured into a short scarlet dress that boosts her boobs and hugs her wiggling hips, and balancing on a single patent stiletto (the other hovers in midair behind her), with platinum curls cascading down her back, Duffy appears to have crossed the Atlantic and become a cartoon.

“Hello, Noo Yawk,” she purrs, midway through the first song. “How ya doin’?”

A front row of men old enough to be her dad are practically drooling. On the balcony, there are audible gasps from a British contingent who have come to witness Duffy’s American invasion. The managing director of her UK record label, Simon Gavin, proclaims her graduation from girl to woman, while even her mentor and manager, Jeannette Lee, admits she has never seen the singer so confident. Twenty minutes later, however, Duffy bursts into tears and has to pause to apologise.

As 2008’s bestselling British act, the 24-year-old from Nefyn, in north Wales, clearly has a lot to cope with. After the show, she politely endures a meet-and-greet with several dozen men in suits and their spouses. The following morning, in the bar of her swanky hotel, she is fresh-faced for a photo shoot, but at a loss to explain her emotional outburst. “I don’t know why that happened,” she says in a singsong voice yet to lose any of its accent. “I wish I could explain it. Maybe one in every 15 gigs, I get teary. Really, it’s not nice. The lights are so bright, I can’t hide. I feel very exposed.”

The tears aren’t all Duffy can’t clarify. Less than six months ago, on her last UK tour, she was still the good-time girl-next-door, telling tales of a teenage wannabe from Wales and peppering her performance with mechanical moves stolen from the 1960s television series Ready, Steady, Go!, an old VHS of which she wore out watching as a child. When, exactly, did Duffy ditch the knee bends, wrist flicks and hip swivels, and become a slinky seductress?

“Gosh, I didn’t know I had,” she says, with such wide-eyed wonder, you want to believe her. “Actually, I didn’t know I ever used those moves. When you sing six nights a week, you don’t get the chance to analyse what you’re doing. What is weird — oh, I hate the word weird, it’s so non-specific. . . What is unusual is that people constantly tell me how much I’ve improved when the last concert they came to was three weeks ago.

“Last night, someone said I’ve suddenly got style. I mean, thanks! How bad did I dress before? You know what I wish? That I could wake up tomorrow the way I’m going to turn out in 10 years’ time. At the moment, I’m growing up under a microscope. All I can do is go on stage and enjoy myself. Everything else, I try to ignore.”

Duffy’s ignorance extends to her own press, which she stopped reading in March, after an American journalist visited her in Wales and, according to the singer, described her like a character from The Wind in the Willows. “That was the moment I realised that how other people see me has nothing to do with how I see myself,” she says. “I know who I am and what I’ve done. I don’t need reassurance from anyone else. To not care what folk think of you feels wonderful. It’s like putting your feet in the water without any shoes on. To me, if you’re a good bird, not causing trouble, not hurting anyone, you should just do what you need to do to be happy.”

For Duffy, maintaining a sheen — however superficial — that she remains an ordinary girl seems key to coping with fame. Ask when her success started to sink in and she insists that it still hasn’t, and that she hopes it never will. Remind her of the five weeks her single Mercy spent at No 1 in the spring, or of the 3.5m worldwide sales of the album Rockferry, and her tiny hand tries to shoo you away.

“Ooh, that stuff is so foreign to me,” she insists. “It’s so. . . external. It’s news and sales figures, nothing you can get your hands on. When you make music, you create something from nothing. If people connect with my music, even if it just cheers them up while they’re doing the dishes, that’s important to me. Everything else is a by-product, nothing to do with me, really. I didn’t buy all those albums. In fact, I don’t even own a copy of Rockferry. I never thought I’d get the chance to make an album. Now that I have, I’m focused on the next music I’m going to make.”

In recent months, in between touring the world, Duffy has been stealing occasional days in the studio, recording new songs for a deluxe version of Rockferry, released tomorrow. Among seven additional tracks is the new single, Rain on Your Parade, which bolts dramatic strings to Duffy’s ballsy, Motown-style soul and would have been a much better Bond theme than Jack White and Alicia Keys’s current effort. (For the record, despite the rumours, Duffy was never asked.) There are also two songs written with Rockferry’s co-producer, Bernard Butler, and a cover of the Drifters’ Burt Bacharach-penned Please Stay, which features in the forthcoming Joe Meek biopic, Telstar.

I ask Duffy for her highlight of the year and she eventually plumps for recording Please Stay, though only after she has pondered the question, passed on it and returned to it 10 minutes later.

“I can’t think of this year in terms of highlights,” she says, shaking her head and closing her eyes, as though recalling her achievements might permit the scale of her success to hit home. “Maybe I’ll look back and know. But getting into the studio, proving I can still make music among all this mayhem, felt so good.”

Ask Duffy for a low, though, and she responds straightaway. “It was an incident with Johnny Rotten. He went for me at an awards ceremony. I walked past him, said ‘Hi, you all right?’, and next thing I was literally slammed against the wall, pinned by his arm at my throat. He called me a c***. The violence was awful. A minute later, I had to go with the winners for a photo call. Then I left, in a right mess. The next day, I had to get on a plane. Some of the crew wanted to have their picture taken with me, but I couldn’t even smile. I’d been crying all night and my face was all swollen up. I looked like I’d been in an accident.

“I blame myself for what happened. Why? I dunno. I was so happy that night, I didn’t think things through. I probably shouldn’t have said hello. I’m an idiot. If I hadn’t opened my mouth, I would have been fine. I woke up every day for a week feeling awful.”

That Duffy displays no trace of a pop-star ego may be endearing, but you wonder if it won’t hinder her progress in America. Although Rockferry peaked at No 4 in the Billboard charts in May, and has sold more than 500,000 copies to date, she is still not a household name. She has done the chat-show circuit, though singing, rather than sitting on sofas, but attempts to associate her with more established stars don’t seem to be going down well with the singer. Last month, she played alongside Mariah Carey, Michael McDonald and Rihanna at a charity concert in LA, but spent most of the time in her dressing room.

“There were superstars everywhere, but I don’t get that stuff,” she sighs. “I don’t like how big American stars consider themselves an exception from humanity. But there are some nice ones. I met Stevie Nicks, a wonderful woman who knows all about Welsh myths. She was educating me with tales about dragons. I’ve met BeyoncĂ©, too, and she was lovely. Some of the others were a bit sad, really. They had entourages, pushing here and pushing there. It was embarrassing.”

The night before the New York show, Duffy was in Cleveland, supporting Coldplay. “I love those boys, but I’m not sure about supporting,” she says. “I only want to be on stage when I’m welcome, and I don’t know if I am in a support slot.

“When we were kids, we went to the pier in Llandudno and there was a band. My sister was egging me on to get up and do a song. I didn’t want to, because it wasn’t my gig. Music is precious and, whether it’s played on a pier in Wales or in an arena in Ohio, I’d hate to impose myself. I prefer people to choose to hear my songs.”

So, how desperately does Duffy want to conquer America? “I don’t even know what that means,” she laughs. “But there’s nothing I really want out of this any more. I got it all when we released Rockferry. I spent three and a half years making that record, and it was hardest thing I ever had to do. I’ve been making music for a decade now, so it’s not as though suddenly someone gave me this great big package and I was struggling down the street with it. I was more prepared for this than for anything I’ve ever done. Of course, it still takes my breath away at times.”

Suddenly, Duffy hoists her 5ft 2in frame from the sofa and points to a decoration in the corner of the bar. “I tell you what this year has been like,” she announces. “That little tree over there. Except it isn’t a tree. I thought it was, but then I went to look and it’s actually five sticks in a vase with a twirly thing round it. It’s like the closer you get, the more the picture changes.”

The deluxe edition of Rockferry is released tomorrow; Duffy’s UK tour begins tomorrow night in Dublin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I absolutly love duffy, she's amazing! Her songs are beautiful and she comes of as a sweet girl who's living her dream. That's inspiration right there. I wish her the best and she always has my support! =]