Duffy on her new album Endlessly, eating scones as a child and whether white people can do soul
Endlessly, your second album, is out soon. Your debut, Rockferry, achieved one Grammy, three Brits, 6.5m sales, stormed America, as did you. So was there any nervousness about the notoriously difficult second album?
The curse of the second album. Luckily, it never came near my door, not within 10 miles' radius of me. Boy, I felt there was still so much to say. I actually ran out of space – just 10 tracks. I wish I'd known a bit more, in hindsight, about precisely where the emotions were all from, and been able to cross-reference them to time, to when I was younger or over the last few years, but they are true.
One of the tracks on Endlessly, "Girl", is described in the blurb as a "1960s black-and-white film, possibly French new wave, set to music". What intrigues is this: you are obviously, Duffy, still just about four years old: how do you know about that kind of late-50s, sexy-cheesy feel?
Whenever I was listening to stuff on the radio when I was young, it was so often 50s and 60s stuff which made me happy. It's the offbeat. I don't want to get too technical, but do you know what the offbeat is? Everyone knows it when they hear it, but it's hard to explain – I'm very happy with the offbeat: it makes me smile, and gets me dancing. Also, I think I always looked back, when listening to music; I felt just that tiny bit out of step with everything.
One time I do think about, a bit, is when I was about seven. And my sisters and I had been taken out with my mum, we'd left Nefyn [in north Wales] and Mum was off to play squash with Auntie Joan and we were all – Katy [Duffy's twin] and Kelly [three years older] and me – given a fiver! The other two went off to the arcade while I sat in a tea shop and ordered tea and a scone. I was still there, thinking, swinging my legs, when Mum and Joan came back from squash, probably a little surprised. As I say, always that bit out of step.
There have been minor rows about whether white people can "do" soul…
Oh, I know, but it's not about race. Soul is about disillusion, and yearning, surely? One of the guys behind northern soul, Dave Godin, has talked about Manchester back then. In those days, you'd have lots of very broke people cutting records and they couldn't get them properly released or marketed. So huge bundles of records were taken down to the docks and used to prop up ships, pushed under them to balance them – vinyl's pretty strong.
And then one day, obviously, some kid grabbed one of them or a pile of them, someone started playing them. Off it went. They were dancing to the lyrics first, not to the music. Soul is all about yearning, about wanting something you can't find. Elvis, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding – longings for something beyond that which can be achieved in life at that time. I had a lovely childhood but… well: Wales. Small town in Wales. You yearn.
Are you prepared for the next onslaught of jealousy? Another successful album might have the knives out again?
But the thing is, I didn't get lucky. I don't play games. I don't see how I can be knocked down by people who didn't build me up. I worked at this! I know what I'm doing! I've seen pretty much everything, heard so much of it, and I don't know if there's anything I can't see or hear now.
The rest of it, the fame or success stuff – but whose definition? – I hope I've managed it OK. I accept the photos and the paparazzi, you sort of have to. The weirdest bit is my hammering after quality control, I suppose. You'd be quite amazed at what I… others … have to go through, just to retain control of what we're wanting to do. Not just the music. But there are people who I've known for 20 weeks who want to tell me how to live my life, as if I haven't managed that already. People I've known for 20 hours who want to tell me how to dress. "We've got this 5ft 3in poppet so we need to dress her properly." Hmm.
You recently appeared in a small film, Patagonia, having rejected some huge offers from major studios. Why?
It was just happenstance. It was the third email I'd had about films. I opened it, adored the script, read it in one. I loved the process, loved the filming. I've spent years travelling and living out of suitcases, so to sit down for a few weeks, in the same place, and unpack the bags, and have all these people stay in the same place, together, for weeks, it felt incredibly stable.
If you could talk to that young girl back swinging her feet, full of scones and tea?
I'm glad it's early in the morning, because otherwise you might have got me emotional there. Hmm. Thanks. You've made me emotional at 10 in the morning. I am still her, and she is still me, but she and I have become lifetimes apart. I think I'd like her to tell me, quite simply, "Well done." I suppose the goal now, for me, the older one, no matter what happens, is to keep and embrace not just compassion and happiness but some huge kind of light and fire. You must know people in their 40s and 50s, who are still lovely but you just know somehow that the light inside them has diminished a little, been battered down, they've lost the light of what they once believed and were. I don't want that ever.