The Aussie R&B singer talks talent, tales of medical horror and the birth of his solo album
It’s taken you seven years to release your debut studio album, Love & War. Was that wait frustrating? I’ve always been working towards making this album. As frustrating as it’s been over the years, looking back I don’t think I’d want to do it any other way. I never wanted to rush anything out earlier. I’m really happy with the album and the way it sounds.
Apparently, you had an album before that called The Fifth Season. What happened to it? Oh, it was s***! [laughs] It was 12 songs out of a whole bunch of songs that I’d written. I came up with the idea of calling it The Fifth Season and someone put it on Wikipedia. But it wasn’t really an album – it was just a collection of songs. There’s a difference.
Has your seven-year climb helped you hone your skills? I think I’ve learned from everyone, even people who aren’t musicians. I try to, anyway. Working with people like Santogold has really helped, and of course I worked with Mark Ronson [on his albums Here Comes The Fuzz and Version] and he’s super-talented. We’ve been working together for so long that we can read each other’s minds, pretty much.
You hit the UK and Aussie charts at the age of 27; aren’t new stars supposed to be in their early 20s? Well Lady Gaga’s 45, so… [laughs]
She doesn’t look a day over 40. Heh! Jay-Z’s 39, Kanye’s 36 or something [actually he’s 32]… I think that, at the moment, the charts are being dictated by people who are older. I don’t think age is that important anymore.
Does the age of the artist affect the quality of their music? I dunno, kids like Arctic Monkeys are great, and Dizzee Rascal’s first album was amazing, but I guess age doesn’t matter when it’s your time to say what you have to say. Bach didn’t write his greatest work until he was in his sixties; I think there’s definitely an honesty to writing stuff when you’re really young, but I listen to all the stuff I was writing when I was 19 and 20, and… I’m glad I didn’t put it out, put it that way.
Which of the songs on the album are closest to your heart? A whole bunch of them are close to my heart. ‘For Your Money’ is about me trying to get by in New York – and, I suppose, New York itself trying to get by. It’s a post-9/11 ode to re-evaluating our priorities and steering away from golden calf worship. ‘Cigarettes’ is really just a song about being in love with someone and completely screwing it up by being out all night and partying.
Apparently you had a medical emergency when recording, right? Halfway through recording, I got a blister on my vocal chords. I couldn’t sing or talk or anything for three weeks. When I got back into the studio to record the second half of the album, I felt different. It was like being able to sing again had unleashed something, like I’d found some new energy.
The experience must have been terrifying, though. I was extremely worried. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I might have ended up sounding like Tom Waits at the end of it all. I had no idea at all what would happen, but I ended up getting through it and I feel better for it. You’ve just got to live life as best you can. You never know when your last note will be. Love & War is available in stores.