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Bluesfest Beckons: A chat with Corinne Bailey Rae

Corinne Bailey Rae has wowed international audiences for over a decade with hit after hit garnering her fans, Grammys (nominations and wins) and countless accolades. Until now, Bailey Rae has only been accessible to her Australian fans via the various waves that drift around the atmosphere magically making sounds emerge from radios, and pictures appear on TVs.

Finally, Bailey Rae will bring her distinctive flavour of neo-soul to our shores, where some will fall in love with the British sweetheart again, and where others will discover her for the first time.
 
She fondly recalls her previous international visits. “Rio and São Paolo, that was amazing to be in a totally different environment. As a British person to be somewhere that was really hot, really warm, and really sort of moist. People were applauding when the sun went down and then we’d have cocktails, Cachaça and go out dancing. I loved Brazil, I felt really at home, it’s not that different to the Caribbean, to St Kitts, where my dad is from,” Bailey Rae says.
 
Caribbean ancestry aside, this Leeds-native is afflicted with a lust for Australia, one that all Brits seem predisposed to. “I’m so glad that this time I actually get to be in the country, and explore, I can’t wait. I’ve always wanted to see the landscape in Australia, it’s such a vast country. Uluru, looking at the outback and the colours – there’s nothing like it in Europe, I really hope I get to see some things.”
 
Her career began on the indie circuit in the UK with a band named Helen, taking inspiration from acts like Veruca Salt and L7. Now with her own solo career spanning over ten years she feels gratified to be a woman in the music industry. “I don’t feel any pressure to represent my gender, but I feel like it’s a natural extension of what I do. I’m happy to be here as a woman and in this space. I’ve tried to make a career that is really gender-neutral, in the sense that I never try to put myself across as this sexy woman or do videos for the male gaze,” Bailey Rae says.
 
While she attributes much of her wisdom and confidence to the act of getting older, she acknowledges the women who came before. “As time goes on more and more doors are open, and you can be a part of a movement that helps to push on the doors for other people, because you’re going through doors that have been opened by the women before you.” As much as she reflects on the past, Bailey Rae sees a bright future, “I feel like it’s a really good time to be a woman in music, there’s plenty of female artists and writers and more and more producers and engineers. I feel glad that that’s transforming so hopefully it won’t be unusual to see women behind the mixing board, or behind a desk at a record label.”
 
Awards notwithstanding, she classes her biggest achievements to date through her audiences connection to her songs. “Getting to hear stories about them or how the songs have empowered them, made them feel good or put a smile on their face. For me the really big achievements are songs, when I think of Put Your Records On I think ‘I’m so happy that connected a lot of people.’ ”
 
With the single entering the UK charts at number two and earning her a Grammy’s nomination in 2007, we can see how it’d give her the warm and fuzzies. In April, Australia can expect to hear this and many more of her earlier releases alongside her newest album The Hearts Speaks in Whispers. Through this record she encourages listeners and young artists alike to embrace who they are. “[It’s about]listening to your inner voice, learning what you can from nature, listening to your body and paying attention to your dreams and your subconscious,” Bailey Rae says. “I think we are discouraged from paying attention to these, like they’re too personal, too female, too familiar or not neutral enough. But actually these things are really important and necessary. I get really tired of listening to songs by 20 year olds that are actually written by people in their 40s. It’s really important to be able to express yourself and to be able to hear that individual voice.”
 
Embracing what she describes as the four chambers of the heart, Bailey Rae has put her beliefs into practice on her current album.  “[The Hearts Speaks in Whispers explores] the four different ways: our body and our sensations; our dreams and our subconscious; our intuition; and through nature.” She describes her writing where she feels like somewhat of an instrument, or conduit for the music. “There are certain moments that I think ‘That was a really magical moment’ where it was out of my control, it felt like it was something that I wasn’t making happen, like it came through me,” Bailey Rae says.
 
With some extremely tumultuous life events including her huge early success along with the loss of her first husband in 2008, she explains her inspiration and how she remains grounded. “I think being in nature to me is really important and really helps me to be relaxed and to be chilled out. I love walking places and being next to rocks that are thousands of years old and being in forests and a sense that everything continues, it doesn’t need you and it’s going to be there without you. It helps your problems to seem a lot smaller. Nature, my family and music have been a massive help for me all through this time,” she says.
 
Bailey Rae notes her career highlight thus far. “The end of last year in Colorado and Stevie Wonder invited me to get on stage. I got to sing this song called The Letter, and then we sung My Cherie Amour which is one of my favourite Stevie Wonder songs, I think we can all agree that’s a pretty skyscraper-esque highlight.”
 
By Asha Collins

Corinne Bailey Rae will perform as part of Byron Bay Bluesfest, taking over Tyagarah Tea Tree Far from Thursday April 13 - Monday April 17 alongside Santana, Mary J Blige, The Doobie Brothers, Patti Smith and more. She’ll also headline 170 Russell on Wednesday April 19.