Culture

Baring her soul – Welsh singer Jodie Marie on surviving the music industry

28 Feb 2021 17 minutes Read
Jodie Marie

David Owens

It’s been quite the tumultuous decade for Jodie Marie.

The Welsh singer who was discovered in her teens, was signed to Decca Records in a blaze of publicity with the weight of expectation on her young shoulders. It was 2008 when a little fairy dust was sprinkled on the Jodie Marie story. Then, aged 16, she was discovered in unusual circumstances, the stars aligning and fate playing its hand.

The landlady of a Pembrokeshire B&B overheard a guest talking about how his son was in the music industry and handed him a CD featuring songs by a local girl. The guest was the father of Toby L, who owns record, publishing and management company Transgressive – and the singer in question – Narbeth native Jodie.

Toby helped foster Jodie’s career as her manager, guiding her to a deal with Decca Records that saw her collaborate with leading songwriters such as Ed Harcourt and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler; no stranger to a Welsh singer possessing a stop you in your tracks vocal after mentoring Duffy to global success.

Possessing a multi-octave register, a voice that is its own stunning instrument, her debut album, Mountain Echo, released in 2012 on the Verve imprint, was a collection of rich and warm, blue-eyed country soul.

Critically acclaimed, Jodie’s songs quickly found a home on the Radio 2 playlist. A series of intimate shows gave full reign to the singer’s torchlit voice, only emboldening her burgeoning reputation.

Witnessing a stunning album release show at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff, those of us in attendance could only surmise they were in the presence of a performer destined for an altogether larger constellation.

As portents of things to come, stratospheric appeared to be her career trajectory.

Sadly, as many before her and many since have discovered, the music industry doesn’t trade on conformity, nor the dictates of logic and reason.

Changes at her record label saw the singer, from Narbeth, cast aside, her dreams in ruins and the future uncertain.

It’s been a hard road for Jodie to traverse after retreating to Pembrokeshire and the security of her friends and family. The last decade hasn’t been without its crushing lows as she came to terms with what had happened to her at such a young age.

She didn’t withdraw completely however, there were still songs to write and an album to release, 2015’s blues-infused ‘Trouble In Mind’, a reminder of her undoubted talent.

Nevertheless, another six years elapsed until her latest album, a soul baring confessional titled ‘The Answer’.

The cover of Jodie Marie’s latest album.

Aptly named, it will no doubt answer the question many people have asked during the intervening years – what happened to Jodie Marie?

It was recorded at her own StudiOwz recording studio, a converted baptist chapel, which served as a place of contemplation and inspiration for the album.

Call it comeback if you will, but ‘The Answer’ – recorded is such a mature, self-assured, emotionally enriching and powerful collection of beautiful and bruised songs, expertly produced by her partner, Owain Fleetwood Jenkins, you can’t help but think this is a release by a performer at the very top of her game.

If justice was the main arbiter of success Jodie Marie would be flying high, it would be an injustice if she wasn’t rediscovered by the largest audience possible.

Tell me about the new album – what can people expect?

I’m so happy with the record and incredibly proud of the people that were involved. I wrote the bulk of the album alone, but wrote a select few with Ed Harcourt, Gita Harcourt & Dan Smith (Noisettes). I invited in producers to work across the album, such as Owain Fleetwood Jenkins, who produced the majority of the album (and also mixed and engineered the whole record), Ed Harcourt to produce ‘Carageen’, ‘Saving Grace’ and ‘Curse The Day’, Dan Smith to produce ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Gone)’ and finally I invited Gethin Pearson to co produce with Owain Fleetwood Jenkins on ‘Hanging By A String’ and ‘The Answer’.

I am heavily influenced by sounds from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s – having been brought up listening to a lot of music from those eras. So, when it came to recording the album, I wanted to draw inspiration from those times, but also make sure it sounded modern and fresh – creating my own sound that I hope people will hear as the ‘Jodie Marie’ sound – which Owain and I really worked hard to create throughout the record.

What’s the background to the album and what does it represent of the 2021 Jodie Marie?

The record has been a long time in the making to be honest, between renovating an old baptist chapel and cottage, as well as creating this album. Myself and my partner, Owain, recorded the majority of the album at the original StudiOwz recording studio – which was in an old shed on his parents dairy farm. We then bought a chapel & cottage together in Clarbeston, Pembrokeshire – and renovated it into the new StudiOwz, and finished the record there – reworking some of the tracks again, such as ‘Hanging By A String’ and ‘The Answer’. We recorded the album mostly live as a core band and then invited other musicians in to do some overdubs.

I am so proud of my first two records (‘Mountain Echo’ and ‘Trouble in Mind’), but I feel like I’ve finally found my voice and my sound on this new record. As mentioned above, it’s been a long time in the making, I’ve gone through a lot during that time and I feel I had a lot to say when it came to writing this album. I’ve written in quite a brutally honest way on some of the songs on ‘The Answer’, and there’s been something really freeing about that process.

It reverberates with the timeless echoes of the golden era of classic songwriting from ‘60s soul to ‘70s Laurel Canyon – was that what you were aiming for?

I’m really inspired by artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin but also Janis Joplin, Free and the more modern Amy Winehouse or The Black Keys. I’ve always loved the sonic worlds on records from those eras (50s/60s/70s specifically), so I wanted to try and emulate a record that drew those influences in but also made sure it wasn’t just a throw back, that it had modern elements that pricked the ears.

I think the way we tried to achieve this was down to the production and the producers that played their part on the album, but by also using certain instruments that were heard regularly during those times, such as my Wurlitzer electric piano, Vox organ, Hammond organ, but bringing it into the modern world with some synths. I’m also a sucker for backing vocals, when you listen to an Aretha Franklin album, her backing vocals are almost like lead vocals, they’re a huge part of the production – so this is something I was conscious of on the making of this record. I had such a good time creating those harmonies and singing them out into the StudiOwz live room – in the heart of the chapel.

I also have a fantastic band who know, and pretty much share the same inspirations as me. We’ve worked together for so long now, Jimmy Brewer (guitarist), Tom Sinnett (bassist) and Jack Beddis (drummer), that they know what I want from them and how I can draw it out of them. I also invited other musicians down to play on the record for their expertise, such as Dan Moore (Hammond, Synths) and Toby Couling (Percussion).

Tell me about your songwriting partnership with Ed Harcourt – he’s someone who has stuck with you through the ups and downs of the last decade?

I love working with Ed because he’s very inspiring to be around, we wrote ‘Carageen’ (the first single off the new record) in his studio, which was in London at the time. I remember we hadn’t written together in years, but I turned up and it was like I saw him yesterday.

There was always instruments everywhere in his studio, it’s like a toy box in my mind – I always come away from there super inspired after writing with Ed. It feels effortless and when we began writing together for this album, I probably wasn’t in the best place and had been struggling with the music industry for some time, so we just wrote how I was feeling – that beaten and forlorn first writing session paved the way for the tracks that followed, including ‘Curse The Day’, which I wrote with both Ed Harcourt and his wife Gita in their home, where I felt I found my voice again and had an anger that I hadn’t even known was there, come out.

Everyone I’ve written with on this album (from Ed Harcourt, Gita Harcourt and Dan Smith of the Noisettes) has been incredibly unique in their approach to songwriting with me, but all equally inspiring in their own way. I really love writing alone, but when you connect with someone to co write with – it’s a dream!

How frustrating is it for you that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, so promoting the album must have been made doubly difficult?

It’s really frustrating. I’ve tried to be really productive during the pandemic and try and be as creative as possible. To be honest, releasing the album was a blessing because it gave me something to really focus on. It may not have been the ‘right’ time to release an album, but when is ‘the right time’?

It’s obviously difficult with the fact that I can’t tour it, but I’m hoping that once restrictions have lifted, I can get out on the road and play these songs live with an actual audience in front of me – that’s something I’m really looking forward to and focusing on. I released ‘The Answer’ on Carmel Records, a label I co own with Caru Music, I’m really excited to be a part of that process, it’s definitely empowering doing it this way, having more control and ownership of my music – maybe that’s the future for artists, it certainly is something that’s really important to me moving forward. I’ve spent so long creating this album and I’m so proud of it, but it was time to let these songs go. It was time, pandemic or not.

Jodie Marie in the studio.

From somebody who was snapped up by a major at such an early age how do you view the music business now?

The music business is forever changing so it’s been almost like re-learning how it works after all this time! I’m so grateful to everyone who’s been checking out the new album – sharing it and spreading the word. I’ve had such amazing feedback about ‘The Answer’ and that’s all I could ask for. I make music firstly for myself, but then for the listener to have a comfort blanket to listen to – something to melt into when you want to wallow, but also pick them up when they’re down – like all those records I love. I feel there’s definitely been a resurgence recently of music that’s inspired from the same era that I draw from (but with that modern edge too), so, so far, I’ve had a great response.

How do you now view being signed to Decca with so much weight of expectation on your shoulders?

It was such a whirlwind being signed in my teens, and to be honest, I still have to pinch myself now to think that that happened – it almost feels like it happened to someone else. It was an amazing beginning and platform to start my music career on a professional level and I couldn’t have asked for more, but that can also make it hard when you’re still seen as the first release you put out as a young woman. I’m so proud of my previous records, they will always be so close to my heart, but I’m over the moon with this new one and feel I’ve really found my voice and sound. I don’t think it’s miles away from those previous two records combined. I’ve tried not to put too much pressure on myself surrounding this album, I’m really proud of it and I think that’s what matters – it sounds like me.

I remember speaking to you after your gig at the Norwegian Church, which was such a remarkable show, did you feel then that you were on the road to success or did you feel a little like a rabbit trapped in the headlights?

Can I say both?! Haha. I definitely felt a bit overwhelmed at the time – but in the best way possible. I love playing live and writing music, having had that chance at such a young age was an incredible experience and I feel has made me much more wise to creating music now I’m older, with more experience in all fields. I wouldn’t say I fully registered that I was signed to a major at the time and the weight of what that actually meant. I like to think I’ve always been pretty grounded and I just want to continue writing and performing music for people to hear, enjoy and continue sharing.

How did the deal with Decca end and how did you feel when you parted ways?

As a major label deal goes, honestly, I had a really positive experience from the beginning to the end – even when my relationship with them ended, I had really beautiful feedback surrounding the album release from them. The guy who signed me, Simon Gavin, was no longer a part of Decca, so I was let go. I then continued with my management to create my second record ‘Trouble in Mind’ on a self made label. If I’m honest, it’s always going to hurt being let go, and maybe that’s part of why I’ve taken such a long time to brush myself off, get back up and release this record – but I’m so glad I did – with a bit tougher skin.

Did you consider that you didn’t want to make music anymore after that?

I did have a time where I didn’t know what to do, I’ve never not wanted to make music. There was a time when I was lost, deflated and unsure of what lay ahead musically, so I went to study reflexology and aromatherapy, just to give my creative brain a break. Having time to reflect on that whole time surrounding the first two albums and turn it into something positive moving forward, takes time, but I realised that all I wanted to do was write and release music. So that’s what I did, and I’m so glad I persisted because I’ve now had the opportunity to release this new album that I’m so proud of with Ross and David of Carmel Records (of Caru Music) who both used to work at Universal Records.

You came back with 2015’s Trouble In Mind, was there any expectation around that album or was it just you indulging your love of music?

I wouldn’t say there was expectation surrounding that album, I definitely put pressure on myself to make it a great record, but that was just pressure I created myself. When I was writing that album, I wanted to draw from the music of my childhood, blues records that my parents would play around the house. I love the storytelling in blues of real life situations and I felt that that album opened up a new way of writing for me – especially lyrically, it definitely became more of a vulnerable album, drawing more than ever from my own personal experiences. I also started writing with Dan Smith (Noisettes) at that time and it’s always a joy to work with him, that’s why I decided to work with him again on this new record on the track ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Gone)’.

‘The Answer’ is such a mature, self-assured, emotionally enriching and beautiful recorded and performed album, what are your expectations for it?

Thanks for saying that, that’s very kind. As I’ve mentioned, I’m really proud of it on many levels – the musicianship of everyone who was involved, the recording process with Owain at StudiOwz, the producers I invited in, the mastering by Katie Tavini, and how I really wanted to focus on the flow of the album – making a track listing that made sense for a vinyl record has always been a dream of mine. I hope it reaches people and connects with them on a level that makes them feel every word and sound – like they’re reading a diary – it’s honest and raw at times and I always admired that in artists I grew up listening to. So that’s all I could hope for, is for it to resonate with listeners on that level.

Do you hope it could propel you back to where you were a decade ago – with a major album, and potentially a lifetime career in music?

I do hope it gets heard by as many people as possible and that everyone sees that I’ve come far from that 16 year old who was signed to a major at such a young age. If that happened now, I like to think I’d be ready for it. I will always create and perform music regardless, to have a life filled with the joy and therapy of making music on a professional level.

Do you have any regrets about the last 10 years and if you had your time again would you do anything differently?

I wouldn’t say I have regrets, I do think sometimes, could I have made more of that time and those experiences? – but that was such a long time ago now. The only advice I’d have for myself is to really appreciate every experience that came my way and always keep learning and pushing myself to be a better writer, performer and musician. All I’m focused on now is the future and how I can continue to better myself in every way with my music.

‘The Answer’ is out now. It is available on CD or vinyl via www.jodiemarie.com, also download or stream it on all the usual digital platforms.

Follow Jodie Marie on her social media accounts @jodiemariemusic (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

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