UK pop sensation Katie Melua’s sophomore album Piece By Piece has been a smash hit across Europe, and the first single “Nine Million Bicycles” reached #5 in the UK charts.
She may have sold over 5 million albums sold worldwide, but now she has a new challenge as Piece By Piece is released in the US: making a big splash stateside.
We spoke to her by phone from Dallas, Texas, only a few dates into her latest month-long US tour supporting Il Devo, although she has some solo dates later, including at the B.B. King Blue Club in New York on July 11:
“I’m really enjoying this tour. In England they want something new, but here I’m playing to audiences who have never heard my music before. Their ears are new, and it’s more of a challenge to stay fresh.”
She is playing in Los Angeles on June 27 and 28 at the Greek Theater, and is looking forward to visiting here again:
“I’ve been here before, but always for work. I’ve played the Roxy twice, and I love it there – the audiences are chilled but attentive. The weather is wicked, and even thought the city is big, it still feels like the countryside – you have to drive miles to get anywhere!”
Ketevan (Katie) Melua was born in Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia (formerly part of the USSR) in 1984 and spent most of her childhood in the seaside town of Batumi. She was just 8 years old when she and her family arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland where her heart surgeon father was due to take up a position at the prestigious Royal Victoria Hospital.
Many people warned them that they were going from the frying pan into the fire, but Melua experienced a different kind of warm welcome:
“When I arrived I didn’t speak a word of English, but everyone was really friendly. I was witnessing the West and it’s culture for the first time, and even going to school was colorful.”
They lived in hospital accommodation – “the three green towers” – on Broadway Road off the Falls Road, and she went to St Catherine’s Primary School then on to Dominican College in Fortwilliam. Although “things weren’t at their height” when she was in Belfast, her time there might have influenced her 13-year-old ambition; to be a politician n or a historian:
“I honestly thought I’d be able to bring peace to the world – if I ruled it!”
The family left Belfast soon after and moved to Redhill in Surrey, south east of London, where she entered a TV talent competition singing the classic song “Without You” – and surprised herself by winning. The prize was only a bedroom makeover and an armchair, but she had performed live on television.
After her GCSE exams (High School), Melua joined the Brit School for Performing Arts, where she auditioned for visiting composer and producer Mike Batt, who was looking for musicians to form a jazz band. She sang her own song “Faraway Voice” and Batt was so impressed that he signed her on the spot, though she stayed on to graduate with distinction in July 2003.
Several radio DJ’s began to give regular airtime to her debut single “The Closest Thing To Crazy” throughout that summer, and soon it became her first Top 10 hit. Her debut album Call Off The Search went #1 and was a smash hit across the world, selling almost 2 million copies.
In the few years since she has performed at Nelson Mandela’s 46664 concert, in front of Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety, and even during the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Norway. She and her family officially became British citizens and whilst still only in her early twenties, she also became an ambassador for Save The Children.
Melua duetted with Jamie Cullum (“You’re Beautiful”) in a performance at the Brit Awards in February 2004, and hopes are high that she can follow his route to success stateside. Either way, she has a definite plan for while she is in town:
“We went to that garlic restaurant (The Stinking Rose) before, which was brilliant, but what I really want to do is one of those Death Tours, where you go round the homes and places where people died. I don’t wanna do the usual “Stars Homes” stuff”.
She still regularly visits Belfast, although she doesn’t usually get time to look around town:
“What sucks is that I usually go back there for work, but my mum and I still have lots of mates there. Last time she and I went back we went back to the towers where we first lived and looked around a little. Although they were in a bit of a state from what I remember, it still bought some memories back. Whenever I play there, they always call me “a local girl.”
Melua can already speak three languages – Georgian, Russian and English – but she also has some other vocal talents beside singing; she is very well-spoken (known in the UK as RP (Received Pronunciation, like the BBC) but can also do various Irish accents and impressions of characters such as DUP politician the Rev. Ian Paisley.
To help pass the time on the endless trips from plane to hotel to venue and back again, she may well tune in to some of her favorite songs by Bob Marley, Moby, K T Tunstall, George Michael, David Bowie, Queen, Cat Stevens, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ella Fitzgerald:
“When you tour, you’re sort of in a bubble. Everyone and everything is extreme. It’s like being out on a shop at sea, away from reality.”