She’s experienced a heck of a lot in the past 12 months – not least of which was the very public breakdown of her short-term marriage to a childhood sweetheart. But Ricki-Lee Coulter knows a thing or two about being a survivor. She’s been doing so ever since her shock early exit from Australian Idol in 2004. Signed to independent Aussie label Shock Records, Ricki has gone on to become the most successful female ever to emerge from the show, amassing a string of chart triumphs. She’s also returned to the television show that made her a household name, to provide mentoring support to the latest batch of wannabe artists.
So it comes as no surprise that following the end of her relationship, and a subsequent writing trip to the United States, she’s back with a new found sense of self, and in her words, is now “independent, strong, happy and proud”.
“One of the things for my healing process was being completely raw and honest about it and for me being able to pour that into my music – it was like intense therapy. I confronted everything again – I took myself back to those times of all the ups and downs and it really was healing for me to do that. But also in terms of an album, it provided great material for me to draw on,” she tells auspOp.
The first single from Ricki’s forthcoming new album is the cheeky ‘Don’t Miss You’, a song written about her feelings for her former husband. It drips with angst and contains at least one expletive, so we ask the singer about her filthy, dirty potty mouth and what she’d been through.
“Well you’ve got to put yourself in my position where I was in a relationship for seven years – the only relationship I’d ever known – and obviously you don’t write a song with lyrics like that if everything was happy as. It was very painful and humiliating going through the break up in front of the whole country. For me, that song is not about being bitter or anything. That song is about representing me turning the corner and finding my feet again.”
She reveals that it was in New York during her recent writing trip to the United States that she finally turned that emotional corner and wrote what was to become the first single from her new album.
“Anyone who’s been through a break-up knows there’s a long period of time there where you just don’t know what’s around the corner – you don’t know when you’re going to wake up again and start smiling. For me, that moment came in New York when I was writing. On that very first day in New York, I woke up and I finally had a smile on my face and it was genuine. So I wanted to celebrate that and write an anthem that kind of represented how great I was feeling at that moment in time.”
‘Don’t Miss You’ also takes the singer in a slightly different musical direction. While Ricki’s previous singles have been infused with a distinctly R&B flavour, the new track introduces the audience to an intriguing blend of pop, rock and dance.
“It’s a sound that just naturally developed while I was overseas. The stuff I was writing really lent itself to this fusion of pop and rock and electro and I think it suits my voice. I’ve always had that big powerful voice and it really lends itself to that rocky kind of sound,” she said, “And I think because of what I’m singing about and because there’s a bit of angst and emotion behind what I’m singing, it’s great to be able to grit my teeth and really belt it out. I’m loving the new sound and I can’t wait to get up on stage and do it all live.”
Speaking of getting up and ‘doing it all live’, we ask her if she followed up her much talked about nudie balcony incident at a hotel in Thailand with a subsequent episode in America. We reckon she dodged the question.
“Well we did do a weekend in Vegas, so, yes we had lots of fun,” she said, continuing that her writing trip to the US trip was ‘amazing’.
“LA was great – I was there for seven weeks and you know, there were so many friends there – caught up with heaps of Australians, caught up with Rai from Thirsty Merc, Guy Sebastian. When I was in New York, I had friends fly over from Australia to come and hang out for a week and come to Mexico with me. I also met up with a really good friend of mine in Paris,”
Ricki-Lee assures us, however, that she stayed well clear of infamous Mexican party town Cancun, instead taking in the sights of Cabo San Lucas.
Last year, Ricki’s name popped up as a writing credit on UK soul singer Bryn Christopher’s incredible single ‘Smilin’. We ask her how it came about and whether she’d decided to include that track on her new album.
“No I haven’t put that on the new album. That was a song I wrote two or three years ago that represented where I was at a moment in time. That song was written about being overseas and telling your partner, ‘no matter how much distance is between us, thinking of you puts a smile on my face’. And it doesn’t really work for this album,” she laughs.
Asked if writing for other artists is something that she’s considering doing more of in the future, Ricki-Lee replies, ‘Definitely. There have actually been a handful of my songs picked up around the world and released by different artists. There’s a big one coming up um… soon, which when we can talk about it, we will. It’s very exciting.”
We decide that little tid-bit of information is nowhere near enough for our eager readers, and we know the name she so desperately wants to reveal is on the tip of her tongue, so we push her to tell us exactly who she’s talking about.
“No, I can’t (she SO wants to spill). I can’t. Um. But it is very exciting. I can’t. It’s in Europe but that’s all I can say.”
After her shock early exit in the 2004 Idol competition, many expected the then Gold Coast-based singer to be snapped up by Idol’s record company partner Sony BMG. That didn’t happen, and the singer instead signed with Melbourne-based independent label Shock Records. Seven top twenty singles and two hit albums later, we ask Ricki if any of the major labels had seen the error of not signing her earlier and had subsequently made her an offer she could refuse.
“Not anything official but there have been little whispers. But for me, my creative control is worth it’s weight in gold. It is tough ‘cause as an independent artist, I’m competing in the pop market – up against the big names that have the multi-million dollar budgets and endless resources and thousands of publicists and things like that.
And we’re a small team working out of Shock, but we make it work and I work my arse off and so does everybody in my team. For me, the creative control that I have over my music and the freedom I have to go overseas for three months and come back and go ‘here’s the album, guys’ is an amazing thing and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I’m very very lucky and I really value that freedom and that creative control that I have.”
Ricki’s new album, ‘Hear No, See No, Speak No’ is being readied for an October release and though there are some undoubtedly lyrically dark moments on there, she assures us that there’s also a lot of positivity to be found.
“The whole album is like a diary of the break up. It’s the confusion, the not knowing what to do, the ups the downs, it’s a rollercoaster and merry-go-round of a break up. It’s the not knowing what to do and making the decision of ‘no, that’s it’ and then finding empowerment and finding strength to walk away and then having to deal with loneliness and being alone for the first time and trying to find my feet and getting to know myself again.
“I think the thing with me was that I lost myself in that relationship because it was all I’d known – I was 16 when we got together and at the same time my career was blowing up. I had Idol and single and albums and all of this stuff and it’s a really not normal life, I guess, in terms of having a relationship. But I didn’t know myself. All I knew of myself was my career and my relationship.
In the last year, I guess moreso in the last six months since I’ve turned that corner and really found my feet again, I feel amazing.
“Everybody is kind of sickened by how much I’m gushing. But I really feel that this is the happiest I’ve ever been. Six months ago, behind closed doors, the Ricki-Lee that was telling everyone she was okay was actually not.
“For me to be standing here and be feeling the way I do right now as an empowered, independent, strong, happy woman makes me incredibly proud.
Comparing that to where I was eight/nine months ago – it really is a big change and I want to celebrate that and throw my hands in the air and sing ‘don’t don’t don’t Don’t Miss You’.”
Ricki-Lee remains extraordinarily unaffected, down to earth and genuine, possessing an incredible passion for her craft and a simple determination to serve up nothing less than the very best.
And with radio, print and online media, retail, her record company, management team and the general public firmly in her corner, we reckon that the celebrations for Miss Ricki-Lee Coulter don’t look like ending any time soon.
Ricki-Lee’s new single ‘Don’t Miss You’ hits stores tomorrow.
She begins a five-date in-store tour at Westfield Plenty Valley in Melbourne this Sunday.
Australian Idol returns on Network Ten on Sunday August 09.
Ricki’s album ‘Hear No, See No, Speak No’ is due in-store in October.