The last time we caught up with Aussie pop songstress Ricki-Lee, she was on the verge of releasing her single ‘Raining Diamonds’ – the first for her new label EMI. She’d been sitting on the secret project for months and had just unleashed it onto an unsuspecting public.
Two platinum-selling singles later, today Ricki-Lee unveils her long-awaited new album, so we decided to grab a coffee with the cheeky star (and endure the occasional side boob leakage) in order to get the lowdown on ‘Fear & Freedom’.
“My A&R manager Glenn Dickie is a gun. He’s amazing,” she enthuses. “We all have issues and my biggest issue is trust. People have taken control from me and done the wrong thing by me in the past. So handing over control and trusting in people is the biggest challenge for me. But the one thing he said to me when we first met and the thing that has stuck out the most is, ‘When you can completely let go and be free, a whole new world will open up to you that you never knew existed. Just trust that if you do fall, we’ll be here to catch you’. And that has really encouraged me to let go, be free, push myself and be fearless. This period is so different to anything previous.”
Hence the album title.
“How’s that for a segue!? I slapped you in the face with that one,” she says wryly. “It’s kind of ironic that we ended up calling it ‘Fear & Freedom’. It was only when I was writing my ‘thankyous’ for the album sleeve that I remembered the email that Glenn had sent me. I flicked back and I read it and it was so poignant. The whole album, through the songs, the lyrics and the message is all about rising above and overcoming your fears and the things that hold you back and weigh you down. Being fearless and overcoming all those things so that you are free to do and be whatever you want to be.”
This period of Ricki-Lee’s career is her most successful to date. Her last two singles have both achieved platinum sales and the singer is now hoping to follow that success up with her first No.1 album.
“‘Can’t Touch It’ was platinum and I think ‘Love Is All Around’ was gold, ‘Hell No’ was gold, ‘Sunshine’ was gold, but this is completely different. I feel like this time around I’m doing it for the first time. I’m a woman now. I’m an adult. I’ve been through the wringer. When I was 18 and 21 when I released my last two albums, I had a very different idea of what kind of person I was – what kind of artist I was – and also of the industry. And so now at 26, I’ve been doing this job for almost ten years, this is my third album and I guess I know the ropes a lot more.
“I’m also being the most honest I’ve ever been in my writing. I guess as a woman I’m happy with everything in my life and I’ve now got perspective and an understanding of everything that’s gone on, why things have happened in the past and why things are happening now the way that they are. So I have a real appreciation for that. This time I’m not jaded. I’m not looking through rose coloured glasses thinking that everything’s going to be one way and it ends up being the other. I’m very realistic about everything and I’m so happy and so thankful that people have welcomed me and embraced me again.
“I’ve worked really hard on this album and these songs. Not just on writing them. On the production. Not ever settling. Pushing and pushing and pushing to be the best it possibly can be. Challenging myself as a performer and as an artist to up the ante and raise the bar for myself instead of doing the same old stuff that I’ve always done in the past. It’s new to me, because I’ve challenged myself to do everything differently. And I now look at everything with a new set of eyes,” she says.
And with that new set of eyes, she’s about to see the baby she worked so hard on released upon an increasingly hungry fanbase.
“I’m not scared at all this time,” she says. “We have worked so hard to make this. Music moves so quickly these days, so we wanted this album to have a really progressive sound. We wanted it to sound like 2013, not 2012 and so we’ve really pushed and worked with lots of people who don’t typically work on pop records to really push the envelope and get a fresh approach on some of these songs that as demos were great songs, but needed to be completely flipped on their heads. So the last year has been taking demo songs that were written with guitars, keys and live instruments and making them into a more progressive 2013 future pop/dance sound.”
For us, one of the highlights of Ricki-Lee’s foray into this ‘future-pop’ sound was the blisteringly good remix of ‘Do It Like That’ by French-based producer Fred Falke. It drew international acclaim, even being featured as ‘Song Of The Day’ on the almighty Popjustice. We ask Ricki-Lee whose inspired decision the remix was.
“That was Glenn,” she admits. “This album – the songs are amazing, but it wouldn’t be half the album it is without his influence and his input and his guidance and direction. He and I work so closely together and he pushes me outside my limits and outside my comfort zone way too regularly, but it’s really made the album so amazing, because he thinks outside the square. He doesn’t go to the people that everyone else uses. So the Fred Falke remix – he said ‘I have to get Fred Falke to do a remix for you’ and I thought ‘Who?’, being the little pop girl. That sounds so naïve and ignorant that I wouldn’t know who Fred Falke was.
“I’m signed globally to EMI and they want to release me in the UK and Europe as well. So when doing remixes, they have to think about sounds that will have an international appeal. They actually released the Fred Falke remix in Europe first and it filtered down here to Australia and then we released the single. It was stupidly good. Everything about it was just genius.”
But while the remix of the song drew universal praise, some members of the public were slightly critical of Ricki-Lee for forgetting to pop on a pair of pants in the official video (below).
“Why wear them when you don’t have to wear them!?” she says in jest. “It’s a costume. It’s a video. No-one wants to watch a music video where we’re doing ‘chorey’ and wearing trousers. Come on! I’m not a girly girl – I don’t wear bows in my hair, I don’t wear pretty dresses. The first thing I do when I get home is take my pants off! I don’t like being restricted in my region.”
Yes kids, she said “my region”. Wherever that may be. Queensland, perhaps? But having been subjected to a couple of flashes of side boob leakage already during our chat, we fully understand where she’s coming from when she says she doesn’t like to be restricted.
“I like pushing the boundaries, doing things that are a bit unexpected and ruffling peoples’ feathers,” she continues. “If my not wearing pants makes people upset… Well the conservative types probably aren’t buying my music anyway. It’s a cheeky, sexy, playful, suggestive song. I’m talking about ‘one taste of my apple pie will satisfy your appetite’. I’m air humping as I say ‘You want want want me when I do it like that’. You know,” she says, doing the air humping actions right there in the cafe. We’re such prudes.
“One of the things that I wanted to do was up the ante and challenge myself and perform like I’d never performed before and that meant adding choreography and movement. I dance like the dancers now. I don’t just pussy-foot around and stand there and shake my hips. I do the routines start to finish. There’s a reason that, when they’re at dance school, they wear leotards. ‘Cause they’re not restricted. You can’t be restricted when you’re moving.”
Ricki-Lee’s latest single is the very dance-orientated ‘Crazy’. Though we wondered whether single No.3 was always going to be ‘Crazy’, given she performed the new track ‘Burn It Down’ during a performance on Channel 7’s ‘Sunrise’ back in May.
“Tricked you! ‘Burn It Down’ is my favourite song on the album,” she says. “It’s just such a killer song. It’s just so epic and anthemic and uplifting and inspiring.”
We reveal that our favourites on the new LP are ‘Burn It Down’ and ‘Bombshell’.
“Same,” she says. Same, we ask? “Yep. ‘Burn It Down’ and ‘Bombshell’,” she replies.
So given ‘Burn It Down’ is a personal favourite and that Ricki-Lee has much more creative control these days, was it ever in the mix to be released as a single?
“Every song on the album is in the mix for a single,” she admits. “It’s just a matter of releasing what when and in what order. We thought that ‘Crazy’ would work right now. It’s that kind of heavy, dirty, thumping dance/club track. Then, and I don’t want to give anything away here, but the next single will be very different to ‘Crazy’. I can’t say what it is, but I’m sure you’ll be very excited by it.”
The last time we caught up with Ricki-Lee, she told us that she had retained control of the masters of her unreleased album ‘Hear No, See No, Speak No’. Brilliantly for fans, one of the songs from that era is being released as part of the new album project.
“‘Because I Can’ was one of the songs that I wrote a few years back,” she tells us. “It’s a big song about wanting to walk around naked and drink champagne, go dancing all night and sleeping all day’ and it’s the bonus track on iTunes.”
‘Fear & Freedom’ is, at its heart, a no-holds-barred pop album. It’s very European-focussed and for a reason – as mentioned earlier, there are plans to release the album there at a later date.
“I think the music that I listen to – and I listen to that pop/dance style music – is becoming more and more mainstream. Dance music is less leftfield these days and I really think that David Guetta had a huge part in creating that movement. I love that kind of music and I guess the content of the lyric lent itself to that too.”
But even before the album’s been released, there have been the usual knockers, criticising various aspects of the product. Some super-fans have complained that the ‘A’ in the album’s title isn’t a triangle. We ask for her response.
“It’s so funny that people actually care that much about the triangle ‘A’,” she says. “Because it didn’t look great? Maybe it should have been! Maybe none of us thought about it!?”
And some have complained that Ricki-Lee’s arms (or the singer herself) look too skinny on the cover (below).
“Can you see my child-like wrists?” she exclaims. “I have tiny wrists! I always have! And even when I was 100 kilos, I still had this collarbone, which I love. It doesn’t mean I’m skeletal! One minute you’re too fat, then you’re too skinny. There is no in between,” she despairs, telling us that she also faced criticism when she was heavier.
“In the exact opposite way,” she says. “I had all the people taunting and calling me ‘fat’ and ‘disgusting’ and ‘horrible’ and ‘gross’ and ‘obese’ and all the names under the sun. But I just don’t pay any attention to it. And it’s the same now when people are saying ‘you’ve got skinny arms’ – ‘look at your elbows’!
“Yes, they smoothed the skin in the cover image, but I would never be a person to say ‘yeah, pull me in, make me skinnier’. Even when I was bigger.”
Ricki-Lee will hit the road next month for a trio of East Coast live shows – one each in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. She gives us a hint of what to expect.
“It’s an over 18s show, so I can let the cat out of the bag. So to speak,” she says.
We wonder whether or not that’s a euphemism.
“It IS! Joking!” she laughs. “I have a lot of fun in my shows and I’m very honest about the subject matter in my songs, particularly ‘Bombshell’. And it’s funny – there’s lot of laughs, lots of dancing, lots of fun.
“At the show that I did in May, by the second time the chorus came around in every song, everyone was singing along. And it blew my mind because it wasn’t even out yet – they didn’t even know the songs. Everyone just had a great time. 98% of the people at that show I think were gay men.”
Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane covered, however, what about the rest of Australia. Surely she can’t leave her other fans out in the cold?
“These shows are for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane. Over 18s. The next lot will be around March next year. A full blown national tour – every major city in every state and all ages. For my under 18s fans, the Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Tassie fans.”
And with that very answer, our time is up, our coffee cup empty, we get a warm embrace.
…And one final flash of side-boob. We may never be the same again.
Ricki-Lee’s album ‘Fear & Freedom’ is available digitally and physically today.
The singles ‘Raining Diamonds’, ‘Do It Like That’ and ‘Crazy’ (and their remixes packages) are all available digitally now.
Catch Ricki-Lee performing live at the following locations;
September 05 : Melbourne (Billboard)
September 06 : Sydney (Oxford Art Factory)
September 09 : Brisbane (Family)