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Q&A Interview with Andrea McEwan

Q&A Interview with Andrea McEwan

"I do have old-world tastes – vintage clothes, old records, those little black elephants with ivory tusks you find in junk shops"

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Andrea McEwan is an Australian songwriter, singer, musician and actress. In 2006, after moving to the UK, she was signed to Dramatico Entertainment as a songwriter when a demo of her songs found its way into the hands of Mike Batt. Early in 2007, she collaborated with Katie Melua on some songs for her then upcoming album. Out of their successful sessions came two tracks, “What I Miss About You” and “Dirty Dice”, which appear on the album “Pictures”. Andrea is currently working on her own album which will be released by Dramatico later this year. Altsounds recently caught up with Andrea on her large venue tour supporting Katie Melua and asked her a few questions:

Altsounds.com You're currently working on your debut album, what do you envision it sounding like? Are you making any particular efforts to give it a certain feel and sound or to encompass certain styles?
Andrea McEwan: I think one thing that has really emerged sonically is that the every track on the album is so different. We (my producer Mike Batt and I) wanted to serve each song and the story it tells rather than trying to fit all the tracks into the same stylistic boot so to speak. We wanted a ‘classic’ sound, something that avoided trends. Each song is like a little vignette. There is a common folky/singer songwriter feel to the album, but we have added colours like jazz flutes, vibraphones, melotron samples or even an entire string section where we thought it was necessary.

Altsounds: On your MySpace your music is described as 'folk/pop/jazz' – an ambitious and broad range of genres. In what ways do you think your music could be classed as jazz? What jazz artists do you particularly like and are influenced by? Andrea McEwan: Sometimes my chord choices and the way I approach a track vocally do suggest an element of jazz. No one track would be considered by purists to be a jazz track however. There is a fairly Latin sounding track called ‘Alibi’ on the record and there are two bossa novas ‘The Sea’ and ‘Invade My Privacy’. It was not my intention to have two bossas on the album but both tracks seemed to come alive when given this treatment. I grew up listening to some great ‘jazz’ singers and artists: Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Nancy Wilson, Cassandra Wilson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan. Rosemary Clooney, Diane Reeves. I loved that each artist could interpret the same song differently – each in their own way laying their soul bare and coloring the song with their own experience. None of these singers were trying to ‘imitate’ someone that had come before them but relished the fact that they were the only ones who could deliver a song in a certain way.

Altsounds: 'Candle in a Chatroom' comments on romance in the Internet age. You're quoted as saying "as someone who grew up on a diet of Bronte, Austen and Shakespeare, it made me sad to think that perhaps the reign of 'romance' was over." In terms of something as fundamental as love do you really think that romance might be over? Do you feel you're a more romantic person than most people?
Andrea McEwan: I can in no way judge how ‘romantic’ I am in relation to other people but I can say that yes I am a romantic. Unashamedly. I must also make the distinction here between romance and love – they are different beasts. Romance in my opinion is how love is courted, how it is tended. I think there is no denying that the way that we court love has changed and is changing very rapidly. This song is not a judgment but rather an observation.

Altsounds: I watched one of the blogs on your website and came across the hilarious story of the antique brandy glass (you bought it yet you don't even like brandy!) Would you consider yourself somewhat of an eccentric? Any other crazy tales from your time on the road?
Andrea McEwan: Don’t like brandy?! I’m afraid I am a big fan of the brown lady. The evidence is in the rest of the blogs where you will find a plastic cup of brandy a permanent fixture! I don’t know if I am ‘eccentric’. I have been told I am quite ‘theatrical’ (probably due to my hanging around theatres and actors for many years!) and I do have old-world tastes – vintage clothes, old records, those little black elephants with ivory tusks you find in junk shops…..As for the crazy tales from the road, there is a little saying that whatever happens on the road stays on the road. So I’m afraid I cannot kiss and tell.

Altsounds: How did you go about putting together your current band?

Andrea McEwan: I went to Australia for a month and when I came back I had a band! Mike did a brilliant job finding everybody. They are cracking musicians and such brilliant people as well.

Altsounds: What role does your band play in the formation of your sound? Do they have an input in your songs or come up with ideas and parts that lends your music a new feel or direction?
Andrea McEwan: When the band formed it was specifically for the tour and future live performances as, at that stage, the record was near completion. None of the band members played on the record but have been instrumental in developing my ‘live’ sound. Of course they used the record as a reference guide but I wanted as much as possible for them to imbue the music with their own ‘personal’ style. I think they brought a much rockier edge to some tracks and a sense of fun. It was nice building a set with three other very unique individuals.

Altsounds: Much is made on your website of your working with Katie Melua, whom you share your label Dramatico with (along with The Wombles' releases!) - a label which is headed by a certain Mike Batt (writer of Melua's hit 'Closest Thing to Crazy' and everybody's seasonal favourite 'A Winter's Tale.') Is Katie Melua an influence on your music and writing? And to what extent do you think Mike Batt sees you in a similar vein to the successful chart-treader?
Andrea McEwan: I am flattered by any comparisons drawn between Katie and myself. She is someone whom I have always admired and yes she has played a big role in my time with Dramatico to date. She was there for many ‘firsts’ with me - my first co-writing assignment; my first experience on the road. She is a calming presence and has a very generous soul. In terms of her influence on my music and my writing, there are similarities and differences. Lyrics play a large part in my music as well as hers – it is about the journey of a song and the story it tells. Clarity is another similarity – I think there are similarities in the clarity of our vocal delivery and quality. The differences are numerous – there is a lot more folk/pop influence in my music, a little more sarcasm and a little more sex! I suppose Mike sees us both for what we are: female singer/songwriters. I am sure that both of us (Mike and myself) would be over the moon if the public responded to my music with as much enthusiasm as they did with Katie’s but at the end of the day that is something we cannot control.

Altsounds: Your label Dramatico's roster is largely female singer/songwriters. One of its latest signings, Asa, also recently appeared in a duet with Katie Melua on French TV, another is former model and now Frances' First Lady Carla Bruni. How similar, or different, in style are the label's artist's? Is being in the shadow of Katie Melua a potential concern for you?
Andrea McEwan: Asa’s music is dynamic, a fusion of reggae, funk, soul and pop. She sings in English as well as in Yoruba (a West African dialect) and her songs sometimes show a social/political consciousness. Carla Bruni’s music is very naked, stripped down, steeped in the tradition of chanson. Also, her style of delivery is very intimate, almost ‘unsung’. Add Katie and myself to this mix and the only things we share are that we are women communicating through song. It is interesting that on an independent English label you have four women from all around the globe : Georgia, Africa, France and Australia. In terms of being in Katie’s ‘shadow’ - I am aware that people will inevitably draw comparisons but it is not a concern for me. People need comparisons – this movie was a blend of this and this, this artist was a bit like such and such…it is the way of the world.

Looking through some of the fans linked on your MySpace you're clearly just at the beginning of establishing your own fanbase, most people having discovered you at your shows supporting Katie Melua. One of your more avid followers, judging from yours and his MySpace pages, is a 51 year old fellow named Michael who lists his musical tastes as 'Andrea McEwan, Katie Melua, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple' – A broad yet confusing spectrum! What kind of audience do you think your music appeals to? And what are your feelings regarding your fanbase and who you would like to appeal/reach out to?

Andrea McEwan: I think it is a bit unfair to isolate Michael and his musical tastes as well as point out that he is 51. It is irrelevant to me how old my fans are or how they came to know my music. Naturally I have gained the support of a lot of Katie’s fans as a large majority of my gigs have been supporting Katie. I’m hoping my music will attract the kind of people who listen to lyrics and who appreciate good old-fashioned honest story telling.

Altsounds: Do you consider yourself to be pushing your art as much as you can in terms of forging new directions and ideas? What risks do you take with your music?
Andrea McEwan: I do not really set out to ‘forge new directions and ideas’ but to be as honest and true to myself as possible. I think imitation is a stage in the development of every artist but the most effective art is born out of originality. I don’t think you can ‘try’ to be original though. You just have to trust your own unique voice and be lucky enough to have someone take that and nurture it. I think Mike in particular has taken a big risk with this album. It is not ‘commercial’ and not easily categorized. It is a stylistic patchwork quilt that demands the listener have an open mind.

Altsounds: What message or sentiments of value do you feel your music has to offer, particularly for a generation you fear potentially devoid of romance?
Andrea McEwan: This album is about navigating your way through love, relationships, new cities and the modern world. It is about loneliness, longing and discovery. It is about all the little films and moments that play out in every day life. Hopefully it is a confession of shared secrets. Because, at the end of the day, it is the stories we all share that bind us together. That is what music is all about for me.

Did you really write your first song when you were 3?
Andrea McEwan: I knew you were going to ask this! Not really! The reason this sentence appears on my website is because I was explaining one day that when I first started talking it was with music underneath. So I basically sung everything – like a domestic operetta. My dad bought me an old tape recorder and I would sing into it what everyone in the family was up to at odd intervals during the day. So I have a tape full of songs that go: “Daddy’s watching the news and Sisi (my sister) is being a pig…etc”. It makes for riveting listening!

Check out Andrea McEwan right now on the Myspace player that is playing!

http://www.myspace.com/andreamcewan

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