In the five years since her first self-titled album was let loose, Corinne Bailey Rae has racked up millions of fans, including Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and the Arctic Monkeys.
Gilded as her life might seem, the British multiple Grammy winner has faced serious hardship in her 32 years. Three years ago her husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, died from what was believed to be an accidental overdose. Emotionally scarring as that must have been, Rae showed no traces of bitterness during an impromptu chat recently with WWD at the Edun show. In fact, her days are now filled with poetry.
The soft-spoken Rae talked lyrically about how she has been holed up in her U.K. studio writing a new album while occasionally gazing at the flowers outside her window. Consuming as that is, she recently managed to get her driver’s license — finally. And like any musician worth remembering, she is not afraid to speak her mind, albeit politely.
WWD: Is there anything about the fashion industry you would change if you could?
Corinne Bailey Rae: I understand why models have to be a homogenous size, but I wish that women around the fashion industry would be less conforming to that homogenous body type. For me, fashion is dressing in a way that compliments you, expresses your personality and makes you feel good. I meet a lot of people who are disappointed because of the gap that exists between how they feel and what fashion dictates they should look like. To me, that’s the opposite of style.
WWD: Have you been enjoying the fashion week scene?
CBR: I went to Libertine the other day and it was like a great big party with models walking with unlit cigarettes. And Costello [Tagliapietra] —those guys really seem to like women. They’re not about putting women into fetishist clothing. They had some really nice prints and flowing dresses.
WWD: What are you working on?
CBR: I am writing my third album. I just have to have space to do that and to not do anything else. I have to make sure that people will not be coming around. It’s difficult but I have my studio and look out on a big garden. I like to keep the windows open. With writing, the only thing I know how to do is to let the ideas come in. I want to love the song itself and the recording.
WWD: Have you been reading a good deal to spur ideas?
CBR: I have been reading poetry. I try not to listen to other people’s music. I have been reading Allen Ginsberg. I just discovered “Howl” and found the way to understand it is to read it aloud. That really helps. I also have been reading poetry by [Arthur] Rimbaud, I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing this right. I read Patti Smith’s “Just Kids,” which was gorgeous. She loved his work.
WWD: Do you ever think about doing any collaborations in fashion?
CBR: I’m more interested in speaking with designers — and artists and any creative people — about how to create something and engage your market. How do you do something, make it your own, still make it personal and make people want to buy it? The combination of creativity and commerce interests me.
WWD: Have you ever worked with Bono?
CBR: I’ve never met him. I know Ali [Hewson] because she sent me a few [Edun] pieces. It seems that more high-end designers want people to know that when they wear something the workers who made it were paid fairly and treated well. And the harvesting of the cotton was harmless. It also seems that more companies are making their clothes in countries that are struggling [financially] like Poland. And China, but I suppose that brings up other ethical issues.
WWD: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
CBR: In a lot of situations, I don’t feel like a natural performer. I would hate to have to stand on a stage and tell a joke. That’s why I like music — it takes over you. Once it all starts you’re overcome and you surrender to it. I’m actually kind of shy.
WWD: What have you been doing for fun lately?
CBR: I just learned to drive. I’m 32, but I never had my license before. I tried when I was 17, but I failed my test. Then I couldn’t afford it. And then I didn’t have the time because I was busy touring. I really like being able to see a lot of friends in one day. For so long I only walked and walked and walked and got taxis. I’m not a sports racer. I just get in my little car and go. I’m also learning to play the drums and I like knitting, even though I’m terrible at it. The sound of the needles is cathartic and I like to see what I’m knitting getting longer. I just took a ceramics class at the Leeds College of Art & Design. It is brilliant to do something creative where no one judges me. It’s slightly cathartic. I will definitely take another class once I finish my next album.