British songstress embraces classic vibe, being an outsider
Rumer is used to standing out. Her grade-school years were spent in clothes other girls weren’t wearing, and now, as the U.K. crossover hits America, her life hasn’t changed all that much: She still wants people to like her without boob-baiting them.
Born Sarah Joyce, Rumer doesn’t need any gimmicks to gain fans. Her old-soul throwback debut, Seasons of My Soul, soared to No. 1 on the iTunes Albums Chart recently.
In our chat, Rumer talked about falling in love with gay men, never compromising herself for music and how classic musicals inspired the album.
What’s going on, Rumer?
Just having my hair colored. The foils are coming out as we speak.
Based on Seasons of My Soul, either you’re an old soul or I need to grow up.
I think I’ve always been mature in some ways and immature in others, like falling in love every five minutes.
Are you prepared for all the gay love you’re about to get?
(Laughs) I already have my supergay, Wally. He actually told me that he thinks he’s in love with me and it’s freaking me out. He’s been having dreams and it’s making him confused.
Have you ever fallen for a gay man?
All the time! It’s like, I’ve met the love of my life. And then he’s gay. We connect and get along so well. I always fall in love with gay men.
Why do you connect with them so much?
We like the same music. Just the great females. All the best ones: Judy Garland, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan.
In fact, one song on the album is named after Aretha. I get the sense from it that you were an outsider. Is that right?
Yeah, at secondary school I had my socks pulled up and buckle shoes and a little bob haircut. I walked onto the school bus and all the girls had on makeup and short skirts and were really fashionable. I looked down at my little buckle shoes and long socks and just thought, “Oh god, really? I’m not in Kansas anymore.”
And still, you stayed true to yourself. Even when record labels tried molding you into something other than yourself, you wouldn’t have it.
Yeah, they did that. I always believed that you have to create your own reality. People don’t get you because you need to make them get you. Don’t compromise. I don’t believe in compromising. I believe in making your own path and making your own way. And even if you’re different, there’s always a first time for everything.
Some musicians are content with being branded as something different just for popularity. What do you think of that?
I don’t think that ever works. You’re never really yourself that way, and people are very intelligent and will sense when you’re not being yourself.
You launched your career the old-fashioned way, without having to go the American Idol route.
(Laughs) But I love all that stuff!
You’re cool with talent-seeking reality shows?
Sometimes it gets boring, but I don’t have a problem with people who do that. I just think that some people can get very good careers out of it; they can end up on Broadway or with other careers they weren’t expecting. I can see why, if you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, you might. This one girl was a single parent with two kids, so it’s good for people who don’t really have the ability to do it the old-fashioned way.
Elton John is a big fan. Have you met him?
I did! I met him when I did a show with him and Leon Russell. He was warm, like a really kind uncle. I put out my hand to shake his and he ignored it and went for a hug.
Gay men are so affectionate, aren’t they? I’m sure Wally is the same way.
He says to me, “I love you. Now say I love you back.” He’s very funny. He calls me Rumercita, and it’s so funny: Whenever I’m in a public place he’ll walk up to me and go, “Excuse me, do I know you? Are you famous?” He’ll look around and go, “Are you Rumercita the porn actress? You played Sister Fellatio in that porn movie!” (Laughs)
Pop music nowadays is more about the frills than the voice. Do you miss when music relied more on the singing?
Yeah, I do. At the same time, I think pop has its place. When I was growing up in the ’80s, Madonna was really cool, and now kids love Katy Perry, or they love Lady Gaga, because she looks like a Disney princess. And they serve a purpose. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pop princesses. It’s good to have balance, for everyone to have choice.
At the moment there are more choices of styles of music. I think when you get one producer, like Dr. Luke who writes all the same songs for all the pop princesses, that’s when it gets boring. You hear the same synthesizer and think, “Oh god, it’s the same top superstar producers in the office just going ’round and ’round and ’round.” It gets very boring. But that often has more to do with the producers, not the artists themselves.
What inspired the classic throwback vibe of the album?
Movies that were designed to put America into this lovely dreamy sleep while it was going through a depression. It did the same thing to me when I was depressed as a kid. I think that those dreamy melodies and those dreamy costumes – Adrian Adolph Greenberg’s crazy costumes for the MGM musicals, and all the lovely beautiful women dancing around and the gentlemen in top hats – is when I first came to understand music as a way of trying to transport yourself the way that people use drugs, smoke a joint or whatever. Music transports you to a better place. It can take you to a whole new world where you’re safe and everything’s beautiful.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.