The music industry has become a factory; the faux-Warholian Gaga’s endless carousel of media stunts are the products of a money-obsessed, status-driven music industry desperately trying to find the latest quirk in fashion and exploit it on a massive scale. Staying in the headlines sells her records far more effectively than staying up late to practice the piano.
Record companies are less frequently breeding grounds for emerging talent and new ideas; rather now finishing schools for pre-packed artists and identi-kit bands, and young people seemingly have more chance of bagging a record deal by fluke of genetics (the dreaded Celebrity Spawn) than by actually studying music, or heaven-forbid, art.
Manufactured girl groups are brands before they are bands, and the licensing departments of record companies are one of the few expanding areas of an ever-shrinking industry; commercial viability is king, and as a working musician you are more likely to pay the rent on a cheque from an advertising agency than your own label. The quickest route to stardom for a woman is based on a very old model; wear a dress, do your hair, keep your mouth shut until it’s your line.
One vocalist breaking with female stereotypes and get-famous-quick schemes is the elfin Saint Saviour, aka Becky Jones, the current lead vocalist for Groove Armada and unsigned solo songwriter. Performing solo since the age of 16 and highly educated in the anatomy of the voice, her talent not only as a singer but as a uniquely powerful performer have earned her favourable reviews throughout the year and an expanding fan-base that includes 6Music, Steve Lamacq and The Pet Shop Boys. Despite support from big names, she has experienced as much difficulty as many others in breaking into the industry and sent her demo to Groove Armada’s manager in a last-ditch attempt to make it the the business.
“There’s an expectation of artists nowadays to be developed in every area, from national or international fan support to recorded, finished albums, before they are seen as a realistic business opportunity. The hard work is exactly that, the constant self promotion, learning new formats, online trends, new software, producing your own sound, working a day job to pay for education. It’s not going to get easier”
With a haunting and meticulously controlled voice often compared to Kate Bush and Karen O, Saint Saviour offers an arresting alternative to pitch-corrected, heavily produced chick-pop in both vocal quality and on-stage presence. Body-popping, floating and rocketing around the stage, her physical performance is even more engaging than her futuristic costumes. La Roux could learn a thing or two about stylish androgyny (not to mention vocal technique) from Saint Saviour’s entrancing moves; breaking with feminine sexualised performance certainly doesn’t mean coldness when wielded as passionate personal expression by this diminutive powerhouse, dressed in UV-and-lurex, Hazel O’Connor-inspired superhero gear.
“I think every white female alternative singer in the world will always be compared to Kate Bush. It’s inevitable, but of course flattering. I don’t think people even really consider it properly, because my voice sounds nothing like hers, or Karen’s. I love performing live, ‘Straight from the guts’ is my motto. A good front-woman has the ability to use the space, their body and their music to communicate considered, meaningful, pure emotion and not watered-down-stage-school-teeth-and-tits-crap. I try to think like Dave Gahan on stage, but without the heroin. I don’t have a very ‘mainstream’ idea of sexiness to be honest. I think sweat and sinew is sexier than tidy hair and uncomfortable high heels.”
Not only a vocal chameleon and skilled entertainer, Saint Saviour writes her own music and collaborates with other artists, painting with mythological, epic and Judeo-Christian metaphors in her lyrics, which when paired with her oft-noted vulnerable vocal tone make for powerful emotional music, “Its all a metaphor, I believe in and love people, and that’s it. Blood and bones. I have a song, ‘Surface Area’ which represents that notion really well. I write in lots of different styles, I produce cheesy pop and dance, I write top lines on other producers backing tracks, I write songs on my own with a piano.”
Frank and personable, speaking with a warm Northern accent, Saint Saviour exudes the confidence of a woman well-educated in her field with the drive and ambition to succeed, but how much, I wonder, of her stage presence and charisma is learned skill and how much of the artist comes home from the stage? Vulnerability, public passion and adrenaline rushes combined with the intoxicating occupational hazards of the fame game can be dangerous things to young artists if they don’t have a grounding influence to come back to when the lights go down, as the Winehouses and Lohans of this world have demonstrated viscerally. “Saint Saviour is a magnified version of me. I’m very lucky to be able to indulge her. I’m very shy when I don’t know people, but after a while, she comes creeping out and everyone knows about it. My Dad used to say when I was little, ‘Oh, now you’re showing everyone your true colours are you?!’ I was usually found stabbing someone with a pencil or playing recorder to the dog down the street. I’m not a total philistine though, I can control myself to a certain extent!”
With her first solo single release 10 days away (Woman Scorned, available on Euphonios Records from October 11th) Saint Saviour shows no sign of compromising her integrity or slowing her creative out-put, “I’d like to collaborate with some dark electronic peeps like Trentemoller, The Knife, Royksopp, Valgeir Sigurdsson, to make some haunting ghost music.”
Now’s The Only Time I Know – Fever Ray. Big fan of hers, she has a way of cutting the crap and making the simplest stuff really touching.
In This Shirt – The Irrepressibles. Another unsung band. Fabulous music.
Skeletons (acoustic version) by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I downloaded it from a blog and nearly floated out of my window. It’s so fragile it melted me.
Spanish Sahara by Foals. I never normally get on bandwagons but god-damnnnnnn this is brilliant, and transcendental to hear live.
Independent Kill – a mash up of ‘Independent Bitches’ by Candi Redd and ‘In For the Kill’ by Major Laser. I cant get enough of this tune, it should be ‘Bad Feminist UK’s theme tune.
Saint Saviour’s first single, Woman Scorned, is available from October 11th and you can catch her live at Bush Hall on October 23rd.