American woman - Estelle interview
We cath up with one busy lady prior to her UK tour
When UK R&B tyke Estelle packed her bags and headed for NYC it was assumed she was selling out. She did, as Mark Robertson finds, but not quite as expected
Estelle is a busy lady. It takes three weeks, three reschedules and three attempts at a transatlantic phone call to finally get a word with her.
‘Yeah man, its been promo city lately’ she giggles from a room in the heart of her US label Atlantic’s head office in her recently adopted home town of New York. The day we speak is her anniversary.
‘I moved here a year ago today! I should be celebrating. Although I think we are just working.’
The move, far from being her turning her back on the UK scene that supported her and nurtured her debut album and top 20 single, ‘1980’, was purely for practical reasons.
‘I moved here when I got signed in America as it was easier to do conference calls without being woken up due to time differences. If I had stayed in the UK I would still be working with these same people around me, I would still have John with me. He was the one who brought a lot of the folks together.’
The John she refers to is John Legend, the multi-platinum selling American soul singer and the man who put pen to paper in signing Estelle to his own Homeschool Records label in conjunction with Atlantic. The genesis of the pair’s relationship has been a tale frequently told but bears repeating: a chance meeting with Kanye West at an LA chicken and waffle restaurant saw Estelle front up to West and ask him to arrange a meeting with Legend for her, and when the two finally did meet they clicked musically with Legend ending up executive producing her new album, Shine, which was released in the spring.
‘It’s just a lot of creative chemistry that works, it’s nothing too hard or laboured. It’s a great business relationship where we agree or disagree and we keep moving. He gets where my head is at. He understands some kinds of music and if not, then I educate him and if I don’t get it, he educates me. It’s great to have someone who is not you, but who kinda could be you, who can give you a reference point.’
For many people, the chart topping single ‘American Boy’, which hit number one in the UK and US earlier this year, was their first exposure to the 28-year-old singer, and where her debut 18th Day was very much her growing up and getting steady on her feet, Shine is her spreading her wings.
Collaborations with Legend, West, Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am, Swizz Beatz and others on the album give her sound a sheen and an American pop/hip hop clarity that few others could attain. Importantly though, it never sounds anything less than her own. More than Winehouse, Duffy, Adele or whoever else, she is in possession of some soulful pipes but not stuck consciously aping the classics. Estelle has the R&B sheen, but underneath, the Ghanaian-Londoner remains feisty and true. And aside from an unashamed addiction to Ribena – the one thing she fills her case with when returning Stateside – she is a rare thing: a credible transatlantic proposition.
Estelle plays ABC, Glasgow, Mon 9 Jun.