Rumer talks new “post-honeymoon” album and taking on classic love songs by Karen Carpenter and Dionne Warwick - Interview
Given Rumer's long standing connection with Burt Bacharach and Hal David - the men behind this incredible list of soul classics largely released in the '50s and '60s - recording an album of select tracks from his songbook seemed inevitable.
The collection - called This Girl's In Love - features a mix of their best known and forgotten gems, including songs originally by Cilla Black, Karen Carpenter, Dionne Wawick and Shirley Bassey. It was recorded with her husband Rob Shirakbari, who has served as Bacharach and Warwick's musical arranger/director for 30 years.
"I think it’s a beautiful album," Rumer told us when we phoned her up for a chat. "I’ve done my best, Rob’s done his best, we’ve put out heart and soul in it and gave it 100%. I hope people like it.”
One thing that struck us is that there’s a lot more to it that you’re standard covers album. For one thing, you worked with your husband Rob, who’s worked for years with the original composers of these songs…
"Rob spent so long working with Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick that it's become so natural for him to touch their material. When he puts his hands on the piano, it’s all there. He’s spent so much time traveling the world playing everywhere - theatres, parks, even palaces! - with them. He has a real reverence, respect and love not just for the music, but the people involved, and I think that comes through in the arrangements. The thing is, in the back of his mind, he actually knows what Burt would do - for many, many years that was his job, to do arrangements for him over 30 years.”
You’ve picked songs from the Hal/Bacharach catalogue to cover, which is pretty extensive. How did you even begin to decide what to record?
“We spent a lot of time organically going through the material thinking, how are we going to do this? How are we going to do our version of this? We wanted to showcase a variety of songs of their and also styles of music.
“What you want to do is a beautiful arrangement of something, but you also want to respect the greatness of the original. There’s a reason why the original was great. Obviously there are some songs here you can’t really improve on, but for example, on What The World Needs Now, I think our arrangement is really beautiful. I think it’s more emotional that the original."
Were there any songs that were strictly off limits?
“I Say A Little Prayer was definitely off limits. Walk On By should have been, but towards finishing the album, I looked at the list of songs and thought there weren’t enough that people know, so we added a well-known one. If it was up to me, it’d be all obscure ones, so I had to put my A&R hat on and added it at the last minute. It should be untouchable though.”
Songs like What The World Needs Now and Walk On By so familiar and ingrained into the music landscape. How do you not copy them?
“I just didn’t listen to them that much. Just once or twice, and then I had Rob teach me the song. Interpreting a song is a skill that I’m learning. In the modern music industry there’s a kind of disdain for singing other peoples’ music, which I think is bizarre – people like Dusty Springfield or Karen Carpenter and Linda Ronstadt were interpreters, and there’s a real skill in that. I started learning how to do it on Boys Don’t Cry and I’m still learning now.
“Me and Rob would sit around in a very domestic situation – he’s sitting at the keyboard, I’m washing the dishes. We would look at each song and ask what was going on. Like on Look Of Love, she’s saying ‘I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you…' She’s anticipating the contact, so where are they? We decided they were in a restaurant like a scene in a movie, and she’s going off in a daydream with all these thoughts and feelings about this man she’s with, so we arranged the song and created an atmosphere to that. That’s why there’s an accordion in there – we thought if they were in a restaurant, there might be someone playing an accordion somewhere in the background.”
The album's called This Girl’s In Love; is that in reference to you recent marriage to Rob? This is the first album you’ve worked on together since tying the knot…
"I think it’s that – that post-honeymoon record. We’re doing the record together and it’s very much an equal project. I couldn’t have done it without him, it would have sounded mediocre. It’s not a big budget project. The reason it sounds expensive is because Rob did it all, including playing the instruments and arranging the strings. He worked his arse off.
“The other secret reason is also that I really was falling in love with Hal's music as we put the album together. Halfway through recording I said to Rob, ‘I think I love Hal so much’. I was studying his music, studying his thoughts, quirks and opinions on the world… and I just love him."
You met Rob through his connection to Dionne Warwick, where you performed at a gala in her honour. Was it inevitable that her song Walk On By would make the album?
“Probably, but it’s also just such a great song, isn’t it? There are some songs that Hal writes where the female characters are really submissive and weak, and other time when they’re really sassy. I think he learnt a lot about women from Dionne and how to write for real women like her.”
You’ve previously said you didn’t think you could make this album a few years ago. Why?
“I don’t think I could have made it a few years ago because the songs are for a more mature person. I think this kind of thing is not for kids. You need to have a lot of professional singing, studio and performing experience… even I don’t have enough really. I don’t think it’s something you can do in your twenties. A lot of the stories behind the songs and things that happened to older people. You need a maturity and you have to have been there.”
You’re playing your first live show in a couple of years in October; are there plans to ramp up the touring schedule again or are you keeping it more manageable?
"I’m always nervous! I’m always nervous. I don’t think we’re going to tour this record though - I don’t know, we’re not sure. I’m feeling very creative at the moment with my writing. I think this one might the only show I do for this album, then I’ll go into my creative place and write. When you’re feeling creative you have to go into that space. I’ve got to get back into it as soon as possible, really."
Rumer releases This Girl's In Love: A Bacharach And David Songbook on October 21 via East West/Warner Music. She plays London's Cadogan Hall on October 17.