Corinne Bailey Rae has grown up a lot since she implored us to ‘put your records on’ back in 2006. The 37-year-old Grammy-award winner has an expansive and eclectic new album, an enviable wardrobe of Isabel Marant and Miu Miu, and a sense of worldly wisdom that’s no doubt informed by the personal struggle of losing husband, Jason Rae, who died tragically in 2008.
Today, the Leeds-born singer-songwriter is speaking to The Style Report from a hotel room in Cornwall, where the first of her shows with Lionel Richie is taking place. It sounds a little less exotic than her recent trips across the US and to South Korea. ‘Cornwall isn’t a bad place to chill,’ she says.
Bailey Rae has just been record shopping, collecting old and new. ‘I really like to buy classic records and re-listen to those,’ she muses, name-checking Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Santigold’s 99¢ as her contemporary albums of choice. It’s this eclecticism that’s found its way into her latest album The Heart Speaks in Whispers, which silkily alternates between psych-soul, jazz-funk and guitar-pop.
‘It was really adventurous for me,’ she admits. ‘I wanted to open up to a subconscious, inner process.’ As the name suggests, the album centres on the heart, inspired by Bailey Rae’s research into Ancient Egyptian mythology. ‘The hieroglyph [for heart was] a heart-shaped vessel… it was the seat of the personality, where all your memories, dreams and reflections were,’ she explains. This concept presents itself in macro scale on Tell Me, an anthem for dreamers, and on a more personal level in tracks like Hey, I Won’t Break Your Heart, a lament to lost love.
Fittingly for this album, she wanted to take a personal approach to touring. ‘I wanted to do some small shows to reconnect with people,’ she says. Among the intimate venues there’s The Independent in San Francisco – ‘everyone’s crammed in there together and it has a really great atmosphere’ and New York’s Mercury Lounge, ‘a cool indie venue’. After a six-year hiatus, she’s reconnecting with fans. ‘I’ve been meeting people after the shows… Almost the whole audience has stayed to buy the record and have it signed.’
The album was recorded between Leeds and LA, starting at Bailey Rae’s home studio and ending up at Hollywood’s Capitol Records. ‘We were meant to stay there seven weeks and we ended up staying seven months,’ she says. The location afforded her the expertise of iconic musicians including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller, some of whom ended up playing on the album – as did her now-husband, producer Steve Brown. Off duty, she spent most of her time between Laurel Canyon and Studio City, hanging out with the bohemian set of musicians on LA’s soul-jazz-electro scene. Chateau Marmont is a favourite hangout of hers, too. It was there she caught up with friend and blogger Garance Doré. ‘It’s been really nice to get to know her over the years,’ she enthuses. ‘We first got together when I was at Paris fashion week.’
Talking of fashion, Bailey Rae speaks about the subject with the same confidence as she does music, citing her favourite designers with exactness. ‘I really like Duro Olowu,’ she says. ‘I really love his things. They’re really classically tailored [and made from] romantic fabrics from places I might not have ever been before.’ She has a weakness for Miu Miu, too. ‘The shapes are very classic… but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a sort of strangeness to it, a kind of surrealness, and an awareness of uniform.’
On a daily basis, she tends to reach for easy-to-wear essentials. ‘I like to think of life as an adventure,’ she says. ‘When I’m getting ready, I’m dressing for the adventure of the day. I like to feel my style is adaptable’. Lately, her go-to shoes are a pair of Marc Jacobs 1960s-inspired boots. ‘I wish I’d bought five pairs because I wear them all the time,’ she says wistfully. As with music, she approaches fashion as a means of self-expression: ‘It’s rare that I’m wearing all black. I like to express myself through colour.’
On stage, it’s exclusively jumpsuits. ‘What I’m doing on stage is really physical – I’m bending over and grabbing guitars and swapping them around,’ says Bailey Rae. ‘My favourite jumpsuit is by Isabel Marant. It’s silver, kind of like a space outfit.’ When travelling, she dons Vivienne Westwood separates – currently on rotation are a pair of blue, circle-print trousers – and packs Yon-Ka and Liz Earle skincare products, Rahua shampoo, argan oils, and a cashmere blanket. Now that’s what you call a grown-up tour bus.
Currently, she’s lusting after Gucci’s latest offering. ‘I think the last few collections have been really incredible,’ she says. ‘I love how romantic they are, how they’re influenced by Renaissance art and sculpture and embroidery.’ She’s already invested in some pieces and is planning to expand her collection. Bailey Rae is a woman after our own hearts.
The Heart Speaks in Whispers is out now.
The Heart Speaks in Whispers is out now.