March 16, 2010
It is such a great honor that I was able to interview Lou Hickey, one of the lead singers of the fresh, new band Codeine Velvet Club. Along with Jon Lawler of The Fratellis, Lou Hickey has created a fresh sound for her band that brings in the great qualities of lounge & rock music, giving us a sense of nostalgia and recognition of a unique sound. Their debut album, released in December of 2009, has already been met with critical acclaim despite its limited release thus far (US release date is April 6, 2010) and they are currently on tour to give us all the gift of their music.
But we should expect no less from Lou, a quickly-emerging artist who has made a name all by herself thus far. With two EPs released in true Do-It-Yourself fashion & a reputation at places like the famous Club Noir, Lou truly stands out from her contemporaries while showcasing her spunky style & sassy sound. As a big fan, I know all too well what Lou Hickey has to offer and with her first studio album due out this year, the world will quickly know as well.
So you’re gearing up for your first tour of the United States with Codeine Velvet Club. How does it feel?
I’m pretty excited! The music scene is far broader in the States so hopefully they’ll get us. I’ve got a lot of family & friends state side as well so it will be great to see them & play some shows.
You’re stopping off in Texas, Washington, Oregon, & California. Anything in particular you want to do while you visit those areas?
I think there will be a fair bit of partying in Austin! Getting my new tattoo in LA as well which will be a nice way to mark the trip. I’m also going by Stop Staring Clothing since I wear their dresses.
Before this tour, you recently opened for John Mayer in the United Kingdom. What was that like?
It was great! It was a really nice, music-appreciating crowd and we played some fantastic venues. Loved every minute of it! [John Mayer] told me I looked like Ashley Simpson too!
That sounds great! What tattoo are you going to get?
I don’t want to say quite yet in case I change my mind, but I’m getting it on my wrist. I wanted something to look at to calm me down at crazy times, when things get tough, et cetera. All my tattoos have a purpose or memory attached to them. With all that’s going on with the band, I thought it would be exciting to get this one on our first trip stateside.
So with all that is going on with the band, how do you think the ride with Jon Lawler has been so far?
[Laughs] It’s been an education! Always good having someone around who has got the experience in this business we call music.
How do the live shows with the band differ than live shows just by yourself?
As a solo artist, my live show is still a work in progress. I’m still trying to get things just the way I want it and trying to get out from behind the piano a bit more. With CVC, it has worked from the word go. Polished, perfected, and a real stage show! It’s a bit more Rock ‘N Roll than my solo shows too.
Besides your electrifying version of The Stone Roses’ “I Am The Resurrection” that’s on your debut album, are you incorporating any other covers into your live sets or perhaps songs from Jon’s “other” band?
Recently we’ve been doing a pretty cool version of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” Amazingly fun to play live!
What other songs are amazingly fun to play live with the band?
I love “Time” and “I Would Send You Roses.” Great tracks to do live. So much energy. We all just get lost in it.
What would you say are the favorite songs with the fans then?
Probably “Hollywood” & “Vanity Kills.”
Those were the two lead-off singles from your album. Could you give us any insight as to what they’re about or how they evolved?
“Vanity Kills” was originally an idea Jon & I were working on for my record. Jon had sent me over the general track/riff. I started working on a melody and lyrics. It was a really easy writing process for us both. The lyrics weren’t really pre-conceived; it just kind of came out. I guess the lyrics are about the downside of fame, realizing there’s more to life, et cetera. “Hollywood” was written by Jon. It’s funny though how the lyrical content of both songs, though written completely independently, deal with the same ideas of fame, vanity, and so on.
You kind of touched on this, but how did Jon & yourself end up getting together in a musical setting?
As I mentioned, we were originally writing a track for my own album. That track was “Vanity Kills.” It was pretty effortless so we decided to see what else we could do and so Codeine Velvet Club was born.
What were your thoughts on his music before getting together?
I really loved Costello Music. There were these vintage undertones that really appealed to me.
Were you okay with putting your planned solo album debut on hold to work with him on this?
Absolutely! I love the music we have created and I love performing with it. It was also good to get a break from my solo stuff. I can get a little lost in my own head with it so it was great to take a break, do something new, & come back with a fresh perspective.
Where did the name Codeine Velvet Club come about?
I really have no idea! My only contribution was the word Velvet. I guess it’s got some interesting imagery though.
I’ve heard some remarks about a “dress code” in the band. Could you shed some light on that?
[Laughs] Well, being a burlesque performer, I have always been aware that the image can enhance the over-all performance. I was always going to wear fabulous dresses so the boys had no choice but to keep up! [Laughs] I guess it wouldn’t be right to play this music in jeans & a t-shirt though.
How did you guys take winning Most Stylist Band at the Scottish Style Awards last year?
Well, I took to drinking the champagne by myself as none of the boys went! It was really a great compliment though & great publicity for the band. I’m also enjoying all the fashion events I get invited to now!
That reminds me – how was Fashion Week?
Fashion Week was brilliant! One of my best friends, Lynne McCrossan who is a fashion writer, was with me. We had so much fun! On our last night in London, we were invited to the Pringle Of Scotland show. Most surreal night of my life! Tilda Swinton & Janet Jackson were sitting next to us and Courtney Love was across from me. I nearly died! So many amazing clothes!
That sounds great! Back to the band though, how would you describe the recording process with Jon and the rest of the band?
It was a really amazing experience. Having produced both my own EPs, it was nice to sit back a bit, relax, and let someone else do all the stressful stuff. Working with the orchestra was one of the most beautiful moments of my life; hearing the scores and songs take on a new form.
Were you & Jon listening to anything during the recording process that influenced some of your songs?
We are both a little lost in the past so we’ve been listening to the same stuff for years! The Beatles, The Kinks, Buddy Holly, & Peggy Lee.
How did you guys come about with the final album listing? Was it hard to drop songs where you had a major part like the sassy “Delight In Disorder” from the final cut?
I actually had no input on that. I would have loved for “Delight In Disorder” and “I Wish My Daddy” to be on the album, but we finished those tracks a little while after the album. Oh, well!
Are there any others you guys have written since the album was finished?
“I Wish My Daddy, Maguire,” & “Midnight Love Song” have all been written since the album was finished.
Hopefully we’ll see that stuff later on! However, the material you have released as an album has been met with a lot of critical acclaim. What’s your take on the public view of the album?
We’ve had a really positive response and it’s such a huge compliment. Hopefully we can get the radio support & exposure to push it further in the public eye.
Do you guys have a plan for the future such as another album or are you just taking it day-by-day at the time?
Just going with the flow. You can’t make real plans in this business I have learned this year. Things can change so quickly. You just have to go with it.
Now, I know you have two EPs from 2005 and 2007 under your belt, but how is your first solo album coming along?
It’s getting there! There have been a few complications recently. The Arts Council nearly took the money back off me! Things are a little mad & rushed at the moment, but I’m glad I put it on hold as I’ve been writing so much new material. I really can’t wait to get moving with it and hang out with my band. They are great people & very close friends so it’s always a riot when we get back together.
Could you describe your connection to The Arts Council: how did you first get the funding and why was it almost taken away?
In Scotland, you can apply for a recording grant which is what I did. I got accepted on first application which was a huge compliment. It’s a really great scheme for artists & musicians: gives them the opportunity to record & distribute your own material without a record label. Very Do-It-Yourself. You have to submit a recording plan, budget, time scale, and so on. Obviously with CVC taking off, my plans had to go on hold and I wasn’t going to meet the deadline. I’m having to rush the album now so I don’t lose the funding which isn’t ideal, but I don’t want to lose the opportunity. Most people at the Arts Council have been really understanding and doing everything they can to help. Others just care about forms getting filled in on time which isn’t ideal with the creative process. It’s going to be a mad few weeks, but I really want to get it done.
Well, I hope it comes out the way you want. It’s been several years since your last EPs. In hindsight, how do you look at those two?
I guess, when it’s artistic and personal, you always want it to be perfect. There are things I would like to re-do which is why a few tracks may get re-done for the new album. It’s all a learning experience. I’m proud of myself for going down the DIY route. It was seriously tough, but worth it.
Could you give us a hint about which songs might get re-done and perhaps in what-way?
I’m going to re-record “One Man Tango” as I always felt it was way too slow. On the maybe list are “A Lie, Starlight” & “Sympathy.” Never quite got them how I wanted.
How did those recordings come about seeing as you were unsigned?
My first EP was recorded as part of my final year at University as I was doing sound engineering and the like. I got free studio time through University and engineered & produced it myself. Hardest year of my life! My second EP I funded myself and called in some big favors from people. I’m lucky to know some really kind talented people.
What kind of style should we expect from the new album? More plucky numbers like “One Mango Tango” or explosive sounds like in “Vanity Kills?”
I guess a mix of both. I think my writing has changed a little, but that’s a natural progression I guess.
Will Jon have any participation in your album or will it just be a Lou Hickey project through and through?
Well, he still owes me a song!
Now, CVC’s album, like The Fratellis albums, was released on Island Records and as I mentioned, you were unsigned before CVC. Will you be appearing on Island Records or another label for your new album?
I’ve just got back to my solo stuff so I’m still currently unsigned, but I’m exploring all my options. This past year has really opened my eyes to the music industry so I want to take my time & find a label that is right for me. I think an Indie label might work better for me.
Well an Indie label might be best for you as I have heard you describe your sound as “Pop, burlesque, bitchy cabaret jazz.” How in the world do you come up with that?
[Laughs] Well, I used to call it “gay jazz” which was a personal joke with the band, but when you can’t do the jazz hands to accompany that phrase it gets taken the wrong way! I guess “Pop, burlesque, bitchy cabaret jazz” sums up all the little bits & pieces that make up my music.
I know everyone grows up listening to a variety of music, but do you think you could nail down some of your own influences that led to your personal style?
I grew up listening to a lot of jazz standards and I used to sing with big bands & jazz bands so I love all the classics like Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Etta James, & Cole Porter. I also love Buddy Holly. He’s one of my biggest influences. I love the old fashioned classic pop sounds as well like Del Shannon, The Beatles, Sam Cooke, & The Kinks.
We’re actually doing a countdown of The Beatles’ greatest songs over at the site. What would you say your favorite song is?
I love “Here, There And Everywhere” and “I’m Only Sleeping.” I feel a personal connection with that last one. I love sleeping!
Did you have any favorite for music recently? Maybe new music or re-discovered old gems?
I have to admit: I love Lady Gaga! I also like The Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand. Old gems, I’m in love with the music of Sam Cooke right now.
Have you gotten a chance to see Gaga’s new “Telephone” music video?
Yes! I actually watched it yesterday while at my brother’s in Orlando. It’s pretty crazy & very raunchy. I was quite shocked! Will probably have to get edited to the max to be shown in the UK though!
Any new works you’re looking forward to in this year?
I’m keen to hear Amy Winehouse’s new album.
You’re off to a good start already for the year having been voted Scotland’s Most Eligible Woman. How did you think about being given that unique title?
If I’m honest, I’m finding it a little odd. I mean, I am incredibly flattered, but I just didn’t think I’d make it that far up the list! It’s a lovely compliment though so I can’t complain.
After this tour in the US, do you have anything exciting coming up that you can share with us?
CVC have few festivals coming up, UK & abroad, so that’s exciting and hopefully some more tours. We also release our album in the USA through Dangerbird Records which I am very excited about. Personally, I will be slogging my guts out on my album and doing all the horrible stuff like sorting management, labels, publishing, et cetera. Just can’t wait to get the album moving though and get a few solo gigs sorted as well.
To wrap this up, you’ve been touring with CVC and doing the media rounds as well. What’s the funniest story you can tell us about your “fame” following CVC’s album?
I’m rubbish at questions like this! I know funny things happen, but I can never remember. One story I do remember, I was on the train back from London in the nice first class bit and was a little hung-over & tired. I was flicking through Glamour Magazine and saw myself as one of their top style tips for 2010! I was so excited because I love Glamour Magazine so I phoned my mum and I was like, “Mum, I’m one of Glamour’s top style tips for 2010!” As I looked around, I could see the woman across from me looking in confusion & disbelief because I was looking nothing like a style tip that day in my hung-over state. It was quite funny seeing the look on her face. Another time, I was outside a venue on my phone. This guy came up, asked me for my autograph, and I asked him if he was kidding! Oops!
Thanks so much for your time today, Lou.