Twenty-year-old Narberth singer-songwriter Jodie Marie has been hailed by music critics as the brightest new star for 2012. Compared to female luminaries such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell, her sound is wonderfully retrospective with a lush blend of country and folk. Her forthcoming debut album, Mountain Echo, has been four years in the making but Jodie is still cutting her teeth on the live circuit. ‘I played only my second gig with a full band this week,’ she tells me, rather excitedly. ‘I was really nervous but thoroughly enjoyed it.’ So, how did this Pembrokeshire girl graduate from A-level student to Wales’ most talked about songstress?
For those not familiar with the story, please tell us how you got your first big break in the music industry.
A guy called Roy Langely was staying at a B&B in Narberth and the landlady overheard him talking to someone else about his son working in the music industry (Toby Langely of Transgressive Records). My dad, a plumber, was working at the B&B at the time and the landlady knew I was a singer, so she asked my dad to bring a CD of mine from home so Roy could hear it and then pass it onto his son. After that, I headed to London at sixteen to begin writing and recording.
Your dad seems to have been pivotal in your early career then?
He did help, what with him being a plumber (laughs). I’m kidding - my dad’s been really supportive with my music. Both my parents have helped loads and they’ve shaped my music tastes growing up. I remember when I was younger and not being able to drive – my mum and dad would always give me lifts to gigs. Just little things like that helped loads.
When was the first time you performed in front of an audience?
I’d performed at Eisteddfods from a young age, but my first gig on my own was at the age of seven supporting a choir in the local town hall. They let me have a solo slot halfway through their concert and I remember being completely petrified as I kept ruffling my brown velvet dress whilst I was singing to try and calm myself! It doesn’t sound like it, but looking back I did enjoy it.
You seem to have more of interest in older artists rather than the pop charts. Did you not listen to the top 40 growing up?
I did listen to the top 40 sometimes but not often. All my friends in school had different music tastes, both old and new, so I didn’t feel completely on my own.
It must have been difficult, as a teenager, travelling back and forth from Narberth to London to record?
It was difficult because I was still at school studying for my A-levels. I missed my friends and family a lot and trying to revise whilst recording wasn’t easy. I was determined to do well on both fronts - I was so pleased when I did.
How did you feel the first time you walked into a recording studio?
I felt like a rabbit in the headlights and initially just sat on a couch completely silent. I didn’t know who (former Suede guitarist and producer) Bernard Butler was at first but he came up to me and said, ‘shall we try a song?’ I asked if we could record one of my own songs at first but he suggested we start with a cover. He said, ‘sing anything you want’ so I sang Bonny Raitt’s cover of Guilty. After that, we began working on one of my own songs, Single Blank Canvas.
So Bernard was quite easy to get along with?
Showing your songs to someone else can feel awkward sometimes but Bernard made me feel comfortable and he’s really easy to work with, as is (producer) Ed Hardcourt. I love Ed’s studio, you can hardly move in there because it’s full of so many different instruments. Both Bernard and Ed inspire me a lot.
The majority of your debut album, Mountain Echo, is recorded live. That must have been pretty daunting?
A lot of music I listened to growing up, the older stuff, was recorded live so I wanted to emulate that sound – the sort of sound you’d hear at a gig. It doesn’t take that long to get it right, especially when you’re working with such brilliant musicians. In saying that though, even when you think you’ve got it right, the bass player might say, ‘sorry, I missed one of the notes on the second verse!’
Some of your songs, like Mountain Echo, are born out of tragedy. How would describe the mood of the album?
That particular track, you’re right, was born out of tragedy. Ed and I recorded it after he’d heard about his friend Mark Linkous (from Sparklehorse) dying. It resulted in us writing something sad yet beautiful and at times that mood does run through the album, but there are some happy songs on there as well.
As a new artist, you’ve been compared to a number of different musicians. What’s been the oddest comparison so far?
Joni Mitchell and Carole King come up often but I haven’t heard anything too unusual yet. Come to think of it, I did read something the other day that compared me to (American singer-songwriter) Cat Power. That was a little odd.
I’ve read that you’re a lover of the outdoors.
That’s true. I love the sea and going surfing, although I’m not very good at it.
There can’t be much call for surfing in London?
(Laughs) definitely not! When I’m back in Wales, I like to go cliff jumping and take my two huskies for long walks.
Maybe Cat Power goes cliff jumping and that’s where the journalist drew the comparison with you?
(Laughs) that might be true, I’ll look into it.
Finally, what are your ambitions for this year?
I’m really excited about releasing my debut album and playing live as often as I can. I’ll be booked in for a few support slots but if all goes well then hopefully I’ll have my own headline tour to look forward to. I’ve got a headline line show at Bush Hall in London on May 17th – I can’t wait!
Jodie Marie’s debut album, Mountain Echo, is out now.
Michael Took was asking the questions.