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Arts & Culture

One Woman Band Joan Armatrading Releases 22nd Album

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

She is a commander of the British Empire, a critically acclaimed singer and songwriter. And at the age of 70, she's out with her 22nd studio album. If you don't know her name, maybe her singular voice will clue you in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATURAL RHYTHM")

JOAN ARMATRADING: (Singing) We've got natural rhythm. We laugh at the same time. We've got skin to skin. We've got heart to heart. We are not star-crossed, but we are lovers (ph).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. It is the inevitable Joan Armatrading, who joins me now from London. Welcome.

ARMATRADING: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we get into the music, for this album, you wrote. You arranged. You played all the instruments. You recorded yourself and engineered the mixing. You've been doing most of these things by yourself for the past few decades, a sort of one-woman band. Is it hard to give so much of yourself over to a creation like this? Or is it something that you actually enjoy? You need that kind of control?

ARMATRADING: No. It's not control. It's just - I mean, ever since I started writing, I've known what the song should be. So this part of what I'm doing isn't new. This is how my first album was. I worked with a producer. But the songs and the way the structure and the stuff you're hearing is what I did. I didn't rely on the producer or the musicians to make the song become the song you know. I'm the person who's written it. So I think it's my job to know those things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let me ask you this. I mean, that sounds like a very solitary process in some ways because you are doing so much. You know, I've heard musicians talk about how, you know, for them their journey might be more collaborative, or they work with one specific person, and they have a kind of back and forth and synchronicity. But what I'm hearing from you is that really it is something that just comes from you, from your soul, from your sort of musical inspiration.

ARMATRADING: Yeah. I'm not a back-and-forth person, really. I write alone. I'm not writing a song and hoping that I can hook up with somebody else to help me write a song. I think I can manage that. I'm not being kind of pigheaded, or I know everything about it. It's just that that's what I do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLORIOUS MADNESS")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) This is a glorious madness. This is madness of the heart. You got me whirling on a moonlit planet the shape of of a blue marble (ph).

All I'm doing is writing songs that I like and being the only way I know to be. I mean, when I started writing, I never learnt other people's songs. I didn't start by learning a whole stack of songs and playing along to records and things. Like, that's not how I started. I started by just writing my own stuff. I think probably, that's why I'm the way I am.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What gave you that very clear sense of yourself? Because I think many people would struggle with that.

ARMATRADING: I don't know. I only know me, you know? I only know - this is what I know. This is how I am. I don't have any trouble with being me (laughter). I don't - it doesn't feel that confidence to me. It just feels like me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO BE LOVED")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) You melt my heart like ice cream in the sun. You make the best great times. I wonder how I ever found you against all odds. To be loved...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about what these songs are, because they are - actually, a lot of them - love songs and very in-love songs. You know, a lot of them even sound like someone falling in love for the first time. I'm thinking of lyrics like, you melt my heart like ice cream in the sun. I'm floating on air. I'll tell you my secret. While you were falling in love, I was already there. I mean, a lot of these lyrics are actually giddy. And especially coming out of the past 18 months, there's a lot of joy here. Can you tell me, you know, what inspired that?

ARMATRADING: Most of my songs are written from observation. So for instance, one of the songs on the album is called "To Anyone Who Will Listen." And I read in this magazine there was this chap who's a depressive. And he was saying that he didn't want people to necessarily help him. He didn't want them to action something. He just wanted them to listen and just let him tell how he was feeling. Just sit down. Don't say anything. Don't do anything. Just listen to what I'm saying. And I really felt for him. I kind of - you know, I thought that was quite powerful. So it made me write "To Anyone Who Would Listen."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) The chance to tell my story heals this blue heart...

A couple of weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey had that program called The Me You've Never Seen or something like that - The Me You Don't Know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: About mental health.

ARMATRADING: Yeah, the mental health. And Lady Gaga goes on there. And she said exactly the same thing as this chap in the article. She said, people with those kind of mental issues need people to listen. She said people will sometimes do things. But they're doing things without listening to you. So it's like a vacuum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to listen now to "A Better Life."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A BETTER LIFE")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) All you want for everyone is a better life, a better life. All you want from love is the best love, the best love. And all you want from me is what I have to give.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that this has nothing to do with the pandemic, but, you know, all art is influenced by the moment in which it is released into the world. And this is about life being short. Tell me about this song and what this is about for you.

ARMATRADING: It's not about life being short in a negative way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No.

ARMATRADING: What it's saying is you're not on this Earth - even if you live to be 100 to 110 - even to be 200, it's still a very short time to be on the Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A BETTER LIFE")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) Made it once the best (ph). All you have to be is a love junkie, love junkie. Change can heal the world.

This is a song that's very much the way I think. I'm a very positive, a very up person. It's nice to be a love junkie. It's nice to be caring. So it's really me talking about things that I think are quite important. And the shortness of life is just - it's short. Just enjoy it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you call this album "Consequences." And there is a song by that name. Let's let's hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONSEQUENCES")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) I see your message on the whiteboard. I got your telephone call. When you decide on your choices, think of the consequences. Think of the consequences.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think a small thing that's happened that's led to a big thing in your life is - what has been a consequence of something?

ARMATRADING: My mom decided that she wanted to have a piano as a piece of furniture. She wasn't thinking of anybody playing it. I don't think she even thought of anybody playing it. She just thought it was a great piece of furniture. But this is what happened. When the guys were bringing the piano in - I can see them now. They were bringing the piano in. They brought it in, ut it in the front room. And as they're bringing it in and putting it down by the wall, I'm lifting the lid and playing the piano because I was just, you know, excited to see this thing arrive. And as soon as it arrived, I started writing songs.

So the consequence of my mom thinking, I love this piece of furniture - let me get it - that's what - this is a 50-year career - next year, 50 years doing it. And the consequence of my mom, when I asked her if I could have a guitar because my dad used to play the guitar - he wouldn't let me touch it. He would hide it. And I saw this guitar in the pawn shop. And I said, you know, can I have it? And she said, well, if they'll swap it for two old strollers, you can have it. And that's how I got my first guitar. And again, my mom is the catalyst, if you like, of this career. So little acts that she's doing that she doesn't even have a clue they're going to end up like this - that's a pretty cool consequence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pretty cool consequence.

ARMATRADING: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's also going to make me a better mother now, I think, thinking about that.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Joan Armatrading. Her new album is called "Consequences." And you can hear her perform live from London on Saturday, July 31, 2021 on Vimeo. Thank you very much. What a pleasure.

ARMATRADING: My pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONSEQUENCES")

ARMATRADING: (Singing) Don't give me drama and emotion. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.