Interview: Saint Saviour

Lisa Jenkins speaks to Saint Saviour.

Posted on Dec 5th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, Saint Saviour / By Lisa Jenkins
Saint Saviour Saint Saviour – aka Becky Jones is still unsigned, but causing serious waves in the indie music scene. She has been on the radar since her stint as singer with Groove Armada on their Black Light album. Now a solo artist in her own right, her music is eclectic, haunting, and her vocal range is in no uncertain terms quite astonishing. Bearded caught up with her to hear the story behind her cover of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and just how hard it is to go it alone in the music industry these days. Watch out for Ms Jones, because you will be hearing a lot more from her in the coming year.

Bearded: How are you and your voice doing after that horrible cold?

Saint Saviour: It’s alright, thank you. It wasn’t so much of a cold, it was just I hadn’t sang for a long time and I practised too much to warm up and my voice just broke. I’ve been making my album, so I’ve been doing programming and mixing and stuff and I haven’t sang for ages.

What do you do in situations like that? How do you look after it?

I drink like a gallon of water a day and stuff like that, but sometimes you’ve just gotta rest. I don’t really believe in all the cold and cough remedies.

Your vocal range is impressive. Is it something you’ve always had?

Not really, no. I did a lot of training and specialised in ‘The Voice’ on my music degree and it was all very much biological study of voice. So I learned the muscles and cartilages inside out and I find it endlessly fascinating and I’ve been a singing teacher, myself. I find that understanding the way the voice works, from the inside out, on a basic level, is really helpful. You have to work out how to look after it, as well.

You play so many other instruments, as well. So music is something which comes natural to you. What instruments, other than your voice, are your favourites to work with?

I don’t play that many instruments, but I do produce. So when I record a song, I’ll record the drums by programming them electronically and doing the guitar parts by programming them with synthesizers and stuff like that. So I don’t actually play loads of instruments, but I guess I’m quite good at arranging stuff, from so many years of experience. I can write for strings and stuff, as well, but I’d say piano. With piano, you can make sound very pure and simple as possible, or you can go completely crazy and put effects on it and trigger other sounds with it. So it’s definitely the most adaptable instrument.

Going back to your vocal coaching, what drew you to that line of work?

It’s just basically the only way to make money, because I don’t make any money from my music and I didn’t want to go into a normal 9-to-5. I just wanted to do anything to do with music, so I started teaching music as soon as I graduated. I had to stop teaching once I started touring, because I couldn’t be around any more. But I sometimes still do teach because I really, really enjoy working with young people. I miss when I don’t do it, so I still do it now and again.

From that, a vocal coach has a mentoring role. Do you think people today are mentored properly in the music business?

I think it differs from one person to another. I think there are lots of courses in music education and there’s lots of amazing teachers. Music is a cool thing to do and it’s something that cool kids want to do and you can be really urban with it and be really trendy or go there’s classical schools where it’s more based on grades and practise and scales and things like that. But in both areas, there are irresponsible mentors who don’t teach things properly or give the wrong ideas to students. For example, some people make out that the music industry is easy, but it absolutely isn’t.

You’ve just got to be the most incredibly hard-working person and incredibly positive, because you’ve got to see through everything that’s being thrown at you and see the light at the end of it. It takes a strong person to see that. Some people have no idea and don’t prepare people properly for that kind of thing.

You have fans like The Hurts and Neil Tennant from The Pet Shop Boys. Is it important for you to respect your peers?

Actually, that’s the most important thing to me. Apart from keeping my fanbase happy, the most important thing is to leave a legacy when I’m gone [laughs]. Not in a celebrity way or a fame way, but that’s why I do this. I want to be respected and counted among people who are just brilliant at what they do.

Can you tell us a bit of the story about why you covered ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’?

I’m a big fan of Joy Division and New Order and everything to do with the whole Manchester thing. So when I heard that 'Control' was being released, I was running a choir at the time. So I thought it would be really exciting would to perform Joy Division songs in cinemas. I got thumbs-up from cinemas like The Ritz and the Rio, in Dalston, who said ‘Yeah, you’re welcome to do it’.

I wrote a choir arrangement of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and the way I write choir arrangements - I record all of the harmonies, so my choir can learn it by ear; because my choir are not musicians. They can sing a tune, but they don’t read music, so I have to record the parts for them. I recorded the song, then somebody sent it to Radio 1 and it was played on Radio 1. So, basically, I didn’t mean to record it, it was just for the choir, but it ended up being played and then people said ‘You should release it’. Without thinking for a second ‘Oh no, you shouldn’t touch this song’. To be honest, I think that’s a silly way at looking at things.

Looking at reviews of your music and stage shows, they are often mentioned as being ‘haunting’. Can you talk about your stage shows and performing live?

Performing live’s my favourite thing. It’s therapeutic and is just a way for me to bring everything to ahead. Because, when you’re stuck in a recording studio, sometimes I don’t see someone for like three days. Also - because you’re on your own - it’s not like a working environment where you can’t turn to one of your colleagues and say ‘What do you reckon to this?’ So playing live is where I get the feedback from people. Immediate feedback, as well. You can tell when something’s working and when something isn’t.

I find it really exciting; it’s like doing therapy. I love being near people and having a close feeling of energy and being shared and transmitted, which is why my favourite gigs are the small ones and the audience are right near you. With Groove Armada, we played these huge headline festivals where the audience are behind this barrier, about 10metres away and it’s completely weird and it doesn’t feel like a real gig. I love the sweaty carnage that happens in these tiny London venues.

At the moment you’re still unsigned. What are your plans, in regard to releasing an album?

Well on 12th November, I launched a campaign with PledgeMusic. What happened was, I set myself a target of an amount of money that I needed to raise, to be able to make the album. I was quite nervous ‘cause I didn’t know what would happen. I launched it at midnight on Saturday and over the course of the Sunday, it hit its target - in literally 24 hours, which shocked us all.

What it means is now I’m stuck with a massive pile of stuff that I’ve got to get out to people [laughs]. They can buy things like t-shirts and things, as well as the CDs and I haven’t even had the designs done. So I’ve got a designer at the moment designing my t-shirts and that kind of thing, so I can start getting it out to people. But the thing about Pledge is that you don’t actually release [through them], so what I need to think about is - as soon as the album’s finished, in about a month - how to release. Because it’s tricky to release in December, I’m going to release it in Spring. I still don’t know how I’m gonna release it, because I haven’t started approaching people yet, but I’m on the market, ready to go.

Because you’re always portrayed as someone who doesn’t conform, how hard is it for you in the music business?

It’s unbelievable. It’s really, really difficult, because you do just have to do everything yourself. To be honest, I’ve accepted in my heart that I am going to be doing this on my own, for the rest of my career. Nowadays, you’re more likely to go anywhere if you’ve got everything completely covered yourself. So you’ve got to have an album done, already made. There’s no such thing as development any more. It’s like the goal post has just completely changed and you do your development in front of the world. They see you getting better and better or worse, in some cases.

It’s expensive - it’s really expensive - and I think that’s one of the things that shocks people, as well. To make an album, to get it mixed, to get it mastered, to get it duplicated, to get the artwork done, then to somehow get it into shops; every single step of the way, it’s expensive. I think, actually, the expensive part is actually the most difficult thing. Because I think some people think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna hold out, for a record label to say “I’ll pay for all that”,’ but actually a lot of people will be shocked at how much money record labels have actually got.

I’m not one of those bitter musicians that think ‘Oh, I’m not signed. Why won’t anyone sign me? Why is that person getting signed and I’m not?’ I had an epiphany a couple of years ago and just thought: ‘I feel sorry for record labels’. Because the industry’s just in a complete state and I don’t think anyone knows what’s going on or how it can be solved. I think the only thing you can do is - from the indies, to the majors, to people like me - is just be positive, look forward and get on with it.

If I could change one thing about my career, I would have made my first album when I was 18. For a long time, when I was trying to get somewhere in music, I had this dream in mind that the way to make an album is to get a record label to fund you and support you. If I had only started making albums when I was a kid, I wonder what I would have done now. I look at people like Robyn, and I think Robyn is a really amazing example of a strong woman in music, [who’s] doing it for herself. [She’s] making the music she wants to make and she’s a Pop artist who’s really credible, because she’s independent, she’s strong and she’s cool.

What do you of a pop artist like Lady Gaga - who’s very commercial and is doing it her way - but took years to make it, after being dropped and signed over again?

I think she’s absolutely amazing. Even though she’s huge [now], she has been through the mill and it takes someone will real balls of steel. It would have been even harder for her, because she’s being dropped from a much greater height. She signed to Def Jam and that must have been the most amazing thing and then to just be dropped by them, it must be much more painful than someone at my level having a smaller knock-back. To have the courage to carry-on anyway, when you feel like this major label doesn’t think you’re good enough, is amazing. Hats off to her.

Do you think it’s more difficult for women? Is it still a very male-dominated industry, where women have to work twice as hard to get where they want?

When I think of women in music, I think of the DJs and the writers and the executives - not just the artists. I’ve read a lot like the uproar that there wasn’t a single female DJ in the ‘Top 100 DJs’ in DJ Magazine, because you’ve got people like Annie Mac and loads of female DJs and they weren’t even in the ‘Top 100 DJs’ and I think that’s ridiculous. Stuff like that is outrageous, but I think that sometimes women are their own worst enemies because they’re such bitches to each other and one example is Julie Burchill slagging off Jo Whiley and I think ‘What the hell? You’re not doing yourself any favours, at all’. Jo Whiley handled it really well, but it’s nasty and women can be such bitches.

Finally, for people who don’t know much about you yet, where can people get a chance to check out all of your stuff?

I’ve got a gig coming up with Gaydar Radio on 11th December at Low Profile, in Soho. That’ll be a really stripped-back acoustic gig, but then I’m not really doing that many gigs because my voice isn’t actually on top form, at the moment, because I’m just not singing that often. I’m just focusing entirely on the album, because as soon as you start doing gigs, you get so distracted, and I need to completely focus on just finishing the album once and for all. I mean, it’s going to have about 16/17 songs on it [so] it’s taking a lot of work.