It was thirteen years ago that Corinne Bailey Rae became a star. In 2006, the dulcet-toned singer shot to fame with her self-titled album that featured the irresistible hits “Put Your Records On” and “Like a Star.” With a caramel-laced voice, the Grammy-award winner produces genre-bending, jazzy, pop-infused R&B, the kind of music that sounds fantastic recorded but you just know will be even better live. And soon, we’ll get the chance to hear for ourselves.
On Friday, March 1, the singer from Leeds, England will take to the Maui stage at the MACC with guest Mike Love in a performance that promises to be authentic and responsive, covering her old hits as well as her newer, critically-acclaimed material. In 2016, she came out with her latest album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers. Bailey Rae has also channeled some of her creative artistry into music for film and television, including recording the opening title and soundtrack for Fifty Shades Darker.
In a conversation with Bailey Rae, we discussed her ventures into the ocean as a surfer, and how the audience shapes her performances. Ahead of our call, I couldn’t stop listening to her elegant Bob Marley cover, “Is This Love.” She called me from tour, at 8am on the dot, and greeted me in her British accent, thanked me for the early call, and came across as warm, kind, and authentic as we talked about her love of books, Childish Gambino, and getting tumbled by nature.
MAUITIME: You’re coming to Maui, your Hawai‘i debut! What brings you this way?
CORINNE BAILEY RAE: I have wanted to come to Hawai‘i for a really long time. We got this offer for Maui and O‘ahu, and I just thought it was a really good time to come to just experience the culture, the music, and the food, and I wanted to do some swimming, and maybe practice a little surfing. I started surfing a few years ago when I was in Los Angeles. I just really like the feeling of kind of being thrown around in the water, even just laying on the board is fun.
MT: Well, the water will definitely throw you around out here. Have you ever been to Hawai‘i?
CBR: No, it will be my first time. That’s why I’m really looking forward to it.
MT: I read that your father is from the Caribbean. Have you traveled out there?
CBR: I have, I’ve been there several times. My dad’s from St. Kitts. I’ve been to Antigua, St. Lucia – all the islands have a really specific feel. St. Kitt I think of as a family place; it’s really peaceful, it’s the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere. I think the island people are really proud; they have a beautiful way of life. Lots of fresh air and fresh food; it’s a really good place to fish and swim. I really like St. Kitts. I’d like to go there more often.
MT: You’re from England; do you think you’re more of a tropical person, or an Englander at heart?
CBR: I love England; I love the culture, the sense of humor, I love literary history. I’m really into reading, so it’s great to be somewhere that such great literature was produced. But I like warm weather. I find winter really hard after Christmas. I’m really happy to be out here in Los Angeles missing the English winter. I’m very happy about that.
MT: What can people expect at the show?
CBR: Because I haven’t played in Hawai‘i before, I want to play an overview of my records. I really want to give people a taste of what we do when we’re traveling. We like to play totally live; we don’t use a backup track, we really respond to the audience. If the audience is really enjoying it, we might let a song go on; if people are dancing, I might get in the audience and dance; or we might break down the band and have the audience sing along. It’s a very responsive show. I hate to feel that I’m just sort of in a production, and three songs in you use the best light, and this particular song plays. I really like there to be a lot of movement in the set. I like to feel free on stage. As much as people might know the music from listening to recordings or hearing it on the radio, I think seeing us live is a really different thing. It’s a band, it’s four of us, all the musicians sing as well. We have a good time, we love doing it, and we hope that the audience will come with us. They come with us on the journey.
MT: I think you’ll find Maui is a good audience. What songs have you enjoyed performing lately?
CBR: I love playing my old songs because I love seeing how people respond to them, so I always enjoy playing “Put Your Records On” and “Like a Star,” but I love playing songs from The Heart Speaks in Whispers as well because it’s newer to me. We love playing “Green Aphrodisiac” and “The Skies Will Break” because that tends to run on and turn into a party. I like to play emotional things, things that really engage. It’s all about finding the right time in the set, and the right moment, and the right mood.
MT: What music are you listening to right now?
CBR: I really like the band King, an L.A. band, twin sisters from Minneapolis. I like the Childish Gambino record that came out, I thought that was great. I like listening to old classic music. I’ve been listening to Music of My Mind by Stevie Wonder, and Bjork’s most recent album. I always keep up with her, I like her nature and mysticism outlook.
MT: Can you tell me about Mike Love?
CBR: I thought his style would really complement ours; I like people who play instruments, and write songs, and play soulful music. I’m actually hearing him for the first time live, so I look forward to that.
MT: What types of things do you do outside of music?
CBR: I like walking; I have to go outdoors every day. I live in Yorkshire, so it’s hilly and wild, and you get that sense of being knocked around by nature. I find that really vital. I find that engaging. I like to eat; an ideal night for me is sitting for two or three hours in a restaurant and catching up with friends. I love hearing about people’s lives, their version of it. I like to cook; I like to go out dancing. Friends are really important to me. As you can see, on tour I spend a lot of time talking about myself, so with friends it’s a lot more balanced and normal. I like to sympathize, and hear the gossip.
MT: And you still live where you grew up.
CBR: Yes, I do. It’s kind of a weird thing because I’ve traveled a lot, so I feel like I get to have this international experience; I’ve really got to travel and got to experience a lot of places. It’s a funny thing then going back to the town where I’ve lived all my life. I’ve got these sort of archeological layers of friends – people from school, people I went to ballet with, people I went to church with – when I’m walking through the city center, at any time someone might shout at me and it might be someone who knows me from music, but just as likely it will be someone who I haven’t seen for ten or fifteen years.
MT: What do your friends and family think about your success?
CBR: I think that’s the great thing about living in the same city; people aren’t that excited to see me. It’s not a novelty. I find it to be much more chill, then say if I go to New York or where ever. People treat me as one of the locals, and that’s what I really like.
MT: Last question: What do you want Maui residents to know about you?
CBR: I want them to know that I’m someone who really loves what I do; I love music, I love writing, I love recording, I love performing. When they come, they’re going to see someone who is really happy to have this life and feels really grateful. I’ve been through a lot of different phases in my life, and this feels to me like a really positive, really creative phase. It’s a good chance to catch an artist that you might like. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to get back to Hawai‘i.
Corinne Bailey Rae
MACC Castle Theater
1 Cameron Way, Kahului
Friday, March 1. 7:30pm
$35, $55, $75, $125 (plus applicable fees)
Images courtesy MACC