All Photos: Alan Mercer
Rumer, is a Pakistani-born British singer–songwriter. Her stage name was inspired by the author Rumer Godden. Rumer's voice has been described by The Guardian and many others as being reminiscent of Karen Carpenter. Supported by leading music industry figures including Burt Bacharach, Jools Holland and Elton John, Rumer was nominated for two Brit awards on 13 January 2011. She has performed at several festivals such as Glastonbury Festival. Her new album, 'This Girl's In Love: a Bacharach and David Songbook' s now available.
Rumer, the seventh of eight children, was born in Tarbela Dam, Pakistan. Rumer's family lived there from 1977–1984 while her British father was contracted as Chief Engineer of Tarbela Dam Project, funded by the World Bank.
Her parents split and her Streatham-born mother moved back to England with Rumer and her siblings. Rumer became fascinated with the work of Judy Garland at a young age, and sought solace from difficulties at home and school by listening to artists such as Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. She was encouraged by her musical family, who all played instruments and played in their local Catholic church. This began her interest in becoming a performer.
Rumer later discovered her biological father was the family’s Pakistani cook, with whom her mother had had an affair when living in Pakistan. While her mother was dying of breast cancer in 2001, she asked Rumer to make the journey to the North West Frontier of Pakistan to search for her real father, with her mother reportedly saying "I want to leave this planet with my house in order". She discovered on arriving he had only recently died in a freak accident.
Rumer briefly attended the drama course at the Dartington College of Arts, in Devon before dropping out, moving to London at 18 and getting a job as a waitress.
Rumer's debut album, ‘Seasons of My Soul’ was released in November 2010, produced by her mentor, British composer Steve Brown. Her debut single, ‘Slow,’ was featured on Smooth FM, and the single "Aretha" on BBC Radio 2's Record of the Week feature, and she is signed to Atlantic Records. She supported Jools Holland on his UK tour in the Autumn of 2010 which included a performance at the Albert Hall in London.
After Burt Bacharach invited Rumer to his California home to hear her sing, Atlantic Records released Rumer Sings Bacharach at Christmas on 13 December 2010. It featured ‘Some Lovers’ from the musical Gift of the Magic by Bacharach and Steven Sater. A limited edition 7-inch vinyl version was also released with a cover personally designed by Rumer.
Rumer also contributed to a memorial concert to film composer, John Barry, which took place on 20 June 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall in London where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dame Shirley Bassey, David Arnold, Wynne Evans, trumpeter Derek Watkins and others performed Barry's music. In January 2012 she started her first American tour in Los Angeles.
Rumer's second album ‘Boys Don't Cry’ was released in May 2012. It contains a selection of songs by male artists and writers from the 70s and 80s period. Covers of songs by artists such as Todd Rundgren, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Neil Young and Terry Reid were chosen to mirror the solace and anguish Rumer experienced since achieving success and fame (BBC Music review).
Rumer released her second album of all original material, and her third total studio album, ‘Into Colour’ on 10 November 2014 in the UK, Ireland and Japan. The record was then released worldwide in early 2015 by Atlantic Records.
In 2015, Rumer released a collection of unreleased tracks and B-sides from her back catalog entitled, ‘B Sides & Rarities.’ The collection features collaborations with the likes of Dionne Warwick, Stephen Bishop and Michael Feinstein.
Rumer's fourth album, released under the East West Records label, features her take on select tracks from the songbook of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was released on 25 November 2016. Rumer remarked about how this album "was one she couldn't have made five years ago" and that how she felt that she had the right "emotional palette" to draw on the songs she recorded. It was produced by her husband and producer Rob Shirakbari at Capitol Studios in early 2016.
AM: Can you give me a little bit of background Rumer?
Rumer: I come from a family of musical people. All my brothers and sisters play guitar or some instrument. It seemed like a normal thing to compose music as well. My brother Chris wrote poetry. He really inspired me when I was five years old. I used to sit there with a tape recorder and record him and play it back later. (Laughter)
AM: That is so sweet. Were you singing as a child?
Rumer: Yes, I was obsessed with Judy Garland. I related to her because she had brown hair and brown eyes. The first movie I saw with her was ‘Easter Parade’ where her character doesn’t know her left from her right and she’s kind of clumsy and not the most beautiful girl. I just related to her character.
AM: So you would sing Judy Garland songs?
Rumer: Yes, they were the first songs I was learning, so inadvertently I was learning the great American Songbook from Judy Garland films.
AM: When did you realize you were going to be a singer for your life career?
Rumer: I think when I realized, I was not going to college. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do. I had an instinct that it would be worth the shot. I guess I was eighteen.
AM: Did you receive a lot of encouragement?
Rumer: I don’t really remember being encouraged. I was quite shy and didn’t really show off. I don’t remember people ever telling me, “Wow you have an amazing voice.”
Rumer: I don’t think I was confident. It took me years to build that confidence to perform in public.
AM: When did you start performing in public?
Rumer: When I was sixteen or seventeen. I come from a very small tourist town in the south of England. It’s a retirement area, but also a holiday area, much like Florida. They always had a lot of live music in the bars and pubs during the summer. A lot of local bands would play. It used to thrive but not so much now. Back then, any time of day you would go into a Pub, there was a live band. So, one day I walked in a Pub and they told me I could get on stage and sing a song, so that’s what I did.
AM: How do you go from performing in small Pubs in the South of England to an international recording contract?
Rumer: It was quite a long journey. I moved to London when I was eighteen. I got a job in a wine bar. I met some people who were musicians and I joined their band and got my first experience in a studio with them. Also, my first experience playing shows with them. Then I had to go back to my hometown because my Mom was sick. After that I came back to London and started writing songs by myself and playing on the singer/songwriter scene.
AM: That makes sense. You had a little experience by this time.
Rumer: I played open mike nights and started meeting and connecting with people. I just started understanding the business and how to get my music heard and get it out there. No one really took any notice of my music until I found a producer who was willing to make an album on his tab. I had to record the whole album with him before I could even get any interest. Once the executives heard the whole ‘Seasons of My Soul’ finished, they got it.
AM: The song that stands out on that album is ‘Aretha.’ Where did that come from?
Rumer: That song is a mixture of childhood memories. I wanted to write a song about music itself and how important it is. Music can be salvation.
AM: Music IS salvation!
Rumer: Music was definitely an escape for me as a kid. My mother had a mental illness. I was depressed as a child so my Aretha Franklin tape or my Patsy Cline tape or whoever it was I was listening to, it was comforting to me. I believe it filled the space that not having a mother created. These singers gave me the female energy I was missing.
AM: That’s beautiful.
Rumer: So, I put the whole thing together in a story. My producer at the time, Steve Brown, had never made an album before but he wrote theater music. They call him the British Stephen Sondheim. He’s very clever. He understood it theatrically when I brought it in. He added some good guitar chords. We put the whole thing together.
AM: What are some of the musical differences in your albums?
Rumer: ‘Seasons of My Soul’ is a lifetime’s work. It’s a culmination of my entire Twenties. With your first record, you have the privilege of playing them live before anybody knows them or cares who you are. It’s easier to try them out in front of an audience. This album is my deepest work. I’m never going to lose my mother again. That was deep. I’m never going to be as emotionally unstable as I was in my Twenties.
AM: That is so true. I never thought of it from that perspective.
Rumer: ‘Into Colour’ is more collaborative. So, I collaborated with various songwriters and I really enjoyed the experience. It’s not as deep because I didn’t have as much time.
AM: Success came fast and was difficult for you, wasn’t it?
Rumer: I wasn’t ready or prepared or groomed for success. It came out of the blue and I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what live TV was or playing in front of five thousand people was like. I was doing everything for the first time. I got a lot of stage fright anxiety. I had to come to America to get away in 2013. I had to re-group and get my creative energy back. That’s when I wrote ‘Into Colour.’
AM: How did the Bacharach & David tribute album come about?
Rumer: This project was offered to me by a record company in England so I said, “Sure.” We did it and I think we did a really nice job. It was hard at first because it’s quite a big thing to do. There’s a huge catalog of iconic, legendary songs. The project was daunting but we just went back and listened to the music and listened to what Hal David was saying with his lyrics. We listened to Burt and what he was saying. We wanted to put across a sense of what they were trying to convey.
To learn more about Rumer visit her web site http://rumer.co.uk/