What’s the first thing you do in the morning at the moment? It could be easing out of bed, drowning your sorrows in coffee as you remember the realities of lockdown. But Corinne Bailey Rae’s philosophy is that mornings are filled with possibility, and we can directly harness that through setting the mood for our day with music.
The 41-year-old’s last album, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, came out in 2016 and since then she has been living a nomadic, exciting lifestyle – touring all over the world, and also becoming a mother. In lockdown she has been relishing time spent with her babies, but also, as ever, learning more about black history and music.
Her latest project is an original song which appears in Nisha Ganatra’s comedy film The High Note (starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson), premiering at home on 29 May. We talk through this, her joyful selection of playlist tracks and learn what she does each morning to make sure her day goes well.
gal-dem: Tell me about your playlist, ecstatic mornings
Corinne: I really wanted to put across how important mornings are. I have found mornings really difficult. I think you can have a respite in the night, then wake up to the reality of the sadness or whatever you’re facing, which is really heavy. I remember after my husband Jason died, early mornings were just the worst. It’s almost like everything comes flooding back.
“I love the idea of ecstatic mornings, and sixties and seventies psychedelic soul and swirling music with sitars, organs and music with gospel choirs”
But I do just think in the mornings there’s lots of energy you can tap into. Sometimes you wake up really early because you’ve had weird dreams, but you get to see the sun coming up. It’s comparable to staying up really late. It’s a sort of in-between time where anything can happen. So I love the idea of ecstatic mornings, and sixties and seventies psychedelic soul and swirling music with sitars, organs and music with gospel choirs. I thought that it would be a good playlist to get over that first few hours of the day when it kind of could go either way.
The playlist literally has some of my favourite ever songs on it, ‘I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun’ by Rotary Connection, ‘The Way’ by Jill Scott, ‘Les Fleurs’ by Minnie Ripperton
To me, they are just so incredibly uplifting – especially Rotary Connection. I love that experimental type of music. I love that it’s this black and white band and they’re embracing performance art style. You can imagine them chanting together. The vocal sounds actually coming out are much more about release and expression and freedom, rather than trying to get the right notes or trying to sing something catchy or memorable.
So what would you say your mornings look like at the moment then? What do you try and do to get into the spirit of the day?
I find myself waking up early because I’ve got these two babies. At 6am I can hear my youngest baby moving around. She’s just getting to that stage where she can smile, a beaming, pure smile at me, and I’m doing this pure smile back at her, which I feel is really unselfconscious. I think when you smile at adults, they’re almost like a mirror to your insecurities. You’re aware that you look really tired, your eyes are all messed up, or whatever it is. But with a baby, they just haven’t got any of that type of judgemental perception. They just see spirit.
“Some of my best club-type times have been at home or in a bar with three other people. Sometimes even just holding onto our two-year-old, dancing around the kitchen to ‘Mary Jane’ by Rick James”
I wish I was a little bit more Gwyneth Paltrow and like, ‘I drink a cup of lemon water, meditate, crochet a cushion.’ I aspire to that life, but often it’s just like, get the lovely smile. Look out of the window. I probably do drink water because I’m like, really dehydrated. But music is so important for me and I think whatever time of day it is, just getting loud music on and feeling like you’re in the club can be fun. Some of my best club-type times have been at home or in a bar with three other people. Sometimes even just holding onto our two-year-old, dancing around the kitchen to ‘Mary Jane’ by Rick James, which she really likes. Sometimes the fantasy of a night out is better than the night itself.
Has this period given you more time to reflect on what you might like to create in the future? I suppose with a baby it might be very difficult!
Yeah, definitely, I’ve thought about what music is for. I’ve always said my music needs to be useful to people. I’m halfway through this big art project but I’m thinking about how to keep the element of joyfulness and release because that’s such a part of what I love about other people’s music. So yeah, it’s given me a ton of time. And then at the same time, it’s made me feel a tantalising distance from being able to do any actual work because the babies actually keep me so busy.
You’ve written an original song for The High Note. Could you tell us about it?
It’s called ‘New To Me’ and it’s at a big, emotional point in the film. I can’t wait to see Tracee Ellis Ross perform it. We were invited to the set to watch her nail it and we just couldn’t go because we were in LA and she was somewhere else. But I would have loved to have been there when she was actually putting it down. I’ve never done that before, where I’ve written something and someone else is going to sing it. It’s a really beautiful thought.
You can find the playlist Corinne Bailey Rae made on gal-dem’s Spotify: