Rumer has just had lunch on the afternoon following her recent show in Dublin and she’s in talkative form. Her music may be the very essence of mellow cool but in person is a straight-talking kind of gal. She’s also stridently anti-image with a touch of hippy chick at odds with prevailing pop moods. In fact, if you were looking for the perfect antidote to Gaga’s pop art Frankenstein, Rumer is it.
The 32-year-old’s debut album Seasons of My Soul has been the smouldering success story of 2011; as Adele takes over the world with her heartbreak soul, Rumer’s sweet `n’ mellow confections are slowly bottling instant sunshine. Songs like Come to Me High and Slow uncoil leisurely with classic seventies lounge music instrumentation (Burt Bacharach’s a Rumer fan) and a voice like billowing silk.
However, all this new attention can be tiring. “My schedule is not as bad as some people’s,” she says. “The problem is that there is a schedule, the fact that my life is now run by a machine whereas I’m the sort of person who would never make arrangements, I’d just call on you.”
This may have something to do with Rumer’s bohemian upbringing. The youngest of seven children, she was born and raised in Pakistan. Her mother's husband was a British engineer and the family lived in a self-contained expatriate community near Islamabad.
She recalls playing guitar and singing with her siblings in the music room. It’s an idyll of simpler times which she captures on Seasons of My Soul but the truth of her family life was a bit more complex. Rumer’s mother had a relationship with the family cook, who was Pakistani and is Rumer's natural father, something she did not discover until the age of 11 when her parents divorced and the family returned to England.
When her mother died of breast cancer in 2003, Rumer began to pursue music in earnest. It was a ten-year slog involving lots of jobs (washing dishes, selling advertising space, teaching, cleaning) and lots of poverty. “Someone said to me recently are you ambitious? And I said I’m more a gambler because I bet ten years on the rest of my life,” she says. “I was offered £10,000 for one of my songs by a publisher about five years ago when I was flat broke. I said no I want to see what’s in the box. It took me six more years of poverty to see what was in the box but in the end I won the prize.”
Winning the prize has meant sacrificing her normal life and the demands of touring and publicity means that Rumer hankers for days when she can just “sit on the bus” or feel the rain on her face. “I feel like an animal in a cage in a zoo,” she says with resignation. “It’s like they’ve found this really rare creature and everybody needs to see it so they put it in a cage so everyone gets to see it but it’s dying. I feel like I’m going to start biting my own fur. It’s not a good situation but it’s the nature of the business. It’s just incompatible with me.”
So how does Adele handle it? “I don’t know. I think she has her mum, she lives with her mummy. You need your mum. You can’t manage anything. You come home, nothing’s organised, there’s no food in the fridge, nothing’s washed and in three hours time you’ve got to be packed for the next trip. A man who has a lifestyle like mine would have a wife to support him. It’s unusual for a woman, a younger woman, to be in this situation without that partnership.”
Up until recently Rumer was going out with Sam Winwood, son of producer Muff and nephew of singer Stevie. They never lived together but Rumer says she’s used to going home to an empty apartment anyway. That’s when she gets to go home at all. It seems to be a solitary life even when she’s surrounded by well wishers and the media scrum. Rumer is happy to let her music speak for itself.
Don’t expect any wild Florence Welch or Gaga dress up games either. “My image is no image really because I’m kind of anti-image,” she says. “I want to dismantle cool, I want to be naked, I want to walk around naked until people get the message that I don’t care about clothes. I don’t care about fashion, I don’t care about style, I don’t care about shoes. I just think we should all be naked.
“Lady Gaga thinks she’s making a statement. Why doesn’t she just go nude? That’s the biggest statement she could ever make. She should just say, here it is. We’re not perfect, I’m not a model. Look how much money we spend on appearance and look how insecure we are. The only thing that matters is who we are, our character, our spirit, our kindness, our family. Kindness is the most important thing not whether you’ve got a 26-inch waist or a flat stomach or big boobs or a facelift.”
Fine words. Rumer’s vintage sound provides a sanctuary from the constant din of modern life. As to the new songs she’s working on, she is, for once, tight-lipped: “I’m not going to give away any of the new material. You know the way you leave wine for a very long time and it gets better?” she says. “I want my new original material time to breathe and mature and to have a soul. If the music doesn’t have a soul it’s not going to live forever is it?”
Seasons of My Soul is out now on Atlantic.