Sergeant Sam Murray, Deputy Head Nikki Boston or patron for the Diversity Role Models; Heather Peace goes by many names. You might once have caught the actress-come-musician performing in her hometown of Brighton to a handful of her nearest and dearest. Whilst the venues might remain intimate, today her loyal fan base has swelled with pride watching this artist tour up and down the country with her tender pop tracks and theatrical ballad brilliance.
Catching up with the songwriter at her seaside home – and with second studio album The Thin Line hitting the virtual shelves this week – we caught up with Brighton’s burgeoning star, Heather Peace to chat pub bands, politics and Pride.
You’ve had such a prolific career so far to date; BBC One’s Waterloo Road, BBC Three’s Lip Service and your first studio album, Fairytales – what came first for you the music or the acting?
It always ran hand in hand. I think when you do this job, you just start doing it. I’ve played piano since I was about the age of six, I learnt for free from a lady in Bradford. I did all my classical grades and I was singing solo in church. From then, I started doing amateur dramatics and musical theatre with a council group from around ten. The next prospect was then to go on and try to get into drama school and, to be honest, if I hadn’t got into drama school, I’d probably still be doing this, only I’d be playing in a local band down at the pub. It’s just something you do and you’re just lucky with whether you can professionally or not.
You seem to have an incredibly loyal fan base – do you think that’s important when establishing yourself as an artist?
I think it’s the only reason. They’re very loyal. They always have a good night out and get excited when the shows come up. It’s always a really nice atmosphere and they’ve made friends with each other, you know? It’s always a big social occasion – there’s even a few people who have come out to Australia when we’ve been out there. I think it’s good to listen to them as well. There was a lot of call for upbeat tracks on the album when I was touring and I felt like that was what it needed to make more of an exciting show.
You worked with former Arctic Monkeys’ producer James Lewis for your new record, The Thin Line and co-wrote a number of the tracks with pop writing prodigy, Shelly Poole (Janet Jackson, Massive Attack, Sophie Ellis Bextor) What was that dynamic like between you all?
James was amazing. I mean, he’s worked with some absolutely top top people but never produced a full solo artist album so it was a really good meeting of hearts actually because we both had a duty of care and kept going on the project until it was finished. We recorded the main thing at Assault and Battery in this massive studio in London.
We had some financial constraints (when it came to recording) but then once we did all of the main band takes with everyone together live in the room, everything else (main and backing vocals, strings and synths) we could do back in his studio with no time constraints. James comes from a very old school background so we were recording on tape. All the equipment in his studios is also all this very posh valve amp stuff and so this all lends itself to creating an album that sounds really warm rather than very digital and that’s precisely what we wanted.
It’s also really vibey – we recorded the fundamental band stuff in a room together so Paul’s drums were bleeding into my piano and the thing is when you’ve all got eye contact and you’re all excited, the energy really comes across. It’s just easier for us to perform then too!
The experience with Shelly Poole was fantastic – I mean, I went in with ideas like on ‘We Can Change’ and just said these are the lyrics, the sentiment and what’s it’s about and I want to do it in the style of Dusty Springfield, you know some big torch anthem, so we just sat down and took that to the lyrics. Co-writing takes you out of your comfort zone – I mean, I don’t write from a technical point of view, I write from the heart but I’ve definitely learnt stuff from Shelley. We both just sat there with the guitar and the keyboard until we had it done.
Your latest single ‘We Can Change’ is a seriously emotive and empowering pop number – do you think it’s important for more musicians to exercise their right to speak out and almost become a bit political and opinionated about current affairs?
It’s a personal thing, I didn’t really know where I stood politically until I found my sexuality if that makes sense because I didn’t really know myself. When I found myself, I think my politics became more apparent I wouldn’t say I really know myself in the last four years. You can’t really speak out like that until you know how you feel and what moves you and what you think is right. It’s a personal journey – but if you do feel like that, you do have something of a duty of care. There are a lot of kids out there that need some good role models.
I think it’s an exciting time (for women in music). We’re moving away from people like Rihanna and people are being judged by talent now and what we’re producing. I think people want good music they’re not being spoon fed what they listen to. Just the fact that (the music industry) seems to be letting women be who they are a little more – artists like Rita Ora and Cara Emerald. You know they’re not just using their sexuality; these are quirky, inventive performers. And Florence – she probably changed a lot of that for us. There’s women out there being themselves for us.
Heather Peace is one such woman. An artist who truly seems to have found her identity, Peace continues to push the boundaries of being an artist and forms a fitting mouth piece for diversity. Taking the opportunity to celebrate the huge shifts that the gay community has witnessed in the last twelve months, the artist unveiled Europe’s first rainbow crossing in her hometown of Brighton, in conjunction with LGBT Pride week. Dubbing ‘We Can Change’ her “big gay anthem”, the crossing is a symbol to all of those who embrace equality.
Laying her colours down with these latest tracks, we’re excited to see where this colourful road takes Heather Peace next.
Heather Peace performs at a number of Pride events this summer ahead of her official UK tour in October.
Follow Cheri on Twitter – @thedivinehammer