Interview: Carmen Reece (Singer and Songwriter) and Mark Feist (Producer)

Posted: September 29, 2009 in interview, music
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Carmen Reece

Date of Interview: 09/29/2009

© 2009 Clayton Perry

History is always forged in an unpredictable fashion.  The expected always comes unexpectedly, unless we use hindsight of course.  And in the case of Carmen Reece, the stars are aligning to crown her as “Diva 2.0.”

With the rapid ascent of her debut single, “Right Here,” towards the top of Billboard’s Top 40 Dance Airplay Chart, Carmen Reece became the first artist in history to have an introductory single reach the #3 spot in only two weeks.  And with the backing of her manager Mark Feist, whose previous work includes Beyonce, Celine Dion, and Natalie Cole, Reece is laying the perfect foundation for what appears to be a long-standing career.

Upon the release of Love in Stereo, Carmen Reece and Mark Feist managed to squeeze some time out of their busy schedules and settle down for a conversation with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Carmen’s move to the U.S., the success of “Right Here,” and the musical bonds the two share.

Clayton Perry: Within a matter of weeks, “Right Here” snagged two Top 10 placements on the Billboard charts. Why do you think people really gravitated towards this song so quickly?

Carmen Reece: When we write something — I’m sure Mark would say the same — we want to emotionally reach out to people with the content and even the story in the song. So, maybe it’s that. The day that they remixed it, it was amazing. When we first heard it, we were blown away. The cut, it’s working in the clubs, but I like to think that it makes you feel — it gets to you emotionally, as well.

Clayton Perry: I found the stripped-down version of the song on YouTube. Have you thought about including a similar version on the album?

Carmen Reece: Yes, we definitely have. We’ve talked about ownership rights and whether it will be on the album or not. I’m not sure, but I’ll leave that to Mark to decide. But as for performing it live, I just love to do that version. I really do enjoy it. And it’s great to play on the piano and sing with other people’s songs to it.

Clayton Perry: It really showed off not only just your vocal skills, but the fact that you can actually play the piano, as well. Being a classically trained pianist, what initially drew you to this particular instrument, and how has that helped you build your career over the years?

Carmen Reece: I always try to think what initially got me into the piano. I was already operating the recorder at the age of five – I started early training in instruments. And then I did the piano and flute at the age of seven. I don’t know. I mean, I picked up really quick, and I was keen to learn. My parents didn’t have to push me to practice. I was there every day. But as far as helping me with what I’m doing now, I would not change it for the world. Sometimes it scares us to think, “Wow! I’m nothing if I hadn’t had that musical background of playing piano.” I was in an orchestra for flute, and that classical background really did sustain me, for now, for everything I’m doing now. I play it for the world. I love it.

Mark Feist: I think that as a producer/songwriter, and after working with so many incredible artists in my career, the one thing that’s very unique about Carmen is her high level of classical training, her musical depth is very, very deep. That enables her to really bring a different perspective to a vocal because she really understands the theory of music and what works. There’s a huge difference in an artist when they come from a solid musical background in terms of being able to play an instrument.

Clayton Perry: You started performing at a very young age.  And when you turned eleven, you earned a place at the National Children’s Orchestra. What details can you share about that experience?

Carmen Reece: It was amazing for me, especially at that age, to be part of such a big group of talented kids that were as young as I was. It really taught you from an early age how to work in teams. Even things like turning up on time, finishing promptly, turning up promptly, working with others, and – just musically – we did performances in big cathedrals and big concerts. When I look back, I took all that in, frankly, and from a very early age. So I like to think that it definitely helped me through my journey up until now.

Clayton Perry: You attended the BRIT School as well – joining Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Adele and Kate Nash on their alumni roster. At what point in your childhood did you really determine that music was going to be your life’s focus?

Carmen Reece: My parents always said that around the age of eight, I said, “I want to be a pop star.” And they were like, “Okay.” Obviously, at the age of eight they’re just going to take it with a pinch of salt — my teacher, even my recorder teacher, at the age of five, said to my mom, “You need to keep an eye on this because this is kind of abnormal how quickly she’s picking up and stuff.” That’s what my mom said to me. It’s always been number one on my list. I was in a recording studio at the age of fourteen and recorded my first song. So it’s just been done. It’s second nature to me.

Clayton Perry: When you look over the whole process of recording your debut album, when did you finally realize that your dreams were turning into reality?

Carmen Reece: Well, it was pretty much day one. I’d worked with Mark about three or four years ago. I was signed to another deal at the time, and they sent me out here, basically, to write for a couple of weeks with different people, different songwriters and producers. And I’d been a couple of days with Mark. And we never forgot each other, but nothing came of that. I flew back home, and what we did was great, but they were pushing me in a direction which wasn’t necessarily 100% me. Then, last year, Mark flew me out and we reconnected. He wanted some demos sung. So I came out here and thought, “Oh, maybe we should do some writing as well.” I’d been really concentrating on my writing back in England. And I’ve got a little studio set up at home and was writing from my bed. When I came out the first day, I said, “Oh, can I show you something?” And he’s like, “Okay.” It was actually “Bullet Through My Heart.” It was the idea that we had a hook and a verse and kind of a basic track idea. And from there on, we didn’t spend the next two weeks doing demo songs. We actually started to write and record the album. So it was a click of the finger, straightaway. The thing of working with Mark – and I think he would say the same – is that everything we do just comes so naturally. There’s never any disagreement. We just both know exactly what we want and it’s the same, and it’s not hard work. It’s always enjoyable.

Clayton Perry: “Love in Stereo” serves as the title track for your debut album.  What special significance does that particular song hold?

Carmen Reece: Well, we wrote “Love in Stereo” with another friend of mine who’s amazing, Mr. Wayne Hector. He recently had huge success with the Pussycat Dolls. He’s written for Britney, for Westlife, Il Divo, and Rascal to name a few. And we worked with him out here. “Love in Stereo” is talking about – look through the album and you see a lot of emotion – musically taking some sides. It’s saying, “We’re not just coming at you,” kind of monotone from one angle, “We’re coming all around.”

Mark Feist: Because of Carmen’s musical diversity, there are songs on the record like “Long Goodbye” which is just Carmen and a grand piano. And then there are other records on there like “Love in Stereo” and “Right Here” where there are these really thick grooves but you know they’re bound to make you want to move. Every song has a different depth sonically and “Love in Stereo,” I think, just sums it up from all angles — from a sonic point of view, from a song point of view. I don’t know. It just felt right.

Clayton Perry: Select circles of your fans are starting to call you Diva 2.0. What do you think about this title? When you hear the word diva, it can be a loaded kind of word. What qualities do you think that a diva would possess, or what qualities do you think you have that people see in you, and they want to say Diva 2.0?

Carmen Reece: Well, it’s funny. To me, the word diva has always been something positive. I grew up listening to the divas. They were my biggest influence. I only saw it as a strong woman, an amazing presence on stage, someone who can hold their own, is really professional and knows their craft inside out. That’s what I hope I can bring to the table and walk in the footsteps of my idols. Yes, the title to me was like, “Ah!” It’s just that I had grown up listening to divas, and it’s great. It’s really cool.

Mark Feist: I’ll expand on that a little bit. I think that the term Diva 2.0 is an interesting thing, because to me, when you say that, the rest of the team looks at it as the next level diva in the iTunes Internet era that we live in. In other words, this is the new and improved diva in an Internet world, where a diva can’t be like the divas Mariah and Whitney were when they came out.  And Carmen is the approachable diva that the kids can relate to, that they want to be like, that they want to sing along with. But she’s also a diva in terms of she’s a singer, songwriter. She’s a musician. She’s a great performer. She’s a great dancer. And I think the word more encompasses the fact that she is an all-round artist, the real deal, and that’s sort of where that whole thing stems from. We haven’t seen an artist like Mariah, an artist like Whitney, or even Alicia for many years. Or Christina. So this is the next generation diva in this new world that we live in.

Clayton Perry: Tell me a little bit about your club tours, as well as the lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Carmen Reece: Well, we started on the West coast and eventually worked our way to the East coast. For me, I actually when I was two, I lived in New York for about seven months. I don’t remember anything of it. Before now, I hadn’t really seen much of America and doing this tour was amazing and opened my eyes. Just meeting new people, and seeing how they react to the record, it was a really, really great experience for me. Singing in the clubs is just electrifying. And to get feedback from it – I’m a new artist, and they don’t know who I am, but I’d like to think that it went down well. It was very, very humbling.

Clayton Perry: It’s obvious that the two of you are really tight-knit. What’s the best advice that Mark’s given you along the way as you make your stride in America?

Carmen Reece: Really, to stay true to yourself, to say positive and focused, and just take doing what you love — you’ve got to just take it with both hands – and show people what you’re made of. Just stay confident, and it really has helped. Also, at times I have kind of put myself into gear, because I think, “Wow! This is really happening!” And again, I’m just really grateful for the support that I’ve been getting. So each day it’s something new and exciting happening. I’m really, really happy at the moment.

Clayton Perry: You mentioned that the first song that you played, or at least that Mark heard, was “Bullet Through My Heart.” Tell me a little bit about that particular song and the inspiration behind the lyrics.

Carmen Reece: Well, I actually had a studio set up. I was just playing around with chords and some kind of the ideas and string things. And [the word] bullet just came out from nowhere. It took me by surprise. But actually, once I got the idea down, I kept it for quite a while because I was like, “I don’t want to just write with any old person on this one. This one’s got to be saved for someone that’s going to make the record sound amazing.” And coming out and meeting Mark, I was like, “Ah! This is from heaven. This is all right to get my computer out and show him.” So when I showed him the ideas and what I had, he was just, like, straightaway into it. And the next day, pretty much, he took the track and the beat. And I was just like, “Whoa!” And that was it. And it blew me away to hear. With Mark, you don’t need to say anything. He gets it straightaway.

For more information on Carmen Reece, visit her official MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/carmenreecemusic

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