- 05 May 23
As Adele celebrates her 35th birthday, we're looking back into the Hot Press Archives – and revisiting a classic interview with the star who went on to conquer the world...
Originally published in Hot Press in 2008...
Still in her second decade, Adele is about to go stratospherically huge.
For someone who hasn’t yet turned 20, London singer Adele Adkins has achieved a hell of a lot. Last month, her debut album, 19, debuted at number one in the UK charts (and number three in Ireland), in addition to which she scooped the Critics’ Choice gong at the Brit Awards. Adele’s stylish brand of soulful pop has seen her tagged in many quarters as ‘the new Amy Winehouse’, and she numbers amongst her growing number of fans such luminaries as Kanye West, Beyonce and Prince.
However, Adele admits that she hasn’t yet had time to process her remarkable run of success.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she says, sitting in Crawdaddy on the day of her recent sell-out show at the venue. “The album is currently at number five, so it’s still hanging around, which is really nice. But until I’m like number 20, I don’t think I’ll really go, ‘Wow, I had a number one album’, cos it’s all just happened so fast. There hasn’t really been much of a build-up, because of the Brit Awards and all the rest. Back in December, before we found out that I’d won the Brit Award and the BBC Sound of 2008 poll, we’d planned how we were going to release the record and build it. Then all of that happened in a week (laughs). It’s amazing.”
Adele credits discovering Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald at 14 as a pivotal moment in her musical development. What was it about those singers that excited her?
“Well, before that I was into pop,” she explains. “As a young teenager, when we moved to South London, I got into Destiny’s Child, Mary Jo Blige and contemporary R‘n’B. Then I started going around to my mates’ houses, and maybe their Mum would be playing some Marvin Gaye. From there, it was a natural progression for me to discover older music.
“Before that, I just used to impersonate singers, but when I heard Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald, I started thinking about singing a lot more. And Etta James co-wrote all her songs, which was unheard of in those days. It was at that point that I started writing my own songs.”
Adele, of course, is a graduate of the BRIT School in Croydon, whose other alumni include the aforementioned Winehouse, Kate Nash, Leona Lewis and Katie Melua. What does Adele feel she learned from attending the school?
“The thing is, I never liked to be taught things,” she replies. “It really annoys me that some old man has set up a criteria that everyone thinks is right. So I’ve always been, not a rebel, but I like to learn in my own way. At the BRIT School, they encouraged my potential. When I started, like I said, I was impersonating people and I wasn’t writing any music. By the time I left, I was a singer, I’d done gigs and I knew how to use a recording studio. And I discovered a lot of music, like Karen Dalton for example. It’s a very encouraging environment.”
Like many other artists, Adele has been described as “the new Amy Winehouse”. Have they met?
“I’ve met her, she’s lovely,” says Adele. “Musically, I think there’s a huge difference, but I take the comparisons as a compliment. I think she’s great. I mean, I understand why people talk about us being similar. She’s got a big voice, and I’m more like Amy Winehouse than I am Lily Allen. That’s why Kate got compared to Lily and I got compared to Amy. I think now that the album’s come out, people are kind of going, ‘Well they’re not really alike’, ’cos Amy’s written a Motown record and I’ve written a pop record. But I don’t mind. It’s flattering being compared to Amy.”
Was Adele surprised to get the nod in the Critics’ Choice category at the Brit Awards?
“It was really funny,” she reflects. “When I found out in December, I hadn’t even heard of the award. I’d just done Friday Night With Jonathan Ross as well, and I was like, ‘Whatever’. I didn’t really care. Also, it seemed a bit silly to get it at the beginning, cos I hadn’t even released ‘Chasing Pavements’. It got a lot of hype, which was annoying at the time. But when I look back on it, it achieved what it was meant to do, which was to push the winner into the spotlight.
“If I hadn’t have won it, I don’t think I would have had a number one record or anything, so it was amazing. And when I picked it up, it felt alright, ’cos the album and single had done well. But we just got really, really drunk. We got there at like 11am, and everyone else was drunk already. It was fun. It was also a bit weird, like being on tables near Girls Aloud, who I’m a huge fan of. I was kind of going, ‘Oh my God’. I was too embarrassed to say hello.”
One person whom Adele did meet was Perez Hilton, whose blog is an essential stop for connoisseurs of celebrity gossip.
“Yeah, he’s been going on and on about me, which was lovely at first – it still is nice – but it’s become a bit normal now, and I’m like, ‘Stop doing it now, it’s not having any impact!’ But yeah, he came over during Fashion Week and did some radio shows. We hung out, and he’s lovely. He’s so unassuming, you wouldn’t think that he’s as powerful as he is. He’s a geek with orange hair.
“But he’s great. It’s quite scary how powerful he is, he gets like 12 million hits a day on his blog. He made Amy Winehouse in America. It’s mostly celebrity gossip, but every now and then he makes a new artist his baby. I’ve got loads of sold-out shows in America in a couple of weeks, and that wouldn’t have happened without him.”
Before Christmas, Adele appeared on Later With Jools Holland alongside Sir Paul McCartney and Bjork. Was it a nerve-wracking experience?
“Oh my days! It was my first TV appearance, so it wouldn’t have mattered even if I was on with someone I didn’t know, it would have been nerve-wracking anyway. I’ve been watching Jools Holland since I was four. It’s me and my Mum’s time together. Even as a teenager, before I’d go out, I’d stay at home and watch it with her. And Bjork is one of my favourite singers, and Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle.
“So there was Bjork, Paul McCartney, and my Mum crying. It was the most traumatic thing I’d ever done. Still is, and I’ve done a lot of bigger things since then. But I always think back and go, ‘Well, if I can do that, then I can do anything.’”
Next stop for Adele was an appearance on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross. Who were the other guests on the show?
“Jerry Seinfeld. I don’t know who he is though. When I was told there was a big sitcom star, I went, ‘Oh my God, is someone from Friends here?’ Then I was like, ‘Who are you?’ He was rude anyway, I didn’t like him. Renee Zellweger was on too. It’s really bad, ’cos when you do big things like that you get disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was thinking I was literally going to be meeting Bridget Jones. And I walked in and I thought my eyes were deceiving me, she was so thin. But she was sweet, really girly. The Little Britain boys were on as well, and they were lovely, and Jeremy Clarkson was really nice too.”
I’m disappointed to hear about Jerry Seinfeld. I’m a big fan.
“He probably thought I was a tea-girl or something,” laughs Adele. “I don’t really look like a star, do I?”
Adele initially attracted interest from record companies after posting tracks on MySpace. She finally signed with XL, the label which is home to artists like Sigur Ros, Dizzee Rascal and The White Stripes. Given the imprint’s generally left-field pedigree, did Adele have any concerns about joining their roster?
“No, not at all,” she responds. “They were the first label to get in contact through MySpace, and I’m always very loyal to who’s there first. I went to visit some majors, and I never got to meet the MDs. With XL, they knew there was something that they wanted to do with me, and I found that quite encouraging. Also, I knew that there’s no other artist like me on XL, and they don’t want to sign anyone else like me anyway. And it’s small, and I see my MD every day. People talk about signing million-pound record deals, and you might end up selling five albums. It’s too much pressure. I liked that they were offering hardly any money, and I got offered a million by a major. For me, it was, ‘Fuck off, I’ll have this little bit.’ I quite liked that.”