- 01 Oct 18
Jazz singer Judith Owen on her brilliant new album Rediscovered and successfully battling depression.
A virtuoso collection of covers performed in her customary jazz style, Judith Owen’s new album Rediscovered showcases the English singer’s stunning voice to brilliant effect. One of the standout numbers is her take on Drake’s mega-hit ‘Hotline Bling’, which was suggested to Owen by her husband, Spinal Tap and Simpsons legend Harry Shearer.
“I felt I needed one more contemporary tune to complete the record,” explains Judith, sitting in the lounge of Dublin’s Morrison hotel. “I asked Harry because he is an aficionado of all music – he has his own radio show and listens to new stuff constantly. So I asked him, ‘What would the most shocking song that I could cover?’ He didn’t even miss a beat and ran off to get the computer, then played me ‘Hotline Bling’.
“I knew it of course – it’s the type of song you hear everywhere, on the radio and at the hairdressers. But the minute I listened to it properly, I knew exactly what Harry was talking about. I immediately heard it as a piece with pseudo-classical piano, and a cinematic feel – like it was from a French movie or something. I also did what I do with these songs; I studied the lyrics and made it autobiographical.”
In performing the number, Judith drew on some painful past experiences.
“I realised it’s a song about unrequited love,” she notes. “We all know how painful that can be. I actually thought about the last relationship I had before I met Harry. It was this very painful situation where I had feelings for a man who just wasn’t into me. He actually used to come and see me sing in a club with his latest squeeze – that’s how tough it was.”
The range of material Owen tackles on Rediscovered is extraordinary, from Grease soundtrack favourite ‘Summer Nights’ (on which she stunningly mines the song’s melancholy) to Soundgarden’s incredible medidation on depression, ‘Black Hole Sun’. As someone who has spoken bravely in the past about her own mental health struggles, the subject matter of Chris Cornell’s masterpiece resonated strongly with her.
“I decided to do the song in 5/4 time, which is very influenced by Dave Brubeck,” says Judith. “There is something off-kilter about it. I mean, who could imagine a greater song about depression than ‘Black Hole Sun’? The way Chris Cornell wrote it and Soundgarden recorded it, the song sounds like depression feels.
“It’s like you’re dragging your body through the bog – you’re numb and lifeless and all those things. And the video to it was astonishing, with the melting faces and so on. But I wouldn’t dream of doing it in the style of the original; nobody could do that better. Hence I took this approach.”
Having emerged from the worst of her condition, Judith is keen to emphasise that there is always hope.
“I’m proof that there is life after this illness, and during it and through it. You have to talk about depression, it’s the conspiracy of silence that’s the killer. My mother died by suicide and I always had the fear that I could end up like that. But believe me, I’m a very different person to who I used to be – I had a side that was very secret, shame-filled and silent.
“I encourage people to talk, and to find a passion that gives your life meaning, whether it be art, music, sport or whatever. The minute I started talking about it and showing who I really was, I found that people almost loved me more for it.”
Rediscovered is out now.