In the past, English singer/songwriter Becky Jones has lent her slippery vocals to Groove Armada, Hurts, and her own concept-heavy electro project, RGBs. But Union—the chanteuse’s debut album under the heavenly moniker Saint Saviour—is a different beast altogether. An impressive showcase for her flamboyant personality and propensity for twisted pop, the album’s 15 tracks rest on a razor’s edge—somewhere between ethereal dance party with the fairies and divine hissy fit.
We caught up with Jones on a recent warm day in London to talk about refusing to have a Plan B, calling on fans for support, and not-quite-love songs; she also graciously gifted us a rare cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which we’re pleased to exclusively premiere here.
HOMETOWN: Stockton-on-Tees, UK
CURRENT CITY: London, UK
HER LOFTY STAGE NAME: The area that I live now in East London, they’re the streets where Shakespeare and Dickens hung about. It’s a really ancient part of London, full of history, because it’s next to the Tower of London. The side of the river where I live is the old red-light district. Prostitution was legal, and there’s lots of crazy history and weird stories. There’s a lot of orphanages and workhouses. One’s called Saint Saviour’s House. There’s lots of things called Saint Saviour. There’s a wharf and dock called Saint Saviour’s Dock. I was running in the streets and thought “Well, that’s got a ring to it.” Because I’m an atheist, I didn’t realize what I was doing, and then worked out a year later that I named myself after Jesus.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: I come from a family that sings all the time, but not necessarily as a part of society. My mom and my grandparents have all got really big voices. I was raised by a mom who sang everything to me. She had a song for making the dinner; she had a song for Sundays. She sang constantly. She still does. It was pretty embarrassing when we were growing up. I sing the songs to my nephew that my mom used to sing to me when I was little. [sings] “Let’s put your socks on!” Just silly little things like that. It’s pretty sweet.
OPERATING WITHOUT A SAFETY NET: I was never really driven by academia. The school I went to wasn’t very inspiring at all. I’m very introverted. I spent all of my growing-up years in my bedroom, listening to music. Just escaping from it. School was totally a waste of time for me. I just wanted to be like a fairy and dance around.
Luckily, when I moved down to London, I realized you have to be an entrepreneur as well. Your career is a portfolio career, where you shove different things into it. You do this to make money, you do this for creative expression, you do this to feel part of a community. It’s something that smacked me in the face as soon as I graduated. I realized, “Oh shit, I’ve got to make some money.” I went into doing normal jobs for about a year, and I realized I was deeply deeply unhappy. I made myself promise that I wouldn’t waste any more time and I would just get on with something. I set up a few companies and started to do entrepreneurial, business-y type stuff. I was doing weird things with music. At the same time, I was constantly collaborating with people and going for auditions.
THE TRANSITION TO FLYING SOLO: It just kind of happened. I started to write music as a means to an end. Then I realized I could do it. I never really set out to be a songwriter. I set out to sing and dance around. I realized I had to start writing my own songs. In the electronic music scene, it’s quite easy to find people who need people to write lyrics and melody. There are lots of guys making beats. But not a lot of producers write the whole song themselves. So I ended up collaborating with people a lot. That’s what I started to do with Groove [Armada]. I started to write with them. They wanted the album to be a departure and serious in a way. I came along. There’s some other amazing people on the album. Bryan Ferry’s on it, and She Keeps Bees, which is absolutely fantastic.
I joined Groove at a time when they were starting to wind down. So their touring was less intensive. I could have been in so many bands at the same time. I’m prolific, and I’ve got a lot of nervous energy, so I’m always writing. I’ve just got all of these songs that I’m not using. So Tom and Andy decided they wanted to retire from doing the live band thing because it’s exhausting and they have kids at home. So I thought, right, it’s now or never. So I thought, “All right. I’m going to be a solo artist.”
FODDER: My first ever song was a bit melodramatic. I just said, “I’m not going to write about my own emotions.” When I started the RGBs, I decided we were only going to write songs about concepts, or politics, or myths and legends. I pretty much stick to that because I find it uncomfortable, writing songs about myself. I write songs about stories, or things that I’ve dreamed. Things like that. I definitely see songwriting and music in general as a job. It’s an insane privilege and an exciting situation. One of the best things about it is that you can entertain crazy ideas. I spend a lot of time getting into something like the English civil war and thinking, “Oh, my God!” and then read loads about it. You get to do a lot of research. I find that part so exciting. I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia.
ON THE NEXT GENERATION: I can’t wait to have kids. One of the things I’m kind of scared about is, kids, their brains are just plugged into things constantly. When I was a kid, I remember long periods of being bored out of my skull, and just sitting and thinking, “What can I do?” because I’m so bored! I was always grounded. I was doing something naughty. I spent so much time being in a sadness. You know that deep, sad feeling that you get when you’re a kid? When you’re missing out on something, when you don’t want to go to bed too early, when it’s a dusky night outside. That’s when I used to dream about things and think about stories. I wrote stories quite a lot.
Sometimes I think, “How am I going to have kids and do music?” I just know, surely when you have a baby, whether you like it or not, it’s in the front of your mind constantly. It’s distracting, and I worry about that. But Fever Ray wrote an amazing album that was all about her having no sleep and coming to terms with being a mom. I want to use it as a new thing to say. Björk is another one.
THE PERKS OF GOING IT ALONE…WITH A FEW FANS AT HER SIDE: Without confidence, you’re in a real mess. To be totally frank about it, I couldn’t get a record label to get on board. I certainly had a collection of people hanging around. That’s what a lot of the time you find happening. You do gigs and you’re aware that this person is on the guest list, and that that person is watching, and this person is texting while you play. You just think, “What kind of impression am I making? Who is going to call tomorrow?”
I spent a couple of years wracked with anxiety about that. “Why don’t they like it? What can I do? Am I too old?” I just thought, no one is going to make an offer. I’m just going to make the album and do it. I wrote the album and finished it with the intention of just giving it to my fan base. But then I ended up getting signed and was able to put it out on a bigger platform.
SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE: I’m a bit of a dark person. Quite cynical. I very easily go into depression and stuff like that. I have to work really hard to do positive thinking. Usually my energy is fueled by anger in a way. I’m going to show that I can do this. Part of it is often an anger that I have to prove something. It’s a big part of my personality. I think sadness and melancholy is beautiful. I think it’s really important to embrace it. In the English culture, it’s very much a Stepford Wives type thing on the extreme end. People are polite and refuse to discuss, say, someone in bad health. It’s hard to explain, but basically it’s very British not to discuss anything. I’m absolutely the opposite to that. I like to bring people down!
TOUCHING FANS’ LIVES: I did get one particularly emotional one. He posted on my Facebook, and I found it quite upsetting actually. I was on holiday at the time, and I had a bit of teary moment. He wrote that he’d lost his son, who was 10 or 11. He was using one of my songs to deal with thinking about him. He wrote about how he just went to his grave. I get that quite a lot, things like “My wife listened to your songs while she was giving birth.” All kinds of things like that. I just think, “Crap. I’ve actually got some responsibility.”
People actually take my music quite seriously. I’m always singing at people’s weddings. I do really love love and happiness. But I try not to write about it too much, because I do find it a bit wordy. But then people listen to my songs and assume that they’re love songs when they’re not. Maybe I just have that vibe!
FOR MORE ON SAINT SAVIOUR, VISIT HER FACEBOOK PAGE.