In March 2008, Corinne Bailey Rae became a widow. The 30-year-old singer lost her husband Jason Rae, 31, to an unintentional overdose of methadone and alcohol, a life-changing experience from which the soul singer refuses to shy away. Just take a listen to her new album The Sea—a darker, edgier project than her instantly-impacting 2006 self-titled debut—and it's clear Rae’s music is different, not for some manufactured reason, but because of what she has gone through away from her microphone and her guitar.
Rae spoke to VIBE.com the day before her album’s release to hear exactly what she has to say about injecting her grief into her music, and knowing when to hold back.
VIBE: “I’d Do It All Again” isn’t the typical first single for any album these days, but when people hear what you went through, it makes sense. Did you have any hesitation with releasing such a heavy record as the first single?
Corinne Bailey Rae: It’s a defiant love song. It’s about loving someone when it’s really difficult, but saying, I would choose all of it again. I’d want to end up back here right in this difficult place, because of the way we feel about this person. I really believe in that message. It wasn’t a catchy, bouncy song, but at the same time, I felt that would not just misrepresent the album, but misrepresent my mood. Everyone knows my experience, so I wanted to return with a song that meant something, and not try to ignore what’s happened in my life.
You knew this was going to be a body of work that reflected what you went through, but when people hear your story, they’re probably going to be listening a little bit closer and analyzing it more. Did that make you hesitate to put yourself out there?
Musicians aren’t actors, not trying to perform something. I feel like you’re trying to let something come through you, you’re channeling something. I did think some of this is really exposed, but then you have options. Is this song just for me or is this song to go out in the world? I have written songs that are just for me, things I just play to myself. But I felt there were songs I want to go out in the world and play them to people. Some of it I would’ve liked to hear at a particular point in my experience, so some of it I think will be useful to the people.
So if you didn’t really hear any songs that reflected what you went through, where else were you looking for inspiration?
I wanted to know if anyone else experienced the same sort of thing I had, and I found myself looking into poetry and art. I read Leonard Cohen’s book of poems and Frida Kahlo’s paintings. I found a lot of interesting art and literature, but there were some people’s concerts, like say, watching Nina Simone performing at Montreaux Jazz Festival. It was just so powerful to see her perform. To see this thing of strength but total vulnerability as well, it was female strength I really admire.
Most artists don’t like to talk about their personal life. When you were getting ready to promote this album, was there any part of you that was worried about so many questions revolving around your husband’s death and what is it like to talk about it today?
I still feel nervous to do any interviews because you don’t know how people are going to be and you don’t know how in-depth people want to go. You don’t want to be rude, but there’s certain things I can’t bear to speak about. I haven’t done any television interviews yet, for example, because if I was doing a TV interview, I want it to be sort of dignified, and together. So I have to think really careful about what to say. It’s difficult and this experience is still something I’m going through.
Are there any expectations for this album because it’s so personal and so different than the first?
I think it’s going to be really interesting cause it’s so different from the first album. I also felt because that record did unexpectedly well for me, it bought me this freedom. There was all this freedom to write the songs myself, to co-produce the album, to run direction of it. Whatever happens with this record is all on me, whether it’s a disaster or not, it will be because of the choices I made. —Jozen Cummings