thecocknbullkid - A no-nonsense pop star
thecocknbullkid has already wowed Glastonbury with her sassy electro. Now she's poised for chart success. It won't change her, she tells Alexia Loundras
Friday 01 May 2009
Hot on the heels of Lady Gaga, La Roux and Florence and the Machine, there's another neon-edged siren poised to make her assault on the pop charts. The snappily monikered thecocknbullkid (one word, no capitals) is a homegrown Kelis, peddling gilded electro-pop tunes that have been quietly tickling the fancy of those in the know for a while now. From her rightfully hyped appearance at Glastonbury in 2008 to a show-stopping turn on Jools Holland last October, thecocknbullkid has charmed anyone with ears.
The ink's still drying on her dream deal with Moshi Moshi and Island Records, but Anita Blay, as she's known to her friends, is already breaking the pop-princess mould. Sure, the brooding beats, sexy honey-soaked vocals and cascades of subtle electro-wizardry – courtesy of producers such as Metronomy's Joe Mount – in her music can effortlessly compete with the most immaculate chart-topping nuggets. But the woman herself is refreshingly flawed and affectionately human.
Perched on a drum stool in her Camden studio, the Hackney-born Ghanaian lass is pleasingly devoid of the icy affectations that usually cling like frost to the hotly tipped. Dressed in an old denim pencil skirt and a bold floral shirt circa 1989, Blaylooks endearingly quirky rather than painstakingly fashionable. She's bright and sassy, and her ever-ready laugh is a sailor's cackle barrelling up from deep within her chest. She's confident enough to wear her hair half-shaved, yet she's riddled with niggling insecurities. "With anything I do, there's always a massive amount of apprehension that usually outweighs the fun of it," she sighs. "But I think it's better to beat yourself up a little bit rather than continuously pat yourself on the back."
Perhaps her humility is a hangover from her convent-school days – a school she chose to make amends for youthful misdemeanors, such as shoplifting from her mother's grocery. "I wanted to prove to my mother that I was going to be really good," she says.
But while the nuns instilled a fear of God, they failed to quell the showgirl inside. "I've been an attention-seeker all my life," she admitswith a grin. As a child, Blay was talent show-mad and auditioned ravenously. Apparently immune to peer pressure, she didn't perform the soulful R&B hits of the day like the other girls, but instead drew inspiration from Celine Dion. "I used to love Celine," gushes Blay, in the face of ridicule. "I grew up aspiring to sing like her. When I did these talent shows, I didn't ever think that a record company boss was going to see me and offer me a deal. At the time I just really wanted to sing."
Blay's affecting innocence was cracked when she was 12 and her mother moved away, first to Canada then Ghana, leaving Blay and her younger brother with their father. Although it's clear she doesn't blame her mother ("It was a circumstantial thing," she says), she was deeply affected by what she refers to as a traumatic separation. She found relief in food, which had the effect of decimating her self-esteem. "I comfort-ate because I missed my mum," she says. "I became really fat and that marred my teenage years. At school I was fine because I had good friends. But when I went to college all my insecurities just came to a head." She pauses a moment before adding more brightly: "I think that's what started my whole Morrissey phase. I felt like an outsider."
As posters of the Smiths replaced those of Eternal and East 17 on Blay's wall, her attention shifted away from singing and into songwriting. But her depression deepened and eventually she resorted to antidepressants. They helped Blay to lift her cloud somewhat. "I lost a bit of weight," she says, "and for the first time, I was attractive."
Fuelled by fresh confidence, Blay's social life took flight. Yet although she'd longed for this kind of acceptance, it didn't turn out to be the antidote she hoped for. "I couldn't really enjoy myself," says Blay. "I was always just trying to keep the weight off in various ways that weren't very healthy. I realised that I couldn't do that forever. It was really detrimental to my songwriting because I was numbed by the pills and I just wasn't feeling anything."
Something had to give. "I kicked myself up the bum and I stopped doing all those deviant things that were bad for me," says Blay. "The weight came back on but it was all very liberating because I felt like me again."
The tracks earmarked for her upcoming debut album are inherently revealing, but they bristle with the quiet assurance of someone comfortable in their own skin. "Sinners" combines stalking synths with the hopeful defiance of the broken-hearted; glitchy vocoder taunts of "Girls like you don't get boys like me" tease Blay's Diana Ross-esque vocals in "Postcodes"; and the crackling electro of the recent single "I'm Not Sorry" is a dark ode to vengeance.
But that's not to say that Blay condones her dark side. Quite the opposite. Her songs are confessions. "I'm still doing my bit as a Catholic. I have a whole bunch of demons and if I can write about them, get them out, exorcise them, they become, in a way, a beautiful thing." She smiles guiltily. "I know it sounds bad," she continues, "but they become less wrong."
In the pristine world of chart pop, it's unusual to find an artist so at home with their foibles. But Blay is defiant about accepting herself for what she is. And what she isn't. "The people I love – Morrissey, George Michael, Björk, Bill Hicks, Bowie – taught me it was OK to be yourself," she explains. "If people want a nice encapsulation of what I stand for, then this is it: I want to be the antithesis of Cheryl Cole. In look, in ethic, in principle, everything. History has proved you have to change a lot of yourself to become a palatable public figure and it's my mission to not do that. I wouldn't change anything about myself."
She shifts purposefully on her stool and smiles: "It's all what I am."
thecocknbullkid plays Kill 'Em All, Fabric, London EC1 tonight (www.myspace.com/ thecocknbullkid)
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