For the longest time, KAMILLE has seamed together and structured what feels like 90% of Britain’s pop market, so it feels quite fitting to greet her as the “mastermind of UK pop” the moment our cameras switched on. An artist, producer and label owner, KAMILLE’s big break didn’t take long to arrive. Securing her first number one with the bonafide hit with “What About Us” by The Saturdays, she soon solidified legend status amongst her peers, venturing on to write for Jess Glynne, Mabel, Clean Bandit and becoming a primary songwriter for Little Mix.
Her 6.5 billion streamed catalogue is ever growing, and is one that has secured both a GRAMMY nomination and BRIT Award win along the way. A renowned songwriter in her own right, KAMILLE is now telling her own truth through her own music, her latest release “Learning” being the most vulnerable yet. Unable to get through the track without tears, “Learning” dissects anxieties driven by everyday social media. We sat down for a revitalizing chat about the evolution of the industry, KAMILLE’s upbringing in music and how breaking America is next up on the checklist.
Huge congratulations on the single! It’s quite a vulnerable, downtempo number – could you explain to us how this track evolved? To be honest with you, I think most of us are suffering at some point in our lives from feeling down and anxious. And for me, it’s definitely driven by social media, because I would go on there and just compare myself and feel extremely low. “Learning” is a song to myself. I was suffering from bad insomnia-one of the worst symptoms of depression-and this one was basically a lullaby to myself, to help me to sleep. And just to tell myself “you’re beautiful” and “you’re amazing,” and that self-love is a journey. Writing this was definitely a form of therapy, I think I wrote it in about half an hour. It just spilt out. It had to be made for me to heal and I feel so much better for it.
How long does it usually take you to write a song? If we go out for a good lunch, you probably get something out of me in about an hour. I wrote Little Mix’s “Shout Out to My Ex” in an hour too – I just love when I’m writing something empowering for women in particular, that’s always been my thing.
What can you tell us about the “Learning” music video? The video shows me as the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. This song always makes me cry, and I couldn’t stop the tears falling during the shoot! I’ve been obsessed with Femi Ladi’s videos so it was a dream getting to work with him. His idea was to show me learning how to fly, and I think he executed it so beautifully.
Having written so many colossal hits, do you ever have high expectations for yourself when you step into the studio? Definitely, I feel so scared a lot of the time. I’m potentially about to start working with Cardi B and I’m so shook. But one thing I know I can do is sing a melody, so I always hope that there’ll be a mic in the room and I can sing something.
We imagine that 90% of a studio session is just talking and then the final 10% is the writing element – what usually goes down in a studio session with KAMILLE? Literally that! 4PM comes around and usually, we’re all in the room like, “Okay, we actually need to do some work.” That happened to me recently when I was writing for Zedd, but then you end up making incredible things as you’ve only got like an hour before you go.
You were originally a stockbroker before you had a foot in the music industry – how did this transition begin? I hung around studios while I was at my job, so I wasn’t that I left and then went into music, it was kind of I was doing them both kind of concurrently and thinking to myself, I think I love music more than I love working in finance. And then one day, I literally just walked out with my job because it was really, really bad. My parents were like, “What the fuck are you doing?” but I just wanted to enjoy my life.
Before I left my job I’d written “What About Us” by The Saturdays, it wasn’t going to be for them but I just loved it and my manager at the time pitched the track to Polydor – the next thing I knew it was number one. It’s not always like that and I totally appreciate it, but I had a really easy transition into music. So I was really lucky in that sense.
You must always have songwriting ideas swirling around in your head – how do you decide which to keep for yourself and which to share with other musicians? One thing about me is I write a lot of songs. If you were to look in my Dropbox right now, you’d be like, astonished. It’s ridiculous! My poor managers, I send them probably 20 songs a day. That being said, I never feel the urge to keep a certain track for myself, and a song will usually stay with me when there’s no one else we feel like it could be for.
Can you remember who showed you the ropes when it came to songwriting when you were first starting out? One of the main people that did that for me was Steve Mac. I begged and begged to get in the studio with him when I first started out and now he’s like a brother to me. He’s always been someone I idolized because he’s written most hits known to man, and he taught me how to write songs on the piano.
Now when I write songs, I always think, what would Steve do here? Or like, what would he say? How could he fix the song? He’s just incredible.
From your single “Mirror Mirror” which is a club banger to “Learning” where we hear a more stripped back version of yourself, we love how much versatility you have as an artist – are these singles you’re putting out going to be part of a full body of work? At the moment I’m just teasing stuff because everyone knows within an artist’s journey you kinda have to figure out what you want to do along the way. And it’s about figuring that out yourself and not being told by anyone else, who you are as an artist. I think now with “Learning,” I’m now making what feels like an album. I’ve probably made four albums worth of music already, I’m not even joking. But “Learning” definitely feels like the start of me just being super honest and really creative with my music.
Tell us a little bit about your label Pure Cut, how did the label start? To be honest with you, it started more from the fact that I wanted to help other people, because I noticed when I was trying to be an artist that there weren’t many people that look like me. There weren’t many people being discovered organically and being found without having to have massive numbers on social media. I just wanted to find people that were really talented and help nurture them and write with them if they wanted me to.
I thought through the process of writing all these songs for all these amazing artists, I would actually find that I’d be A&R’ing like I did on the X Factor UK with Simon Cowell. I worked on the show for two years and I ended up writing “Sax” with Fleur East. I’d sit with labels and the A&R team and think about video and song concepts and all these things that, you know, labels do. I realized that I’m actually really good at this and that I like doing this to people. And that’s kind of what inspired my label idea.
Having had the big break that you did – what would you say the overall highlight of your success has been so far? As a songwriter, my most memorable one was probably knocking myself off of number one on the chart. We went to number one with Jess Glynne’s “I’ll Be There” and a week later I was number one again with “Solo” by Clean Bandit. I remember thinking this is ridiculous as a black woman in music, I also think I’m probably the only person in the UK to do that. I will literally tell my child one day and annoy them with all the facts because bitch, I knocked myself off number one!
An extra highlight would be when I was sitting next to Little Mix at the BRITs, and when they won single of the year with “Shout Out To My Ex.” That song came from such a shitty experience for us all with our exes and just seeing their faces was so special as they’d never won a BRIT award before– it was just a beautiful moment.
Then as an artist, I think right now in this moment releasing “Learning” which is literally my life experience and something that was so painful for me and seeing it connect with so many people and getting 100 messages a day on Instagram about people going through depression and this song helping them.
“Learning” is your first release of the year, but what’s on the horizon? I think the key with my artist proposition right now is I’m just gonna be putting out so much consistent music. I want people to really hear what I have to say. The next song is on the way and I definitely think everyone’s gonna love it. It’s something you can move to and just feel really empowered again.
And what I really want to do now is try and break America. That’s my next goal. I’ve done so much over here in the UK and so much more to do in America. So I’m excited about that.