Jodie Marie - The Answer
The Answer came from the hills. Or to be precise, it came from a chapel nestled in the deep, grassy folds of mid-Pembrokeshire, in the wilds of West Wales.
Jodie Marie has experienced quite a life away from places like these. A major label record contract at 16 threw her between the hotels and spare rooms of London, to the warmth of her home turf in nearby Narberth for years. But as she got older, she knew she needed to be back here to properly breathe. This was home. This was where the music called out to her.
The chapel is Carmel, where Jodie Marie now lives, writes and records: her and boyfriend Owain Fleetwood Jenkins bought the beautiful building in 2017 at an auction, turning it into a home and residential studio, where music plays at all hours (and it can: it’s in the middle of the countryside, the nearest neighbour being half a mile away. Carmel is where Jodie sits at two in the morning, sometimes brightening the darkness with candles, to write a verse, a whole song, or just sing. It’s where she created the classic songs that came together so naturally on her first album in five years.
“A chapel is built for singing in,” she explains from the studio, her Welsh vowels round, ripe and warm. “I’m not religious, but there’s something in the air here. Whatever it is, it makes you more reactive and inspired. It makes making music feel beautiful and worthwhile, as it should be.”
Jodie Marie Warlow was born in 1991, into a childhood full of music. Her father played bass and sung in local bands: Jodie would hear him practise after she’d gone to bed as a small child, sneak downstairs, and join him to add harmonies. Her mum loved listening to music, and blues and soul songs often filled the house: Aretha Franklin, BB King, Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Fontella Bass were regular guests. As Jodie grew up, she got into Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, as well as more modern slants on old sounds like The Black Keys and Amy Winehouse. She also became a huge fan of early ‘60s singer Lesley Gore, best known for the perennial pop song, It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To). “I love how her songs sound happy, but they’ve often got really dark lyrics, but I also love how their spirit and their sounds always remind you it’s not the end of the world.”
At 16, she was spotted singing by the father of a manager who worked for London indie label, Transgressive Records, who was down in Pembrokeshire on holiday. She got a manager and went to London, where she started working with artists like Bernard Butler, Dan Smith from the Noisettes, and Ed Harcourt, who remains a co-writer, and good friend. “There’s no one like Ed,” she says, smiling. “He’s so talented, and so funny. Being with him is a friendship – you have lunch, have a connection, then write a song – it’s so much more of a process, and that approach has stayed with me for life.”
A one-album deal with Decca followed, as did great reviews for her 2012 debut album, Mountain Echo (“Beautiful”, wrote The Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan, “Jodie Marie's velvety, bittersweet touch suggests the emergence of a female Richard Hawley”). Trouble In Mind followed in 2015, recorded back home, in the first studio kitted out impeccably by Owain, Jodie’s partner since her teens; he studied music technology at the Birmingham Conservatoire. “That was a converted cowshed, though,” Jodie laughs. “Carmel is a bit different.”
By her second album, she’d also been dropped by Decca; she admits she’d lost faith in being part of the music business. The idea of being somewhere far away from that world appealed. So did a dream of having a permanent, rural home for making music on hers and Owain’s own terms. They had a romantic notion of building something like Sun Studios or Muscle Shoals, but in sight of the Preseli mountains. Then the dream became reality.
Finding Carmel, a former Baptist chapel, on sale in 2017, the couple built a gorgeous analogue studio inside it, helped by both Jodie & Owain’s parents and friends, who shifted gear and hoisted tools. “I never forget the day we opened it,’ Jodie remembers; this was January 2019. “Erm, we’ve just built a residential studio in the middle of nowhere. Who will come?” But come musicians did, and the environment that evolved helped Jodie no end; she even has a piano under the stairs in the house next door to the chapel, where her and Owain live, if there are people recording in the studio. “It’s so peaceful here, wherever you are – all you have to cope with is the occasional tractor or mooing cow. You gain headspace. Having other musicians here drives you on, too. Everyone’s together trying to do the same thing.”
From this magical place came the bulk of The Answer, an album of instantly rich, classic songs which provided Jodie the best kind of therapy (it’s a “comfort blanket” of an album to her, she says). Its lead single is Carageen, co-written with Ed Harcourt, the name taken from a lush seaweed that grows on the Pembrokeshire coast, where Jodie walks and swims. “Carageen reminds me of a time where I felt quite lost and the ocean was my safe place,” she explains. “I love how the sea is so big and vast it makes me feel quite insignificant, so it put things into perspective.” Those times helped her clear her head, which wasn’t unimportant. She also realised that music would keep drawing her back whatever she did, just like those waves crashing onto the shore.
The Answer sees Jodie return to music with a full heart, and in fantastic voice. It kicks off with You Are My Life, a joyous, slyly funky love song, driven along by a snappy Stax bassline. Ain’t No Doubt About It follows, full of early ‘60s girl group swagger. This House is siphons Southern blues and the spirit of Grace Slick. Curse The Day is more brazen and damning, a sultry cousin of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep. “I was blindsided,” Jodie sings, accusation on her tongue, ‘’til you stung like a bee.”
Jodie also has a way with a ballad that strokes you gently, then burrows under your skin: listen to the title track, or Kiss These Tears Away, or the stunning, sad epic that is Saving Grace, a tale of a long life lived with another (“side by side we have made mistakes/But I’d do it all over again”). There is time and experience here, but also a deep emotional connection to what all of it means. “I wanted to tell a story as if it’s happening in that moment, almost like a diary,” Jodie says, and that immediacy is everywhere. The warm, analogue environment in which her songs exist also make them sound that they’ve been here already, for all time.
Perhaps this is where The Answer lies. It lies in things we know, and things perhaps we’ve always known that we may have forgotten: in the simplicity of love, warmth and human connection, all things that can magically co-exist in a song. Here are twelve of them. Wrap yourselves up in their beauty, and sing along.
Written by: Jude Rogers
Jodie Marie 'The Answer' - album scheduled for release early 2021.
The first single 'Carageen' will be available from all the major streaming platforms from 18th September 2020.