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Becky Hill by Sonny Malhotra 5187

Becky Hill: "I’ve always been secretly into pop music"

23 September 2014, 10:00

For someone who’s had so much success, Becky Hill is extraordinarily apologetic. Throughout our interview she notes how “bad” she is at such things, regularly contrite for feeling like she’s spoken for too long, or that her stories might be boring.

It comes as something of a surprise considering Hill was in the public eye from a young age - as a semi-finalist on the first season of the The Voice. In typical Hill fashion, she wasn’t even planning on going to the audition.

“Seventeen was a really shit year for me," she explains. "I had two bar jobs, I was doing bollocks at sixth form, I was suffering from depression and my life was going to bits. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was really calling out for something.

"Then my friend said I should go on The Voice."

“He gave me the application form and told me to fill it out and that I could win it. It was better than going to sixth form, so I went to the public audition, just by fate really, because I had to be up really early to get there and I remember thinking 'there's no way I’m going to be up in time to go' but nine am on the dot I had a phone call from a different friend telling me in minute detail about his walk of shame and the bird he’d pulled that night. So I had a chat with him about this girl, who worked at Spoons apparently, and thought 'fuck it, I’ll get up and go to this sodding audition.'

"On the train I was picking a song on my iPod, writing the lyrics on my hand just thinking 'am so fucking unprepared. What am I doing?'

"I got there and sang, and they went 'why are the lyrics written on your hand' and I was like 'because I’m not very good at remembering words' and they said 'that’s not good enough, but you’re through to the next round.'

“A couple of weeks later I got a ‘no’, and I turned to my mate Dan and just went 'Dan, they didn’t want me' and Dan went: 'fuck ‘em. I think you’re good anyway,' which was all I wanted to hear. But then I got a phone call off my mum on the last day of term and she was like 'Becky, we’re going to London tomorrow.'

Hill auditioned, got on the show, and next thing she knew was having “the best time of my life. It was like three years of university in six months of TV. I had my own flat and I’d only just turned eighteen."

Hill’s career path has hinged upon a peculiar combination of chance, determination and boundless talent. After The Voice ended, she met with three management companies, doing her research and picking the one that was “focused on the music and not pimping me out to every club in the UK going around as ‘Becky off The Voice’ singing 'Ordinary People'."

She started writing, and as luck would have it, ended up going in for a studio session with Grammy-nominated songwriter-singer-producer MNEK, who at 19 is already setting fire to mainstream radio. “He’s a genius," Hill says. "He got his first publishing deal at 14. What were you doing at 14? It’s genetics.”

They hit it off at once, giving birth to not only a great friendship, but also a furiously successful writing partnership: MNEK has collaborated on most of Hill’s hits, and it’s clear she adores him. Hill has written over 180 songs since her TV stint ended but only a few of those are planned for her album (she’ll sell the rest), and listening to them it’s clear she’s got the chops to make this a career.

Hill is predictably at her best when talking about music, whether it's the virtues of’s songwriting prowess (“Elephunk is the best album I’ve ever bought in my life – and the first one I ever bought”) or the limitless charisma of Ariana Grande: “She’s a badass Disney princess. Super talented, and annoyingly beautiful.”

She projects a disinterest in fame, and cares rather more about defining her place in music, a process she approaches with a ‘try everything’ attitude. Her first single, “Caution to the Wind” is a soulful, electro flecked cut, all blues vocals tinged with a sense of anticipation and the slightest touch of self doubt, while her newest drop “Losing” goes totally in the opposite direction: a '90s-esque club-classic-in-waiting, with raspy earthy vocals keeping time to heady synths and driving dance beats. When I mention it’s a pretty unexpected move she seems pleased: “Good, that’s what I want people to say. I’d been looking for a sound, for a while,” she explains.

“Before I went and wrote with MNEK, I told him my four main influences for the album were Ben Howard, Bon Iver, Ellie Goulding and Passion Pit. Production wise I want it to be Ellie, Bon Iver’s second album and Passion Pit. I love Passion Pit’s energy, they’re amazing.

"Songwriter-wise I wanted to reference Ben Howard and Bon Iver, because their song writing is so strong that their songs are timeless, but teamed with a cool left-field production makes it more accessible – no shit pop.

"I hate fucking pop music, but it’s the only thing I write.”

She laughs, aware of the innate contradiction of what she’s saying, but acknowledging the pointlessness of trying too hard to be ‘cool’. “I’ve always been secretly into pop music. I claim I’m underground, I’ll be like “nah, I’m into dubstep and drum and bass and happy hardcore” and then be listening to pop. I think I’ve got to the point where I don’t care.”

When it comes to her musical heroes she certainly draws up an eclectic list: Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane and Gavin DeGraw’s Chariot, along with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the aforementioned Elephunk feature high on her list of the ideal pop record, but she’s quick to drop the likes of dance producers Cashmere Cat and Shy FX, along with D&B vocalist Jenna G in the same breath.

I can’t help but feel the variety of her influences is shaped by the astonishing group of friends she’s found for herself since finishing the Voice and moving to London. Aside from MNEK she’s become close with (amongst others) Sinead Hartnett and Ella Eyre, who she met touring with Rudimental – even posting a gorgeous group cover of Lorde’s “Royals” on YouTube with them, under the name “Vaginas of Rudimental”.

Shot in black and white, while she had the girls round at hers for a catch-up and some food, it embodies the kind of spontaneous and down-to-earth approach that Hill applies to an industry, which, to an outsider, can seem almost impenetrable. Her charm is infectious, and despite attempts at professionalism our conversation quickly descends into a girly chat, and it’s suddenly entirely obvious how she’s managed to acquire such a close knit group of friends so quickly: Hill lacks any sort of pretence, and she’s disarmingly nice. Far too nice for pop, I mention.

She beams at me in response, all nervousness momentarily gone. “That’s what I like to get across! Less of the popstar thing and more of the normal thing. You’re just doing something you love and hoping everyone else loves it too,” she adds.

I take this as a chance to ask about her newfound clique, expecting a short response and the guardedness that comes with living your life in the public eye. Surprisingly Hill lights up and starts extolling the virtues of her fellow singers - it’s clear the group exists on a healthy dose of collaboration, rather than competition. “It’s nice being with people in the same boat as me,” she explains.

“My favourite thing about it is we’re all one group, and we’re all supportive of each other and helping each other out in the industry, working with one another. I feel like when I joined the industry everyone was very fragmented, looking over their shoulder or being a solo act and keeping it to that. I wanted a unity to it. I wanted us to be a group of friends who could work together, chill together, and just create a really beautiful energy to take into music. I feel like we’re achieving that slowly but surely. I want everyone to learn from each other. That’s the dream.”

“It’s all fresh and new,” she concludes. “Those guys are so talented and I’m blessed to be around them. A little pipe dream would be to hold a club night with everybody playing once a month. It’s a running joke.

"You never know, maybe we could be the next Odd Future!”

"Losing" is released on 16 November via Parlaphone and is available for pre-order. Becky Hill's new mixtape featuring the likes of Jai Paul and Passion Pit is also available now.

Becky Hill was shot for Best Fit by Sonny Malhotra (lead and final photograph only).

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