15 November 2011
Ricki-Lee Coulter is incredibly excited, despite having been up since 4am. Sitting in the offices of her
new label EMI, she enthuses over her performances on Sunrise that morning and X Factor the night before.
“I don’t think I have ever enjoyed being on stage and performing as much as I enjoyed doing those shows. I think it’s because I took a few years away from music and put everything back in perspective. I needed a break from music and now I feel like I’m doing it all for the very first time. It feels brand new. I think everything is so different this time around; I’ve changed a lot and having that big break reignited my passion for what I do.”
Despite repeatedly apologising for gushing (“It’s kind of sickening, really”), it is endearing how enthused she is at this point in her career. It comes after a tumultuous few years, in which she lost the spark for performing, shelved an album after the lukewarm reaction to the first single, left her long-term manager Lauren Brown and halted her career as a recording artist. She took a full-time position as a breakfast host on Sydney’s NovaFM and immersed herself in that side of the industry.
“I got to a point with music where I was kind of over it; it was a culmination of a lot of issues. When you are not enjoying something, it’s not very conducive to being productive or putting 100% effort in. It becomes a drag, and the whole point in doing what we do is to enjoy it. When it stops being fun it becomes a job and the best part about doing what we do is that it’s not a job and it’s not just a task. I had to take a look at why this was so and make a few changes, and I did that. It was great that I had radio to keep my mind active. I still got to be around music and interview huge artists and talk to people who inspired me, so I got to fulfill that side.”
After a year of being thoroughly uninspired – “I wasn’t feeling motivated to write or make music, it was kind of scary ‘cos I’m usually always writing” – a snap decision to see Thirty Seconds To Mars in Melbourne reignited her passion for performing. She explains how watching Jared Leto command the audience triggered a childhood memory of watching and rewatching Michael Jackson’s Dangerous tour video and discovering the power that comes with holding the audience in the palm of a (gloved) hand: “It just gave me those chills again. I missed that.” Suddenly, playing DJ wasn’t cutting it for Coulter anymore.
“I could not wait to hit the off- button on that last day, hop on a plane and head over to the States to start working on the album, ‘cos for so long I wasn’t creative.” Teaming up with songwriter/ producer Billy Mann (Pink) in his home studio, Ricki-Lee wrote first single Raining Diamonds, a powerful slice of dance-pop that serves as both a re-entry into the industry, and a statement of intent.
“It’s about being empowered, about not standing for average, about not standing for people treating you bad, not standing for people taking advantage of you, getting out of shitty relationships and valuing yourself enough to say ‘I deserve the best’,” she explains of the song. “I was writing with all these different people and we were trying to get that song; for whatever reason magic doesn’t happen with every writing combination. All of a sudden I stepped into Billy Mann’s house...” With “90% of the album” done, Ricki-Lee suggests that Raining Diamonds is an indication of how the album will sound. The words ‘positive’, ‘anthemic’, ‘epic’, and ‘substance’ pop up frequently when she describes the album. This single- minded drive is no surprise to those who have followed Coulter’s career. From her effortless supremacy yet early exit from Australian Idol (which host Ian Dickson rather hilariously and angrily described as “a scandal”), to her decision to shun the major label route and sign with an independent, Coulter has always steered her own career.
“Sony were taking about doing a single and to me that wasn’t enough, I wanted more commitment,” she explains of her decision to sign with Shock Records. “I’d met with a number of labels and Shock were the only one that asked me what I wanted to do and what kind of album I wanted to make and who I wanted to work with.” She is openly proud of this decision, describing it correctly as a big risk. “I’m really, really proud of the success we had, that we could compete with international artists and to be sitting in a chart at #2 behind Fergie, missing out on number one by like 15 sales, that was a really satisfying feeling. We did amazing things with the limited budget we had.”
She discusses a similar scandal that erupted when she ‘left’ Idol supergroup Young Divas, explaining how what started as a three-date co-headlining tour became a thirty-show commitment, coupled with high selling singles and a studio album.
“It was not ever meant to be a band. I never signed up to be in a band, I never wanted to be in a band. It was never meant to be a forever thing. It was a tour project. When I said ‘Right, I’m off to do my own album,’ it was blown up into this big thing by the media. It was never a band”, she exclaims. “It was a tour!” Also blown into a ‘big thing’ was Coulter’s recent Maxim shoot, in which she posed for a series of racy shots for the magazine. Sydney Morning Herald’s Jo Casamento referred to it as “a tacky tits and ass shoot” and opinions have been fiercely divided on the photographs. Which suits Coulter just fine.
“I’ve read differing opinions on whether I should or shouldn’t have done it, but people are talking about it,” she says with a shrug. “I find it funny; I mean I respect people’s opinions, everyone’s entitled to one, but if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have done it. “If you do something outside the little safe box people are going to have an opinion. There’s going to be a backlash and that’s the risk. But I’m not 18 anymore. Yes, I do love that I can still be a really positive role model for young girls, but I’m a 26-year-old woman and I feel the best I have ever felt in my life.
“I feel liberated and I feel strong and I feel free and in ten years time when I look back at it, it’s a snapshot of how great I feel and how confident I am – not just physically but in every sense of my life. This photo-shoot was a powerful, strong stance to take. I’m really proud that I could stand in front of the camera and feel as strong as I did.”
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