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Q&A: Tailor

POSTED: By Diane Coetzer

Like a strange celestial body blowing through Earth's atmosphere, Tailor arrived – seemingly out of nowhere – midway through 2012, armed with one of last year's finest debuts

Courtesy of The Famous Frouws

Actually, Tailor had been around for a while – just in another incarnation. Dial back to around 2005, and Jo'burg-born Melanie le Roux was busy trying out her musical hand with a band called Mel-funktion ("a bit nu-metal, a bit No Doubt"). Nearly put off by the unhappy implosion of that band, Le Roux moved to Cape Town, got a new name (that signalled a commitment to only do things that were "tailor-made" for where she knew her music should go) and began writing songs. One of these was her debut single "Wolf", which announced a fierce, mesmerising talent – something her full-length record, The Dark Horse, happily confirmed when it was released on Just Music in August 2012. A transporting daylight performance at Oppikoppi's Klein Bar, with guitarist Justin Levitt and The Dark Horse's producer, Matthew Fink, was yet more evidence of Tailor's gifts – the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, piano, drums) easily running a link from the hills of Northam to places like New York City where unfettered female performers like Zola Jesus and Amanda Palmer ply their hypnotic trade. With second single "Step Back" on rotation, and a brace of September dates with label-mates Zebra & Giraffe on the horizon, ROLLING STONE spoke to Tailor about roller-coaster rides, needing rain and always having new songs on her mind.

Was there a feeling of liberation when you morphed from Melanie into Tailor?

Yes, absolutely. Tailor is the performer in me. It's the side of me that I don't easily show people o stage. I must say I am less shy and a lot more confident on stage as Tailor than o it as Melanie.

You're unafraid of the (sometimes) lost art of real performance. Not many people would be willing to bang a drum and sing in a crowded train station as you did in your early video, "Susan". Have you worked at this?

No, I have not. It's something that comes naturally for me. It's that side of me that doesn't give a shit. This is art and that's what performing is about for me. I am not only a singer, but most of all a performer.

A year after making "Susan" you have a record deal, a brilliant debut album on release, and were performing at Oppikoppi. How does this feel?

Surreal. It's all moving so fast. It's a bit of a rollercoaster ride – sometimes a bumpy one but most of all damn exciting. I am truly blessed.

The intensity of your performances can leave the audience feeling emotionally wrung out. How do you feel after a set? Do you do anything special to prepare?

I hit my fists in the air and pretend I'm a boxer going into the ring. I love psyching myself up before a show. I do some good warming up of my vocal cords too.

Your songs are intense, seem deeply personal and never feel anything less than totally sincere. Would you agree?

Oh yes, my songs are almost like novels, chapters in a book. Sometimes I feel like a novel writer more than a songwriter. I sing and perform my songs as if I am the victim or the hero. I relive each song. I must be honest – if I don't get into each song as emotionally as I do, I forget my lyrics and I feel really lost on stage.

Was it a stroke of luck or something magical when you hooked up with your producer Matthew Fink?

Karl Anderson from Just Music knew that we would make a good team. I absolutely loved working with Matthew.

Fink says you can "bang out songs at the piano" with real ease. Has this always been so, or do you think the stars aligned when you decided your career should be "tailor-made"?

I could always write songs off the top of my head, I'm even doing it now. I have this melody stuck in my head and it hasn't left me since this morning. So yes, it comes very naturally for me – except if it hasn't rained in months. Then I am as dry as the earth. Rain calms me down and puts me in the right state of mind to write.

You've described your musical influences as "bits and bobs" but you namecheck Bon Iver and The National. What's it about these artists that makes you a fan?

With Bon Iver, it would definitely have to be a driving sense of the music itself. It takes you away to somewhere you haven't been. The National? I love their stage performance and the lead singer has a great tone in his voice. His lyrics are just as insane, I can't get enough of them.

What now?

Touring and promoting the album is my first priority right now and I am hoping to do some live collaborations.

This article is from the November 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, you can subscribe to the magazine here.

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