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Camille O’Sullivan Interview

Image © Camille O'Sullivan via Facebook

London Calling chats to singer Camille O’Sullivan who returns to the Roundhouse 31 January for their ‘In the Round’ series.

Camille O’Sullivan is a performer known for her dramatic interpretations of songs by artists from Jacques Brel to Radiohead - she is currently appearing in Southbank Centre’s Spiegeltent with La Soirée. London Calling had a chat with O’Sullivan prior to her ‘In the Round’ show at the Roundhouse.

London Calling: Do you have particular goals for the year ahead?

Camille O’Sullivan: Two things that are kind of opposing. One is to relax and be kind to myself, not to get stressed out so much. I have an agent but I manage a lot of things myself so there’s a lot of pressure. The opposing one is to push myself to maybe try and create something different that I’ve never done before. One of the things I am putting into practice at the moment is a project I’m doing with an artist over in Australia called Paul Kelly - we’re putting music to poetry. That came off the back of having put music to Shakespeare last year [for The Rape of Lucrece] with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

And maybe to do some more acting - I was doing a bit of acting last year, a TV series that’s coming out in Ireland now called Rebellion about the 1916 Easter Rising. I was playing Countess Markievicz in that. I knew that something good must have happened because the day after it was seen I was getting offers! My wishes came true a bit sooner than I thought.

I always want to diet but luckily I started a small diet about two months before [La Soirée] so I’m already fitting into my dresses.

LC: What is the trick to singing emotional songs live without being overcome by the feeling of the song?

COS: I didn’t train in a school - I trained in front of an audience. In a very intimate space you see them falling asleep or looking at their watch or not connecting with you, so you learn. It’s a bit like being on a date: you don’t try too hard - you don’t look too emotional or too crazy.

If you’re going for an emotion in a song, it’s like when you walk down the street or you sit in your bedroom: you listen to that song and you sing to yourself. It’s an inward thing, it’s quite a personal thing and it can make you tearful and it can move you. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing to 20 or a thousand or 2000, that’s what you’re trying to hold onto on stage, that absolute connection - to sing to yourself. And it doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the audience, it just means you let them in, in a very private way. If you express yourself too much it’s kind of overbearing for an audience because they’re like ‘Oh God...’ It’s okay to be like that if you’re doing a mad sort of chaotic song where you’re being really flamboyant but not if you’re doing a peaceful song by Brel or Nick Cave.

I only sing a song because it means something to me and so sometimes I have to lock down and sometimes  - without sounding ridiculous - I have a cinematic/postcard thing in my head of an image of maybe a friend or a person that really matters to me. I lock down into thinking of them, so it really is in the moment and I am recalling something. Over the years I’ve realised you can push an audience away if you try too hard. And it’s about just being vulnerable or open - sometimes when you’re too sturdy or confident that can knock them out too.

Luckily for me I am quite, I don’t know... out there [laughs] and I can get quite vulnerable so I have to keep that channel open. It’s kind of really frustrating because it can make you quite nervous before you go on stage, because you don’t know if you’re going to hit it or not.

LC: What are you looking forward to about your Roundhouse show?

COS: I’m already terrified about that. Well, I’ve done it before - twice in 2009 and in 2012. I love that venue. The venue has done half the work because when you’re coming in as an audience member you are kind of floored by the beauty of that place. It also knocked me for - you know, 20 - when I came in and I sang because usually your voice comes back to you. It doesn’t come back to you in the Roundhouse because it’s so big, it just goes on and on and you’re like ‘Where’s it gone?’ It’s gone out there.

Being in the round is going to be amazing - I love the idea that you’re surrounded. The stage will be in the middle but I’m also thinking every space will be the stage: the audience, where they are, around them, above them. A lot of the show depends on being a chameleon on stage and becoming different people and then that can create vignettes. I love the idea of making a theatrical moment, whether that’s done through light or sound or - I have a moment when a Radiohead song [is accompanied by] kind of like a mirror ball effect.

I’m bringing a six-piece band and I’ve got ideas about other people who might be singing along the way. I want to make it a special evening and I think it’s about rocking it out and then making it really intimate. I really want people coming to have a fantastical evening - bring them in but scare them a little too, you know!

LC: What happens between songs?

COS: Somebody said to me in Germany [German accent] ‘You look very enigmatic but you are very bonkers’. I’m not worried about looking crazy or demented or joyful or dancing. Sometimes I feel highly embarrassed after coming off the stage. I think it’s about being uninhibited. Recently in Edinburgh I fell off the stage monitor, but the audience thought it was part of the act because I kept singing as I went down. I think mistakes at this stage in my career are quite a good thing because they remind the audience: this could be you; this is as live as it gets.

Camille O’Sullivan In the Round is at the Roundhouse on Sunday 31 January as part of the ‘In the Round’ series of events from 28 January to 6 February 2016. For more information and to book tickets, see website.