‘The industry, as a business, has changed dramatically': Billie Myers speaks to So So Gay
So So Gay: Hi Billie. How are you today?
Billie Myers: I’m doing great, thanks.
Tell us a little bit about how Tea and Sympathy came about.
Honestly, it just seemed that the timing was right. I had the songs and was incredibly fortunate to have the right people and the support around me that gave me the confidence to turn a thought into a reality. This time round, I wanted to do things differently and releasing Tea and Sympathy through my own label, Fruit Loop Records, afforded me the luxury to do so. One thing, for example, that was really important to me was to record in England while staying true to my lyrical roots to try and infuse a different feel, something I hope comes across.
The songwriting on this album feels incredibly ‘personal’. For someone who’s had their ups and downs, has the process been cathartic for you?
Yes, very cathartic. Personally, I think it’s always good to get anything emotional out on paper. It helps take away the power of the event.
You’ve been very open and honest about battling with depression. What advice would you give to anyone going through the same?
I would say to anyone battling with depression that the most important thing is get help and make sure it’s from qualified psychiatrists who specialise in your area. It’s also incredibly important to stay consistent in terms of your treatment. It’s all too easy to start treatment then suddenly decide you’re feeling alright and stop. It’s also incredibly important to not fall victim to stigma, something which, in reality, is extremely difficult. There are also some fantastic resources out there. MIND, for example, are doing great work highlighting the issues of mental health and using personalities like The Saturdays’ Frankie Sandford, Trisha Goddard, Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry to show how depression can affect anyone.
Do you think there’s enough support for mental health issues in the UK?
It’s definitely improving, but there is still an incredibly long way to go. I think childhood depression has long been an ignored topic and being aware now that this was an issue for me. I think the work Professor Tanya Byron (House of Tiny Tearaways) and the charity Mindfull is doing to support teens is hugely important and long overdue. Some of their findings are shocking – they found that a young person could end up talking to 22 people on average about their feelings of depression before they were actually able to get help. That’s something I can really relate to. No-one, at the time, recognised any symptoms in me. There didn’t seem to be any inkling that my inconsistencies at school could be related to it – if someone is getting straight As one minute and failing dismally the next, there’s got to be a reason for that. If a child is isolating themselves from the crowd or at odds with them then people need to wake up and notice that. I know it’s difficult because we’re understaffed and underfunded, but these are really important issues. The difference that early intervention makes can be really life-changing. Get someone on a good care regime when they’re young and they get to live a normal, productive and successful life. If you don’t, they end up going through horrific bouts of cyclical depression and suffering that is avoidable, and in some cases result in death. That is just not acceptable.
It’s almost 15 years since ‘Kiss The Rain’ became a worldwide hit. What has changed in the music industry in that time?
I think the music industry, by definition, is cyclical and as such it’s gone backwards and forwards. The industry, as a business, has changed dramatically and there’s less focus on the craft of songwriting and artistry. It seems we now live in a time focused on a genre of everything having to have a six-second sample rate to be hit.
Do you think that shows like The Voice and X Factor help or hinder?
Personally, I don’t watch them because I sometimes find the criticism to be, whilst honest, cruel. It doesn’t make for good entertainment for me to watch someone’s dreams be shattered. Obviously though, they have their place and you know there’s been some great winners who have gone on to have success – you only have to look at artists like One Direction, who didn’t even win, to see that!
A song like ‘Kiss The Rain’, which made such a global impact, is bound to become something of a ‘signature song’. Do you still get the same kick out of performing it as you did back then?
Absolutely. I love singing it for many reasons. It’s a tad melodramatic which suits me perfectly! It’s one of the songs like ‘You Send Me Flying’ and ‘Wonderful’ that you just know the fans are going to get as involved in as you and there’s something really special about how that feels.
Back to Tea and Sympathy, do you have a particular favourite track on the album?
It depends on the day you ask me, or the mood that I’m in. I would say ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ or ‘Anonymous’ would be constant favourites, but if I’m feeling particularly frustrated with an angry angle then you’re probably going to hear me blaring out… well actually that’s not true I don’t play my own music.. ‘Dear God’. It has that dance undertone that sort of helps you relieve the anger you might be feeling.
Who are your personal musical influences?
I really love anyone who has a lyrical feel, so singers like Sarah McLachlan, Horse, Alison Moyet, Julia Fordham, Sinead O’Connor are constant favourites. More modern artists like Adele, Emeli SandÃ©, Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora also are big faves. I’m also discovering up-and-coming artists like Heather Peace who I’m really enjoying listening to.
Do you have plans to play any live dates in the UK soon?
We’re actually in talks at the moment and currently in the process of working out some dates. It’s looking like the autumn when everyone is back from their sunny summer holidays. The minute it’s finalised, So So Gay will be the first to know!
We’re pleased to hear it! Do you manage to get back to the UK very often?
Yes, I currently split my time between Miami, Los Angeles and the UK and so tend to be here every six to eight weeks. Fingers crossed, my next trip is going to coincide with getting to see Beverley Knight on her opening night in The Bodyguard. I’ll also be beyond gutted if I don’t get to catch at least one of Alison Moyet’s shows.
Is there anything you particularly miss about the UK when you’re not here?
Where do I start? Fish and chips and steak and kidney pudding and chips just aren’t the same anywhere else. There’s also something about just walking into a good old English pub you don’t find over here in the States. There is such a welcoming and homely feel when you go in. With American pubs, they’re either full of teens or sports pubs. I don’t find them to be very neighbourly, but maybe I’m just going to the wrong ones! It also never ceases to be amuse me how resilient English smokers are. Come rain, snow or -50 degree temperatures and there will still be a crowd outside the pub. That just makes me laugh! I also really miss British television! I’m a total Luther and Sherlock nut.The worst thing about being away, though, is I find it near impossible to keep up with an old face; Eastenders! I also miss good old British comedy and the likes of French and Saunders.
You’re openly bisexual. Do you think that the LGBT community is moving closer to real equality?
We’ve moved a long way since Ellen lost her career momentarily for coming out on national TV. Now she’s one of the most powerful chat show hosts in America. It’s the difference time makes. Take BBC’s Waterloo Road. Go back a few years and Heather Peace playing a gay teacher would have been something the media would be talking about week after week. These days, it’s not even seen as something worth focusing on which is exactly how it should be. For me, true equality will be when it’s not worth mentioning if you’re gay or not. There’s been a lot of interest in newsreaders like the BBC’s Jane Hill and Evan Davis being gay. For me, who you sleep with should have no bearing on reading the news… well, unless I missed something in school. That is unless you’re really hot and have an Amanda Donohoe-type accent then you can read the news to me with your slippers under my bed. On a similar subject, there’s been a lot of talk in the news about gay rape following the arrest of Tory Deputy Commons Speaker Nigel Evans. I don’t understand what that is about. There isn’t gay rape. Rape is rape. You don’t need to put the word gay in front of it
Finally, what do the next twelve months hold in store for Billie Myers?
Billie Myers has no idea as she can’t see around corners unfortunately, which is something I really would like to do if someone could sort that for me! Hopefully, it will involve a lot more promoting of Tea and Sympathy, writing, singing, voiceover work and hopefully even some acting. Really, I’m open to whatever happens!
Tea and Sympathy is available to download now from iTunes.