After two stints on The X Factor, including finishing runner-up in 2014 where she became the first contestant in the show’s history to reach Number One on the iTunes chart during the competition, singer, songwriter and radio presenter Fleur East has walked an interesting path through the music industry. With her new album Fearless released last month, we caught up with her to talk about reality television, the unexpected truths of the music industry and how she’s handling lockdown...
What made you first want to be a singer?
When my mum was pregnant with me, her and my father would play music to me with headphones on her stomach. My parent’s earliest memory of me was when I was two years old, sitting in the back of my dad's car singing along to the radio, so it's almost always been with me since I could make a sound.
You’ve recently released your new album Fearless. What has the response been like?
There’s been an amazing reaction. The album has only been out a short time and people are already posting covers, which is amazing. I think because of the current climate we're all in, people are taking more time to actually listen to the songs.
Fearless has been released through your own label – how have you found that in comparison to previously being part of Simon Cowell's label, Syco?
It’s been an interesting journey – a lot more intense and far more stressful. I was involved in every stage of the production process for the whole album, so as soon as it was finished and I could hold it in my hands it was the most amazing feeling. When you see it come to life and you've been involved in every single stage, there's no comparison to the situation before.
Which song means the most to you?
My father passed away recently, and his favourite song was Absence Speaks Louder Than Words. So the moment that the album came out, that song had a whole new meaning for me and now it's become my favourite song.
What is your songwriting process?
Sometimes I get an idea in my sleep and I'll just roll over and put it into my voice notes on my phone. Other times I’ll go to the studio and the producer will start playing chords on the piano, or start making a beat and I’ll begin putting it together. So it's different every time, to be honest. That's what I love about it, it’s so unpredictable. You never know what you're going to get, you walk into the session sometimes with no ideas and you leave with a completely formed song.
You were on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here in 2018 – what was the biggest lesson you took away from your time in the jungle?
I definitely learned how important family is to me, and having your close-knit circle around you. Being away from them for so long and not being able to contact them at all definitely made me really appreciate them. I also learnt that I'm a lot more brave than I thought; when I was going into the jungle I thought I'd be an absolute mess, I didn't have very high expectations of myself going into trials. I surprised myself and I look back on it now and think ‘what an incredible experience’.
I sat down in lockdown with my mum the other night and started talking about the whole journey of me and my life through music
Who are you most thankful to for helping you be where you are today?
It's definitely got to be my parents for encouraging me. I sat down in lockdown with my mum the other night and started talking about the whole journey of me and my life through music. It's just amazing how much my parents encouraged me and supported me in that. Also, I think recently my husband; he believes in me more than I believe in myself. He consistently pushes me, he is very brave.
What is something that you’ve learnt about the music industry that you didn’t expect to find?
I think it can be a lot more political than I thought. I think when you look at it from the outside you think, ‘Wow how exciting, it's very glamorous, it’s very glitzy’. But when you actually get into the industry, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. It's a lot harder than I thought – you have to be so strong in sticking to it and I learnt that if you don't have a love for music, you won't be able to sustain a career.
How do you feel the UK’s lockdown is affecting artists in particular?
I think everyone is coping with it in their own ways, some are losing their mind a little bit and others are taking the time to be productive. On the whole it's a great time for artists, we are seeing them be a lot more creative. For example, a lot of them now are going onto Instagram, and doing a lot of live concerts for platforms. We are getting to see an insight into the artistry which I don't think we would've got without it.
You were recently on The One Show with your rap about isolation. Can you tell us a little bit more about the story behind you creating that?
I got asked very last-minute to go on the show, and I'd been on previously and performed a rap about Brexit. Every Friday I do a rap roulette as part of my radio show for Hits Radio Breakfast. They said, it’d be amazing if you could write something about working from home. So that day I just sat down – I think it took about an hour – and put it together. But it's had a great reaction and I think it's helped to lift everyone's spirits that are in lockdown. There have been a lot of people tagging their friends, so I'm glad that I could do that.
I noticed you were doing a workout on your Instagram live – are you planning on doing it as a regular thing to help people keep fit during lockdown?
It's interesting because me and my cousin started this thing called ‘The Weight Gym’. We call it a gym in a box – you can perform a full body workout without having to leave your house. It’s been quite hard doing it with just the three of us, it's a family business that we do together, and since lockdown we've completely sold out of the majority of the products, which is unreal. Now I've got this whole community of people that are working out using the equipment. I'm definitely going to continue doing it, once I've set a task and I put it out there publicly I'm held accountable!
What advice would you give to others looking to get into the music industry?
I would say the main thing is to just keep practising, because you never know when the opportunity will come that's going to take you to the next level. Some people believe in luck, but I think it's a combination of hard work and meeting opportunity. You've got to be working hard and just stay ready for when the opportunity comes – the minute the door opens you’ve got to be ready so you can show what you've practised and all the experience that you've got under your belt.
Fearless is available to download now