"I've been singing since I was really young. I played the violin in school, too... I would play in school orchestra and one thing led to another, and I started my own band when I was 15. It was this indie band called Helen that I guess was influenced by the Riot Grrl scene. It was all girls—they were friends of mine. I never wanted to be a solo artist; I always wanted to be in a band. And [the success of] Put Your Record On came out of nowhere. It’s fun being on the road because I feel like I’m back in a band again when I do that, you know just being with everyone and it’s all our job to make it work. Growing up, I feel like everyone I knew was in a band. I just did it for longer and longer and never gave it up.
I'm very grateful to do what I do. I remember getting invited to the pre-Grammys event where they read out the nominations, and I was thinking, 'Wow, they're inviting me to that?' I never thought I was actually nominated—I mean, Justin Timberlake was there—and then they read out my name. That was really crazy. I have two Grammys now, for which I'm really thankful. I guess I still don't think of myself as a singer, or that anyone wants to hear me sing. But it's the main thing I do, really, so it's nice to be accepted as that.
It took me ages to realize that what you do visually is really important. Especially because people hear your song for the first time on Youtube—they'll always hear it with a video. I think Björk has the best link between the strangeness of her music and the way that she presents herself. When she was, I don't know, 27, she would just put a sequin in the corner of each eye and have her hair really messy and be like, ‘Here I am, I’m 27!’ As she gets older, she's gotten wilder, and I feel like that's really powerful. I really like the sort of control she has in presenting herself. Meanwhile, I was clueless about makeup when I started into music, but I know what I like and what I don't like. For my first record, my look was sort of cute and innocent, and that suited the record. My new record is much more internal and mysterious, and I want that to come across. I like wearing bright color and particular shapes, and I feel like it's almost part of the performance of music. It's nice to explore... I'm embracing it.
On stage, I like to wear makeup because I like that theatrical aspect. The colors you can get in the Armani Foundation are really good—I use 9 right now—and I like the texture. When you put it in your hand it’s liquid-y, but then when you work it in a little bit it has a skin-like texture. You can have it sit on your skin and it gives it more of a powdered finish. I don't always set with a powder, but I like Trish McAvoy's. The Chanel concealer is really nice. I like to just wear that during the day.
Diorshow New Look Mascara is really good for separating my lashes. If I'm going out to dinner, I'll just put a dark mess on the lash line. Now I've started doing my eyebrows with that clear brow gel. The only one I know of is just this one I get from Net-A-Porter, it’s called Anastasia—just to get them to obey because there’s a lot of eyebrow. I don't pluck them, but I do smooth them down. Sometimes if I don’t do them, my sister will be like, 'What’s happening with your eyebrows?' She’ll try and like, flatten them out. Yeah, so she keeps me in check.
I feel like I’ve never really found a good eyeliner. Like, if you use a kohl pencil, it just comes off, so that’s annoying. And if you use a liquid one, they seem to be really grey—you put it on black but it never really stays black. Cream blush is my favorite, because my face just eats makeup, apparently. I use Shu Uemura and I’ll just put it on my little smiley parts. MAC Cherish is my lipstick, I really like that. My bottom and top lip are slightly different tints, but I like that. Sometimes when I get my makeup done, the artist tries to make it all one color, and that looks weird. Cherish just kind of evens it out, but you'll still be able to see a darker top lip or dark edges. I like the different tones.
Dr. Hauschka has got a really good lip balm in a pot. It's kind of orange, but I think it's meant to be worn as a rosy tint. I really like that company Neal's Yard in England, too. They have this thing, Wild Rose Beauty Balm, which is just an amazing oil thing you can use as a cleanser or a moisturizer. That’s another big tour favorite for me when I’m just really tired and can’t get out of the bed. That stuff just so oily though, it just lifts off makeup.
I’m a really big fan of this company called Liz Earle. I get facials from her place in Leeds, where I'm from. My everyday routine starts at night in that I like to get all the makeup off my face, which is why that Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish thing is really good. And then you put the cloth in water, hot water, and then you wring. So it’s not wet anymore, it’s just hot, and then you just do little circles. It takes all the makeup off, and probably the top layer of your skin as well. [Laughs] And then I’ve got this mask that I sometimes use by a company, Yon-Ka. They sell it here in New York, but I think it’s French. I never see it at home, so I always get it when I’m here. And that’s like a crazy 1980s face mask, because you put it on and it’s like clear shiny slimy stuff, and then it kind of dries. And it looks like you’ve got cling film all over your face.
If I’m flying I’ll always put loads of moisturizer on so I just look totally shiny—I like Liz Earle's moisturizer. She's got a Super Skin Concentrate Oil, and I just love oils. I like to be clean and I mean, my face will go shiny anyway, but I don’t mind a shiny face.
For my hair I have a sort of, maybe 8 or 9-day routine. So I wash my hair with that Rahua Shampoo for Dry Hair, and then I use Liz Earle Conditioner. That’s just got a really nice smell and you don’t have to use loads of it either. I like when a product says it’s oil and it’s actually oil. Not like, a bit of oil and all kinds of alcohol. It's not a leave-in but I leave it in anyway. I comb out my hair and brush it with this big Aveda paddle brush... a lot of people say not to brush afro hair with a paddle brush but I think, that’s what works for me, so I'm gonna use it. Then I'll braid it and leave it drying in the braids. I'll take it out 24 hours later—I actually just took it out this morning. And it’ll dry a little bit in the air and it’ll just be curly.
If I have a shoot someone will come in and iron my hair, but I don't want to destroy my hair, so I try to do as much with the kink of my plaits as possible. I used to have a perm when I was 13—I was desperate to get it done, and it was my transition into grown-up hair. It’s afro hair so you have it straightened, then curled, which seems crazy and it’s so bad for your hair. So a lot of my teen years there was a lot of hairspray with the straightener, which was always sticky and unpleasant. And then the curl moisturizer which is a whole separate thing. One was called New Era, and it was a good one, but when you didn't have money you'd have to settle for the cheaper stuff. I stopped when I was 16 and since then I’ve just always had my hair natural. Sometimes I'll style it down, sometimes I'll put it into braids or long plaits on the top of my head, or a lot of the time I'll wear it in a headwrap. I like ponytails, too.
I do all of the body stuff, I love it. I’ve got a dry brush I use probably not as much as I should, but it’s so good to do all that. It really invigorates you and wakes you up. And baths are important, I’ll always have a bath and I'll sit there for ages. There’s one thing I use, Coqui Coqui Bath Oil, and it smells of orange blossom. It's just the most incredible smell. I add Dead Sea salt, and I use them together. I feel like I still haven’t found a good body moisturizer. I really like that Rodin...I mean I love all her stuff but it’s super expensive. So I’ve got another thing I got for one of those Grammys events and it’s a whipped argan oil by Josie Maran.
I carry all my stress physically in my body, in my shoulders. So I've gotten really into Pilates, and recently I started working with this guy to work on breathing, get more aligned. I just find it to be so useful and when I was first doing it, it was almost like a type of therapy, and it's quite meditative, too. And it's changed everything...the way I sleep or open the fridge door, or read a book. We can completely change the alignment and posture and mobility of our bodies, and that was kind of a revelation to me. So I’ll go to a studio when I’m in Leeds but when I’m on the road, I’ve got a lot of exercises I’ll do. I was doing it in the queue for immigration the other day. [Laughs] The line was an hour long!"
—as told to ITG
Corinne Bailey Rae photographed by Tom Newton in New York on August 1, 2016.