Coco is about to drop one of the finest long-playing debuts of 2010, The Constant. Having worked on the record singularly since the age of 15, slaving over those mega lyrics and the shape of the sound, she scrapped it all in the autumn of last year and re-wrote it to her own, exact specifications. Decamped to Sweden to work with one of the two major producers of The Constant, she changed the base contours of the groove from ska and reggae and found something new, more monolithic, ethereal and robust.
She had started thinking about the planet-straddling 80s pop-rock of early Duran Duran and Psychedelic Furs; that unique amalgam of intimate words and epic sounds that have been spruced-up and modernised by one of her contemporary favourites, The Killers (‘Brandon is awkward and angular. That’s sexy to me’). To a girl born in 1991, these 80s sounds were both alien and transgressive. The thought of that kind of music humming from the generic programming of popular radio excited her. Her producer Klas, notable for his sonic involvement with Robyn – another very singular pop star – agreed. Within two months they had fashioned a fresh mission statement for I Blame Coco. The sound of the interior life of a complex woman of 19 lost in another musical stratosphere. Bold and bright, personal and direct.
Coco says that she likes to visit new and unusual places when she is writing lyrics, something that has to happen in a particular manner for her. ‘The words come from specific places in my head. I don’t try and make sense of a lyric when I’m writing it at the time, only afterwards. It’s good to let the subconscious in.’
The first soft-release single from The Constant, Caesar, started life as a bit of glib and funny time-wasting in the studio. It was the last song to be recorded for the set and by now Coco’s confidence as a songwriter (‘I just knew that I had something’) had grown to the point where the subconscious was doing the hardest work. In some ways, it had to. ‘We were incredibly drunk when we wrote Caesar,’ she says, with a smile ‘and Klas and I started having this stream of consciousness thing going on. It was only afterwards I realised I was thinking about political systems, about the corruption of power, about taking the piss out of political sloganeering. Hence the reference to The Lord of The Flies, always a favourite book.’ Happy in the haze of a drunken hour, a subversive hit was born. ‘We suspected we were onto something, played it to the record label and they loved it.’
They weren’t the only ones. Robyn herself heard a scratchy demo of the song and specifically requested if she could lay down an extra vocal on the chorus. ‘There’s a sweetness to her voice,’ says Coco, fully aware that there is a beguiling late-teenage diffidence to her own. ‘It just worked. She is a pop star worth looking up to.’ She says it as if there aren’t many. ‘She has control over every aspect of her music, from the sound to the presentation to the artwork. It is all directly coming from her. And,’ she notes, ‘she is a bit mental.’
It is worth noting at this point that there is a hit record gene somewhere within Coco Sumner. Her mother is Trudie Styler, her father Sting. ‘I love them to death,’ she says, ‘but this is not about them. This is what I do and what I have to say.’ Having first picked up a guitar at the age of 4, Coco was fully abreast of every chord sequence of her favourite album, The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, by the age of 9. She says she was geeky and awkward as a child. ‘I never fit in anywhere.’ Just like all the best pop stars.
She could not espouse rock star brat’s posturing any less. There is something of a daily crisis of confidence about Coco that lends the transatlantic largesse of The Constant a vulnerability and intimacy. She is a beautiful woman but she says ‘I hate my face.’ She says that she is terrified by fame, generally, and cameras, more specifically, and that it took 17 hours of rehearsing under the gentle tutelage of Newham Generals and Dizzee Rascal directors Hope Audikana before she could go into that other place in her head she needed to channel for the Caesar video.Her new vocal sparring partner Robyn was on hand to lend her own unique performance chops. ‘I go to another place when I perform. I lose myself in it.’
When it came to naming the record, Coco had the title from the start. Like Britain’s best new pop star, a contradictory mix of deep insecurities and special musical dexterity, it is open to more than one interpretation. ‘A Constant is something that will always be there, that won’t ever end. It’s also a clock that you put into something and after a number of steps it explodes.’ Timeless and explosive? Welcome to the world of I Blame Coco.