Louise Setara may be only 18, but she's always been musically mature. After all, she started her recording career as a toddler. "Before I could even talk properly, I was singing. My mom has a recording of me singing Patsy Cline's 'I Love You Honey' at three-years-old," says the soulful singer, whose debut disc, Still Waters, will be released in the US on September 12th by Coast Records/Manhattan Records/EMI. "I got it out the other day and it's so funny-I was so young, I couldn't even pronounce the words properly. But I was in tune."
Louise, who was born in Reading, England and currently resides in Farnborough, was home-schooled in academics and music by her mom Lorraine. "My mom used to sing a lot growing up. She never did it professionally, it just came naturally. So she taught me," says Setara. "And every time we'd have company, my mom would call me into the middle of the living room and say, 'Sing.' I was shy, but as she said to me before my first talent show, and many times thereafter, 'If you don't sing now, how are you going to sing in front of a crowd of people?' At the time, I thought she was mad, but boy am I glad she did that."
Her hardcore training paid off when Setara made her stage debut-at all of seven. "I was at a wedding, and one of the Drifters was supposed to perform," recalls Setara. "I kept following him around, asking 'Can I sing with you, can I sing with you?' And in the end, he sang 'My Girl' and called me on stage to sing it with him. And I was hooked. I just thought, 'This is definitely what I want to do with the
rest of my life.'"
That passion for performing drove Setara to turn a chance talent show meeting with music manager Kwame Kwaten-who has worked with artists like Seal and Mick Jagger-into a management contract at 15. "He was one of the judges," recalls Setara, "and after I sang, he called me and my parents up to the DJ box and he exchanged numbers with my parents." Kwame set her up to do some demos with different writers and producers but both he and Louise felt something wasn't connecting so Kwame enlisted a new production company called Four Fives, and one of their producers, Anthony Clark to work with Louise. Clark had her record everything from pop to Celine Dion-inspired power ballads. But still nothing fit. Then, one day, Four Fives Boss, Andrew Greasley and Kwame suggested a different more spiritual angle-it was time for Setara to sing a classic. "They wanted me to do these old, 1920s spiritual/gospel numbers," she says. "They were way before my time! So Anthony and I recorded three. And like magic, everything just clicked."
And so she was on her way-except for one thing. Born Louise Smith, the singer thought she ought to have a bigger, shinier name to fit her big, bold, earthy voice. "Louise Smith just doesn't have that ring," says the singer, whose rich Irish-Brit-Brazilian-Gypsy mix is evident in rose-tinged pale skin high-lighted by deep brown eyes and thick dark locks. "But when I was younger, everyone used to always call me, 'Little Star.' So my mom started asking people of different ethnicities how to say 'Little Star' in different languages. And she found out from our neighbor who owns the corner shop that 'Setara' means little Star in Punjabi. As soon as he said 'Setara,' I knew that was my name. Louise Setara."
And thus a little star was born. But inspired by hard lessons learned on the way to becoming a big star-and thus maintaining her wunderkind status-Setara co-wrote her first song, the upbeat and powerful anthem "Wrong Again," with composers Peter Gordeno and Chris Porter at 15. "Writing was like a therapy session," she says. "Some of those lyrics are exactly the words that came out of my mouth."
The song is one of two the singer co-wrote for Still Waters, an intriguing blend of old school soul numbers and earthy, emotion-laden gospel. The second, "I Can Hurt," is a heartbreaker Setara penned with songwriter Tom Frasier. "It hasn't been easy getting to where I am now," Setara says of the track, inspired a traumatic break-up she experienced when she was 16. "It just captured that time when you feel too old to be a baby, but too young to be a grown-up."
The youthful, angsty energy of those two tracks serves as stark contrast to Setara's heady alto on 1920s gospel gems like "Sylvie." The old-school track features an inspired collaboration with gospel icons Ladysmith Black Mambazo. "I knew who they were from a song they sang in a baked- beans commercial-I used to sing it all the time," she recalls. "They really know what they're doing-it's perfection. We did two takes and then we had it."
With such bold, precocious confidence, Setara demonstrates a range and emotional depth that belies her youth-from the bold, bursting "Can't Stop The River," which Seal wrote for the singer, to the hushed melancholy of the 1920s gem "Circle." But how did the singer work up the nerve to cover such classics as Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and Bruce Springsteen's "If I Should Fall"? "I didn't know any better," she admits with a smirk. "A lot of the songs, I hadn't heard before I started working on them. But I could connect to them-I feel like they're a part of me. I can just connect them to my life. When I first heard "Circle," I didn't want to sing it at all. It's just so sad. I didn't want to connect to it. It was just too sad. But when I went to the studio to put it down, it just moved me so much. When I sing a song, I really get into the lyric. I just try to imagine how I would feel, and the emotion comes through."
Grammy-winning producer Jay Newland (who's worked with Setara idols Etta James and Stevie Wonder, amongst others) couldn't agree more. "Louise has a maturity in her voice that most singers spend a lifetime acquiring," he says.
For her part, Setara says she has put a lifetime into these songs. "I'm young, yeah, but I've lived with this passion for so long. I can't wait to share it," she says. "This is me, so what is there to be nervous about? It is different. And maybe people won't like different-because people are scared of different. But maybe they'll say, 'Wow, finally. Someone has come up with
Still Waters, the debut album from Louise Setara on Manhattan Records/EMI. An intriguing blend of styles, the songwriters on this CD include Seal, who wrote: 'Can't Stop The River', and the stunning 'By The Time', written by Grammy winning writer/producer Simon Climie. Other highlights include Setara's collaboration with legendary Sting guitarist Dominic Miller, and with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on 'Sylvie'
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