IN a career forged with the man behind songs for former TV kids favourite The Wombles, turning to a former dance producer was arguably a creative curve ball.
Then judging by the outcome, Katie Melua’s decision to recruit Blur and Madonna’s one-time dials man William Orbit was a smart move.
Her album The House earned the strongest plaudits of her career and registered Katie as an innovative artist unafraid to stray from a familiar winning formula.
Also involved with her evolving sound was co-writer Guy Chambers, who propelled Robbie Williams to solo stardom, “leftfield American folk writer” Rick Nowels, Lauren Christie and Polly Scattergood.
“Polly is my best friend,” she says. “We met at school when we were 16 and it was long overdue we did something together.”
With many other female singers now occupying a marketplace Katie has ruled for so long, she arguably had to devise something special.
“You’re aware of the competition but then on the one hand it’s not to do with other females, it’s an overall thing,” she says.
“I’d say the only reason why it feels like there’s a lot of females in the music scene at the moment is because there wasn’t enough before.
“Competition is not specific to other female artists. In general I want to make music that’s as good as any music that’s ever been made. You want to make music that’s timeless, not just as a reaction to your generation.”
When exhaustion caught up with Katie during her latest album adventure last autumn it was the first major hiccup since she arrived in 2003 with The Closest Thing To Crazy and début album Call Off The Search.
She was a household name by the time sequel Piece By Piece shifted 3.5m. Pictures continued the trend.
The House immediately topped the Billboard pan-European Top 100 album chart and confirmed Katie could succeed without Mike Batt, the writer/producer and label boss who spotted her at the Brit School.
Aside from her cover of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass classic The One I Love Is Gone, she wrote/co-wrote every song on an album giving a broader picture of her aims.
“I’ve had time to experiment with who I am as a writer, and I was up for experimenting with lots of writers,” says Katie, who announced this new era with Bond theme-esque first single The Flood.
“As a musician you just work on it, try and have the best songs you possibly can and say the best possible thing in the best possible way, full of colour and dynamics and varied, and try not to intellectualise it too much.
“It just all comes out at the end sounding like it does and people ask lots of questions about it and then you have to come up with the theory behind it all. In practice you just do it, go from your guts and just do it with feelings.”
With the results so well received, it’s no wonder Katie was gutted when the tour came off the road with her being hospitalised.
“It was a culmination of so many years doing it - I hadn’t had a long enough break,” says a singer once described as an adrenalin junkie because of her skydiving and paragliding antics.
“I like swimming but there isn’t always a pool in every hotel we stay at. And often I didn’t have the time because I would be doing interviews before gigs.”
And, of course, while she might have been off our radar she was usually working elsewhere in the world. Now Katie’s pledged to get a better grip on her schedule.
“I’m just having to take it easier and spread things out more and not be so keen to get everything done quickly. Take time with things…that’s what I’ve learned. There doesn’t have to be a rush, life’s too short to work myself into the ground.
“I hope I can now re-launch, in a sense, and give The House the push it needs, just a gentle one to kind of say ‘here I am again’. And it feels so good to be back, to be able to just sing these new songs and bring them to the audience.”
In Sheffield Katie has enjoyed midsize and arena success and returns to the City Hall on April 22 having got a few European dates under her belt first – she reveals she’s not always entirely happy opening a tour on home soil.
“I like England to be in the middle of the tour and not at the start. I like to warm up in Europe and then come over.
“I always get nervous because it’s my home country and family and friends come to the UK dates. That makes it all very real whereas if you’re playing to an audience where there’s no one you know you can kind of pretend you’re in your own world and what you’re doing isn’t actually happening.”