Teddy makes a fuzz

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THERE'S a bit more of displaced British muso Teddy Thompson this time around. But only just.

"It's kind of a faux beard," he says of the face fuzz he's sporting on the cover of new album Bella.

"I started trying to grow a beard and it looked really weird, like mutton chops. So I'm going for the George Michael 'Faith look'.

"I'm going to bring back designer stubble."

After a quip about us suggesting Teddy is in the closet - "OK, print that he referenced George Michael a lot and talked facial hair" - Mr T reveals he's merely confronting age.

"It's the grown up thing. Man gets to be in his mid 30s and is thinking 'Maybe if I grow a beard I'll look distinguished instead of older'."

And, of course, it didn't do Kings Of Leon any harm.

"They're younger and can get away with it in a slightly ironic way whereas I'm just trying to cover up lines that are appearing and look dignified."

It's a snowy day in Teddy's adopted home of New York City when we speak; offices closed, people staying home in downtown Manhattan.

Fortunately he's got a commercially hot album ready to warm our ears this winter.

Bella follows the excellent A Piece Of What You Need on January 31, with first single Looking For A Girl emerging on Monday.

Teddy has mixed feelings leading up to that. "It's such an anti-climax releasing a record in this day and age because it just comes out. One day it's not out, the next day it is.

"There's hardly a physical product any more. It appears, nobody has a big party, it just kind of happens.

"Ten years ago you'd have some kind of cocktail or listening party and it would be 'Cheers, well done'. Now you get an email: 'The record's out, good luck tonight in Scunthorpe'."

His fifth album is worth celebrating, however, and proves Teddy continues to improve at his craft as well as translating influences.

"There's quite a lot of '60s sounding things going on. A few of the arrangements are Phil Spector-ish," he observes.

"I'm very suggestible. I change my mind every five minutes and that's why each song is something different. I definitely don't go in with an overall plan of how I want the album to sound.

"But I think everything ties together. They all sound like me so why not have different arrangements from song to song."

The vintage vibe of Tell Me What You Want has our host sounding a tad Roy Orbison - "one of my favourite singers, so I'll happily take that" – and using strings to enhance the lovely Delilah and evoke something exotic in Over & Over, all matched with lyrics smart and frank.

Bella saw Teddy, the son of Brit folk legends Richard and Linda Thompson, place his trust in the hands of rock producer David Kahne (The Strokes, Taking Back Sunday, Linkin Park).

"It was a different experience this time because I was working with a producer I didn't really know. I knew a lot of his records, but not how he worked. So I didn't go in with an idea of how it should sound. I just make sure I'm singing the songs and presenting them in the right way.

"As long as it's not going in a strange direction I'm happy for the producer to do his job; you have that person for a reason.

"You're talking about things as you go along and may disagree, but I was definitely willing to take that ride with him as I wasn't trying to make an earthy record this time.

"There's a poppy, full sound Dave gets. It's all about the hook. He looks at everything like it's a single, for everything to stand up and be counted. He goes for that radio sound on everything."

Instead, Bella is fulsome and has Teddy displaying wit and romance and confronting life's limitations as he hits on rock 'n' roll, balladry, country and adult pop.

The method wasn't as polished as the result, however. "I usually have a batch of unfinished songs. I get to a point where there's stash of 10 or 12 and a couple are properly finished and the hard part for me is to finish.

"But it's good for me to have a deadline so I basically lie to everybody, tell them all the songs are finished and great and then go and book the studio. Then I've got a month to finish everything.

"It seems the only way I can get things done is when my back's against the wall. There's a lot of last minute trying to shoehorn things in but that seems to work well. We come up with things you might not have if you had lots of time."

Yet to make a record in the UK, Teddy does display his affection for his roots on Home.

"I was thinking about my mum's house when writing that," he confirms, "of being back in England."

And he'll be here again soon. His tour finds Sheffield's Memorial Hall on February 3 with a full-ish band featuring a violinist to re-imagine many string parts.

"I got sick on the last tour of trying to re-create what was on the record and thinking really I needed five more people.

"Then I wouldn't want to hear an exact rendering of the record I've got at home... so this tour I'll do the songs a bit differently."

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