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Collard: Soul singer on sex, spirituality and 'looking up to oddballs'

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Collard: 'I look up to the oddballs, the originals'
"Less is more… but more is good. You do things I never thought a woman would."As opening statements go, the first track on Collard's debut album is practically guaranteed to grab your attention.Hell Song (for that is its name) whisks you straight to the bedroom, where the 24-year-old's falsetto drips with desire over a sticky-delicious guitar riff.It's a boudoir scene worthy of Prince in his prime. And just like Prince, Collard struggles to reconcile his sexual and spiritual impulses. "Hell is for the both of us," he repeats, over and over, as the song reaches its conclusion. "All my vices, I regard as unholy," says the singer, somewhat less aroused as he speaks to the BBC over the phone from his flat in London.
"I was raised as a Mormon; so things are either holy or unholy, black or white. So that's how I look at my life: Sometimes I make the unholiest of choices."
'Too naughty' for baptism
His describes the Mormon lifestyle as "very intense", explaining "you'd have to get up at 5am every day for bible studies before school, except on Fridays" and how he was expected to socialise with other Latter-day saints, attending sports days and picnics instead of playing with school friends.There were benefits, too. He remembers being cast in a church production of The Sound of Music when he was just four years old: "I just had balls of energy and oddly misguided confidence at that age, so they put me in."Disillusionment set in when, aged eight, he was told he couldn't be baptised with the other kids because he was "too naughty". He spent the next year living under the belief he was a bad person, a sinner.After his parents divorced, he gave up church "pretty quickly" - but that feeling of inadequacy still torments him. There's a reason his album is called Unholy.Redemption, of sorts, came through music. "Motown was super-present in my childhood," he remembers, while his nan introduced him to James Brown and the Rolling Stones. But the first song he truly claimed as his own was Whitney Houston's I Have Nothing."I loved that song. I used to repeat that song so much. I'd play it 24/7," he says.
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Unholy's maximalist approach sets it apart from the icy synths and bare-bones beats of Collard's contemporaries, people like AJ Tracey, J Hus and Skepta. He admits that makes it a hard sell, especially on the mood-based playlists of streaming services."That's always the danger, when you're trying to push something original - working out it's where it fits. Everything's quite divided right now: The grime guys are the grime guys, the R&B guys are the R&B guys. So it was difficult to find out where I lie. "But then I look up to people that are the oddballs. The originals. Like Amy Winehouse: Frank was a jazz album that came in at a really weird time, but it was perfect."
"At my level, you've got to reach high, but you've got to be humble as well," says the singer
As if to prove a point, Collard's new single, Stone, is a duet with fellow rising star Bakar, that combines an acoustic indie vibe with soaring soul vocals to tell a tale of tormented love. "It's good to have something a bit more leftfield from two black guys from London. Not really attached to a scene, just different.Warming to the theme, he adds: "It's representative of a wider black London, or a wider black England. We're not all into the same thing. Colour doesn't combine us taste-wise. "So I think it's cool to stand apart when there's a prominent scene going on."
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Stone is out now.
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