MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day.
(Soundbite of "Turn and Run")
Ms. ALICE RUSSELL (Singer): (Singing) I can feel life passing me by...
BRAND: Alice Russell is a British soul singer. She's had an American fan base for a while, but until now, no U.S. recording deal.
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) I want to struggle but I wait in line. So turn, run. Now, I'm back, and I'm lost in a dream.
BRAND: She has just finished a tour here in the U.S. in support of her first U.S. release. It's called "Pot of Gold." And while she was in L.A., she and her writing and producing partner, TM Juke, paid a visit to NPR West. They sat down with independent producer Derek Rath.
(Soundbite of song "Hurry On Now")
DEREK RATH: A blonde 20-something with a radiant smile and a throaty laugh, it's only when Alice Russell steps on stage to sing that you realize her heart lies closer to Detroit than Brighton, England, where she's actually from.
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) Now, my road has turned to cracks, stones to pebbles sit and erode away. My wandering troubles needn't break my back. So is the price I pay.
RATH: She's the embodiment of blue-eyed soul, proof that you don't have to be from Memphis to feel the spirit, even if it comes out a little different.
Ms. RUSSELL: It just makes sense to me that you soak up all of the things you love, and then whatever comes out again, it's going to be a mishmash of all that stuff because I think my classical background comes up sometimes with harmonies and things like that.
(Soundbite of "Living the Life Of a Dreamer")
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) Living the life of a dreamer. Yeah! You know what it means. You know what it means. Yeah!
RATH: True to the standard soul singer bio, Alice Russell began her singing in church. But we're not exactly talking gospel here.
Ms. RUSSELL: I was brought up in the countryside. And I'd sing in the choir with my dad. He's an organist, and it wasn't like this little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine kind of choir. It was like proper, old English Church of England.
And then I just started hearing stuff on the radio that I loved, and I gravitated towards soul music, and then also, all the boys used to play loads of hip hop. So from that, I'd find, you know, you'd go to the samples and then find the music from that, and that would also take you into another line of music.
(Soundbite of Alice Russell song)
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) When things once were free and easy. Abstract, space time, ancient breathings. All of the girls (unintelligible) the universe. When things once were free and easy. Abstract, space time, ancient breathings.
RATH: She started to sing with bands in her early teens and has had several critically-acclaimed albums to her name in the U.K. Such is her underground following, she has successfully toured America before, even with no U.S. release to promote or major label support.
Ms. RUSSELL: It's surprising. There's a lot of word of mouth, sort of. That's how it spread so far.
Mr. TM JUKE (Songwriter/Producer): It's really grassroots, especially back in Washington, D.C. We played there a few times, and it's really - it feels like playing to a community of people that all know each other.
Ms. RUSSELL: Yeah, I mean, the San Francisco gig, we get a lot of love there anyway, but there's a lot of people that came to the gig that we did the other night that people had told them, like some girl came up to me. She was like, her a sister in Hawaii or Texas that then said, oh my god, Alice is playing. You got to go.
(Soundbite of an Alice Russell song)
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) Oh, what you going to do? What you going to do?
RATH: Part of the singer's appeal is her versatility. She moves easily between jazz, electronica, and soul. And with "Pot of Gold," Alice and producer TM Juke went for the energy of a live recording, though it was done in a studio.
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) What you going to do? Because the people are going to be fine. What you going to do? Everybody, let's get loud. What you going to do?
Mr. JUKE: We only did like three takes for each track, as well. We wanted to keep it (unintelligible), and I did a minimal amount of editing, tried to keep it quite tight.
Ms. RUSSELL: It's great because I did the same. I limited myself to three takes, which is so hard because you can keep going and keep going, oh, maybe that beat is not right, which was great because it was like, just do three performances, and then we'd choose the one we were happiest with.
RATH: Alice is also not adverse to the occasional cover song. Her version of the White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" tears the roof off the original. And on "Pot of Gold," she boldly goes where most would fear to tread - reinterpreting Gnarls Barkley's massive hit "Crazy."
(Soundbite of "Crazy")
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are?
It was good doing it that slow and yeah.
Mr. JUKE: Trying to kind of focus in on the lyrics. They really speak to everyone, any situation, any walk of life.
Ms. RUSSELL: It's such a timeless song.
Mr. JUKE: And the idea is to just really drop it down and focus in on the words.
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) Maybe you're crazy. I think you're crazy. I think you're crazy. Just like me. Just like me.
RATH: Alice Russell may not yet be as well known as fellow British soul divas like Amy Winehouse or Joss Stone. But she's more than their equal.
(Soundbite of "Two Steps")
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing): (Unintelligible)I'm feeling free. (Unintelligible) I'm feeling good. And I'm feeling mighty bad. You've got to treasure for the good times had.
RATH: When Alice Russell wraps herself around a song, you know she will hold nothing back. Perhaps that's the only definition of a soul singer you really need.
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) I'm feeling good. And I'm feeling might bad. You've got to treasure for the good times had. You take two steps forward and then 10 steps back. Two steps forward and then 10 steps back. Two steps forward and then ten. And yes, it gets emotional.
BRAND: Independent producer Derek Rath. Alice Russell's album, "Pot of Gold," will be in stores in two weeks. It's available right now on iTunes.
Ms. RUSSELL: (Singing) And I'm feeling very sad. Understanding is the thing to do to open up what's never been touched. And so there's something there in your very heart only you won't need it cause we'll never part...