Rising star

The intimate songs of Nan Vernon

[This interview was originally published in the London Evening Standard in 1993.]

Bright plastic flowers festoon the dashboard of Nan Vernon’s BMW. A mad-eyed stuffed budgie chirps each time the wheels hit a pothole. It’s a quirky slant on life evident throughout this 26-year-old singer/songwriter’s debut album Manta Ray. Here are 11 intimate tracks embracing subjects like tattoo tears, heartbreak and big fish. ‘Shoot me if I ever sing a big, empty Whitney Houston-style anthem. My songs are truly personal, like a diary, they purge what’s going on inside.’ The result is rather like an apolitical Sinead O’Connor.

Raised in Hollywood by parents who both acted and sang, she remembers childhood as ‘like living on the set of The Player. Americans will do anything for fame. I auditioned for a few films,but I’ve wanted to sing since I heard Downtown on the radio as a child.’ Strumming along to early Roxy Music and Leonard Cohen albums on an old guitar, she waited patiently for her big break. This happened in true fairytale fashion when she bumped into ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart and Bob Dylan on Tijuana train station. Or so her record company claims. With characteristic honesty Vernon cuts the hype. ‘Not true at all. A friend suggested me to Dave. I was so nervous when I first met him because he was standing there in full rock star net-up - necklaces, shades, this awful Lycra ouffit with an enormous collar. He only told me afterwards it was just to wind me up.’

When Stewart signed herto his Anxious label, Vernon moved to Little Venice, where she’s been working on Manta Ray for the past two years. ‘I never felt part of the LA music scene. London seemed very lonely and cold at first, but I was attracted by the way people are willing to take risks. There aren’t as many idiots saying, “But can you dance to it, Nan?” Dave allowed me time to work myself out. I learned how to write honestly. I believe people still crave singers who aren’t faking it.’