SXSW Breakouts

A Labour of Love

FROM 2007: Soulful chanteuse Amy Winehouse reveals her passions, her dislikes (people who assume she has a drinking problem), and what's finally made her happy

WINEHOUSE In her trailer at the Coachella festival
Image credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER ROCHOLL
WINEHOUSE In her trailer at the Coachella festival

Amy Winehouse is in her current uniform of choice, a teensy white tank top and denim shorts. Combine those with the mile-high hairdo, and the British soul songstress looks like a combination of Daisy Mae and '60s popper Lulu. She's visiting a radio station, L.A.'s Star 98, doing an acoustic live set before a small audience of contest winners. Between songs, the station's morning DJs are attempting to interview her, and as usual, she's charming and funny at times, and blatantly disinterested if the question doesn't catch her fancy.

''What was the main difference with the audiences over here, in response to your music, that you found from performing in London?'' asks the DJ who calls himself Valentine.

''The big difference,'' she answers slowly, ''is the crowds are...American.'' She gets a big laugh from the audience on that one.

They ask about Winehouse's recent engagement to off-again, on-again beau Blake Fielder-Civil, whom she lovingly calls ''my boy.'' [This just in: People.com reports Winehouse and Fielder-Civil got married in Miami on May 18.] She introduces her signature song, ''Rehab,'' by saying, ''Here is a song I wrote when he left me a couple years ago. I wrote the whole album about it, really. We went on our little separate ways, and then realized that we loved each other. Life's too short.''

''You had other relationships while you were separated, right?'' asks DJ Lisa Foxx.

''Yeah, yeah, yeah. We had other relationships while we were together.'' Big, big laugh for that moment of candor.

In other moments, she's less engaged. They ask Winehouse if she finds American accents as sexy as we find British ones. (As if!) ''Yeah, I guess so. Yeah.'' An awkward pause ensues. ''Can we do a song?''

They want to know if she was an ordinary kid who at some critical moment discovered she had an extraordinary vocal gift. This flummoxes her. ''Yeah, if you like. I don't know — yeah. I don't know. I don't know.'' They want to know how she discovered her voice. Winehouse looks bored but then brightens: ''It's all in the hair.''

''You feel like your hairstyle gives you attitude,'' says Foxx, ''that it helps you hold it all together?''

Winehouse doesn't say another word, but just leans her beehive into the studio microphone and keeps it there, as if she is willing her hair to finish the rest of the interview for her. This pantomime doesn't make for great radio, but the in-studio crowd goes nuts.

In our own conversations with the rising star during that same visit to Los Angeles, we too found Winehouse sometimes impossibly charming, sometimes guarded. We quickly learned that certain fields of inquiry — anything having to do with success, demographics, marketing, or the nature of her growing appeal — are greeted with the same mantra about how she's ''made an album [she's] really proud of,'' and how none of the rest of it matters. But get into it with her about her hair, her influences, or — to some extent — her love life, and she'll open up. Some of that interview appears in EW's spring music preview issue (on newsstands now), and here, as an EW.com exclusive, is more of our interchange with Britain's hottest export.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I get the feeling that conquering America wasn't necessarily a longtime goal of yours.
AMY WINEHOUSE: No, I mean, I just did an album that I'm really proud of, that means a lot to me, and I really stretched myself doing it. The fact that I get to come to other places other than where I live and I'm from, and do shows, that's just icing on the cake. I'm really proud of myself. I really love my album. That's pretty much the beginning and end for me. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a really lucky girl.

Some of us thought your album would be a harder sell here than it turned out to be. It's been instantaneously successful without a huge radio hit or any of the obvious stuff. Some people thought it'd take a while to catch on, as there are retro elements, and older audiences don't turn out to buy CDs that quickly. Do you have a sense of who is buying it?
No. I mean, I just wrote the songs, and I sing them. That's pretty much it for me. I guess the rest of it's all record company stuff, right?

It's interesting that things are being marketed in different ways now. I feel like people are discovering you through exposure on things like Perez Hilton's website. I don't think anybody plans a marketing campaign around Perez Hilton, but he does have an impact, and there was nothing comparable to that a few years ago.
Yeah. [Awkward pause] I'm sorry. Like I said, I just make the records, and the rest of it, I don't even think about that. I don't really have much note of the marketplace or demographics or any of that other stuff like that, or even how things come about...I'm just a musician, really.

Fair enough. Now, I hate to be superficial and ask about your hair...
I would rather you did the whole interview about my hair.

When the music of this album was coming together, was there some sense in which you thought, I need to visually represent, somehow, what this sounds like?
Not consciously. I don't really think it was because of the album. But I know that over the last year that my hair has got significantly bigger.

Do you have good hive days and bad hive days?
Never. Never. My hair is always on point, even if the rest of me is really naff.

NEXT PAGE: ''I'm not interested in writing songs so people can find out who I really am. I don't give a f---. There's stuff that I wouldn't want people to know.''

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