Picture the scene: you’re an emerging rock chick, you’ve performed on stage at Wembley Stadium in front of a global audience of two billion at Live Earth in July, you have two songs in the latest MTV Flux Top 10, your new single is the current Record of the Week on Radio 2, you’re booked for the V Festival and the Shepherds Bush Empire in August, and you have a free Wednesday on your hands. Where do you go?
Well if you’re Terra Naomi, you head for Kemp Town. On August 15th, St George’s Church played host to a live gig from American folk singer Martha Wainwright. As the daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and sister of Rufus, Martha is already an established artist in her own right and deserving of media attention, but for me, the far more intriguing story surrounds her support act for the evening: a young American singer/songwriter named Terra Naomi.
If you populate the real world, and don’t spend most of your time hunched over a computer screen in semi-darkness, living your life on YouTube and MySpace, then you probably won’t be aware of Terra Naomi. But I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that the girl is an internet phenomenon.
Growing up in New York, Naomi (who was a little Terra as a child) studied music at the University of Michigan and began writing and performing songs in the bars of NYC, before moving to Los Angeles in 2003 where she continued to perform in the clubs of LA and beyond for three years. So far, so boringly normal. All of this changed, however, in June 2006 when she posted a video on YouTube. Entitled ‘Say It’s Possible’, it’s a simple piece of footage of Terra sitting at home with an acoustic guitar and playing a song she’d written just five days earlier.
The video is slightly blurry and shot in one take with a single fixed camera in a dimly lit room, but that four-minute piece of film clocked up an astonishing one million views in just a few days online, and has since been watched more than two and a half million times by people from all over the world. In March 2007 it won ‘Best Music Video’ in the first ever YouTube Video Awards and the song has attracted well over a hundred cover versions from fans worldwide. Terra’s MySpace site has been visited by more than half a million people, she has 40,000 online friends, and within a matter of months has become a genuine internet legend. So if you’re under the impression that the only stars of YouTube are the sneezing pandas, laughing babies and talking cats, then it’s time to think again.
The reaction to Terra Naomi’s home-made videos was such that by the end of last year she’d been signed by a major record label, and in spring 2007 she moved to London, where she received an invitation to perform ‘Say It’s Possible’ at Live Earth. Her first single on Island Records, ‘Not Sorry’, is released on September 10th, with her debut album, ‘Under the Influence’, coming out a week later, and having already made it big online, the word is that Terra Naomi is about to be huge in the real world. Which makes it all the more amazing to find her playing in a Kemp Town church on a Wednesday night.
Given Terra’s roots, it’s perhaps not surprising that her entire seven song set from St George’s Church is now available on YouTube, and I can highly recommend it. While the audio may be a little scratchy, there’s no denying that Terra has the kind of voice which would melt even Simon Cowell’s heart, and whether playing acoustic guitar, solo piano, or rocking out with a full band, her catchy melodies always shine through. ‘The Vicodin Song’, which surprisingly hasn’t made it onto her first album, demonstrates that if you’ve got genuine talent then you don’t need an eight-piece band and a bank of computers to sound good.
The girl clearly has a sense of humour too. Having performed a song called ‘Up Here’, the chorus of which goes “Up here I am who I am, and if you don’t like it then f**k you man, I’m not a thief and a whore”, Terra told the audience “that was another very appropriate church number, and you’ll find the words under your seats if you’d like to sing along”.
St George’s Church is one of just a handful of gigs Terra Naomi has played in the UK, but if the buzz is to be believed, she could be a global star within weeks. So when she’s back here selling out The Brighton Centre in 2008, remember this: in Kemp Town we knew her before she was famous.