Little Mix's 'Fifth Member' Kamille On Shaping UK Pop

She's played an architect role in the group and penned chart toppers for Dua Lipa, Mabel and Jess Glynne. She's also an artist in her own right.
November 3, 2020, 8:45am
Kamille Little Mix member interview
Photo: PR

You may not know Kamille’s name, but it’s likely you know her work.

After earning a Masters in Economics, she followed her true ambition as a songwriter in 2012, penning hits for chart toppers such as Dua Lipa, Mabel, Jess Glynne, Clean Bandit, Jax Jones and girlband Little Mix, with whom she won a BRIT Award in 2017 for UK number one single “Shout Out To My Ex”. 

She’s racked up credits on four UK number one singles: Little Mix’s “Black Magic”, Jess Glynne’s “I’ll Be There”, Clean Bandit’s wanking anthem “Solo” and The Saturdays’ “What About Us” – her first ever cut. Kamille is also an artist in her own right, having released collaborations this year with UK crew Lotto Boyz and singles “Somebody” and “Love + Attention”.

Now, with Kamille taking a songwriting role on Little Mix’s sixth album Confetti, we jumped on a video call to chat about the formula for chart success, breaking America and being a Black woman working in music.

VICE: Initially, you had a very, very different career – you were a stockbroker. How did you go from that to making the first step into music?
Kamille: I got introduced to a guy who owned some studios, and I used to hang around after work and on weekends. I was eager to learn – I think that's what it takes initially when you're not sure how to change career path. Then one day I just said “bun this” and walked out of my job, started going to the studio even more, and that’s when I started writing. I had my first cut with The Saturdays on a track called “What About Us”, and it was a number one! So I had a very lucky break, but I’m telling you now, even if it didn’t happen like that, I would still be plugging away at it, because I love music so much. It’s demoralising at times – it can feel more like a popularity contest than about the music, so I get why people find it really hard – but you just can’t give up if you want something enough.

You have an amazing track record: five number ones, numerous Top 10s, platinum sellers, awards. It seems like you know the hit-writing formula. What’s the magic ingredient?
One thing I’m proud of, and grateful for, is that I know I can go on a mic in front of anyone and sing some shit. And I know some of it will sound good. I can hear what melodies need to be there. And I think that’s really important with songs, knowing what needs to come on to that song, and where. I like finding weird melodies, I like finding catchy bits. It's almost like I have a punter’s ear. I can immediately know what a listener would like to hear on that beat and what's going to be easy for them to take in and sing and memorise. Like, a van driver – what is he going to want to hear that’s gonna be easy on the ear?

What’s the difference between working with pop artists versus working in the grime scene?
With grime and drill, you know it’s gonna be a bunch of guys there and you've got to be prepared to kind of hold your ground and not be shy. Every session is different, though, and my contribution – whether it’s vocals or lyrics or melodies – changes up depending on the day, the artist, the track. One thing I’ll say about grime artists and drill artists is that they just go on the mic and start rapping shit, and the whole song is there in like five minutes, which is just a vibe. So it’s much quicker, and it’s a really fun experience to be around that energy.

Within pop music you’re most closely associated with Little Mix – they call you their fifth member. Girl groups can be quite tight and cliquey; why do you think you’ve managed to infiltrate the group and form such a close relationship with them?
Over the years, we've built up a lot of trust. I think it comes from having success together. They’ve got to the point where they can trust that I'm gonna go in the studio and write something that's gonna reflect them. We know each other so well, I can literally just write something that they probably would have said. I try and build that with any artists I'm working with. I really like to have a relationship. Just being a friend to people I think is the most important thing.

One of the things I like about their music is that there’s a very obvious female steer on the more sexual side of things – it’s never compromised their young fanbase, but it also sounds like how women talk about sex and relationships with each other.
Yeah, I think you're spot on. A big part of that is because the girls are not young anymore. They are grown women who have their own minds, their own sexual energy, and sometimes they wanna just say some shit! It’s been a journey, having to keep it super PG. I’m definitely someone who always wants to push that, and we have with this new album. I do like making things a bit controversial – I think that's what sells and what catches people's ear.

You’ve had amazing success in the UK, but not necessarily as much in the US. Is “breaking America” a big goal for you?
It’s all I want. I’m desperate for something to pop off for me over there. I was working on The Lion King project, I was in Beyoncé’s offices, all the songs that you hear on that album, I was there watching them be made, and I contributed, and none of mine got on. One thing about me is I'm very honest about things that haven't worked out, because I hate when people try to show this amazing positive success that’s just unrealistic.

A lot of things in life, I haven't achieved yet, and I'm so happy to say that proudly because I've still got so far to go. But everyone around me knows I want America. I believe in myself. I will get it. I'm working with some amazing producers now. I’m working on a massive artist project. I think you need to actually be living there to be “in” with people. That’s when an artist will just come through randomly. You’ve just been out to a club with the producer, having fun, and an artist will come back with you to the studio. And I’m in Streatham, south London. So it's not been easy.

When did you know the time was right to go from being Camille Purcell, the songwriter, to the mononymous Kamille, the artist.
I wanted to be an artist from get go. When I met my managers back in the day, I met them as someone who wanted to be an artist, and I think we all together kind of realised that I wasn’t ready yet. I don't think it was the right time. Black girls weren't seen as people who could be artists, which is really sad. They weren't being promoted or supported. And it’s been a really tough road for me. So I've come in through this route through the industry and learnt so much, and I just felt that the time had come now for Black women to be supported and elevated. Obviously wanting to be an artist and then helping so many others do what you want to do – can you imagine how hard that is? I used to cry sometimes, because I was helping them achieve the dream that I want so bad. And knowing that it was me that helped them do that is a really tough thing to process. It's quite a mind fuck at times. But I think it's given me a lot of strength.

I actually wanted to ask you both of those questions later on – about how Black women are marketed and also how it feels to be such an integral part of other people’s success, but not necessarily be offered the same opportunities.
When it comes to Black women… it's just a weird phenomenon, especially in this country. I just feel like they're definitely not supported and given the same amount of investment or chances as our white counterparts, sadly. But I think it's down to us to keep trying and keep fighting and make a change.

Your material as an artist is much more left-leaning and R&B – it’s not the chart stuff or the radio stuff that you write for other artists. But you know you can do that, so why haven’t you just banged out a cheeky little top five for yourself?
Honestly, I was worried about failure. I felt like if I did that, and it didn't work, there's nowhere for me to go. I'm working my way up there. I wanted to take my time and do it safely. It can be a struggle when you’re a writer trying to be an artist, because you’re seeing all this success on the one hand, but on the other you’re still in the developing stage. I think sometimes writers forget about all the development the artists we work with have had. You’ve got to do the same for yourself. But there's a load of big songs coming, don’t worry.

You’ve built your own studio and started your own label - what’s the end goal with owning your own slice of this industry?
One thing I want to definitely do is support women. Black women need to be supported. And that's the least I can do. So looking already at some amazing Black female artists, producers and writers to just really try and shift the imbalance that I can see in this industry. I was nominated twice in a row at the A&R Awards for Songwriter of the Year and both times I was the only female and the only Black person. Of course, I also want to make music with amazing male singers and rappers and all kinds of people, but I think I have a duty to try and do something about what I've seen isn't right yet about the industry.

@OneOfThoseFaces