Rumer was born and spent the very early years of her life in Pakistan. Her father was the chief-engineer involved in the construction of the enormous Tarbela Dam, 30 miles to the northwest of Islamabad. Previously, the job had taken him, together with his young family, to the Western Australian outback and Tasmania as well as to South Africa. Rumer was the youngest of seven children who found themselves living in this expat colony, with no TV or newspapers: an enclosed community where the kids would run wild, and the adults would play bridge, golf, and engage in the occasional spot of amateur dramatics.
This closed, though oddly liberating, community also provided Rumer with her first taste of music. Her family were "quite churchy, but in a mellow, 70s sort of way", and her brothers and sisters were especially musical: they would often sing and write songs together, determined to provide their own entertainment. Her brother Rob gave Rumer her first guitar; which she taught herself to play, and on which, years later, she wrote all the songs on her debut album, Seasons of My Soul. And so the family lived what seemed like a charmed existence; for Rumer, this period of her life is now remembered as an idyll. "It was an otherworldly landscape," she recalls. "Our universe wasn’t defined by anything other than ourselves."
Life changed when the family returned to the UK and settled in the New Forest. Having never seen a television before, Rumer became obsessed with the technicolor movie musical, watching Judy Garland on repeat. She felt adrift at school, unsure of a new society that she had no connection to, and found solace, together with musical inspiration, in old films. It is an influence you can hear in the likes of 'Slow' and 'Come To Me High'. "My songs have elements of that folk tradition," she says, "which is what I grew up with. But when I started writing on my guitar, I tended to combine it with these cinematic, epic chords. I am always looking for a lilting, romantic melody. I basically wanted to write the soundtrack for Hedy Lamaar walking down that spiral staircase."
It wasn't long after her family’s return to England that her parents split up – circumstances with which Rumer herself only became acquainted at the age of eleven. For it emerged that her biological father was not, in fact, the man she had been calling Dad (and the dad to her six siblings). Instead, Rumer’s father was the family’s Pakistani cook, with whom her mother, who was a linguist, had struck up a relationship. Rumer's mother and her biological father couldn’t have been more different. "My mother was this well-educated and beautiful, fair haired English woman," she says, "this quite old man was working to support his own family in a mountain village. But they had a connection. My Dad was very noble about it. He didn't treat me any differently, though yes, it has been very painful for everyone."
Her parents having separated, Rumer was educated in Carlisle with her Dad, and spent summers in the New Forest. She left school at 16, and began to drift; studying at Art College in Devon and then joining a fledgling indie rock band, La Honda. Plays from Radio 1 followed, as did early support from NME. Then, Rumer’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and so she moved back to the New Forest to be near her. There, she rented a caravan in a wreckers yard, surrounded by old fridges and furniture, supporting herself by putting on bands at local venues, teaching drama at a local college (despite a lack of qualifications) and briefly working for the Arts Council. As she grew closer to and began to fully understand her mother, Rumer started writing her own songs. "I went back to my roots in the caravan," she says.
Her mother died in 2003, and Rumer hit rock bottom. The lyrics of songs like 'Healer' document Rumer's journey through grief ("Sometimes I feel so temporary just like those summer days...if I close my eyes, I can hear you laughing"). Unemployed and back in London, Rumer took action. She travelled to a stately home in the countryside, where she essentially lived as part of a commune, owned by a "charismatic, philanthropic baronet. I washed dishes, cooked, and made the beds. The place was full of fascinating people who for one reason or another had fallen out of society.” Rumer recognises that, subconsciously, she might have been trying to recreate that sense of freedom and escape she hadn’t really experienced since her childhood in Pakistan. Against this backdrop of natural beauty, she wrote many songs, including the stunning 'Blackbird', which is in part about coming to the realisation that she was strong enough to go back to the real world. "That song was the turning point," she says. "It's about a lot of things, but mainly about being addicted to sorrow. It gave me the courage to go back to London and really try to go somewhere with my music."
And so Rumer returned to London, and tried to build everything up again from scratch. Working every job she could to make space for her music, it was then that she had something of a Peter Sellers moment. "Yes!" she laughs, "someone told me I was like Peter Sellers, because they'd seen me in three different outlets in one day. I just popped up all over South London, doing every job you could possibly imagine: waitress, barmaid, deli girl, hotel chambermaid, popcorn seller, teacher, promoter, hairdresser...and I worked in the Apple store on Regent Street, where I diagnosed broken I-pods".
As surprising as it might sound when you hear her voice, not to mention her music, success was not handed to Rumer on a plate. She has fought long and hard to get her break; ten years, to be precise, during which she performed anywhere and everywhere she could, trying to meet anyone in the industry who would give her a chance, all the while essentially propping up South London’s job-count. "You have to be tough,” she says. “I was constantly rejected, and I kept trying to improve. You see a lot of amazing musicians quit, because you have to sacrifice."
Rumer's luck changed when she met award-winning TV and musical composer Steve Brown (It’s A Wonderful Life, Spend, Spend Spend), who was reluctantly watching a gig at the Cobden Club in Kensal Rise, where his bass player son was performing with his band. Perhaps Steve Brown hasn’t led a life quite as turbulent as Rumer's, but anyone who’s written songs for Harry Hill and featured in the Alan Partridge TV show 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' as band leader Glenn Ponder… well, it’s quite a CV in itself. "I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to those open mic nights," he recalls. "I was only there for my son. I saw this nervous girl and her guitar and feared the worst. After ten seconds I was mesmerised." Brown quickly became Rumer's producer. "Nobody would put us together," Rumer laughs, "but we’re united by a love of great music. He's of the same tradition as George Martin, who also began his musical career in comedy, with the Goons."
Together, Rumer and Steve began to bring to life a set of songs that anyone with ears is destined to fall in love with. First single 'Slow' is a stop-what-you're-doing torch song "about being obsessive in a new relationship. It's a love song, but it’s unrequited love, and the chorus has that Greek Chorus effect, advising me not to fall in love too fast." The instantly-classic soul of 'Aretha', meanwhile, conveys, amongst other things, "the gratitude you feel to artists that sustain you through difficult times. Everyone has their own Aretha. I can’t imagine my life without them."
Think, too, what nerve it must take to name a song after Aretha Franklin, to sing it in that idiom, and to more than hold your own. This could, in part, be down to the fact that Rumer has already met her fair share of heroes. She has sung with and stayed in the house of Carly Simon, having worked with her son, Ben Taylor, in 2005. Earlier this year, the godfather himself, Burt Bacharach, heard of Rumer through the grapevine, and was so won over that he flew her to California and asked her to sing for him. "I cried with joy when I found out, "she says. "If Burt Bacharach says you're good, you have to start believing you’re good too."
In early 2010, and at the age of 31, the word-of-mouth chain of events that surrounded Rumer's career began to pay dividends. She was found by her manager when he posted a question not at all related to music on his Facebook page: "Who Is The Most Underrated Person You Know?" Five separate people, none of whom knew each other, replied with the word 'Rumer'. Having been signed to ATC Management, all corners of the industry quickly began angling for her signature. Then, in March, her hard work paid off, and Rumer finally signed to Atlantic Records. She will release Seasons of My Soul, her self-penned debut album this autumn.