It was in the early hours of Tuesday October 18, when most of us were tucked up safely, sound asleep in bed, when phase one of the relaunch of Ricki-Lee Coulter kicked into gear. Unsuspecting radio had no idea it was coming; the papers were under strict embargo and the rest of us...? Well we too were blissfully unaware.
Turns out that, however difficult it may have been to keep the new project under wraps, she and her team had been spectacularly successful in doing so.
Now that the veil of secrecy has finally been lifted, we plonk down for a coffee and a natter with Ricki-Lee and discovered she's been keeping the 'Raining Diamonds' secret for quite some time.
"The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is keep this friggin’ secret for so long, because I have such a big mouth," she laughs. "So it’s good to finally be able to talk about it. It was insane. It was really hard trying to balance everything and have it all come out at the same time.
"There was lots of maneuvering on the record label’s behalf and a really great strategy because it caught everyone off-guard."
Ricki-Lee tells us it was particularly funny to see some publications writing her off as a has-been just one week before the single dropped.
"Apparently I was judging TV shows or making films or getting pregnant or engaged. Apparently because I lost weight I had no career anymore - that was a nice one to read. All I wanted to write was ‘if only you knew what was coming next week – you guys are going to be made to look like such fools’. Then they jumped on the bandwagon too," she says.
'Raining Diamonds' marks a new beginning for Ricki-Lee, who first found fame through the second season of Australian Idol back in 2004. She's found a new home at a major label - EMI - after parting company with long-time label Shock earlier this year.
"We were going to put it out with Shock," she admits rather frankly. "Then Shock fell into financial trouble, so I asked for a release from my contract.
"I walked through the door at EMI and found a home," Ricki-Lee beams. "Signing with EMI was a really huge moment. But even before signing with them, I just knew that ‘Raining Diamonds’ was the song, because it sets the tone for everything that’s to come."
'Raining Diamonds' is uplifting, light and positive - a long way from the apparent lyrical bitterness contained in her previous two singles 'Don't Miss You' and 'Hear No, See No, Speak No', released in 2009. But though 'Don't Miss You' was penned with Ricki-Lee's tongue firmly in cheek, the public's perception was of a woman scorned.
"I wrote ‘Don’t Miss You’ as a joke," she admits. "When you’re writing songs, sessions don’t always end up the way you think they're going to. And rather than being the bitch that sits in the corner and says ‘I don’t like it’ and ‘I don’t want to do this’, sometimes you just go with it and see what you end up with.
"‘Don’t Miss You’ was one of those songs. We just kept going to the right with it when I wanted to go left and we ended up with a song that is fun, but it was written as a joke.
"I think people took it too seriously and it almost worked in the opposite way that it was meant to. It was branded as a bit of a revenge song, whereas there was never meant to be any sense of revenge," she says.
Ricki-Lee talks about being terribly weak at that stage in her career - emotionally (following the breakdown of her relationship), physically and mentally. It was around this time (late in 2009) that the singer contemplated quitting the music business altogether. She's incredibly honest when talking about her reasons why.
"I got to the point where I just wasn’t enjoying it," she says. "I wasn’t loving it. I was being controlled from all angles.
"The reason I do what I do is because I love it so much and I get so much joy and pleasure from it. And it’s such an amazing thing to be an artist and be able to get up on stage to perform and to write songs that people can relate to. But when you stop enjoying it, all of those things that used to be rewarding aren’t so rewarding.
"I can take a lot of shit, but I got to the point where I was in a very fragile place. At that time, all of the control had been taken from me - in a positive way – to lighten the load on me, but when that control got taken away, these people just ran with it and never gave it back.
"I never thought that I would be a record company robot or a puppet and I was for a couple of years. Decisions were being made that I just did not agree with," she says, citing, among other things, the release of the 'Singles Collection' after just two albums.
"And the songs were only 50% ready, but they were putting the ‘finished’ sticker on them. It wasn’t right. It was all just moving so quickly and I had no control. There were singles released that I didn’t want to be.
'Don't Miss You' was one of them. It was her lowest charting single to date, peaking outside the top 20 - Ricki-Lee's first single to miss the top 20 altogether. Its successor, the title track from her unreleased album 'Hear No, See No, Speak No' fared even worse, barely scraping the top 50. It was at this time that Ricki-Lee asked for her label not to release the album.
"‘Don’t Miss You’ and ‘Hear No, See No, Speak No’ are great songs and I love them, but I just think that we didn’t go with our best foot forward. And that was what was frustrating to me – because the songs that the public would have understood weren’t released.
"Anyone who’s gone through a break up would have understood exactly where I was at. The earlier songs that I wrote were those really raw heartbroken songs. Then you get to that bitter and angry mode and then you get to the point where you’re past it.
"That was the great thing about that album – it was full circle. There’s one song in particular that was on that album that will eventually get heard. I think it's my favourite song that I’ve ever written, aside from ‘Raining Diamonds’.
Fans of the singer who'd dearly love to get their hands on recordings from the defunct album project can take heart, however, with Ricki-Lee confirming that she retained all the masters from the 'Hear No, See No, Speak No' sessions from former label Shock.
She says there will be "two songs" from those sessions added to the new album, though she admits that the tracks were written at the tail-end of the 'Hear No, See No, Speak No' project.
"The songs on my new album are very much about where I am in my life right now, which is positive and happy and free and empowered and strong. They're really fun, anthemic, epic pop songs that people are going to love.
"So the hard thing is mixing those feel-good pop songs with the last lot of songs which were a lot darker and deeper and raw and emotional. I think there are going to be two songs on the initial release that were meant to be on the last album. But they’re more of the later songs that were written - some really fun, Pink’s ‘Raise Your Glass’ kind of songs that are really just about going out to party and have fun.
"And then hopefully, and I don’t want to speak out of school, but those songs that weren’t released... There are so many people who want to hear that album and it’s too good for people not to hear it.
"I truly believe that that collection of songs and that body of work is so important. I just feel that there’s a missing piece of the puzzle that still hasn’t been popped in yet. So I’m really looking forward to everyone hearing those songs and getting them to understand how I arrived at ‘Don’t Miss You’ and ‘Hear No, See No, Speak No’. It will just tie everything together."
As mentioned, however, 'Raining Diamonds' is Ricki-Lee's brand new single. Since she performed the track on Tuesday night's X Factor elimination show, the single has surged to as high as No.3 on the iTunes singles chart. Yes, it may be relatively new for most of us, but for Ricki-Lee...? Well she's been living with it for quite a while.
I’m so excited about it," she enthuses. "I’ve been sitting on this song since February/March and there have only been a handful of people who’ve heard it. I can’t gush enough about how much I love it, but I guess I’m going to leave it up to everyone else to figure out how much they love it. But the experience of writing it wasn't like anything else," she says.
The story goes that Ricki-Lee emailed Billy Mann - the man behind some of this century's biggest pop songs (Pink's 'Stupid Girls', 'God Is A DJ' etc) - with the hope of writing with him. To her surprise, he said 'yes'. Ricki-Lee flew to the US, but ended up firstly working with Billy's protégé, BoyBlue.
"I guess the idea from Billy’s side was to have me work with BoyBlue and if what we worked on that day was good enough, he would then clear his week and work with me. So there was pressure," she admits.
"At the time, the floods crisis had hit Queensland and I had family and friends who had lost everything. I was really wound up and needed to talk about it, so we wrote a beautiful song about that.
"The song is all about pride, people sticking together, putting a hand out and helping others along the way. So Billy came at the end of the day like a seven foot tall giant teddy bear. He introduced himself and had a little chat, but it was clear that he just wanted to hear the song. When the first line of the chorus kicked in, he looked at me, opened his mouth, shook his head and at that moment, I knew that I had him. He then cleared his diary and we spent the rest of the week working together.
"So the next morning I got there, he said that he couldn’t stop thinking about me overnight. He said, ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about that voice. And I’ve figured it out. Your song is going to be called Raining Diamonds’. Then he picked up his guitar and started strumming the chords and said ‘and the first line is going to be… I declare war on love’ and just sang.
"He had written the first line and then I came up with ‘Finally I ran out of pages and I declare war on love’. That was the process of writing."
Ricki-Lee has spent the best part of this year bettering herself as a performer. Not only is she now proudly showing off an amazing new figure, but she's put the hard yards into improving all aspects of her performance, including her choreography capabilities ("There’s nothing like a bit of ‘corry'," she says).
"I wanted to raise the bar and to put some pressure on myself to be better than I ever have been in all areas; with the music, the way I perform, everything. I’m so excited and happy about this release, because for the first time I feel like I’ve given it everything and more."
She describes the forthcoming video clip as "epic" and teases us with the prospect of "huge" remixes, though she can't tell us anything about them or when either will see the light of day. Seems like the revelation of both of those may also form part of the grand plan. But thankfully, she does shed a little more light on the forthcoming album.
"Next year. I don’t know when. I don’t know whether there will be one or two singles before the album. I actually had the phone call this morning from EMI and I think we’ve got the green light for what the next single is. They're now on the phone to New York and LA working it all out and getting everything ready to roll.
"I guess that the video for 'Raining Diamonds' will come out next, then I’m back into the studio to finish the production on the album. So until the end of the year, it’s all album, album, album."
We can't help but be a little bit excited by everything that's to come for Ricki-Lee; what with the stuff we already know about - and, to our great frustration, what she's still keeping under her hat to surprise us with next.
Today is Ricki-Lee's birthday! Happy birthday to you, young lady!
Ricki-Lee's new single 'Raining Diamonds' is available digitally now.
Remixes and the video are to follow shortly, with Ricki-Lee's new album due in the first half of 2012.
Ricki-Lee is also the appeal ambassador for this year's Red Ribbon Day on Thursday December 01. Click HERE for all the details.