In the months after her husband died, Corinne Bailey Rae was fixated on the grieving process — specifically, whether there is a right and a wrong way to mourn.
It's not as if Rae acted inappropriately after the death of Jason Rae from a drug overdose in 2008. The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, who dazzled the music world in 2006 with her sunny, silky self-titled debut, dropped out of sight after the tragedy. She spent a good part of her day simply resting, and when she felt like it, taking walks or spending time with loved ones.
She was also confused, in a haze, not knowing how to go forward after the destiny she thought she had was forever altered.
"I'm not familiar with that kind of shock that lasts all that amount of time," the 30-year-old recalled. "It just sort of takes ages to sink it. You feel it and then you don't feel it; you know what's happened and then you don't really know what happened. ...
"Somebody wrote me a letter saying that you need to surrender to it, which I was like, 'Well, how do I surrender?'"
While Rae still has not come to terms with her loss, she has determined that the grieving process is unique and different for everyone. And for her, it included channeling her emotions into her music. The result is her touching, tender new album, "The Sea," started before the death of her husband but finished more than a year later.
"There are other people that have had these similar experiences ... all different kinds of loss, and I feel like a lot of people don't really sing about it in popular music," said an upbeat, reflective Rae during a recent interview. "I want to be that one voice that is saying that this is also a human experience that is worth making music about."
Looking for something funky and complex
When Rae first started working on "The Sea," she was determined to make an album that grew from the dreamy, groove-based tunes — such as "Put Your Records On" — that were becoming her signature. She was looking for sounds that were more aggressive, funky and complex.
"I wanted to make another record that was a partner to, and an answer to, the first album," the British musician said of her debut CD, which sold more than 1 million copies in the United States alone. "I wanted to write something that was able to match that excitement that we'd feel in the audience."
She had already started working on new music when her 31-year-old husband, described as a recovering addict, was found dead due to an overdose of methadone. In the aftermath, Rae found herself struggling to adapt to a role she never anticipated: widow.
Rae, who lives in Leeds, England, didn't work on new music, but found her mind occupied with other thoughts. She remembers becoming engrossed in etymology, the study of words, and found parallels in language to her own situation: "'Grief,' it's from 'grave,' which means heavy. It's a thing that lands on you, and there is nothing you can do to sort of make it work."
It took months for her to cope through her music. When asked what she did, she simply said: "Nothing."
"It's hard to explain. "(I went) from being a really active person from having a really full diary to doing absolutely nothing because I had no interest in doing anything."
‘I needed to have something to do’
She decided to start working on "The Sea" again because she missed creating and because she needed a goal: "I needed to have something to do. The main thing that this album has given me is something to do to take up my time."
"The Sea" is not mournful — there are driving grooves, sultry odes and sweet tunes. But it does contain several songs that reference her husband's death. The album's first song, the wistful "Are You Here," speaks to the confusion of feeling the presence of someone no longer around: "Are you here, 'cause my heart recalls it all feels the same?"
Then there's "I Would Like to Call It Beauty," the song that most explicitly deals with death, and named for a phrase uttered by Jason Rae's brother, Phillip (Rae even gave him song credit). The song's first lines are, "So young for death, we walk in shoes to big, but you play it like a poet, like you always did."
"It's a way different record than the initial idea that she had in her head, but I think it was very necessary," says Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, the Roots bandleader who worked on the rocking jam "The Blackest Lily," recorded before Jason Rae's death.
"If anything, this album sort of provides a kind of resolution to public mourning," he said.
But for Rae, nothing is resolved: She is trying to figure out how to move on and she still wears her wedding ring.
"The shock of it is still really with me," she said. "It's hard to imagine that it's not going to go back to how it was."