Duffy came across as a magnetic hybrid of Dusty Springfield and Amy Winehouse's sober Welsh cousin when she first emerged with her feisty hit "Mercy," off 2008's bestselling album in the U.K., Rockferry.
Well, fasten your beehives: The songbird, 26, is back with a stellar sophomore release, Endlessly, due in December -- plus a new boyfriend, a fellow Welshman and a rugby star, Michael Phillips! I met up with her at NYC's London Hotel on October 14 to discuss the upcoming effort (which features the upbeat new single, "Well, Well, Well" - watch the video here), her year-plus-long romance and her divine celebrity encounters since going from waitress to chart wonder just two years ago.
UsMagazine.com: It's been how long since the last album came out, a year and a half?
Duffy: Yes, it was 2008! You know, it is is an introverted world when you make a record. It's quite lonely. It's not lonely in the kind of vulnerable sense. You choose to make yourself alone. You have to do that. You have to cut yourself away from everything, and regress, and kind of contemplate. The response I've been getting over the news has been really warm and lovely. I didn't know what to expect, but definitely warmer than I ever imagined.
US: You came out at a time where there was this wave of British women with a retro-influenced sound. There was Amy Winehouse and then Adele, Lily Allen, Estelle....and that's been gone now?
D: I think that Mark Ronson is the answer to that question. Where did he go? I think he was very responsible for the wave that came in. This group of girls from London kind of hanging out in this core pack was very much a scene, and to me, I came from a different part of the world. I almost observed that movement as much as you did. I came from a very small part of Wales and had the opportunity that they had to kind of work with that kind of fashionable movement, so I guess it was great timing for me!
US: Did you feel competition at that time? You were compared to Amy a lot.
D: I felt more neck and neck with Adele because our albums had come out at exactly the same time. We were so heavily linked, so we were kind of sisters. I didn't really care about comparisons.
US: Yeah, so how does it feel to be back out now?
D: I have to be mindful of compromise. I will not budge with my vision, and I've always been the same. I can't adapt; I can't do things that don't feel right for myself. This is who I am. I'm not this desperate throwback. When I made the last record I genuinely thought that it was fresh. I didn't know I was going to be compared to Dusty Springfield. I had no idea this rush was going to fall upon me.
US: Anyone you're dying to do a duet with?
D: Smokey Robinson! He encompasses so much of music history to me. I'd wrap my arms around him, and would totally break the personal space boundary!
US: So tell me about the new album and first single "Well, Well, Well."
D: The song had this overwhelming sense of grabbing you. You know it was kind of like I could almost step back and go, 'Whoa, this would get me going in a club; this would get me off my feet and start bouncing!' And that's all I want in this journey is to make people move, to make people dance.
US: Has there been anything new in your life that has inspired the heartbreaking ballads?
D: I get let down, but I've never been heartbroken -- I've been hurt, but not broken. I go through all these different emotions and I reflect. When I’m a part of something that doesn't make me feel good, it compels me to put pen to paper and write songs.
Us: So is there any new love inspiring you for the happy stuff?
D: I have someone in my life. He's amazing, and I feel safe with him. He is a rugby player named Michael Phillips, and he plays for Wales. I don't know if you've ever seen a rugby player, but he's scary. He's like six foot three and would take you out! He came from a small town about twenty minutes from me, where I come from. We met, and had a date around eighteen months ago, and, yeah, I'm really fond of him. Maybe it'll get more serious! Hes like my treat -- I can really be myself and I can just let go and we can eat pizza and watch movies.
US: You've gotten to meet so many people. What's the greatest celebrity encounter that you've had?
D: Again, Smokey Robinson. I'm not obsessed with him or anything, honestly, but what a presence! Stevie Nicks, too. She walks into a room, and I don't know it's like a sun beam. It is like a hurricane, she was like this big light force. When I met someone like Leonard Cohen, I felt like I was really close to God. You can't explain it. I couldn't even talk.