by Gio Pilato
Rewind the film: I met Sandi Thom about three times between June and October 2013 and the impression I could perceive at the time was of a talented young woman with a fabulous album out (Flesh And Blood) but seemed troubled. Despite the kindness she always showed every time we met, there was something I could detect, something that was hidden, and she was just dealing with it personally, like any brave Scot would do.
Winter 2014 in South UK and the fabulous and talented young woman I met an year earlier, suddenly looks so different as we shake hands; despite all she had been through lately (her break-up with Blues Titan Joe Bonamassa had just recently been confirmed by Sandi herself via Social Network), she looks serene, relaxed and at the same time, very determined.
"I honestly don't mind talking about my recent break-up, but at the same time I do appreciate you are asking no questions about it".
Gio - Sandi, another chapter of your life starting right now; a new home, a new tour, among other aspects of your personal life. How does it feel to re-group your musical energies on a familiar soil like United Kingdom?
Sandi - It's always great to be back. This is obviously where my roots come from and is great to see family, friends and so on. Here the crowds are always very receptive; it is refreshing for me and makes a change from my usual sunny spot in US where I live. It is a nice feeling wearing comfortable clothes, sitting in front of a warm fire and enjoy the season change. It has been really nice, considering that this has been a hard transitional time for me but I really feel very fresh and renewed now.
Gio - Looking back at your last couple of albums, let's talk a little about how much of an impact both records made on the way you normally approach your songwriting. Flesh And Blood, in the particular, on which Rich Robinson was on the production side, must have been quite a change for you in the way you generally work on your songs.
Sandi - His influence on that record has been really big; on some of the tracks, you can feel that kind of soulful mood, the gospel and so on.. It works in that way for me because I like harmony and it was really an interesting collaboration all the way through. We made the record in a very traditional sense, having everybody in the same room, playing at the same time.. And a place like Nashville was the most natural place in which we could work that way. Certainly, Flesh And Blood was very different in the way I worked on my first two albums, in which there was much more pre-planned thoughts, while in this record, everything was much more raw and captured on the spot. It was a cool record to make and Rich was the best fit I could possibly dream of; he is such a nice person and brought his own visions on the table, working on my ideas and making some adjustments in the right directions. He was also excellent in helping me to open up as a singer and trust I would have the ability to do certain things on the record. We had really a great time making that record and I am very proud of it. I think the next one is gonna take all of that experience and influences on Flesh And Blood and at the same time, it will be a return to the pre-planned production style I am more familiar with, such as the way I worked on my first couple of records. There will be an interesting mix of rawness and rootsy sound and create some interesting vibes.
Gio - You really never stop touring the world in-between your last two albums, Flesh And Blood and The Cover Collection. Have you found the time and the opportunity, whilst on tour, to write new material or, at the moment, you are solely concentrating on promoting your forthcoming live DVD?
Sandi - I have written often, when I felt it was right to do so. I have never taken purposely some time off, say a week or so, shut everybody out to take time to write new material. I have just come out with new songs just off-the-cuff out on the road, I think they are cool songs. Playing live of course, brings always some sort of inspiration when you write new stuff and in the last six months or so I have really written a lot of new songs. I cannot wait to work on record number six.. There are few finishing touches to be done on some tracks, that kind of half-written sketches that just need to be completed and I did certainly manage to do so during the Christmas festivities and give the final push to those tracks.
Gio - You have recently unveiled your new live DVD in London. Which point of your career you reckon this DVD has managed to capture?
Sandi - The DVD was filmed in the Tivoli Theatre in Aberdeen, the oldest theatre they have there. On this DVD, I wanted to assemble together a great group of musicians and create something very interesting, sonically speaking. Despite the fact we don't have in this band a bass player, the outcome of the recording, in my opinion, was utterly brilliant. With this DVD, I also wanted to go through a sort of time capsule of all my albums and bring all together on stage. By the way we brought all the songs together, for a new fan of my music it might have sounded like the songs were all part of the same album. For me, it has been really a way of joining the dots of my discography and realizing the music journey I have been in so far in my life as an artist. To top the whole performance on the DVD and to pay the right tribute to my roots and the venue, I have decided to bring in bagpipes on stage as well. The fans reaction was unbelievable because totally unexpected! It was really great fun to record the DVD and I hope the fans will agree with me.
Gio - I personally fell in love with your Flesh And Blood album because it showed a new "you", vocally and lyrically on most tracks, far away from your folk music roots. Can you see your music style taking on different genres in the future on your next albums to come?
Sandi - Definitely. On that album, I had the chance to throw punches to different styles. The Stormy Weather track on that album and my take, stylistically, came from the strong Stevie Wonder's influence I always had since the beginning of my career. I guess on that record I just felt my voice explored different edges and I just let it loose. I am pleased you loved Flesh.. because I am very proud of that too. As an artist, I guess my forte is my vocals and most of the time I let my voice fly unconsciously in space and free from any limits, either when I am recording new tracks or reinterpretate other artists' covers. Sometimes things just fall into places in music, without a logic, it just happens, I don't try and pre-conceive an idea too much. I guess I just thread the line between genres pretty carefully and it's hard to pigeonhole music in that respect. I don't feel afraid of exploring different music styles at all and I think that is an healthy attitude for me and hopefully cool enough for the fans and any listener.
Gio - Which is something that you beautifully did on the Covers Collection album. Did you record all the tracks in different times or the covers just flew naturally into your mind all of a sudden, when the time to record the album came?
Sandi - They were mostly done off-the-cuffs.. Certainly Black Velvet was the first one that I did, I remember some other tracks just took shape whilst I was playing the piano, some other just came to me whilst in the studio in L.A. It was certainly a collection that came together over a period of time, I guess I just accumulated these songs. The tracks were well received by the audiences before got recorded. That feeling gave me the impulse of going ahead and record them. The project started to take shape when my brother Christopher thought I should cover the November Rain's track by the Guns'N'Roses. That was a track I grew up with and had always been one of my favourite songs. I think I did a cool interpretation of that big rock anthem and that, almost unintentionally, started the whole cover album project. It was great to be able to strip down to the bone those tracks and give them almost a new, different lease of life. I hope the fans enjoyed as I did the whole concept of this album.
Gio - How much, do you reckon, living in America has changed your creative approach in writing music and lyrics in comparison of the time of your life you have been living in UK?
Sandi - I don't think that moving country has changed my songwriting style at all; perhaps, from a business point of view, living in America offers better prospectives for an artist, there is so much more appreciation and enthusiasm in the industry and the way they approach music in USA. Obviously I refer to the L.A. scene, close to where I live. Another good aspect is that the whole music industry encourages and motivates an artist to work harder and make you believe that anything is possible if you give to it your best shot all the time. So yes, it's like people say, "America, the land of opportunities".. That it is actually true. It gives, just enough to anybody in the industry, the proverbial kick in the ass to do better and push yourself, which is something I actually admire as a concept and embrace. On top of that, the beautiful weather, the blue skies, they are just a wonderful icing on the whole cake.
Gio - You have always been very thankful, judging by the sleeve notes on all your records, to family and friends for the support you receive from them. How important is for you to be surrounded by meaningful people whilst creating your music?
Sandi - Well, you know, if you choose music as a career, some people always look harshly at you, because of what you do. It is, undoubtedly, a very tough business and to have such support from the people you love the most, it makes thing a whole lot easier. It is already a struggle as it is in each type of business, beside being music or anything else, you can imagine how hard might that be for anybody not having that type of support at all. I know it may sound a cliché', but on that point I feel very blessed and lucky in being surrounded by positive people.
Gio - Sandi, how many time do you still get asked to play the "Punk Rocker" song at your concerts?
Sandi - Well, I play it at every concert purely because, as a music fan, if I went to see somebody I love playing live and they didn't play my favourite song or the most popular songs, I would be solemnly disappointed! That is why I haven't got no problems to play that song at my shows. On top of that, I don't feel I am such big-headed person to say to myself: "Well, really you don't have to play that if you don't want to". I play it every time and with a lot of joy.
Gio - You have started your own independent label, Guardian Angel a while ago, which has allowed your music to spread its wings even further. Do you reckon that this is the way forward, for an artist, in general to free musical creativity?
Sandi - I remember when I was at Sony, the level of discussions about any creative aspect was really too much. If you are an artist that sell 10 million records, you can afford to have your ideas and discuss them freely without any fear because you know, deep inside, that this is convenient for the record label too. With an independent label, you don't have to deal with many different people about new ideas and help cut corners hugely. I guess it depends by the situation you are in; I had to start my own label in order to allow myself to continue in the music industry, most of all. I guess it entirely depends by the situation in which, as an artist, you find yourself into, just like any business. The point is, everybody would love to have that freedom, the way to bring forward their own ideas. The reality is that there needs to be a financial sustainability to allow you to do so, i.e. working a proper job and being a singer/songwriter at the same time. If you manage to do that and reach a point of financial stability on which you can count on, then the world of music is your oyster.
Gio - You have been on the top of many music charts in many countries in your career, you are a successful singer, songwriter and an incredibly talented artist. Is there still a secret goal in your life you would like to achieve as an artist?
Sandi - I have some outrageous goals still to be fulfilled! I want to be remembered as one of the best singers that ever lived, I want to win Grammy's, play Madison Square Garden, Royal Albert Hall.. Fundamentally fulfilling large! (chuckles). I would like to achieve something truly great and see them happening sometime in my life and in my career. I feel like 2014 has been a turning point personally speaking and 2015 is going to be, for me, a challenging year, with a new album hopefully. Although, in the music industry, everything is very unpredictable! I feel like my career has been so far a bit of roller coaster, with ups and downs and now I am in a stage of my life when I sense things are turning up for good again. As long as I do something musically of an outstanding quality I shall be fine. In the way my life has changed recently, I kind of feel more freedom and be able to concentrate solely on what I really want as an artist. Really feel like things are falling into place finally.
To find out more about Sandi, visit http://www.sandithom.com/
P.S. A special thanks to 2 Locks Productions and Christopher Thom for the kind help in arranging this interview.
About Our Author: Giovanni "Gio" Pilato is Italian music writer, who has been living in UK since 2002. With an enormous passion for music, and life in general, his interest in the communications began at 11 years old. He worked briefly for local radios in his youth and did a one-off radio show on 2007 on the glorious BBC 6 Music Radio station. Gio started his freelance journalist career in 2012, with Italian artists, and is now mainly focusing on blues artists. To follow Gio Pilato and his all cool radio show, Visit: (RTL 102.5 Cool (Webradio)): http://www.rtl.it/Cool