- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
As human beings, somewhere, our destiny is already written. We grow with our grand dreams when we are young, then our lives take unexpected twists and turns and take us to directions we never expected. Some of those directions test us intensely, sometimes not in a very nice way, to the point that we need to find refuge or salvation somewhere in our souls by gripping onto something that keeps us alive.
Dana Fuchs knows this, for certain, very well. And through music, this fabulous New Jersey born singer/songwriter has found solace in her life, gifting at the same time millions of music lovers through her wonderful voice and through her songs.
When Bluebird Reviews meets Dana Fuchs, she looks, as always, stunningly beautiful and very chilled, despite being constantly on tour with her band. Songs From The Road is her latest live album, which has reinstated once again the stature, charisma and talent of the American Artist. "You know, the thing about the live album, it's kind of funny because it came about at the very last minute. We had already done two studio CDs with our label and, when it was time to do the third, as part of our deal, we were asked to do a live album. So I said to them: "Great, I have got a show coming up in New York City, let's film it there!".
Putting together the tracklist of a live album is always a difficult task and one would imagine that, sometimes, tough choices need to be made in cutting off some of the fans' old favourites. "That was really the hard part. What made it easier was the fact I already had some songs out there, part of my early albums, already on the first live CD I did some time ago. I have been touring Bliss Avenue (her latest studio album) for the last year and a half and I thought these songs were still sounding very fresh to me. So I said to myself: "Ok, this live album it's going to be mostly concentrated on Bliss Avenue's songs plus some other stuff I never managed to film on camera in a live concert before". So that's what I did".
Music is one of those life's paths in which an artist may make really great friends for life, in terms of fellow musicians. For Fuchs and Jon Diamond, co-writer of most of Dana's songs and band guitarist, though, things have been a little more personal, having been not just partners in crime, musically speaking but also partners in life. Despite not being an item any longer, both Dana and Jon keep working together and it must have been pretty tough, given their past together, to reach that stage in which writing songs together becomes just "part of the business". "You know, it happened pretty early on for us, when we were doing other people's music on the blues circuit, as they call it here in New York. After one year of doing that, I realised that it was time for me to write my own stories. I didn't grow up in Tobacco Road and all those great blues songs weren't exactly my story. I just wanted to write my story in my own way, with that kind of rock and roll influence, because I was raised on classic rock from my older siblings. Jon and I first wondered, "How do we do this?". So we sat down and our first song was called Hiding From Your Love, which is on my first studio and live CD. So after that, we thought: "Ok, this is fun!". You know, sometimes you struggle, sometimes you don't, sometimes you throw it away and revisit it. There is always that process but it did feel natural for us, working together. We just really come from such similar places, musically and stylistically, so there was never any big fights between us about music directions to be taken or that sort of discussion. It has always been cool, with Jon".
Dana Fuchs is one of the most recognisable voices of the music business. Her voice fully frames the personality of this highly talented artist. "I joke because I was the youngest of 6 kids but the loudest! I remember in school I was constantly hearing people saying: "Oh, you've got such a deep, powerful voice, with such resonance". I was always hearing that, but, until I started singing, I didn't realise how strong it was. I remember one of my first shows in New York, the sound man said: "Oh, my God you are blowing up my desk, with your voice!". It just sort of happened and then, of course, I started working with a vocal coach because, naturally, I would sing that hard and I was so inexperienced that, after 4-5 songs, my voice would be tired and swollen. In that way, I learned how to use that "instrument" to my advantage over the years".
Bluebird Review has been listening lately to a lot of the Bliss Avenue studio album, to which Dana Fuchs was referring previously. The themes of the album recall darkness and a touch of spirituality as well. An album in which it is hard, sometimes, to imagine what was Fuchs' state of mind. "Certainly darkness. I love your view of that record. You know, "Bliss" has been for me a long affair. After having been in the studio for several times and recorded an album that probably will never see the light of the day, because I didn't feel that album was really me but someone else's, I finally just felt I could really open up and being who I am. I felt I had the chance to share some great experiences I had and people I deeply loved and just throw it all out there, when "Bliss" was made. You can't do that, on an album, until you are in a good enough place of your soul to do it. You can't sing about the pain, when you are still in it. I think it's always easier to do so in retrospective, to look at it and say: "Wow, what a powerful time that was, what a lesson or experience I learned" and then you can be a little more reflective about it. It is more redemptive too, because a lot of the songs' lyrics are very dark but at the same time, the music is still upbeat and I love that kind of contrast in a record".
Many know that this New York-based artist has had the leading role in the Broadway musical inspired by Janis Joplin called Love, Janis. Also, a very successful stint as an actress in Hollywood, by playing the role of Sadie in the 2007 movie called Across The Universe, nominated in that year for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
It must be a bit tricky to juggle so many careers. "I've gotta to say, it's not that tricky. I had to make a choice after I did the film Across The Universe. The agents in Hollywood wanted me to take a year and come out and audition every day and live that kind of life. At the time, I was so ready to get on the road because, all in all, music is my real passion. Acting is fun, you know, I always say, if something cool comes along I would think about it, if it doesn't clash with my music career. You know, acting is such a big commitment too. I didn't really have a lot of juggling to do. It would have been different if I had within myself a burning desire to act, but music is all that matters to me. If I was not going to make music, I would have probably been teaching children (chuckles)".
Life has been hitting Dana Fuchs very hard, in recent years, through some personal family losses. Having been so close to her family all her life, one may wonder how Fuchs managed to overcome such hard times and how much music might have helped this phenomenal performer to mend such deep, emotional scars. "I feel so lucky that music can be so cathartic for me. Recently, it was the first year anniversary of my father's death and the eighth month anniversary of my brother's death at the same time, literally the same day. It was a very loaded time for me because a week after my father's and brother's anniversary it's my sister's anniversary too and few months ago was the anniversary of my older brother's death. Your question, in that respect, is really timely. Since the first loss, which was my only sister's and was so shocking because she took her life, that was the moment when I realised I HAD to do music. Making music together was our dream when we were little girls, although there was a considerable age gap but we shared the same bedroom and she was singing to sleep at night, I shall never forget that. We were both gonna make it as singers.... When she took that dark path and didn't survive, that was my big wake up call, like saying to myself "Let's do or die". Since then, after that, there was my oldest brother, who coincidentally was my sister's bandmate and he'd given up music for all kind of strange religious ideologies and it depressed him and he had a very tortured life since then. Being with him as he died, due to a terrible and unexpected brain cancer, was another terrible moment for me and I had just to thank music that took me through the whole of it. The music and the audience. To be able to go on stage and say "F**k, I just had this experience, how many of you had that too?". And the people would yell out the names of lost loved ones and I would say "Let's celebrate their lives tonight"... It's such a blessing".
Our website has had the opportunity to see the American Singer/Songwriter performing at the Lead Belly Tribute night in London, at the Royal Albert Hall, where she beautifully belted out a potent rendition of Gallows Pole, first recorded by Lead Belly back in 1939, then re-vamped by Led Zeppelin in later years. Given the importance of the event and the amount of extraordinary musicians present that night, Dana Fuchs must have great memories of that magical night of music. "You know, it was amazing to discover that all the stuff I used to listen to when I was a kid, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, were so immensly influenced by Lead Belly. Even when I was unaware of all this, Lead Belly has been indirectly a big influence on me. It was a spectacular night. I have gotta to say, that place, the Royal Albert hall, is indeed "Royal". I don't think I have ever been on a special stage like that ever. Just being with all those musicians, on so many different levels, different styles and sharing that night on stage together, was one of the highlights of my career. I had such a great time and to sing a Led Zeppelin song! My word, that was the icing on the cake! I was so terrified and excited at the same time to sing that song. It wasn't an easy one to sing but I threw myself into it deeply and I just felt the story of that song so much".
With such formidable career, surely Fuchs must have no regrets at all in her life.... Or maybe not? "Oh, plenty. You know, wishing I had stuck with piano, done more lessons and practicing some more, little things like that, for example. Certainly, over the years, you look back and you go: "Aarghh, what if I had done what this person said to do, back then?". You know, I was a little stubborn when I started out, I was a little anti-pop. I remember I was approached at the time by somebody that wrote some really terrible pop lyrics and I was horrified at the idea of working with this person.... I certainly made my path in music harder for me already since those early days (chuckles)".
To be constantly on tour does not give many windows of opportunity to record a new album. Dana Fuchs is currently promoting an acoustic album of her most famous hits called Broken Down, available exclusively at the venues where she is performing before its release date in November 2015. When it comes to the recording plan of a new studio album, though, Fuchs is not entirely sure when that is going to take place. "It just depends when we can get into the studio. We have a pretty full tour schedule up until November this year. We usually record over the holiday period, that's when everybody is off the road and we can get musicians here in New York. It depends also about what the label wants and what we would like to do and, as you can imagine, there are always a lots of discussions happening on this subject. But we are writing and it will be interesting, as it always happens with my records. I never know the directions they are gonna take until you get into the studio and you feel it. It's like being on a stage, I never like to make a setlist, I like to feel what the audience is up to and what they feel like and then I can kind of call it from there".
Before parting company, there is one of Fuchs' songs buzzing in BBR's head, called Long Long Game, in which she is singing: "Whiskey bound on a whistling train, another town but it's all the same. Take a bow when they call your name, oh baby, that's the price you gonna pay for fame". I cannot stop myself by asking Dana whether that "Whistling Train" has taken her where she wanted to be, in her life and career. "Great question. That is one of my favourite songs on that record and I never knew why and I thank you for that. That Whistling Train may have not taken me where I thought I wanted to be, but for sure, much further from where I was. I feel it's just taking me to where I'm supposed to be and that's when you learn, that is the one thing you really realise. You realise that the notions and the dreams you have, will set you on a path on which you have to be open about whatever the outcome is. If you merely focus otherwise on things like "It's gotta be in this way" then you end up missing out on so many beautiful opportunities around you. So, I guess my Whistling Train is still going".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Jayne Tansey-Patron)
Rewind the clock. It's June 15th and the Royal Albert Hall in London hosts a Tribute Evening to the late great Lead Belly. Among the many guest artists performing throughout the evening, Walter Trout's name is certainly among the most expected to be seen on stage, in this stunning English venue. I have been waiting to talk to Trout for a long time now and no better chance to interview him than tonight's special music event.
Trout is due to come on stage in about 30 minutes and Marie, Walter Trout's wife, kindly reaches me to tell me to do the interview right now. When I enter the Dressing Room, Trout looks visibly tense and almost absent, mind solely concentrated about what is gonna happen in few minutes on stage. When we start the interview, I sense Walter is not really with me and the American Guitarist realises that too, asking me kindly to postpone the interview because he couldn't focus at all on my questions. I struggle to recognise that very same artist I just saw half an hour later. When Marie Trout announces him on stage and after the crowd homages Trout with an almost 5 minutes Standing Ovation, the moment Walter plays the first note, it just feels like he has returned to live again. The 20 minutes set he offered that night had been the first time in 2 years that Trout had been playing on a stage, given his long running battle with liver disease that almost took his life away.
Back few weeks later and talking to Walter Trout is a completely different affair. The American Blues/Rock artist is in great shape and one can easily understand that the night in London had been an emotional roller coaster for him. "It's really good to be back. I never thought I would have been able to and I am overjoyed to be able to be here and talking to you right now. That night in London, was for me a huge milestone of my life. It was one of those moments I shall always remember as one of the biggest emotional experiences of my entire life. And the moment I vividly remember of that night, was, standing in the wings with my guitar on, looking out at that beautiful, incredible venue , hearing my wife introducing me. Hearing her beautiful voice and then walking on stage, having people stand up and just direct all that love at me, Man, that was really intense. I embraced my wife and we both started crying, literally weeping like babies. I remember that part of that night more than the playing part, strangely enough. I hadn't been on stage for almost two years and that moment, has been for me one of the most profound experiences I had ever".
The last album Trout managed to put together, before undergoing the liver transplant that saved his life was a very emotional one, called The Blues Came Calling. A record that sounded almost like a music testament, which must be carrying for Walter Trout certainly painful memories. "That album was very difficult for me. I was very sick when I made that album. I was on a walker and every couple of weeks, I would swell up with liquid in my abdomen. Then I would have gone in and they would put a drain into my abdomen and they would drain out something like twelve litres of liquid out of me. So here I was, being incredibly sick and I would drive to Los Angeles (I live south of L.A.), to the studio, very ill and I would be able, maybe, to play and sing for about an hour and a half and then I would have to tell Eric (Corne), my producer, "Sorry Man, I can't do anymore, I don't have the strength". My hand was cramping too, due to my liver disease and as a result, some days I couldn't play at all. When I felt a tight more stronger, I would have gone in, play a solo guitar part or two but it was, overall, extremely difficult. I was, though, very determined to finish that record because I thought it was going to be my last record ever. You can tell the frame of mind I was by listening in the Blues Came Calling, when I sang "You'll never be the man you used to be". I figured, my life as I know it, it's over and even if I survive, I would be an invalid and won't be able to perform, play or being a good father ever again. I shall be just a vegetable. With that dark frame of mind and being so ill, there were even moments in which I couldn't even sing two lines in a row. I had the strength just to sing one, then stop, get my breath back and then do the next one. And when you have to record each and every song like that, with that pace, because I had no choice, trust me, it was incredibly time consuming. Right now, the Blues Came Calling album is for me a very difficult album to listen to, because just brings back to me the darkness of that time I was living."
That difficult moment of Trout's life and career seems now long gone and Trout has now started touring again in America, although on a slow pace. Among the many messages that Bluebird Reviews received about the return on stage of this fabulous artist, many came from Italy, which unfortunately has not been included on Trout's forthcoming tranche of the European Tour. "I would love to get back to Italy. I love playing there, people are always so gracious with us and so kind and they are a great audience. It just hasn't worked out this year. There are a lot of places I would love to get back to but we are going a little bit slow here. At the moment, given what I have been through I don't feel, at least for a little while, to be able to go at the same pace that I used to. But Italy will be on my tour map, if all plan out well, maybe next year."
Walter Trout is clearly on full steam, remarkably, especially considering what he has been through in the last 24 months. His writing mojo certainly seems to benefit by this new found energy from the American artist and sounds like an album is now ready to be released. "That's a good question and I have a great answer for that. I went through a creative Renaissance and you, being Italian, you know damn well what I am talking about (smiles). When I started writing again, I found out I had so much I wanted to say that the songs just kept pouring out of me at a rate I have never known before. I could just grab my acoustic guitar, sit down and just, boom!, I could write a song in about 5 minutes. One day, I managed to write six songs and I had so much material that we had a hard time figuring out what songs to put on the new album. The album is done now and Eric Corne, my producer, has just finished to mix it. To me, it's a sort of Musical about my life in the past two years and what I have been through. It's a concept album about what happen to me every step of the way and it is called Battle Scars. It starts off with a song called I Am Almost Gone and it's about me, looking into my wife's eyes, with her, trying to be strong and positive but deep inside, we both know underneath that I may probably gonna die. There are also songs, in the album, about me being in the hospital and feeling, at night, that there were people surrounding me that were dying and I was able to hear the pain their families were going to with their departed beloved. Other songs in the album are about my inability to walk at the time and so on. In brief, a sort of journal of those painful days. The final song of the album is called I'm Going To Live Again and it is about me having a conversation with God, asking him about the reason why he decided to keep me here on earth and allowing me to survive. I keep saying to God that I don't deserve to survive because I feel I have been a bad person in my life. When I finally manage to find the reason about me, surviving to all this, I just keep saying to myself that I need to be a better man, now I have been given the chance to do that."
I am wondering if Trout is going to play the songs from the forthcoming album on the current leg of the American Tour but it doesn't sound possible, according to Walter. "Well, we can't play them live right now because of something, which everyone knows about, that is called YouTube. The thing is, if I go out and play them now, by the time the new album comes out, via a vehicle like YouTube, for example, everyone would have already heard the songs and very few would buy the record. The album comes out in October and I guess that, due to the fact I am touring Europe in November, you guys in Europe will be able to hear the new songs."
Trout has been and still is a true blues pioneer, as a solo artist or by being part of great music projects, one for all, the Bluesbreakers. Still, I wonder what really "Blues" means for Trout, should he be able to put into words. "Well, what a question! What it means to me is truth, it means a pure, simple, uncomplicated expression of human feeling. It means a beautiful community, because the blues community got behind me when I got sick and it is an extraordinary community, made of great fans and great musicians. It's that thing that, all my life, by the time I discovered it, as a young boy, gave me the opportunity to realise I had the ability to play the guitar and sing. Once I discovered that, I just realised that blues was all that I wanted to play, it gave me self-respect, it gave me purpose. I feel that, to play music from the depths of my heart and to play as honestly as I can, it's a noble endeavour for me. I feel it is my attempt, in a tiny small way, to make the world a little bit of a better place and do something that is honest and true and cut through all the bulls**t of this world.
Going back to that magic night at the Royal Albert hall in June of this year, Bluebird Reviews had been asked to pass to Trout many messages from fans and fellow artists, welcoming him back on stage, which our website duly did. After so many years in the music business, it must be a fantastic feeling for Walter Trout to get still such amazing love and respect by music veterans or young fellow blues musicians. "It is simply amazing. I mean, like I said, one of the thing that kept me alive while I was sick, was my wife Marie reading me messages, both from artists and from fans. People saying that my music meant something to them, what I do meant something to them. They just don't consider it light-hearted pop fluff, that you hear on the radio but rather something that has got some sort of depth and meaning to it. To get those messages from people, especially when I came back and to hear them saying "Hey man, we are happy for you", it meant the world to me. And what I think as well is, in this modern age which is so full of bad news, I think in a certain way, my survival makes a good news story. After all, I was not suppose to survive, the doctors didn't think I was going to survive, realistically, nobody on the planet thought I was going to survive! But I made it through and that means that there is still hope out there, in the world. We can take bad, horrible situations and we can turn them around and make them into something good."
During the years, old and young generations of music lovers have had the chance to admire and love the many layers of Trout's immens talent as a musician. He infused his music, his songwriting, his guitar style with what life was throwing at him on each of Trout's records. One can just guess what version of the Chameleon Walter Trout we shall see on the next album. "If people is under the impression that I am coming back with low energy, in a very understated, mellow way, they are going to be greatly surprised, because this album is rocking all the way! And I mean, it is fu**ing rocking! I played the opening track for my son Michael and he said to me: "Man, all you need is Robert Plant and you are Led Zeppelin!". There are some little acoustic moments and ballads as well but it is, fundamentally, a high-energy fuelled rocking record through and through. I remember the time I was playing some of the songs at home and my kids were saying: "Jeez, who do you think you are, AC/DC?". It is important, for me, to feel the vibes coming from my family about the album. For instance, Marie, my wife, tells me that the new album reminds her of my early records back in the 90's, when I started, but with more power than back to that time."
To talk to Walter Trout is such a gift. To see him with such an amazing spirit and energy is one of life little great miracles. I wonder what life would have been, for Walter Trout, without music. "I don't know if you have read the book about my life, in particular about some of the things that happened to me back in the days, during my childhood. I really feel that the music saved me, rescued me, as the book title suggests. I think if I hadn't discovered music, there is a good chance I would have ended in a mental hospital or something of that ink. The music gave me an outlet, it's therapy for me. I always had a lot of inner demons in my life, that's why I went through all that drug addiction period. I tried to run away from pain and ghosts and I think that, without the music, I would have become a wreck of a human being."
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Battle Scars will be released on October 25th by Mascot Label Group
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
It's a beautiful afternoon in England, when I meet Kevin Moore, aka Keb' Mo', in that wonderful city that is London. Impeccably dressed as always, the American singer/songwriter has just landed in the English capital less than 24 hours ago, still he doesn't show any signs of tiredness or fatigue.
His latest album, Bluesamericana, not just marks twenty years of music business for this highly respected, three-times Grammy winner but also portraits an artist at the very peak of his artistic growth, both as a musician and as a songwriter. Before we start our interview, we amiably discuss about fashion and good food of Southern Europe and one gets the impression that Keb' Mo' is in a very happy place, right now, in his heart and soul.
BBR - Bluesamericana is a sort of landmark for you. Do you feel, sometimes, that this first 20 odd years of music have gone really fast? Is there any particular memories you would like to share with us about living and breathing music "On The Road"?
KM - You are right, they went really fast but I like to live for the moment. I have got some great memories of all these past years but I don't dwell on them, right now. As I was telling you, I rather prefer to sit and enjoy the moment and the life I am living right now and think about the future. And to know that, maybe, I am creating at this moment in time some new memories I can take with me from now to the next 20 years of my life.
BBR - The album, which is co-produced by you and your long-time friend and musician Casey Wasner, is a true testament of your ability, both as a composer and a musician. Is it true that the record was planned originally to be an acoustic, stripped-down kind of album? If so, how come you changed your mind about the kind of sound that ended up on Bluesamericana?
KM - I think what happened was that I started feeling the songs in a different way. What caused the change of tempo on the album is something that just happened naturally, without a specific reason. I just felt the songs in that way. It all came out in the way it came out. Sometimes, you can not really stop your immediate feelings or intuitions, you just need to let them flow. I started the album, as you said, just with guitar solo and my voice and I wanted initially to bring that kind of atmosphere in my concerts. Then I thought that those songs needed more layers, which make them last in people's mind a bit longer than a purely acoustic number. And in the end, I was very happy I followed my instinct about those added layers on the album.
BBR - The Old Me Better has got that New Orleans Street Parade type of sound. Where did you get the idea to add that particular sound on that track?
KM - Actually, my co-writer came up with the idea of the sound about The Old Me Better. I wrote down the lyrics in about 20 minutes because the subject really matters to me so it came out really quickly (the song is about married life in general). When something is really important to me, I make things move really fast and that includes writing songs too.
BBR - 12 albums in and your music style still sounds so fresh and inspired. How much has, collaborating throughout all these years with many famous fellow artists, contributed to your artistic growth?
KM - D'you know, I don't think that is about the number of artists I have worked with that is the real secret. It is rather more about the blues artists that have deeply inspired me, people like Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, James Taylor.. All those people have really casted a big influence on me, rather than people I have been working with, I think. I would say that, all in all, despite the fact I listen to other artists playing their stuff, I try to do my own things, musically speaking, without referencing or being particularly inspired by anything or anyone. It is me being with me, wanted to say what I have got to say and sounding in the way I want to sound like. It's like seeing somebody with a fabulous pair of shoes and, rather than asking "Hey, you have got a great pair of shoes, can I borrow them?", I rather prefer making my own shoes in my own way.
BBR - The album is packed with references to love and commitments. Has the record been inspired, lyrically, by a particular stage of your life?
KM - Well, it is more my "actual" stage of life, truth to be told. It is all about actual stuff happening in my life. Being married is like a whole journey, which inevitably, brings up stuff. Like some of my other records, what I have written on Bluesamericana is about this moment of my life I am living, this journey I am into, that I just mentioned. Most importantly, the lyrics come from some place deep inside of me, as always happens with anything I write on my records. So, in answer to your question, Bluesamericana frames a stage of my life exactly as you might have noticed on my previous albums. There is no hiding anywhere or trying to tell anybody else's story. It is just Keb' Mo' talking about what happens in his life and what really matters to him.
BBR - In this record, who is the character that inspired the series of calamities and bad luck on The Worst Is Yet To Come song? Is that a fictional story or a real one?
KM - It is fictional and real at the same time. The reason why I wrote that song was because I wanted to transform a negative subject in a positive one. The whole song is about facing some real tough time but, in the end, one keep saying to himself: "Well, the sun keeps on shining, just like it should. When I take a look around me, yes, I'm doing pretty good". Those lyrics on that song, they sum up pretty much what I wanted to say on that track.
BBR - Kevin, are you still doing some acting or is that something you tried, fulfilled, but you are not interested to explore any further?
KM - I think I have always liked to act but I must confess, I am a terrible actor! Acting is some serious stuff and I don't think I can push myself any more than what I have already done. I think I have done all right for the kind of acting I have been asked to do but it's not something I am particularly interested to pursue any further.
BBR - What Keb' Mo' would have been, without music?
KM - It would have just been music, no more no less. I cannot even start thinking what my life would have been without it. I am just a music type of guy and I guess I always will.
BBR - You have contributed massively and you still do, in the contamination and evolution of music in its entirety, in the past two decades. In the centuries to come, how would you love to be remembered by the future generations?
KM - I would say, I feel more like I have been combining and fusing different music genres, rather than contaminating one. I would love to be remembered, maybe, like a guy that was able to tell good stories, giving positive vibes through his music and make everyone feeling good about life in general.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Photos by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato.
Bluesamericana is out now and can be purchased via Amazon
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
By Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo courtesy by Adam Kennedy)
The minute she walks into the room, a big smile runs through her beautiful face. It is a fabulous time in the career of Joanne Shaw Taylor, following the huge success of her new album The Dirty Truth, recognised worldwide as one of the top blues/rock albums of the past year. Bluebird Review is truly honoured to spend few minutes in the company of this incredibly talented blues artist from the United Kingdom.
BBR - Joanne, welcome to Bluebird Reviews. Your last album to date, The Dirty Truth, has been one of the best of 2014. How long did it take to write and record this wonderful album?
JST - Thank you for your nice words. It was actually a fairly quick one to record. I recorded it in about two weeks, in Tennessee. I don't tent to write unless I need to, partly because I can work well under pressure and also, as you can understand, there is never time enough for me, given the fact I am constantly on tour. I remember I took about one week off and I wrote most of the album in about 5 days. I managed to finish as well the rest of the lyrics when we started recording as we were going. A fairly quick, smooth recording process for this album for sure.
BBR - The media have been defining this album as a return to your original sound, which incorporates elements of blues into your stratospheric rock riffs. Surprisingly, though the track Fool In Love is, for me, a classic example of how beautifully you can write a "pop-soul" kind of song. Was this the sound you were aiming for when you wrote this song?
JST - Yeah, definitely. I have such a wide range of influences and listen to so many types of music and I guess that such influences, at times, sneak here and there in my songwriting. I like also, both when I play live or record a new song in a studio, not to write the same tune with the same tempo over and over again, because it would be boring for myself personally and for the listeners. I try to be as diverse as possible within rock, blues and soul genres, genres I see and feel myself in as an artist. I like to think that this is one aspect that people truly appreciate about this record. One other aspect the fans might have liked is the fact that, rather than doing a back-to-the-roots kind of album, I feel I managed to find a good balance among all those genres, which soothes me perfectly, both as an artist and a songwriter.
BBR - You have in your voice that passion and power that resembles great vocalists such Janis Joplin, for example. How much has your powerful and intense voice impacted your journey through life, both as a musician and woman?
JST - I never actually intended to be the singer I am, although I wanted to be because, you know, becoming a blues guitarist, it's kind of traditional in the genre to have a solid, blues voice. It was important for me to learn singing properly but I have got to tell you, it has been a hard road to get to achieve it in the right way. It has been definitely a bit of challenge for me to reach that goal and I hope that I fulfilled that challenge well. From a songwriting point of view, learning to sing in that way has opened up for me new musical doors. I don't consider myself as somebody having a traditional blues voice, more a soul-ish one, I suppose. That aspect has allowed me to expand my songwriting range and write also some soul stuff, songs like Fool In Love, that you mentioned before or Tried, Tested And True. It is a good feeling to know that I have, thankfully, different music colors in the palette and I can adapt such colors to my voice.
BBR - You come from the Midlands, in England. Where is home now, given the fact you tend to travel a lot between Birmingham in the Uk and Detroit for working reasons?
JST - It's a kind of a mixed bag at the moment. It is more in-between Detroit and London, to be honest. So, if we are touring the States, for example, I use Detroit as my home base, while if we are touring the Uk, I have a place in London that I use regularly in the same way I do with Detroit. As you said, between all this travelling, sometimes I wonder why I bother having a place on my own and rather staying in hotels, because I'm hardly ever there. I feel like a pinball sometimes, bouncing wherever in the world my Manager tells me to go and play (chuckles).
BBR - You mentioned to the press that you are a big country music fan. Why have you not recorded a country song yet?
JST - To be honest, it was my original plan to start The Dirty Truth in that way, with a country song. Then I gave up, I didn't feel "country" enough, it must be the English in me! I just cannot sing it with my brummie accent. But yes, I am a huge country music fan, which living in Detroit might have brought in me, having that city a strong country scene. Or maybe the time I spent in Houston might have helped as well to build up my passion for that genre too. Maybe I'll let a bit of country guitar sound to sneak in in some of my songs in future but I don't think I shall ever be able to sing in a country way, I just don't have the accent. I am not sure I could get away with it (chuckles).
BBR - You have been, earlier this year, on the Keep The Blues Alive Cruise with many fellow blues/rock artists. Which are your fondest memories about that experience?
JST - It was fantastic from beginning to end and what a way for me to celebrate my 30th birthday! I have been good friend with Joe (Bonamassa, the founder of Keep The Blues Alive) for several years now, so to hang around with him and get to see and meet all the artists on board of the cruise ship has been really special. It was the right chance to get to meet properly with other artists because when we are all on the road, we are so busy that just on special occasions like this or at festivals one has the opportunity to interact with one another a bit more. Been locked for 4 days on thew ship, gave me the opportunity to get to know really well some great fellow artists like Ryan McGarvey, Robert Randolph and many others. A great experience indeed and a good detox for me, given the fact that was also my birthday.
BBR - Joanne, you have crossed paths in your career, although in different circumstances with both Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox from Eurythmics. Have you ever listened to any of their music, given the fact that you have been raised, musically speaking, with rock and blues?
JST - Yeah, I have. I have a very diverse taste in music and my ears are always very open and eager to listen to different music styles. I certainly have to thank my parents for that. When I initially met Dave, I didn't know a lot about Eurythmics because I was 16 at the time and I wasn't really around in that part of the Eighties. Since that time, I have researched his career quite a lot, right to the early stuff from the Eurythmics. I would love to try and cover some of the Eurythmics songs, one day. They have done so many great songs in their career. Both Dave and Annie are very talented songwriters and, on top of that, I am a big fan of Annie's solo career too. Diva is one of my favorite albums ever.
BBR - You are a very prolific songwriter. Considering how much you tour, throughout the year, where do you find the time to record new material?
JST - I find it always difficult on the road, for me, to write. Normally, I would write an album close to the recording period, as a rule. On The Dirty Truth album though, in early 2014, I decided, as an exception, to take three months off for personal reasons. I had lost my mum the previous year and I wanted to take some time off. My plan was, at the time, to use that time off to write and I didn't come up even with one song. Then, when it came recording time, I was three or four days away from going to the studio and recording and then the songs started pouring out. I think I definitely learned, from that experience, to never underestimate the power of panic! I guess that, when I feel I have a deadline, I focus much better on the task ahead and kind of forget about the world outside.
BBR - You will be doing few festival appearances in Europe and in the US this summer, then back again in September in your beloved United Kingdom. Can we expect any new tracks live or will the tour solidly concentrate on the material from The Dirty Truth?
JST - Yes, pretty much. I might put in the setlist a couple of new covers, actually. We are thinking of bringing to the show a stripped-down acoustic segment but we will be solely concentrate on The Dirty Truth and my past albums. Which is quite nice, you know, because having now four albums of original material, factoring that there are a lot of guitar solos, we don't actually play many songs during the shows. Having enough original music material, now, allows me to show to the fans the diversity of the genres I play on my records. I could potentially do four different sets of four different music styles, which is a real nice feeling for me and I guess for the fans as well.
BBR- Joanne, in your career so far, you have already achieved a lot, performed with the cream of the blues/rock worlwide and being universally acclaimed as one of the best blues/rock performers. Are there any hidden dreams that you have not yet fulfilled?
JST - I think there are still many things I could do better, in my life and career. I like to think that there are still so many songs unwritten, locked somewhere inside of me. More guitar solos,to learn to become even a better vocalist or even learn new guitar riffs. I believe it's important to keep thinking there are things to improve, in someone's life and career. I have not managed, with my music, to reach yet some countries in the world and I would love to do that too, in future. I have not even done yet any music collaboration, up to this point and that is something else I would like to look into too, you know. Working with some other artists and see if they can take me down to different music routes, maybe even country artists! How cool would that be, given what we discussed before?
The Dirty Truth can be purchased by following this link: Amazon
Joanne Shaw Taylor's Tour Dates Worldwide: JST's World Tour 2015
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
By Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
2014 has been one of those years that will remain forever in the minds and hearts of Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado. Universally acclaimed as one of the top album of 2014 by half of the media world, Too Many Roads is just one of those album that get inside your skin from the first listen for its beauty. The singer/songwriter Thorbjorn Risager, has kindly accepted to discuss with Bluebirdreviews what this album means for him personally and what the future has installed for them as a collective.
GGP - Too Many Roads is an album that has trajected the name of the band in the Olympus of the music scene worldwide. How much has it surprised you, or not maybe, the huge, positive outcome of the record from a selling prospect and from music magazines or music media in general around the globe?
TR - The truth is that we were very surprised on how well the album did, when it was released. We were very happy about the album but we never imagined that the album would attract the attention of so many people and media in general. The media must have done over a hundred of reviews of the album, since its release and interviews with us about the album, which was a very pleasant surprise for us. Our previous albums never received that much attention by fans and media in such scale, therefore this album is a giant leap for us.
GGP - Producing the album yourselves as a collective for the first time has been a brave move. How difficult has been for you and the band to run the project completely on your own?
TR - Actually, it turned out to be not that difficult at all. Once we finished the recording process, we were so happy about the outcome that we immediately had the feeling we had recorded something special, as it then turned to be. I like to think that such positive outcome is also due to the fact that on this album, we have decided to go solo, without a producer. We followed everything through, instead of leaving the responsibility to a producer to select and choose what then ends up on a record. As main men on the production side of this album, there was me and our bass player Soren and that was great fun. I was mainly focusing on musical arrangements while Soren concentrated more on the aspects of the sound. We had an excellent Team Work and by doing things on our own, we also saved a lot of money.
GGP - The recording process of each of your record must be surely intriguing. Beside you being the main songwriter, how much musical input each band member brings, in deciding the music direction on each individual track?
TR - That is a very interesting question. From a musical point of view, as I was saying before, our bass player Soren has always a lot of good ideas on each track we record. We all listen to his ideas and decide then which is the one that could be applied on each song. Sometimes, when I write a new tune, I record it and send it to each member of the band. The band would then play each their instruments, following their instinct and the way that particular song sounds to each of them. This would happen, normally, a couple of days before we enter the studio and rehearse the songs. Once we are all together in the studio, though, things may go through different musical tangents and we spend more hours rehearsing. This is a way of working we often apply before recording a new album but, as I said before, Soren is definitely the one that comes up with bags of ideas, even at the last minute. It is funny, sometimes, to think that the bass player in a band is always the one that has got thousand of ideas and our band makes no exception!
GGP - Scandinavia is a part of the world that has grown a lot in loving blues in the last 15-20 years. Does the love for this genre, in your opinion, come from values that blues carries with, which may reflect the core values of Scandinavian people too or is there any other reason behind this deep connection?
TR - Difficult to say if there is a real connection, in my opinion, as a Scandinavian person. The funny thing is that, very often, there is this saying that Scandinavian people are a bit depressed but I do not think, not even for a second, that this has got anything to do with the blues or whether there is a special bond between this part of the world and the genre. We are just what we are. I can just guess that many here might feel some sort of connection but it is something more individual, rather than a national thing. I really have not got an answer to that.
GGP - Thorbjorn, Too Many Roads is an album in which relationships between men and women seem to be the centrepiece of the whole project. How easy was to put yourself in the shoes of a woman's mind, when you wrote Red, Hot & Blue?
TR - Actually, I wrote that song from the prospective of my girlfriend. In that sense, it wasn't that difficult because I have known her for many years, now. Due to the special bond we have and always had, it wasn't really tricky for me to write that particular song.
GGP - The success of your band has taken you to many countries, I believe 17 or even more. When will the Southern Europe and the American audience have the opportunity of seeing you and the band performing in those countries?
TR - Hopefully very soon. We would absolutely love to go in countries such as Italy or Spain. But from a logistic point of view, it is not easy for us to plan gigs over there. We toured a lot in Germany for the last 3-4 years, where we have a very solid fan base and big audiences coming to our concerts. Given the short distance from Denmark, to have such great audiences in Germany is a great plus factor for us. It is very easy for us to go there and tour the whole country and schedule a proper tour. We really hope to tour Southern Europe soon. We are aware that there is a very good blues scene over there. If not this year, we would hope at least this might happen next year but we do want to go there and play, definitely. USA is one of those dreams we hope to achieve very soon too. That is the place where all our music heroes come from, therefore that would be a massive dream to fulfil for us, hopefully, one day.
GGP - W.C. Hardy, a famous blues composer and musician, once defined his music as the sound of a sinner on Revival Day. How does Thorbjorn Risager define HIS music instead?
TR - That is a difficult question. We tend to play quite a broad variety of genres, our music recipe gets its ingredients from different styles of music. To define our style is difficult, purely because it's all depending what type of song will come out the minute I sit down and start writing a new song. It may be a soul kind of song (Ray Charles is one of my all-time favourite artists), or a jazz, or a rock one, who knows. I think that, a lesson we learned through experience, as artists, is to follow our instinct about how a song should sound like, without any limit. In the past, our style was very much jazz orientated while now, I would call it more a blues/rock kind of style, with added elements from other music roots. And through the music style we play, we also like the fact, especially when we play live, to be able to create some positive vibes, a true bond between us, as a band, and the crowd. We want our fans to come back home thinking of our gigs as a moment of joy and we hope we are able to achieve most times.
GGP - Was there any particular reason behind the decision of changing the name of the band from Thorbjorn Risager Band to Thorbjorn Risager And The Black Tornado?
TR - Myself and the band have been thinking so much, through the years, about trying to find an easy name for our fans to pronounce and I think we finally nailed it! (chuckles). For this last album we finally did so. We managed to find the right name and we are all happy about it. There is also another reason about trying to give the band a proper name. At the time we made Too Many Roads, I had planned to take quite some time off in Greenland with my family but the band wanted to keep touring, even in my absence. Given the fact they couldn't call themselves Thorbjorn Risager Band without me being around, at least by having their own identity, as a band, they could have had the chance of touring with somebody else, while I was away, or simply touring on their own, by calling themselves The Black Tornado. Due to the fact that my partner is a doctor and she loves to do some work in Greenland, it might be possible in future I may need to take chunks of time off music and be with her over there. At least, though, The Black Tornado can continue to play music on their own having their own identity, as a collective.
GGP - 2015 marks 10 years since you released your first album. Is there any surprise installed for your fans to commemorate such an important event?
TR - Well, we are certainly celebrating this important event in our career in the best way possible, which is releasing a new live CD/DVD called Songs From The Road. The mixing sounds fabulous and we are very pleased on the outcome. Certainly, the live album will be unveiled in Copenhagen, where our roots are. The band has been actually existing for 12 years but, as you rightly said, our first record was released back in 2005. And that was the same time in which we met our manager as well, so, in some ways, it will be a double celebration!
GGP - Thorbjorn, music changes the lives of millions of people every day. Your music must have changed the lives of many people around the world too. But how much has music changed you as a person?
TR - Music is my whole life. The blues music, in particular, it has been always part of my life and will always be. I make a living out of music by writing it, playing it, singing it.. I live and breath music every day and I guess that I wouldn't be able to describe my life without music being part of it.
GGP - One part soul, one part blues, one part funk, one part rock. How should we name the music cocktail generated by Thornbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado?
TR - Well, to me, the core of our music remains the blues. I remember somebody from the Media World calling us Indie Blues, when Too Many Roads was released, although I don't subscribe entirely to that point of view. If I should, though, make up a cocktail name for our music, I think I would call it Danish Cosmopolitan. But fundamentally, let's just let the music doing the talk.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Too Many Roads is available on Amazon and the all the biggest retailers worldwide