In 2009, Joanne Shaw Taylor debuted on the blues rock scene with White Sugar. Since then, Taylor has quickly become a prominent artist in the world of blues rock with the release of Diamonds In The Dirt and Almost Always Never. Songs From The Road, her first live album, was just released this month and George Ward caught up with Taylor to discuss the new album.
So you are currently living in the States, what’s life like over there compared to the UK?
Well, I think the biggest difference and the main reason why I relocated here is just obviously touring is a bit of a problem here if you don’t have a base as opposed to the UK where you can pretty much fly over to mainland Europe. The touring is very different here, it’s a lot of long hours in a van with a bunch of dudes. In terms of the music scene, Detroit in particular has got a very eclectic scene. I wouldn’t say I’m sort of engrossed in it just because when I am here I am off and not keen on going to see live music since I see a lot of it anyway. The blues has a very strong scene, the blues societies thrive, some are fan run enterprises. It’s a lot more fan based here than it is in the UK.
You’ve had a few studio releases now and made quite a name for yourself on the blues rock scene, what made you decide it was time to release a live album?
Well, it was something that the fans had been asking for. I’ve seen the blues rock genre particularly make guitar playing so prominent. I think people tend to prefer live albums, I think they see them as a more accurate portrayal of what an artist does. We tour constantly whereas studio albums are just like a two week snapshot of whatever you are feeling at that time. So it had always been a priority. Logistically speaking I was contracted for three studio albums, so I couldn’t do one before that and more importantly the timing didn’t feel right. I had three albums worth of original material, which was a really nice position to be in. It gave me a really expansive set list to choose from and it was a nice way of tidying up those studio albums. That was the fun thing for me as the three studio albums are all quite different within the genre, so tying them all together was interesting. Being able to put on a live show where that worked required some working on the set list.
Songs From The Road was recorded at the Borderline in London, it was a fantastic performance. What made you choose that venue?
Well, thank you by the way. There were a couple of reasons really. One, we knew we were going to do it in the UK, I’d just come off a five week European tour and was planning on going back to the UK for a week before we had to leave for the States. Secondly, it was logistically easier to fly the band in and out of London, given the time frame that we had. The reason for choosing the Borderline was that I lived in London for a couple of years in my late teens and I used to go there a lot. I really wanted it to be a smaller venue and more intimate. I grew up watching stuff like Stevie Ray Vaughan live at the El Mocambo and those kind of funky blues club gigs and I kind of wanted that intimate vibe for the first one. I wanted that feet stuck to the floor because of the spilt beer thing, and it seemed like the perfect venue for that in London. It worked out well, we managed to cram it so it certainly had that kind of vibe.
Were there any pre-concert nerves with it being a one off recording for the album?
A little bit, I think more leading up to it when we were going through the logistics and the rehearsals. It was kind of like, why am I doing this to myself, why didn’t I just do it over the course of a week somewhere. I tend to make decisions and then worry about them later. So certainly leading up to it there were some nerves, but on the night I surprised myself, I realized it was going to be what it was going to be, that’s the beauty of one show. We’ve been performing for a long time so we should be capable of putting on a good show. If we’re not then we have no business releasing CDs and DVDs. I relaxed on the night and tried to have fun and it kind of shows hopefully.
Was it easy to choose the tracks that would go on Songs From The Road?
It was actually difficult. I started listening back in July and there wasn’t any major things that needed to be fixed or a song where you go ‘ah I can’t use that because apparently I’ve forgotten what key I’m playing in.’ So actually we could have used everything. I found it difficult to go from a set list that was an hour and three quarters to a 50-minute CD that made sense. It wasn’t too heavy on song after song of loud guitar solos. It kind of had some dynamics to it so that was a bit of a challenge, but I think it’s a good set list for the CD. It’s got a lot of guitar on there and we also managed to squeeze in some more soulful numbers like “Diamonds In The Dirt” and stuff.
Personally I really like hearing “Beautifully Broken” played live, do you have a favored song or songs you love to play at a show?
That’s one of my favorites as well. When we recorded it I really liked it but I thought it was an album filler. I always thought “Tied & Bound” would be quite a prominent one in the set list. And it’s always a trick for me because I do like that softer more soulful blues and you worry a bit that it won’t go in the set list. The guitar nutters won’t appreciate it so much. “Just Another Word,” which is another soul one is one of my favorites. It’s a change of pace from the heavy guitar stuff, fun to play on the night.
So with the end of the year within sight, what would you say has been a proud moment or high point of 2013?
Probably just that I made it through the year. We’ve done a lot this year because of my decision to do the Blues Caravan again. We’ve probably done about 200 dates starting out with Germany, Australia, New Zealand, with 13 other European countries, so it’s been hectic. The CD/DVD has been a high point just because I have been thinking of doing one for a few years so to finally have one and be very pleased with it is a high point I guess.
So finally, what are your plans for next year? Any new material on the horizon?
So after the UK tour is done I plan on sleeping a lot and watching Downtown Abbey, which will be my Christmas sorted. I think when January rolls around, I’ll just barricade myself away and do some writing with a plan to get in the studio early next year, but rest is definitely the immediate plan!
Joanne Shaw Taylor releases her new live album Songs From The Road on CD/DVD on November 25 in the UK. Her November UK tour dates include London o2 Shepherd’s Bush (Nov 28), Birmingham Town Hall (Nov 29), Holmfirth Picturedrome (Nov 30), Sage Gateshead (Dec 1). Tickets: www.thegigcartel.com, 0844 478 0898.
Interview by George Ward
Photos: Lee Millward