Joanne Shaw Taylor Interview
November 12, 2011 in Interviews
Joanne Shaw Taylor, a leading member of the young British blues scene, begins a 10-date UK tour on 15th November. She took time out of her preparations to speak to Moray Stuart for Blues In Britain. Photos by Lee Millward.
Belated congratulations are in order for winning two awards in this year’s British Blues Awards! You were voted Best Female Vocalist and also took the Kevin Thorpe Song Writer award.
Thank you very much; yes one for mum and one for the grandmother, nice and even!
It’s the second year in a row you’ve won female vocalist?
Yes, I’m very happy about that, very thankful.
Your voice is more powerful, has more of an edge on Diamonds In The Dirt than on White Sugar, was that a conscious change?
I think the difference is that the time between White Sugar and Diamonds was spent in 18 months of hectic touring in the States, so I think without realising it that made a big difference to my voice and it became a bit stronger; or I hope so anyway!
And Diamonds has been up to number 8 on the Billboard Blues chart and has been critically well received, you must be happy with that
Absolutely, it’s great to see your name up there with people you’ve grown up listening to and being influenced by, so I was very pleased by that.
Yeah, that wasn’t really an intentional thing; it was quite a natural progression really for me. Again, during the time since White Sugar I’d moved to Detroit which is ‘Rock City’, and when we were touring a lot of that time we were playing with Joe Bonamassa, or Black Country Communion or Glenn Hughes; being from Birmingham and the Black Country area originally myself I grew up with Sabbath, Zeppelin and Trapeze, all that kind of stuff, so that kind of found me reverting back to some of my original influences in the rock vein.
I thought I heard snatches of things like Free, Deep Purple and even a little Wishbone Ash in there
Yeah, you know I love all that stuff.
Your award winning song, “Same As It Never Was”, has a more soully kind of vibe, quite Tedeschi Trucks Band-ish, if you’re familiar with their material.
Yes, I am, we’ve actually just played a show with them! As a songwriter and singer, more than as a guitar player, I like to keep things mixed I guess. I have a lot of different influences and they come out in the course of writing, and I find it a challenge to write some of that more soully stuff, and being a Bonnie Raitt fan has an influence on some of those tracks too. I like to keep it as diverse as I can I guess.
You mentioned your move to Detroit, how long have you been out there now?
I was in Detroit for two years but in the past six months I’ve moved to Texas. I migrated south as the weather was getting to me: we only get two months off a year so it was a decision of spending it in 108 degrees of heat or minus 108 degrees so I went for the warmer one!
So does that mean you’re no longer a Detroit Lions fan?
I will always be a Lions fan, and of the Tigers, Redwings… I just don’t wear my Detroit Lions jersey when I go to watch football in a bar in Texas.
You’ve obviously brought them luck; they’re having their best season in years.
That’s what I keep telling people, though they don’t seem to believe me; I say I’ve done them a favour leaving the state as they’ve been doing quite well since I moved!
I guess you moved from one ‘Motor City’ to another going from Birmingham to Detroit: what was the scene like in Birmingham when you were growing up?
You’re right; they’re both very industrial towns so that wasn’t that much of a change really.
Growing up in Birmingham and the Black Country it was a pretty good time to be getting into music. Obviously my original influences were in the blues and there was a club called The Robin, in Brierley Hill and my father used to take me over there when I was twelve, thirteen years old to see international touring bands. I saw everyone there: John Hammond, Andrew Junior Boy Jones, a lot of the authentic American blues, touring artists, so for me that was great. On the other side of things, I had my brother who was a big rock fan, he used to take me to the Flapper & Firkin and other rock venues in Birmingham so it was a pretty good live music scene all around there then. I haven’t been back in a couple of years but hopefully the clubs I used to enjoy going to are still open. (The Robin 2 is at Bilston in Wolverhampton)
You mention your influences from both rock and blues, what was it that drove you to being a guitarist?
To be honest it was a combination of the two, although I’d already been playing classical guitar at school. I auditioned and got into the Birmingham Youth Ensemble: the main thing I liked about that, to be honest, was the fact that the more I played in the BYE the less time I had to spend at school! So I knew I wanted to play guitar. I enjoyed it and I felt I had some degree of talent at it but it was a bit too disciplined for me and, with both my Dad and brother playing, I had to play electric guitar! My dad was into the blues, Gary Moore and the like and my brother was into Metallica and Zakk Wylde and all the shredders, so I just wanted to keep up with the both of them really!
Talking of electric guitars, I note you stay faithful to the Fender sound, are you never tempted to whack it through a load of pedals or use a Les Paul?
I’ve thought about it, I have to be honest. I guess I’m a stickler for tradition, I get comfortable with certain things: I’m not that good at change! But in terms of guitars I haven’t found anything that I like as much as the Telecaster or that suits me as much. For me, particularly with some of the Tele’s I’ve got being quite heavy with the Humbuckers, it’s a good cross between having a fatter Les Paul sound and being able to attack them like you can a Stratocaster. Also being a 5’ 6” female, Les Pauls are relatively heavy and I’d like to try to keep my posture as good as possible! I think that sometimes you have to admit that maybe you’re not physically built for certain instruments and I think the classic LP is one that I’m not suited to.
Do you think being a woman in a fairly male-dominated arena has been a help or a hindrance?
A bit of both, really. Initially I think that got the foot-in-the-door, got me attention more easily, although I’m not sure if it was the right kind of attention. It was like ‘Check out Joanne, she’s a GIRL!’ It’s great that people are saying people should check you out but at the same time it maybe means they’re already coming to you with a lesser impression of you. Which perhaps isn’t entirely a wrong thing, in that there are pretty few female guitarists out there, and those that have made it to greater success usually tend to be acoustic guitarists, so naturally people have preconceived ideas. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. I don’t think about it too much now, you can worry about it or not so I just get on with things and try to keep up with the boys!
Your band on this tour isn’t the guys you’ve used on your albums?
No, the band on the records, Steve Potts and Dave Smith, are session guys that the producer Jim Gaines works with a lot and they’ve played with everyone from Luther Allison to Al Green, but I’m actually bringing over my touring band from Detroit for this tour, I’m excited about that, it should be good to see my ideal line-up.
You had a gap of seven years between your appearance on the scene and your first release, was it good to have that time to hone your craft rather than being pressured to record straight away?
I think so, I did consciously make the decision to take that time and I turned down a couple of offers as I felt I just wasn’t ready. I could play guitar a bit but I wasn’t a songwriter; I wanted to be able to make my own music and be self-sufficient really and I wanted to work on my vocals. By the time I hit twenty-one when we started working on White Sugar I could have waited a bit longer but it was a case of ‘Well, enough’s enough, it may not be perfect but I’m good enough now to do a debut album’. I think I waited just long enough. I’m pleased with the debut album. I don’t think it shows too much immaturity considering I was still only twenty-one. Fortunately as I started so young, at fifteen or sixteen, I did have the luxury of time a bit. I’m pleased I waited, and I think I waited long enough.
And you’ve now had two albums within the space of a year and a bit, and another one in the pipeline.
Yeah, I’ve just been writing; I took some time off in Texas to do three weeks’ to a month’s worth of writing and we’re going to start recording in January.
So is that a backlog of songs as a result of all those years waiting or are the songs coming thick and fast now?
It’s that they’re coming thick and fast now. It’s interesting that I didn’t really start writing until about a year before White Sugar, so I’m still pretty new at being a writer and I’m still changing a lot, trying different things, exploring different avenues and finding out what I like writing and what I’m capable of writing so that’s good fun. So I think that’s why they’re coming thick and fast now: it’s nice to keep working on it and keep evolving at this point.
Obviously it’s early days then but do you think the new album will be a change of direction or a continuation of where you left off with Diamonds In The Dirt?
I’d like it to be different: I’d like all the albums to be different! I’m sure people will have their favourites, whether it’s White Sugar or Diamonds. Maybe I’ll do an acoustic album in the future that will be other’s favourite. I think my main goal is to make them all different while still sounding like me and have them tie-in. I just want to be Joanne Shaw Taylor regardless of whether it’s a blues album or an acoustic album or a more soully album like we discussed with some of the Susan Tedeschi type tracks, so I’m excited to see what happens with this one.
Will it be the same band and producer as the first two?
I think we’ll actually be recording in Austin, Texas this time, with my touring band guys Paul and Layla now I’ve moved down there, but all the details are still up in the air.
And do you prefer the ‘live in the studio’ format when you record?
Yeah, I do. I spend a lot of time thinking about production when I’m writing, so by the time it comes to going into the studio I’m so tired of the songs that I just want to record them quickly, live, impromptu and energetically and be done with it to be honest!
Joanne is touring from November 15th – gig details here.