Home Entertainment Joanne Shaw Taylor – Doing What Comes Natural

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Doing What Comes Natural

Photograph courtesy of Simon Green.

If you think about it, Joanne Shaw Taylor really had no choice in her career path. She was born in the West Midlands region of the UK near Birmingham. Musically, that’s hallowed ground. It’s the same area of the country that gave us Ozzy, Stevie Winwood, Christine McVie, Joan Armatrading and Robert Plant. “I’m not quite on that level.” Joanne laughs while I make a mental note about her two previous chart-topping projects, then she adds, “But I’m definitely from a very historic musical place.” Taylor is not only fulfilling her own musical destiny, she’s upholding a national tradition and she’s doing it in record time. “I always make the comparison.” She says. “It’s like the Detroit of England, you know? It’s something about those industrial, working-class towns that really inspire good music.”

Her latest contribution entitled ‘Nobody’s Fool’ dropped late last year and it gives Taylor’s fans fresh perspective on her songwriting depth and the music she makes. I really like the new record. “Oh, thank you.” She says. “I always want to make the best album I can at the time that I’m making it and for me, it’s what feels natural. Whether that’s doing a traditional blues album or something different, I think if you do what feels right at the time, then you’re doing the right thing. I’ve always said that all my albums will be different but when you listen back to them as a catalogue they’ll always sound like they’re the same artist.”

I know that your father was a musician did you listen to and play music together as a family growing up? “Yeah, between my dad, my brother and me that’s three guitar players in the household… my poor mother.” (laughing) “Yeah, there was always music about. It was a very musical household; my mother was a dancer as well. There was always a record on, Ella Fitzgerald or a rock-a-billy band, certainly a love of music was encouraged.”

Did you always think that music would be your direction? “I think I always wanted it to be, I remember my dad bringing home a guitar for my brother and having guitars around the house from the age of six or seven and always feeling like it was something I wanted to do. I used to sneak into the room to play with them, so yeah I think I always kind of had an affinity for it.”

Taylor has mentioned in previous interviews the influences of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix. So I was curious how a young person from West Midlands discovered artists from the other side of the globe? “It was my dad really, and his record collection. Yeah, the area he grew up in, the West Midlands particularly in the 60s there was a lot of classic rock, a lot of Hendrix, a lot of guitar players and the British blues explosion; just listening to all of that stuff. But it was really Stevie, who made me want to play guitar.”

You moved to Detroit in 2009, just as your debut album, ‘White Sugar’ was released. “Yeah, the summer of 2009.” What prompted that move and how do you handle the winters? “You go on tour!” (laughing) “You make sure you have a booking agent that knows to book a February tour in Florida. The main reason for moving here was I always wanted to live in the States. I mean, I wanted to be a blues guitarist and all my influences were American, pretty much at that time. So it made sense to be here and particularly just for touring. It’s such an easy place to tour because of the land mass, the population and how many cities there are as opposed to Europe, there are borders and it’s a little more difficult to tour through. So it just made sense and fortunately I was able to make it happen.”

Being the Motor City, do you think the Motown Sound influenced you in any way? “I think as a singer it has really helped me. I think I realized early on that all the influences I was listening to on guitar were male, so I could copy what they were doing on guitar and sound like them because it’s a gender-neutral instrument, but when I wanted to sing I was never going to be able to sound like Albert Collins or Freddie King so Motown and soul music gave me a lot of female influences that I was able to listen to… you know, Tina Turner and Mavis and Aretha.”

There seems to be a love of collaboration with other artists in your music, several tracks on the latest project highlight that, with Dave Stewart, Joe Bonamassa and especially Carmen Vandenberg. It seems that you and Carmen have a lot in common artistically. “Yeah, we do. And we’ve known each other for a long time; I actually met her through Dave Stewart. She was best friends with Dave’s youngest son, Django and I used to babysit them. I’ve known Carmen for years and we both ended up being guitar players… there’s so many male guitar players, but us girls kinda’ gotta’ stick together ’cause there’s not many of us out there.”

You and Joe Bonamassa collaborated as well. “We did, yeah I wrote a song ‘Won’t Be Fooled Again.’ It’s kind of an 80’s pop song and that’s how I wanted it to sound. I realized when I was doing the solo that Joe was playing some really lovely stuff that I wouldn’t have thought of playing; he has a different wheelhouse than me. It kind of organically became more of a duet than a solo. I just love what he plays on that and it turned out really, really well. And of course we had Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) on there, too.” For those not already aware, it was Dave Stewart that heard a teenaged Joanne play and recruited her into his group, D.U.P (Da Univerzal Playaz) A band that also included Jimmy Cliff, Candy Dulfer and Mudbone Cooper.

Let’s talk about songwriting, do you write with a guitar or do you have a process? “I do. I tend to write with a guitar, I tend to usually write with an acoustic and I have my routines. I sit with an acoustic and get the bulk of the music down and then start working on the chorus. I feel the chorus is the conclusion of the song, so it lets you know what you’re trying to say in your verses. That’s always been my technique.”

As you mature as a person, do you feel you’ve matured as a songwriter? “Definitely and for two reasons; what you just said. As you get older, you get more reflective and really I’m singing about the same subjects that I was singing about in my early 20s, but you’re singing with a different viewpoint of them now. Time softens the experience and also I think I felt a lot of pressure in my youth to write in a certain way. You’re doing 12 tracks so you have to have four up-tempo blues numbers and four mid-tempo whereas now, just write what’s best. Take the best songs and just record them.”

Photograph courtesy of JST.

Before we get away from the collaboration aspect, is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you’d like to? “Yeah, actually there’s a few. Looking ahead to the next album, having written a lot of this album myself, I’m thinking more about working with some female artists that I really love. Because obviously we write from the same viewpoint it can be easier sometimes and simply because I’m a big supporter of female artists coming through. I’m looking at that right now and I have some dear friends, I’ve been writing with Carmen and a good friend of mine, Sonia Lee and it’s always exciting when they come from slightly different genres, too.”

I understand you’re spending some of your time in Nashville now, how’s that going? “It’s going good and that’s kind of building in with the collaboration with so many great writers down there. It’s so exciting to work with different people.”

Your albums hold up so well, they really stand the test of time, how do you do that? “I have no idea! Ask the producer, I just write the songs. The thing that I’ve always said about albums, people always ask what are you trying to do or what they’re trying to sound like? Well, I’m not trying to sound like anything, for me an album particularly when you look back; ‘White Sugar’ is a snapshot of like, two weeks when I was 22 years old. ‘Diamonds in the Dirt’ is a snapshot of ten days when I was 24. ‘Nobody’s Fool’ is two weeks in Los Angeles when I was 37 years old. It’s just documenting my life, really.”

“‘This is Your Life’ scrapbook on vinyl, I wrote notes in May of last year and if I’d written them in August it might have been a different album because I was a different person. So I just try not to over-think it and do what’s best at the time. But it’s nice to look back at ‘White Sugar’ and it sounds like 22-year old me and I remember recording it and how I felt at the time and that’s what it sounds like to me. They all sound like genuine albums to me.”

I get tired just looking at your tour schedule. What still motivates you? “If it doesn’t sound too cheesy…the fans; I really, really love performing for people. I love the idea that these people out there, taking off work and spending their hard-earned money to come spend two hours with me. To have me sing these songs that I’ve taken the time to write, that I really want to sing and that they hopefully enjoy them. It’s a really lovely connection.”

Joanne Shaw Taylor and her Detroit-based band make their way to the West Coast starting in San Diego on April 1, 2023 appearing downtown at the Balboa Theater. Show time is 8 PM. And Joanne says, “We’re bringing two hours of high energy blues guitar and ballads, lots of emotion and feeling and I’m really looking forward to it.”

I think I speak for all of Southern California when I say, so are we. Check out https://www.joanneshawtaylor.com/tour/ for show dates and times near you.

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