1.This year, you’ve received awards from both the UK Americana Awards AND the UK Blues Awards, yet despite recognition in both fields, you’re seen as an artist who can’t be easily pigeonholed, because you and your work appeals to fans of Blues, Americana, Country, Country Rock and beyond.
Genre labels can still be stuck on the racks in record stores, found on streaming services’ playlists, or as guiding principles for radio stations, magazines etc.
How much do you think genre labels or borders matter, creatively, in building a fanbase & in the business (e.g. getting exposure, airplay etc), or are other things more important?
We live in a world where people like to label things but I do think the genre barriers are being broken down and it is exciting to be one of the many artists that are blurring the lines. I will say that I am so grateful to the Blues & Americana Scenes around the world but especially here in the UK for getting behind me and supporting my journey.
The UK blues scene welcomed me from the beginning and helped me build a very loyal fan base who come out to all of my tours and championed me. That’s been so essential for my growth as an artist, especially one that’ tours so much, expanding into different territory’s and getting industry support.
2.Looking at the credits on your albums ‘Wildfire’ & ‘Road I Call Home’ , you’ve written and recorded with some amazing artists, like Bobby Wood and Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) Roger Cook and Jeff Cohen and a lot of Nashville talent with long, heavyweight resumes! What’s it like working with them? What do you learn & gain from collaboration? And what’s it like working with musicians like these in the studio?
I’m not gonna lie – every now and then I have to pinch myself just to check its all real!! I love collaborating especially when writing songs. The beauty of collaboration is you always get to learn and develop as everyone brings in their unique experiences to the table and their special ways of expression.
Plus every session is different as well so it keeps you on your toes. It blows my mind that you can walk into a writing session, often with someone you have never met before, and a couple of hours later there is a song.
Being in the studio, especially in Nashville working, with some of the folks I have is pretty incredible. I love the energy and spark in the room, and also how quickly things happen. Wildfire was tracked in two days – that’s insanity. I remember being completely steam rolled first time around…. But by the time Road I Call Home happened I was more prepared.
3.As a recording artist – with award-winning hit albums and yet more award-winning single releases to your credit – is there any advice you’d give to up-and-coming artists on the release sides of the business?
Work hard, network with other artists and industry and get to know the business. I’ve worked from the bottom up and yes, the business fascinates me but It’s so important to try and get your head around it. Oh did I mention work hard?
4.In your recent acceptance speech for the UK Blues Awards’ Blues Artist of the Year, you raised the issues of diversity and equal opportunity in the music business, particularly for women. Clearly these are causes close to your heart. Why do they matter? What do you think are the problems that need to be solved and what practical steps can be taken to improve the state of play and level the playing field?
The gender imbalance in the music industry isn’t a new thing, Sadly it has been around for decades and it is time that changed. For me it is all about levelling the playing field so that or future generations do not have these issues. It seems madness that in the 21st century women only make up 20% of registered songwriters.
The PRS foundations ‘Keychange initiative is doing incredible things to help make a positive change, like asking festivals and musical organisations to pledge to have 50:50 gender balance by 2022 and this is so important. Young aspiring women and BAME artists need to see their role models headlining festivals so that they can believe that they can one day get to that headlining level .
5.As you’ve said, there has always been a gender imbalance in the music industry: have you ever felt the effects of discrimination and how have you react to it and dealt with it?
I have never felt personally discriminated against but I know people who have, and I believe it’s an issue that needs to have an open dialogue so that we can try and balance out over the coming years.
6.Over the past few years, you’ve built an enviable reputation as a live touring artist and even called your second album ‘Road I Call Home’. What is it about touring and live performance that’s so important and valuable to you? What do you gain from it (& what are the frustrations & challenges of spending so much time on the road?
There is something so personal and fulfilling about standing on different stages and connecting with the audience in front of you. I am one of those artists that likes to get as close to the audience as possible because I crave that connection and energy. You work so hard writing and recording these records, and this is the time you really get to see the hard work in action. Seeing an audience connect with something you have created is a magical moment.
I love the travelling when touring, even if most of the time life passes you by through a van window. It’s obviously hard being away from home but It’s part of the lifestyle really. However I am not going to lie, I am enjoying home life right now!
7.Following on from the previous question: You’ve been active in promoting live music & venues, from promoting small-scale venues like The Little Rabbit Barn in Essex, to undertaking your own headline tours, and to performing full-blown festivals like Ramblin’ Man. The pandemic has had a Hell of an impact on live music events, including gigs and festivals. No-one’s got a crystal ball, but you think this will change the demand for live music gatherings, or have lasting changes on this part of the music business? And if so, how?
Honestly I am very worried about how this pandemic will affect the live music industry over the next few years. There are so many people involved in putting on events and shows and many of them have fallen through the cracks in getting any kind of financial support. It also takes a long time to put tours and events together, they don’t happen over night….so when people start to go back to work properly, the events industry will be at least 4 or 5 months behind.
I think now is the time for venues, artists and the behind the scenes teams to be thinking ahead and thinking innovatively. Live streaming proper shows with smaller socially distanced audiences to help make the show viable, summer outdoor drive in shows, perhaps at national trust venues that have the space and who also desperately need support too.
8.Art and music have a long-tradition of raising awareness, getting exposure and raising donations for charities and causes. You’ve re-released your single ‘Help Somebody’ to support the charity Help Us Help Them, and I believe you have a personal reason for wanting to help the NHS tackle the current crisis. Can you tell us something about that, about why you chose that particular song, and explain the importance of such charities for you?
Music has always been used for good and I am honoured to partner with Heroes: Help Them Help Us, an incredible frontline charity working with NHS staff to release Help Somebody. When I was younger I spent 17 days on a ventilator, the last available one at Southmead hospital and I owe my life to the NHS team that looked after me.
Although Help Somebody, written with Bobby Wood was inspired by a different crisis, the song feels almost even more relevant today. During this pandemic, I have seen such an outpouring of love, of kindness, and of community spirit. Forgive me if I sound cheesy but helping your neighbour truly helps make the world a better place and I truly hope this song inspires people during this terrible time.
9.As well as being a full-time touring artist, you have spent a lot of time learning about the music business, especially at grass roots level. Are there particular things that you believe grass roots and independent artists can be usefully doing at this time, during lockdown?
In this time of Lockdown I believe artists should be engaging new audiences. So many more people are online right now looking for content and grass roots artists should be doing their best to find them. Lockdown festivals are a great way of doing that, facebook live gigs and collaborations.
10.Have you been able to write new material and record during lockdown? Is there new Elles Bailey material on the way?
I spent most of January, February and March writing as I was meant to be in the studio working on the new record right now. So by the time Lockdown happened I was pretty spent, slightly exhausted and in need of a creatively break!! And really I have only written one song!! I’ve spent a lot of my time learning how to engineer myself, and get the best out of streaming. But now I have kinda got that under control I am starting to write again….so watch this space world!
11.You’ve been live-streaming during the period of lockdown, and indeed took on a role organising the ‘Lockdown Music Festival’. What’s the experience of live-streaming been like for an artist like you, who spends so much time on the road?
I am so grateful that we have the technology to still be able to connect with our audience at this time. I’ve loved being able to stream even though it is kind of weird at the end of the song there is no cheering! I have done a few zoom gigs though and that has been amazing – actually seeing the audience’s faces and hearing them go crazy once you finish a track! I loved being part of Lockdown festival as it enabled me to get all the artists that should have been opening for me on my tour, involved.
12.How has the lockdown impacted on your touring schedule for you & your band? How have you been able to adapt?
We have had all of our shows cancelled for the foreseeable, like everyone else, but during this time of lockdown I have been raising money for my tour family (band, manager and tour manager) by doing these live streams. As an artist I have a platform and my amazing fan base have been so generous. It is truly humbling. I look forward to being able to get back on the road so I can thank them in person. That first gig is going to be INSANE!
Interview by Claire Lloyd for MPM
Photography by Adam Kennedy