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Joanne Shaw Taylor

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Photos: Kit Wood, Adam Kennedy & Simon Green

Life experiences can spawn great creativity, and Guitarist/Singer/Songwriter Joanne Shaw Taylor’s new album HEAVY SOUL, due for release on June 7th, definitely exemplifies this with its catchy, fun, bluesy rock songs. Hailing from England, this extraordinary talented musician started releasing music with her debut album WHITE SUGAR in 2009 and went on to not only top the charts in the U.K. with her album RECKLESS HEART (released in 2019), but also, her LP’s THE BLUES ALBUM (released 2021) and BLUES FROM THE HEART LIVE (released 2022) reached #1 on the Billboard Blues Charts here in the U.S.

She started her career at age sixteen when she toured with Eurythmics Dave Stewart’s supergroup D.U.P. Now, she is taking her latest album HEAVY SOUL on tour throughout the U.S., and Floridians will have the opportunity to experience her shows on April 6th at Springing The Blues Music Festival in Jacksonville Beach, and on April 9th at The Parker in Fort Lauderdale.

Catching up with Taylor (and her wonderful surprise guest) just prior to her tour, she revealed some details about her new shows, the new album, a bit about her past experiences, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music Magazine: What can fans look forward to with the show that will be in Jacksonville Beach, and at The Parker in Fort Lauderdale?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Well, we’ve got some new songs because I’ve got a new album coming out. We’ve been drip feeding songs off the album for a few months now. So, some of the new songs that they wouldn’t have seen live previously, and then some of my back catalogue. So, a good mix of material old and new, and usual, obnoxiously loud blues guitar, performed via a strange British woman who likes to tell you stories about what the songs are about. I think that’s a good synopsis.

SFL Music Magazine: The stories are great! I heard the songs on the HEAVY SOUL album that will be out June 7th. What inspired the album? Listening to some of the songs, was there a theme?

Taylor: There’re two things that I had in mind for this album. First, my previous album NOBODY’S FOOL was a bit of a departure for me, which was a really fun album to do, because I’ve done basically a blues cover’s album, and then we did a live version of that. I sort of thought those were the two most traditional blues albums I’ll probably ever do. So, with NOBODY’S FOOL, I kind of had fun thinking, because I’ve done two very blues albums, especially for me, I can kind of do whatever I want on that album and kind of stretch my songwriting, and just have fun with it. So, the interesting challenge for me with this album HEAVY SOUL was, if you were to look back at my back catalogue, how do I make NOBODY’S FOOL make sense in the run of this? So, how do I do an album that kind of organically goes from NOBODY’S FOOL back into you know, my usual sort of catalogue? So, genre wise, that was a fun challenge. In terms of songwriting, it’s kind of interesting now being as incredibly old as I am, because I’ll be forty next year.

SFL Music Magazine: You’re still young.

Taylor: Tell that to my sciatica (she laughed). It’s kind of interesting, but I think maybe you’ll agree with this as a woman. As I’ve gotten older, I start to feel more comfortable in who I am, and maybe that’s from growing up in a male dominated industry. Certainly, in relationships, I have a lot shall we say, karma, I voiced when I was younger. So, it’s been pretty interesting as I’ve gotten older, to write about some of the relationships or some of the feelings I’ve had over the years. Maybe when I was younger, those would be very feisty lyrics, whereas now, I’m reflecting on those relationships and going ok, it wasn’t as bad as it was. These bits were good, and what did I learn from it? So, it’s kind of interesting to go into this part of my life, where nothing necessarily has to happen for me to write a song about it, but more, I’m able to reflect on things that have happened that maybe my viewpoint has changed on it, and therefore, the music has changed. So, that’s been really interesting for me, to be honest.

SFL Music Magazine: You can hear that in “A Good Goodbye” and on “Heavy Soul” which in your bio you said, that the album on the whole, was “connecting the dots” like you were explaining, from NOBODY’S FOOL to HEAVY SOUL.

Taylor: Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it, connecting the dots.

SFL Music Magazine: You were originally discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. How did that come about?

Taylor: It was just one of those random things, really. I was fifteen and I was gigging. By the way, I warn you that my sausage dog puppy is sitting behind me, and if he starts barking, that’s what that is. It’s not me. He’s looking out the window at a particularly threatening looking pigeon, apparently. So, I was gigging already, and my mum just had breast cancer, and I’d been offered to do a charity show in aide of Breast Friends which was a local support group for woman who’d had breast cancer, and you know, I obviously jumped at that. So, performed there, and I’d just done a little demo CD, and it just happened someone that knew Dave was there and passed on the CD. So, it was one of those sort of, oh here he goes. He’s run down the corridor to huff and puff at something.

SFL Music Magazine: Aw. What would you say inspires your music? Songs like “Sweet ‘Lil Lies” is very catchy and has your bluesy sound, and an amazing guitar solo! The licks are really unique and fun.

Taylor: Like, kind of what I was saying previously. It wasn’t anything emotionally that particularly inspired it, but that was actually the first song I wrote for this album, and I always write on guitar. I sat down at piano, by the way, I cannot play piano. I came up with that da dada, the melody on it that the main piano riff plays, and I think it was really interesting for me, because I realize when I sit at guitar, wait one minute. I’m gonna move him because he’s being a pain in the neck. Get a puppy they said. It will be fun they said. So, I sat down at the piano, and that felt like a really fun melody. I think the other reason I went to piano, was that when I tend to write on guitar, I think I get stuck in a certain way in that I’m so used to writing on guitar, that I can repeat myself. So, it’s kind of refreshing to sit down at an instrument that I don’t know and therefore, could just use my ear to figure out something. Then as soon as I wrote the piano line, as soon as I had that piano melody, I couldn’t stop singing sweet ‘lil lies, all the time, you know, the lyrics. I actually played it for my friend Joe Bonamassa, and I said, please tell me. Is this annoyingly catchy or is it catchy because it could be something good? He said, “I think you should write it.”

SFL Music Magazine: Good call!

Taylor: Yeah, we have Joe to blame for that song. If no one likes it, you can blame Joe.

SFL Music Magazine: He spoke very highly of you (when I interviewed him). He said you had that X factor that drew people to you.

Taylor: Oh, that’s nice.

SFL Music Magazine: This album HEAVY SOUL and your previous NOBODY’S FOOL were recorded with Journeyman Records. What do you like best about working with Joe and Journeyman Records?

Taylor: I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier about being that little bit older. All of this came about because of COVID and it wouldn’t happened if it wasn’t for COVID, and I think COVID, certainly for me, was like the big reset because I had been going a million miles an hour and touring nonstop for thirteen years. My mum had passed away from cancer and that, and as soon as she passed away, I had like a few days off to help organize a funeral, and then I was back out on the road. I think I realized, by the time I was forced to stop because everything shut down and I couldn’t tour for a couple of years, that I was very, very close to burnt out, if I wasn’t already burned out. So, I think for me, it gave me a lot of chance to kind of sit and think. Why do I do this? I do it because I love it and I feel really grateful. I’m going through everything everyone else does. Whether that’s a loss of a parent or a heartbreak or happiness, but I get to sit down and write a song, and hopefully create something that didn’t exist before in the world, which is a lovely way of processing just normal emotions that we all go through. So, I think I came out of COVID refreshed to get back on the road. Then for fun, just said to Joe, you’re off the road, I’m off the road. Why don’t we do a blues covers album? I’ve always wanted to do it, and it was just meant to be a project between mates. I didn’t expect that his company was gonna sign me and it was going to snowball into me working with him. What a lovely way to work. I get to do something I love to do, but more importantly, I get it do it with people I’ve known very closely for a decade plus, that really care about me as a person, and care about my success and my failures. So, that’s just a really, really lovely way to work, to be honest.

SFL Music Magazine: That includes your producer, Kevin Shirley?

Taylor: Yeah.

SFL Music Magazine: What would you say he adds to your recordings?

Taylor: I think the great thing about Kevin, and it’s very important for me, I think with any producer, that there has to be a level of trust there because I always say, that I write the songs and I take you the songs, but how the producer interprets them. Like I could take Joe the same songs I wrote for HEAVY SOUL and it would have been a different album because he would have heard it a different way. So, you really have to have a level of trust when you hand over you know, these children of mine, these songs, my babies (she laughed), that I want to hear Kevin’s version of those, and for that, it’s great working with both Joe and Kevin because they both know me really well. Those are the guys I would phone if I was upset about something and get advice. They’ve met the boyfriends, and they’ve met the dog and they’ve met the parents. They know me very well personally which is A, that’s I think a huge benefit, and secondly, just his ear. He knows which play is right for what. He has so much respect in this industry that he can phone Anton Fig and get Anton Fig to agree to play on my album. I think Anton would now, but it’s nice that I can get that kind of player to be interested in me, because there’s a certain level of respect for me, because Kevin is willing to work with me.

SFL Music Magazine: Besides Anton Fig, you also had Alison Presswood and Rob McNelley play on the album. How did that come about?

Taylor: Well, Anton is obviously someone who’s worked with Joe. Brilliant drummer. Always wanted to work with him, so I was thrilled that Kevin suggested him too. I do know from Kevin’s point of view; I wasn’t aware of Alison. She’s a very, very well established and exceptionally well respected, brilliant musician. I’m new to Nashville, so embarrassing, hadn’t heard of her, but I think Kevin thought we’d really hit it off. I think he thought it would be nice for me to have another female energy in the room which Is always welcome. I’ve always said, that I think if you put me in a room with all men, I think, and this goes both ways. When a man is surrounded by all women, he changes his personality a little bit to adapt, and vice versa. Whereas, when there’s a bit more of an even balance, people tend to be their natural selves, and obviously, that spills over into the music. Then Rob McNelley, I’ve actually worked with previously on an album I did with Kevin in 2015, called WILD. I love his playing. Absolutely fantastic. So, it was a great, great collection of musicians. I was definitely the weak link.

SFL Music Magazine: What inspired you to do the song “All The Way From America”?

Taylor: That was Kevin’s choice. It’s a Joan Armatrading track. He brought it to me, and I know Joan Armatrading, but I hadn’t actually heard that song. When he played it, I was fifty-fifty because I love the song and I love the message, particularly someone who’s immigrated to America and therefore, previously in my life, had a relationship staying in the U.K. while I’m living in America. So, I can relate to that message, but it’s very outside of my normal wheelhouse. So, there’s that fifty-fifty of oof. Like, can I do this and do this well? But I accepted the challenge, and I’m really glad Kevin pushed me to do it because I found another voice in me that I didn’t know I had. It’s a song I probably wouldn’t be capable of writing myself which is kind of the point of doing covers really, is finding one that lets you express yourself, but that you couldn’t probably come up with by yourself.

SFL Music Magazine: You went on a world tour after you met Dave Stewart. You’ve worked with Annie Lennox and have been praised by Stevie Wonder. What would you say you took away from that experience?

Taylor: Yeah, I mean, that’s a tough one because the thing is, when you say it like that, it sounds incredible, but when it happens so slowly over the course of twenty-five years. I think the thing I took away is well, firstly, the harder you work, the luckier you get. Secondly, I think the thing that I’ve really taken away, is how nice people are. If your successful, most of those people are really decent, nice people, because I don’t think you get to a higher level, if you’ve got attitude problem. If Annie Lennox is absolutely lovely and humble, why the hell is anyone else being difficult? I’m sure you interview a lot of people, and there’s some very interesting characters in this industry. So, I think that’s the main thing, is when you can meet, again, example Annie Lennox, who is going down in history. I think she’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the greatest female artists that’s ever existed. Certainly, of the last fifty years. She’s incredibly down to earth about what she’s achieved. It’s very important to remember, that just because people applaud us for a living, doesn’t mean we’re special, basically.

SFL Music Magazine: What would you say inspired you to become a musician in the first place?

Taylor: My dad played guitar and harmonica, and my brother played guitar, and my mom was a dancer. She had a massive love of Motown and soul music. A lot of female artists from my mother’s side. So, it was just always there, and to be honest, I was only good at two things. I was good at football which, soccer, as I’m sure you are aware of, and I was ok at playing guitar. I don’t want to say good, but I wasn’t some sort of weird six-year-old virtuoso which, when you’re a kid having the confidence to know you can do something and do it well, is I think everything. Particularly, when if you’re at school. I struggled a bit with reading early on and I was ok at school, but perfectly average. So, I think it was a combination of, I seemed to find something that allowed me to express myself that I also was good at, which I mean, if you can find that in life, you’re onto a winner really, aren’t you?

SFL Music Magazine: Yes, definitely. What would you recommend to a new musician?

Taylor: Most importantly, everyone is gonna have an opinion about what sort of music you should be doing, and how you should dress and everything else. You play off of those opinions. Feel free to be polite. Feel free to not be polite. That’s up to you (she laughed), but be true to yourself. Find out who you are as an artist. What you want to say. Whether you’re saying it with your lyrics or your guitar playing or what you wear, and feel free to experiment. Find out who you are. That’s the whole point of this. The world has many artists. What you have to add to it is your individuality. Also, just be humble. As I said earlier, I’ve seen a lot of it go to a lot of young artist’s head. Keep your nose down and work hard. Often, I was the person who got called to do a support slot because they’d know I’d be professional and pleasant and my team would be. Again, it can go to your head a bit if you’re onstage every night and people basically start applauding you for just walking on the stage. That’s a very strange way to live. I just try and remember that somewhere as I’m being applauded onstage, is a nurse that’s pulling double shifts because they know their cancer patient’s going to pass away that night, and they need to be there and want to be there for them. There are real superstars in this world. I think it doesn’t hurt to remember that.

SFL Music Magazine: That’s great advise and very, very true. Are there going to be any more videos coming out?

Taylor: I think there’s a couple more they’ve got planned up until the release on June 7th. I think at least one more, if not two.

SFL Music Magazine: People will have to keep an eye out for that. Was there anything else new for fans to look forward to?

Taylor: The new album and the tour. I’m sure that hopefully, if I keep my fingers crossed, there will be more albums and tours after that.

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