Elles Bailey - Winter 2019
Elles Bailey is quite simply one of the most gifted songwriters and performers in the UK. Her music is often compared to many different styles – blues, country, Americana – and journalists do like to pigeonhole, but what you need to know is that Elles has taken all these styles, and moulded them with her own influences and musical upbringing to create a wholly unique and very beautiful sound. Whilst her music does contain the DNA of all the aforementioned styles, it would be fair to say that she has perhaps created a genre in itself. There’s something quite special and groundbreaking in her 2017 debut album Wildfire and this year’s successor Road I Call Home. They are truly uplifting records that bring together the most gifted world class musicians (Elles included) with Elles’ own sumptuous, caramel voice. Unsurprisingly these records have been the launch pad for her rapid growth in popularity and sold out shows are becoming far from elusive. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Elles. The collapse of crowdfunding site Pledge Music earlier this year lost her thousands of pounds. The fact that she still managed to release Road I Call Home and fulfil every commitment to her fans was nothing short of amazing. We catch up with Elles before a headline show in Blackpool and what an interesting character she is. Casually dressed and a grey beanie dragged low over her head, she is a shadow of the iconic vision fans see when she takes the stage. But she has a good reason: she is battling with a severe cold which – not that we would notice – is causing her some worry about how it’s affecting her voice. The reason we say she is an interesting character is because despite her suffering so much, she is hugely welcoming and our conversation would be saturated with her laughter. Laughing at the good stuff and also laughing at adversity. Throughout she also presents the biggest smile. As we relax deep into a huge sofa, our conversation begins…
I’d like to start with the music. To date you’ve released 2 EPs – 2015’s Who I Am To Me and 2016’s The Elberton Sessions, your debut album Wildfire and your latest album Road I Call Home. People often talk about the different elements within your music whether this be blues, rock, country or Americana, but regardless of genres you have the most beautifully unique sound. What influences and experiences came together for you to find your wonderful signature style?
I guess it’s just a collection of experiences. I listen to so much stuff. Obviously, as a child my parents played a lot of blues, gospel and country music. I’ve worked a lot in Nashville so there’s definitely a Nashville sort of sound in my music. I’m quite eclectic and I never think I’m just this one thing. I write what I want to write, I’m honest, I work with loads of different co-writers and they all bring their influences and put that into my music. It’s just this sort of higgledy piggledy collection of things that have happened. I think I took a long time to find a sound but it just felt that Wildfire and Road I Call Home happened. There’s many sides to me, I’ll say that, as you can tell in all the genres that I sort of take from, I guess. So I don’t think there will always be like a sort of ‘same thing’. Hopefully I will always evolve! That’s my plan! (Laughs!). I don’t want to get stuck just doing the same thing.
Someone who’s been a big influence for you is Janis Joplin. What is it about Janis that made you connect with her so powerfully?
I think just how raw she is and there’s so much power and so much vulnerability I think with her music. I think her story as well. She went through so much and then died so young. I think you just can’t help be moved by everything she went through and and how she put that into her music really. And also, she can sing so high in her bottom voice. I’m about 5 octaves lower than her! (Laughs!). It’s really quite incredible.
Your debut album Wildfire is simply stunning but when you look at how it came together, the people you worked with – producer Brad Nowell and guitarist Brent Mason - and recording at Blackbird Studios in Nashville – it was perhaps absolutely destined to be in the gem that it is. Not many artists have these opportunities so early in their career. I can imagine that this must have been an incredibly exciting time.
It was really mad and it all happened so fast. We were discussing options around where I was going to do my first record. We were looking at studios in the UK and then just really out of the blue this opportunity came to go to Nashville and record with this stellar line up. I actually backed out twice. I was like ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I’m ready, I don’t know if I’ve got the songs, I’m not a country artist, I’ll end up in Nashville as a country artist!’. So I actually backed out twice and in the end I signed up to do 1 day’s worth of recording, and I recorded 6 songs in 1 day! And then it went so I well I thought we might as well finish this! So I finished it and that was Wildfire. It was a beautiful, happy accident!
It’s quite interesting that you actually backed out twice, because I can imagine that as well as the excitement, you may even have felt overwhelmed.
Yes, absolutely. I also felt just totally scared of the unknown, like I’d never been to Tennessee before, I didn’t know anyone who I was going to be working with - it was just this big unknown and I had no idea how it was going to work out. It’s been the start of something incredibly beautiful and some incredible relationships are made out there. It’s my second home. I think I’ve been out there 10 times.
You returned to Nashville to record your second album, Road I Call Home. Having set such a high standard with Wildfire did you always know, or expect, that only Nashville would be good enough?
Well actually I did some of it in the UK so Brad (Nowell) and Steve (Blackmon) who co-produced Road I Call Home, and Steve engineered Wildfire and did additional production on it, they came over to Mono Valley Studios in Wales and worked with my touring band at the time. We worked there for a bit and then I went and finished it in Nashville. I think I know that if I go to Nashville’s I’m going to get something that sounds exactly like I envisioned it. That being said, Deeper came out totally different to how I imagined but it’s so much better so I’m really pleased with that! I think also that there’s just this wealth of experience with these musicians that I’ve worked with. They’ve worked in the studio tirelessly for years and years. It’s their job and what I find remarkable is how they can still come up with innovative ideas at the click of a finger. It’s really quite a special talent.
Let’s talk more about the new album. When you look at how strong Wildfire actually is, to follow it up with something that I consider to be an even better album is quite an achievement, and what amazes me is that most of it was written within 2 months. How did it come together so quickly?
I have no idea! (Laughs!) That whole section in my mind is like a dream! I remember, I think Wildfire had been out a week and my management at the time came round and said ‘Right, Elles, album number 2’. And I was like ‘What!? Let me ride this for a little bit! I’m also touring for the next year or so. When am I going to fit this in?’. We managed to fit it in in spare blocks of time that I had. I genuinely don’t know – I think I just wrote a lot. I wrote a lot on the road. I came home and wrote. I went to Nashville and wrote. I think I did 11 songs in 1 week. I just picked the best of them… or maybe not the best but the ones that tell that story. I wrote 40 songs for Road I Call Home and I’m sure I will use some of them for future projects but for me it was those songs that told the story of this record. It’s not that you’re writing bad songs, it’s just that you’re writing songs that might be right in the future.
The title track itself paints a beautiful picture of your love of touring…
This is the picture it paints! (Elles points to her current under-the-weather look – Ed) (Laughs!)
But it’s a hugely uplifting track!
It’s because I love it! I love touring!
You clearly do because 2019 has seen you tour relentlessly. You’ve performed your own headline shows and also some fantastic festivals such as Ramblin’ Man. How would you describe your 2019 journey?
So for me, let’s imagine Hell Or High Water, the opening track from Road I Call Home. It’s all about determination and not giving up no matter what the world throws at you. At the beginning of the year the world threw a lot of shit at me and all through this time I was having to tour, the biggest thing being Pledge Music going into administration. I know so many people were affected and I was releasing Road I Call Home through them. I was sat in Prague airport and I had just finished my Czech tour and I was about to come home and go out on the road in Spain and I rebuilt a section of my website to do a pre-order thing and I thought this is going to turn out really badly. Thankfully I did that and there were loads of blessings that came from it but on paper at the time with my touring schedule and just sort of running the business myself it was really hard. I don’t know if fans realise this but lots of people were writing really, really horrible, negative things to Pledge but they were all being sent to me and I felt such negative energy and I was like ‘I’m trying to do something! I’m trying to do so much!’. So that’s like how it started and I got through it and it’s turned out to be a really incredible year! The last couple of months I felt like something shifted a bit. I felt like it’s been much easier to sell tickets. I’ve opened for Kris Barras – that has been an incredible, amazing opportunity for me! I feel like I’m quite strategic and I announced headline dates in the local area and I just found that almost half the tickets have gone for those dates in March but I’ve not even announced the tour yet! So that has been such an incredible opportunity for me, and it just shows the power of how important it is to open for people and open for the right people and the out in front of the right audiences and it’s definitely alleviating a lot of pressure because it’s hard to sell tickets. So I feel like it started off a bit crazy and a bit dark but it’s ended me being completely broken but feeling absolutely amazing.
You are now midway through a 12 date UK tour that takes you right up to Christmas and many of these shows are sold out. How does it make you feel to see that sold out a stamp on the promotion posters?
Just like the hard work is paying off! I’ve literally worked my arse off, not just touring like I do, but everything. I manage myself and that’s hard work (laughs!).
You are a difficult person to manage?!
Yeah, I’m hard work! I’m a difficult person to manage! (Laughs!) No, I have an incredible PR team and an agents all over the world now and that’s great, but because of the amount I tour it’s quite hard. So when I see these ‘sold out’ signs - there’s a few that won’t sell out but are almost sold out – I almost sold out the Thekla in my home town which is a 400 cap venue, and that for me has been amazing - Bristol is a hard place to crack – but it just felt like the ball is starting to roll!
Looking ahead to the New Year you do of course already have shows scheduled but what expectations and aspirations do you have for 2020?
I want my Spring tour to sell out or at least for half of the dates to sell out. I’d like to get some more support slots with other artists that are on the scene. There’s a few that I won’t say out loud, but if that doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen, there’s lots of people who go for these positions but there are gaps in my schedule just in case. But if not then I’m having a holiday! (Laughs!) And then I’ve got the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruise so that’s amazing, and some really cool festival slots as well. And I’ve got another tour of Germany and I’ve just done a tour of Scandinavia so I’m looking to get back there as well. And I’m doing a new album as well!
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what a truly wonderful artist Elles Bailey really is. Musically she has created a beautifully unique sound, the embodiment of which is presented gorgeously in Wildfire and Road I Call Home and her popularity is snowballing! Seeing Elles laugh and smile throughout our time together was an absolute joy to behold, even when referring to the darker moments earlier in the year and her current flu-like state. Her resilience, passion and determination will ensure that 2020 is going to be an incredible year!
Find out more at www.ellesbailey.com. In the meantime, check out the video to What’s The Matter With You from Elles second album Road I Call Home below.