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Rock Today


Elles Bailey Discusses New Album Shining In The Half Light - Spring 2022

February 25th will see Elles Bailey, winner of Blues Artist Of The Year in the UK Blues Awards - for the second year running we might add – release her new album Shining In The Half Light. And it is simply stunning. The Bristol artist’s previous and wholly outstanding albums Wildfire and Road I Call Home justifiably cemented Elles’ reputation for quite simply being 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. And so this continues to be true with Shining In The Half Light. The immense quality of her earlier releases meant that there was perhaps always going to be a massive weight of expectation for the new album, but what we need to say quite directly is that Elles has absolutely smashed it. Those who have already heard the singles Cheats & Liars, Sunshine City and The Game will not need to be convinced of such profound claims. It’s also no surprise that Planet Rock would add these tracks to their A-list and that they would each become the most played track on the radio station for more than a month. We are keen to hear the full story of how the new album all came together, and it’s on a cold January evening that we catch up with Elles at home in Bristol. Despite being exhausted from an incredibly busy few days filming the video for future single Riding Out The Storm, directed by her friend and fellow Blues artist Kris Barras, and simply being a mum to her young son Jasper, we are given the warmest of welcomes. It’s with a big smile and huge pride that she pours a well deserved glass of red wine. With a clink of our glasses our conversation begins…

It’s an incredibly exciting time with the new album Shining In The Half Light due for release on 25th February. What thoughts are going through your mind at album release time?

I think in a way it’s actually quite surreal because this has probably been the longest time that I’ve sat on an album, if that makes sense. Well it probably hasn’t actually! The album was finished in April last year but because there hasn’t been a whole lot of stuff going on musically I’ve just felt like I’ve sat on this body of work when it’s like ‘I could probably release it now…’. I wanted to release the album last September but my team around me just said no, basically! And I’m so glad they did! At first there was a lot of stuff coming out in that time and I’d just had a baby so there was no way I could’ve promoted it. So I’m really pleased that back in April when it was finished that they said to me “No, Elles. Let’s look at an early ’22 release”. I’m so glad I did. I was just like ‘Okay, cool. Go for it!’. I remember getting to September and at this point Jasper just wasn’t sleeping at all. I was just absolutely knackered and totally beyond it so I was like ‘I’m really glad I didn’t release this album!’ (Laughs!).

Oh, I can absolutely imagine! And it’s interesting that you say it was finished in April but you recorded it back in December 2020. Even though it is the right time for many reasons to be releasing the album now, has it been difficult to stay patient whilst waiting for the release date?

Yes, I think so. I think because I sort of drip fed it, there’s always been something to come out. So firstly, we started off the campaign with Cheats & Liars, and that felt like a really sort of great impact track to start the ball rolling with it. But what’s quite interesting is Cheats & Liars was never supposed to be a big single. It was meant to be a little prequel, like ‘this is where we are starting’. Originally the single was to be Sunshine City. That was going to drop a very early September and be very much an Indian summer kind of vibe but I just said “Look Guys, I’d love to put Cheats & Liars out there. It just feels like something I feel incredibly passionate about. Are you okay with that?”, and they were like “Fine, let’s put that out. You might get some specialist play”, and then suddenly it got put on the Planet Rock playlist… and it stayed on the playlist which took us by surprise! That made us feel like we shouldn’t release Sunshine City yet. I think I released Sunshine City on a ridiculously rainy day, but then that could’ve happened in the summer as well! It was mid October before Sunshine City came out and that’s all because it all really sparked off with Cheats & Liars. I think that set the whole campaign running really. I’ve just been really excited every time a single has come out just to see what happens. I’ve been totally blown away that Planet Rock have really got behind this record as well.

Absolutely! And let’s stick with Cheats & Liars for a moment. One thing I would say about the new album, Shining In The Half Light, is that it’s a massively uplifting record. You tackle some difficult subjects, like with Cheats & Liars how artists were uncaringly dismissed by the powers that be throughout the Covid pandemic, yet this is an empowering track rather than an angry one. You started a campaign with Cheats & Liars and it’s the first track on the album. Were you consciously wanting to open the album with a firm statement?

I think so. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to open this album. It’s come at a time of anguish and it was a song which was very much written in the moment as we were living this history and I was just watching how the arts had been totally dismissed. The actual thing that sparked it off kind of didn’t in any way relate to me and maybe that’s why it seems empowering because it wasn’t really written about my experience. It was kind of written for all of my peers. I was one of the people who fell through the cracks. So I didn’t receive any government funding and I noticed so many artists were like that but this was actually sparked after the 2020 autumn budget when they slashed the self employed grant scheme to 30%. They backtracked on it and it went back up but at that point it was a little bit too late, and I just sat there listening to a radio interview straight after the budget when someone turned round and asked “Well, what about musicians? What are they going to do?” and the response was a cold “They are just going to have to retrain and they are going to have to find another job”. I was livid! I just couldn’t comprehend how we all just sat at home for three months and listened to music, we watched live streams and Netflix. It’s the arts that have got us through! This world would be a very, very sad place without music. So in that sense I wasn’t even enraged for me because I’d accepted that I’d fallen through the cracks. I was in rage for all of my artist friends who are kind of relying on that income. The country was going back to work in October but venues weren’t open. Musicians weren’t playing down the pubs. They couldn’t! The arts had been forgotten about and the people have been forgotten about who cannot work right now. So that’s why Cheats & Liars came from! (Laughs!).

Well let’s talk some more about Sunshine City because ahead of the album’s release you did of course release the fantastic Sunshine City EP. The title track, which also appears on the album, is a hugely uplifting track and it felt exactly what people needed – a real slice of fun for us to sing along to and to make us smile. Was that something you were consciously thinking about when you wrote this song?

It’s a tricky one because obviously it moved back and I wasn’t sure if people would like this in mid October. You’re often thinking when you’re scheduling stuff ‘well, we have to release a sunny one in the summer’, and that’s the sort of rules that you play, but I am a grassroots artist and rules are there to be broken. There are no rules when you’re doing this. I’ve really learnt that with the music industry and I’m continuing to learn as this album campaign goes on. I just think, it’s exactly what you said, people just wanted a little bit of ‘throw your head back, laugh out loud’ kind of vibe with a song. It’s not supposed to carry any weight. Cheats & Liars did that already. This was about just having fun and celebrating time spent with friends. It was written about a night out with a friend of mine – Tamara Stewart – who features on every other song on that EP. So she’s co-writer on Walk Away, Love Is Gonna Win and Woman Like Me. We’d just done a tour together, she’d opened for me in probably the Road I Call Home tour in 2019. We came back home to Bristol and we decided to have a girls night out. A lot my band members and musician friends were playing in Bristol that night so I was like “Let’s go and watch Joe Wilkins and Phil King and go to the Canteen and drink wine and just have a good night!”. We drank a bottle of wine, went down to town and had a beer – chased with tequila – and I’m someone who doesn’t drink like that! (Laughs!) Tamara is an Aussie and she just drank me under the table. It just ended up with her going home and me being like “I never want to go home!”. I should really want to go but all my inhibitions are saying I should stay out! I ended up being found in the dog’s bed at 4 am in the morning…!

I think the wonderful thing about Sunshine City, as was the case with Cheats & Liars, is how Planet Rock Radio really got behind it. For example, Sunshine City was the number one most played track on Planet Rock Radio for 7 weeks. How does that make you feel?

I just had no idea. I really hoped that Planet Rock would like this album because I’d had quite a lot of plays with Wildfire but Road I Call Home just kind of came and went, and I thought ‘I really hope that Planet Rock like this record’ – and they have. Obviously I don’t write songs to sit on Planet Rock but when they were created and I listened to them, I did think this was something that Planet Rock might want to play, and they have done and it’s just amazing! It’s such a great station surrounded by so many awesome artists. Just to be on that lineup and to be the most played is kind of unreal really!

Just sticking with the Sunshine City EP, there is a particularly special track on here that I wanted to talk to you about. Walk Away is perhaps one of the most beautiful songs I think I have ever heard. Opening your soul and presenting such a heartfelt and intense vulnerability just creates the most powerful emotional response. It’s beautiful, Elles. What was the inspiration behind this track?

Firstly, it’s possibly one of my favourite songs I’ve written. It was written with Tamara and it was written just after a really, really dark time for me. It’s about a friendship, it’s not a love song. Well it is a love song but about a friend, and literally watching them walk away. I was devastated. I was on the phone to Tamara and she was talking me through this whole situation, and she is such a wise soul. When she was over and we had finished the tour – post our night out! (Laughs!) – I said that I wanted to write about this and I’ve got a verse but I want to tell the rest of the story. So we just sat down and wrote Walk Away. It’s me at my most vulnerable and being brutally honest. It’s definitely a track that means a lot… but it’s also heartbreaking as well.

Well getting back to the new album The Game has the most infectious looping guitar riff intro and I think it’s impossible for anyone listening to not join in and sing along with the ‘woo hoos’ in the chorus. It’s absolutely wonderful, but I love the opening lyric ‘always danced to the beat of my own blues’. As an independent artist your drive, creative spirit and authenticity really shines through. How important is it for you to be independent and also, actually, how hard is it to be an independent artist?

I know artists who are on labels, I know artist who are independent, and artists like myself and I’m a bit of a control freak. So in that sense, being independent is really good. I’ve not written it off – if I got the right label offer and the right label partner then it’s something that I would really consider but it’s a real tough one. I have had offers but I haven’t let go yet because this stuff means so much to me and to put it in someone else’s hands is a really, really scary prospect. It is something where I will never say never but at the moment I’m still dancing to the beat of my own blues!

Different Kind Of Love is perhaps one of the most laid-back tracks, and it also has a very live quality. Was this intentional?

To be honest, the whole record is basically recorded live. That’s how we did the whole album. Obviously Cheats & Liars is piled up with extra guitars and stuff like that but for most part we didn’t want to go over the top with the production of it all. But definitely with Different Kind Of Love it was ‘let’s get in the room, let’s really strip it back and keep the vocals really vulnerable and let’s not fill it up with loads of stuff’. Even when we were doing the backing vocals and talking to Izo (Fitzroy) who arranged those, it was like we don’t need anything until the third verse. It just needs to be bare. There’s no Hammond organ or anything but on each verse and chorus there’s just a little bit of extra that comes in. We really wanted to keep it live, keep it real, keep it very much like ‘we’re all in a room together’ kind of vibe.

Also when you sing ‘I need a different kind of love in my life’, as someone who was 6 months pregnant at the time, was this you saying that you were ready to be a mum?

I think at that point as I was recording it, Jasper was like ‘I’m ready!’. He was like kicking me… (Laughs!). Honestly, that’s the one track where I really struggled to record it because it was just a day where Jasper was really high, right on my diaphragm. It’s such an intimate song and it’s also not comfortably in my wheelhouse. I wrote it with Martin Harley - he came up with the guitar – and it’s not a song you can change keys. It’s because of how it works with the guitar. If we changed the key it just wouldn’t sound like it sounds. So I just had to learn a different way of singing for this song and that was the day where Jasper was like ‘Ooh!, hello diaphragm!’ (Laughs!). Maybe that day was simply a sign of things to come! But yes, I think just even recording during that time, being 6 1/2 months pregnant in a pandemic, it was such an experience. Recording this album is something that I will treasure forever.

Well let’s talk a little more about the recording because you did record at the fantastic Middle Farm Studios in Devon. You were of course able to maintain a spiritual connection to Nashville for example in your songwriting with Craig Lackey, but were you disappointed not to be able return to Nashville?

Yeah, I was definitely disappointed at first. I’d actually already started to record some stuff over there so I was kind of going back to finishing what we started but obviously that couldn’t happen. I’m very much someone who looks at the silver linings and I really wanted to make a record here with my touring band and to celebrate the musicians that I play with. So in that sense I was like ‘Okay, cool! That’s what we’ll do’. I knew we were going to make a great record because they are all so talented. The reason I’d always kind of gone to Nashville was because I’ve worked with such a great production team over there, and over here I didn’t have that. I didn’t really feel confident enough to produce it myself so that’s where I questioned where I really needed to start. I think also, especially because I’m not someone who you can label that easily – I’m not a blues artist, I’m not a rock artist either, I’m not an Americana artist - I’m kind of a little bit all of the above and doing what I want, like I said, ‘dancing to the beat of my own blues’. Finding someone who kind of ‘got that’, that was quite a scary thing. Someone mentioned Dan Weller to me and I looked him up and I thought ‘I really have no idea why Dan has been recommended to me’ because he produced Enter Shikari and he was in a very famous metal band called Sikth, And I couldn’t quite comprehend how somebody thought ‘Hey, Dan Weller can make Elles Bailey a great record!’ (Laughs!). So I messaged a friend of mine who I’ve worked with on and off for years called Clint Murphy and he mixed the Enter Shikari album and I asked him his views about me getting in touch with Dan about producing my album. He just turned round and said ‘If there’s anyone in the UK who should produce this record it’s Dan’. So I asked him to put us in touch and that’s how the relationship with Dan started. I am so, so glad he made the album. First of all he’s just such a wonderful laid-back friendly guy, so working with him from the off was amazing, and he really got the vision of what I wanted for the album. We chatted on and off all summer and eventually I just said ‘Okay cool – let’s do this’ and he said ‘Fab! I’m free in February 2021’ but I was like ‘That’s not going to work because I’m going to be 8 ½ months pregnant’. And at this point I hadn’t told anybody. But he moved some stuff around and said ‘You’ve got from 7th December until Christmas to do this’ (Laughs!) so we then had to find a studio and find a way of making the record non-socially distanced. So we all self isolated and went into the studio and made this album! It was just a really beautiful experience.

Fantastic! I think just the location Middle Farm Studios, which is set in the most gorgeous of Devon countryside, this was absolutely no consolation prize. I think one of the most wonderful things about the process is that you actually recorded to tape. You went old school! What made you take this approach? Was this Dan’s influence?

I keep on forgetting that we did it to tape, and it definitely wasn’t my influence! (Laughs!) When the option came up to do it to tape I basically said no. At this point we knew we were going to Middle Farm and that Pete Miles would be engineering the album in that really wonderful and quirky way that he does. I feel like making this record was the kind of thing that Pete would’ve enjoyed doing. And then we got in the studio, the tape machine went on and I was like ‘What is that? I’m sure we discussed not doing this to tape!’, and they were like ‘Let’s just give it a go, Elles!’. And it sounded great!

One thing we have to talk about is the incredible artwork for the album, the supporting singles and the Sunshine City EP. Alicia Raitt at Milk And Bone Design has done a phenomenal job! Tell me about your reaction when you saw the ideas being presented.

First of all, this ties in really nicely because Alicia is Pete’s partner and at Middle Farm there are two studios there. Because of social distancing there was another person in studio two but that meant that she could use the loo that was kind of next to our studio. So that was her loo basically, and it meant that any time that any of us needed the loo we had to walk through Alicia’s office. On the day we were doing Different Kind Of Love, when Jasper was pummelling on my diaphragm and I had to go to the loo every five minutes. But every time I walked through I would just see all her amazing artwork. I thought she was so talented and thought I must get her to design a T-shirt For me. And it was probably only in the April when the album was finished that I got in touch with to ask if she could design a T-shirt, and then she presented me with the black artwork and I said ‘… so I think you’ve just designed the album’s front cover…!’. That just started the ball rolling and I reached out to her and said ‘Can you do Cheats & Liars and Sunshine City?’ I just thought for the single covers it would literally be similar kind of borders that they would have around them with just the name but she completely blew me away with each one! Just wait until you see the Riding Out The Storm cover!

Let’s move on to Elles Bailey in a live setting. Last year saw you back where you love to be: on stage. They were festival appearances and of course the extensive Sunshine City autumn tour/early winter tour. How did it feel to be back playing live?

Incredibly surreal. I always go back to Love Rocks, and we were one of the bands that actually got a little bit of a look-in in October 2020. We had a few socially distance gigs before lockdown 2 came around. So we didn’t have 16 months off, we did get a little foray, but post-baby and 2 months after having Jasper, we had the Love Rocks Festival. I don’t think I quite comprehended any of that. I arrived but I hadn’t seen the band since we’d recorded the album. So it had been six months and I introduced them to Jasper, I then dropped off Jasper and my partner at the hotel, drove back, put some lipstick on and walked on stage – and it was mental! I hadn’t seen people for months. Barely anybody saw me pregnant and there I was arriving with the two-month-old baby, having to do a gig in front on 600 people. It was magical! I was rubbish, terrible! I forgot all the lyrics but the band are amazing and held it all together for me. But everyone was singing the lyrics back to me! And obviously, I think it was the first gig back for everybody so they were a very forgiving audience. It was really special and Love Rocks is just a lovely festival. So it was a really great first one to come back to. And then the tour was amazing. The first gig, which was hometown Bristol show where I wanted to showcase the album with everyone on it. So that meant three backing singers and overall eight of us on stage. It was also the first time we played it out live to anybody. I get a phone call at 11 am from my drummer saying he’s tested positive for Covid. Thankfully, we hadn’t seen him but at that point I was thinking ‘okay, we’ve got this’ because he was only doing 3/4 of the tour so I already had another guy and I phoned him straight away but he couldn’t do it because he was at a funeral. I was phoning everyone who’d played with me before but none of them were available. It was at that point I thought I don’t know what to do. And then I suddenly remembered that I had done a cover of Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You in lockdown that had been engineered by the a drummer. I’ve never met him before, but he is called Phil Wilson, and we got on like a house on fire over Zoom as he was mixing the track and recording it, and I just phoned him up and said ‘ this sounds mental because you live in Lincolnshire but do you fancy doing a gig in Bristol tonight?’ And he was like ‘Yeah!’. I explained that it would mean doing songs he’d never heard before but he just said “That doesn’t matter - I will learn them in the car!”. He drove from Lincolnshire to Bristol, which took him five hours, he arrived at 5.30pm, we sound checked for about half an hour and then he went into the backstage room, he didn’t eat anything and he just played the songs on his little practice mat until he walked on stage two hours later. And he absolutely smashed it out of the park! I was blown away! Not once did he ask what the fee was. He just turned round and said “Yeah, Elles, you’re a mate, we’ve got on really well the last couple of years, I know we’ve never met before but I’d love to give this a go”. That was super special! I was gutted obviously that we can do it with Matt, and I know he was as well, but just to have someone step in and learn the set just because he wanted to help me out was lush!

What an absolutely gifted drummer! I just wanted to take a moment to make sure we recognise your success as an artist. Firstly, 2021 saw you being given the Blues Artist Of The Year at the UK Blues Awards - for the second year running! How did it make you feel to again be recognised in this way? 

Incredibly humbled and I think also the UK and European blues scene have been massively championing me. They are a huge part of giving me the roots that I’ve sort of gone out and played all the blues clubs and met the beautiful community and the fans. They are a huge part of my success so to be recognised in this way was amazing!
As our conversation draws to close, we reflect on what an absolutely incredible album Shining In The Half Light really is. The warmth, humour, honesty and vulnerability Elles has shown throughout our conversation is something beautifully authentic and unsurprisingly indigenous to the music she has created. Elles should be hugely of Shining In The Half Light. And I think she deserves a top up of that red wine…

Find out more at and in the meantime enjoy the video to latest single The Game below.