Genre-defying British singer/songwriter Elles Bailey returns with arguably her best material to date in the shape of her new album Road I Call Home.
Having performed almost 100 shows across the globe last year, it goes without saying that Elles Bailey is one of the hardest working DIY solo artists on the UK scene right now.
For Bailey’s latest record she worked with high calibre collaborators including Ivor Novello Award winner Roger Cook, storied Memphis and Nashville giant Bobby Wood, as well as Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and the end result is astounding.
Not wanting to be pigeonholed into one particular musical style or genre, Elles Bailey walks the fine line between soulful blues and country, and this record is the perfect representation of her vast musical pallet.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Elles Bailey to talk about her latest record, her experiences in Nashville and her plans for the rest of 2019.
Obviously, you’ve got a new album out which is great by the way – The Road I Call Home. It reached number one in the Amazon Blues Bestsellers. Have you been overwhelmed by the response to the record so far?
Oh yeah, honestly massively. As every artist will say, it’s pretty scary when you send your work off to the world, you know, the critics get it and the fans get, and you’re like I hope they like what we’ve worked on for the last year. But yeah, I think like the proudest thing for me is that I run my own record label. The record actually officially charted in the country charts, and the Americana charts and I was looking at the country charts and I was surrounded by Sony and Decca and Big Machine and stuff like that. And then there’s like my little Outlaw Music and I was like that’s what I’m most proud about, is the fact that I’m sort of taking on the big boys. So you can do it as a DIY artist.
Yeah, that’s just amazing. I just wondered, with this record, what was the starting point for the album musically? Did you have a particular sound in mind for this release?
Well, no. What I had in mind was that I really wanted to give the producers and the musicians creative freedom. Because on Wildfire I had a very definite idea of what I wanted. We toured the music for a while before I was able to record it. So you know, my fans had already heard it live and I sort of went in like this is what I want and how I want it. And because Road I Call Home, all of the songs were essentially just voice notes, they had never been played out live and none of my fans had heard them, I sort of came in and I sat down with the producers and we really shook the tree and I had loads of songs written for it. So we just picked, a few that sort of made the most sense for the album. And then I worked with the musicians to just be like, what do you want to bring to this, what do you hear?
So I really tried to give the musicians creative freedom and also to use instruments that I don’t necessarily have on the live shows, which, you know on Wildfire it was very much just guitar, organ, piano – which is what the live show is about. But you know, we put horns on it and harmonica and Wurlitzer and we really just played around with the sounds I think. And I’m really chuffed with what we came out with. I think it’s taken, you know what, I built on with Wildfire and has taken it to another level.
That’s great. And then in terms of the songwriting on this record what were the themes and the subjects that inspired you throughout Road I Call Home?
The title actually came after – I wasn’t sure what to call it. I sort of wrote it while I was touring Wildfire. You know, I went from a day job to being on the road all of the time, so I was obviously massively inspired by what was going on in my life at the time.
I had dalliances with a con artist and that’s where ‘Medicine Man’ and ‘Wild Wild West’ came from. I was standing on Sunset Boulevard when I realized, that it was all a load of shit, and I’m in Los Angeles, which is meant to be the city of dreams and it turned out to be the city of nightmares. So it’s basically been inspired by my life on the road. And it just sort of fell into place like a concept album about being on the road and about the trials and tribulations and how amazing it is. It’s a celebration, you know, just what happened in the last two years.
And although obviously, it’s hard because it’s like a lot of time away from home – it really has been amazing. So that’s kind of the whole album really. If you look at the content is mainly about that sort of being on the road. I didn’t even realize it at the time when I was writing it, but then it sort of was like, oh yeah, this really is a road record.
Your sound, it’s always kind of referred to as genre-defying. I know you very often get tarnished with the blues brush, but also just listening to the album there’s lots of country shining through and there’s rock and there’s a bit of soul in there. I just wondered do you prefer not to be able to be put inside of a box musically?
Yeah, I mean, I only write what I want to write. I’m never like I want to write a blues song or an outright country song – I just want to write honest songs. I listen to all different types of music and that all influence me. And I think in this day and age it’s easy to be put into a box and to be like, oh, she’s a blues act, she’s a country act because that’s how we work as human beings. But I think there are loads of artists that are tearing down the genre barriers. It’s okay to mix and match, and you know, just sort of play around and that sort of tears the barriers down.
I’m so incredibly grateful to the blues scene because they’ve massively championed me and really sort of helped raise my profile, but then again the UK country scene and Americana scene have taken hold and really helped raised my platform even further. I kind of think I fit nicely in all three and thankfully people have been ok with that.
On this record, you also worked with Roger Cook who is obviously an Ivor Novello award winner, what was it like working with Roger and what did he bring to the table?
Well, so I’ve worked with Roger for the last two and a half years. He grew up in the same city as me, he grew up just down the road from my dad, so we have that in common. Him and Bobby Wood as well they are just incredible. They’ve lived and breathed the highs and the lows of the music industry and the highs of songwriting.
Obviously, it’s much harder for a songwriter now, which is because of streaming and all of this stuff. To just sit and listen to hear their story I just sort of sit and absorb and I just think, wow, like how have I got to write with these people? Like what happened that gave me the chance to do this. I just genuinely call them great friends. And from everyone you write with, you always learn something. But I think for me writing and whoever you write with, it’s just as long as you’re being honest, then that’s all you can do with songwriting, just be as honest as possible.
Do you prefer to write on your own or to write with a partner?
I write by myself. I’m probably a little bit more disciplined if I’m working with someone else, especially because of my work schedule, because I’m on the road a lot. I do like to sort of schedule in songwriting time. Otherwise, I’ll just book up another tour. I do the admin. It’s all very exciting. Like I’m sat looking at spreadsheets at the moment, trying to sort out everything out until the end of the year. But, I’m very proud of the fact that I’m a DIY artist, but to do that you have to have a good business sense as well. So I do make sure I’ve got some song writes booked up to make sure that I am still writing.
And then you also worked with Dan Auerbach as well on this album. I just wondered how did that opportunity come to fruition?
So that again was Bobby and Roger. When I first landed in Nashville back in 2017. Brad Nowel who produced Wildfire and co-produced Road I Call Home, and Bobby who has written a lot on the second album and played the piano on the first record. They took me under their wing and just introduced me around town. Bobby had been working with Dan for ages. Bobby and Roger, they do loads of writing with him and recording. He just said, hey, come in and meet Dan.
So I got to sit in a session with Dan and Duane Eddy – I was like this is insane. I had literally just landed in Nashville. Then the next time I was over for a songwriting trip. I think had already written three songs – and they said let’s get Dan in. So I went over to the studio and we worked together. So that’s sort of how that happened. And so I’m incredibly grateful to Bobby Wood and Brad Nowell for introducing me to these people, giving me these opportunities.
Do you have a favourite song on the album and if so, which one and why?
So I’ve got two favourites. One is ‘Hell or High Water’ – I really think for me lyrically it really sums up everything. I mean I did my pre-orders through PledgeMusic. Obviously, PledgeMusic hasn’t paid anyone for months. So I like so many other people lost out on a lot of money that my amazing fans have given. That was quite a struggle and so ‘Hell Or High Water’ became like this mantra for me. But also it changed a lot in the studio, and it really came alive and I was like, wow I just love this so much. And my second one is ‘Deeper’ – and again, that was because, it was very much a piano song, and always very soulful. But when we went into the studio we didn’t put any piano on it and it just turned into a really cool soul tune. I just loved it and it just seemed so happy, so I really enjoyed it. Those are my two favourites.
I just wondered, have you got the rest of 2019 mapped out? Do you know what’s on the cards?
Oh yeah, it’s absolutely and completely mapped out. Festivals all summer …. I then have a tour in Scandinavia and Germany again, then there will be a big UK tour and also a trip to the USA. Talk to me in December and see how I feel.
Yeah. Well, it’s better to be busy than not.
Yeah, oh Gosh. I’m so incredibly lucky that I get to tour as much as I have and that people come out to see me all over. It’s such a humbling experience, especially because, you know, I’ve been there playing to the sound man and his dog for a long time.
Road I Call Home by Elles Bailey is out now via Outlaw Music. For details of forthcoming Elles Bailey shows please visit the social links below.