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Sunday 10 June 2018

Joan Armatrading Talks Art Of Songwriting & New Album Ahead Of Brighton Date

Joan Armatrading is a woman of candour – not to mention can do. She gets straight to the heart of the matter, and she delivers.

Her lyrics, her distinctive voice and her multi-instrumental prowess have led to an enduring love and respect from millions across the world. Her words have an authenticity and her vocals an authority that resonate directly with the listener. 

On her new studio album Not Too Far Away, released on 11th May, she presents ten new tracks that take the deeply personal and make it universal. 

Ahead the album's release and her live show at Brighton Dome, this September, Joan took time out to let us catch a glimpse of a very private artist ..

Q: Joan, the first thing that strikes me about 'Not Too Far Away' is what a positive album it is.

A: Yes, it's positive, I'm a positive person. In all my songs the words are pretty much positive and the music is always up. The music is always something that I think will try and make you smile.
 
Q: Are these more personal lyrics?

A: I don't mind if people take the songs as everything being completely personal, because the songs are usually written from either knowing the person, or reading about the person, or seeing what the person's going through. So I'm involved in it, but I think if every song I wrote was about myself, I'd be a pretty weird person. You can't write everything about yourself.

But sometimes I've had instances where I've written something that's nothing to do with me, and then later on something happens that actually is, 'Oh look, I wrote that song already!' 

This time I purposely wrote all the words first, because I wanted it to have an emotion - and I hope I got the emotion through. I wanted people to connect with the words. And then, once the words were written, the music kind of flowed quite naturally. 


Q: Does the emotion of the lyric dictate the mood of the music?

A: In this case, definitely the words dictated the mood of the music. Having said that, I did want the music to be what the music is, and I wanted the album to be what the album is. I wanted people to use the lyrics for themselves and to communicate with each other which, I'm really happy to say, people tell me that they do. But I did want people to think 'Yes, this is an album, these are songs that I can say to this person 'Look, this is you, this is us.' 

There's a song on there, the very first song, called 'I Like It When We're Together,' and even when you're with friends, it doesn't have to be a partner, lover, whatever, it's a really nice feeling, so it's nice sometimes to just say that to somebody, you know? So I just wanted to say that.

Q: You must get so many stories about how your songs have connected with people.

A: That's the great thing about being a songwriter, people will say 'Oh, we used your song at a very sad time, somebody died, it was their favourite song, we had to have it with them at the funeral.' You can't get a bigger compliment than that. 

You get 'We named our child after one of your songs,' there's a lot of Rosies and Willows out there! 'We got married to that song, we met through that song, we went to a concert and we were both so into your music and we hooked up...' 

I get all kinds of stories, all around these things that I've written, it's the best feeling, I love it. Absolutely love it. And I do meet these people, because they want to come and tell me that 'I'm named because of your song,' so I've met quite a few of them which is lovely.  


Q: I know you don't begrudge playing the hits, because they're part of people's lives.

A: Absolutely, I look forward to playing 'Love and Affection.' I would never dream of doing a concert where I didn't play 'Love and Affection.' Why would I? That's the song that got me known. All over the world, wherever I go, it's because of 'Love and Affection.' Why would I not want to sing it? And then I've got an hour and a half to sing all kinds of other stuff. 

So I can sing 'Love and Affection,' 'Me Myself I,'''Drop The Pilot,' 'Willow,' 'Rosie,' all the songs, and I'll still have time to do all the new album!

Q: So you're writing about everything that's been on your mind lately?

A: When you write it's not always about sitting down at that moment to write. Writing is about looking as if you've got nothing to do and you're staring up at the sky and you're moping around and wondering, you're reading something, reading the paper, or you're watching the television. But you're actually writing. 

All of these ideas are coming to you from all kinds of angles, and it's not just the physical sitting down with the guitar and humming and so forth. You also need to be very observant. You need to be looking to see if people want to be together or if somebody's in pain.

There's a song on the album called 'Loving What You Hate,' and there are lots of people who will say 'Oh, I hate how I'm looking in this dress,' or they've always got something to hate about themselves. Meanwhile, everybody's thinking 'Cor, you look fantastic!' So I wanted to write about that, because you see that so often, and that might be quite nice for people to think 'Oh, actually, it's alright, somebody loves me for whoever  I am.' 


Q: You've done pretty much everything on the album, haven't you?

A: Pretty much, yes, I wrote everything, recorded, engineered, programmed the drums, I'm playing everything, I arranged everything, I wrote and arranged all the strings and, yes, sang it all, did everything. But that's just because I can, and I love to do it, and it's what I want to do. 

I've always done it. Even when I started out, day one, I would write my songs, get the arrangements together, play everything on my demos myself. And it just became at what point would I do it on a record. I started in 2003,to do that myself. 

But when it comes to the mixing then I always work with a mixing engineer because I would never want to go through that whole process completely on my own, I think that would be not healthy, you need some other ears you know. And I'm not a trained engineer either. I do very well but the trained engineer will hear little things that I've missed and be able to get certain sounds better than I've got them, stuff like that. So I need that person who's expert at that to work with me as well.

Q: Before you were ever a songwriter, didn't you write prose?

A: I wrote funny little limericks. But I started writing when I was 14, and as soon as the piano arrived — my mother bought a piano, thought it was a great piece of furniture — as soon as it arrived, I started writing songs. They were lyrics, as opposed to limericks. I don't remember any of the songs from that age, but I know I just switched over immediately and started writing lyrics.

Q: Were you a fan of literature?

A: I love words, I love reading Dickens. I read a lot of Dickens, all the classic stuff, Shakespeare and so on, just because the words are so nice, how it all flows, the language that they use. So I want whatever I say to sound good, away from the music, even.

Q: As you prepare for the tour, do you know yet which old songs will have to be rested?

A: That is what I'm going through now, it's so hard, I think I'll do this one...then I'll think, no, I can't do that one because...well, I can't remember it for a start! There's so many, it's very difficult, that's all I can say, it's really, really hard to work out what to do. 

The tour will be solo as well so I have to work out what songs can I do an arrangement for that will really work as solo. The last tour was solo, and it worked out great, I played electric guitar and piano and acoustic guitar as well, and I had a few little backing things that I'd done for it, but not much. 

This tour will be acoustic, I won't play any electric, but I'll play piano as well. So it's a question of thinking what songs are really going to work as acoustic? How's 'My Myself I' going to sound? It was written on an acoustic probably, but how's it going to sound now on an acoustic? It can be tricky.

Q: Can you describe your relationship with your fans?

A: I've been very lucky with people who've stayed with my career, and I've had a very long career, but I didn't have it on my own. If it wasn't for these wonderful people tagging along I wouldn't have had such a great ride and if I didn't have new people coming along it wouldn't sustain, People do die and people's tastes change. Some might think 'Oh, Joan was wonderful when she was 26 but now she's 67, I don't think so.'That can happen, so you can lose people like that or because they've just moved, or they've had children and their focus is on something totally different. 

When that happens in that way it's not even just you or your music that gets lost, but other artists' as well, because people haven't got time for music in the way that they did when they were younger. So you need the loyal fans, and I'm happy to say I have some very loyal fans, and you need the new people to join in as well. That's it, really. And I love doing live shows because there's always such a great mix of people. I'm a very lucky person!

Joan Armatrading's new album "Not Too Far Away" is out now and she plays Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Sunday 16th September 2018. CLICK HERE for more info.

by: Mike Cobley




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Photo credit: Sante D'Orazio

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