Interview: Joan Armatrading
Published on April 10th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Just a few days ago, the legendary Joan Armatrading was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the Open University at London’s Barbican Centre. We can’t tell you which combination of letters this now adds to her name – there appear to be five candidates, going by this – but they’ll have to take their place behind MBE. Did we mention the Ivor Novello award and three Grammy nominations?
Armatrading could be forgiven for resting on her laurels having already amassed such an outstanding body of work, so it’s energising to hear her on such great form on her sublime, jazz-tinged new studio album Starlight, entirely self-recorded and soulful in all the right ways. With Starlight set to receive a UK release on 13th May, we were honoured to be granted the opportunity to send some questions her way, doubly so when we received back the following…
How is the tour going? Which shows have stood out for you so far?
All the shows stand out, that’s the beauty of touring. Each show has its own special moment. I have just completed a New Zealand and Australia tour and the band and I were talking about it saying exactly that. Each gig seemed to offer up something that we found magical on the night.
Have you gone back to listen to the album lately, and if so how do you feel about it now compared to when it was released in the UK?
The record hasn’t changed, it’s just as I first recorded it and I’m just as happy with it in 2013 as I was in 2012.
Is it true you handled all of the album’s instrumentation? Where was it recorded, and what did you use to record it with?
I record using Logic on a Mac. Yes I played everything you hear but I programmed the drums. I wrote and arranged all the songs as usual and I am also the producer. It was recorded in the UK and this is the 4th CD that I have done where I am doing everything. Why do I do that? Because it’s a challenge to for me. I love finding out what I’m capable of.
Do you go along with the perception of Starlight being your ‘jazz’ album? Which jazz artists in particular have inspired you?
It is most definitely my jazz CD. In 2007 I decided to do a trilogy of Blues, Rock, Jazz. So in 2007 I recorded Into The Blues, the blues CD. This debuted at number 1 in the Billboards Blues chart making me the first UK female artist to do that. It also gained me a Grammy nomination, again making me the first UK female artist to be nominated for a Grammy in the Blues category.
In 2010 I recorded This Charming Life, the Rock CD and then in 2012 I recorded Starlight, the Jazz CD that ends the trilogy of Blues, Rock, Jazz. I love all music, that is why I’m an eclectic writer.
Some of my favourite bits of Starlight are the time signature tricks and whatnot, because they sound so natural. This is a trait you share with Joni Mitchell. Was she an influence for some of the songs on Back to the Night (also a great album)? I’m thinking mostly of songs like “No Love for Free”, “Dry Land”, “Get in Touch With Jesus” and “Come When You Need Me”.
I love Joni Mitchell, I think she is a fantastic artist but I have been writing music since I was 14 years old, long before I heard a Joni Mitchell song. I just write how I feel.
I love your lyrics. Do you still write them from the perspective of what you observe other people going through?
I write from observation, I imagine most artists write from that perspective. Of course there are songs that are personal but in the main the songs are written about what I observe about others.
Does it frustrate you when you hear modern chart music and there’s a near-total disregard for strong lyrical content?
No I’m not frustrated, everyone has to write the way they are able to and they feel comfortable with. Some people want to concentrate on the music and the lyrics are just a part of the rhythm. Some people concentrate on the lyrics and the music suffers a bit, but they are getting their point across and others like me, try to get both across as strongly as they can. It’s just a matter of how different people write.
Have you thought yet about your next project? If so, what can you tell us about it at this stage?
Sorry can’t tell you anything because I’m waiting to find out myself what I’m going to do.
Who would you say is the single most talented person you’ve worked with? And do you have a favourite live performance for any reason?
All the musicians and producers I’ve worked with have been talented, I wouldn’t like to single any one of them out from the other. See the answer to question number 1.
Would “Madame George” still be your Desert Island Disc of choice?
No because tastes change and some things that you thought of in one way when you were young, as you get older, you come to look at differently.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your days with the entire works of just five different artists, musical or otherwise, whose would you choose?
That’s an impossible question and thank goodness it’s hypothetical so I don’t really have to answer it.
Joan Armatrading, thank you.
Starlight will be released on 13th May through Hypertension. For more information, please click here to visit Joan Armatrading’s official website.