Songs About You: An Interview With Dani Wilde

Dani Wilde is a wonderful singer/songwriter from Brighton who I have interviewed twice before. She is releasing her new album, Songs About You, today (1st April) and it was a pleasure to interview her again for a third time.

Before we begin talking about your new album, how are you and what have you been up to in the year since we last spoke? (Not including recording your new album of course!)

Well, I’ve been touring quite a bit in Europe. I was in Spain all of last summer with the Javier Vargas blues band. I guested on Vargas’ new album as part of a duet with Chris Jagger performing a cover of Freddie King’s ‘Palace Of The King’ in a studio in Madrid, which was lots of fun. I’ve also been out in Germany with my band lots and I played some shows in Moscow too which was an adventure. Other than that I’ve just been drinking too much wine and eating too much food over Christmas, roller-skating lots in my hometown ‘Brighton’ now the weather is picking up – oh, and my friend Tabitha Smith (awesome singer-songwriter who will be touring with me later this year) and I have joined a Russian Choir. I sing the high soprano parts. Classical music is a world away from the blues. The blues is my home but Russian choral music is a challenge and a new adventure; a good hobby! And I’ve been spending time at White Hart Lane cheering on Harry Kane and the most exciting football team in the world ‘Tottenham Hotspur’. When I’m on the road on long van journeys between cities, I’m to be found either buried in a good book or watching the football Premier League live on my phone. Is that rock n roll? 🙂

I wouldn’t call Spurs the most exciting team in the world though… 😉

Well you never know what’s going to happen at a Spurs game. One minute we are kicking Chelsea’s ass and the next we are falling on our arses against a crappy team, but we do have Harry Kane and that makes us pretty exciting!

Well that’s to be debated! Anyway, the title of your new album, Songs About You, suggests that it’s primarily an album of love songs. Is this the case?

Well in the past I’ve tended to steer away from love as a lyrical topic. I’ve sung lots about flirting and lust and sex and also more important topics like the children I support in Africa or the London riots. This album was different though because I had my heart broken for the first time. So yes, some of the album is about how much it hurts to love someone who doesn’t want you; but because I had a long time to make and perfect this record it’s more about the journey. In my case, the journey wasn’t just my failing relationship but also touring across America and Canada and Europe and so I sing about the hotel room overlooking the Hudson river and the Texas County line and the places I have been.

Recently I’ve been lecturing song-writing to 16-18 year old students at Britain and Irelands Modern Music Institute. One song on my album is called “Don’t Go Begging For Love” and I wrote it for some of my young female students who were feeling mistreated by their boyfriends. In the song I tell them to ‘have pride” and basically to not be desperate; to realise your worth and not give your soul and energy to someone who doesn’t treat you right. I realised I needed to take my own advice. These kids have so much talent. They need to throw their hearts into their music and their dreams and if a brilliant person comes along who will support them in that dream then that’s okay but no one should sacrifice their happiness for someone who disrespects them or messes them around.

Your album cover shows you sitting on an end of a sofa (in Brighton presumably?) with an acoustic guitar next to you. Is the whole album acoustic?

I play acoustic guitar on most of the album. It’s an organic sounding album. It’s all about the song-writing and the vocals and then organic instrumentation to bring out the best in the song. There are a lot of musicians on the record though including cello, which was exciting as this was a first for me!

Are all the songs on the album written by you or are there any covers as well?

All eleven songs on the album are my own.

Could you walk us through each song and give us the stories and influences behind them?

Well, I’ve told you about one of them but I can tell you about a few more. ‘Open Road’ is about escaping across America chasing my dream, my music, but feeling empty knowing that I’ve left the one I love behind. I wonder if by the time I make it home he will have moved on with his life. I remember listening to Carole King’s “So Far Away” from the Tapestry album and really relating to it at that time. She sings “I sure hope the road don’t come to own me, there’s so many dreams I’m yet to find.” And I felt like that; like I had been on the road for so many years and that yes it’s been like a dream but equally I felt I was missing out on love, stability, security, family and all the people I care about and miss back home.

There is also a song on the album called ‘Time’ which is about a lovely old lady I met in the states. It’s about seeing someone with new eyes. It’s about seeing beneath the frail lady before you to the vibrant woman and child she once was and still is inside. The song tells her story. This song was for her, so the ‘You’ in my album title isn’t always who you expect. Musically it was inspired by Americana artist Patty Griffin (Robert Plant’s Girlfriend). If you haven’t heard her I greatly recommend you go check her out.

“Change” is about wanting to change your life for the better but feeling like you’re stuck because people judge you by the mistakes you have made. It’s about feeling like you’re not good enough. It’s seedy and dark and desperate. It’s about the crueller side of the music industry – the loneliness, getting drunk and fucking up. You have to be strong as a woman in this industry. Change is about my weaker moments. Musically It’s inspired by blues and country. The vocal approach is inspired by Sheryl Crow but the guitar riff is the kind of finger style approach Louisiana Red taught me when I was a teenager. He showed me how he played the blues when I was at The European Blues Association week and his style has stayed with me ever since.

‘Let Me Be Your Sunshine’ nearly didn’t make the record. My producer told me it didn’t fit in. I’ll admit it is a little twee but that’s why I like it; it makes me feel happy to sing it and vocally it’s inspired by Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle and Aaron Neville. Musically it’s inspired by Johnny Cash.

‘Cruel World’ is the song that really captured how sad I was during the time I wrote and recorded it. Word of advice to musicians: don’t ever date your band members! It’s a big no no! It meant that my music and my relationship all felt like the same thing and so when my relationship went wrong I felt like I had nothing. I felt like I didn’t know myself any more. Lots of things all seemed to go wrong at the same time: an agent of mine dies and owed me a lot of money that I was never paid and so suddenly I was in debt and it all happened at the wrong time; I guess there’s never a right time. On the upside, in all of my hurt and frustration, I really was able to pour my heart into this album.

Where did these songs come from, were they with you for a while or did you write them specifically for this album?

I just wrote songs because that’s what I do. Initially I wrote them for me. Then Stuart Dixon who produced the album took all the songs and told me which ones would work as an album. He told be his creative vision and it really matched my own vision for the album. Stuart knew how to make that vision a reality and was able to pull in world-class musicians to play on the album.

Even though you are a big name blues act, you do have a lot of other musical influences as we discussed in your last interview. What kind of style is this album in terms of a genre?

Yes, I’ve had a handful of #1’s in the iTunes Blues Charts but also have been in the iTunes Top 40 Country music charts in Europe. This is a singer songwriter album. It’s about the vocals and the songs but it’s also about organic tone, playing for the song, groove, expression and creativity. In regards to genre it fuses all of my influences: Blues, Country, Gospel and Soul.

How long did it take to record the album?

Including the writing process I probably spent about a year on it. We recorded it in stages as I wrote more and more songs. We started recording at a studio in Northampton and ended up scrapping all of our hard work and re-starting at Platform Studio in Bracknell; it had to be right and even though it was frustrating I’m glad we said “no, this can be better”. I’m very happy with the end result and how great a job Stuart Dixon did from a production standpoint.

Who plays on the album with you?

I did lead vocals, acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Stuart Dixon played some electric and acoustic guitar on a few tracks. Roger Inniss who has played for Chaka Khan and Oli Brown played bass guitar and upright bass. We were blessed to have Janos Barrista on piano (Jimmy Ruffin). Gregory Coulson (The Selecter) played rhodes and organ. Fergus Gerrand who had just got back from a tour with Sting played drums and percussion. Bethany Porter (Kula Shaker) contributed her beautiful cello playing and the hugely talented world music artist Katey Brooks along with Todd Sharpville, Ross Alexander and my brother Will Wilde sang gospel style backing vocals.

How does Songs About You compare/differ from your previous albums?

It’s a lot more organic. That was really important to me on this album. I didn’t want it to sound old or modern. I wanted it to sound timeless. I think the best way to achieve that is to capture the natural warm tone of the instruments, and to record as much of it live as possible including the lead vocal.

When did you initially decide to record a new album and is the process from an idea to a finished product a long one?

Well, unlike my past albums, I was able to spend more time over this one including the dreaming and writing part. I wasn’t in a hurry to make this album. Emotionally I needed a break first. Actually I spent some time volunteering with young children with cerebral palsy for a fantastic charity called Whoopsadaisy. Working with those inspirational children helped me as much as if not more than I helped them. The work the charity does is amazing though, I have seen children who were told they would never walk get up and walk as a result of ‘conductive education’. It’s amazing; and experiencing the parents and grandparents tears of joy as they see their little’un defy doctors expectations. I felt like I’d hit rock bottom and working with these kids and making this album helped me to become a strong person again.

Are there any songs you wrote/recorded that didn’t make the album and if so do you have any plans to release them in the future, your next album perhaps?

I have a song called ‘Electricity’ that I wrote last year having seen John Mayer at The Royal Albert Hall. He was inspirational. I love his ‘Continuum’ album. I wish I had had time to record that song but by that point the album was already being mastered. I’ll play it on the road though. I’d like to do a live album next. There’s a lot of YouTube footage from when I’d just started out online that I feel doesn’t do me justice. I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now and have honed my craft and upped my game during that time. A live album would be an opportunity to prove myself. As I said, most of this new album was live in the studio anyway. I’ll be playing some John Prime and Bob Dylan songs on my next tour as well as my album material.

Will you be touring to support Songs About You and if so where will you be playing?

Yes, I’ll be touring this album in Europe and the UK over the next year and I’m hoping to get back over to the USA in 2016.

Presumably you’ll be playing most of your new album live along with songs from your previous albums, are you looking forward to playing the new material?

Yes. I’ve actually been gigging some of the new material already. I’ll play some tracks from my past Ruf Records albums too and I always like to throw in some songs by some of my song-writing hero’s.

You have an acoustic tour planned with your brother in April, is that separate to the shows you will play to support your new album?

No, I’ll be playing songs from my new album on the acoustic tour. All of the songs hold their own when stripped down to just me and my guitar because that is the format I wrote them in. I’ve got shows in July in Poland and Europe where I will be taking my band with me too though. I’ll also be playing UK dates this Summer and Autumn including some support slots for some interesting/unexpected artists which I’ll be announcing soon.

What else is on your horizon, musically, at the moment?

I’m just looking forward to touring this record and reaching out to a wider audience. I’ll also be bringing my friend Tabitha Smith on the road with me later in the year. I’ve known Tabitha since we were 5 years old growing up in Wiltshire. Now we both live in Brighton. She has a great soulful yet folky voice; reminiscent of Sam Brown. So it’ll be great to have her come and open for me. I’ve missed having girls in my band recently. Victoria Smith, who is one of Britain’s top female session bassists and a good friend of mine has been away touring the globe with The Ramones so I’ve been lucky to have Jon Chase (The DGB) step in on double bass for my live shows. And before that I was touring on the ‘Girls With Guitars’ tour with USA blues ladies Samantha Fish and Cassie Taylor. It’s good to have girly friends on the road with you. Men can be hard to relate to and arnt as much fun, sorry boys ;-). Sam and Cassie and I used to do each others hair and go clothes shopping on our off-days. The lads in my band are never in the mood for clothes and make-up shopping.

When and where can we buy Songs About You?

From iTunes, Amazon, my website, and larger music retail stores in Europe and the UK. It’s out today, April 1st.

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