There have been many lovely zoom interviews and meetings over that last two years where newsreaders, sportsmen and so on have had their kids come running in interrupting and it has always been so sweet for people to see. Even Uma Thurman had Graham Norton’s audience’ hearts melt when her dogs came barging in during her interview.
Sadly this wasn’t quite the case with my interview with Bristol Singer/Songwriter Elles Bailey as my one year old (who usually sleeps at the time we had the interview planned) was wide awake and not too happy with my attention being slightly elsewhere for a few moments.
However, in a way, it actually made the interview more real. Having had a baby recently herself, Elles was completely understanding and that kind of made us connect a little more than perhaps we would have on a more professional type interview. One thing I did learn speaking to Elles is that she is real, completely humble and speaks to you as if you have known her for years and that really helped with the stress of feeding and comforting my son and talking at the same time. It ended up being a somewhat informal chat, like a catch up with a mate.
Elles Bailey is taking the music industry by storm right now. What she is representing for not just female singers but for independent artists is absolutely incredible. Elles latest album Shining In The Half Light secured a place in the UK Top-20 album midweek charts, reaching #11: a remarkable achievement for a blues/rock grassroots Americana artist.
A record deal was on the table for Elles for this album but she went with her heart and released it independently. Not only did Bailey release her album during a pandemic but she recorded it whilst heavily pregnant and in hospital.
Making the right decision of course, Elles album is a phenomenal masterpiece and her musical talents have secured her some amazing shows this year such as Cheltenham Jazz Festival (where she will co- headline with Georgia Cécile) and a support slot with the legendary Don McLean.
We spoke to Elles about Shining In The Half Light, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Don McLean and more!
Hi Elles – How are you?
Yeah good. I have had covid. It’s been a brutal week but I am definitely feeling on the up now.
Considering I do so much touring, my husband caught covid last year, I didn’t get it. I shared a spoon with him the night before he tested positive and I just kind of figured that I was immune and then literally about four days after my album launch party I went down with it and it has been horrific.
That’s awful, I am glad you are better now.
Congratulations on the album – Were there any expectations for it to do that well?
I knew that it was going to do well. I thought that it may chart high in the americana and blues charts which was what my aim was for. We wanted it to be right at the top of those charts. It was about a week or two before and we were starting to think that there was a chance that it was going to chart high, especially in the mid week charts. Even when the mid week charts came out, it was such a huge journey to get to the top 50 that I just didn’t think it would happen. I needed to sell at least 800 more copies for it to stay in the top 50 once the midweek chart had been announced which I never thought I would do!
I have always been quite interested in how many albums you have to sell for it to be in the charts like that. That’s amazing, did you get to celebrate?
Yeah I think I did? I definitely had a glass of champagne with my husband once our son had gone to bed haha. Actually I did a tv show and then we went out so that was lovely.
How long was the album in the making because I know you were heavily pregnant and you weren’t very well.
It took two weeks to record it, to get the main body of tracking and then about two or three extra days to do the backing vocals which wasn’t me who did them. It was when I had Obstetric Cholestasis post the album being tracked. That was amazing as I really pushed for the album to be done December 2020. I knew in my heart that I had to do my bit before I got into my third trimester and then literally a month later I got this Obstetric Cholestasis. To be honest I didn’t feel, they just monitored me and I had to be in hospital all the time and I was on tablets and that kept me level and it was caught really quickly and monitored all the way through, they sorted it out and actually I suffered from horrific acid reflux smack bang from when I found out I was pregnant. As soon as the way more serious liver thing happened, the acid reflux disappeared. So actually my third trimester was by far my best because I actually felt so much better.
Sorry to hear you went through all that and it’s quite scary being in hospital pregnant during covid times isn’t it?
I’ll tell you what though, Now I’ve had covid, thank goodness I didn’t get it when I was pregnant. I can see why we were a high risk category. I didn’t feel unsafe in the hospital because pregnant people were being really really careful. I was just in the maternity ward. It was a lockdown so all I did was go to hospital and then home again because that’s all you could do.
Did you write most of the album whilst pregnant or was that part already done?
No. Cheats and Lies is the only song I wrote when I was pregnant. Shining In The Half Light was written in Lockdown one and a lot were finished in early lockdown but then all the rest were actually almost written very early 2020. Colours Start to Run and Stones, they were 2019 and Who’s That was 2018.
I guess it was quite lucky to have had them all written just weeks before because co-writes and other workings must be hard over zoom and in hospital
Well I was due to make the album anyway in Nashville in May 2020 and that couldn’t happen so I knew I had the songs to make the album and when I got pregnant it was like “ok, I have now got to do this, I have got a baby coming so I need to get as much done before the baby comes” . I haven’t actually written a song since my son was born.
Oh really? Because that was going to be one of my questions to ask whether being a mum had influenced any songs yet?
I don’t think it’s because I had a baby that I haven’t written but more because I was in sort of a release cycle. All of my energy that I had spare on top of being a mum had gone into the release of the album. As soon as I released this album, literally on the day of it coming out I started to feel like I could write again. It’s quite funny, it was like “What’s next? What’s the next chapter of the story?” Whilst everyone is enjoying the album that you have sat on for a year, I am now thinking about the next part of the story.
What was the biggest challenge writing for the album? Was there a song that took the longest?
Riding out The Storm took a while to get the lyrics right. Actually thinking about it The Game. I was writing the lyrics for so long and I knew what I wanted from them but I just couldn’t get it right and they changed so many times. It was only when I was right in the studio recording the tracks that I said “right, this is what I’m landing on, this is what it’s going to be”. The Game was the longest and the hardest.
You’re performing at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. You’re relatively local aren’t you? Bristol?
I am close yes. I am so excited about playing Cheltenham Jazz Festival, it’s one of those festivals that everyone knows about. It’s so prestigious. I feel really really honoured that they have asked me to play because I played their welcoming back festival which was the Cheltenham Music Festival back in July 2021. That would of been one of the first festivals back really so I feel very honoured that they have invited me back to play Cheltenham Jazz Festival. It looks amazing.
What can we expect from your Cheltenham set? Do you do things differently at a festival to what you would do at a headline show?
A headline show you can pretty much get away with doing anything because you know that mostly everyone is there to see you. At a festival set it is more about front rolling like everything that you are really sure of and coming with your most confident set. Festivals are not only a way of seeing fans you haven’t seen for a while but a way of making new fans, especially after two years of not having festival season. Artists, we are in need of a festival season that actually goes ahead. I have been looking at all the pictures of Katy Hurt and Morganway playing these huge shows to these huge crowds and I thought “we needed this!” All these incredible artists that haven’t had the exposure that they needed over the last couple of years. So yeah, you come in with your most confident set at a festival.
I know you live just outside of Bristol now but Bristol has such a great music scene doesn’t it? Yourself, Yola, back in the 90’s artists such as Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead. It has always been a city thriving with unbelievably good music. Who are you listening to that’s local?
Lady Nade is amazing! I listen to William the Conqueror. They’re not based in the south west but Harry their drummer lived in Bristol for a while. Bristol really is thriving. Beth Rowley, her last album Gota Fría is an utterly beautiful piece of Americana, it’s just stunning.
What song off Shining In The Half Light is your husband’s favourite?
Ooh wow! You know I don’t know…actually I do know, it’s Shining In The Half Light, he absolutely loves that. It’s probably the closest I will get to a six music track without it being a six music track so that’s his favourite.
You have some impressive tours coming up one being supporting Don McLean.
Yeah! It’s kind of, especially after a few years of not touring or of doing stuff that’s very stripped back to then be going on a tour where you get to play London Palladium and St David’s Hall in Cardiff. St David’s Hall, I saw Beth Hart there just before lockdown one so the fact that I am going back and playing there and with Don McLean, an absolute legend! We have all got an American Pie story, we all know that song. It’s an album that has touched every corner of the world so to be asked to open for Don, I can’t wait!
I guess that now, in a way, that line “the day the music died” has a whole new meaning since Covid hit and music was pretty much at a halt, well live music anyway.
Exactly! Exactly! Live music as we knew it had changed. 16th March 2020, everything changed for live music and now we are all just piecing things together. and navigating a new post pandemic world.
We finished off the interview with mum talk and my going to her shows.
Elles is donating the proceeds from the downloads of ‘Shining In The Half Light’ to War Child to help the children in Ukraine. Please help support if you can here