Blues and Americana star Elles Bailey brings new album The Road I Call Home on tour
One listen to Elles Bailey and you can hear her smoky voice is a perfect fit for the blues and roots music she trades in.
But it was a run-in with viral and bacterial pneumonia as a three-year-old which could have turned out very differently that gave her the trademark sound.
She tells The Guide: ‘I had to relearn everything – I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk. The story makes it sound a bit like: “I came out of a coma and I spoke like this”! But it was quite a long time down the road when I actually started to speak again, and it was only then... it was a lot worse than this. It completely changed my voice. My parents thought, what on earth is going on?
‘Of course I don’t remember any different. For me it’s always felt like it’s someone else’s story.
‘It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really understood the gravity of what happened and also how lucky I am. A couple of years ago a little girl from the same village I grew up in got it and she died. That could have been me, that could have been my family – but instead I’ve walked away with this miraculous story.
‘It could have been completely different, I’m very lucky, but I do have to be very careful on tour – I have to make sure I get enough sleep, don’t drink too much, not partying, but you know, it’s an amazing story.’
And it’s down to her family that she is steeped in the genres she’s gone on to perform in.
‘I was exposed to a lot it by my dad – he brought me up on this sort of diet of blues, country and rock’n’roll, and my mum was a gospel singer, so I had those roots as well.
‘I was brought up surrounded by this really amazing music, but I only started revisiting it again properly in my 20s, and that’s when I started doing this music.’
The Bristol native has also found a few other kindred spirit on her local scene.
‘There’s actually loads of real incredible blues and Americana artists coming from Bristol, like Yola, and she’s worked with Dan Auerbach as well so that ties us together, and we’ve worked with a lot of the same people. She was in Phantom Limb who did quite well, and Matthew (Jones) who drummed for them is now in my band.’
Yola released her debut album Walk Through Fire on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label last month.
‘There’s a few lovely venues you can play too. I wouldn’t say there’s a huge scene, but I managed to find a couple of places, like The Bristol Fringe, which gave one of my first residencies, so every now and then I’ll go back and do a secret gig there – they helped me, so it’s nice to go back and help them.’
Earlier this month the singer-songwriter released her second album, Road I Call Home, with rave reviews all round. It was recorded in Nashville with esteemed producer Brad Nowell, who also worked on her equally acclaimed debut, 2017’s Wildfire.
She also got to write with The Black Keys frontman and serial collaborator Dan Auerbach on the project.
‘When I first went to Nashville I was taken under the wings of Brad Nowell, who’s produced both of my albums, and Bobby Wood, who’s like Memphis royalty – he worked with Dusty, and Elvis and The Highwaymen, and Johnny Cash – he works with Dan on everything, and does loads of writing with him. And Dan has such a great respect for these musicians who’ve worked in the industry for years and he uses them a lot.
‘Bobby was like come write with me and Dan. My first trip there, I went in the studio with them and they were making a record with someone, I can’t remember who now, and Duane Eddy was there.
‘I was just hanging out with them – this little girl from Bristol, England, hanging out with them. I was like, what the hell is going on?
‘A couple of trips later, Bobby was like: “Come write with us, it will be really fun,” and that’s how it happened. It’s quite surreal.
‘It happened so fast. It’s only in the last few months, I’ve had the chance to process it all. Every now and then, I’m thinking, how did that happen?’
She explains the idea behind this album, which takes a more personal approach than her debut.
‘My eight-year-old self wanted to be a popstar, right from when I can remember, this was what I wanted to do. I was born in the late ’80s, so I wanted to be Baby Spice, and I expected limousines and big fancy parties – with a bit of singing.
‘That’s where it started. I’m 30 now, and I’m so happy I’m not a celebrity. The idea of celebrity is quite scary, with the whole social media thing and everything happens so fast.
‘But I have a career travelling around the world, on the road playing to people, and that is an amazing thing. Road I Call Home is written about that, and this slightly warped dream, it basically sums up the whole album.
‘I didn’t realise what it [a career in music] looked like, until it looked like this.
‘Although it’s pretty hard work at times, there’s a lyric: “200 miles of this damned road, but I wouldn’t change it if I could,” that sums it up!’
The 1865, Southampton
Sunday, March 24