Blues-rock singer and guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor was only 16 when her prodigious talent was spotted by former Eurythmics man and producer Dave Stewart back in 2002.
He invited her to join his DUP supergroup on tour, and the teenager had her first proper taste of the bright lights.
Since 2008 she has split her time between Detroit in the US and back home in The Midlands, and has released six critically acclaimed albums. In 2014, Joanne’s self-released, fourth album, The Dirty Truth, broke the UK top 40. Two years later Wild became her first top 20 hit here.
The seventh, Reckless Heart is out today. It also marks her first on the prestigious Silvertone label, recently revived by Sony.
The day she speaks with The Guide she has only returned from the US the day before and is understandably still a little jet-lagged.
So how did she end up on the other side of the pond in the first place?
‘It was after I’d just released me first album, White Sugar. I’d always wanted to tour The States, predominantly because most of my influences are from there. The label I was on at the time didn’t have the budget for it, but I had some friends open up for me who were from Detroit, so I routed it myself and booked the tour. I said if I start it out of Detroit, can you help me with a van and backline and all the necessary things?
‘After that I got an agent, it sort of took off over there, so I just ended up staying. I was in my twenties and it wasn’t like I had a wife and kid back over here!’
Her adopted home has had the reputation of being the poster city for urban blight and deprivation, with the population slumping from more than 1.5m to a third of that.
‘It was like that when I first moved there – I wouldn’t go downtown, certainly of an evening, by myself.’
But the city has recently seen a resurgence.
‘I went to see some friends of mine, [rising Michigan rock act] Greta Van Fleet, playing downtown in December and I walked several blocks all the way downtown – now there’s several nice restaurants, a [fashion chain store] Abercrombie & Fitch, a yoga pants shop, and it’s like pretty much every American downtown. It’s very much coming back.’
The city and its people have become key to Joanne’s career. The new album was made with esteemed producer Al Sutton at his Rustbelt Studios, based in a Detroit suburb.
‘I actually met Al on the first day in Detroit. My friend took me to the studio to borrow an amp from there, and I’ve been stealing gear off him ever since! He’s been a good friend for more than a decade and we’ve been talking about working together for years, but the timing’s never been quite right, so I’m really glad it did work out this time around.
‘Al’s the kind of guy who’d tell me I was an idiot for working with anyone else, but it was the usual logistics getting in the way
‘But I think this was the right time and the right album – these things have a way of working out and timing themselves perfectly.
After the more polished sound of her last album Wild, which she made in Nashville with producer Kevin Shirley, Al wanted her to try a more raw approach.
‘I never have a preconceived notion of what kind of genre I’m going to do because from past experience I find if I try hard to write songs for a specific style I end up in a totally different place. If you force it you’ll end up with a bad album.
‘The only thing I knew was that I was going to write as much as possible and it was going to be recorded a lot more live, which Al was insistent on. He wanted it less sort of produced – that’s how he likes my guitar playing, letting me do what I’m going to do and then he works around it.’
The new album is all originals too – Wild featured a brace of covers in Summertime and Wild Is The Wind.
‘My main problem is that I can’t pick covers – it’s kind of an art in itself. If you’re going to just do it exactly the same, it probably won’t be as good as the original, so why bother? So then you’ve got to take it and do something different with it and I guess I just don’t hear that. I’ll gladly admit the covers on Wild were picked by Kevin Shirley and not me. I would have never thought of doing Summertime or Wild Is the Wind!
‘Me and Al did try and think of some covers to try and take the pressure off me a little bit, but I just couldn’t. It worked out pretty well though – I managed to write enough.’
And according to Joanne, she modestly claims that signing to Silvertone came about through a series of someone-who-knows-somebody connections.
‘After 18 years of ploughing away, it’s this weird connection – it was one of those random things.
‘It’s been such a slow build for me – it’s an 18 year overnight success,’ she laughs, ‘but it’s been baby steps so I don’t really notice any different. If I had gone from gigging for a year to this, then maybe it would feel different.
‘At this point though I’m pretty grounded in who I am and who I’m not, for better for worse, and in terms of my life experience.
‘There’s a lot to be said for timing in all parts of your life.’
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Thursday, March 21