Nell Bryden interview
Carluccio's, St Christopher's Place
added: 21 Jun 2012
interviewed by: Claudia A
Having recently witnessed the fabulous Nell Bryden
at the Borderline, where she played to promote her new album Shake The Tree
, I felt some questions were in order to find out what makes the buxom Brooklyn gal tick.
When I joined her at Carluccio’s restaurant off Bond Street, Nell introduced me to a friend and was all smiles, bursting with energy. Within one minute, she’s already told me how her day went so far, and all the things she’s been up to (including various radio interviews). With so much going on in her current life, I prayed for my digi-recorder not to let me down during our interview.Music-News:
Nell, you come from a classically trained background…Nell Bryden:
Well I come from a very artistic family, my Dad is a sculptor and a painter and I grew up in a loft in Brooklyn, where he would have all those big paintings. My Mum was a classically trained soprano and was constantly touring. Her speciality was very early music like Händel, Haydn and Bach. As most young daughters do, I adored my mother and so, at an early age, I took in what she did and would imitate her singing before I could even speak or form sentences! Later, she became a voice teacher in Massachusetts and moved up there, so I took voice lessons when I was younger and also started learning the cello at that point. But I never had the classical music mentality, it just never really fitted my personality. Also, I had problems with the fact that all the classical stuff consisted of a repertoire of music that had been written by other people. So you were expected to play it in a certain way and it just didn’t work for me. In contrast, my Dad would work in the loft during the day and play these old vinyl records, you know, the Stones and the Doors, and the Beatles and Dylan, or whatever. That’s when I got the bug for that kind of music. Also, during my high school years I discovered Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, which was a revelation. Even though both artists were already dead they still sounded just ‘so out there’, it really moved me. MN:
At what point in your life did the devil called rock n roll win you over?NB:
For a while actually I thought I would be a jazz singer, but I re-wrote all the standards and people would say “That’s sacrilege, you can’t really do that”. That same year, I took a gap year and went over to Australia and just sat by the beach with a guitar and played melodies, and these backpackers would encourage me to take up singing my own material. So from that point I decided that I want to be a singer/songwriter. I wanted the freedom to write my own music and perform it on my own terms.MN:
Initially, did your parents expect you to carve out a career as a classical singer, and what was their reaction when you decided not to? NB:
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life as my parents are so supportive of me. I think it would have been more difficult if I would have tried to directly follow into either of their footsteps. Because they both are so good in what they do I couldn't really have bettered it in any way. So I had to pick my own path in what I was gonna do. It was a little difficult because my Mum doesn’t really know anything about pop and rock music, for example when I told her I was opening for the Counting Crows her reaction was “Oh? Who’s that?” She’s really totally removed, she didn’t even know who Joni Mitchell or U2 was! But what my Mum was really good at was identify a voice when it was really beautiful. I remember the first time she heard Patsy Cline, she could hear that that person really could sing. MN:
Obviously, when you started the journey on your chosen path it probably wasn’t all smooth sailing right from the outset. Was there ever any moment when your parents said, “Told you so” or were they supportive all the way? NB:
Well, this is where I’m a total abnormality actually because there were times when I would lose faith in myself! You know, when I was so tired from everything that I had been doing and then my parents would say “Nell, you have been born to do this, you gotta do this and keep going!” I started off with my singing career in Boston actually, because I went to university there. There are a lot of folk clubs in Boston, and I lead a kind of double life really. I lived on campus and would attend university during the day, and it was a very serious place as well – Hillary Clinton studied there - but at night I would go into Boston and play at folk clubs! Nobody knew about my two parallel lives! Later on, I moved from Boston to New York with my boyfriend I had at the time, and we had a band – some sort of electronic pop duo - and started performing there. Eventually we broke up and it was a very difficult time for me, and then 9/11 happened, which was a life-changing experience for me. That’s when I decided what I need to do is write music that moved me from my heart, and the style I leaned to was a very rootsy, organic kind of music, very blues orientated. You know, something very soulful but that still sounded powerful acoustic. So I decided to opt for a solo career and started touring all over the States, which was very exhausting, as I couldn’t hold any day job for long. One day I got an email from this stranger on MySpace, who wrote me about all these venues in Ireland he’d just been to, so I acted as my own booking agent and managed to have one show set up there. Still, I hesitated because I had no plane ticket and didn’t think it was worth throwing the little jobs that I had for a random gig in Ireland. So I rang my Dad and he advised me to try book at least two gigs over there to make it worthwhile, and after trying real hard I ended up having something like thirty gigs booked all over Ireland! It was only me with my suitcase and a guitar at all these places I’d never been before. When I called my parents in between gigs to tell them how hard it all is, they would say “Yes, but this is the life you’ve chosen, so stick at it!”MN:
Your song ‘Downtown Lullaby’ is somewhat ironic in title, as NY is known as the city that never sleeps… How does Nell Bryden relax there in between touring and composing, and to what extent does the place actually inspire your song-writing?NB:
The majority of my inspiration for songs obviously comes from New York, and I think it’s only something that you sense when you’ve been to so many different places. When you stay in NY the whole time, then you don’t actually think about what a great place it is to be there, you just take it for granted. The people, the sounds of the streets… I find that very inspiring. It’s very interesting that you picked up on the irony of the song’s title, because I hadn’t thought about the fact that NY is so busy, busy, busy. For me, it’s such an oasis really, whenever I go back there it’s the one time I get to relax. I mean when I go home to NY I still compose and write songs, but I don’t have the added stress of touring, so it does feel like time off. You know, I’m seeing my family, I’m in my own bedroom, I have all my books and can look at my familiar things. MN:
You must have met and shared the stage with numerous artists over the past few years. Is there any particular artist you’d like to perform with?NB:
Let’s see, I have some really exciting shows coming up although I haven’t announced them yet, for one I’m supporting Jools Holland and I’m very excited about that. Also, I met Richard Hawley on the Duane Eddy tour and I think he’s fantastic. There’s lots of people I’d like to hang out and play with, but people that I’ve met before that I find really inspiring are for example KT Tunstall, whom I’d met in Philadelphia where no one knew who she was! She has a Scottish accent, so I went up to here and said “Oh I’d like to go over to Scotland, can you give me some contacts?”, so she did that and it was really great of her. Then, the Counting Crows are really wonderful as well, I went on tour with them. That’s one of the things about being in the music biz, you meet real interesting people along the way. MN:
Thanks for taking some time out for this interview, Nell, and best of luck with your new album.
(Please read my gig review of Nell’s gig at the Borderline in our ‘Live reviews’ section).
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