Sandi Thom and Weapons of Past Destruction: An interview with the Scottish singer-songwriter
Sandi Thom is a Scottish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist born in Banff, Aberdeenshire. Along with the Arctic Monkeys, she was one of the first artists to gain critical success in 2006 with the help of the Internet. Best known for her UK number one single I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (with Flowers in My Hair), Sandi has released five studio albums with a sixth on its way for early 2016 entitled Weapons of Past Destruction.
We had a chat with Sandi about the new album and UK tour before her show at Camden’s Jazz Café on Wednesday night.
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Hi Sandi, how’s the tour going so far?
It’s going good, we’re just at the beginning of it. I’m six months pregnant so there’s some circumstances preventing me from performing how I usually would. I’m not running around stage and diving into the audience, so it’s quite a relaxed show. But it’s nice, tonight I have a young female guitar player called Carmen on stage with me and a cellist called Callum, it’s still quite upbeat and energetic, but quite eclectic.
Where would you say is the best place you’ve toured?
For the entire experience you want to do the festivals. There’s loads of people, loads of music, other bands. Some of the coolest I’ve done would be Fuji Rock, on Mount Fuji, which was awesome. The stranger the better I think.
You’ve been working with a new group of musicians on a new sound, what’s influenced that change and what can we expect tonight?
I have been working on a new record this year, my sixth album, which is self-produced. For the most part I turned back to more pop production methods of layering instruments and taking time over, it as opposed to capturing a live performance in the studio. I have actually done some of the tracks on the album like that, so four of them are the whole band with the live performance. I tend to do that with songs that are more dynamic. This album has been really interesting to make, different for me because I’ve never produced a record before. I’m only really playing that stuff now – live – for the second time. It’s sounding great so far and sounds great with the set. Tonight I’m playing through albums one to six. It’s a mish-mash really of the past ten years of my recording career.
How would you say your style has changed in terms of the kind of music you are playing now?
In the beginning I think I was leaning towards more neo-folk pop, and then I meandered into different genres with my blues album and the record I made in Nashville with the Black Crowes and Rich Robertson who produced it. That was more country influenced, made for more niche markets. This album is kind of a coming together of my pop roots and the different styles I’ve taken on board throughout the years
You’re a multi-instrumentalist yourself, but is there one instrument you particularly feel at home with?
Ironically, probably the one I play the least on stage: the piano. I could sit for hours and hours and play the piano.
Along with the Arctic Monkeys you were one of the first artists to become mainstream through the Internet. Do you think that has influenced your career quite a lot?
Yes, definitely, I mean it’s meant a lot of stories were written about me. It was definitely a crucial thing in my career to enable me to get mainstream success. I think it continues to, but now it changes quicker. What I do now I did ten years ago, but now it’s via a free app like Periscope, which we actually doing right now, streaming to a live audience.
Do you think the Internet is a good base for aspiring musicians?
Oh yeah, if you are tapped out of the Internet you are going to have problems, but at the same time it shouldn’t remove from the essence of why you are doing it, which is to make real music. I think you still have to take the time to sit in a room with a guitar and just play music for the sake of playing music.
If you could record with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
My favourite singer ever in this entire universe (other planets included) would be Eva Cassidy. If I could sing like her I would be a happy woman. If I could sing with her, it would be an amazing experience. Living legends would be Stevie Nicks. I’d retire on that!
You’ve done a cover album – is there a song you wish you had written?
November Rain. It’s such an awesome piece of music. It’s genius for me.
Earlier this week you posted a video admonishing BBC Radio 2 for not playing your new single. Can you tell us about the reasons behind that?
Just pure frustration. Because I’m independent and I’ve been at this a long time, and of course I’m pregnant, which makes me more emotional than I’d normally be. I think anyone who goes and fights the good fight and works hard and grafts away in the way they should, everyone just deserves a chance. I know there are reasons it didn’t and it’s not because of the music. I’m quite a candid person, I don’t mince my words and if you knew me in my personal life you’d see that. I’m constantly talking about things that aren’t right with this world, but they just don’t get the same coverage by the media.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think you would still have posted the video or chosen a different way of doing it?
Well no, choosing a different way of doing it would suggest it was premeditated and thought out, which it wasn’t. You do things in the spur of the moment that you may not necessarily do, had you sat and thought about it. But I do think something positive has come from it. Sometimes people don’t want to say things that challenge ideas and are too scared.
Thanks again for your time Sandi, before you go, what would be your advice to any aspiring musicians?
Don’t ever be afraid to speak your mind. Well maybe wait till later on in your career before bashing the media, but no, don’t ever be afraid to speak your mind. I think being different is cool. Be unique, I don’t think you need to be a sheep. I don’t think you should follow the herd. Be brave, be bold, be outspoken. You only live once.
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