LondonJazz News: Between your last album (Licorice Kiss/ 2009) and now, you did a standards project but didn't make an album out of it. Can you talk us through that decision?
Juliet Kelly: In the spring of 2011 I toured a new project called "Celebrating the Divas of Jazz" with the help of Jazz Services. I love jazz standards and it was my chance to perform some of my favourites from the singers who influenced me at the start of my career. Singers like Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald amongst others. The performances went down really well and what was great about it was that I found that it brought in audiences who were fairly new to jazz. I've also done several rural tours with this project and the audience then would include many who had never been to a jazz gig before.
As I'm primarily a songwriter, I also included some original songs during these shows and what was interesting and encouraging to me was that so many audience members came up to me at the end and said they didn't think they'd like jazz but really enjoyed the show - adding that they especially loved my original material. I had intended to record the project but this got me to thinking that perhaps my strength lies in writing and performing my own material. The following year, the idea for Spellbound Stories came to me. There's still a part of me that would love to record an album of standards at some point so who knows what the future will bring?!
LJN: So this time it's all aligned a bit better this time, and there IS an album. What's the story here?
JK: So fast forward to December when I had a few gigs in Greece and was staying at a beautiful hotel by a beach near Athens. I always used to take books to read when I travelled but have recently started taking my laptop instead. Instead of reading books, I tend to read websites or watch TV shows/films on my laptop. I also do far too much random, useless internet surfing!
LJN: Sounds idyllic...
JK: You're right! Whilst walking along a deserted beach I started thinking about how much I missed reading and about some of my favourite books. It was then that the idea of writing songs based on my favourite novels came to me and within 30 minutes I'd written the first song. I sang most of the tune and the lyrics into my mobile phone as I wandered along the seafront. This song became Forbidden Fruit and is inspired by Alice Walker's "The Color Purple".
LJN: Why these musicians / how did you get to know Nick Ramm?
JK: Once I'd sketched out most of the songs, I started the search for a pianist. Nick Ramm had been in one of my first bands when I first left college but we'd later lost touch. When I started thinking of the kind of pianist I'd like for the project, Nick fitted the bill with his eclectic influences and his quirky style.
LJN: Oli has played for you before?
JK: I've worked with Oli Hayhurst since 2005 - he played on my last album Licorice Kiss - and his clear, strong tone and beautifully melodic feel make him one of the best and most sought-after bass players around.
LJN: And how did you come into contact with Eddie Hick?
JK: Seb Rochford recommended Eddie Hick to me. Seb had played on my first two albums and is one of my favourite drummers on the jazz scene. I asked him who on the scene at the moment he would tip as a similar player to himself that he felt would suit my music and Eddie was one of 3 names he mentioned. I went along to see him play at a rare performance of his trio and loved his powerful, dynamic style.
LJN: Seb Rochford had a wider role, right?
JK: I contacted Seb in 2012 to ask his opinion on one of the songs One More Dance, that I'd recorded a rough demo for on my macbook. He really liked it and said he'd be happy to be involved. At the end of 2013 I successfully applied for a grant from the Arts Council to develop and tour Spellbound Stories. I was then able to bring Seb on board to help with feedback on the songs and be a general sounding board. His help was truly invaluable. I decided then to record the project and when Seb heard the rough mixes he offered to do some mixing too.
LJN: How about the ideas which got some of the other songs going?
JK: I came up with the idea to make "Ghosts" - written with Toni Morrison's ghostly figure from her novel "Beloved" in mind - a wordless song to portray the moaning presence of a lost spirit and I think Seb's mix highlights this other-wordly vibe in a subtle but effective way.
"Magic & Mystery" is inspired by "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and I wanted to represent the sound of a music box along with a twisted fairy tale vibe. I asked Nick to use this kind of sound and also used effects on my voice towards the end of the song to convey the strangeness of a magical world with a dark presence lurking just under the surface.
"All He'll Ever Need" - inspired by "The Time Traveller's Wife" is the story of a man with a genetic disease that causes him to time- travel unpredictably. I decided to go for some tardis-like sounds. I love the way it has turned out. The white noise effect coupled with other effects that Dilip Harris (who mixed 2 of the tracks on the album) added later in the mix lend a supernatural twist to this simple love song.
LJN: And can I ask about how a Kate Bush song got onto the album?!
JK: Yes, it wasn't the original plan... but after spending a whole day in the studio recording my songs, we had a little time left so I sprung this little "surprise" on the band. They hadn't seen it before and not all of them knew the song but we listened to it online a couple of times and just went for it! I did the arrangement on the spot and I'm really pleased with the way it's turned out. Although I wasn't very familiar with the song myself, I thought that if I were to do a cover it was perfect as it was a song written about a novel which also happened to be one of my favourites. I knew it was a risk covering such an iconic artist and song but I feel that the fact that none us knew it very well allowed us to take a fresh approach and I loved just going for it in the moment. We've had great feedback from audiences on our version but I guess it's a "marmite" song. People tend to love it or hate it!
LJN: Taking all the songs together, there's definitely a pattern developing here...
JK: Although I didn't realise it until much later, the novels I'd chosen all had something in common. Each one involved some element of magic, mystery and the supernatural. I tried to bring out some of these elements in the arrangements.
LJN: So it really is a personal album?
JK: Whist writing, arranging and producing the songs on the album, I tried to convey the feelings and emotions each of the novels suggested to me. One of the things I love to do most, especially whilst performing, is tell stories. This album tells the story of the stories that are personal and special to me.
Spellbound Stories will be launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 18th June. BOOKINGS
LINK: Juliet Kelly's website