Big Peter talks to Nell Bryden
On a typically rainy Friday night in Glasgow, Peter McGee found himself in the company of the delightful Nell Bryden. The striking New York songstress was in Glasgow for a performance at the Recital Rooms, and as luck would have it, an interview had been arranged. Ms Bryden proved to be a remarkably forthcoming interviewee.
PETER MCGEE: Ms Bryden, I was hoping to wish you a warm welcome to Glasgow, but the elements have worked against us!
NELL BRYDEN: It's a bit of a change from the dust storms of Iraq! Really though, Glasgow is a city that is dear to my heart because my last name is never recognised by anybody back home, and my dad said "when you get to Glasgow, look up the phone book!" Amazing!
PETER MCGEE: Funny you should say that, I went to school with a girl named Bryden.
NELL BRYDEN: Yeah! And they're nowhere else in the world! It's awesome!
PETER MCGEE: Absolutely! Now, moving onto your latest album, "Second Time Around". It sweeps gently through the Americana field.
NELL BRYDEN: They've never had a clue - "she's a little country, a little jazz," - and then I come over here and "it's Americana!" - brilliant!
PETER MCGEE: What is also felt on the album is an old-fashioned sense of elegance and grace, a portrayal of the individual, and it works very well. Could you sum up what the album means to you?
NELL BRYDEN: Emotionally or sonically?
PETER MCGEE: In any way at all.
NELL BRYDEN: I think it means quite a few different things! I think it taught me to accept that I am a singer determined by song. I will never be a jazz singer, or a country singer, or a blues singer. That was a wonderful realisation for me. Also, I had a new approach for how to go into the studio. I had been on the road and practising with a lot of different musicians. Recording tactics have changed quite a bit from what people did in the 50s - back then they really had a live approach, just go into a room and it would sound live. I wanted to get that feel for the album. It's a great album and I'm thrilled with it, but I'm viewing it as a stepping stone and hope it will open a lot of doors for me. As far as I'm concerned, the best is yet to come. I think that there's always room for improvement, but I'm proud of the work I've done so far.
PETER MCGEE: Who would you say has had the strongest influence on you as an artist, be it a family member or a singer, a writer or a painter?
NELL BRYDEN: From a family perspective, my family is very artistic. My mother was a classical singer, and my stepfather is a professional flute player, both working musicians. My mom was constantly touring when I was a child, when I was six months old she deliberately took me out and held me at a concert which means I took my first stage bow at six months old. She was very passionate about music and she shared a community spirit with a lot of other musicians and appreciated the hard work that they put in. I was always surrounded by that, and I adored my mother. I was singing scales even before I could talk; my dad said I wanted to be just like my mother. She was often away, and I realise now that the touring life does keep you away from home, but she was a huge influence on me as far as picking up an instrument. I finally settled on my own route. My father is a painter - clearly the reason why the painting was in the attic - he needed the wall space because his oil paintings would be drying out! He is the most disciplined man I know. Every day he wakes up to paint, and if he doesn't paint then it's not a good day. When he paints he's there for every hour of light in the day.
As far as musical influences go, the early country stars like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, when Elvis Presley did his Sun recordings, the age when music was crossing over boundaries. It wasn't just country and western, it wasn't just r'n'b, it was all of those. I love American music from that era. Also soul singers, like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, when they sing something, their heart is 100% behind it. A lot of times you hear modern music and it's so tuned, pro-tooled and tweaked that you lose the actual soul and intention behind it. Then I have a lot of influence outside of country and soul. Maria Callas was an incredible opera singer, and Janis Joplin was an incredible personality, so vulnerable and tough at the same time - a woman of contradictions. Jimi Hendrix saved my life, his song "Little Wing" got me through tough times at high school. I feel I have been very Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald had an incredible voice. Did you know that I opened for KT Tunstall?
PETER MCGEE: Yes, I read about that!
NELL BRYDEN: I wouldn't say she has been an influence musically, but when I saw her play she was so professional, you could just tell she was a star 10 years in the making - she has put in her time. That is what really appeals to me, when people go their own way and build up support through word of mouth and their talent and determination. You can hide all sorts of things in the studio, but you can't manufacture experience.
PETER MCGEE: You're not long back from Iraq. Was it your idea to visit the troops?
NELL BRYDEN: It wasn't. I've never been for the war, I've always been against the Bush administration, what we're doing over there is very complicated, in an area of the world that is impossible to simplify. I have always supported the troops, though, and thought that they probably were a lot more sensitive to the situation than we were giving them credit for. Having said that, I'm a musician and don't feel that I am at all qualified to comment on politics. A lot of people outwith my fan base mistook what I did as a political move. It wasn't.
I went to SXSW in Austin, Texas - where I got my '46 Gibson - and my manager was saying "how do we think outside the box?" I'm always overseas playing shows, so how do we maintain the momentum? "I'm going to look into the Armed Forces." I'd never even thought of that!
I had a band that I was touring with this summer, and they all pulled out of the trip just a few days before we were due to fly over, so I had to put together a new band. The band that I've put together really saved me. We went over there and we were all so impressed by the troops, and an incredible belief in democracy. It never occurred to me that being a singer could allow me to support the troops. Frankly, I didn't expect to get as much out of it as I did. It was so gratifying. I want nothing more in life than to be out there singing for people, and the more people that show up to see me, the better my life gets. To be able to give back to the world for that was really awesome, that really made a difference for me.
PETER MCGEE: Ms Bryden, thank you for your time!
Author: Peter McGee
November 11 2008
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