By Martine Ehrenclou
Multi award-winning UK vocalist, songwriter and bandleader Elles Baily has powered her way to the forefront of the British blues and roots scene not just with her rich, smokey voice but with her strong songwriting chops that reveal a young artist with passion, grit and determination. She won Artist of the Year at the UK Blues Awards in both 2020 and 2021 and is nominated for the 2022 Artist of the Year by The UK Americana Awards. She’s also a nominee for Vocalist of the Year at the 2022 The UK Blues Awards. Her song “Little Piece of Heaven” from her second award-winning album Road I Call Home was co-written with Dan Auerbach and Bobby Wood and won Song of the year at the 2020 UK Americana Awards. The list goes on. And for good reason. Elles Bailey is a singular talent. Her songs ring with insight, integrity and truth.
Bailey has run her own record label Outlaw Music for the last six years. After considering going with a major label after being offered a record deal, she stayed true to her vision and released her new album through her own label. Shining in the Half Light was released on February 25, 2022.
Elles had just finished putting her almost one year-old son to bed when we talked by phone. I said, “Congratulations on your new album and on all your awards. Things are going so well for you.”
“It’s definitely been loads of amazing things going on,” Elles said. “I feel very blessed. I just announced touring with Don McLean.” She admitted to being a big fan. “American Pie is an album that’s touched every corner of the globe, hasn’t it.”
I asked her about Shining in the Half Light.
Elles said, “The album came out just a few weeks ago, and I managed to get a tour in and a big London launch and then I got COVID. So, I currently have COVID and I’m at home at the moment. I managed to get through a whole UK tour last year and not get COVID, and I just caught it right at the tail end of the album coming out.”
“Are you feeling okay?”
She admitted that it wasn’t easy but she was getting through. However, there was no shortage of excitement about her new album, upcoming UK and European tour, the tour with Don McLean, festivals, and a spot on Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping The Blues Alive at Sea cruise in August of 2022.
Curious about what it was like to record her album during the pandemic, I asked her about it.
She said, “In December 2020, I was six and a half months pregnant. It was just a really lovely experience. After not being able to play music for so long, to go into this creative space with incredible musicians. It’d been eight months since we’d properly played together, so it was like rain in a drought really.”
Elles added, “I felt really lucky because so many artists may not have been in a position to make an album. I was able to do that because the fans have been so generous during the pandemic and that me to make this album enabled. I just felt how lucky I am to be in a room with people who I know are going to make such a great album. I felt it was going to be something super special.
“It’s a great album,” I said. “Your voice is beautiful.”
Laughing, Elles said, “Thank you. Maybe that’s because I had a baby pummeling my diaphragm.”
Part dynamo and part empath, Bailey wears a lot of hats with her music and still found time and energy to be supportive to fans and other artists during the pandemic. I asked her to explain.
“I think that’s just me as a person. I felt privileged that I was able to connect with people and try and use the gifts that I have to help people, support people. I love supporting other artists, so I did a radio show during the pandemic, which was just wonderful to celebrate lots of different talents. And I think people were really actively looking for music during the last couple of years. There was a real space to grow as an artist, but also to allow people to find new music.”
Regarding the pandemic, Elles wrote a song for her new album called “Chats and Liars.” I asked her about it.
Elles said, “’Chats and Liars’ is me politically throwing punches. I don’t know how it’s been over in the states, but I felt like the arts really got a bit of a bad rap over the pandemic. They weren’t supported in a way that the arts were supporting people. That was so clear. And then as the pandemic kept on going, the support just started to dry up and the words, ‘retrain’ were used. I remember listening to a radio interview, and they’d just announced the budget that we have here. They actively said, ‘What about musicians? What are they going to do?’ And the guy just said, ‘They’re just going to have to retrain.’ And it was just like, ‘Are you joking?’”
“A lot of venues suffered here too,” I said,. “There were some independent organizations that were helping. I don’t know if you had that over in the UK.”
Elles explained. “We did have those as well. There was small, independent help. But ‘Cheats and Liars’ was directed at the government and it was just like, ‘Come on, wake up and see just how integral the arts have been to the wellbeing of the nation. ‘Chats and Liars’ was written in a fit of fury. I was so angry. I was just chatting with Ash (Ashton Tucker) who wrote the song with me, and out came ‘Chats and Liars.’ Imagine a world without music.
“We have the Music Venue Trust here, and they did so many great things,” Elles said. “And to be honest, it was the reason I was in the position. I was to make the record. I called 2020 and of 2021, ‘the year of the fan.’ It was the year that the fan was like, “I totally get that my artist is now not making any kind of live income anymore.” They totally understood, so they’d just buy all the merchandise. They’d tip on streams. They really stepped up, and it was the fans that supported the venues and donated to the Music Venues Trust that helped save hundreds of venues. So much money was raised because the fans of the music were like, “We cannot let these go.” And it wasn’t the government that did anything. It was the fans.
“There’s hope right there,” I said.
Elles continued. “Yeah. And it just shows the importance of music to people who love live music. They were like, ‘We cannot let these venues go.’ I mean, there was funding. You could apply. Some venues did get government funding, but I know so many venues that got absolutely nothing and they’ve done whatever they can to survive. There’s an amazing venue in Blackpool called the Waterloo Music Bar. And it’s run by such a lovely guy and they didn’t get any funding, and I was like, it’s such a cool rock venue. They were on the red list for so long because they were going to close.”
I asked Elles to tell me about the meaning of her album title, Shining In The Half Light.
Elles said, “It comes from the song. It was probably six weeks into the pandemic, and I was having a shower, and I quite often get ‘shower inspiration.’ I was just thinking about how for me live music has always been where I get my fix. I’ve always been out on the road and it was just the life I knew. I love going on stage. I love getting as close to the fan as possible. And then suddenly it was gone and it was like, oh, wow. Having to go cold turkey very quickly and very unexpectedly, it just got me thinking–obviously it was the same for all of the other road musicians but the same for the fans, as well. You know, I’m in a genre, the blues, the rock genre, they are fans that go out every night to watch music. They thrive on seeing live music.
“And suddenly it’s gone. And the closest thing you get is watching an artist through a screen in this dystopian world that we were living in. That’s where the song came from. But it was all of the artists and all of the entertainers and the comedians and everyone who just thought, ‘There’s no lights anymore. There’s no good sound systems, there’s no engineer.’ I thought, I’m going to do my best to spread a little bit of love in this time of complete heartbreak in a time of isolation.
“I watched so many fans not only connect with different artists, but connect with each other, and friendships were born over live streams that would never have been, had it not been for the situation that we were living in. And that’s what Shining in the Half Light is.”
“What a beautiful thing,” I said.
Elles said, “I found that inspiring. And that inspired me to keep going.”
“That’s a gift in the midst of chaos and heartbreak,” I shared.
Elles elaborated. “Exactly. I did a show in London, and I watched two of my fans, one who I know very well from the Netherlands. He started chatting with someone from Ireland, and then they actually met up and came to my show in London, and they’d met for the first time, even though they’d been talking for 18 months.” She paused. “That’s what Shining in the Half Light is all about.”
Shifting gears I said, “You’ve won a number of awards, and one for songwriting with “Little Piece of Heaven” with Dan Auerbach and Bobby Wood.
Elles replied, “It’s such an honor. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. I want to be a songwriter and write stuff that makes people feel. To win an award and to be acknowledged for songwriting is amazing. Working with Bobby Wood is kind of mind blowing.”
I asked her about her songwriting process.
Elles said, “For the last year, I don’t feel like a songwriter because I’ve been releasing an album and being a mother. That’s kind of been enough. But as soon as the record came out, I started to get ideas for songs again, and it was so immediate. It was like, I gave my brain space to allow the creative juices to start flowing again.
If I have an idea that this is going to be a bit more of a rocky song, then I do want to be in the room with a guitarist, because I feel like they’ll be able to bring a lot more to the table, because I don’t play the guitar like they do. I want to construct the song around something really cool. “The Game” was written with Will Edmonds and Ash Tucker and then “Stones” was written with Will Edmonds and Tamara Stewart. Will’s an incredible guitarist and Tamara is so great at melody. “The Game” is about my relationship with the music industry. The industry is a game, and if you want to be in it, you do have to play it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t win, if that makes sense.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “You can maintain your integrity in spite of it.”
Elles replied, “Yes. Exactly. Exactly. It’s like, I’m going to play the game, but I’m still going to be me and I’m going to succeed.”
For more information about Elles Bailey see her website here.
Listen to “The Game”