Interview: Singer-Songwriter Nell Bryden

Published

Mina Green

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Nell Bryden is a New York singer-songwriter who’s returning the UK once again to bring her particular brand of anthemic pop across the country. Coming from an artistic background – her parents are a painter and opera singer – Nell Bryden brings powerful vocal talent to a superhuman number of gigs. Having travelled 300,000 miles to play 1,400 shows over the past 10 years, Nell came to Glasgow again on October 15th.

Mina Green caught her before playing the Glasgow’s Broadcast to ask her about her background, her relationship with Scotland and the inspirations for her new album:

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How are you enjoying your UK tour so far?

Well, this one is different from most other tours; I’m heavily pregnant at the moment, seven and a half months. The whole tour was set up before I was pregnant, but I wanted to honour the tour and wanted to keep going. We’re taking six weeks for the tour with two or three shows a week and my husband will drive me to the show and I’ll sing and then go home and sleep! One of the things I had to figure out was how to hold a guitar with a baby bump, because I couldn’t really bounce around a lot, but if I’m sitting on a stool and I’m supported then it’s ok and my band have been doing all of the bouncing around now.

 

How do Glasgow audiences compare to audiences from other countries?

I love Glasgow. It was one of the first places I started out playing shows. My keyboard player is from a small town outside of Glasgow, and performing there is great and they’re always the best shows. People in Scotland are so much up for live shows, so much less reserved than other places.

 

Who is would you say is your favourite Scottish artist and why?

KT Tunstall. I opened for her in America, and she gave me the coffeehouse circuit in Scotland and set me up with friends and showed me other places I should check out and I met all these wonderful friends because of her. It was great running into her again during the Jools Holland tour, she is such a true professional. It was the first time I got sense of, here is a woman who has immersed herself in the life and life on tour and worked so hard for what she has.

 

As someone who has been classically trained, how do you feel this background helped you develop into the musician you are today?

My mother is classical soprano. She would perform with me in her belly when she was eight and a half months pregnant. I toured with her and we went all around America and South America. I adored my mother growing up and I tried to imitate her singing skills, so it was clear I wanted to go into music from a very young age, I just wasn’t sure what kind of music I wanted to go into. I wanted to go into jazz for a while but obviously it didn’t really suit the fact that I wanted to write my own material.

 

Coming from a musical and artistic background, how did your parents play a role in nurturing your musical interest?

I was lucky because they were both artists. They divorced and my Mum married a professional flute player, and my dad married a dancer. It was a very unusual lifestyle, but there was nothing more validating than having your parents say that you’ve been doing this since birth. They understood how difficult it could be as an artist. My dad said to me: ‘Security is an illusion, you could lose it tomorrow’. If you have been given a gift, and you have the desire and the discipline, why wouldn’t you think that that is your purpose?

 

Do you write all your own lyrics and how much importance do you place on lyrics in the creation of a song?

I do, yeah. I do some collaboration with other people; I like the different energies you get from co-writing.  I think the melody and the lyrics are both equally important, I place a huge amount of value on lyrics. I have more of a tendancy to think about music and feeling, rather than just placing emphasis on the production and melody. I was an English Lit major so words really matter, for me it would be impossible to divorce the music and melody. When I’m writing, certain words for me suggest certain melodies, it all has to marry and work together. Sometimes I have a lyric idea, get out guitar and see where it goes. Other times I think of a melody and the lyrics come after.

 

Many have described your voice to be a charming hybrid of Annie Lennox and Dusty Springfield, who would you say is your most influential female singer/songwriter and why?

There isn’t just one, because there are so many styles of music. Patsy Cline is a great country singer. There’s Billie holiday, she died so long ago now, but she wore her heart on her sleeve and with every song she completely meant it. That’s the defining thing for me, that they are really honest. She was emotionally powerful but understated. Annie has a powerful voice but powerful in a different way, People like this, Aretha Franklin as well, don’t just rely on being a great singer, they would live and die for the music and that’s what I find really inspiring.

 

How would you describe your new album, ‘Wayfarer’ and in what way do you consider yourself to be traveller?

A traveller, that’s exactly it. The word means someone who wanders. It’s the idea of being able to use music as this passport to see the world and all these different places. I remember sitting out in my room and thinking how do I get this out into the world? The next thing I know I’m in the UK setting up tours for myself. This lifestyle is a wonderful way of being a nomad. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages. I had this Peter Pan-esque life while all of my friends were settling down, getting married and having babies. I was still living in a ground hog day kind of world. I’ve had more adventures in a half life than most people do, like I’ve seen more of Scotland than many people in London. There are people in Scotland that don’t venture beyond their own town, I’ve been to Aberdeen and Inverness and I started out in Glasgow. When I was first travelling in Glasgow, my dad told me to look in the phone book, he said it’s probably the last time you’ll see a Bryden listed. I have Scottish heritage, by marriage and by blood.

 

‘Wayfarer’ is upbeat, riveting and catchy, how does this album differ from your previous work?

Well the last album is quite dark. I was writing about the alopecia and 9/11; it was lyrically dark. Life has developed since then and I feel I have more of a satisfying, emotionally balanced life. As a songwriter your songs are like snapshots of your life, they’re autobiographical, like sending postcards to yourself from a particular moment in time. ‘Wayfarer’ feels upbeat about life. It’s a happy pop production, channelling people like Fleetwood Mac, and it’s a fun quirky take on pop music.

 

You decided to produce this album as a double disc, with a produced version and an acoustic version, why did you feel this was a good way of presenting the album?

I got to the end of the album and my husband said in the living room one day when I was just playing with my guitar that the songs sound so different when they’re stripped back and they’re more about lyrics. Songs go through so many life changes until it’s more about production and there are so many more ways to see and value a song. So I decided to produce a double disc, one produced and one with me and just my guitar so people had both options of listening to the album. It was like doing covers of my own songs. For example, I love how you can take Trent Reznor’s ‘Hurt’ and Johnny Cash did his version and it was a totally different take, you can then experience the lyrics and melody in a way you never appreciated before.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

The number one thing is that music is constantly changing. Big labels control a huge amount of music marketing; things like the X Factor have a huge muscly marketing push, but if you’re outside of that world you have no choice but to go out and form our own destiny. You can’t wait in your bedroom. Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday were both discovered by John Hammond when he’d see them play, but that kind of thing doesn’t exist anymore, but it levels the playing field. You have to just go out there and find a way. There is only one way and that’s going out and figuring it out. It’s trial and error. For me playing live was what did it. That’s quite an old fashioned way and I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but you have to do it if you want to be heard.

Nell Bryden is still touring the UK and her new album ‘Wayfarer’ is on shelves now!