The legendary singer / songwriter returns with her stunning new album ‘The Soul Tapes’. Ratha Gud gets the scoop…
Billie Ray Martin a warm and soulful welcome to DMCWORLD. Where in the world are you right now?
Ciao bella, I’m in Milano, Italia.
What is the best piece of new music you have heard today?
Funny thing, I walked into the local hip record shop and Electribe 101 was produced from behind the counter. But also they had a new pop group 7 inch single and a new Genesis P. Orridge 7 inch called ‘Rebellion Is Over’.
Congrats on your incredible new album ‘The Soul Tapes’, you come from a Soulful / electronic music background what inspired you to write this classic Soul, Rhythm & Blues album?
It was in the cards really. I was inspired when I met with Jon Tiven in New York. His and Sally’s ability as songwriters, and the ease with which we wrote a whole bunch of songs. Because I’m a songwriter in the traditional sense of the word, it was easy for me, because that is what they do too. And to do a Soul record, you don’t really need a reason. It was, let’s say, on my list of priorities.
The album was produced by the hugely acclaimed John Tiven whose credits include B. King and Wilson Pickett and more, how did you both get together and what was he like to work with?
He, and his wife Sally, are such calm people to work with. They just know what they’re doing. We were initially put in contact by my publisher in NYC and that’s how that happened. Jon has a great sense of humor and comes out with bits of lyrics out of the blue, which cracked me up all the time. We had fun and it was easy with musicians like this, to just record and album in four days, like we did. It was the mixing and all that stuff, which took so long. But Jon also recorded a lot of overdubs and new instruments when I’d gone back to London at the time.
You recorded the album in New York’s famous 900 Broadway Studio, any funny stories to share that occurred whilst making the album?
The funniest thing that happened is that I didn’t want to sing ‘Skin On The Wheel’. I hated the song, I was jet lagged and just wanted to get it all over with. I didn’t feel my voice was right for the song. So everyone was cooing and saying: “Just sing it once”. I replied: “I’ll sing it once, and once only”. And that was the take and I love it, and love the song now. I sound really pissed off on the song as I sang it with anger and … well, being pissed off. And all the stuff about ‘I don’t like it’ at the end, and ‘come back’, that was all improvised… Everyone was laughing in the studio.
You are self releasing this project and have funded it by running a Pledge Music campaign, how did you find the process and would you recommend going down this route to other musicians as opposed to signing with a label? What are the pro’s and con’s per se?
I can recommend it, but you have to realise you will be an administrator from there on. Not only to manage the pledge campaign but to then run a label, release the records, manufacture, pay bills, fill out forms. That’s all you are ever going to do. If you’re happy with that… go ahead. You also need a good community and social media presence to push your campaign and support you. Without that, it’s difficult. Having said all that, I’m having some fun with it too.
You’ve also chosen a couple of fantastic classics from The Rolling Stones and Anne Peebles to cover on the album, why these 2 artists and choice of songs in particular?
Rolling Stones to me are gods. That’s that. Ann Peebles is god as well. Many gods. ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ was one of the first songs I ever sang live, many years ago in Berlin and the entire outdoor arena stood up from their seats and applauded. That stuck in my mind because from that moment on I knew there was no going back. ‘One Way Street’ always spoke to me as a song in such a big way. It seems many of us can relate to the lyrics.
Talk us through a couple of your favourite songs from the album and their meaning…
‘The Long and Lonely Fall’: I think it really works on every level. It’s mellow and at the same time delivers the meaning, and it’s quite sad really. The musicians all did a great job. And it’s very ‘soul’ in it’s meaning; where the singer, in this case myself, describes something unavoidable they go through. Where there is no choice, no control. It’s what Soul is all about.
And I guess ‘One Way Street’ could be another favourite. Again, no choice. Ann Peebles and Don Bryant are such good writers and I picked this as one of my favourite Ann Peebles songs and chose it as the cover version. I wasn’t sure whether I could add something and it was a difficult vocal for me to sing, as it’s not quite my key. But in the end I felt moved, and that’s what it’s about.
What turned you on to the classic Soul sounds of Hi-Records and the like, ever been to Memphis?
When I was a teenager, in Berlin, I walked into a record shop and the ‘Best of’ album of Ann Peebles was playing. It was ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, and I remember just being mesmerised and wanting to know who this was. I bought the album and started exploring. AL Green of course was next on the list.
And I have been to Memphis twice. Once to stalk everybody, and to ask them if they would work with me on my album ’18 Carat Garbage’, which they did in the end. And the second time to go there and record that.
How does the new release compare to your last album 18 Carat Garbage’ and what did you set out to musically achieve this time?
No electronic music this time. Just pure soul. The songwriting is simpler, more direct in some places and at the same time it’s typical dark, moody BRM.
You’ve just released the first single from the album ‘Strongheaded Woman’, what’s it all about and what was the idea behind the video?
The song is about my time in Las Vegas and what i perceived to be a possible narrative that could happen there, or maybe could have happened in the older Vegas, which no longer exists.
It’s about common people, addicted to slot machines, meeting, falling in love, or so it seems. Then the guy just reveal themselves to be the cheap sleazebag he is, and drags the woman to a drive through Chapel to get married. She dumps him straight after and runs back to the gambling tables.
In the video it was either: Let’s go to Vegas and shoot that sort of thing, or: Let’s see what can be done with me just acting it out and acting nutty and angry and smashing a guitar. So I had the idea to have two of the people in the band to do the same. They just smash the s..t out of their instruments.
So you’ve got some live shows coming up to support the album, what have you got in store for us and where can we see you play?
On the 20th May at the Jazz Cafe London and on the 7th May at Hoochiecoochie in Newcastle. I am waiting for news on other dates. We are a full live band and we will play the whole album as well as a couple of older tracks from ‘Garbage’ mostly.
Musically, what has been the biggest bump in the road for you and what has been your biggest achievement to date?
It’s all bumps, some bigger, some smaller. I don’t want to focus on old bumps. Let’s focus on new heights!!
As far as achievement. Just to keep going. I’m a goer.
Who dead or alive would Billie Ray Martin most like to make a collaboration with?
Ron Trent. King Britt. Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton. Daniel Lanois. Brian Eno.
What part do you most enjoy about your musical career, writing and recording, playing live on stage or DJing?
All of it. DJing has provided a great outlet for me, instant feedback from the crowd. This is very rewarding. To convince crowds with my sound is just great.
Other than that I enjoy all of it equally. I just realised that I am a good producer, so that’s a nice thing to know, that I have good ears and can pull an entire album off as a producer.
You’re very busy on the road with Dj gigs and singing.. and according to your Facebook posts, you don’t have a lot of luck with flights and airports do you?! What’s your top tip for surviving airports?
Manchester airport security is mental. The security procedures are tougher now and you have to add an hour to your journey because of it. I have missed flights because of body searches and security questions asked. No more splashing Chanel No. 5 around whilst casually strolling around the Duty Free shop. Just running after airplanes.
Who are some of the dance producers cutting it for you right now?
Ron Trent, Severino, Jakobin and Pelatroni.
The Berlin scene is still well and truly kicking it, where does Billie go to hang out?
At home, in bed.
A birdie tells us Electribe 101 are celebrating 25 years this year. What have you got planned to celebrate?
I am planning a re-release of the album but am still looking for a label. It’s a triple CD and triple Vinyl with lots of unreleased material and an unreleased album to follow as well.
Finally, what else have you coming up this year for us to look forward to?
I have written a play about the last months of Oscar Wilde in Paris and that will be put to Electronic Music. It’s a bit of an undertaking and I’m still talking to people to co-produce and bring it to the stage. So that’ll take a while to realise. Meanwhile I plan to record my new album which will be house.
Many thanks Billie and good luck with the album!
Thank you. I really enjoyed these questions.
Billie Ray Martin ‘The Soul Tapes’ album will be released on May 13th 2016 on Sonnenstahl Records.
Billie Ray Martin ‘Strongheaded Woman’ single is out now.