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16th October 2014
Having already notched up an impressive array of accolades and critical acclaim for her guitar playing, singing and compositional abilities since the release of her stylistically diverse debut album, 'Like No Other', in 2011, Bradford-based Chantel McGregor has burst onto the music scene in emphatic fashion. However, although crowned Guitarist of the Year in the British Blues Awards for the past two years, it seems her affiliation with said genre doesn't actually reflect the multi-faceted nature of her own eclectic tastes and the sonic heterogeneity inherent in her artistry. Blues is but one constituent part of a much wider musical canvas that she's painted, and continues to paint, with a whole range of mood-driven divergences. And, as she explained to Metal Discovery, her forthcoming sophomore album will provide people with a hit of organic, stripped-down rock, including a touch of prog and acoustic-based minimalism, with no mention of blues at all...
METAL DISCOVERY: I gather you’ve been alternating between touring and recording the new album…
(Chantel McGregor on delimiting and misleading genre tags)
"...in one way, it’s wonderful because you’re accepted by a bunch of people that think that you’re great because they like blues. And then, in other ways, you go, no, I don’t just want to be one thing; I like playing rock… that’s probably where my heart lies, is rock."
Chantel McGregor in The Engine Shed, Lincoln, UK, 16th October 2014
Photograph copyright © 2014 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: So has it been easy to switch between those two mindsets?
CHANTEL: It’s been exhausting switching between the two because I’ve spent the last 3-4 weeks travelling between London and Bradford, and then Bradford and everywhere. So, this last week, I got the train up from London, last Thursday, to Liverpool… did Liverpool, did Kent and then drove to Luxembourg, then drove to Holland, then got the ferry back, and then this week, and then I’m back down in London again.
MD: For a bit more recording.
CHANTEL: Yeah, for three days.
MD: Alternating between those two, has one fed the other? Has being on the road given you a bit of extra impetus in the studio?
CHANTEL: Do you know, it’s the other way round. It’s really strange how it works because the studio is so clinical, you know, it’s a very clinical process where everything has to be perfect and you have to think about everything really deeply. So then you switch to the live thing, it’s really weird because, live, you just go out and it’s emotion that you’re playing with, not thinking about what you’re playing. So when I’ve gone from doing studio back to doing the live, I’m now constantly thinking, and consciously thinking, about what I’m playing and how I’m singing things.
MD: So a bit more precise, live?
CHANTEL: Yeah, it’s an interesting way of doing it.
MD: It’s been three years since the first album appeared so was it a conscious decision to get your name out there more, through a whole load of live shows, before recording and releasing anything else?
CHANTEL: No, I just didn’t have time! [Laughs] I didn’t have time to write it, that was basically it. I was touring so much, I didn’t have time to sit at home and write. So I’ve been nagged and nagged, and I knew I had to do the next album, so it was like, right, I need to make a conscious effort to sit down and write, and lock myself away and do it. So I gave myself ten weeks before I went on holiday and I was like, “right, it’s got to be done in ten weeks.” So I wrote ten songs in ten weeks, they’re all on the album, and that’s how it panned out.
MD: ‘Like No Other’ has a nicely balanced blend of rock, pop, folk and blues…
CHANTEL: Yeah, a bit of everything.
MD: …but I gather you’re adopting a more stripped-down rock approach with the new one?
CHANTEL: Yes, absolutely. I’ve been listening to a lot of more stripped-down rock bands, really, like Royal Blood, The Black Keys, Rival Sons, and stuff like that. And I just love it; there’s something more passionate and raw about it than the polished thing. The first album, I was happy with it and everything, and I’m still really proud of it, but it was a very clean album. It’s not as rock as I am now. I’ve evolved, I’m three years older. Three years more experience in the world and three years on the road so, you know…
MD: So this one will be less diverse than the first album?
CHANTEL: Yeah, a lot less. There’s a couple of acoustic songs but the majority of it is heavy rock.
MD: A lot of rock and metal bands have a couple of acoustic numbers on their albums, anyway.
CHANTEL: Yeah, just check out Extreme! [Laughs]
MD: Exactly, yeah. So, was the first album’s title supposed to be a self-reflective statement of artistic individuality?
CHANTEL: Not really, no. I literally went through the album and thought I could call it ‘Fabulous’, but it sounds really pretentious… [Laughs]
MD: ‘Cat Song’ would’ve been good!
CHANTEL: Yeah, although everyone always asks me, “what is ‘Cat Song’ about?”… what do you think it’s about? Cats! So, yeah, I went through it and thought this is the only song that strikes me as a title. But, yeah, I’m doing the same thing with the second one; I’m going, “what the hell do I call this album?!”
MD: I’ve read too much into the first album’s title then, obviously!
CHANTEL: [Laughs]
MD: Image-wise, you haven’t succumbed to any kind of rock stereotypes, you just do your thing, wearing dresses…
MD: Even though you’re not now!
CHANTEL: Not right now! I will be changing into a dress.
MD: So has it always been important for you to forge an identity away from any kind of genre clichés?
CHANTEL: A bit, yeah… it sounds like I’m selling out now, doesn’t it, although with the new rockier music, I’m starting to get a more rocky image. So I’m starting to wear more black dresses and corsets, and things like that, just to reflect it a little bit. I was looking at different people who are in rock, women in rock that wear dresses, and I was looking at Courtney Love when she was in the nineties and stuff, and she’s wearing flowery dresses! And I’m thinking, I could do that, like I’m already doing but, I don’t know, it’s a weird thing...
MD: So your image might change depending on where you’re at musically at any one time?
CHANTEL: Yeah, it does, it’s weird.
MD: You’re using the same producer as the first album, Livingstone Brown…
MD: So what’s special about your working relationship that drew you back to working with him again?
CHANTEL: Well, I’ve known him since I was fifteen. We were working together back then, so I learnt a lot from him in the studio, and we just have a really great working relationship. I mean, when you’re working with a producer, you have to know them inside and out. When you’re spending twenty four hours a day with them, you’re living in the same house as them, and you’re eating every meal with them, you’ve got to get on with them. And you’ve got to know them and know what they’re going to think, and how they’re going to take things - if you say something to them, are they going to take it offensively? And that’s how it is with us; we can say anything to each other and it’s fantastic.
MD: So you have a very good personal relationship as well?
MD: I’ve read you’ve got pretty eclectic music tastes, so would you say that kind of musical diversity manifests naturally in the music you write yourself?
CHANTEL: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, my tastes, I love everything. It’s just weird how much music I listen to! I listen to modern dubstep type stuff right through to Lady Gaga, through to guitar stuff like Richie Kotzen and metal… I love metal. And then modern stuff like Royal Blood; I’m obsessed with Royal Blood at the moment. And I’m really liking the new Hoosiers album, so… [Laughs]
MD: Marvellous! Music, like any art, is there to feed and/or create your emotions, so I think if you limit yourself to one style then that’s kind of delimiting what mood you might be in or what mood you want to feel by listening to something.
CHANTEL: Yeah, absolutely.
MD: So I think it’s weird when people are tunnel vision with one genre.
MD: You’ve dabbled with some heavier stuff, on tracks like ‘Caught Out’ with, dare I say, some metal inspired palm-muted riffing…
MD: And you’ve said you have an affinity with the metal genre?
CHANTEL: I have. I remember being a kid and learning the whole of ‘The Black Album’ and I love Iron Maiden, I love Metallica… I love big, heavy metal/rock bands. We went to see Iron Maiden and it was like, “wow, I want to do that; I want a monster called Eddie that runs on stage with me!” You know, I’ve loved that sort of music from being a kid. One of the first albums we had in the car was a compilation called ‘Pure Soft Metal’ and, yeah, it was Mr. Big and stuff like that…
MD: Well, Billy Sheehan, an amazing bassist.
CHANTEL: Yeah, and Mr Kotzen was in it for a little while… not for too long, though.
MD: You seem to be constantly referred to in the press as a blues guitarist…
CHANTEL: [Laughs] Yeah…
MD: …so are you comfortable being defined within genre parameters, because your musical palette is obviously a lot wider reaching than the blues?
CHANTEL: Yeah… in one way, it’s wonderful because you’re accepted by a bunch of people that think that you’re great because they like blues. And then, in other ways, you go, no, I don’t just want to be one thing; I like playing rock… that’s probably where my heart lies, is rock. I love it, it’s great, it’s good fun, it’s what I’ve done since I was twelve at jam nights. But, you know, the blues is great but it’s restrictive. We play a couple of blues festivals and you’ll get people walking out, going, “well, it’s not blues, it’s not twelve-bar… too much distortion… it’s not about blues things like the wife leaving and the dog dying.” And it’s like, yeah, I’m a twenty-odd year old girl, I’m not going to be singing about the dog dying and my wife leaving!
CHANTEL: I’m not that sort of writer and I don’t want to just be blues or one thing.
MD: With the blues stuff you do, do you see yourself as part of a movement away from traditional blues, in trying to progress the genre into a more contemporary, forward-thinking dynamic?
CHANTEL: Do you know, I don’t even see it as that, really. Well, have a listen tonight and see how bluesy you think it is! [Laughs] It’s one of those difficult things, and it seems to be what other people have labelled it as blues. I’ve never, ever set out and said, “I am blues”. It’s weird. Being labelled the blues thing, it’s great because you’re part of the community but it’s also horrible because people then go, “oh, it’s blues”. And people who like rock music will go, “oh, it’s blues, it’s too bluesy”. And it’s like: “Have you been to a gig? Because you would’ve heard it’s not at all blues”; and they’re like: “Oh, I know, but I’ve heard it’s blues.” And it’s like … [Laughs]
MD: The album itself is not a blues album per se.
MD: I gather you’re into stuff like Opeth and Porcupine Tree…
CHANTEL: Oh, I am.
MD: And Steven Wilson’s solo stuff I heard as well…
CHANTEL: Ohhhh, I’m obsessed with it!
MD: Do you always like to challenge your listening sensibilities with genuinely progressive music?
CHANTEL: Yes, I absolutely love prog. It’s just bloomin’ wonderful.
MD: There are two types of prog for me – generic prog and genuine prog.
CHANTEL: Yeah, there’s the traditional prog.
MD: Exactly, which is not progressive now, it’s bands copying bands who were progressive once upon a time.
CHANTEL: Yeah. I love Opeth… I’m more into the more mellow, songwritery… more the stuff they’re doing now. I’m not into the vomiting down the microphone noise! Not a massive fan of that! But the other stuff, the prog stuff, is great, I love it. And Steven Wilson is just god to me, he’s amazing. What a man! His production, his voice, his playing, his writing…
MD: Do you like Blackfield as well?
CHANTEL: Love it. Absolutely love it. And what was the other one?... Storm Corrosion.
MD: With Mikael Akerfeldt.
CHANTEL: Yeah, that album is so bonkers it’s brilliant. I love it.
MD: You’ve won Guitarist of the Year in the British Blues Awards for two consecutive years, which must be quite an honour but, again, it’s defining you as a blues player…
CHANTEL: Well, the way that I see that, to be honest, and I don’t even consider it as a blues thing this one, I see it as a really nice thing because it’s industry nominated and then it’s public vote. So it’s kind of a nod from the industry that I’m doing alright… “We like what you’re doing, you’re doing alright.” And then, because it’s public vote, people are voting and they’re thinking enough about you to be able to say, “we want you to win because we like what you’re doing.” And, for me, that’s a really lovely thing for people to do, so I just feel really thankful for that.
MD: Hopefully the same people also read Metal Hammer and vote for you in their end of year polls!
CHANTEL: [Laughs] Yeah, it would be nice!
MD: Is the pressure now on to win that for a third year? Or would it be good not to win that again to move away from the blues thing?
CHANTEL: It’s one of those things, I never expect to win anything because, if you don’t win, you’re not disappointed. So when I got nominated it was a lovely surprise and when I won… I was in Spain, actually, on holiday, drinking a beer, when I found out I’d won. And somebody was there so they went and accepted it for me, and it was just a nice surprise. You know, they don’t tell you beforehand and stuff so I was sat there, thinking, well, nobody’s told me – have I won, have I not won? What’s going on? Nowt’s on Facebook, nowt on Twitter. I think I got through about three beers just waiting to find out!
CHANTEL: It was like, “arghhhhh!”
MD: So thoroughly pissed by the time you did find out!
CHANTEL: Pretty much, yeah! It was a good job it wasn’t a video speech, put it that way!