9th October 2015 will see the release of one of the best rock albums to come out this year. Interestingly, it is not being released by any major label and it comes from a guitarist who you do not see on the cover of every magazine. Nonetheless, that guitarist has achieved musical success which some of us can only dream of. She has won Guitarist of the Year twice from the British Blues Awards and is nominated once again for the year 2015. What is more exciting is that she is the first women ever to win that award. She tours and tours and tours; with her own band but she also appeared on Joe Bonamassa‘s UK tour, twice.
Chantel McGregor, also known as “the Yorkshire queen of blues“, will be releasing her sophomore full-length, entitled Lose Control. She might be the queen of blues but her latest studio effort is her heaviest so far and one which will appeal to many hard rockers, whether you like the heavier grungy elements, classic rock or the mellower stuff. Trust me, this album is definitely worth a spin (and numerous repeats).
Chantel took some time off her busy schedule to talk to me about her upcoming album, setting up her own record label, Tis Rock Music, and her experience in the music industry so far – it’s not all pretty and shiny working in the music industry as you may think, especially if you are a woman. But let’s put the spotlight on Chantel and let her tell us herself below.
Dom: How are you doing? I see that your UK tour starts tomorrow.
Chantel McGregor: Yeah, tomorrow! Yeah. I had to think about that… [Laughs].
Dom: You have a lot of dates coming up, don’t you?
Chantel: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy! We’ve got the UK for the next couple of months and then Europe for a month and back to the UK. So yeah, it’s going to be really good.
Dom: You seem to be playing a lot of small palces. There’s quite a few towns I’ve never heard of on your tour dates.
Chantel: I’ve never heard of them either. They’re quite small and I think it’s quite nice because you kinda get to see different places, you know. It’s nice going in and doing just the cities, London and Manchester and things but it’s nice to go out to different places and just go ‘Ah! This is pretty cool!’
Dom: Yeah, there are people there as well.
Chantel: Yeah! And they tend to get really busy as well because these people, they do want to go out and do things. They don’t have the big cities so it’s really cool.
Dom: After that you’re heading to Europe for more dates. Looks like you will be very busy right until Christmas time.
Chantel: Yeah, it goes till Christmas and then I can just chill. It’s going to be a nice peaceful Christmas. [Laughs]
Dom: So, Lose Control is coming out in October via Tis Rock Music. That’s your own record label if I’m correct? How did the idea of setting up a label come about?
Chantel: It is, yeah. Well, it kind of came because I was getting a lot of record industry people saying ‘ah you should do this, that, change that, you should change how you work, you should change what you are’ and I was like ‘NO!’. That’s the way I want to play and I’m happy with that, I can wear a dress on stage. So I kinda just kept that up and just said ‘okay, I will create my own record label’ [with which] I can put out music that I want to put out. You know, wear what I want to wear and market it how I want to market it.
Dom: You’re doing your own thing. That’s how it should be.
Chantel: Yeah, it’s good fun.
Dom: Your biography states that you were told by major labels that “girls don’t play guitar like that”. Nonetheless, you continued and did your own and achieved great success in music. How did you deal with such misogynistic treatment? Do you still have such experiences nowadays?
Chantel: Yep! [Laughs] Yep, funnily enough! I think it’s one of these things that unfortunately any industry that you’re in, whether it’s business or music or art or whatever, there’s always going to be people that think that girls shouldn’t do that because it’s not traditional or that’s not the way or whatever. And you know what? That to me is absolutely crazy because there is no opportunity for me [to meet them even] half-way there. Yeah, I’ve got small hands [for guitar playing], but you know… [Laughs]. So, to me, it’s okay, I’m going to prove them wrong and I’m going to do my thing and I’m going to carry on playing and enjoy it and, you know, just do it my way. So that’s kinda why I set up the label and I carried on by pushing it.
But yeah, it’s still the case. I mean, I still go to guitar shops and they will say ‘who taught you to play this coz you’re a girl’…
Dom: That’s insane. It’s the 21st Century and we’re supposedly all so advanced and you get people like that.
Dom: You were the first woman to win Guitarist of the Year by the British Blues Awards and you are nominated again for 2015. That’s amazing and I congratulate you!
Chantel: Yeah it was a nice surprise. I was the first to be nominated and the first to win so I was like ‘Woooow, this is pretty cool!’. Yeah, it was a nice surprise.
Dom: That’s all amazing. But…don’t you think it took them a damn long time to vote for a woman?
Chantel: [Laughs] Again, it’s the way of the world! It’s always going to be the case but, you know, there are a lot of great female guitarists out there and I think people are starting to listen to it a bit. There’s always been women guitarists like Jennifer Batten. But now there’s more of it which is brilliant. Really cool.
Dom: Definitely. So, back to your album, Lose Control. You mentioned that you are interested in Southern Gothic literature, artwork and media. How has True Detective and True Blood influenced you? What role did it with this new album?
Chantel: It was kind of imperative because I take a lot of my inspiration from visual stuff like art or television, films, things like that. Probably because it’s easier. I don’t know. To me it’s something I can get immersed in a telly series and then…
Chantel’s pet cat visited us at this moment.
Chantel: So yeah, I find it very easy to immerse myself in a telly show or series with a character and then relate to the character and you know get underneath the skin of how they are feeling and put myself in their situations and then I write about it. It’s a really weird way of writing but I find it really easy to write that way. So, that’s how I like doing it.
Dom: What do you think of season 2 of True Detective?
Chantel: I haven’t seen it yet! I’m terrible! I can’t wait to see it but I know it’s different characters isn’t it, and a totally different thing.
Dom: I haven’t watched the whole thing yet but yeah, it is different!
Chantel: Oh, I will have to find it on DVD.
Dom: You said you write “most songs from the perspective of the disturbed flawed characters”. Are your lyrics totally fiction or do you apply them in any way to personal experiences or other real events?
Chantel: I twist them a lot. So, “Anaesthesize”, that’s about drug addiction – I can’t personally write about [that] because I’ve never even tried drugs. I drink beer, that’s as far as I will go. [Laughs]
Dom: That’s a good enough drug.
Chantel: Yeah! And how do you even write about drug addiction when you’ve never even smoked? How do you do that? So, it was like ‘okay I will get really underneath the skin of the main guy in True Detective, start and figure out what’s going on in his head. And then kind of apply it to things that have affected me. Or things that I have seen of people that I know. And then write about it. So, it’s kind of using fiction and twisting it to personal life experiences. Not necessarily experienced by me but observed by me. And then it becomes real. It’s a really strange way of writing.
Dom: “Southern Belle” is probably my favourite song. You rightly claim that it is the most “American” and “blues” sounding on the album. Being British, how do you relate to American music? Is it harder to feel it, to capture it?
Chantel: I don’t know, really. I’m not that kind of set out girl [who says] ‘okay, this is going to sound American’, ‘this is going to sound English or whatever’. I think the thing is with music nowadays, it just can’t sound American anyway. I mean, we’re surrounded by American culture, you know, Apple products or the things you eat or the adverts and talks with American accents. All the music on TV seems to be American or sounds American. I was on holiday a few months ago and there was this band on and I [thought that] they look really American – it was a girl band, it was rubbish. And then I was like ‘hang on, that’s the same people who are in X Factor and that’s really weird’. They just Americanised it so much that I thought it was an American band. And that was weird. I think just the way society has gone, is that people are really into the American thing. Surrounded by it every day, glaring at us, we must listen to Taylor Swift and we must listen to American music and I think it’s just become more of a natural thing that people sing with American accents and it does sound kind of American.
Dom: It sounds and looks like you really put your heart into this album. Not only musically but also visually since you did all the photography and visual effects for the album. How was it bringing it all together?
Chantel: Hard. [Initially I hired someone] which for me is weird because I like to do everything myself, I am sort of a control freak when it comes to my art. So, I got an artist for the cover and got someone to do everything. And then they kinda messed it up and didn’t get it done. I was really annoyed about that because I need these things to go to the press with it and there’s no artwork.
So, one weekend I said ‘alright, I’m going to do this myself’. I got a new camera, I didn’t know how to use it but I’ve been to a pub and I’ve seen this voodoo doll in the corner of the pub hanging from the ceiling and I thought that would do, that is perfect! [I said] ‘I’ll come back next weekend and take a picture of it. So I did. And when I was leaving the pub I saw the door and it was really old and gothic so I took a picture of it and that went behind the CD. And the thing on the CD, with the thorns, that’s actually a light shade so I was lying on the floor of the pub taking a picture from the floor to get that light shade.
The photo frame on the album cover – a friend, a fan of ours who comes to our gigs, [he] is awesome at calligraphy. So he has done all the calligraphy for the front and back. And I wanted to frame that but I didn’t know how. I wanted it to look like a picture frame but really old. So, I put it out on Facebook asking about it. And one of our friends took a picture of it and emailed it to me and that was perfect! Because it was too clean, I changed all the effects and made it look like it was printed and yeah, mess with it a bit and that’s how it worked!
Dom: In the press kit, you mentioned that you drew on influences from your past like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. How important is grunge for you?
Chantel: I love grunge! I was in the pub – again! You probably think I go to pubs all the time! Nirvana were on TV and I was like ‘this is so good’ and I got home and I had to put MTV on try and get Nirvana stuff. I love grunge, I always loved the heavy side of stuff. I was obsessed with Stone Temple Pilots as a kid first, years and years back. Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and things like that, I’ve been into that. So, it really really has influenced me. And the first track on [the album] is Soundgarden-y, grunge, it’s cool. I think there needs to be a grunge resurgence!
Dom: While writing “Killing Time” you said you were listening to a lot of contemporary rock bands. Which are your current favourites?
Chantel: Royal Blood! They’re just so good. Their riffs are just so brilliant. Actually, their drummer is identical to my drummer so people keep coming up to my drummer and [ask him about that]. It’s really funny.
Dom: With whom would you like to share the stage or a tour perhaps? Royal Blood?
Chantel: Yeah, I think so because I just love what they do. I think their music is heavier than some of the other rock stuff that’s come out recently. To me it grooves and it moves and it’s really cool but it’s really dark and heavy as well at the same time. I just think it’s great. They’re a two-piece as well which is insane. They’re cool. I like them.
Dom: I wanted to ask about the rock school exam which you took when you were 8 years old and you were also the youngest person to pass it. What do you remember from that experience? How does a rock school exam look like?
Chantel: Oh gosh, it’s a really long time ago! It’s kind of like playing chords and tiny little lead solos and things like that. There was quite a little bit of theory involved in that as well. There was sight-reading music stuff. You could do classical exams or you could do the rock school exams and I didn’t want to do classical. That’s not me, I’m not interested! I was eight years old. But yeah, there was a Steve Vai type of track there. You could choose your own piece such as “For the Love of God” and… yeah, there was the sight-reading and a bit of general musicianshipy-kind of thing and stuff. It wasn’t just rock though. I chose an African piece as well – that really wasn’t rock. I don’t know what it was, world music? You could have done whatever you wanted really.
Dom: Alright, I won’t take much more of your time but to wrap up I wanted to ask you what you like about cats because in your debut album you have a song called “Cat Song”. I’m a huge cat fan.
Chantel: They’re just great! I love the cats! They’re peaceful and calm. I don’t know, they are just wonderful. The white one [which you saw], that’s Sprinkles and I’ve got another one that is black and white with really long fur. So, he kinda looks like a lion but he’s tiny. He’s cute but he’s really stupid. He’s so dim. Every time I go out, I come home and he’s sat at the top of the garage in the middle of the garage, looking at us and I’m like ‘what are you doing?’ He’s a bit mad and bonkers. If you’re having a barbecue, he’ll try and get up on the table and he knows he’s not allowed to do that. So he’ll just stand there hanging on the edge of the table just swinging. And it’s like ‘you’re absolutely bonkers’.
Dom: It’s the silly cats that are the cutest though.
Chantel: Oh yeah! [Laughs] At the moment the house is surrounded with boxes. Literally thousands of boxes, CDs and envelopes. And [the cats] like to sit in the boxes with the CDs and the envelopes. So, you’re packing everything up and putting it in a cardboard box. And they love sitting in cardboard boxes. So, they just come and immerse themselves in the middle of all these envelopes – you can’t be doing that! What if it gets sent to people with cat allergies!
Dom: Ouch. Cats do love their boxes though. Anyways, thank you for your time!
Chantel: Thank you for the interview!
Catch Chantel on tour:
Thur 17.9.15 – London, 100 Club – Buy Tickets
Sun 20.9.15 – Whitby, Pavilion Theatre – Buy Tickets
Thur 24.9.15 – Stockton, Arc – Buy Tickets
Fri 25.9.15 – Louth, Riverhead Theatre – Buy Tickets
Sat 26.9.15 – Wrexham, Central Station – Buy Tickets
Thur 1.10.15 – Birmingham, The Institute – Buy Tickets
Fri 2.10.15 – Ruislip, The Tropic – Buy Tickets
Fri 9.10.15 – Halifax, Playhouse – Buy Tickets
Sat 10.10.15 – Southport, Blues Festival – Buy Tickets
Fri 16.10.15 – Doncaster, Dome – Buy Tickets
Sat 17.10.15 Retford, Elms – Buy Tickets from Venue
Wed 21.10.15 – Sheffield, Greystones – Buy Tickets
Thur 22.10.15 – Edinburgh, Caves – Buy Tickets
Fri 23.10.15 – Glasgow, Nice N Sleazy – Buy Tickets
Sat 24.10.15 – Carlisle, The Venue – Buy Tickets
Mon 26.10.15 – Salisbury, Arts Centre – Buy Tickets
Tue 27.10.15 – Exeter, Phoenix – Buy Tickets
Wed 28.10.15 – Bridport, Arts Centre – Buy Tickets
Thur 29.10.15 – Brighton, Komedia – Buy Tickets
Sat 31.10.15 – Lincoln Engine Shed – Buy Tickets
Thur 5.11.15 B – Bredene, MEC Staf Versluys – Buy Tickets
Fri 6.11.15 D – Mayschoss, Tin Star Saloon – Buy Tickets
Sat 7.11.15 D – Dortmund, Blue Notez – Buy Tickets
Tue 10.11.15 D – Munich, Backstage – Buy Tickets
Fri 13.11.15 D – Rhede, Blues Rhede – Buy Tickets
Mon 16.11.15 A – Salzburg, Rockhouse – Buy Tickets
Tue 17.11.15 A – Vienna, Reigen – Buy Tickets
Wed 18.11.15 CZ – Olomouc, Bounty Rock Club – Buy Tickets
Thur 19.11.15 CZ – Budweis, Highway 61 – Buy Tickets
Fri 20.11.15 D – Braunschweig, Barnaby’s Blues Bar – Buy Tickets
Sat 21.11.15 B – Bruxelles, Le Montmatre – Buy Tickets
Sun 22.11.15 NL – Roermond, Den Heiligen Cornelius – Buy Tickets
Tue 24.11.15 D – Leverkusen, Topos – Buy Tickets
Wed 25.11.15 B – Verviers, Spirit 66 – Buy Tickets
Thur 26.11.15 Lu – Luxembourg, La Brasserie – Buy Tickets
Fri 27.11.15 D – Eppstein, Wunderbar Weite Welt – Buy Tickets
Sat 28.11.15 B – Liege, La Legia – Buy Tickets
Sat 12.12.15 – Ripley, Town Hall – Buy Tickets
Sun 13.12.15 – Newcastle, Cluny – Buy Tickets
Mon 14.12.15 – Morecambe, Platform – Buy Tickets
Tue 15.12.15 – Leeds, Brudenell – Buy Tickets
Wed 16.12.15 – Bristol, Tunnels – Buy Tickets
Thur 17.12.15 – Derby, Flowerpot – Buy Tickets