Doyle Bramhall II – Tea, Tones & Tunes

With a new album coming out on Mascot and titled Shades it seems a good time to catch up again with the artist as he flies in from sunny California to overcast Shoreditch for press sessions. Pete and fellow guitarist Colin Howell grab a beverage and join Doyle at his hotel this morning to talk about the new record:

Hanna Evensen

Doyle – welcome back to London. We were last seeing you, talking with you at Under The Bridge.

Yeah! That was fabulous.

What did you think of the sound in that room?

Ah..I like it actually. I thought it sounded really good.

Things like the Fender Rhodes tone sounds and carries very well in that room

Yeah – it sounded good on stage, for sure. And that’s actually really important, to me. You know how it is – when people say ‘It sounded good out there ‘ but it sounded terrible on stage, well it’s not very inspiring!

We’ve both been on stage for many decades and somehow, technology doesn’t always come right..

No – and I also think that a lot of music venues – there are certainly venues that put other things first, before the sound quality. Before the acoustic properties..maybe not a priority

Like the drink prices..

Yes – drinks and merch! Like, the merch, the furniture has to be the perfect set-up ahead of the speakers being ideal, y’know?

Quick tangent – how do you feel about people filming you all the time on their cameras and tablets?

(Considers) It depends, I guess

I’m thinking right close up..

Ah ! Like I’m onstage..no…(laughs) – not unless I’m playing like s***!

Excellent! Pavarotti never said that..I’ve been listening to this album, man and I’m a bit hooked on the first track Love & Pain ..I was re-stringing a guitar playing along and I kept going into Machine Gun (Jimi) ..it’s that dark vibe..

Hmm, good. That’s cool. It’s about a shooting but more than that ..how commonplace that is now, everywhere…internationally

The setting here is very stealthy – which is something you have a natural feel for – almost leaning on a Superfly soundtrack ambience..shadowy

Yeah – I guess so..Blaxploitation ..I guess I was sort of thinking a Curtis-y thing on the song, agreed. But even maybe a little heavier, the guitar

The bridge sounds like Stevie Wonder, it’s brilliant

(Smiles) Well you’re the second person to say that…Eric was the first!

OK, I’ll accept that! And on this you’re using my favourite thing – Reverse Delay!

Well you know it’s kind of a funny thing for me, too – it’s a Hail Mary, to me! Sometimes you’re sort of thinking at a point in a song, well what can I do? And a light comes on – reverse it?? Let’s try that..and it always works out! Like – hey! THAT’S what I’ll choose here..

I stole that from Harvey Mandel – he would bend a string then pick it then let it return to the tonic, getting a sneer thing. Reverse Delay these days makes it very easy to hit the sound..lots of others ripped the tapping thing off Harvey…just listen to Shangrenade

Oh really?

Yes, Eddie would watch Mandel at Hollywood clubs. Hammer Ring – did you tell your drummer to play like Ringo Starr?

(Laughs) No!!! I had that song it was part of this record idea I had conceptualising years ago, probably around 2005? I was planning on making this album that had all songs that I was working on..work songs and spirituals and like prison songs. Chain gang stuff. They were all a capella. They weren’t done to music.

Do you mean like John The Revelator style?

Yeah. Exactly that kind of stuff. Then I wanted to do my interpretation of those songs, but with music. And I actually played some of those for a Crossroads event. 2007 or 2008 or something. In Chicago. We had double drums. Guitar and bass. But mostly just vocals. Though it was all very cool I never released that. But this was one of the songs that I had recorded just as a demo. I just rerecorded with two drummers out in Los Angeles. Ringo wasn’t in my mind, but chain gang sledgehammers were!

Everything You Need has Eric on it. With these wah flickers. Reminds me of one of his best things, on a Curtis tribute set where he does You Must Believe Me…

Yes, I know that!

What made you invite him onto this song?

I had finished writing the chord progression and I went to Brooklyn and tracked it with my live band of that time and when I finished tracking it, I just kept thinking to myself that Eric would really like the song. I just called him up and asked him if he’d like to play on it. He said ‘sure’

Yes, it’s got this gentle but insistent vibe, hasn’t it?

Well for me it was very Sly Stone-influenced ..to me. There’s a song on an early album Whole New Thing. On that record there was a song called Underdog. I just wanted a song in that style. And after I finished it…Eric’s a big Sly fan, too..I thought he would connect to that.

There is a complete twist of style then to London To Tokyo. Sounds to my ears like travelling music with a hint of reggae notwithstanding the title. I love the strings on this. What made you put the waltz tempo thing in here?

Ah! when it comes out of the verses? That’s just the way it came out ..as I was writing it. That’s what naturally evolved, I guess

Click tracks have virtually killed off the great tempo changes style…

(Ponders) Yes! it just wouldn’t work to a click..the strings are by Adam Minkoff who does a lot of my string arrangements. Also plays bass, keyboards in my band – all sorts of things. I actually wrote that song with this songwriter from Chicago. She’s what eighteen years old. And I produced her band. Her songs really spoke to me. I did want the song to have elements from my travels.

There was a lot of that in the previous album

Yes, definitely..the in motion thing. I think this one has that factor to it, too.

Have you ever produced Norah Jones?

No.

Here she is singing on Searching For Love..playing piano?

Yeah. We recorded that song live. We sang that live in performance as well.

Is that a single?

I don’t know…I have no idea. Maybe!

That’s a kind of suggestion.

Hey! Well I would like that, yes. For me, it would be

Live Forever – I don’t know these Greyhounds , are they from Austin?

Yes – that was a quick song that we just threw together. Just because we wanted to work together. That was the first idea we came up with.

Works well in the programme

Yes, I think so. It’s a real unexpected thing. We were just trying to create something that was Austin-like, in impact. But it sounds a bit more Beatles-y, to me!

New York, more

Yes..garage-y!

Break Apart To Mend – it’s quite reflective, is this a key track on the record?

It does feel that way to me, too. Especially if you look at, y’know, people release albums with a couple of uptempo things and then you have a ballad. If I was to choose a ballad, well this would be the one.

She’ll Come Around is a lovely song. Seems to be about loss but maybe an undercurrent of hope?

So, we had shows that were scheduled on a European tour last year and at the middle or end of the Summer – around the one you were at – however then a bunch of shows got cancelled, basically I was stuck over here with my band so to not have it be any kind of loss, I booked a studio in Hamburg that was fairly cheap and I just took my guys over there as it’s too expensive to stay in London..for that length of time. We had another tour coming up, so it filled the gap productively. We recorded She’ll Come Around and Parvannah.

There’s a kind of sonic oasis feel about them..a spiritual breather

They are connected..especially lyrically. Parvannah was an eleventh hour lyric. Musically it was ready. It so happened with the lyricist that a friend of hers had committed suicide a week before. She was reeling from that, naturally. These are heavy lyrics needing a good home. I told her that a Persian kind of name would be right for the number. The name was in a beautiful documentary, in fact.

There’s a motion in Persian music, a rise and fall in the progression..which is in itself calming. Zappa tapped into it, at times.

Yeah, definitely, It’s there. I spent a lot of time in Morocco and musically there is an element as work that is very Persian.

There’s a mystic sound to The Night but you’ve used a Leslie’d tone on that. A nice time signature change, too. This lifts you out of automated music into something of your own, doesn’t it?

For me, I think that it makes it interesting. It’s not in some kind of formulaic shape. Or in some kind of a pattern that is known, familiar. Music to me should be free-form when it can be. The stuff that I grew up listening to and the things that move me were songs like Happiness Is A Warm Gun…

Dammit!! I was about to suggest to you that there is a streak of George Harrison in what you are currently creating!

Well…it’s funny because my biggest influence in my songwriting is Paul McCartney. BUT I had gone on this George Harrison run where I was indeed listening to all of George Harrison’s stuff…while I was making this record..

You’re not winding me up? I could sense it was there. And I guess this is why we meet and speak.

(Acidly) So you’re a journalist AND a psychic??

Psychotic.

(Laughs) So you must have tapped in to that just listening. But then track 11 which is Consciousness was under the working title of Ram Song and it was me trying to do a song that would fit on that McCartney record..probably my favourite production ever on a record was Ram.

I would have liked to put you in the studio with Jimmy Miller..that Traffic vibe..anyone who likes Traffic could get into Shades

Yes!! I would hope..

Cos it’s going for spiritual connection, without preaching

It is what it is, it’s the songs as they come through me. Recording whatever comes up. They bubble up inside me and I put them down, Pete…

Pete Sargeant and Colin Howell



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(Thanks to Colin H, the team at the Mascot Label Group UK office and Doyle)

Feature Image Photo Credit: Hanna Evensen

Additional Photos Credits: Hanna Evensen and Alysse Gafkjen

Doyle Bramhall II’s new album ‘Shades’ is out now on Provogue/Mascot Label Group.

You can read our review of the album here: http://bit.ly/2E6O2Bn

You can read all of our previous articles here: http://bit.ly/2BNiJsL

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2oGnKgL