Since her days fronting the Bristol-based band Phantom Limb, Yola Carter has always been a formidable talent. However, with her debut album 'Walk Through The Fire' she has taken a quantum leap forward. Produced and co-written by Dan Auerbach and recorded at his Easy Sound Studios in the heart of Nashville, it's a glorious record. A multi-faceted masterpiece of country-tinged soul (or depending on your point of view, soul-tinged country). It's the sort of album that you know immediately on first listen is going to have staying power.
This Wednesday Yola will be playing Perth Theatre, her first show since she released her debut and it's sure to be an amazing show. I phoned her ahead of the show to talk about music, Nashville, and songwriting. Check it out!
Where are you just now?
I’ve just back home to Bristol, it’s tipping down.
You released your debut album ‘Walk Through Fire’ earlier this year. It’s been receiving a lot of praise. Have you been pleased with the reception so far?
It’s been unreal. I can’t say that it’s not something that I was hoping for, but you can hope for things and that doesn’t mean they are going to happen. This is my debut album and you want to give it the best chance it can have. You push as hard as you can, get the best people onboard that you can. I just couldn’t be happier with the reception.
It was produced by Dan Auerbach’s (from the Black Keys) and released on his Easy Sound label. How did you come to work with Dan?
In 2016 I was playing at a festival in Nashville. I’d done an EP and was playing the songs live. After a relatively good year in 2017, I came back to Nashville and wanted to start building a team. I was unmanaged at the time, so I looked for a manager and started writing some new songs and felt like I was writing my way into a rich vein of form. I was playing the same festival and Dan’s people sent someone along to video my set so they could Dan contacted me and said; 'We need to get you into the studio right now'... later that same year I was back in Nashville working on the album.show him. He contacted me and said: ‘We need to get you into the studio right now!’ He wanted to know what my vision for the record was and later that same year I was back in Nashville working on the album.
‘Walk Through Fire’ seamlessly blend a ton of different genres in a way that doesn’t seem forced or gimmicky. Have you always had broad musical tastes?
Yes, I’m a genre-bender ha-ha! I’ve always wanted to be. You’re right though if you don’t mean it or are just doing something because it is cool at the moment it can come over as false. I’ve only recently learned to play the guitar and as I gradually start to improve my guitar playing chops, I feel like so many more options are opening up to me. I’ve becoming freer in my songwriting ability and can write in a range of styles because I know I’ll be able to play it live. It was always really important that the album I recorded should be able to represented well live. It’s important to be able to honour the live machine.
You co-wrote the title track of the album with the legendary songwriter Dan Penn (who wrote 'Do Right Woman, Do Right Man' for Aretha Franklin and 'The Dark End of the Street' for The Box Tops). How did that come about?
When you go into Easy Sound Studio there is a whole stable of songwriters that you have at your disposal. By-and-large it was Dan Auerbach that wrote the bulk of the material, bringing in a third songwriter to add a little bit of spice. We are the protein and the carb element and Dan was to add a different type of seasoning, a bit of zing! It was great to have a breadth of writers. I sat down and told them about the time I survived a house fire and that is how the song ‘Walk Through The Fire’ was born.
It says on your Wikipedia page that your family banned music when you were young. Is that true?
Haha. My mum banned music as a career not from being played in the house. I’ll have to get that sorted. We grew up poor but we had a roof over our head which nowadays with the housing situation and Universal Credit isn’t always the case. We definitely fought for that house. Sometimes we struggled to eat or pay bills. So, the idea of being a musician and taking a more financially risky and less dependable path was not something that my mum viewed with much glee. She just didn’t understand the emotional need that music fulfilled for me so I pretended that I wasn’t a musician well into my 20’s.
You’ve said in interviews that woman with dark skin in the music industry are often steered towards becoming backing singers and that if they can push me to the back, with my personality, then they can push anyone to the back. you had to turn down some pretty high profiles offers to develop your own solo career. Are you glad now that did?
Hell yes! The only two people that I agreed to do one backing vocals gig for were Adele and Dizzee Rascal because I knew that they were going to be so much fun. But I’m way too much of a show pony to do backing vocals full time. It’s not who I am, the rebel in me said I can’t be another dark-skinned woman pushed to the back. Because if they can push me to the back, with my personality, then they can push anyone to the back.
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