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Teddy Thompson

I’ve never been one of those people going, ‘I’m going to make it, I’m going to be famous’

 

It may have been six years since his last solo album, Bella, but Teddy Thompson hasn’t been idle. First there was the matter of the Family album with father Richard, mother Linda, and sister Kami. Then came the duets album, Little Windows, with country singer Kelly Jones in 2016, before he helmed the production duties on country music siblings Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer’s first album together, Not Dark Yet. When Shire Folk caught up with Teddy before his gig for Holywell Music & Folk’s inaugural concert in Oxford’s historic Holywell Music Rooms, we asked him about all that and more.

 

SF: How did production duties on the Shelby Lynne/Allison Moorer album come about?

TT: It came about because Allison and I had the same manager for a while – a guy called Danny Goldberg, a legend in the music business. He’s got an interesting CV, if you care to look him up! My understanding is that they’d tried to make a record before, maybe a couple of times, and it hadn’t worked for various reasons, so when Danny suggested me … well, he asked me first and said he thought I’d be good for this, but I’d better warn you Shelby’s got a bit of a reputation. As someone who’s just started producing records, I thought I’d give it a go. I thought, what the hell – I haven’t got much to lose! I felt that the worst that could happen was that it would blow up and not work.

TeddyThompsonPhotoJoElkington1

Teddy Thompson
– Photo Jo Elkington

SF: How were they to work with?

TT: Fantastic. I’d heard some stories about Shelby. She’s quite famous for being difficult or ornery, but I found her to be just … maybe she was more difficult when she was younger, I don’t know, but my experience was fantastic. I found her to be brutally honest and if you’re a musician, which I am, I admired her because there’s no bullshit. If anything wasn’t working she’d just say f**k this, let’s do something else. She has a low tolerance for things that don’t feel right. So, at every turn I was just: ‘You’re totally right!’

SF: I think Shelby had a couple of false starts before she hit her groove with the I Am, Shelby Lynne album

TT: I don’t know this from them, but I think it’s difficult for beautiful women singers in the music business. They have to deal with a lot of shit, you know? If you’re a pretty young girl in the music business, or certainly back in the day when there was so much money involved, everyone was just out to make you into something that will sell. I can imagine that it’s quite a lot to deal with and maybe harder to find your true voice when you’re starting out, when you have all these old men trying to make a fast buck off you.

SF: How much of a formative influence was country music?

TT: Huge. That was really where I began. I was big into the Everly Brothers – it was the first music that I heard that I liked. It was the first time I heard music and thought that’s what I like, I want to do that. So, absolutely formative. I’ve come to find now that any musician worth his salt is a country music fan. If you run into a musician and they say they don’t really like country music – run a mile, they’re probably not someone worth knowing! My parents were no exceptions. They didn’t play country music, but they loved it. I heard the Everly Brothers from them. They had a tape in the car. They probably went through a few tapes to find what would shut the kids up and they hit upon the Everly Brothers.

SF: You’ve had Everly Brothers songs as hidden tracks on your albums. Were they a sort of…

TT: Homage, yes.

SF: Your album with Kelly Jones has a real Everly Brothers feel to it, was that intentional?

TT: Kelly and I came from slightly different musical backgrounds. For me, from the beginning I’d said I wanted to make an Everly Brothers record with a boy and girl – that’s what I want it sound like. She was more like a Porter and Dolly sort of thing, which was fine.

SF: Do you have any plans to do anything else with her? A second album?

TT: Yeah maybe. Not planned, but hopefully down the road, yeah.

SF: It’s been a while since your last solo album – six years? Any plans for another solo album or more producing?

TT: Well both. I’ll make another solo record. I’ve already started it, so I’ll finish that. And yeah, more producing. I’ve just produced an album for this great Scottish girl named Roseanne Reid .website I’m not sure when that’s out, but it’s really good. I really enjoy it. I can see why it’s a well-trodden path for a musician when you get to a certain age and time in your career. First of all, it’s nice to stay home and not go on tour. It’s not as much as fun as it is when you’re in your twenties and thirties. Also, when you’re working with someone good and it’s good music, producing is great because it’s all the things you like about music, but you can go home and sleep at night. I’m an anxious person, so when I’m making my own record, the worry is overwhelming. When it’s somebody else’s you’ve got that remove, but you’re still making lovely music and enjoying it, but you can go home and switch off.

SF: Was that still the same when you were trying to corral the Family album?

TT: No, that was quite stressful!

SF: Is it a burden having such well-known parents – a plus or a minus?

TT: It’s probably been a wash, as the Americans say. Neither a plus nor a minus. It’s never made a big difference career-wise. It’s never been a big bother either way because they’re not famous enough for it to have been a real issue. Like people coming to see me because of them…

SF: It’s not like Sean Lennon…

TT: Right. That’s more difficult I think. The Family record was more about my family and my problems with my family … childhood divorce and all those things you go through. Not really about music. That’s what my family do, so that’s just the medium that could get everybody together. That was just a way of dealing with some things and bringing everybody together in one place.

SF: At this point in your life with solo albums, collaborations and production work, is this where you thought you’d be at this point in your career when you put out your first record?

TT: Good question. No, but I think when I started out, like many of us, I don’t think we could have foreseen what would happen in the music business. It really has collapsed. It’s now this whole other thing, which I feel is wrong. I think people not paying for music is wrong. It’s not just for people making a living out of it, but for society in general. I think it devalues something that’s really important. The powers that be should, and maybe still can, make an effort to protect music really. It has to come from legislation. In America copyright law is from before there even was digital music. It’s not right and I still believe that. I couldn’t have imagined things would be this way. Also, when you’re twenty you can’t imagine being forty. You can’t imagine being sick of being on tour. I don’t think I had a real plan or vision of how it was going to be, to be a musician, which may point to my lack of ambition. I’ve never been one of those people going, ‘I’m going to make it, I’m going to be famous’, you know.

SF: Is it difficult to make money out of music these days?

TT: Incredibly difficult. It’s all in flux at the minute. As you said, I haven’t put out a record of mine for a good few years now. The record with Kelly was put out on Cooking Vinyl, which was my first experience with a smaller label: seeing how that worked. And it doesn’t work wonderfully well. My experience there was that it was just a smaller version of the way it was in the past, just with less money involved. You realise that all the people working with you at the record label, they do a few things hoping that they catch a break. They’re really hoping that a song pops up on a TV show or something. That’s what they’re all hoping for. If that doesn’t happen they just go, ‘Oh well’ and on to the next thing. The next step is when you’re doing it all yourself, taking all of the revenue, but that means you have to do all of the work and you have to develop this business side to your persona. I’m not really interested in any of that. In many ways I think I’d prefer to do something else rather than be one of those people selling CDs from the trunk of my car. I don’t mean to put that down. There’s nothing wrong with going on tour and being DIY, but I do object to the feeling that I’m groveling for people’s £10 for a CD or something. I feel like it’s just wrong. It goes back to my view of what music is and the place it holds in society. I guess the best way to do it is to find the people who share that sensibility and it’s a smaller market, isn’t it? There are people – and I’m one of them as a music fan – who might listen to the record, I might stream it to see if I like it and then if I like it and I’ve listened to it more than once, then I buy it, because I think that’s the right thing to do. As someone who is making music, you want to find those people who share that belief.

SF: After tonight’s gig at the Holywell, you’ve got a couple of gigs with Allison and Shelby. Are you playing support and then playing with them?

TT: Something like that. We were trying to find a couple of gigs we could play because we’d made the record together and this made the most sense. I’ll sit in…

SF: Have you done much rehearsing for that?

TT: No – they don’t rehearse. Shelby doesn’t rehearse! Shelby wouldn’t even rehearse the song before they recorded it and she wouldn’t sing a song more than twice, and we made the record in her house, so you can imagine the logistics of trying to do that. My impression is that if you’re not somebody who is as real as she is then you’re going to have a hard time with her. If you turn up and start blowing smoke up her arse she’s going to tell you to f**k yourself, and frankly I think that’s brilliant. You can imagine how some stupid, sleazy A&R guy … you can imagine there are bad stories about her because they went away saying ‘She’s not very nice!’ But you’re an idiot!

Not Dark Yet by Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer is out now on Silver Cross/Thirty Tigers

Jonathan Roscoe

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