Joan Armatrading -The Goddess of Change
I have seen Joan 97 time in concert since 1977 in 22 cities and 7 states. This interview took place January 19, 2011 and for me became a testament as to my wife’s love and dedication to her family. My wife (Tanya) passed away 36 days after this interview from a hard battle with ovarian cancer. The interview with Joan took place at 6am east coast time because of our time difference. Tanya was in a lot of pain and we had been up for almost 24 hours at this point. She knew I had the interview coming up and was more concerned that I was not going to leave the room and pass up on the interview. A few minutes before the interview was to take place she closed her eyes wanting me to believe she fell asleep. She would not change her position. I quietly went into the other room awaiting Joan’s call. The interview lasted exactly 15 minutes, as soon as I hung up the phone Tanya called out, “I am in so much pain”. When I sat next to her she asked if the interview was what I dreamed it would be. My wife saw Joan 6 times with me. Even in her high level of pain she demonstrated an extraordinary level of self/other differentiation.
David: You will have your third live recording Live at the Royal Albert Hall released in February in the United States. Your last live CD/DVD Live All the Way From America from 2004 was produced, directed and edited by you. Will you have the same role in this release?
Joan: Yes, because they are all songs I’ve written. I do that with everything I do even though I haven’t been credited.
David: Why are you releasing another live CD/DVD on the heels of Live All the Way from America. It was almost fifteen years between your first live recording and the last.
Joan: No reason, I get asked a lot by people who come to the shows for many years to do another live album. I did Live All the Way From America and Into the Blues; especially after Into the Blues people were asking for a live recording from that. It was a great live sound and I was into it myself obviously.
David: How did you discover Anderson Guitars?
Joan: I went hunting for guitars and I took my tour manager at the time to a shop and came back with a stack of guitars and the one I chose was the Tom Anderson. It sounded great. It was clean. I took that one and I needed two more. At the time I played a Strat that I couldn’t take on the road anymore it was very buzzy.
David: Do you collect guitars? How many do you have?
Joan: David, when have you known me to answers questions like that. I will answer any question about my music. I don’t tell people how many I have. I have quite a few.
David: Do you have a dream guitar?
Joan: Not Really. I look at guitars all the time because I’m looking to see if there is anything new. It doesn’t have to be a new guitar per se. I just found a Strat and it’s really really good. It sounds very different, quite chunky. It was nice to get something that plays really different and works. I’m always looking for guitars in all the countries I go to.
David: Do you have a nylon string guitar?
Joan: I have one I don’t play on it much.
David: Who made it?
Joan: It’s a Gibson.
David: I understand why you don’t use it (it was meant to be funny; Joan laughed).
Are you working on a CD of new material?
Joan: I’m writing now. I will give myself a year it will be 2012 when it comes out. I will be sixty-one.
David: Your tours are always extensive. Does touring get harder as you get older?
Joan: It’s tiring anyway even when you’re young. I’m a healthy strong person so I do all right. So yes it’s a tiring thing and I am busy all the time with interviews and meeting people. While the band is on a break I have a lot to do. I’ve been doing this for forty years; I’m use to it.
David: Speaking of healthy and fit you ran in the New York Marathon. I heard you didn’t train.
Joan: I did do some training. I couldn’t do as much as I would have liked. I did do some. A few days before the race I hurt my knee but I finished the marathon and I got my medal and raised 175,000 Euro’s for charity.
David: Your last recording with A&M Records was Square the Circle in 1992. That Album was just dropped in the market. What happened?
Joan: That’s up to the record company to do what they wanted. There were changes within A&M. Life changes that’s how it goes, people move on. My records do well.
David: Then you went to RCA and did What’s Inside.
Joan: There again, there were changes as well. That’s what I mean, things change all the time. I just generally don’t have control over how a company moves in and moves the artists. You just have to work with what’s there. What are you gonna do? It affects a lot of different people. You can get wrapped up and held up in things. I’m not that kind of person. I’m a very positive person. I take what comes and do the best with what I have. It’s a simple philosophy for me. I’m not a complicated person when it comes to how to be happy. I think the record company has to have the freedom to do what it has to do to be a record company. You have to accept that to do the things you want to do. That’s how things work. You have to understand that.
David: Do you have a favorite CD?
Joan: Usually the one I’m writing. I wouldn’t be able to answer that one. It’s like when people ask what is my favorite song I wrote. I can’t answer that because I’ve written so many. If I had to say it would be Love and Affection because that’s the one I came in on, but it’s very hard to answer.
People will ask what is my favorite gig. We do this all the time and we might come off the stage and say that was great like when they would sing Best Dress On from the last tour. That worked very well. We would think that nobody else would sing that loud or that many times but then we go to the next place and the people are as into it.
David: Speaking of the song Best Dress On, where did that come from?
Joan: I don’t know. I should know but I don’t remember.
David: That song seems to be speaking directly to people who are dealing with the fear and uncertainty of cancer.
Joan: It’s definitely for healing, for people who are trying to make things work. As I said to you before I’m a very positive person and write about the good in the things we make. When I write I try not to write positive stuff all the time. It takes me longer to write something that isn’t positive.
David: Where is Ma-Me-O Beach?
Joan: It’s in Canada. It’s not a beach I went to I saw the signs for it on the road from the tour bus. I didn’t write the song there it came about later.
David: Was Secret Secret a freeing album for you?
Joan: Secret Secret was the record I decided that I would say exactly what I do on the record. All of the members of my band said I should be taking credit for what I do so yes it was freeing for me because it was when I started working on my own. I didn’t have producers in the studio with me. Not that working with producers was a bad thing. I’ve worked with fantastic producers and learned a lot from them.
David: Was it freeing vocally for you? That was the album you started vocal phrasings like the line where you sing, “ Bap par dap……..ah”.
Joan: Right, that was from Persona Grata. Not really because again on my records I sing what I want to sing and I write all the harmonies. Whatever vocals I did are things I write like the low voices on Down toZero. Nobody is there to say why don’t you do this.
David: Have you been asked to produce anybody?
Joan: Yes, but because of time I haven’t been able too. It is really a lot of work to produce.
David: Do you ever see yourself only producing and not writing?
Joan: It would be nice to produce somebody but I kind of have to write and I want to write
David: Why did you write about the Goddess Oya?
Joan: That’s a real goddess. I was thinking of change and I wanted to write about it. I wanted to find out if there was a goddess that would guide you safely through change. I did a search and found that there was a goddess. I wasn’t surprised to find out there was a goddess of change.