By Jamie Gardam
Watching England is obviously a frustrating emotional rollercoaster at the best of times, let alone when the most fearful word known to man begins to look likely to be involved. By this I obviously mean the dreaded “P” word. Many people choose cushions or sofas to hide behind to shield themselves from the trauma that extra time and penalties can bring, however I found a much more fun way and enjoyable way to (partly) hide away from the drama of the last 16 game against Colombia.
I headed to The Water Rats on Grays Inn Road close to Kings Cross station which conveniently is a food serving pub (with the football on the telly) that has a separate room at the back used as a music venue. Delving to the back of my memory I am pretty sure this was actually where I first met Sonia Leigh over 3 years ago and she is someone that the fans in the UK have seriously fallen in love with as the badass that she is both on and off stage. Fresh from some tour dates with Tyler Bryant and a busy weekend at the first Black Deer festival Sonia was doing a headline show as a London launch party for her “Live in London – Studio 3 Sessions” album.
The night also featured performances from Clint Ivie a Georgia native who is now residing in Hamburg, Germany and London based energetic 6 piece retro pop / classic rock / soul / blues / southern rock (I’m sure they have had their sound described in plenty of other ways too) band The Zarrs. For the benefit of anyone that hasn’t seen Sonia perform or spoken to her before, she is a proper character and the sort of person that leaves a real impression on you from what you see on stage or when you talk to her! There is the lovable wild, spontaneous side of her which obviously people see as a performer (or when you are out partying with her) but she is also someone that is so clearly passionate and knowledgeable about music with a real interest in other people’s love and opportunity for music as well as her own.
Prior to her set, Sonia was good enough to sit down with me for a quick catch up and talk about the exciting year she has been having so far in 2018 and her new live album.
TC: So anyway, Sonia it’s great to see you as always but I’m just going to dive right in so let’s talk about your trip to Mexico!
SL: Ooooooh Thank You! So happy you brought this up
TC: When I was out in Nashville, I went and said hi to your new friend Natalie (Stovall)
SL: Wonderful. When were you out there?
TC: For CMA Fest, which was awesome! Now she was out in Mexico with you and Ruthie (Collins) so how was the whole experience for you?
SL: It was incredible, so a fellow artist friend of ours John Wesley Satterfield is a musician out in Nashville but he been working with this clinic CHIPSA down in Mexico, which is an alternative cancer therapy treatment and they are doing leaps and bounds in their treatment. That’s what I would probably talk about if I talk about Mexico which is what they are doing there. I have known Natalie and Ruthie for a long time, we got put up in a house on the beach. Really John Wesley Satterfield is an incredible writer, he has a new record coming out soon and he’s just going to blow everyone away. I got to spend some time with the girls and we all got to get to get to know each other on another level rather than just being at gigs and seeing each other out which was quite nice but aside from all of that we went to the CHIPSA hospital and played for patients there. Basically they put the patients on an all vegan diet, their treatment is incredibly, incredibly forward and it’s working!
TC: Talking about Hope Song (the organisation involved with the music project helping CHIPSA), what do they actually do and what is their aim with working with musicians?
SL: Well they have a fundraiser going on right now and what they basically do is award scholarships to patients who can’t afford therapy so they are raising money to keep awarding more and treat as many people as possible. Wanda Jackson was one of their patients there (at CHIPSA) and she came out on top, she’s a legend and she’s like eighty. Aside from the artists, what they are offering is a clean treatment that is not just shattering people with chemo.
TC: Had you played shows or anything with the girls before?
SL: Yeah. Natalie and Ruthie and I have played stages together before. Ruthie is so talented and Natalie is obviously an incredible, fiddle player as well as a writer and singer with some new stuff coming out.
TC: So if that wasn’t enough you have been crazy busy doing loads of touring this year and went and did Melissa Etheridge’s cruise, you have talked before about how big an influence she has been to you but how did that come about in the first place?
SL: So a couple of years ago some of my fans started tweeting me and tagging Melissa and her cruise saying you have to have Sonia Leigh on there and I was obviously replying how I would love to. Their camp contacted my camp and invited me to be on, then Melissa and her wife Linda and I became friends and I got to back this year and it’s just become something really mind blowing. I learnt how to write songs by listening to her writing and she’s such an incredible person. Her and her wife, it’s so inspiring when you meet someone you have looked up too through your life and they measure up to what you thought they would be.
TC: Since all that travelling, you have now been back over here in the UK for a little while and you got to play at the first Black Deer festival. How did you feel it compared to other UK festivals you have seen or experienced before?
SL: Well obviously I had to miss Buckle & Boots festival, which I’m loyal to Karl, Laura and those guys that put that thing together because they have given so many artists especially like myself and American Young such a great platform over here. This year I was able to be part of Black Deer where Gill, Bev and all the ladies behind it really really went out on their own for this festival. The line-up was incredible, the grounds were incredible and it was a great step for me to be a part of the Americana scene not just the country scene.
TC: Have you experienced any of the bigger UK festivals before? You mentioned Buckle & Boots which is a country festival but is still relatively small in terms of some of the festivals that take place in the UK. Have you been able to experience any of the larger mainstream festivals in the UK when you have been here before?
SL: I only got to go to the summertime in the park (BST in Hyde Park) last summer and I saw Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and The Killers who I have always wanted to see. One of my favourite bands! So that was probably the first London festival I got to experience but Black Deer I think is really going to put their spot on the map.
TC: So Black Deer is definitely something that people couldn’t go to this year is something they definitely want to try and experience next year?
SL: Absolutely! One thing I have to mention though is the SupaJam stage that I was on. The SupaJam stage, the difference in that to other things I was involved in was the students at SupaJam. SupaJam gives underprivileged kids a way to gain their degree in music. So I have become close with the students, I go and visit the school and hang out with them. Write, sing and play and answer their questions. For me that’s such a really awesome opportunity and it’s inspiring to be able to be there for them.
TC: On your own music you have just released an album, a really cool live album at that. So when you go into the studio to record a live album, does the planning process for recording change? Is it still looking to follow the same structured approach or does it allow for more variables in the process?
SL: This was the first time I have done a live record, I have always wanted to and this was the perfect opportunity because I had a great engineer Chris Bolster. We went in with a set list because all of the musicians that I invited to be a part who I was absolutely 100% humbled to have them with me. Some of them are here tonight playing, have been touring with and have become friends with and fans of their music so they know the music. So I mix matched some of the players so they get to play together and bring it back to home. We’re gonna play, have a good time, have a couple take then move on and get to share the joy of music in such an incredible place like Abbey Road.
TC: Was it somewhere you had always thoughtabout as place that you had always really wanted to do something or did it just work out naturally?
SL: It was natural. I mean I guess I would have thought it was unreachable, so the fact that it happened so casually is insane. I know an engineer there Christian Wright who I met through a BMI songwriter’s camp at Abbey Road about 3 or 4 years ago so it just kind of happened. I ran a Kickstarter campaign here for Mad Hatter and wanted to use some of the money to do something extra cool so it was a blessing.
TC: A lot of fans in the UK will have seen you play shows with Katy Hurt & The Healers when you have been over in the past so had that whole relationship come about?
SL: I’m trying to remember how I first met Katy and the guys, because we have all become so much of family. It might have been Buckle & Boots? Katy is probably gonna kill me because I have like the worst memory. I feel like they have always been there because they have been so supportive.
TC: Does it help a lot for you coming over knowing you have a great circle of quality musicians like those guys that you can call upon to work with and play shows with knowing how tight they are as a band?
SL: Absolutely, I have no worries about any of the musicians I have met over here. Like tonight I have a completely different band that I have been working with for a couple of years as well. I’m so in awe of what I have done here not only in building a fan base but also a family of friends and musicians who we just have so much fun playing together.
TC: Do you see how the UK fan base is a community where the people are very supportive and go out of their way to listen to you?
SL: Totally! If somebody is at your gig here, they are there because they had to get there! I travel around the UK and I’ve been here a bunch of times and I know how difficult it is sometimes to make certain times with the tube and stuff. People have busy lives here and so I appreciate every single person that shows up because I know that’s an intent to be there which means something and it’s very dear to me.
TC: So as for the present, you are still here in London for the moment then off to Germany for a few days after but what is next for Sonia Leigh?
SL: Man, everyone keeps asking me that?
TC: Is it just a case of “being Sonia”?
SL: I’m so random, I never know what I’m gonna do next! I’m hoping that I get to come back soon, I would love to come back in the fall as I usually try to come over at least twice a year. I want to start writing for my next studio record, I really enjoy sometimes spending time in my room writing and learning how to produce. I have another side project that I’m working on called Rob the Man which I want to get out there soon which is a collective bill of artists that I brought together again. Then I suppose anything goes! I ride the wind! I’m independent so I can do that, you know but I’m really hoping to get some support on board as far as a label, publishing and booking goes. I’m forming that team here!
TC: So to finish things off, the day before you fly back over here from the States: what is the thing that you are so looking forward to about coming back to the UK? What is it we do so much better that you wish was the same in the US?
SL: You’re gonna think I’m completely crazy but you know what, (giggles to herself) I love the shop sandwiches!
TC: (both us laughing) What? Like in Tesco?
SL: Yes!!!!!! I just like the little sandwiches and is it Pret that have the tuna toastie thing? Also the Indian food here is awesome but being here it’s all about the company you keep! Thank you so much for coming to hang out and support.
TC: No, Thank you for coming to talk to us and coming over to see us so often! Anyway Sonia Leigh, as always been an absolute pleasure and see you again soon!
SL: Love you guys at Think Country dude!
Sonia’s Live in London – Studio 3 Sessions album is available now on iTunes and is something that is well and truly worth supporting which will give you a real taste of how passionate this lady is about music and why she has become a firm favourite for UK country fans to see live.