Interview with Shelly Poole
By Lesley Hastings
Having spoken briefly to the charming Shelly Poole, one third of the “Alt-Country” band Red Sky July, (http://redskyjuly.com/band-members/) on several occasions at their gigs I was confident that interviewing her for Think Country was going to be a total pleasure rather than a chore. What I wasn’t prepared for was that two hours we spent chatting together would fly by so very quickly! With Shelly announcing gleefully as soon as we sat down that ” We’ve finished the album!” (referring to ” The Truth and The Lie”, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed second album, “Shadowbirds”, released less than a year ago) we were soon talking about a myriad of subjects and exchanging musical recommendations, but fortunately I did remember to intersperse our relaxed chat with some more formal questions about the band and their music.
LH Sorry for this really basic question, but it’s something I’ve wondered about for a long time now…… how did the band’s name come about?
SP Oh it just came to me out of the blue one evening! We had been agonising about what to call ourselves, and I just came out with “Red Sky July”!! It still seemed like a great name the next morning after sleeping on it, so it stuck!
It means absolutely nothing…..it wasn’t even July and there was no red sky that night either!
LH You seem to be on a creative roll right now, with a new album well underway not long after releasing your previous one. Do you follow a disciplined song-writing process, or does each song evolve differently?
SP I follow a pretty much structured process when writing for other artists as there are usually time constraints, but for RSJ it varies widely. Sometimes I pick up the guitar and write the whole thing in one go, more usually I start with the tempo of the song depending on my frame of mind that day. Look at my phone, it’s full of lyric ideas/poems that come to me……. I make a note of them and can refer to them in the future.
LH At your gigs you often joke about the lack of “happy” songs in your repetoire, yet all three of you come across as such upbeat people. Can you explain this?
SP Actually we are all quite traumatised and dark folk, trying to work out life! But we are all predominantly hopeful people, and on our new album there are definitely more songs that demonstrate this. In general it is massively more up-tempo than our previous ones. Saying that, there is a song about my dead Grandad!
LH Your songs lend themselves to classic country instrumentation……do you get inspiration from any particular artists’ arrangements?
SP No, each song dictates how it is going sound. I have produced the new album myself ( I have produced lots of pop, but never country before) and used musicians we have worked with in the past including Ross Hamilton (bass — he produced and mixed Shadowbirds) Mark Neary ( pedal steel/bass) and Adam Butler ( drums). I love what they do! It’s taken hours and hours to make the ten songs sound perfect, but I couldn’t be happier with the results and I don’t think I’ve ever done better work.
LH You seem to have been touring non-stop in recent months, what with your headline tour promoting “Shadowbirds” last Autumn, opening for a variety of artists such as 10CC, Sheryl Crow, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Sir Tom Jones and making several Summer festival appearances including your Glastonbury debut. Is it important to you to take your music to a wider audience than the country/americana fans who will be most likely to appreciate what you do?
SP Totally. Touring is one of the most important things we can do. There’s increasingly less outlets on tv and radio( although we have had great support from the likes of Ricky Ross )….and anyway, we love touring, playing our songs like they were intended to be heard. I love meeting and chatting to new people at gigs, too, support slots are particularly good for that. I am constantly aware that people are spending their hard earned money and taking their time to come out to see us ( often in the rain!) and I am so grateful that they do.
LH And how was your Glastonbury experience? After all, it’s not a festival renowned for attracting the country music crowd!
SP It was fantastic……it started pouring with rain just as we were about to go on stage, so the tent filled up nicely! The crowd and the sound were amazing, and we got lots of brilliant feedback via social media.
LH One festival where you will be playing to like-minded people is MidwinterFest next January. Will the new album be out by then? https://thinkcountry.co.uk/whats-new/midwinterfest-2/
SP It’s perfect timing, as it is due for release in January so you can guarantee we will be playing lots of our new material there.
LH Any co-writes on ” The Truth and the Lie”?
SP Just Beth Nielsen Chapman, a few collaborations with her on this one.
LH And anyone you dream of collaborating with in the future?
SP That would have to be Bonnie Prince Billy, the God of alt-country!
LH I have seen you play really small, intimate venues and to thousands at places such as the Royal Albert Hall. Any favourites of yours as a band?
SP The Green Note ( in Camden, London) is our absolute favourite, but we also love The Elgar Room ( at the RAH) The Sage, Gateshead and Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall.
LH What does the rest of 2015 have in store for RSJ?
SP Getting the artwork together for the new album, so photo shoots are top of the list! Also, with many of the songs lending themselves to videos, that will keep us busy. Of course we will be doing a promotional tour in 2016 and won’t always have our band with us ( depending on the venue) so we need to re-work and rehearse the songs as a three-piece as opposed to the full production, album versions .
LH Great, I am really excited about all of this…….can’t wait to hear your new material both in CD form and of course live!
Many thanks for taking the time to chat to me. Oh, and for paying for the coffee!!