Given the raw honesty of her music, perhaps it’s unsurprising that no topic is out of bounds for Sandi Thom. The singer-songwriter was happy to talk to us about everything and anything, with subjects ranging from her romantic life; to her experiences of being pregnant; all the way to her incoming album. She was as brave and unfettered as one would hope, and the real passion she has for her music and her fans was obvious in every single one of her answers.
Of course, for said fans, Thom will need no introduction. She has a devoted following, one that she treats with respect and care. To the public at large she will be best known as the musician behind the megahit I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) but her back catalogue is much more varied and diverse than that single. Her albums are full of hidden gems; 2008’s The Pink & The Lily, for example, is full of tender hits, with the emotive and defiant I’m A Human Being representing Thom’s work at its most nuanced and affecting.
We spoke to Thom about the real life inspiration behind Earthquake; how it feels to play such an emotive song in public; and the time she was kicked out of a choir…
Joseph Earp: How are you and where in the world does our interview find you today?
Sandi Thom: I’m good thanks! I’m writing this en route to a radio show in the Midlands of the UK. It’s rainy and I need to pee! Comes with the territory of being 6 months pregnant.
JE: Earthquake is openly autobiographical. Was it difficult to draw from your own life in this way?
ST: I’ve been out in LA for the past 5 years with my ex Joe Bonamassa, and like the old British Empire I was living in a state of splendid isolation. So when he left, unannounced, and walked out of my life, it was the most natural thing to do to want to write and sing about the way I felt. Earthquake came easy: it was one of the songs that wrote itself. My struggle found a voice.
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JE: It’s such an emotive, powerful song. How does it feel to perform such an honest work live in public?
ST: Some songs you look forward to performing live more than others, because you know you can deliver it straight from the heart and that people will connect with that, this is one of those songs.
JE: Your new album Weapons Of Past Destruction is due out early next year. What can you tell us about the record? How is it different from your work in the past?
ST: The opener The Feeling is sassy, sexy and different, which segues into an almost Celtic sounding ballad called Angel. Earthquake is the third track on the album, followed by a piece I wrote called World War One written from the soldier’s perspective of being in a war. My favourites are personally Earthquake, Look Up and Ghosts, which is set to be the second single and is about letting go of your past.
The whole album for me personally is about letting go of the past, hence the title. As I wrote and recorded each song, I moved further away from the sad, lonely, helpless person I had become in the aftermath of my break-up to someone who found themselves again. So each one of them is a weapon of past destruction.
JE: Was it an easier record to write than your others?
ST: Each one of my albums has been a different experience, [with a] different location, people and musicians. This album was entirely self produced whereas the last was produced by Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson. But the most challenging thing about this record was making it pregnant! There were a few moments where I had to cut recordings and run to the toilet in my first trimester!
JE: Can you tell us about the significance of the title? Where did that phrase come from?
ST: Well, it’s a play on words. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ is a pretty commonly used term these days in the news that talks about war and conflict, all of which are themes that run through this album. [Also] Appetite for Destruction was already taken! The title describes each song as a weapon used to rid the past of all situations and people that were a destructive force in your life.
JE: You’re in that weird interim period where it’s after you’ve written the album, but before it’s come out. How do you feel about the record now? How do you feel about the idea of it going out into the world?
ST: I’m excited to let people hear it, but at the same time apprehensive to get it 100% right. Its my first ever self produced album so it represents me in more ways than one.
JE: It’s been two years since the release of your last album, Covers Collection. What did you get up to during that time?
ST: Since the Covers Collection and starting production on this record I mostly toured: Australia, New Zealand, USA, Europe, Australasia, all over the world really. The most memorable of gigs was Royal Albert Hall with Brian May. As well as that I just got married, rescued a dog called Laddie, baby is on the way and I just relocated back to the UK!
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JE: In terms of your song-writing, will you sit down to write a certain number of hours a day, or does it happen with less structure than that?
ST: I’m definitely not one of those songwriters that forces themselves to write for a certain of hours a day: in fact there are times when weeks and even months go by where I don’t write. Usually though my desire to write comes from real life experience, so something has to happen in my life first before I feel compelled to write about it. The other side of that coin is when I write for other artists, I don’t take the same approach. I treat that more as a job, and tend to brainstorm ideas and themes so that when I’m in a session I can hopefully nail the song in the same day. This tends to be the way things are done in places like Nashville.
JE: You’re going on tour soon. What is your favourite thing about being on the road? What is your least favourite thing?
ST: My favourite thing about being on the road is the gigs! When you get the perfect combination of great venue, great crowd, great atmosphere and the magic happens its the best feeling in the world for a performer. My least favourite thing would be the travel, especially since I’m 6 months pregnant, I’m getting to the point where I can’t sit in a vehicle for more than 5 mins without needing the toilet!
JE: Is there a venue or town that you are most looking forward to playing?
ST: My ultimate dream is to play a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, with a full orchestra and to arrange orchestral versions of my songs. That would be the most amazing thing ever!
JE: Of all of your songs, what is the one you are most proud of?
ST: Wow, that’s hard. Of all my songs the one I’m most proud of is probably Time because when you write a song you want it to have an impact on someone’s life, like a great piece of art that you hang and love forevermore. The reason that this song is something I’m very proud of is that so many people tell me that their loved ones chose it for their final song at their funeral. Morbid I know, but actually its the highest compliment anyone could ever pay a writer that they would choose your song to send them off. I can’t think of a higher compliment than that.
JE: Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before.
ST: Tell you something I’ve never told an interviewer? Well lets see, I was a lesbian for a week when I was 19, I accidentally set a field on fire when I was 6 and I was thrown out of the school choir when I was 16.
Sandi Thom’s brand new single Earthquake is out now.