Photo Credit: David McClister

What does it mean to have a song speak to you? Most popular music has lyrics, and a part of a song speaking is hearing those words and appreciating the writing that went into it. There’s more to it than that, though. It takes an especially gifted musician to make every chord, every riff, and every note resonate with emotion. When you listen to music from someone like that, everything clicks. Every second of their work combines to create a piece of art and a story that takes your breath away. Joanne Shaw Taylor is one of those artists.

If you’ve listened to any of Taylor’s previous six albums, you’ve likely felt that connection yourself. The British artist is no stranger to sharing her deepest thoughts through her music. Combine that with the powerful rock she conjures through expertly played riffs and stunning guitar solos, and it’s easy to understand why her music speaks the way it does. One only needs to check out her recent singles to listen to this in action. “Bad Love” is full of grit and frantic energy, an embodiment of Taylor plunging into a relationship that might not be built to last. On a different note, “The Best Thing” is Taylor at her most confident, reveling in her abilities and built on a smooth riff and containing a nuanced, joyful solo.

These singles are taken from Taylor’s upcoming seventh album Reckless Heart. Already released in the UK and set for a May 17 release stateside, Reckless Heart finds her exploring every aspect of a particular relationship, from the highest points of love and joy to the rockiest moments when it’s not clear it will last. It’s a compelling listen, built upon the decision to record most of the album with a live band. Each track contains the give and take only a group of people together in a room can create, which suits Taylor’s natural energy and talent perfectly.

Ahead of the US release of Reckless Heart, Joanne Shaw Taylor sat down with Substream to discuss the upcoming album, the recording process, and performing live.

Substream: You recorded Reckless Heart live for the most part. What inspired that decision? What were some of the adjustments you had to make for that process?

Joanne Shaw Taylor: That was Al [Sutton] the producer’s choice. He was very adamant from the beginning that that’s what he wanted to hear and felt he was missing in my previous albums. It was a pretty natural thing for me to do since I’m no stranger to live performance, so it was a natural transition in the studio. It was made easier by the level of backing musicians he choose. They were such a perfect fit for me that is was joyful to play along with them.

It’s been 10 years since your first album White Sugar was released. What lessons have you learned over the years that you took into writing and recording Reckless Heart?

I think the main thing was to trust myself. I wanted to write this album myself and not co-write it, which I actually had to fight a little to get it that way. Fortunately my new label and Al were both very supportive of that. It caused me a little anxiety at the beginning of the whole process, but I think the songs worked out really well.

What was it like working with Al on Reckless Heart, both as a friend and as someone with so much experience with rock?

It was great. He’s one of my closest friends, so that actually benefited the whole process. I certainly felt more comfortable to share songs and ideas with him than I would have if we were just meeting. It was also a lot of fun. I think his rock background had the most influence on what guitar amps we used and the awesome Bonham-style drum tones he manages to capture.

The album was recorded in Detroit with local musicians. What was the experience like working in such a historic musical location and with such skilled people?

That was great, as well. I’ve lived in Detroit for most of my adult life so it’s home. It was a really nice experience and just really nice for me to finally make an album in a city that’s had such a big impact on my life.

Reckless Heart is very personal. What’s the process like channeling these strong emotions from your life into a musical format?

Firstly, you open a bottle of wine and then you decide to be very honest about your feelings! I loved writing this album. Tt really was a chance to say a lot of things for me that I didn’t get the chance to do in person basically.

You went unplugged for the track “Jake’s Boogie,” which is something you haven’t done before. What goes into performing and writing such a raw, intimate track?

I’d never recorded a track like that mainly because it is so sparse and bare I knew it would show any faults in my performance. I think I just realized I was capable and it would also make an interesting addition to the flow of the album.

You’ve already started performing these songs live, and they’re some of your most emotional and powerful tracks yet. How does it feel sharing these parts of your life and your experiences with a live audience?

Really incredible. Most nights I see people singing the lyrics so it’s nice to know they’re getting the benefit out of them. Also I’ve started to notice more females in the audience, which is nice for me since I obviously right from a female’s perspective.

Joanne Shaw Taylor will be on tour this summer. A list of dates can be found below.

05/17 Columbus, OH @ Rumba Café
05/18 Westland, MI @ The Token Lounge
05/20 Chicago, IL @ City Winery
05/23 Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live
05/25 Fall River, MA @ Narrows Center for the Arts
05/26 Boston, MA @ City Winery
05/28 New York, NY @ Iridium
05/30 Alexandria, VA @ Birchmere
06/03 Nashville, TN @ City Winery
06/05 Atlanta, GA @ City Winery
07/20 Sioux Falls, SD @ Sioux Falls JazzFest
07/21 Minneapolis, MN @ The Dakota
07/26 Sisters, OR @ Sisters Rhythm & Brews Fest
08/09 Delafield, WI @ Waukesha Rotary Blues Fest
08/16 Barcelona, Spain @ Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea
09/05&06 Las Vegas, NV @ Big Blues Bender