Interview: Singer/Songwriter Miel de Botton Realizes Enduring Musical Ambition and Passion on 'Magnetic' Debut

'There was a growing freedom in me in feeling that I really wanted to pursue what I wanted to do in life, and that life can be short...'

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night

The mercurial legend proves himself surprisingly suited to these songs of auspicious pining and futile, forlorn desire.

Interview: Veteran Bassist Nathan East Celebrates Solo Success with Old Friends, New Documentary

'Music is one of those things that brings us together.' — Nathan East

Album Review: The Jeff Healey Band - Live at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern 1993

Delivering a potent set heavy on electric blues and juke-joint-friendly rock ‘n’ roll, Healey brings the band to maximum boil.

DVD Review: Bob Marley - Uprising Live!

Marley was incendiary to the end.

March 04, 2015

Interview: Singer/Songwriter Miel de Botton Realizes Enduring Musical Ambition and Passion on 'Magnetic' Debut

“I’m still kind of pinching myself,” says Miel de Botton on the line from her home in London, keen to discuss her forthcoming debut, Magnetic, whilst offering insights to circumstances that both instigated and hindered its making. 

Indeed the Swiss-born philanthropist would be the first to concede that while the double album realizes her life’s abiding passion — to craft and interpret music for the masses, to sing intimately personal songs that reflect universalities of the heart, particularly French chansons she first heard as a child that continue to resonate with her as an adult — it does so as a result of much self-scrutiny and reflection.

Raised in relative affluence, coming of age amid the implicit (and sometimes overt) expectations of scholastic and professional accomplishment, particularly those of her father — Gilbert de Botton, who died at age 65 in 2000, was a venerable financier and fine art benefactor — she wavered between his wishes and her own ambitions. She studied law at Oxford, later worked as a clinical psychologist in Paris. As she entered her forties, having married and divorced while raising two young children, de Botton ultimately decided to pursue her artistic promise in earnest.

Produced by Andy Wright (whose credentials include works by Duran Duran, Simple Minds, and the Eurythmics), Magnetic is whimsical in some moments, solemn in others, and altogether inspired throughout. 

Was there some sort of realization that your passion was translatable as talent? Most people reach a point where they recognize that they can’t go any further than their passion.

It’s interesting. It did take a long time, and I think that time was actually beneficial to me because it was a time of maturing. Then suddenly things did seem to all line up and doors were opening. I had a lot of enthusiasm and passion and … I had a beneficial environment, I guess, that I’m very grateful for. I wish it for the maximum number of people out there, but I can’t fully explain why me at this stage because I’ve myself got a sense of wonder about it. 

How did you connect with Andy Wright?

That was one in a series of coincidences which were, I think, quite magical. I was working with a band before and I couldn’t find a producer who was giving me a reasonable offer. I asked this lady, who’s my healer, and I was just chatting to her and I said, “I’m really having trouble.” She said, “Why don’t you come to this event next week. I think this producer, Andy Wright, might be there.” So I looked him up, and I thought, My God, this guy is the real deal. So, yes, I met him there, and his first question was, “Are you incredibly ambitious?” And I said, “Why, yes sir!” [Laughs] 

The chemistry between you two in the studio has been good?

It’s been really good. I think initially we were both a little bit on our guards and didn’t really know what was going to come out of this. Gradually it just grew stronger and stronger to the extent that we’ve just got this great creative synergy where I come in with my words and my melodies and he puts them to orchestration and instrumentation. It’s just so fabulous. It blows me away every time.

Have you been singing throughout your life or have you only come to it within the last few years?

I’ve been doing it throughout my life just to bring me a feeling of joy and a kind of healing thing in in my life. I just love to do it, singing and dancing. But in a more structured way I’ve only been doing it for three years, but I have been very actively doing it with two voice coaches who are classically trained. They have developed my voice; it’s been really amazing. I’ve seen it develop with their teaching, and that’s been an amazing process. 

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that Leonard Cohen is one of your biggest influences. How did his music first enter your life and ultimately have such a profound effect on you? 

He was played to me in my childhood by my parents. The music that went through the house was mainly classical. We had some Janis Joplin, and a lot of Leonard Cohen. So I sort of grew up with him, liking the melodies but obviously not understanding the words so much. Then, when I was a teenager, I connected with his words. That was when I really connected with him.

Growing up you weren’t encouraged toward the kind of ambition you’re now pursuing, but rather toward a traditional, education-based kind of career. Your father, in particular, was someone who greatly supported the arts and who appreciated the talents of those artists. Still — and it seems contradictory — it seems like he didn’t feel that a vocation in the arts was on par with, say, being a doctor or a lawyer.

It’s an interesting question because, I must say, I think this was very much lying dormant. People would say I had a pretty voice and I had a lovely voice and things like that, but it was not something that stood out. That’s why I think the timing was… In a way, maybe it was meant to be. In any case, it just took some time to mature. Nobody really thought it at the time, including me. I loved to sing and that was my dream, but I’m not sure I even voiced that, to be honest. I think it was just something that I loved. I never thought of it myself even as something vocational. So maybe it was all just a blind spot that we had, I don’t know. 

So this wasn’t a case where you professed your desire to pursue your musical ambition and you were denied.

No, no. But maybe the blind spot was due to the fact that we were all very academically pushed and that this was not something which would have been considered necessarily a career, a serious career. So I think there was some of that involved, but none of it was voiced. 

What I’m getting, then, is that your father wasn’t necessarily disparaging any sort of artistic course. He didn’t even know it was there to encourage.

Exactly. To be honest, he was quite disparaging about the psychology initially. He always said it was akin to flower arranging. He was much preferring the law; that was really his preferred [option].

In a general way, though, your father’s wishes for you were ultimately in looking out for your wellbeing. He wasn’t encouraging you to pursue something just for the sake of pleasing him; he was trying to get you to do something that would provide for you in the future.

Exactly, but in so doing he definitely did have trouble accepting the psychology. When he saw that it was serious, then he accepted it. But he said, “You finish your law degree.” Then he wanted me to continue to become a solicitor or a barrister, and it was my brother [author/philosopher Alain de Botton] actually who intervened and said, “Leave her in peace. She wants to do psychology.” 

As you’ve now come to music after doing other vocations, some of which were rewarding in their own ways but ultimately weren’t as fulfilling to you as a career in music, what finally convinced you to turn your passion into a professional pursuit?

I think it’s a combination of internal and external factors. I was a clinical psychologist before and I did that for many years, but I had stopped doing that quite a while ago. I had a personal tragedy. My father died very suddenly. I decided just to take a break, raise my two children, and I think there was a growing freedom in me in feeling that I really wanted to pursue what I wanted to do in life, and that life can be short. But I think it was just gradually with maturing with a feeling of freedom and joy, and that was coming out in singing and dancing with people around me, and they picked up on it. I think that’s how it happened. Everybody, friends and people who worked with me, [were] suddenly picking up on it and all saying, “You should speak with this person. You should speak with that person. Your voice is really lovely.” It was mainly about freedom and joy and enthusiasm after a lot of hardship — I [also] got divorced — a lot of sadness. Out of that came a feeling that I wanted to be free of that and fully express myself. I think the inner then influences the outer.

Do those hardships you’ve been through inform your songwriting or come through in your music in some constructive way?

Yeah, definitely, maybe in the same way that Leonard Cohen uses it. There’s a mixture of melancholy mood and searching for joy. One cannot really go without the other. I think if you’ve lived through the melancholy you long for the joy. 

Magnetic will be released on March 9. 

For more information on Miel de Botton, please visit the artist’s official website.

February 16, 2015

Album Review: The Jeff Healey Band - Live at The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern 1993

While he’s most widely known for his 1988 cover of John Hiatt’s classic, “Angel Eyes,” Jeff Healey possessed a talent that was at once eclectic and expansive. Indeed almost seven years after the blind musician’s death at 41, it’s unlikely that even Healey’s most ardent fans have yet to appreciate the full extent of his artistry. 

Adding a bit more perspective to the overall picture, so to speak, Live at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern 1993 (Eagle Records) finds the JHB delivering a potent set heavy on electric blues and juke-joint-friendly rock ‘n’ roll. While with a stunning pair of love songs (“You’re Coming Home” and, of course, “Angel Eyes”) Healey summons a warm and tender respite amid the otherwise raucous selections, with scorching versions of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and B. B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” he brings the band to maximum boil.

February 08, 2015

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night

Bob Dylan

Perhaps it’s ironic that Bob Dylan, who revolutionized the craft of popular songwriting in the Sixties onward and thus delineated it from that of the standards so prevalent in prior generations, should on Shadows in the Night (Columbia Records) engage the Great American Songbook with such striking sincerity. Incongruous though it may seem, however, the mercurial legend proves himself surprisingly suited to these ten songs which Frank Sinatra recorded toward the middle of the last century. 

Dylan sustains a noirish, pensive conceit from the opening strains of “I'm a Fool to Want You” to the closing crescendo of “That Lucky Old Sun,” underscoring this, his thirty-sixth studio effort, like a solemn cinematic motif. Aside from the music’s lingering melancholy and even the dulcet subtleties of Dylan’s five-piece band on these arrangements, though, the most obvious distinction here — indeed it’s the very first thing you notice — is Dylan’s singing. Though his voice has attained a certain resonant depth and insight with age, it has not sounded this consistently fluent and impassioned since Blood on the Tracks, maybe even since Nashville Skyline, at once suggesting the unmitigated effort these performances require as well as Dylan’s sheer reverence for the material. He is most affecting when a lyric calls for unadorned vulnerability, as manifests in moments like “Full Moon and Empty Arms” and “Why Try to Change Me Now,” which bridge the emotional distance between auspicious pining and futile, forsaken desire. 

January 22, 2015

Write on Music's Favorite Songs of 2014

Better late than never, here are Write on Music’s favorite songs from last year (in alphabetical order):

Amy LaVere – “Last Rock ‘N’ Roll Boy to Dance”: Inspired by her own adolescent exploits on the lam, this Memphis singer/songwriter and upright bassist turned out one of last year’s most imaginative, musically adventurous albums, Runaway’s Diary. Songs by Townes Van Zandt (“Where I Lead Me”) and John Lennon (“How”) help to tell its story, but its finest moments – like this scene-stealing selection – are of LaVere’s own making.

Angela Moyra – “Bubbalu”: From this Dutch singer/songwriter’s charming debut LP, Fickle Island, this little ditty about a crush is so adorable it’s easy to forget that it’s really a lovelorn lament. Hurts so good, indeed.


Bruce Springsteen – “Harry’s Place”: The Boss’ most recent LP, High Hopes, inspired generally mixed reviews among fans and critics – except for Rolling Stone, which deemed it better than every other album released in 2014 save for U2’s similarly polarizing Songs of Innocence. Still, the album has its moments, like an electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (featuring Tom Morello’s scorching guitar) and this song, which had been in the works for years and reflects an urban, edgier sonic perspective of Springsteen’s songwriting.

Cat Power and Coldplay – “Wish I Was Here”: This one (from the Zach Braff film of the same name) is so empathetic and universal it’s almost a wonder that it hadn’t been written before. “Every road that’s wrong feels like the road I’m on,” Chan Marshall sings like she knows the feeling all too well. Maybe you do, too. 

Coldplay – “Oceans”: For those who were perhaps disoriented by Coldplay’s more experimental efforts over the last six or seven years, Ghost Stories recalls some of the melodic, piano-rich balladry of earlier albums, Parachutes especially. This song in particular, enriched by an almost spectral intimacy and Chris Martin’s angular falsetto, is among its most intoxicating highlights.

Eilidh McKellar – “Home”: Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, this burgeoning guitar prodigy summons a mother lode of moxie and musicianship on her remarkable debut LP, Delta Devil Dreams. With this song in particular McKellar not only displays her rich, ribald guitar playing and honeyed vocals but also an endearing melodic disposition.

Jenny Lewis – “Love U Forever”: There has always been something irresistibly quirky about Jenny Lewis, a quixotic mix of understated musicality and narrative chops that at times includes fun bits of kink and blunt confession. Maybe this song is about a lifelong love affair, but you can dance to it even if it’s not.

Jessie Ware – “You & I (Forever)”: With her second album in two years, Tough Love, Ware has proved her debut (Devotion) was no fluke. This lovely song is among its highlights, and it features the most charming video you’ll see all day.

Johnny Marr – “Dynamo”: The former Smiths guitarist and all-around six-string wizard expanded his sonic canvas for his second solo LP, Playland, illustrated here by what Marr described to described to Write on Music as
a love song originally written about a building. “But it was important to me that it felt like someone could sing it to a person who they love,” he added, “romantic love, family love, anything really.” Mission accomplished.

Kasey Chambers with Bernard Fanning – “Bittersweet”: The unflinching honesty expressed in this one is damn near chilling, and its video – shot in one take, ostensibly portrayed by children each representing Chambers and Fanning’s narrators – does little to break the tension or heal the heartache.

Leonard Cohen – “Slow”: Brandishing his old poet’s phonetic authority and a knowing, implicit nod to erotic metaphor, the world’s sharpest-dressed octogenarian heralds the virtues of taking one’s time.

Lera Lynn – “Lying in the Sun”: While the Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s recently released second LP (The Avenues) is currently earning rave reviews, the title track from her previous EP release is just too damn good to overlook. Lynn’s singing on it is breathtaking, her voice coming on as sultry as a slow Southern sunset.

Lily and the Tigers – “Just a Memory”: This aching, mournful gem is but one of the standout moments on the Atlanta, Georgia trio’s masterful LP, The Hand You Deal Yourself. “I definitely was listening to a lot of Otis Redding at the time,” lead singer and principal songwriter Casey Hood told Write on Music last year of the song’s conception. “I love soul and R&B music and Motown.” It certainly sounds that way.

Lucinda Williams – “West Memphis”: The icon shines a light on the case of the West Memphis Three while a raw, wicked groove sputters and snarls beneath her breath. Consider it a sort of conviction conniption, if you will.

Marissa Nadler – “Firecrackers”: There are artists who sing for you and ones who sing to you, touching a soft spot while your guard’s down to remind you you’re alive. Nadler is of the latter distinction. From her sublime LP, July, this song is utterly exquisite.

Nicole Atkins – “The Worst Hangover”: This stone-soul throwback appears on Atkins’ latest album, Slow Phaser, which is not only the culmination of a gifted artist coming into her own but also the best work of her career to date. 

Priscilla Ahn – “Diana”: With her third LP, This is Where We Are, Ahn signalled a shift, if not a complete departure, from the acoustic-informed aesthetic of her earliest recordings while this, the album’s sensuous opening track, sets the tone. 

Sharon Van Etten – “Nothing Will Change”: Van Etten summoned a tour de force with her 2014 LP, Are We There, translating often intense, personal introspections into universal revelations and, in songs like this one, delivering each lyric like a visceral, nerve-exposed soliloquy.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Forgotten Man”: Stinging with anger and resentment, this one starts off sounding a little like “American Girl” but soon imposes its own ornery indignance on Hypnotic Eye, easily Petty’s best album in years.

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – “I Keep it to Myself”: Literally knocking on Heaven’s door, the iconic Dr. Feelgood guitarist sought to make one last album, on which The Who’s indomitable frontman was more than happy to join together with the man. As Johnson told Write on Music last year, the chemistry between the two was immediate. “Everybody got on well,” he added. “We just started working ferociously.” And the resulting album, Going Home, is invigorating...almost as much as the miraculous twist of fate that ultimately saved this beloved legend’s life.

January 12, 2015

Interview: Veteran Bassist Nathan East Celebrates Solo Success with Old Friends, New Documentary

Nathan East

If all you knew about Nathan East was on which albums he’s played, or with which legends he’s performed in concert, you’d fail to appreciate the humanity that accompanies his talent and makes him one of the most respected and sought-after musicians in the world. 

“Music is one of those things that brings us together,” East tells Write on Music. “I’ve found that over the years that I’ve been blessed by becoming friends with people through music.”

In a new documentary, Nathan East: For The Record, the veteran bassist is fêted by many of those friends, including Eric Clapton, Quincy Jones, Phil Collins, Al Jarreau, and Lionel Richie, among others. Ostensibly chronicling East’s life and career to date, the film centers around the making of his long-awaited self-titled solo debut, which was released in March of last year by Yamaha Entertainment Group. 

The album, which topped the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums Chart for four weeks — and owned the Top 50 Album Chart for an unprecendented twenty-five weeks — is now up for a GRAMMY® in the category of Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. 

“It’s still a surreal feeling to me,” says East of the nomination. “You try not to think about it, but you think about it. And so when it happened it was just magic.” 

How did you react to seeing some of your peers and mentors sing your praises in the documentary?

To be honest, I cried. I was at the first premiere in New York and we were going to do a Q&A after, and it took me about ten minutes to just regain my composure because I was just very emotionally moved to tears.... It’s usually a memorial service when all these guys are saying these things about you. And when I attend memorial services I think to myself, This person would’ve loved to have known that so many of these people felt like this about them and loved them and articulated that. So it was a very emotional evening — and obviously for many reasons — seeing my family in there, my son who played on the record, and then especially [drummer] Ricky Lawson, who was all over the record. 

That’s a very poignant part of the film that addresses his untimely passing.

It really goes to show you that you never know… We’re not guaranteed anything. You can see the footage of us in the studio. There we are having fun and little did we know that was going to be our last project together.

When you’ve been called on to play with artists who have influenced you and your musical tastes — people like Eric Clapton or Quincy Jones or Stevie Wonder — does it take some getting used to when you’re playing with your heroes?

Well, to this day I’m grateful when those calls come, and the thing that I appreciate the most is that I studied these guys when I was coming up. So to hear from them, for them to become friends, and to work with them — even to this day — I’m saying to myself, “This is still amazing to me.” I still appreciate it. I don’t take any of it for granted. I appreciate their gift and the fact that they look to me to help them with their mission of getting their music out there really to me is still the highest honor. Because I do realize how much time in the early days I spent listening to Quincy Jones and Clapton and Stevie Wonder, studying these parts; my ear went to the bass and really they became part of my DNA. It’s a thrill, I have to say. It’s a total thrill and honor. 

I can only imagine how surreal it must’ve felt, especially early on, playing something like “Sunshine of Your Love” live on stage and looking beside you to see the guy who played on it originally.

The intimidating part early on was I kept hoping in my mind, I hope what I’m doing is good enough. I hope he likes what I’m doing.

Clapton seems very intuitive about what he wants musically and, at the same time, perceptive of those qualities in other players.

As a matter of fact, I remember when I did an instructional DVD called The Business of Bass, and I interviewed a few of these guys like Eric, Phil Collins, Quincy Jones, David Foster, Babyface, producers and artists that I respected. I asked them what was the one thing they looked for most in a musician? The answer was unanimously the same across the board: someone who listens.

Most people, they practice something in their room; they practice a lick. Now they’re going to go down to the band and play that. Without even listening to what’s going on, they’re basically just going to show what they’ve been practicing. That’s not the dialogue. The dialogue is listening. Eric has always appreciated when somebody can almost start to read his mind and know where he’s going to go and then meet him there. That’s one of the things that really, really makes music fun in playing and very interesting and keeps it special. 

In the For The Record documentary, Clapton describes you as being a good listener, actually.

Yeah, he really appreciates that a lot. That’s one of the things — and I’ve been studying these guys forever — when I was coming up my ear would just go to the bass-line on all these tunes. And so when I was in Japan and playing the bass-line to “Taxman” and I looked to my left and there’s George Harrison. That’s crazy! 

George Harrison is sort of an anomaly in the sense that most fans have an idea of what kind of man he was, but they don’t know much about how he worked behind the scenes, particularly in his solo career. What was he like in the studio or in rehearsing for his 1991 tour of Japan? You must’ve felt incredibly privileged to be a part of that.

Oh, yeah, a huge honor to be spending all day with a man like this or the band. You realize how down-to-earth these people are. You laugh and you joke and you break for lunch. You do the same thing you do at any other job, only it’s playing with a Beatle. George was very easygoing. He wasn’t too worried about everything. If you were in the general vicinity of the right notes and chords, he was happy.

As our friendship grew, he would come over to my house here in L.A. and meditate, and I’d think, George Harrison and me, we just meditated together! It was one of those things where you just realize there’s no accident; this is a very special human being. It’s a privilege and an honor and a gift to be in the room with him.

You say he wasn’t particularly fussy if you were in the vicinity of the right notes, but how was he on songs like “Devil’s Radio” or “Got My Mind Set On You”, ones that were as new to him to play as they were to you and the rest of the band at the time?

He was as hard on himself as he was [on the band] because he was kind of learning the chords and re-learning things. He would sit there and go over the changes himself until he got it right. So it was kind of good because we could all learn together. That’s what rehearsal is for, to get everything worked out and then get it tight and ready to play for forty-five thousand people. 

One of your earliest breaks was working with Barry White. I never really thought he got his due for the sheer scope of his skills. He got pegged as an R&B crooner, but he wrote charts and orchestrations... His talent far exceeded that solely of a singer.

You know what? Every note that you heard coming out of those records, he came up with. He would sing the orchestral arrangements to Gene Page that were going through his head. I learned how to write bass-lines from Barry White. I often joke that I went to BWU — Barry White University — because [of] spending every day in the studio with this man and watching him give every single person their part, from the guitar player to the drummer to two bass players. It was an education that I will be forever grateful for because I learned so much from him on how to create bass parts and how, just in general, to put songs together. 

You got to perform live with him, too.

To do something at that early an age, then there’s no doubt in your mind: This is what I want to do. If you can imagine, sixteen years old, sitting at Madison Square Garden or on the stage at the Apollo Theatre in New York to a sold-out audience, it was magic. I had a great learning experience and a great opportunity to see just how it works when a guy like that is at the top. It was like a machine…. He was a very, very creative guy. He came up with all of those parts and titles. It was kind of funny because you’d look at the album credits and literally it’d be, “Cover concept by Barry White. Artwork by Barry White”—

“Spoken intro by Barry White.” I liked how instead of songs with titles like “I Love You,” he’d write something like “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me.” The titles had, like, fifteen words. 

Right! That’s pretty funny. [Laughs] Oh, I had no idea you were that tuned into him... I was a big fan. 

His music was just always around. I don’t even remember how I first got clued into it. It’s weird how music can do that. It’s like water or something; it’s always been there.

That’s why I always say music is the most magical and spiritual event… You can’t touch it, you can’t smell it. You just feel it.

Back when you were first trying to make your name as a session player, was it mainly by word of mouth that you’d become known to other musicians?

Pretty much. Lionel used to say, “It’s kind of a business of stepping stones.” You really leave your mark behind as soon as you walk out of the studio door. So, whatever you do when you’re in there, make it stick because it’s going to be around for a long time.… Back in the day I’d go across the hall to do a session for the Jacksons. Then I’d jump in and do [one with] Lionel Richie. Then you’d have Phil Collins in the other studio. Clapton in another one. I mean, it was amazing. 

When you show up for a session now — let’s say you haven’t worked with this particular artist, so you’re only familiar with what you’ve heard on the radio — what is your usually your approach? 

It becomes a collaboration, a collaborative effort. A studio is really a place where the music is born, and unless they’ve written every note down and just have a complete, solid, concrete idea in their head that “this is the way it has to be” — which, it still doesn’t turn out like that — then you really take a blank piece of paper or a blank hard drive and it’s like you get your tools out and start painting. Then at some point somebody decides that, “You know what? This is ready. It’s finished. It’s produced. Let’s mix it, master it, and see what happens.” Normally when I come to the studio, it’s been everything from A to Z to where there’s a bass part completely written out there for me to interpret or there’s nothing and I have to come up with it, write it. They’re depending on me to create the bass-line for the song. 

You’re not going to wait long to do your next solo album, are you?

No, we’re working on it right now. This has been the greatest experience connecting with Yamaha Entertainment Group and my buddy and partner, Chris Gero, who’s really told the story [with the documentary, For The Record] in a very classy way. I’ve got to say, he got me into the studio and between the two of us we really tried to come up with something that we would feel would be embraced by the world and do our best effort. 

Nathan East is available now from Yamaha Entertainment Group.

Nathan East: For The Record is currently available to stream on Hulu.