Layla Zoe has come a long, long way since that audition with Canadian Idol – ten albums, a live DVD, and the title of “Canada’s darling of the blues.’ Her whiskey-laced voice reminds you of everyone from Melissa Etheridge to Janis Joplin, but there’s really no one like her today. In an age of auto tune and empty lyrics, songs like Sweet Angel and Backstreet Queen are refreshingly poignant, and above it all, she’s a monster on the stage and says, “My favorite part of the job is on stage connecting with the fans in a personal way through the energy of the music”. As we always say, “Where the music takes us, is a spiritual place.”
We are so lucky we get to see her live at the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai (10th – 11th February 2018). Eventraveler had the honor of catching up with Layla just before she switched off for the year. Here are some of the highlights from that interview.
While most songwriters work from within, your father figures especially heavily in your music. How has that relationship informed your work? Is it hard to lay it all out?
I only lived with my father until the age of 15 years old, and then I left and lived on my own. But aside from the personal issues I suffered in my childhood with my parents, I do still thank my father for introducing me to the blues, through his record collection and his love of great music. My father also introduced me to so many of the artists I still love and are inspired by today, such as Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Frank Zappa. I was very blessed and am grateful to have had a parent who understood and respect truly good music.
Your voice is so refreshingly deep and dark, and your stage presence reminds me of a young Melissa Etheridge. Who inspires you today?
I am inspired by so many things. Love, nature, strength, pain. But when it comes to artists, some of the ones who inspire me the most are the ones who do something that I cannot, and that is often the guitarists. I have no ability when it comes to guitar and can only play some simple chords, but some of my favorite musicians are the guitar players like Frank Zappa, Peter Green, Roy Buchanan. Also I am inspired by the songwriters like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison. For current artists, I have to say that I believe Tedeschi Trucks band is one of the best bands in the blues scene today.
Tell us a little bit about Songs from the Road and what it was like to produce a live album.
I had released a live album before “Live at Spirit of 66” in 2015 with my prior label “Cable Car Records” and that double album was very well received. But “Songs from the Road” (Ruf Records 2017) was special because it included a live DVD and featured my current band. My fans from around the world had been asking for a live DVD for years, so it felt good to finally be able to give them this.
(From “Live at Spirit of 66”)
Do you listen to chart music at all? If so, is there anyone you love and any particular song you’d love to cover?
I am not much for current music. I cannot relate to a lot of the “chart” music because it is mostly pop music, from what my ears can tell, and as much as many of the songs are very well written, produced and promoted, I think much of the music is lacking some “heart and soul.”
However for current artists I like Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Eddie Vedder, Nick
Cave, and many more. But top of the charts music rarely interests me, sadly.
If you had to choose one song from your body of work most representative of your musicality, which would it be?
That is a very hard question. But songs that showcase my vocal range, passion and writing abilities are songs like “The Lily”, “Sweet Angel”, “Highway of Tears”, “Backstage Queen”…But there are so many songs, that tell different stories through my life and career, and hold a special place for me.
My favorite songs on the album are Sweet Angel and Highway of Tears. They both feel terribly personal. I know the second is a social commentary, but can you give us a little bit of background on both those songs?
Sweet Angel was written about my best friend Marsha Meidow who died in 2010 of a brain aneurysm. It was so fast, unexpected and painful, to lose her so suddenly with little if any explanation for why, since the doctors know so little about these types of aneurysm. But I feel she is with me still, watching over me, today.
Highway of Tears is written in memory of all of the indigenous (native Indian) women of Canada who have been murdered and gone missing in East Vancouver as well as on the actual “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia. It is one of the greatest shames of my country and little of anything has been done for the families by our government or police in Canada. It is shameful and needs to be talked about so more people understand what is happening in my country, and so hopefully with education there can come change.
Your music feels tailor made for a live audience, a hark back to arena rock. What’s your favorite part about touring, and your least favorite?
I love to meet new people and sing in new regions. And it is of course lovely to eat new food, and see new cultures when I am on tour traveling. But honestly I love more the feeling and knowledge of my music reaching into the hearts of new people from new places, through my direct contact with them through their eyes, ears and souls, from the stage.
Is this your first time in India? If so, what are you most excited to experience?
This will be my first time in India. It is honestly a dream come true. I have wanted to see and visit India for a very long time but have never had the chance, so to be invited to sing for the people of India is simply a feeling I cannot express in words, so I will have to try and express it better through my songs, when I am there, on stage. I am so excited about it, and look forward to the energy that can be exchanged through this experience!