Chantel McGregor attended Leeds College of Music where she achieved a number of awards, including the Leeds College of Music Prize for Outstanding Musicianship. She gained a First Class Honours degree in Popular Music in July 2009, and has gone on to develop a career in the UK and international blues music scene, performing solo and with her band.
We were invited to meet Chantel before her show at the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre on September 9th for a chat, we showed up, she invited us into the 'Green Room' and we chatted about emotional acceptance speeches, KAOS pads in guitars and Joe Bonnamassa, here's how we got on....
Your debut album "Like No Other" was produced by Livingstone Brown who has worked with such artists as Tina Turner, Bryan Ferry, Robin Trower, ABC and Bill Withers, what did you learn from him?
So much, I’ve known him since I was 15, I went for a curry with him last week, he’s going to be recording with me in a couple of weeks in his studio in Brixton (London). From working with him way back, I’ve learnt so much, especially around recording in the studio, it’s a totally different ball game, having to learn things like microphone techniques, working to a click, overdubs etc. You meet a lot of people who are great at playing live, put them in the studio and they just fall apart!….It’s exhausting work in a studio as you’re so focused on getting it right first time (or with minimal amount of takes), some things you really want to do in one take, especially vocal parts, some songs have 15 vocal parts including overlaid harmonies, it’s great fun but bloody hard work!
Liv’s recently been working with Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran and Shakira in America, he works a lot in New York, I’m really excited about working with him again to record my new material.
You have won either best guitarist or best female vocalist every year since 2011 at the British Blues Awards, are your acceptance speeches becoming more and more emotional as the years roll by?
I think they’re becoming more and more nuts as the years roll by! The first year I was so excited, really emotional, and last year, it was toned down a little! This year I was in Spain on holiday and there was no video link (as seen in The Oscars for artists who can’t be bothered to travel!) so I was unable to collect the award. They held the awards ceremony in Lancashire in 2014, previously it was held at the Newark Blues Festival but they moved it the last couple of years. One of my friends collected the award on my behalf, I sent him a text message acceptance speech to read out on stage (no LOL’s or OMG’s) so that was pretty cool, I didn’t even know that I’d won! They ask the top three to attend but you don’t actually know if you’ve won until the night. So there I was, on holiday in Spain, not knowing if I’d won or not, nobody texted me to let me know, no live twitter feed so very frustrating! A nice surprise when I did finally find out though!
From checking out pictures and videos of you on stage, you have quite a collection of guitars with you, do you tend to stick to one brand or do you experiment with different ones to achieve the ideal sound?
It tends to be the right guitar to create the right sound for the track that I’m working on, I do work with a couple of companies, Carvin for amps and PRS for guitars, I also use a Musicman guitar through choice, they’re great guitars. I also use a strat (which I have owned since I was 12), it’s so comfy, sort of a lovely sunburst colour, it’s my very own ‘Frankenstein’ guitar as it has been altered so much over the years, it’s been doctored so many times, it’s had more pickups that most people have had hot dinners!
Being in Exeter, I hope you’ve found time to check out Mansons Guitar Shop?
Yes, we went down earlier on, the shop is absolutely fantastic, I tried a Mansons guitar, I’m after a KAOS pad now to put in a guitar so I can be like Matt Bellamy (from MUSE) I told her that the members of MUSE attended my school and I have seen them countless times in pubs during the early 90’s (she liked that!)
Please take a moment to introduce your band
Bass – Richard Ritchie, known him since I’ve been 12, Keith McPartling on drums, he’s not the drummer from Royal Blood despite looking like and playing just like the drummer from Royal Blood! Been with Richard about 4 years and the drummer about 2 years, this lineup has just worked so well, we all get on, we sometimes have our differences after being cooped up in a van for hours on end and you’re tired but we’re only human.
If push came to shove, who is THE best guitarist alive today? Please explain your answer….
Technically, I would say Guthrie Govan, he is such a monster of a player, his technique is phenomenal, he did an event at Leeds college of music (after I had left), some friends who work there kindly invited me back, we had a chat and a drink and I was telling him that he is a completely insane player, he’s such a nice person as well, so approachable and friendly.
Who are your biggest influences?
I don’t listen to that much guitar music, everyone assumes that I’m constantly wired in, listening to music all the time, sometimes I just have enough of it and just want some peace and quiet! I put my ‘noise cancelling’ headphones on and enjoy some white noise, so relaxing! I would have to say that my biggest influence is Jeff Buckley, such a talented player. On the new material, I’ve written a track about Jeff Buckley in the style of Jeff Buckley, I am playing it live now so if you’ve not heard it yet, get yourself along toa show! The new album is due out early next year, it’s currently in the final stages of mixing, after that, we have to sort out press/promotional activity/touring etc.
I saw a video with you jamming with Joe Bonamassa in Manchester, how was the experience and how did it come about?
It was a fantastic experience, he was playing in Manchester and Leeds on the same tour, I sent him an email asking if he fancied a jam (as you do), he sent one straight back saying that he was in France but would call later on that night, I had a curry on the go but agreed to take a call from Joe Bonnamassa (who wouldn’t?). We chatted, discussed interests, I soon found out that his life was very similar to mine in his upbringing so we got on great, he said to come to the show and get up at the soundcheck, I went to the show, there was no time during the soundcheck so he just said to get up during the encore. So here’s Joe Bonnamassa, he’d never heard me play and I was really thinking “are you honestly okay with this?”. It went brilliantly, we did it again a couple of days later and the following year we did it again, we chat regularly and keep in touch, a real down to earth guy.
If you could form your own ‘Supergroup’, who would be in it?
Lady Gaga on vocals (epic frontwoman), me on guitar, drums would be Tal Wilkenfeld (Jeff Becks bass player). On drums, maybe Sheila E, she’s pretty cool or maybe Gavin Harrison from Porcupine Tree, such an epic drummer.
What age did you start playing the guitar and can you remember the first song you learned to play? (I assume it wasn’t Voodoo Chile!)
I was 3 years old when dad bought me a half size guitar, at 7 I started to have lessons, for some reason, the first song I learnt to play ‘Walking on Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves (not very rock n’ roll I know), I remember standing in the conservatory shouting at my mum saying that I’d learnt to play a song and screaming with delight (I did ask Chantel if she wanted me to lie and say something a little 'sexier' but she agreed to stick with Katrina and her Waves!) She admitted that she’s not really that rock n’ roll anyway !!
What advice would you give to someone starting out on their musical journey today?
Be prepared to sacrifice everything, your time, your money, relationships, life in general! Be prepared to give it all up, work solidly 24/7, travel, lose touch with friends and basically work your ass off as it WILL pay off in the end. It’s a tough, long, torturous journey but looking back, I have enjoyed every minute of it, every sleepless night in cold hotels, wandering about small towns looking for food at midnight after a show, wouldn’t exchange it for anything else!
You’re on tour at the moment, please tell me the best and worst things about ‘living on the road’?
The worst thing is sitting in a sweaty van with a suitcase on your leg as there’s no room for it in the back and you need a wee! Nobody has eaten properly and everyone is cranky! We recently drove 6 hours from Brighton to St Ives in Cornwall for a gig, we did the gig, went back to the hotel, stayed a few hours and before you know it, we’re on the road again, sleep deprivation is the one thing that really throw’s me, I love my sleep.
The best thing is that you see beautiful places, this week alone we will have done 7 gigs in a row! We were recently in St Ives, an interesting gig, we had a few technical issues on stage which resulted in quite a stressful evening. Afterwards I just wanted a drink, so after a couple of beers and a glass of wine, I started to chill out and decided to get some food, looking around the town at midnight, there was a Cornish band playing Hendrix covers in the style of The Fisherman’s Friends, it was bizarre….so we wandered past the pub and up the road and we could smell Chinese food, luckily, we got in there minutes before they closed. We sat eating food out of plastic containers with plastic forks drinking beers that we had bought back from Belgium, you really know when you’ve ‘made it’ !! But it was such fun !! we were all giggling and laughing, such a good night!
What is your favourite Saturday Night and Sunday Morning albums?
Saturday nights tend to be me going out and drinking copious amounts of real ale or cocktails, when I get in from the pub, I always play ‘Grace’ by Jeff Buckley, really loudly or the Live album (in Chicago), this generally bleeds into Sunday morning and the album is usually still playing. It’s normally Sunday afternoon by the time I get up, for this, I normally pop a John Mayer album on, something relaxing!
If push came to shove, what is the BEST album ever released?
Grace by Jeff Buckley, I know I just mentioned the album but it really is THE best album ever made!
Tell me a fascinating fact about you or a band member…
Well I have a passion for fast cars, I adore fast cars, I can’t afford them and I prey on people who have them so that they let me drive them. I’ve done quite a few track days.
What was the last thing you ate?
An Aberdeen Angus steak from Wetherspoons in Exeter, cost me £12 which is pretty much gourmet food prices, I was hoping it would have been ‘Steak Tuesday’, it wasn’t….
Your 3 best tips to surviving an outdoor festival?
It’s not worth it, we did Cambridge Rock Festival and in the past, I’ve camped and had some brilliant fun (when the weather’s good), this time, there was a torrential storm on the Friday (when we played), Saturday, I got sunburnt as it was about 30 degrees, Sunday, we woke up in a torrential storm, it was the tail end of hurricane Bertha, I was meant to stay until Monday but threw in the towel on Sunday morning, packed up the car and went home for a nice hot bath!
Have you had any Spinal Tap moments, if so please share….
Quite a few, ranging from exploding drummers (or drummers that we had wanted to explode), drummers that have let their passports expire (no names mentioned) 2 hours prior to boarding a ferry and ones that have got to the ferry port and found out that they have left their passports at home! Drummers eh? Who needs drummers?
What was the first gig you went to?
Bryan Adams, a great gig, around the ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ era, it was him, Melissa Etheridge, someone else and Del Amitri on the same bill, an amazing gig for an 8 year old!
There are many many good bands and artists out there, who would you recommend the readers go check out?
Royal Blood, what a band, they’re amazing, they’re number 1 this week, there’s only two of them, just a bass player and a drummer and they are awesome.
Can a chicken ever cross the road without having it’s motives questioned?
No, they always need to get to the other side but it’s what’s on the other side that you need to be concerned with….
What are your plans for the remainder of 2014?
A holiday by Christmas would be nice, well, to be alive by Christmas would be better! I’ve got a lot of plans, we’re in the studio in a couple of weeks, whether these sessions produce the material for the new album we’ll see….to carry on writing as well, I’ve really enjoyed writing recently. Despite all the album tracks being written, I am still tweaking them. Tonight was the 4th thime that we have ever played the new material so we are still developing them, we hope the fans like them!
Chantel had to go and soundcheck so we were swiftly ejected from the 'Green Room' and told that she would finish the interview after the show. Once the 'Sharpie' wielding fans had bought all her CD's and posters, we sat down on a nice brown leather couch and ran through a bunch of quick fire questions....
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
Monty Python or The Fast Show?
Don’t like either
Drum Machine or Real Deal?
Mac or PC?
Steve Collins or Conor McGregor?
Live Show or Recording Studio?
Fry Up or Sunday Roast?
Lemmy or Ozzy?
CD or Vinyl?
Car or Motorbike?
Acoustic or Electric?
Shower or Bath?
Hulk Hogan or ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin?
I thought Steve Austin was that animal guy who got killed a while ago by a Stingray? (we advised Chantel that was Steve Irwin)….she decided that Steve Irwin was the better of the two wrestlers?!? I know, I know!!
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
God or Google?
Google, it’s caused less wars!
Chantel is on tour RIGHT NOW, you can check out the dates and venues HERE
We'd like to thank Chantel for giving up her time before (and after) the show to chat to us, we wish her every success for the remainder of her tour dates. If you get the chance to go see her play, please do, she is amazing, such a talented, experienced guitar player and when she does a solo, she DOES a solo!
Interview by Steve Muscutt