Interview: Jamie McDell

Thursday 30 April 2015

Interview: Jamie McDell

Since signing with record label EMI at the age of 16, Jamie McDell has gone from strength to strength. Her debut single You'll Never Take That Away was certified gold and her debut album 'Six Strings and a Sailboat' peaked at #2 on the NZ album charts. Her latest album 'Ask Me Anything' was released on March 27th. Now halfway through her first ever national tour, we caught up with McDell to hear about how it is all going.

Hi Jamie, where are you based these days?

I’m based in Auckland. I have been since I started university, which I just finished. It has become my base, but my parents are based at Mangawhai so I head up there as often as I can as well.

What were you studying at university?
Graphic design.

Do you create your album artwork and tour posters, etc.?
Yes. Those are all done by me, which is nice. It makes it easier because it means I get to have a lot of creative control over everything, so I enjoy that very much.

How did you come up the art direction for the 'Ask Me Anything' album?
I really enjoy working with photographers. I knew that I wasn’t ready to do an illustrated album cover but I wanted it to be like a photo diary. I worked with a photographer called Nicky Birch and I pretty much just made her come with me around all of the places I go over summer, I dragged her around everywhere. We got inspired with the album artwork through that. You can tell by the title ‘Ask Me Anything’ that this album is a very honest representation of my life and having a bit of a photo diary made sense.

Are there any iconic album covers that stand out for you?
I have a lot of old vinyl records. There’s one in particular, it’s by a country artist called John Denver and the album is called ‘Poems, Prayers and Promises’. It’s actually illustrative and I’m hoping that once I mature a little bit I will create something a little more artistic like that.

Oh cool, so you do illustration work?
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely not my strength, I majored in photography at uni but some of that beautiful imagery on album covers you get with illustration, you can’t really beat it. It’d be cool to have a go at it.

How is the tour going for you?
Yeah, it’s been going really great. It’s a totally new experience for me. Touring isn’t something I have done before. I’m a little bit tired, but it’s just so much fun. I am very lucky to be touring with a band that I have known for many years and have a lot of respect for. We’ve all been doing a really good job and we’re all really proud of it. It’s a nice feeling. We’re going down South this weekend and I’m really looking forward to that. The crowds that have been showing up have just been amazing. I just love being able to meet people that have listened to potentially my first and second album and have been supportive from the very beginning. I don’t feel like I’ve had much of that opportunity before. I just like meeting the people that have been listening to my music.

Will you be playing lots of your earlier stuff as well since you haven’t had a chance to tour them yet?
I think that’s the cool thing about this show, is that it’s a perfect mixture of some of our old stuff and obviously songs off the new album. And also maybe some personal songs that people may not have heard on anything before. It’s really like a big storytelling session. You definitely walk away learning a little bit more about me.

Do you write all of your songs based on personal experience or are some based on other people’s lives or characters?
It’s changed quite drastically in the last couple of years. My first album was very much about experiences from my life because a lot of the songs on it were from when I was 16-18 and I was going through a lot and much more interested in my own feelings. With this second album I feel like I’ve taken a lot of the stories from my friends and people that I’ve met. Just generally growing up I have been more interested in learning from other people’s experiences and from different perspectives, so it’s kind of a mixture of everything.

This being your first tour, what were your expectations of what it would be like?
I think I prepared myself for it to be really hard. Really tiring and strenuous. I might just be dreaming, but I feel like it hasn’t been as hard as I thought. It comes down to working with this group of people for a very long time now and we all understand each other, so there tends to be no issues. We never went out with massively high expectations but the audiences have been really receptive and appreciative of us being there, which has been a lovely feeling to have. I have been able to gain a bit more confidence. I’d played heaps of shows before, but not like this, not shows that people have come to specifically watch me so it’s been nice to hope that the hard work practicing my guitar skills and things like that have paid off a little.

And was it potentially still finding your confidence that has kept you from touring in the past?
I think so. I wonder if we just forgot about it almost. We were so unprepared when the album did what it did. We didn’t have a plan after that but I do think so. I am glad. We always say, we should have been touring two years ago when the first album came out but I really don’t think I would have been that comfortable just because I was two years younger and I didn’t know as much about music and my voice wasn’t as strong. Just little things like that that makes performing a little bit awkward sometimes. It’s been good feeling like I am ready to be on stage.

Who is in your band?
I’ve got Thomas Healy, who is one of those behind-the-scenes men that has worked with a lot of artists you’d know. He’s awesome, he played guitar on my very first record. Along with Scotty Pearson, who people might recognize from Elemeno P. He’s my drummer. He’s very cool. We’ve also brought in a couple of new folks. We’ve got Cass who’s playing bass with us, who people would know from Tiny Ruins. We’ve kind of got an all star team! And we’ve got Tamsyn who plays the keyboard and violin and also has extremely magical vocals. I’m learning from the best. They’ve done it, they know what it’s like and they’re amazing musicians, so I am always taking the chance to better myself and have these amazing mentors around me all of the time.

Jamie McDell - Ask Me Anything Tour
Dunedin - Thursday 30th AprilKings and Queens Performing Arts Centre
Timaru - Friday 1st May, Mountainview High School Auditorium (All Ages)
Hamilton - Friday 8th MayThe Meteor
Auckland - Saturday 9th MayThe Crystal Palace Theatre
Te Awamutu - Sunday 10th MayWalton Street

Tickets are available now.