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Interview: Kyla Brox

Interview: Kyla Brox

KYLA BROX 

 

by-phil-meliaKyla Brox is a sexy, sassy, authentic soul diva with a beautiful powerful and emotive voice; she’s a temptress and a tear provoker. Blues is about keeping it real and Kyla sure knows how to do that! She has just released a brand new studio album, Throw Away Your Blues with The Kyla Brox Band, which was recorded in Jan Kisjes Studio, Dalfsen, Holland, by the great sound engineer Juan Kiers. Kyla began performing at the tender age of 13 in her father’s band the Victor Brox Blues Train, Kyla and her father are very close and he’s been a huge influence in her life and music career. She is the youngest of the five children of Victor Brox and Annette Brox née Reis. Space forbids a full account of Victor’s career here. A compulsive self-mythologist, the documented facts need no embroidering: singer and organist with The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation; Caiaphas in the original Jesus Christ Superstar; composer of ‘Warning’ from Black Sabbath’s debut; Nico’s amour on the isle of Ibiza (pre-Velvets); Manchester guide to the 1964 Blues and Gospel Caravan (Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe); confidante of Jimi Hendrix; playing partner of Alexis Korner; guest artist, alongside Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, on the 1971 Dr John album, The Sun, Moon and Herbs; ditto for Graham Bond’s Holy Magick; whilst Jimmy Page contributed guitar to the 1965 45, ‘I’ve Got the World in a Jug’ by Victor Brox and Annette Reis. Kyla’s mother, Annette’s own pioneering blues music-making in the UK was recognised by the recent Sky Arts documentary, Lenny Henry Gets the Blues.

BM: Hi Kyla, thanks for taking time out from your busy schedule to talk with us. A quick glance at your website shows that you are indeed busy! It would be great if we could start at the beginning of your career, could you tell us what age you were when you first started singing and was it always the blues for you?

KB: I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I used to get into trouble at school for non-stop singing in class. But my first gig was with my dad and his band, Victor Brox Blues Train, when I was 12. I jumped up on stage with him at iconic Manchester venue, Band on the Wall, knowing none of the lyrics! I was totally brazen…no fear. I’d been singing in choirs and writing my own songs for years by then. When I was 14 I began singing lessons at the Royal Northern College of Music. I did that for a couple of years, with my teacher encouraging me to follow a career in Opera, but I already had the Blues bug. I carried on singing with my dad throughout my teens and finally formed my own band when I was 20, taking my dad’s youngest and best musicians with me!

BM: Your mum Annette was an actress and a singer too and was also part of the original cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, playing the maid by the fire; did you ever have any aspirations to act?

KB: Actually, my mum and dad were on the original recording, but not in the stage shows or film. At the time, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were completely unknown, so when my parents were offered the choice of a session fee or a cut of the royalties, they chose the set fee…the album went on to sell millions and topped the charts in the US. I guess they made the wrong choice.

BM: Your dad, Victor Brox needs little introduction as he is a seasoned blues performer himself and is one of the few people around who was lucky enough to have worked with people such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Do you have any memorable stories from him about these or other earlier gigs that he had?

KB: Oh to have been alive in those days! You’ll have to wait for the book for the real juicy stories! Victor is currently writing his memoirs, but it is taking ages. Too many stories! When he was the lead singer of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, Jimi Hendrix used to regularly drop in on their gigs at the Marquee and jam with them. Apparently, on those occasions, he played bass, more often than not, as he loved Aynsley’s drumming. He was a big fan of my dad’s voice. I remember being at a memorial concert for Alexis Korner (who my dad and in particular, my mum played with) and Robert Plant was on stage. He described my dad as his hero. When I asked Victor about it later, he was quite dismissive, saying that Robert was always hanging around at his gigs as a teenager.

BM: Your whole family are in fact very musical, so I guess there was a lot of music around when you were growing up, was this predominately blues or were there some other early influences in there?

KB: My mum, Annette, is a huge fan of Stevie Wonder, so there was a lot of that in my childhood. My sisters, Ginie, Anna and Buffy were into everything from acid jazz and soul to punk and dance music. I can thank them for my love of Chaka Khan and my dream, at 3 years old, of having her clothes, hair and voice. There have always been a lot of impromptu discos in our houses. Any excuse to turn the music up and DANCE, you can’t stop my mum and sisters. My brother, Sam, has always been more into rock and metal. He was floored when we met Robert Plant and Jimmy Page at that Alexis memorial gig. I went through my own rock and metal phase, too, totally influenced by my guitarist brother. I loved Rage Against the Machine and Alice In Chains. He loved Pantera and Sepultura. We spent many hours listening to Joe Satriani and Steve Vai…I know every word of the album he made with Whitesnake. My step-dad, Laurie, brought his cassette collection into the mix, too; country from Chrystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers and holidays spent driving through France with Chris Rhea on the stereo. A pretty eclectic mix! My mum even recorded an underground hit on the house music scene, Dream 17 by Annette. She then went on to begin singing opera, and is now coming back to the Blues, so never a dull moment.

 

BM: So you were 13 when you first began performing professionally with the Victor Brox Blues Train informally, perhaps affectionately known as ‘the child slavery band’ because of the young age of the band members. What was it like for you back then? Could you tell us a bit more about that time in your life?

KB: At the time, my dad was living in France, so I only did gigs with him when he was back in the UK or if I was with him in France. It was a brilliant time for me, as I had the opportunity to really learn about performing and what it takes to make a living as a gigging musician. I’m so glad I had that rather than reality TV talent shows!

13669463_1198259540204899_4581766835413421005_oBM: The flute is a rare instrument in blues but it complements your vocals beautifully, when did you start playing the flute and why did you choose an instrument such as the flute?

KB:  I fell in love with the flute when I was very young, maybe 4 years old. I saw someone playing it on Young Musician of the year, and I asked and asked for one. My dad tried to fob me off with a penny whistle (no chance!) and eventually bought me my first flute when I was 8. I couldn’t play it instantly and it took me a year to get over my disappointment, but I finally started having lessons when I was 9. I played it classically all through school, doing my grades until I was 16, then I stopped. I was really scared of the thought of improvising on stage, as it’s such a different skill. With no sheet music, there’s no safety net, but eventually, my dad and Danny mythered me enough to get me to play it on stage. I have to admit (hide your eyes kids and budding musicians!) I never practice. I literally only have it out of the case when I’m on stage. It’s always my intention to spend time on improving my playing but somehow it never happens.

BM: Did you first meet bassist Danny Blomeley, also aged 13 at the time and Phil Considine your drummer, who was aged 19, when you all began playing in your father’s band or did you know them before this? I’m interested to hear how you all first met and then ended up playing together.

KB: I met them on stage. I walked into Victor’s gig one day, Phil was on drums, complete with long pink hair and round pink glasses, and Danny was there with his bass, looking about 9 years old (he was 13). His neighbour knew my dad and when he needed a bass player, he recommended Danny, who was actually a guitarist and had only picked the bass up once! Victor told him guitarists are ten a penny and if he learnt to play bass well he’d never be out of work. Plus, the bass player always gets the girl, right?

BM: The first tour to Australia with the Victor Brox Blues Train was to perform in old mining towns in the outback of Australia and was back in 2000, is this where you and Danny first started falling for each other and what was it like to play all the way over on other side of the world and to work with your father? Was there a thriving blues scene there at the time?

KB: We didn’t only play in outback mining towns on that first tour, but they are the kind of gigs that stay in your memory. Out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by red dirt, sometimes in 50 degrees Celsius heat, with signs everywhere warning you to drink at least 10 litres of water a day or die! Hot hot hot! We also played a couple of great festivals, countless gigs in pubs and clubs and covered thousands of kilometres in a huge, old, Ford station waggon. We were there for almost 3 months in 2000, watching the world through the car window with my dad telling long, rambling stories to keep us entertained. There was and still is a great Blues and Roots scene in Australia, with acoustic music held in high regard. There are some top musicians out there and the audiences are quite diverse. Lots more youngsters in the audience down under! It wasn’t until we arrived home from Aus that Danny and I finally got together, after being friends and band members for almost 10 years. I remember the last night in Darwin before I flew home, Danny and I were at the casino with the rest of the band, enjoying farewell drinks. We dared each other to play the gorgeous grand piano that had a sign saying “Don’t Touch!” The rest of us managed to bang out a couple of chopsticks type efforts, and then Dan played it like a pro! I was astonished, as I only ever knew him as a bass player. I think that was the moment I fell in love with him, but he stayed on in Aus for another few months. We toured there again the next year with my dad and have been back 7 or 8 times with my band. It’s also where we got engaged after Dan bought me the Australian pink diamond ring I’d been lusting after for years. I love it there, but we haven’t managed to get back for a few years, sadly.

BM: 2001 saw a return to Manchester for you, and I believe this is where and when the Kyla Brox Band was formed, with yourself on vocals and flute, Danny Blomeley on Bass, Marshall Gill on guitar, Tony Marshall on sax and Phil Considine on drums. What was it like revisiting some of the former haunts you might previously have played in but this time with your own band?

KB: Yes, that was the original Kyla Brox Band and we had a lot of fun. We kind of had it made, as we played a lot of the smaller gigs that I’d done with my dad, so we made a living right from the start. I guess the audiences were quite forgiving, having seen me and other members of the band before, performing with Victor, so any teething problems were kindly overlooked!

BM: Colne Blues Festival in 2002 was also a breakthrough event for you? Was this your first big festival appearance and what happened next for you all?

KB: It certainly was the first big festival I’d appeared at in my own right. Gary Hood, who used to organise the festival, took a chance and put us on on the British Stage on the Saturday night. He had made an evening of new and young Blues talent. I remember Joanne Shaw Taylor was on after us. I think she was only 17. From that festival, we began getting booked for Blues club gigs and other festivals, so it really was the kick start we needed to break out of the small, local gig scene which we had been in.

BM: You released your first debut single in 2003 called Window but it wasn’t until 2007 that we saw the release of the first Brox/Blomeley all-originals album, Gone. What has it been like working with your life partner, now husband? Do you write together or is it more of a solo process until you come up with something?

KB: We released both Window, which was acoustic, and Beware, which was with the band, in 2003. Both albums had some originals, but were mainly covers. Then the following year we released Coming Home, which featured mainly originals and just two covers. It was that album that got the attention of Paul Jones and we did our first live session for Radio 2. I remember being heart broken because our guitarist, Marshall Gill had been poached by the New Model Army and was swept up onto their world tour, just when it seemed like things were beginning to take off. Consequently, it was a transitional few years for us, as Marshall tried to juggle both bands, and we didn’t record another studio album until 2007. By then we had begun working with Billy Buckley, an amazing guitarist and it is him playing guitar on Gone, with Marshall adding some of his skills to just one track. The way we write songs varies. The norm is Dan coming up with a riff and I will begin to sing a melody, fleshing it out with lyrics as we go. But sometimes I will write the majority on guitar and Dan will add his magic later in the process. Other times, I may have a melody and lyric idea and direct Dan to the chords I have in mind. We’ve known each other for nearly 25 years, been a couple for 15 years and married for 8 of those. Dan’s a remarkable person. There is almost nothing he can’t do, so I’m constantly learning from him and with him. Our life together has always been based in music, and we’re used to spending day in day out in each other’s company. We’re lucky.

BM: Your next release Grey Sky Blue and was written in 2009 while you were expecting your first child, and is a stripped down duo from you and Danny, this time with him playing some beautiful acoustic guitar which perfectly matches your vocals. It’s easy to hear here that you’ve grown and work together like a well oiled machine. This must have been an exciting time for you both, with a new chapter about to begin. Lots of hopes and dreams ahead?

KB: We got married in 2008 and the title track, Grey Sky Blue was written about finally getting Dan to walk me down the aisle! Straight away I was expecting our honeymoon baby (born 9 months to the day after the wedding) so it was a special and scary time, with lots of changes, but so much happiness. We had no idea how our little girl would fit into our gypsy life, but we were determined to make it work. We decided we must record an album at that time, as we didn’t know what the future held and we were worried we would never find the time again. We were right to worry! Having kids and performing for a living leaves little time for the studio!

BM: What’s it been like travelling and working together with a young family in tow? You have a daughter and a son now, is it more difficult to find time for writing and performing?

KB: It is a balancing act and at the moment, we are about as busy as we can be. Our daughter, Sadie, is 7 and came on the road everywhere with us until she started school. We were lucky that my mum was willing to travel with us and a young baby. As Sadie got older, various grand parents, family and close friends have been drafted in to help with babysitting duties. We couldn’t do it without them. But everything became more difficult when Sadie started school. That’s when the long tours had to stop, hence the lack of Aussie visits in recent years. We’ve been fortunate to replace those tours with many European concerts and festivals. It’s ideal as we can be away for a couple of days, then get back to being Mum and Dad the rest of the time. Our little boy, Sonny Bo, is almost 4 and already considers himself as a drummer. He can’t wait to join the band! One thing that has definitely become more difficult since becoming parents is the writing process. In the past it was quite organic. We were always together, so at any moment we could pick up the guitar or sit at the piano. Now we usually have to schedule writing sessions, otherwise, it doesn’t happen. I found having babies put my head in a completely different space; all my brain cells taken up with the little people I’d created. I had 6 months off after giving birth to Sadie, which was the longest I’d gone between gigs since I was 12 years old. I thought I’d really miss it, but at the time I barely gave it a second thought. Motherhood is a powerful and incredible thing. I’m still torn, especially when we have to leave the kids at home, but I’m glad I can still make a living doing the thing I love. I’m very grateful.

13494840_995044017283798_593882316063586629_nBM: 7 years on from your last studio album and a lot has happened, including the release of Throw Away Your Blues which I absolutely love! I noticed that a few of the band members have changed here, was this purely for recording purposes or do you have a new line-up?

KB: In the 7 years since Grey Sky Blue, we have had a few changes of band members. Paul Farr has been our regular guitarist for a number of years, but Throw Away Your Blues is the first studio album we have made with him. I’m thrilled with the clean sound we created and Paul’s elegant and sympathetic guitar style is at the heart of that. Audiences really respond to his unique style, so we were keen to put that in the spotlight. We’ve been playing with Pablo Leoni on drums for a couple of years, mainly when we are in Europe. He is Italian and one of the main reasons we’ve been working so much in Europe recently, as he also runs a booking agency, called Musictrain. He is Blues through and through and he had the right touch that we were looking for on TAYB. John Ellis added some Hammond, but we rarely get to play with him live. Although Tony Marshall doesn’t feature on the new album, he still plays sax with us at gigs.

BM: Throw Away Your Blues is warm, soul-stirring and life-affirming. How was the process of writing this new album? Was it done over several years or was it something that just happened because the time was right?

KB: All the songs, bar one, were written in the few weeks before recording. We had almost finished recording an album in 2012, but then I had Sonny and the baby took priority, so we never completed it and it hasn’t seen the light of day. We thought about reviving those songs, but in the end we decided it should be totally fresh.

BM: Previously it’s been said that lyrically you’ve written about your love of Danny or at least he has been the focus of the lyrics. Throw Away Your Blues however is not all about him; can you tell us where you got your inspiration from for this album?

KB: I get inspiration from everywhere! But generally it is my life and what I observe of other people’s lives. Sometimes when I write a song I’m trying to express a feeling and the lyrics may not be literally what was on my mind, but the feeling is there, if that makes sense? Lack of time was a bit of a theme, I guess, and that is very real in our lives at the moment, juggling our family life with our career.

BM: What was it like recording in Holland and with engineer Juan Kiers? He certainly captured the essence of your voice on the acapella song If You See Him.

KB: Juan is a genius! I first met him when he was doing the sound for a live concert of ours. He instantly captured the essence of our sound. It’s often difficult to get Dan’s acoustic guitar to sound exactly as he wants it, but Juan had no problem, getting the bass frequencies that are essential to Dan’s playing, without losing the clarity and top end. After we’d finished the gig, he invited us to listen to our performance and took us through a side door. We didn’t realise he’d been recording it and had no idea that Jan Kisjes studio was at the other end of the building. Once we heard the quality of the sound and saw the amazing space, we knew we had to record there. It took a few years to realise the dream, but I’m so glad we did it! There’s often a lot of time wasted in studios, waiting for gremlins to be sorted, patching things through, remembering which track was recorded where etc etc, but Juan is so switched on that not a minute of the four days we had was lost. It’s just a pleasure to work with him.

BM: What mic did you use?

KB: There was a gorgeous, vintage AKG C12 valve mic, which I used for just a couple of the more chilled out tracks. It couldn’t handle my less restrained vocals, though, so most of the songs were recorded with a pretty standard AKG C414.

BM: Run Our Home sounds like a fun protest song about all the supposed domestic bliss that goes with running a home and the upbeat, catchy Ain’t Got Time tells the story of a busy family life. It has a different vocal sound on it and was written by Danny. How did you feel about him writing for you?

KB: To be honest, I wasn’t so sure about Dan writing my lyrics! Especially as he managed to sneak in “snugly wuglin”! Haha! But I went with it in the end. Changing the vocal to make it sound like a phone call or voice mail was just a bit of fun. It seemed to match the light hearted nature of the song.

BM: 365 tackles the same complaint, the inadequate supply of time in our busy working lives. You’re children Sadie and Sonny sing the chorus on this one. What was this like, they must have really enjoyed being part of the whole process?

KB: They are so proud of themselves! They recorded their parts at home in their pyjamas. We didn’t take them to Holland with us. In fact, apart from the amazing studio facilities there, recording in Holland was part of a conscious decision to remove ourselves from family life so that we could concentrate on just getting the album done. After the 2009 effort, we couldn’t risk another album languishing on the studio shelf. As I mentioned before, it’s hard to switch off the “mummy” part of my brain and it always takes precedence if my children are around. So being in another country made it easier to focus on the music.

BM: I believe there was a little family controversy over the final track on the album, I Will Love You More?

KB: I wrote the song for my kids, Sadie and Sonny. It’s hard to describe an all-consuming love like the love I feel. I thought I’d done a good job with the (admittedly) dramatic lyrics, “When there’s lines upon my face, When I’m lying in my grave, I will love you more”. My mum, however, just thought it was morbid!

BM: What does the future hold for you, where do you see yourself?

KB: I feel pretty lucky to have a wonderful family life as well as a career doing something I love. I just hope it continues for as long as possible. My dad, at 75 and still playing, has been a shining example of how a musical career can span decades and still be fulfilling. I hope for that.

BM: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

KB: Just thanks to you for the interview and to Blues Matters for the continuous support I’ve received over the years.

Interview with Mairi Maclennan: Images by Phil Melia at Meliaphoto

DISCOGRAPHY

Throw Away Your Blues – 2016

LIVE…At Last (Pigskin) – 2014

Grey Sky Blue (Pigskin) – 2009

Gone (Pigskin) – 2007

Live at Matt and Phred’s – 2006

Comming Home (Pigskin) – 2004

Beware – 2003

Window – 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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