There are a couple of things you notice when chatting with Chantel McGregor; the first being that she is very honest and open and secondly she laughs a lot. Full of life and utterly charming, it was a treat to have a little time with her. We chatted in the stairwell of the flat above the venue (Bannerman’s Bar in Edinburgh before her show that night). I have tried to capture all she said in the way she spoke, so it is quite a long read, but is I hope it’s interesting and fun.
Decibel Geek (DG for rest of interview): I want to ask you about how you started your career. You started quite young I believe?
Chantel: Yeah! I was, I started playing guitar when I was 3, a long time ago (Laughs). I was always into music and my dad was into guitar type stuff, so he got me a half size (guitar) when I was 3 and I got lessons from 7 up to 16. I carried that on with music playing in jam sessions. I put a band together in Uni (university) and when I left Uni I went professional with it and done it ever since.
DG: I take it your dad was a musician and that helped you into music or was it mostly watching others play on TV for instance?
Chantel: Both really. He used to play guitar so he always had guitars around the house, so I used to pick them up, break strings, you know twist the tuning pegs until the strings broke and whatnot, as you do as a toddler. (Laughs) I think he got fed up of it so thought “I’ll get her own to smash up” (Laughs). So that is what happened.
DG: Having started at 3 when did it become more serious?
Chantel: Em, probably when I started lessons at 7, like I was quite obsessive about it, like right, it HAS to be perfect. I did my first grade at 8 and everyone was like… you’re the youngest person in the country to pass this blah, blah, blah… so I got a bit complacent (laughing) and stopped practicing. Then every week my parents would be going “ we will cancel your lessons if you don’t practice”. I still didn’t BUT I used to play everything by ear, so I used to listen to my guitar tutor and I would play what he did straight back at him. By ear, not by reading the music. He thought I was reading the music (laughs) I wasn’t!
DG: I take it you do read music now?
Chantel: I do. I’ve learned since then. But I did used to just recite back at him back then, bit cheeky really. (laughing) As an 8-year-old you can get away with it.
DG: What were your influences away back then?
Chantel: I was into stuff like Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Ozzy (starts laughing away). I was really into Sabbath. That kind of thing, and then I got into Mr Big, Paul Gilbert, and stuff all very strange for an 8-year-old (laughs). I think what parents listen to affects you, hearing it around.
DG: You came to my attention and many others due to the blues thing. I mean you have won quite a few awards, you know guitarist of the year, vocalist of the year, both of them of the year…
Chantel: Summat (something) like that, was a long time ago…
DG: Was it a plan to be a blues player?
Chantel: No Not at all. It was basically, I was playing jam sessions from around 12 years old and that was quite psychedelic improvising stuff, actually not too dissimilar to what I am doing at the moment, to be honest, kind of Grateful Dead type stuff but a bit bluesy as well. The blues kind of came from that. I was playing pub gigs at that point and they were always rammed, we were doing obscure stuff, weird covers and slowly putting in original music, my own songs. We needed to move up from there to another level, we wondered “how do we get people to pay for tickets and play bigger places” and we found the only way to do that was blues clubs so we became a “blues” band. We were still playing rock but in blues clubs!
DG: The first album is quite eclectic…
Chantel: YEAH! I don’t think there is much blues on it (starts giggling as she talks) I don’t think there is much blues in either of the albums…
DG: There is on the second…
Chantel: Really? Do you think so? I thought the second one (Lose Control) was more heavy rock…
DG: It is certainly heavy rock but there are more blues moments, like “Southern Belle”…
Chantel: Yeah that is pretty bluesy
DG: I think there are 2 or 3 on there, the first album (Like No Other) though is quite…
Chantel: Pop! The thing is I really like pop music. I really do. I am a massive Lady Gaga fan, so I have pop influences, taking some of the songwriting in pop.
DG: I think the first time I saw you, you played a Lady Gaga song…
Chantel: Probably yeah. That was a long time ago.
DG: Looking on YouTube you have played a right variety of covers
Chantel: There are so many up there however we are only doing originals now. Just want to focus on playing my own songs. Don’t want to be just a pub cover’s band.
DG: You have jammed with quite a few folk like Joe Bonamassa
Chantel: Yeah, I have, trying to think of folks, having a brain freeze. Put me on the spot. I have played with Joe I think 4 times. He’s great. Deborah Bonham comes to mind, done some bits with her.
DG: Is there anyone you would like to jam with that you haven’t?
Chantel: Someone like Richie Kotzen I am such a massive fan of his for years and years. He played after me at the Rambling Man Fair festival. I was like “Oh My God”. I met him quite a few years ago and he remembered me! It was really weird, he was chatting with me like I was an equal and here we were chatting about amps! It was really nice. Probably him, though yet again I would feel a bit inferior to him so maybe not (laughs). He is too good not sure I want to jam with someone that good!
DG: Wouldn’t that be good though, having to up the game?
Chantel: True I would have to push myself. Absolutely.
DG: I read you have a new acoustic album coming out?
Chantel: Have two albums coming out in the next few months. The live one is due out a week on Friday (6 September). The acoustic one, we have been in the studio last few weeks recording. That’s about half way done now. Should be out near the end of this year or start of next. It is a mix of the first 2 albums but with totally different arrangements. There is like a bluegrass version of “Fabulous”. One of them has ended up sounding like Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” (laughs). Just an interesting take on stuff.
DG: Do you do an Eddie Vedder voice? (both laughing at this)
Chantel: No, I would sound like a cat doing that, not a good sound from me (again laughing)
DG: The live album was recorded in Bury St Edmunds?
Chantel: Yes. Although no one has heard the album apart from me and the band, sounds cool though. The venue we recorded in we love, we have played it a few times and it is gorgeous and the people there are dead friendly and always a brilliant sound. We thought it would be good to record there. Hopefully everyone enjoys it.
DG: There is quite a difference from your album sound to live gigs
Chantel: More raw, more heavy. A lot more exciting. The studio versions are fun and everything but they are polished and perfect, sounds clean and lovely whereas live can get messy, raw and emotional, got like GRIT to it. I think the live album has captured that.
DG: You do seem to improvise a lot live, nods winks and smiles keeping it together from what I have seen
Chantel: We like to keep things free and easy. A lot of bands play things the same way every time but that’s boring for the musicians as well as the audience. We have a number of people who come to multiple shows, support us all the time, and for people like that I like to keep it fresh and exciting. If it was the same gig every night it would be boring for folks like that. There is a lot of improvisation, like the song “April” is just clear improv, we have sections that are a bit of a structured but there is no set way throughout, we see where it goes and if it feels right then we go for it. With a few nods and winks at each other we hopefully get through to the end each time. (laughs)
DG: I like the way you engage with the audience as well as the band. I kind of feel I am sitting in a mate’s room listening to them play…
Music? It Is Meant To Be Fun
Chantel: Yeah, that’s what I always want to do, like its a gig in someone’s living room. Just that communication with people. At the end of the day its about having fun. Some musicians can get stuck up about being perfect , like it is a business, ok, it is also a business but you run that part behind closed doors, but onstage it should be FUN. It can’t be pretentious, not with me anyway, not being from Yorkshire, you say it as you see it, probably similar in Scotland (laughs). I am enjoying it onstage so you might as well see me enjoying it and hoping that they feel the same enjoying it too. It is music, its meant to be FUN!
DG: I always walk away from your shows smiling…
Chantel: Great, you know most folks that come to shows have a lot going on in their lives, no matter what it is, family stuff, work problems, health issues and they don’t want to see someone onstage being all miserable. You know, just playing songs, not talking to them, they could stay home and listen to a cd or watch a dvd. They want an hour and a half of being taken away from their problems, away from whatever they are going through, you know, forget about that for just a bit and be entertained. That is what I am there to do. It is entertainment to get them out from whatever is going on in their lives. If I can do that then I’ve done alright!
At this point we closed up, a very good time to do so. The last comment for me sums it up. I can assure you all reading this that the lady does MORE than alright.
A huge thank you to Chantel for giving Decibel Geek so much of her time. Oh and didn’t I say at the start that she is open honest and likes to laugh? I think the interview proves that to be the case.