album review and artist impressions
more Tara Blaise:
Dancing On Tables Barefoot (2005)
interview and album review © Russell W Elliot 2008
photos: Rob O'Connor; design: Sarah Foley © Stylorouge Ltd 2008
images © Spokes Records 2005-2008 used with permission
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Last updated: 26 October 2008
She's well known in Ireland and has performed at the Isle of Wight festival. Tara Blaise is a rapidly emerging female artist that initially drew notariety from audiences in 1998 as the frontwoman for the Irish rock band Kaydee.
Tara's voice has a pure crystalline quality and--as only a few voices recording today--can be favorably compared to Annie Haslam, Heather Nova and Miriam Stockley. Tara trained as an actress and a singer and played the part of Beth in War Of The Worlds in 2005.
Tara began working with John Hughes (The Corrs) and became the face of the Wild Ocean (Spokes/14th Floor Records (Ireland), 5 050467 40322 2, 2004) album before recording her critically acclaimed debut solo album Dancing On Tables Barefoot (Spokes Records (Ireland) SPKCD002, 2005) (review). The album (Spokes Records (Ireland) SPKCD006, 2006) was later reissued with new artwork and additional tracks.
On the heels of the successful single "Breathe" (Spokes Records (Ireland) SPKCDS013, 2008) released at the beginning of 2008, Tara quietly released her second album, Great Escape (Spokes Records (Ireland) SPKACD009, 2008). Initially available exclusively on CD in Ireland but also in other territories on iTunes, the physical album will reach other territories from October 2008. Read our review of the album below.
Musical Discoveries has sought an interview with Tara since the 2005 release of Dancing On Tables Barefoot. We were fortunate to make contact earlier this year and corresponded before Great Escape was released. The planned interview was completed in August 2008. Tara spoke with us about her background, her work with Kaydee and John Hughes as well as her live performances. Read our interview with Tara below.
Musical Discoveries: We've heard material dating as far back as Kaydee. What can you tell us about the early days?
Tara Blaise: I am the eldest of six kids and we grew up in a pretty romantic, big, old house in Wicklow, Ireland in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields and mountains. As kids we were always putting on shows for our parents and entertaining them with songs or plays. My father particularly loved music so we grew up listening to all sorts of music as well as him playing piano.
I don't remember ever actually thinking 'I want to do music.' It has just always been part of me, part of my life. So, at school it was the most natural thing in the world for me to join any choir or band going. At sixteen I was in a band called Les Legumes. It seemed like a really clever name at the time! A group of boys formed the band and drafted me in because they were to scared to front it themselves! We did mainly covers: Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Smashing Pumpkins, REM, etc but we also started to write a bit and saved enough money to go record some demos in a real studio Which we thought was fantastic.
I was listening to Kate Bush a lot and was blown away by her, still am. Sinead O'Connor was a big influence too. Bjork and Tori Amos. Women who use their lyrics to tell stories and communicate so much, and also their voices as a real instrument, -- an acoustic folk band -- as one of two female backing singers and in it I learned lots about harmony and experimenting vocally.
After that was a stint with the band Igloo, a far more modern sound using lots of loops and crazy sounds! When I joined Kaydee as their lead singer I started to think 'ok, this is more than just a hobby'!
What were the Kay Dee days like?
With Kaydee I recorded an album and singles and wrote with them too. It's always great writing with new people. I find it pretty intimidating but if I can overcome that there is so much to learn. We toured a lot and it was my first experience of fronting a band.
I think the timing was really good because I would not have had the nerve to do so any sooner and really believe my time spent in other bands was a training for me to eventually do my own thing. Kaydee were made up of me and three guys -- Brucey, Joey and Mark -- all from Kilkenny. We did plenty of TV and radio and toured a lot which was really important for me.
When Kaydee split -- amicably! - personal reasons, etc -- I went on to meet John Hughes, the manager of The Corrs, and the other three from Kay Dee still do music either full time or at least when they can. A great bunch.
Do you think the Wild Ocean album was a turning point in your career?
In retrospect I guess I could say anything was a turning point! At the time, Wild Ocean didn't particularly feel like one. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. Wilde Oscars split and I met Kaydee, Kaydee split and I met John Hughes. It was really organic and made sense. But meeting and working with John Hughes has been pretty important to me.
We clicked pretty much as soon as we met. I feel comfortable working with him and he really believes in me: essential ingredients! On maybe our second meeting, John played me a rough version of "Dancing In The Wind." He asked if I liked it and I told I did. He said, "I could be nasty and give you half an hour and just see if you come up with any lyrics for it?"
Inside I was thinking, "You have got to be crazy! I could never do that." But I was also thinking, "act cool!" So I said, "Sure, no problem." And before I knew it I was in a room alone a CD player and a pen and paper thinking, "what the ...!" But, much to my relief, after half an hour I had written the lyrics and melody which John listened to, loved and we recorded it there and then.
Wild Ocean meant I got to work with lots of interesting artists and it was a real thrill to be involved and to then become 'the face' of the album and singing in the videos, etc. A big responsibility. Greg French worked on it too and since then we have written and recorded together. We're like one big family at this stage!
Were there any particular female vocalists that influenced you during your professional development?
As I already said Kate Bush, Sinead O'Connor, Bjork, Tori Amos. I remember hearing Carly Simon when I was very young singing "You're So Vain" and being struck by its catchiness but also by a certain something else in it. Even though I didn't at that stage fully understand the sentiment behind it, I got the idea and was really drawn by that sense of communicating so much emotion through music. I thought, "I want to do that!" Billie Holiday blows me away too. Nina Simone. Ella Fitzgerald. Sade. Joni Mitchel. Imogen Heap. The list goes on!
Do you believe that the Dancing on Tables Barefoot album launched your solo career?
I recorded Dancing On Tables Barefoot after Wild Ocean. Some of it was done in Ireland but most was in Los Angeles. Heading off to LA to record was pretty daunting. I had never been before and was there on my own for quite a bit. I stayed in Santa Monica, which I fell in love with! The Georgian Hotel right on the ocean. Most of my time was spent in studio so I really want to go back there and just have fun sometime!
When writing I draw mainly on personal experience. "21 years" is written about my father who died when I was 21. For a long time I had wanted to write a song about him, but it was really difficult. Not only because it was such a sad subject but I felt pressure to do him justice. Do him proud! I always thought a song for him should be sad, but in the end I wrote this song which really is a celebration of him, a happy song. He was an architect, hence, "paint the stars." At my 21st birthday he made a wonderful speech in which he thanked me for '21 years of love and laughter' so that became part of the song too.
"The Three Degrees" is about my sister, our best friend and me. We were inseperable and friends called us the three degrees. The song is about living in Dublin and a holiday we went on to Turkey. Good times!
Is there a lot of work involved in managing your image?
Ths sounds funny to me because I consider myself really awful at that kind of stuff. I hate clothes shopping, I dread the whole 'what to wear' bit of a gig or TV or whatever. Part of me thinks, "who cares what I wear?" And yet I know it's nice to make an effort and I realise the importance of making an impact etc.
So, that's a tricky question! I don't know if I have an image. Do I? I chopped off my hair for fun so hence a change in my look on the reissue cover. And I think black and white can be so and clear and effective. I just wanted to keep things simple and sort of let the music speak for itself.
I really struggle with the idea of image. It's not something I find easy at all. But in such a huge and competitive industry of course I recognise the importance of making an impact but I would prefer to be remembered for my voice or lyrics or whatever rather than what I look like!
When I'm onstage and in the middle of a song I like to think people are listening to my music more than thinking, "oh, terrible hair" or "she's put on weight!" Of course it can be fun to dress up sometimes and I think it's just nice to make some effort when people have gone to the trouble to come to a show and listen.
Great Escape snuck out under the radar with little fanfare and a small amount of publicity.
Great Escape has only been officially released in Ireland so far so, although I've done lots of promo there, there will be lots more to come with other releases. The planned release date for the UK is in October.
For Great Escape I wrote with a few different people -- John Hughes, Greg French and Ville and Matt -- two brothers based in London. I just wanted to write lots and lots and with new people and just see where it took me.
Olle Romo who produced DOTB worked on this album too but I also got to work with Mutt Lange which has been such a thrill. He is someone I have admired for a long time so I was so excited at the idea of his interest in my music. And I'm delighted with the results.
Great Escape was released on iTunes in several territories around the same time that the production CD was issued in Ireland. How would you compare iTunes to physical CD sales?
It saddens me to think of albums without their boxes! Not just because of the trouble and care I know can go into art design etc, but I think it's a nice way of getting another peek into the world of an artist who can put as much or as little onto a sleeve as they feel like. I like to physically hold an album and keep it safe. But I do use iTunes and love it. It's so quick and accessible and wonderful in lots of ways. Just hard to get used to new ways I suppose. I sound like I'm 90!
Will you perform material from Great Escape and perhaps your back catalog in live venues to further support the launch of the album?
Yes! Nothing beats playing live and I'm really looking forward to more gigs. The last tour I did was just me with Anthony Drennon playing acoustic guitar and that was great to just get out and play the new songs and see what works live etc. Dates will be on my MySpace or website.
Didn't you play at Isle of Wight at one point?
I did play Isle of Wight. If you haven't already, have a look at 'Tara Blaise The Three Degrees' on Youtube and you can see me playing there and get a real feel of the festival. You can also see the absolute terror on my face the second I am about to walk on stage! That gig was one of those ones that's so huge it's actually pretty unreal! A sea of faces is a thrill to play to of course, but nothing beats being able to really SEE the audience, see the whites of their eyes and the expressions on their faces. I get a real kick out of playing with just my guitarist -- just my voice and an acoustic guitar. It's a real challenge to hold attention with so little to hide behind, but so rewarding.
Previously you performed as an actress and singer in major stage productions.
I like to take things as they come. I'd love to do some more acting. It's a matter of timing really. When Jeff Wayne put his The War Of The Worlds on stage, I had just finished a tour in Spain and was luckily free to play the part of Beth. It was a great show to be involved in. We had a lot of fun touring the UK and Ireland, shot the DVD in Wembley, and had a fantastic group of musicians and crew involved.
I've done bits and pieces of acting but right now music is my main priority but I look forward to things quietening down and maybe doing some more stage work. Because I trained as an actress I have lots of friends who I regularly go and see acting in shows or on TV etc, and watching them doing their thing does torment me and leave me wanting to join them. I'm lucky to be doing what I love. It doesn't get much better so I can't complain. For now I'm writing and recording: it's important to capture ideas when I can, before they are forgotten!
Do you think that MySpace is becoming more important than artists' official websites?
I'm no computer or internet expert but I like MySpace, particularly as an artist. I find it easy to use and a great way to get my music to people all over the world. I have had people contact me after shows and give me feedback or ask questions.
Though I can't always check it regularly, I try to reply to as many messages as I can. It just has a personal feel about it.
And I guess because people can set up their own personal pages too, they feel they are sharing a bit about themselves too. I don't know if it is just a phase but most artists I know have their own page now. It's a great way of getting your music out there and finding new music too.
In closing, is there anything you'd like to tell readers of Musical Discoveries, a publication that focuses exclusively on the work of contemporary, progressive and crossover female vocalists, before concluding this interview?
Just thanks for taking the time to read about me and I hope you feel tempted to go listen to some of my music! Itís so important to always be open to new music. I feel very flattered that you asked me to do this interview and am really grateful to you and your readers. All the best!
The second solo album by Tara Blaise is Great Escape (Spokes Records (Ireland) SPKCD009, 2008). The ten track collection is also available as a download from iTunes in selected territories, including the United States. The CD is accompanied by full lyrics, album credits and all new photos of the artist by Rob O'Connor presently only available in the booklet. All lyrics are by Tara with writing credits for various tracks shared with other artists.
Listeners familiar with Tara's debut album Dancing On Tables Barefoot will note a development in the artist's material, not only as a result of writing with a broder range of collaborators, but also in the depth of the production. The songs are universally more accessible with lush harmonies and stronger instrumental arrangements. Tara's voice soars above the instruments demonstrating the crystalline quality her reputation has garnered her.
The album opens up with the pop rocker "Make You" sung almost exclusively with rich backing harmonies. The first single from the album "Breathe" follows. We expecially appreciated the development of the song from an almost stark solo line to the hooking chorus that develops. The album also includes a range of ballads that most clearly illustrate the artist's vocal chops.
The tremendous song "Secret Garden Party" is created in a similar vein. Multipart harmonies add a lovely texture to the track, but we especially appreciated haring the clarity in Tara's soaring vocal solo in the bridge. Although recorded in the studio, listen for the live audience in the concluding segment of the song. It may bring allusions of Tara's 2005 performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival to those that saw her there.
The album's upbeat tracks are universally memorable but have been written well enough to have a longer lasting quality than the majority of the industry's current pop music. Arrangements feature guitars, keyboards, occasional piano, bass and drums. Tara employed a consistent band for the majority of the album including Anghony Drennan, Greg French, Tim Pierce, Mat and Ville Leppanen on guitars; Greg Frenchy on keyboard; Jeff Babko and Billy Farreel on piano; Tony Molloy on bass; backing vocals on the "Breathe" feature Jennifer Karr and Drew Scott.
The rocking "Let's Talk" is one of the album's standouts. We especially appreciated the dynamics of the vocal arrangement and superb mix. We were harkened back to DOTB with the track "Fall at the Start," a memorable and radio friendly pop track. Listen to the stunning electric guitar part. In constrast, Tara's lead vocal clearly dominates the vocal mix in "Rage About It." We especially enjoyed the sharp contrast between verse and chorus in the track as well as the depth of the instrumental arrangements in the most powerful segments of the track.
Great Escape does a great job producing contrasts. In the standout track "Rosalie," listeners will hear Tara's voice alter between Heather Nova and Annie Haslam stylings. Her evocative delivery in the phrase "Oh my goodness I can not ignore this feeling" will send shivers up the spine of all listeners. The infectuous chorus just keeps on giving. The album concludes with "New Red Shoes." Tara's sensous delivery of the lyrical message is the dominant feature in the track although the string arrangements add a lovely texture overall.
With Great Escape Tara Blaise has shown hear virtuousity as a singer and a songwriter and expands her chops by collaboraring with a range of new partners. Although the CD is currently only available in Ireland, the album can be downloaded as mp3s from amazon.com in many territories. The recorded material is certain to appeal to broad audience and draw significant attention from female vocalist enthusiasts. Her critically acclaimed work on stage, in the studio and in live performances is certain to broaden her following in the months and years to come. We will patiently await her next installment.
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