On the release of their debut album, music writer Matt Jacobson interviews Laura Doyle, the singer-songwriter of Liverpool band Baiana.
Baiana (pronounced By-Anna) is the brainchild of powerhouse Liverpool-born Brazilian influenced jazz artist, Laura Doyle, following on from performances at Love Supreme, Ealing Jazz festival, opening for Brazilian mega star Gilberto Gil on his UK tour, as well as an unprecedented 12 weeks on the A-list of the Jazz FM playlist, with her breakthrough single “Saudade Samba”.
Baiana’s highly anticipated self-titled debut album is finally here!
Produced by the legendary UK Latin percussionist, Snowboy, ‘Baiana’ features 11 finely crafted songs covering a huge range of Brazilian styles from fiery Sambas to Bossa Nova, Jazz Fusion to Baião and everything in-between. Singing in both Portuguese and English, Laura evokes a vocal style reminiscent of the great romantic torch singers of the 40’s and 50’s such as Julie London and Peggy Lee and yet one can clearly also feel the passionate expression of Portuguese Fado and the Brazilian greats such as Elza Soares, Gal Costa and Elis Regina as she sings of love-lost and broken hearts.
An unexpected candidate for Brazilian jazz with her Scouse accent and fiery red hair denoting her Irish roots, Laura became enraptured by Brazilian music after living in Rio de Janeiro where she went to work and study.
“Arriving in Brazil was love at first sight and it immediately felt like home. The Carioca spirit especially is very much like Liverpool; their humour, that playful, streetwise charm and the music… music everywhere! I wanted to get as deep into their culture as I could, so I taught myself Portuguese which led me to discover the lyrical beauty of the music too and I was hooked.”
Laura’s musical career however, didn’t start till much later in life and her many diverse experiences before this explain her rich storytelling and kaleidoscopic style as she went on to study clowning with the great Phillip Gaulier in Paris, become a stand-up comedian, a translator and an international football agent. Yet her passion for Brazilian music only grew stronger until she could no longer ignore the calling and, as she herself attests “put her shirt” on launching Baiana.
“I work closely with my creative instinct, drawing on my theatrical training and love of Brazilian culture. I experience music as pictures in my mind, almost like a film and I try to interpret and express what the characters in that story are doing, thinking and feeling. Whether I was writing lyrics or wanting to capture a particular sound I would imagine it visually first and then draw on that as a way of expressing it musically.”.
Brought together by a shared passion for Brazilian music, the internationally acclaimed artist Snowboy agreed to produce Baiana after hearing the demos for Paradise and Saudade Samba and was drawn to the authentic and heartfelt nature of her work. Thus started their unexpected yet alchemical collaboration spending weeks together in the studio as Snowboy beautifully, skilfully and sensitively brought Laura’s vision to life. Drawing on his vast knowledge of Latin jazz, his innate musicality and organic approach to making music which he believes is best born out of the energy of the moment and the musicians in the room. It is clear on this album he has captured not only her sound but her character.
Recorded at Liverpool’s famous Motor Museum and the country’s leading roots music studio, Big Noise, in Essex the album features the finest jazz and Brazilian musicians that Liverpool has to offer and many other special guests including the legendary Haggis Horns on all tracks, who have also featured with Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse and Jamiroquai amongst many others.
The album also features sublime solos from some of the UK’s jazz greats such as Malcolm Strachan and Trevor Mires and the dreamy Claus Ogerman inspired string arrangements of Steve Parry and Liverpool based string section. Together this results in a deep, dramatic and panoramic Brazilian Jazz soundscape, beautifully mastered at Abbey Road Studios.
I recently interviewed Laura about the early years, influences and the recording process.
The younger years, what music first grabbed your attention?
I grew up obsessed with old Hollywood musicals. Whereas other kids would be spending their pocket money on the latest top 20, I would be rummaging through the bargain bins at Woolworths looking for soundtracks from the 40s and 50s and would learn them by heart. Then Sade came along – as a teenager I had never heard or seen anything so cool. I became obsessed with her music and her style and even had replicas made of her outfits. Like the Hollywood soundtracks, her music is still a huge influence for me.
Did you go to gigs and are there any that stand out for you?
In terms of the music I make, living in Brazil for a number of years I was lucky enough to see many so many Brazilians greats at the legendary (sadly now closed) Canecão music hall In Rio de Janeiro such as Bibi Fereira, Maria Bethania, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. One of my favourite Brazilian gigs however was The Ipanemas quite a few years ago at The Liverpool Philharmonic – I cried with absolute joy all the way through it as it was so heartfelt and so evocative of the Carioca spirit.
When did you first start singing?
I only started singing about 5 years ago. I was actually training to be a clown in Paris with Phillipe Gaulier, considered the greatest living clown master in the world. Part of his famously unorthodox method involved exploring other theatrical genres as a way of teasing out our unique performance personality and time and again I would always sing. A fellow clown was hosting a cabaret show in London and invited me to perform I chose to sing some Brazilian songs, rather than my usual clown act and when I got up on stage that night I knew id finally found my true calling.
Where did the name for the band come from and how did the musicians join the band?
Baiana means “Woman of Bahia” a region in Brazil, the birthplace of samba and said to be the most mystical and magical of the regions. The name of the band though was actually inspired by the very first song I sang that night in London ” Falsa Baiana” it means Fake Baiana – and sings about how you can always tell a true Baiana as she brings so much joy and authenticity. I initially called it “Falsa Baiana” on account of me being from Liverpool, even toyed with “Jarg Baiana” for a bit- but then shortened it to Baiana as it was already a mouthful for people to pronounce and spell! I asked a friend of mine working at the Liverpool Philharmonic if he could help me find some musicians to get it off the ground. He contacted Vidar Norheim, who initially played drums, to see if he would be up for the Brazilian cup. He luckily liked the idea of getting involved and brought in gypsy jazz guitarist Mick Dunne and bass player Jesse Eigen – I put a list together of about 15 Brazilian cover songs and we were away!
Are you always thinking about writing or do you have to stop and say it’s time to write a song?
Inspiration is everywhere and even if it’s just a lyric, a beat, a mood, a song I’ve heard that’s triggered an idea I’m constantly thinking about writing. I have hundreds of voice notes on my phone, piles of note pads, diary entries or backs of envelopes where I’ve scribbled down ideas. The challenge now is to find the time to sit down and start fleshing them out as there is so much to do with the launch of the latest album. I think i need to go sit on a balcony somewhere sunny for a month and get them all down.
The album, how did you find the process of recording?
Working with our producer Snowboy was one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences I could imagine. Every session was like a masterclass with him and I sat in on every single one. I learnt so much watching him work; how he built a song, his skill mixing all the musical flavours together without them ever being undercooked or overdone. He encouraged me to explore my own ideas musically and took things on to another level again. It was never a question of come in, read the part, play it and go home..he believes a song is born out of the people and the energy in the room and I think you really get a sense of that on the album – it’s heartfelt and authentic and brings out all the colours of everyone involved.
And finally, what next for the band?
Taking the album out on the road will be the next plan for us and we’re looking into dates and venues for next year. We’re a fantastic festival band too so it would be great to get involved in some more of them. Love Supreme and Ealing Jazz festival this year were such highlights for us. I’ll be starting work on the next album and I’m also in discussions with some Brazilian artists about possible collaborations too. Watch this space!.
Best wishes for the future!
The album is available ‘Baiana’ is available on all digital platforms and major record outlets.
“Joyful yet wistfully nostalgic…sexy yet pensive…5/5” UK VIBE
“Most anticipated album of the year” Jazz Fm
“Lush and Sophisticated” RnR Magazine
“So Good” Gilles Peterson 6 Music
“The band we’re all obsessed about” Deb Grant