Not so long ago a rather excellent Folk oriented CD arrived on my music player called ‘Wild Skies’. Not surpisingly, when the creator of said CD was announced as a special guest at Bonn Folk Club I packed my camera, notebook and microphone and headed down to Graurheindorf. Here is the resultant interview with Cable Car recording Artist and Blues/not-Blues singer Linda Sutti.
I know that you come from Piacenza in Northern Italy Linda , tell me what music you grew up listening to there.
My first band was actually an Indie Italian band. We sang some covers of Italian bands who were famous at the time like Marlene Kunz, who actually sound a little bit German but are Italian. Other cover songs too. I even wrote a couple of songs in Italian. And then came the Blues band.
What created the jump to Blues? Was it a wow! Moment hearing someone like BB King or Muddy Waters for the first time?
Ha! Ha!. No, not a wow! moment. I listened to Blues music, but I also had many friends who were blues musicians and really jumped into a band that was already formed who played Blues. I started not just singing, but also writing the lyrics.
So it sort of happened by accident that your first band played Blues I guess. What do you remember of those early shows?
I was sixteen and I was really nervous, but there were many people there as young as I was. It was an interesting musical scene, and there were many young musicians in the crowd whilst I was playing too.
It sounds rather like Bonn Folk Club in 2015 to me Linda. You should be right at home here. Especially since your biography describes you as being a huge fan of 60’s Folk music – Donovan and Fairport Convention for example. Of course the sixties was a very political time for Folk Music. Did you see Folk as a political vehicle in those days?
No, not at all. It was a perfect time to share ideas through music. Music was very much under the skin of the people but it was purely down to my personal musical taste. I loved for example Sandy Denny’s voice. And it’s true some of Donovan’s songs are political but I didn’t love them for that reason. I certainly don’t have a political song of my own (laughs) so far anyway!
From hearing what you’ve said about writing even for your first band as a teenager it’s clear you’ve been creative in music for a while now. You even released a CD five years ago (‘Winter in my Room’). What happened with that?
Well, it was more basic and really therefore more Folk in style. It wasn’t distributed but put together by a wonderful friend of mine in Piacenza, Alberto Callegari, who had a studio. It wasn’t very successful though and the fault really is mine. At the time I was playing music just for fun and I wasn’t aware at all that music really was an industry. I always had my CD with me when I was gigging, but absolutely no plan at all! I was studying back then too, and it was more important to get good grades and find a job in publishing as a proof-reader. I saw music as, well yes, just fun to do.
Somewhere along the line though you obviously began to get serious and it wasn’t plain sailing. I’m thinking of the track on your new CD ‘Try’ and especially of the lyric “Everybody tells me I’m wasting my time, I’d better go, and find a serious goal”. The disc is dedicated to your Grandfather, so is this something he used to say to you?
Oh no. He was always very supportive. It was a difficult time and the track that he inspired was actually one titled ‘No Fear’. He always told me not to have any fear, of anything. ‘Try’ was also from him though – but as an encouragement…
A philosophy even, perhaps?
Yes, that too.
The new CD is produced by Henrik Freischlader for his Cable Car label, as was the latest studio album by Layla Zoe ‘The Lily’. I find that both seem very personal statements by their writers. Really digging deep into your feelings. Is this something that Henrik has a gift for as a producer? Getting musicians to bare their souls?
Well, perhaps. Some of my songs were written, but without the music. ‘Try’ for example – the lyrics were written before listening to the music so yes, I would say in that case that Henrik brought out that topic. In fact a part of the chorus was written by him. So he gave me this, plus part of the music. In effect, he gave me the starting point. For most of the songs though I had the lyrics – which were checked many times with Kathy Pohl at Cable Car Records.
But hang on. Why is she checking your lyrics?
(Laughs) Well, how can I put it? I have a school standard of English. It’s not my Mother tongue.
I’ve actually jumped ahead a bit by mentioning Henrik. Can you tell me how you came to be sitting with him working on a CD in the first place? You met I believe at the Narcao Blues Festival in Sardinia?
Yes. That was a great night. I was invited to play at this Festival on one of the side stages, and later I was having dinner with my band and we listened to great music playing downstairs. We went down to see who was there, and it was Henrik, and we were like, Wow! Afterwards I congratulated him on his show and he asked if I had a CD as he knew I was playing in the Festival. He supposed I was a real Blues musician – which I’m not in fact (laughs) but I had become known in Piacenza as a Blues musician even though my set-list then only had a couple of Blues songs in it and I really consider myself as a Folksinger rather than a Blues one. But anyway, a week later he wrote to say he was interested in the music. Then we met at a gig in France and he told me he wanted to make an album with me. I was amazed – and happy of course!
The result was your first Cable Car CD ‘Wild Skies’. How did both a Folksinger and a Bluesman manage to create a record that both of you were happy with? Weren’t you pulling in two directions?
Well the first thing I told him was “I play Folk. Is that okay with you?” He said yes, of course.
… and then he went into the next room and screamed?
Well, I was surprised too when he told me he wanted me as supporting act on the last tour.
Which leads to the obvious question: How did you go down as a ‘Folkie’ playing to all those Blues fans?
They were very nice and I felt very welcomed by the crowd. But I must say that perhaps it wouldn’t have been the same if Henrik hadn’t introduced me before I played.
I think Henrik isn’t a died in the wool Bluesrocker though. He has a soft side to his musical presentation that I love. A low key friendliness that would have helped I’m sure. I remember him exclaiming once when something wasn’t working at a show here in Bonn “Wat ist das dann?!” in an endearing way that had the audience immediately on his side. But Henrik clearly had a strong influence on the outcome of ‘Wild Skies’. Do you think the experience of working with him will change the sound or style of your next album? Will it be Folk? Or Blues? Or Folk-Blues-Rock?
Well, I’m always writing new songs, because it’s very natural for me. Of course after this CD and the studio recording experience that I got I have a totally different perspective on what I’m doing now, but I’m too much focused on promoting this album now so I will make a few notes – and then we will see what happens next!
As Henrik has now finished his farewell band tour, you will be going out on your own I assume. Or will this be a band project?
I’ve already set the band up in Italy. They are all from Piacenza and I’ve played with them in the past – although not all at the same time so that will be different! Now I’m trying to book places to play and I’m singing in English, so there’s no point in looking to play just in Italy. It wouldn’t be weird to sing in English in Italy of course but from my perspective I want to play outside.
Do you write sometimes in Italian?
No I don’t. Because it’s too difficult for me. I write in English for two reasons: Because I’m very shy, and if I would tell the things I sing in English in Italian instead, to an Italian crowd, I think I wouldn’t be able to sing at all! (laughs). The second reason is that writing in English tidies up my thoughts.
You will be doing a very famous English language song this evening I believe. John Harrison tells me the two of you have practiced ‘Mercedes Benz’ and I know you’re a big fan of Janis Joplin. What draws you to her as a musician and personality?
Well, the music and her voice of course are the first attractions, and were so when I first listened to her. Most important of all when I look at her as a figure in music is that she was a very true Artiste – very honest with both herself and with her music. That’s what I find so inspiring.
Sincerity is something that I hear very much in your own music Linda. I’m sure the Bonn Folk Club will think the same. Thank you for your time.