After a hit debut album Sandi Thom is back with a more grown-up sound, as Michael Wood finds out.
When, on her latest album, Sandi Thom sings of bad experiences, break-ups and fall-outs, there seems to be a lifetime of pain in her blues-infused vocals.
It seems a world away from the youthful confidence of her debut, Smile… It Confuses People, which spawned the much-bought and much-derided single I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair).
Jet-lagged and recovering from a cold that briefly left her voiceless, she seems understandably tired when she speaks to me just after arriving from America that morning.
“A lot changes in seven years,” she reflects. “People change and so does the music change.
“The best I can describe it is that I have become more grounded and more sure of myself. I think every album reflects your life, where you are at.
“With my first, the innocence came from the naivete. I hadn’t really weathered a storm, as it were. It was a fair reflection of where I was at the time.”
Having said that, she still has a soft spot for Punk Rocker.
“It’s Marmite,” she admits, “but it connected with a lot of people.”
Her new album, Flesh And Blood, was released in September and she will be promoting it with a UK tour next month, including a date at the Robin 2, Bilston.
“It’s a cool venue,” she says. “I’ve played there before. My special guest will be Lisa Mills from Mississippi. It’s the only night she’s performing on the tour.
“I will be playing a two-hour set,” she adds. “I’m going through the albums chronologically, playing a few songs from each album, but the majority from the new album.
“It’s a real progression,’ she says of Flesh And Blood. It is above and beyond what I have done before. I feel really proud of it.
“That’s not just from me, but because I’ve worked with so many amazing musicians.”
Sandi’s story so far is a bit of a rollercoaster ride.
She became an internet phenomenon when a series of gigs in her basement, called 21 Nights From Tooting, were shown live online. A record deal with RCA followed and her debut album and single both reached No.1 in the UK charts.
She certainly enjoyed the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, she admits. “I think, like most young, innocent, naïve, twentysomething women, I would look back and say I kind of had a lot of fun. I smoked too much and I drank too much.
“If you have a tour bus and a driver and you’re a 20-year-old girl, you get carried away with that. I was just living the dream.”
But the dream quickly turned sour. Her basement gigs were criticised as a publicity gimmick and her follow-up album failed to match the first record’s success. Soon afterwards, she left RCA and created her own Guardian Angels Records.
It wasn’t pleasant, she admits, but it has all gone into making her who she is as a musician.
“Everybody has a past. Everybody has history,” she says. “My life has been peppered with many different moments when it has been dark and difficult and this all comes out in the songs.”
Does she ever regret going independent?
“I think it’s one of the best things I have done and one of the hardest things I have done,” she says.
“It’s really challenging and really tests your loyalty and your desire to be successful, but it’s extremely rewarding if you can make it happen.”
Now, despite the angst in a lot of the songs on her new album, she is, she says, in a happy place with her boyfriend, blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, about whom she writes in Love You Like A Lunatic, which she describes as “one of the happiest of love songs”.
She adds: “I have been through the ups and down of life and finally I’ve reached a point where my feet have firmly landed.
“I know where I belong personally and I know who I want to belong with. I like where I am right now.”
* Sandi Thom plays Robin 2, Bilston on November 7. Tickets: 01902 401211