Led by the charismatic Yolanda Quartey and featuring Massive Attack collaborator Stew Jackson amongst their ranks, this Bristol five-piece have just released their second album, In The Pines, follow up to their self-titled 2008 debut. With Yolanda’s powerful, soulful, deeply impressionistic voice allied to some memorably melodic songs, Phantom Limb have developed a cult following here in the UK. Her voice is pitch-perfect, never fancy nor is there much in the way of show-off frills flair – just pure essence of soul…
Musically, In the Pines has an air of resignation, inspired by ideas of escape and life as a grinding making-ends-meet effort. It’s mix of gospel, country and soul though is deeply moving and rather contagious. “Country and gospel are the same,” says Yolanda, “but with different race singers.”
In the Pines was recorded in the oil capital of California, Signal Hill, with The Black Crowes producer Marc Ford. “That was awesome! Essentially, we went there because we needed a certain level of objectivity – and we didn’t want to spend years toiling over a stove. We knew we could trust him to take us in a direction that we wanted to go, but didn’t have the benefit of objectivity to get there or at the speed we wanted to get there,” laughs Yolanda. We wanted him to take us further on into our influences, into the things we love… We were looking to artists such as Neil Young, The Band, Delaney & Bonny, Mad Dogs and Englishmen…(the infamous Joe Cocker touring band name and live album of 1970). It was a real eye opener, that experience of being produced… We’re massive Crowes fan anyway!
“Stew was pretty much my co-writer for the first album, but for this album everyone in the room contributed, so it’s been more about a band in a room this time. Also, the first album was written when I was 21/22, the second album when I was 26/27 – I felt a lot different with the lyrics…
Over the years they have toured with the likes of Rumer and Will Young and Yolanda has been a guest vocalist with Massive Attack (I was with Massive Attack for only two and a half months – I did a handful of gigs and then it was all over – I spent longer at Butlins as a kid! Nobody seems to mention that Stew was working with them for three and a half years!!) and Nitin Sawnhey, as well as performing backing vocals for artists as diverse as Adele and Dizzee Rascal. Combining session work with a bit of voice training she does and the band means that Yolanda is these days fully immersed in music.
“I was curious when I was a kid – mostly through my friends, Stews family and friends, just naturally curious… I got Dolly Parton from my Mum’s collection, and sang along to it – my voice is Dolly like! I try to sing a song as it is, to prove you can sing a song.
“I worry about my voice, I had to find out more than what was available. Every time a cold turned up it would hit the things I missed (referring to the voice therapy she practices). Adele lost her voice when I did some backing vocals for her and I was nattering on about losing my voice… you need therapy whichever way you look at it. I’ve been looking for at all sorts of therapies to make my voice work. I try and perfect by any means necessary these vocal programmes when on tour when everyone is coughing and spluttering around me. The colds are trying to get at my voice so I get to test these theories out. A lot of cats are getting onto this stuff – a lot of people are getting pissed enough to want to find out for themselves… It’s ridiculous to accept that there is no cure for this sort of thing. (when on tour) I do have to choose what I say, and if you talk in the right way you get away with a lot more,” she says by way of explaining how she copes with the vocal rigors of touring.
Bristol is heavily associated with trip hop, reggae, dub, drum’n'bass and dubstep so how does the band’s sound fit in to the Bristol scene? “Since that Coen Brothers film came out, O Brother Where Art Thou, there has been a real resurgence of Americana… It hit Bristol so much so that someone coined the phrase Brashville – where Bristol meets Nashville… this magazine said there was a glut of people picking up a banjo.. I think it’s happening everywhere.. It’s also down in no small measure to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; they are my heroes. Most of the people I know who went to their (recent) gig had a nice little cry… I blame them directly, it’s all their fault!
Saturday 3 March, Latest Music Bar, Brighton (and on tour in the UK) 8pm, £6.50