There’s a little bit of Australia behind Terra Lightfoot’s new album, the made-in-Memphis, Consider The Speed. It was while she was here three years ago that the idea came to fully explore the soul roots in her music.
Don’t worry though, this is not another reconstruction of the classic sounds of Stax or American, or a mere reproduction of what Willie Mitchell created in Royal Studios for the likes of Al Green and Ann Peebles. The world isn’t in need of another one of those after all.
Lightfoot may have one foot in the southern USA but the Canadian has the other foot in powerful rock ‘n’ roll, a place where her guitar playing can drive as hard as any horn section.
Consequently, what Consider The Speed has instead is soul seeping into everything that’s happening. And lots of guitars.
“I had a lot of fun playing guitar on this album,” Lightfoot says, cracking a wide smile. “The producer really just let me turn up my amp to 10 and it’s a 1962, Fender Bassman [amp]- it’s so beautiful but it’s so loud: blow your head off loud. The song Consider The Speed, recording the guitar solo for that, I turned it up so loud and I said are you sure about this?, and he said ‘are you sure about this?’ [she laughs with a glint in her eye]. But we did it and it was the most fun.”
The three days she had in Royal Studios laying down guitar parts – including a few guitars she borrowed, such as a coveted 1962 Pelham Blue SG (no, I don’t know either, but it looks pretty to this non-musician, and it excites people who know what they’re talking about) - she now refers to as “like a dream”.
“I realised, oh, this is what it’s all about. Of course I love writing songs, and I love singing, but layering guitars … hello! That’s my favourite.”
Well, that, and getting to play with legendary names such as Lester Snell, Steve Potts and Davy Smith, “her” rhythm section, and a trio who have probably backed half the musicians in your record collection.
“It was just beautiful being part of the club,” she says of this tight quartet.
If you can hear reverence in her voice just in those words, you’d be right. It’s the same tone you get when someone – be it the Rolling Stones, Sydney’s Soul Movers, indie eccentric Cat Power, or a kid passing through with money in her pocket and a few sessions free – has laid down an album or even just one song, at one of these temples of music.
But I have to ask, just between you and us, Terra Lightfoot, for all the talk of the feel of some of these famous studios, the fabled atmosphere that birthed some of the greatest music of the 1960s and 70s in particular, is there really anything special or is it just another room with some good players? Do we project the mythology onto those otherwise ordinary rooms and those recordings?
“Oh there’s vibe,” she says earnestly. “There’s vibe everywhere there. And I think too what I really loved about the room is it’s understated. No one could ever say Royal Studios is a pretentious place: it isn’t. It’s a welcoming home, like a family home. You stop caring about the little things and you start remembering to listen to the music that you’re making.”
And yes, despite the history, despite hanging with Willie’s son, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, and having Boo’s mother and aunt cook some soul food for them, despite the legends a few metres away nutting out the parts for her songs, “it was relaxing”.
So much so that at the end, when all the album was done, they just kept playing and recorded one of Lightfoot’s favourite songs of all time in one take. Live. Thrillingly. (What song? She won’t say, batting away my suggestion of Kenny Rogers – which is a shame, don’t you think?)
Even before you get to the quality of Consider The Speed – which grooves and kicks with equal success - it may be a fact that this was meant to be.
Maybe it was in the stars for Lightfoot, who is based in Hamilton, Ontario (which you might call a satellite town of Toronto, but only if you wanted to get your head smacked around by anyone actually from Hamilton), and had temporarily relocated to Nashville to do some writing ahead of the Memphis sessions.
“The song of the very end of the album, Two Wild Horses, was track I wrote about getting out of writer’s block when I was in Nashville. I was driving down the highway on a Saturday and saw two wild horses on the side of the road and thought, I better pull over,” she says, before adding with a sense of the ridiculous. “I feel like this happens all the time in Australia, like, ‘oh right, there’s a koala, let’s get it off the road’ – all the time in downtown Sydney, right?. But that doesn’t happen here.
“So it was a big thing that knocked me right out of any writer’s block, any doubts I was having, any issues with how I was feeling. It made me remember to look at what’s in front of you, what’s in front of you is important.”
And that was?
“It’s these two wild horses in the middle of the night and there’s so much grace and there’s so much love in your life, just go with that. Just go with that good feeling.”
Go with that good feeling? Hell, they’ve written whole soul albums on far less.
Terra Lightfoot’s Consider The Speed is out now on Sonic Unyon.