Interview with Tia McGraff

Last night I headed to South London to the Sound Lounge for the first time, a wonderful new venue, with a great sound and atmosphere (we’ll be returning next weekend for our songwriter’s night). Headlining the show was the fantastic Tia McGraff and I have to say it was a truly special night, made even more special by interviewing Tia beforehand.

Hi Tia, You’re just coming to the end of your UK tour, a tour with a total of 15 dates. How much have you enjoyed the tour?

This has been a fantastic tour. This is our 12th year coming over here and Tommy and I were here in February and March and this tour has been different in many different ways, but it’s been amazing, as amazing if not better than some of the others. This one has been more about relationships, we’ve met so many wonderful people at each gig, we’ve had sold out shows, we’ve had standing ovations. But above all, everybody is just saying how peaceful they feel and I think people are at a place right now with everything that is going on in the world, especially with what just happened right now at the weekend in Manchester, that music is lifting us up and we need to hang on to that. We are enjoying this because we’re realising more than ever that we have a job to do and that is to go out and make people feel great with music.

You’re touring the UK on the back of the release of ‘Nothin to Lose’. How exciting was it to hit the studio again and have new music out there?

It’s great. We released ‘Crazy Beautiful’ back in 2015 and we did so well on that and we realised that because we’d been coming back here every year that some people were wanting to hear new songs. They also asked if we could record some songs just like they hear us on stage with just guitar and vocals. We went into the studio – it was exciting because we got to sit in our studio at home and we also got to work with Nick Blagona again and we also brought in a couple of fiddle players from Nashville, so it was nice to work with them.

You have an ability to paint brilliant pictures with your words. The aptly named ‘Masterpiece’ on your latest record is a fine example of this – just a gorgeous love song and possibly my favourite on the EP. Tell us about this song.

Thank you, thank you. Tommy and I have this really cool, funky velvet red chair, a couch that we bought at a yard sale. One day in the wintertime we were sitting at home kinda comparing our musician’s life to our friends, and you know, we don’t have the big house, the big car, but we’ve got each other, we’ve got our music and we’ve got our fans and friends and we’ve got this beautiful red chair. So we started to write that song and Tommy came up with a beautiful melody, and I put in our yard sale furniture. At first when we were toying with Masterpiece as a title, we were going to make it like a painting and then all of a sudden, it just came out like ‘threads’  and ‘weaving though a tapestry’. So I googled ‘tapestry’ and saw that one of the most famous was ‘Lady and the Unicorn’ in Paris and that was where I was able to get that line. It just kinda fits lyrically altogether like a puzzle.

The EP starts with ‘Dartmoor’, which certainly pricked up my ears, a song about a beautiful parkland area in Devon here in the UK. Tell us how the song came about?

Last year we discovered Dartmoor when we were playing at Bickington down in Devon and we had a few days off and one of our friends suggested we just stay with them and just enjoy Dartmoor. So we did, and while we were up there we just fell in love with the ponies and then went back and wrote this song. I sent it to a couple of the pony organisations there and Dartmoor Hill Pony Association picked up on it and we actually did a benefit concert for them as part of this tour.

You write and perform with your husband Tommy Parham. Give us an insight into your joint song-writing process?

Well Tommy is the groovemaster, the melody guy (Tommy laughs in the background), that’s his big guitar sitting there. We met in Nashville and in Nashville when they put you together as a co-write they want to find out who leans more towards writing lyrics and who leans more towards melodies. So we established early – Tommy will do melodies and I’ll do lyrics and then we kind of switch off as the process goes and we kinda complement each other. So its great and that is kind of our system now. ‘We found a formula that works and now we kinda just flow right in every time we jump in’ added Tommy.

There seems to be a lot of talent coming out of Canada right now. How have you found being a Canadian in the country music industry?

That’s a good question. I lived in Nashville for a lot of years so I was kinda out of the Canadian country scene a bit, because I was focused on Nashville. Canada doesn’t really have Americana right now, they call it roots but even that’s not the same as Americana. And Tommy and I had developed this Americana career and playing in Texas and Nashville and coming over here as Country/Americana. So when we moved back to Canada, and we did so because I just wanted to be close to my family. So, when we moved back there we started getting back into the Canadian country scene and it’s slowly coming towards Americana. I guess Chris Stapleton and people like that are slowly bringing it over, but I think right now we are pioneers there. Canada has amazing talent – I’m proud of our musicians and how hard everyone works. They work so hard to get noticed, you know, competing against the big brother down south.

Going back to the start of your career, would there be a defining moment when you decided you wanted to sing? Or have you just always felt that way?

Yeah, the defining moment when I knew I wanted to be on stage was when I was about 7 years old and my parents took me to see Camelot and it was Richard Burton. I heard the orchestra start to play and I just got these chills and I leaned over and said to my mum that I want  to be on stage, I’m gonna be on that stage one day. That’s when I was bit and  my grandmother from Transylvania sang, and she had a beautiful voice as well, so she inspired me. So when I discovered my voice and found that I had one I just started singing and going into competitions and things. I was very shy and then my dad said to me ‘You have a gift and you need to share it with the world’ and that it was what propelled me to get going. But the big thing – I won the Canadian Open country singing contest and that’s when I got to go down to Toronto and be with Johnny Cash and June Carter on a TV show. Just seeing how incredible they were and how beautiful people they were, they were the first professional people who just inspired me and made me wanna go for it.

As well as Johnny and June Carter Cash, which artists have influenced you in your music?

I’ve always loved Linda Ronstadt going back. Tommy and I listen to Chris Stapleton and this whole Americana thing they are putting out down there right now, I love Patti Griffin too. I had given up my artist thing for a few years while I was living in Nashville and a friend of ours Mark Slaughter (from the rock group Slaughter), he said ‘Tia, you really need to be an artist, you really need to get back singing again, you’re wasting your talent’. I said, ‘No, I just want to write’. He said ‘No, no, no, you just have to do this’ and he handed me Patti Griffin’s CD, told me to go home and listen to it and said ‘I really think this is where you belong.’ So I did that and that was what propelled us back into this.

If you were stranded on a desert island, which album would you take with you?

Gosh, that’s a hard one (after a long pause). It would have to be one of ours (Tommy laughs in the background) I guess. I’d want to say ‘Jewels Cafe’ because that was the one that my parents were really involved in, my dad was managing me at the time. That was such a special album in a lot of ways and it’s the one that led me to Nashville to meet Tommy. But Tommy wasn’t on that one, so I’d have to say ‘Crazy Beautiful’, that’s what I think is our finest work together. Can we do a compilation? (both Tia and Tommy laugh).

To finish, tell us about your plans for the rest of the summer?

We’re going home and then we’re going to Nashville in June and then we’re heading back to Canada and we’re going to do a lot of nice festivals. We want to write some more and eventually turn this EP we’ve done into a fully-fledged CD with full production on it and release that probably in 2018. I’ve just started writing a children’s book and see where that goes and we just wanna play golf, enjoy fishing. We’ve worked hard this first half of the year so we want to enjoy Canada in the summer.

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