Sandi Thom was the first singer/songwriter ever to gain global stardom and a major label record deal through the use of webcasting.
There may have been a backlash – it happens when anyone does anything ground-breaking – but there’s no getting away from the fact that she was the first pioneer of what was a huge turning point in the music industry.
But it’s a long way from that global smash – ‘I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)’ launched from webcasts in a London basement – to where proud Scot Sandi Thom finds herself today with an amazing, eclectic, highly credible body of work behind her… and an amazing new album ahead.
She has recorded in Nashville and LA, has worked with top producers and songwriters, has written for important media outlets like The Daily Beast, has graced the stage of the legendary Royal Albert Hall, has played at Glastonbury, has performed on stage with Brian May, Alice Cooper and George Michael and is now embarking on a brand new groundbreaking chapter in her career as she produces her new album.
‘Weapons of Past Destruction is the first album I’ve produced,’ says Sandi. In fact, there aren’t many female singer/songwriters who also produce their own work, but then Sandi has never been afraid to break new ground. ‘It’s about picking up the pieces and starting all over again in the aftermath of an emotional disaster,’ she goes on.
‘The songs are about war, death, destruction, anger, courage and hope as well as reconciling with the past and moving on. I don’t pretend to have a hard life. I’m not living through a war. I don’t know that kind of pain and suffering but in my own small way, like everyone in life, I have had to face that moment when the rug gets pulled out from under your feet and you’re left standing there with a broken heart, shattered dreams and the long road ahead to rebuild your life.’
The moment she’s referring to was the end of her long-term relationship with legendary musician Joe Bonamassa. It was a split that came out of the blue, leaving Sandi shell-shocked and at a loss for what to do next. ‘The first single from the album is called “Earthquake”,' she says. 'It’s a song where I try to come to terms with what happened that day. I wanted to write a song to share with people of all ages who could relate to how I felt when I had that bombshell dropped on me. It’s often hard to put into words.’ She also accepts that she's been on the other end of the equation, causing the heartbreak as well as being the victim of it.
These themes of love and war run through the album with songs like 'World War One', that deals with the real human experience of being caught in a war while 'Song of a Broken Heart' deals with the destruction, loss and pain you feel when a relationship disintegrates: '... closing doors in empty halls, silence now where laughter once was, the music fades away...'
They are songs that Sandi had to write and write again because of how personal they were to her. The chorus of 'Song of a Broken Heart' is, she explains, 'almost an anthem for all those who have experienced something like this... "this is the song of the last goodbye, this is the song of the great divide".'
But it's not all heartbreak. There is anger then the sense of rebuilding, digging deep and finding the courage to start that long road to recovery. Songs like 'Carry You Over the Finish Line' and 'The Courage' are, she explains, 'about the hope that one day you are going to look back on all this and be thankful for the pain that you endured because what was waiting for you was a whole lot more exciting.'
In Sandi's case, what was waiting for her was Matt, a man she fell in love with almost at first sight and who proposed to her even before their first kiss, an experience that inspired her most recent songs, tracks like 'Timeless' and 'Soarsa', an unfinished song from years ago she was driven to complete by real events. 'These are songs of hope,' she explains. 'Songs that show that in the aftermath of an emotional disaster, what lies in front of you can be a million times better than what you left behind.'
As well as wanting to write and produce songs that people of all ages could relate to, Sandi also wanted to return to her pop roots. 'After many years of a musical adventure into many different genres, I wanted to go back to creating catchy, memorable melodies very much like my earlier work,' she explains. Having managed herself for years and having released her own albums, producing was the next logical step. 'It brings together everything I've learned throughout the years working with so many incredible musicians and producers,' she explains. 'Now was most certainly the time to come back with a bang.'
It all started in Scotland where Sandi grew up in a family filled with singers, musicians, poets and published authors. 'Expressing yourself was always encouraged,' she says. 'It's just what you did.' Steeped in the storytelling music of Joni Mitchell, that original punk rocker with flowers in her hair, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, who she would eventually come to record a duet with, Sandi was learning piano by the age of four and at 12 realised that she didn't have to play other people's songs but could write her own. By this time, she was playing and singing with a group much of much older men on the local circuit, just getting into the music of Fleetwood mac that they were exposing her to. She still has some of the early demos from when she was basically a child.
With this early immersion into the world of music, it should come as no surprise that Sandi was the youngest person ever to be accepted into the prestigious Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, where she honed her skills not only in music and performance but in the business side of the music industry as well. As she says about the now legendary webcasts from the basement in south London that went global, it wasn't an accidental arrival on the scene, it was a conscious act of promotion from someone who knew the business and was ahead of the curve when it came to what was then called 'new media'. The result of putting this knowledge into action was a global number one single - 'I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair' - and a global career.
But despite such massive commercial success, including an album that went straight to the top of the UK charts, Sandi has never seen chart-topping as her reason for being in music, preferring to explore the world and use her experience to illuminate her songwriting, like Joni Mitchell before her. She was writing and recording 'records that were off on a tangent', she explains, including one that was openly 'a big "screw you" to the industry'. She was choosing the path of the genuine musician, rather than the pop star. It was a bold path to take, turning your back on success to actually explore your craft, but it's a boldness that has always stood Sandi in good stead, bagging her a ground-breaking US record deal despite no sales history there.
She was also resisting her friends' pleas for her to start writing for films or for other artists, where they were convinced she could make her millions. 'But I knew it wouldn't make me happy,' explains the woman who has always run her own career. 'I never gave up and I just kept rallying through to have some amazing experiences. Some great musicians I worked with genuinely showed me real respect.'
It's the combination of that musicianship, her experiences - for good or bad - and her sheer boldness that makes Weapons of Past Destruction the album it is. 'There was a lot of emotion that I had to work through,' she concludes. 'But now I've met Matt and he's like the male version of me. We're like two peas in a pod. I realise now that I always longed for someone adventurous, exciting and not afraid to take a chance.'
And with all of that stacked in her corner, this album truly marks the reboot of what has already been an amazing career.