Dione Taylor and the power of the ‘Prairie blues’

Dione Taylor is a vocalist who’s always searching.

In 2005, she was nominated for a Juno Award in the category of vocal jazz album of the year. Since then, she’s used her voice and creativity to explore many different musical styles, including blues, folks and roots music.

Taylor has just released a new single from her forthcoming album Spirits in the Water, and she’s also recently become a member of the Toronto Blues Society musicians advisory council.

Taylor joined us to talk about the inspiration for her new album, and the personal connections that lead to the best musical collaborations.

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How have you been over these difficult few months?

Like everybody, [I’ve had] ups and downs, but mostly good and positive. Lots of bike rides, lots of sun. I have some friends who have cottages and pools, so I’ve been bumming around there. I’ve been doing some writing as well, and I just bought a ukulele. It’s the happiest instrument.

It’s impossible to be in a bad mood when someone’s playing the ukulele.

You just can’t. I tried to write something sad, but it’s just so happy and I love it.

You’ve got some skills already?

I’ve got mad skills, man. I’ve got the C chord, the G chord, the F chord, the A minor… I mean, what else do I need?

You have a new album, Spirits in the Water, coming out in September. Was Nashville part of the journey? Did you go down there to do some writing and discovery?

I did. I took a road trip to Tennessee a couple years ago. I just wanted to get inspiration and a feel for the city, and also just to hang out and soak in all that wonderful music and vibrations that are there. It was definitely the inspiration for Spirits in the Water. The whole idea is that it’s a continuation of my “Prairie blues” sound, and a continuation of [my last album] Born Free. It’s all about the journey to the self, the journey with other people, and about positivity and spreading unconditional love.

I understand the “spirit” means that the “water” is telling us stories — whether that’s family history or the things that get passed on from generation to generation — and you’re saying that if you listen closely enough, there are things to be heard in the quiet. 

Exactly — in the stillness of the water. That’s the best time, when I’m by the water and listening to all of that beautiful energy that comes from it.

“Prairie blues” is a term that you’ve coined, since you’re originally from Regina. For someone who doesn’t know what it means, what’s in that stew?

“Prairie blues” is a blend of folk, roots and the blues. I just came up with it because I’m from Saskatchewan and the songs that I write are an extension of how I was brought up. I listened to a lot of gospel music and jazz when I was growing up. It’s a nice blend of all those different styles of music.

You have a gentleman in your band who’s also become more than just a member of the band, but someone with whom you’re collaborating, Joel Schwartz. Can you tell me about him as a musician and what he brings to the table when you get together?

I’ve known Joel for a few years now. He used to play in a band called the Birds of Chicago — they’re an amazing folk duet — but Joel actually played with me in my band called the Backsliderz for many years. We just started to hang out and to write music together, and we have such a great connection. We just decided to make a record. It’s been such a great experience. He’s an amazing guitar player and writer, he’s got good vibes, and Spirits in the Water is a wonderful, wonderful album.

More than just a musical connection, it’s got to be a whole bunch of things for that click to happen, right?

I even like to say that sometimes they’re like a therapist. Some of the things that come out of my brain would scare people. But when you’re collaborating with someone and it’s a good collaboration, there’s no fear, there’s no judgment, and that to me is such an amazing part of collaborating with someone — being able to have that connection there and feel safe, and feel like even if it doesn’t turn out great, it’s just about hanging out, sharing a meal together, having a coffee, and talking about whatever is in our hearts.

It might not always be that you get a direct result from that. But maybe down the road that pays dividends because of something that happened in that space with that energy.

It’s important to not be afraid to collaborate with people. I know that sometimes younger people feel like, “What if they don’t like it? What if I sound stupid?” Part of being a musician is about being fearless and not being afraid to say anything — because why keep it inside?

You’ve also been appointed to the musicians advisory council of the Toronto Blues Society. Tell us about that.

The musicians advisory council is a group of people who are basically advising the board and helping to spread the blues and to spread positivity and to spread diversity in the community through music. So, I’m really excited to be working with the Toronto Blues Society and making sure that we are sharing the love and sharing our knowledge with the musicians, with the community, and with kids, and with everyone who’s out there in the world who loves the blues as much as we do.

How Many Times is the first single from the forthcoming album Spirits in the Water. This is a powerful tune. What’s the inspiration for it?

This song was actually written a few years ago. As you know, with Black Lives Matter and with everything that’s going on in the world right now, it feels like a new battle — but it’s not. When we talk about diversity and equality, these are things [for which] we’ve been fighting for years and years. How Many Times is a peaceful protest in response to everything that’s happening in the world with that.