Holler Country Music
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New Artist of the Week: Bailey Tomkinson

By Jof Owen

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Hailing from the delightful coastal town of St Ives in Cornwall, Bailey Tomkinson has been busily making a name for herself on both sides of the Atlantic for the last couple of years.

With her unique blend of surf-rock, sun-soaked romance and sweet Americana tinged pop - a blend that she calls “Kernowfornia” after the Cornish name for the area of England she originates from - she’s already popped up on Holler this year; performing on one of our Under The Apple Tree sessions.

Once described by the Daily Mail as "Britain's answer to Taylor Swift", it’s a compliment that belies the distinctive depth and peculiarity of her influences. Tomkinson weaves her way through a miscellany of weird and wonderful touchpoints, including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Laurel Canyon folk, Mazzy Star and The Cardigans, as well as contemporaries such as Sam Fender and Phoebe Bridgers.

“The thing I loved about making this record is the way I can feel the intersection of the music I love, with the community I’ve grown up in," says Bailey about her latest release, the intriguingly titled California Fire EP. A five-song taster menu of everything that Tomkinson brings to the table, from the widescreen Americana of the title-track, to the hyper-melodic slacker rock of ‘Can’t Lose’ and ‘Déjà Vu’. ‘Last Glimpse’, meanwhile, is a soaring stadium-sized anthem for doomed youth that sounds like Tanya Donnelly fronting the E Street Band, while ‘When The Lights Go Out’ is a glorious chunk of blissed-out pop that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Taylor Swift’s Red.

We sat down with Bailey to talk about the new EP, which cheeses she likes and why she’d probably be allergic to her favourite cartoon character.

Where do you come from and how has that influenced you?

Most of my memories are of growing up here in St Ives, Cornwall. This place has definitely shaped me both as a person and a musician.

St Ives is a coastal town and at its heart, a surf town with a fantastic, but sadly dwindling community. We’ve got the sun, sand and the waves during the summer tourist season and then in winter dark nights, empty streets and storms rolling, on what pretty much seems like every weekend. It was during those desolate, winter nights, sat in pubs aged 13 with a bunch of 60-year-old blokes playing in guitar circles, that I really learned how to play. The Eagles, Neil Young, that sort of thing. That definitely shaped my sound and I guess made me think of music as a journey, rather than a destination.

Soon, I was performing everywhere I possibly could. Something that’s been so important to this EP is trying to capture that environment in my music, the surf-rock with that Laurel Canyon influence.

What did you grow up listening to?

A bit of everything really. If I really think about it, I’ve always listened to more narrative-driven songs. One of my biggest influences is Bruce Springsteen, he does this perfectly and yet still has a killer instrumental.

Of course, like so many artists my age, Taylor Swift was a huge influence. One of the main reasons I wanted to write rather than just perform songs was because of her. I was 11 years old when I wrote my first fully structured song and performed it on my guitar at a rock show.

I’ve always loved artists like Weezer, Jewel and Carole King; I discovered a lot of music just by finding these "rabbit holes" on iTunes where I’d just keep listening and discovering new stuff, but also through my parents' awesome taste and CD collection and from the old guys in the pub. On Sunday nights, I’d just pull up a chair and join in. I discovered a lot of music that way!

Tell us about the California Fire Ep?

The thing I loved about making this record is the way I can feel the intersection of the music I love with the community I’ve grown up in. We’ve got the sun and surf of Cornwall, alongside the Laurel Canyon sound of the 70’s. There are elements of Aerosmith and Springsteen from the 80s, and even Mazzy Star and The Cardigans from the 90s in there too.

It's very much a team effort - it was mixed by the legendary John Cornfield (Oasis, Muse), and produced by Gareth Young (Warner Chappell, USA). It also features the awesome Michael Underwood (A Cornish boy!) from Rex Orange County on saxophone.

From day one, this was a full band record; they are songs we toured and honed at festivals before we went into the studio with them. We spoke about how we wanted to marry the influences with a surf rock sound to create our own unique Kernowfornia blend.

To me, California Fire feels like a collection of songs that shaped me as much as I shaped them.

How do you describe your sound?

I’ve used the word "Kernowfornia" quite a bit and I think that captures the essence of our sound quite well. I’d describe it as surf-rock meets narrative-driven folk and Americana. I like to keep evolving, but California Fire definitely feels like we’ve found our sound now.

What’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?

I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve been to play some amazing festivals like Boardmasters and The Great Escape. We've also played on RAF bases, right next to old planes! I also met my boyfriend at his festival PandaFest, I guess that was an unexpected journey!

I suppose it was quite surreal to play my song 'Bright Red' (which was a song protesting the desecration of the Cornish headline) for a beach full of protesters all decked out in bright red too. I ended up on page 2 of the Financial Times, on BBC Newscast and on German TV because of that song that day, it's fair to say that was as unexpected as it gets.

Who would be your dream duet?

I’ve always loved the idea of writing a song or doing a duet with Billy Joel. He’s one of my all-time favourite writers and really knows how to capture all of my emotions in a sentence! 

This is a tough question though, because I also really love how Phoebe Bridgers writes - she's so brutally honest and visual and that's something I really try to do in my writing.

Do you keep a diary?

Yes, I have done my whole life. Even when I was a young child, journaling was something I really got into when my hormones hit. I was always quite quiet in school - music and writing were my outlet, so this has helped me with writing poetry and songs, giving me something to reflect on.

What time do you wake up in the morning?

Usually 8:00am - I’m not the earliest riser in the world but I’m actually a pretty happy morning person. I like to start my day with a decaf ice coffee (vanilla syrup) and some form of exercise (running, gym, fitness class, SUP or surfing) before getting my head down into the music work.

Do you believe in aliens?

Yes! If the universe is infinite, then it’s not only likely but certain. However, they’ve definitely been glamorised by Hollywood, so I don’t have a clue what they’d really be like, I definitely know people who don’t appear to be from this planet.

Who’s your favourite cartoon character?

I’ve always been super into cartoons. I’m a massive fan of The Simpsons and have recently been watching lots of Rick & Morty. However, I used to brand absolutely everything I had with Hello Kitty. I had like a weird deep obsession with her, which makes no sense because I’m super allergic to cats.

What's your favourite cheese?

A bit of a boring answer but I love mozzarella, it goes on everything.

If you could time travel back to any time when would you go back to?

Definitely 1970’s Woodstock, that era, man, was the bomb! The music was the best, I would have loved to have grown up listening to new releases by Joni Mitchell, Carole King and James Taylor!

But then again, I’m a massive 80 and 90’s rock fan and would have loved to have seen Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses in their prime. Something we are very lucky for today is how much more equal (unfortunately not all of) the world is, however cool the music and style was back then, there were lots of problems in the world.

If not something musical, I’d quite like to go back to a time I had all my family and everyone was alive - I’d love to have one more hug with the people I miss the most.

Which person from history would you most like to meet?

Probably John Lennon - I love his stance on pacifism and personal freedom and (obviously his music). Actually, I think I’d want to do the whole Quantum Leap thing and not just meet him but live in his shoes for a few days. That would be pretty cool. Maybe I could stop the Beatles from splitting up.

What advice would you give to the younger you?

I guess just own what you do and not try to be “liked” by everyone. Because people pleasing those who don’t deserve your energy is such a waste of time. One thing I’ve learned is the value of having people you trust around you.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got a super exciting year ahead. New music that I can’t wait to share, touring, festivals including the likes of Wilderness and Wavelength’s Spring Classic. We’ve got a tour taking shape for Autumn with some really cool venues to play, including some London dates. It’s going to be crazy busy. I’m also having some really exciting conversations about working with some super-talented people moving forward, so it’s all systems go.

Bailey Tomkinson's California Fire EP is out now.