Q&A with Detroit born renegade frontwoman Eliza Neals - the voice of the ‘new blues’ for this generation

"I think it (Soul, Blues & Rock music) continues forward because it speaks to the hearts and souls of people it's a mixture of the classics and it’s not perfect imperfections are perfection!"

Eliza Neals: Detroit Blues & Rock Diva

Eliza Neals is a dynamic front woman, multi-talented musician, confident producer and outstanding live performer plus the voice of the ‘new blues’ for this generation. The award winning sultry and powerful blues rock soul vocalist, recording artist, composer, performer, publisher and producer is being compared to greats like Etta James, Janis Joplin and Ricki Lee Jones among others. Performed with notable acts such as Barrett Strong, Kenny Olson, Vernon Reid, The Four Tops, Temptations, George Clinton, Earl Klugh, Tino Gross, Howard Glazer, Eddie Gregg, Bart Walker, and more. Eliza Neals is a 2013 Detroit Music Award winner for "Messin with a Fool" which received "Outstanding Blues/R&B Recording (album)" and "Rock Songwriter" In 2012 Eliza won "Outstanding Blues Songwriter" at the DMAs. Eliza Neals voted by Real Detroit Weekly readers as the ‘Best Blues artist/group in 2013.’                      Eliza Neals / Photo by MikeToumey

“10,000 Feet Below” (2017) was spelunking the new depths of the Blues with Eliza Neals as your fearless guide. Cavern’s of sound well up through Eliza’s supernatural voice and piano driven songs, as Howard Glazer‘s guitar pierces the echo with honest tone. Breaking and entering an abandoned temple of blues-rock left long ago, descending each rung carefully to uplift your musical soul. Producer Eliza Neals rigged the journey, surveyed then mapped the suffocating walls, while finding soulful keys through narrow fissures of sound. Cascading guest guitarists Paul Nelson and Billy Davis cast light on adventurous dark paths. "Sweet or Mean" (2019) the new raw blues-rock EP written by the Detroit born renegade Eliza Neals. Enter, producer Ted Horowitz aka "Popa Chubby" the incendiary blues-rocker, together celebrating their true love of rock-blues! Eliza Neals signature gritty-velvety powerhouse vocal comes out with one of the most notorious Blues-rock guitarists in the industry. Ted Horowitz AKA Popa Chubby is producer, arranger & plays electric and the rare acoustic guitar on Eliza Neals' all new original songs on "Sweet or Mean" EP "Sweet or Mean" is rootsy blues-rock bliss with no gimmicks or tricks from the first heavenly note to the last guitar riff.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I learned that the truth can be heard from the blues the real raw intent is brought out when you listen to the blues. Blues means truth!! My voice can bring out the passion and soul the gritty robust tones to identify with the pain and suffering or pure joy of the blues. Being an Armenian American my family escaped the genocide of 1915 from the Turks the pain and hurt in my soul is unleashed through singing and writing the blues.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues/Soul-R&B and Rock researches and experiments?

I’m a blend of new blues and classic rock from being a child in Detroit and hearing all the iconic music out of Detroit. I started singing and playing the Blues because it moves me ad didn’t even know it was Blues. I would sing a blues standard by Koko Taylor or Bessie Smith and my voice would come to life. I started writing songs on the piano that were always within the chord changes of blues or classic rock progressions and phrase within the blues structures unleashing pain, passion and fire.

How do you describe Eliza Neals sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My sound and songbook consists of a intermingling of sounds and styles all pressed into one fuzzy yet at times clean tone. My songbook consists of approx. 200 songs or more. I have Motown legend (Barrett Strong) as a co-writer on a lot of my songs which lends a more r and b Motown Edge. As I continue to write on my own my style has morphed into a simple yet complex one for writing new blues-rock which is strong female fronted vocals that are passionate powerful from the heart n' soul. My music philosophy is learn it all sing it all and then make the sound your own. I studied opera (BA in music) and I know the streets because I would go out 5 nights a week to learn from the greats in Detroit by sitting in. I played every smoke filled club and sat in with people like Earl klugh to Aretha Franklin.

How do you describe "Sweet or Mean" songbook and sound?

"Sweet or Mean" is the world that I as a female BluesRocker live in. Often people don't believe it when you say you're a blues-rock girl. I can sing rock like ACDC, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett singing that would blow out the vocals of many of the singers getting loads of praise today. The fans don't believe it when they see me perform live. The other side is my Blues, where I have been compared to Etta James, Koko Taylor and Janis Joplin, vocally. 'Choose' is what I have been told but I'm not going to choose I'm gonna write songs like "Bitten By The Blues." I can be sweet or mean I'm from Detroit so don't test me. Within I have what every human has desire, temptation, lust, envy, you know the seven deadly. I pride in my ability to play piano, produce and arrange vocals and craft a song. I write all my own songs and know how to do that since I was young with my family. Luckily, later in life, I was around the great songwriter and living legend Barrett Strong Jr. and his songwriting friends while he had a studio in Detroit. A great song lives way past its owner and can give more to so many, I'm just doing my part to create with the greats.

Are there any memories from new EP 'Sweet or Mean' studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There were a few, I always must have either BBQ or pizza, one day in the studio for everyone. Turns out it was BBQ and it was righteous. One session, my touring east coast drummer John was playing as Ted was directing and asked "what do you think about boom-bap." Ted quoted the living at the time Dr.John rest his soul and said "I like it but 'don't make a big f#%^*in deal out of it.' Classic stuff, we actually got it on tape and put it out as a behind the scenes video, there's a pause it's just pure music biz funny check it out on my YouTube.

What touched (emotionally) you from Popa Chubby?

Well we did not start out as friends. I can only imagine how many times a woman has said to him 'I can sing, let me sit in.' Well he told me "you better be F$&@in good" when I asked to open for him four years ago. I told him "what are you scared of, a girl from Detroit!" Man that was a tough start, but I know where he's coming from. You got to put on a great show, so no one is gonna F that up for you, no one. I was in Key West for an event I was hired to perform at and went out only to run across, who else Popa Chubby. I said hey you wanna let me sit in finally like two years ago. He said ok and proceeded to change the key three times during the song. If your not a pro you would have not been able to detect the changes on the fly, I did and passed the voice-ear test. From then we have been friends and I appreciate him for being "sweet or mean" cause as he says "this is hard to do," yes it is, yes it is.

"My hopes and fears are ... Is to tour the world to see and connect with all my fans and hope my radio play can go mainstream because my songs will and do uplift the people." (Photo: Eliza Neals on stage)

What characterizes new EP in comparison to previous albums?

Well this EP was written by myself, on a old 1936 Hardman grand piano, where I pour over the feel and lyrics for days, weeks even years like song "Livin With Yo Mama". I then test some of the songs live for a audience to see if they groove on them. I performed for Popa Chubby, as he lives in NY nearby and just like that, I asked him if he would like to produce some of my new stuff. Ted said "yeah let's create" in his friends’ awesome analog studio in LIC NY 'GB's Juke Joint.' I trusted Popa after guesting at BB Kings NY, so I put my producer-arranger hat away and let him add that New York BluesRock energy to my Detroit BluesRock darkness and that's what spills out on "Sweet Or Mean." Ted did stuff I would not have done and it's a special space in time these songs as they share a meeting of many a cool idea than might have slipped away if I was producer.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

Lessons there are many but mostly I'm still learning as I climb this indie band ladder, placed in my path. Each rung is a test if you fail the ladder either drops a few rungs and you have to jump or fire will get you. If you succeed, the ladders rungs come together quicker and pushes you up higher. My album "10000 Feet Below," I'm climbing that very ladder on the cover after whopping the Devil's ass.

Do you consider the Blues Rock a specific music genre or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Well it's a Genre that I believe many are not truly worthy of the name. Blues-Rock is a feeling, a tempo, a construct that you either 'have it' or 'you don't' there's no room for posers or wankers. The audience can tell if it's authentic and their word is gold cause the real stuff is expensive and rare. When your looking for the best it's not easy to find. So you wait in lines, you buy tickets, merch and go damn that's it right there did you hear that! Wow, love some Rockblues like that especially when it delivers.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Singing with Alberta Adams after a blues showcase in Detroit before she passed... So iconic...she said this about my voice "you got something there" which was so very cool!

"I’m a blend of new blues and classic rock from being a child in Detroit and hearing all the iconic music out of Detroit. I started singing and playing the Blues because it moves me ad didn’t even know it was Blues. I would sing a blues standard by Koko Taylor or Bessie Smith and my voice would come to life."

How do you describe previous album ‘100.000 Feet Below’ sound and songbook? What characterize album’s philosophy?

"10,000 Feet Below," is spelunking the new depths of the Blues with Eliza Neals as your fearless guide. Caverns of sound well up through Eliza's supernatural voice and piano driven songs, as Howard Glazer's guitar pierces the echo with honest tone. Breaking and entering an abandoned temple of blues-rock left long ago, descending each rung carefully to uplift your musical soul. Producer Eliza Neals rigged the journey, surveyed then mapped the suffocating walls, while finding soulful keys through narrow fissures of sound. Cascading guest guitarists Paul Nelson and Billy Davis cast light on adventurous dark paths. Colossal drummers Skeeto Valdez, Demarcus Sumter, Brian Clune, Rubin Nizri and John Medeiros supply a profound rumble to orientate your feet. As the ceiling drops, blasting bassists Paul Randolph, John Abraham, Mike Griot and Lenny Bradford resonate through the crawlspace. Eliza Neals unflinchingly dives headfirst to underwater eyelets that only a skilled writer can reach. Falling lower to get washed up on golden grotto beaches, a new entrance to blues once left undiscovered, 10,000 Feet Below..."A new entrance to blues once left undiscovered, 10,000 Feet Below."

Are there any memories from studio sessions of ‘100.000 Feet Below’ which you’d like to share with us?

I worked with Mr. Billy Davis who played with and was good friends with Jimi Hendrix, he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Hank Ballard). Billy is a dear friend and early band mate of my mentor Barrett Strong Jr., (I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, War) he played on ‘At The Crossroads’ which blew our collective minds jamming with him in the studio was fantastic + mutual as he says "I'm his favorite singer" now.

How has the Blues and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

After visiting the UK and being named "Top Live Acts 2016" by 'Get Ready To Rock UK' I noticed how much the UK was different from the US in terms of the listening audience. They LOVED hearing the music and our brand of classic blues-rock you could hear a pin drop! People feel the passion in my songs, vocal delivery and connect to it. Hopefully I have made them feel better than they did when they came into the show.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the mono culture around the radio and the excitement for a rock band coming to town now it's all online and so much happening it gets lost in the mix! My hopes and fears are ... Is to tour the world to see and connect with all my fans and hope my radio play can go mainstream because my songs will and do uplift the people.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences?

Meeting legend Barrett Strong in a health food store in Detroit not knowing who he was and actually singing for him and working with him (to present day).

What is the best advice ever given you?

"One monkey don't stop no show ".

"The Blues scene in Detroit is quite diverse and competitive. There are the pure blues folks and then the blues rockers and the in betweens. It’s a cool scene and almost everyone supports each other." (Photo: Eliza & Barrett Strong)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the chitlin’ circuits?

I laughed recently from a new female comic on Vine named Brittany Furland where in 6 seconds she makes a joke using new media and she's hilarious! And of course anything Larry David does or says is a huge laugh. The chitlin circuit is empowering because you learn from the older more seasoned players ...things from them you can't get anywhere else ... It's also a travesty because they are not making the money that they need to live their lives above the poverty level in some cases.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Detroit. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

The Blues scene in Detroit is quite diverse and competitive. There are the pure blues folks and then the blues rockers and the in betweens. It’s a cool scene and almost everyone supports each other. After winning two Detroit Music Awards 2013 & 2016 for "BEST BLUES ALBUM" and two more for "Blues songwriter" in 2012 & 2015, I could feel the jealousy like a coat. Considering I'm a woman (then check my album cover) proves this is very hard to do and I am honored to be a Detroit born artist.

Which is the moment that you change your life most? What´s been the highlights in your life so far?

The moment that changed my life the most was meeting the LOVE of my life my man. I'm lucky enough to be on this music adventure together with him. The Highlight so far has been when I released my album ‘Breaking and Entering’ exactly two years ago and it crashed the Blues Rock Scene and Blues World where it debuted at Number #2 on the Blues Rock charts (RMR) and was added into heavy rotation on BB Kings Bluesville. 5 songs were on Amazon Best Selling top downloads for five months straight. This is still amazing unmatched by so many in the music game today.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Etta James, Janis Joplin and Ricki Lee Jones with your generation?

The lines that connect these 3 women to me are the simple words unique and original ...their vocal sound and delivery. They were not trying to fit in.

"The Blues scene in Detroit is quite diverse and competitive. There are the pure blues folks and then the blues rockers and the in betweens. It’s a cool scene and almost everyone supports each other."

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Well the implications of blues is I see all types of people at my and other Blues shows. Sometimes there are a few 'angry or crazy' people who want to say things like 'you can't sing the blues cause of what color your skin is…' (no one doubts Eminem) but those people are few and far between. All in all, my Blues is mixed with classic rock raw channeling 1967-72 and the music that started the last Blues resurgence in America. If I get a comparison to Janis, Jimmy or Koko Taylor I did my job. I take on politics and confront "the man" on each album I do, there's songs for each person to interpret and feel their own political emotional way about them.

What does it take to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues?

Beings female in a man’s world is a battle like going to War! Men most times ignore and downplay female talent and are scared of their potential power. Future for Women in blues? I am a new female in the genre of blues with Rock overtones ...Detroit DJ Doug Podell says this... "There aren't many women in Blues Rock nowadays...but Eliza Neals is filling that gap and doing it better than anyone else!" I feel that if you stay true to your talent and are different you will survive and rise to the top of the male dominated Blues world.

Why did you think that the Soul, Blues & Rock music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think it continues forward because it speaks to the hearts and souls of people it's a mixture of the classics and it’s not perfect imperfections are perfection!

What you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would change who runs the record biz because they are signing the wrong people and using young kids as pawns so to speak ...pimps and ho's ...whose using who? It's a quickie one hit wonder mentality... The real magic is with the seasoned real musicians making music that will last forever.

"I learned that the truth can be heard from the blues the real raw intent is brought out when you listen to the blues. Blues means truth!! "

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would love to go to Woodstock and be a singer there with Jimi, Janis and the rest of the classic rock icons of the 60's to see how they would like me... I have been compared to them all.

Eliza Neals - Official website

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