Joshua Tree, California. A place where rock ‘n’ roll mythology is made, for better and worse. It was under these same burnished skies that Gram Parsons’ stolen body was set ablaze. Where U2 announced their bid for global infamy. And as Ghalia Volt reminds us, exactly thirty years ago, it was here that near-mythical producer and Queens Of The Stone Age conspirator David Catching founded the fabled Rancho De La Luna studio that would bring a stream of dust-blown musicians to his door like moths to a candle.
“Going to the desert to record Shout Sister Shout! with David Catching was something unique,” says the acclaimed Belgian singer-songwriter of her latest album that adds its own thumbprint to the Rancho De La Luna legend. “I have so many memories. Being on top of the hills facing the Joshua Tree Park. The stars, the moon, the coyote howls, the old vintage car that sat in front of the studio. And then, the history of Rancho De La Luna and all the rock ‘n’ roll neighbours. You just never know who’s gonna push the door…”
Driving deep into the desert put a few more miles on the clock of a young nomad who has made the world her home. Six years have passed since Volt quit the busking circuit of her native Brussels for the heady throb of New Orleans, where she made her first ripples as the livewire frontwoman of local heroes Mama’s Boys.
That hook-up led to Volt’s acclaimed debut album Let The Demons Out (declared “an irresistible force” by Classic Rock) and to Volt’s next stepping stone, to the hill country of Coldwater, Mississippi, for sessions with the Southern state’s Cody Dickinson, Watermelon Slim and Cedric Burnside on 2019’s Mississippi Blend. That album saw Volt dubbed “a natural-born star” by Henry Yates (NME, Classic Rock, The Guardian) and broke into the Billboard Blues Chart Top 3 on three separate occasions.
Even Covid couldn’t clip her wings, with the fierce multi-instrumentalist writing songs for her project on a month-long Amtrak train journey that carved across America, before loading up her van for solo shows. “I surfed the waves,” she reflects. “If it was bad in Europe, I’d tour in the States. If it was bad in the South, I’d go to the northern Midwest. One Woman Band opened lots of doors, let me play the biggest stages yet. But Shout Sister Shout! is my best material so far.”
This album simply wouldn’t have sounded the same without the desert seeping into her bones and Rancho De La Luna casting its strange spell. Perhaps most famous for hosting Josh Homme’s collaborative Desert Sessions, (since 1993) this studio has added its bewitching vibe to recordings by the likes of Iggy Pop, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, and PJ Harvey, all of them greeted by Catching with a glass of home-made mezcal and invited to fall into the laid-back rhythm.
“There is something about this studio,” considers the snow-bearded producer. “Everyone that’s been here and recorded here feels it, so there is something to it. Maybe it’s just all the love that’s here from over the years.”
Love and chemistry were evident as Volt locked in with the local A-list musicians who would be her studio band for the sessions, including former Dr John keys man Ben Alleman and Lou Reed’s long-serving drummer Danny Frankel. As touring guitarist for Eagles of Death Metal amongst others, Catching also lent his six-string skills. “David himself will grab the guitar every now and then,” recalls Volt, “and rip some solos and mean grooves. There were endless vintage guitars and amps to choose from.”
The desert backdrop reflected Volt’s evolution as a songwriter. “My previous albums were more based on hill country blues and traditional Delta blues,” she considers. “But here I’m bringing a kinda psychedelic, almost ’70s rock vibe to the picture. And recording it in a studio that prizes the ’90s… which as we know is a revival of the ’70s! My goal was to get this album to sound more modern, with more hooks, catchy licks, more singalongs.”
For the next few days, the walls of Rancho De La Luna shook with Volt’s best songs. “Every Cloud” kicks off like a road movie soundtrack, its jutting lick and battle cry vocal interrupted by a woozy organ freakout worthy of The Doors’ Ray Manzarek. “Can’t Afford To Die” pairs its propulsive rockabilly rattle with a sobering lyric. “That one talks about the hard financial situation of a musician during his life and after his death,” says Volt. “You can’t afford your rent and you most likely won’t afford your grave plot. Dying is expensive.”
“Insomnia” is a trip, its slow-burn psychedelia swirling from the speakers. The seething “Hell Is Not Gonna Deal With You” finds Volt spitting venom onto the mic and Frankel practically battering holes in his kit, while “Po’ Boy John” is a cathouse rave-up, Volt imagining the backstory of an old guitar. “What if a vintage guitar could talk?” she muses. “It’s been there way before you, and most likely will be here way after you.”
With its addictive beat and ghostly alt-gospel vocals, title track “Shout Sister Shout!” demands to be heard. “It’s a song encouraging women to speak loud for what they deserve,” says Volt. “Fight back, stare back, scream back. It takes courage, but it’s rewarding and we need this for future generations. Right now the world is going backward.”
As for Volt, her unstoppable motion is palpable on brittle roots reboot “Hop On A Ride,” a song co-written with fellow Ruf star Eddie 9V, which subtly namechecks all the US music cities and record labels that have touched her musical journey. “I guess it’s really my story of young adulthood,” she says, “as it’s exactly what I did when I came from Belgium. I visited all those cities, dug all those vinyls from those labels – and definitely hopped on a lot of trains.”
Some artists get lost in the desert. Others find themselves. After the smash-hit One Woman Band, Ghalia Volt has returned from the wilderness with the album of her career and the songs that will ignite venues across the globe. “Maybe I’ll come back to solo shows later in my career,” she considers, “but right now, I’m ready to jump back into a band, play these new songs live and run all around the stage…”