ASK most musicians and they’ll tell you the touring life is challenging. As AC/DC’s charismatic frontman Bon Scott famously sang “Hotel/Motel/Make you wanna cry.”
The constant grind of travelling, living out of a suitcase and sleeping in motels is generally not conducive to creativity and songwriting.
That’s not the case for Melbourne blues veteran Lloyd Spiegel. The road and its ever-changing landscapes are his muse.
Last year Spiegel packed 14 countries into his touring schedule and it delivered a burst of songwriting inspiration. The result is the guitar maestro’s ninth album This Time Around, released on July 3.
“Certainly the amount of time I’ve had over the past 12 months sitting in hotel rooms when travelling, I couldn’t understand any of the TV shows that were on, so I might as well play my guitar,” Spiegel tells Weekender while struggling with jet lag after returning home the day before from Europe.
“That’s actually led to a lot more writing and writing to a deadline, so I had an album ready for the Australian tour. That pushed me to make it work.”
It’s actually within the normality of home life where Spiegel finds songwriting most difficult, or indeed, impossible. Two sons aged 11 and six ensure that.
“I’ve never written a song at home before in eight albums,” he says. “You get home and all the sudden the kids need to go to school and there’s bills to pay and real life takes over.
“It’s hard to write when that’s all happening around you.”
Spiegel is no stranger to Australian blues devotees. He burst onto the scene in 1993 when he fronted his own blues band Midnight Special at 13, which led to his first international tours.
You get home and all the sudden the kids need to go to school and there’s bills to pay and real life takes over.Lloyd Spiegel
Spiegel has supported icons like Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Etta James and was ranked inside the country’s top 50 greatest ever guitarists by Australian Guitar Magazine.
Last year the accolades flowed thick and fast from the Australian Blues Music Awards for his 2015 record Double Live Set, which claimed album, song, artist and producer of the year.
At Easter Spiegel also made his long overdue debut at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest, sharing the Jambalaya stage with Booker T and Mavis Staples.
For all that success Spiegel remains his harshest critic when it comes to songwriting. He hopes that his own criticism has been addressed on This Time Around.
“I feel like songwriting has always the weakest link for me and I never put together an album that was comprised of all three elements of who I am as an artist - a songwriter, a guitarist and a blues player,” he says.
“I either made songwriting albums, guitar albums or blues records. This one sits nicely within all three, there’s a good range there.”
Despite 25 years of touring experience, at 38 Spiegel remains one of Australian blues’ younger performers. Keeping blues relevant and developing its style is a constant pressure for the genre and it’s a role Spiegel gladly adopts.
“When I was 10 years old I was the youngest blues player in the country and then I got to 18 and I still was,” Spiegel says.
“Around 25 I realised I was still one of the youngest around and at 38 I’m feeling like it’s part of the obligation of any player in a minority genre to support young artists coming up.
“I spend a lot of time with young musicians who I invite over to the house and sit them down for the weekend and talk about, not just music, but how to have a career in music. No one really tells them how to do that.”
Spiegel also sees blues as an evolving genre. He’s not interested on copying well-trodden paths.
“As a foundation music, many different styles borrow from it and inject it into their own genre to change the style from funk, to jazz, to soul, you name it,” he says.
“What I really like doing is borrowing back from those genres and infusing it into what I do. I tend to frame it as a blues-based show.
“The blues is a canvas I’m using, but the rest of it is built on a range of vast musical influences which have passed through my mind over the years. I really like pushing it to the edge and seeing where it ends.”