WITH the release of her fourth album next month, Sandi Thom's realising a major reinvention from her debut in 2006.
Merchants and Thieves looks set to bring Thom back to the fore as a blues sensation; the first single This Ol' World topped the iTunes blues chart way before its physical release a fortnight ago.
Although she might not be the same sweet girl-next-door that charmed her way to number one with folk-pop hit I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair), the new, edgier Thom is a little reluctant to forego her old image entirely.
"I'm still nice," she exclaims. "Everything in the past has contributed to putting me where I am now. I don't regret it although I accept everything's got it's light and dark, including me."
Thanks to an introduction through their UK agent, the Scottish singer/songwriter made a close friend of acclaimed U.S. blues-rock performer Joe Bonamassa. Thom spent two weeks immersed in the international blues scene, supporting Bonamassa after he lost his voice and even supporting genre legend BB King. It seemed inevitable that the new album would be influenced, especially as all this took place just before its recording.
"And it was," she admits.
"What you have to remember, though, is that lots of things have stayed the same. I've got the same band, the same producers, the same writers – it's the same as it always was in 2006. The result is a solid group that makes music from an honest place and a performance style which has really gone up a notch from what it was."
The latter is set to be put to the test with the 28 year-old's current tour, which reaches The Duchess in York on Sunday. "We've never played York before," she admits. "I'm looking forward to it though. It's a new experience; we like those." An innovative, new approach to her performance, though, is what earned Thom her stripes in the first place.
Held captive by an unreliable car in 2005, Alexandria Thom, or 'Sandi', started recording and broadcasting shows across the country over the internet. Filmed in the basement of her flat in Tooting, London, these virtual gigs generated a sizeable fanbase and the attention of Sony's major label RCA. Her debut album Smile…It Confuses People, together with her I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker, went on to sell 1.5 million copies worldwide.
The enthusiasm to take on new challenges in her shows hasn't left Thom either. The tone of her voice picks up, hurried and excited when she considers what she's accomplishing with this latest tour.
"I've played guitar since I was 17 but I've never played lead guitar," she says. "I've always played as female singer/songwriters always seem to. You know, the casual dingly-dangly sort of stuff, but never lead guitar; it always seemed very much a man's world.
"This album is the first record I've ever taken a lead on; it was one of my watershed moments. On the track Gold Dust, I take the lead and I'm really proud of it. It's great to keep expanding your horizons, giving yourself wee challenges.
"In the gig, I play lead guitar in three songs. I've only been doing it for the last six months and it's still not great by any means. I think, by the end of the tour, I'll have more confidence about it. Everyone's got to start somewhere. Accept the bad notes you play and learn to play them better."
Yet, grappling with a new instrument isn't likely to put Thom under as much pressure as heading her own label. Breaking away from Sony last year after her second and third albums failed to make any real dent on the charts, Merchants and Thieves is released under the singer's new founded label Guardian Angels.
"The second album was definitely more diluted than this one," she says. "There were so many people involved it. In major labels, there are people making decisions that maybe shouldn't be. Things get compromised because people don't stick to their job description.
"Don't get me wrong, it was a great learning experience and I made a lot of good friends. But there are people that need to work independently and take creative ownership and I'm lucky that, because of previous success, I can support myself and do that. I know most people would die to be in this position.
"There's a lot of balls in this new record. I've got to believe in it all because I'm the one at risk now – it's my money."
So, with your new found affinity with the lead guitar and this new label, is it fair to say that this latest album is all about Sandi Thom taking control?
"Yeah, I guess so," she muses. "There are lots of themes that run through the album, like my relationship ending with fianc Jake. That was five years of my life, he was a big part of everything. It had a massive impact.
"There are plenty of songs about sadness, regret and loss of love – all stuff that pretty much suits the blues. They are blues songs, after all. I guess you are in control when you're liberating yourself and learning to be on your own again."
Sandi Thom plays the Duchess, York on Sunday, May 2. Tickets and more information are available at www.theduchessyork.co.uk