Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Single release: 'Small Town Woman' by Smith & Jones

Oh, what a lovely song this is, and from the lovely New South Wales duo Smith & Jones. Abby Smith and Sophie Jones spin a story of life as a woman in a small town - what's done and not done.

This is an honest, endearing, unsentimental tale from a very talented duo who deliver it with captivating harmonies. The song is taken from their album Dark Gives Way, available on Bandcamp or

Watch the video for 'Small Town Woman' below.

Interview: Josh Setterfield

Queensland resident Josh Setterfield has recently appeared on the Australian country music scene, with his debut EP Live it Up. He has since released a single, 'Hometown', from an upcoming EP, From Dusk. And while he's new to country, he's certainly not new to music - as I discovered when we spoke recently.

Your new single is called ‘Hometown’ and I’m wondering what is your home town?
My home town is a little place south of Newcastle [New South Wales]. It’s called Wangi Wangi. I grew up there. Moved away when I was 11 or 12 to come up to Queensland.

So now you’re a Queenslander?
No, I’m not! [Laughs] I am. In [State of] Origin I’m not a Queenslander. But I’ve lived here the majority of my life.

Where are you now?
Just north of Brisbane.

I was looking at some of your videos and I counted at least five instruments that you play. I saw a bass, a guitar, a banjo, drums and a piano. What is your musical background? When did you start playing, what was your first instrument and what did you grow up listening to?
When I got into music I was listening to a lot of pop punk. My favourite band was Simple Plan. I actually saw them on MTV back in the day and I thought, I want to be like that. I wanted to be a punk kid. I originally learned guitar and then I learnt drums because a band that I wanted to join didn’t need anything but a drummer, and I really wanted to be in that band [laughs]. So that’s how that came about. Everything else just kind of came. I don’t know when I learnt it. I just kind of pick it up and play it. I can’t actually read music at all. If it sounds right, I play it. But I was in a pop punk band for about seven years. We did some pretty cool things – got to tour with The Offspring, play Vans Warped Tour and tour with Simple Plan, my favourite band. I was so stoked. Last year sometime it came to an end and I was going to do the same thing but I kind of didn’t want to – I wanted to try something new, and I’ve always been a massive fan of country music. So I gave it a go, and here I am.

That is not necessarily a straight line from pop punk to country. You said you were already a massive fan of country music – what was the first country music you remember listening to?

My parents – my whole family, really – listened to it when I was growing up. But I’d have to say my biggest influence – and I know it’s really clichéd, being Australian – but Keith Urban was the dude that got me into it. He’s the biggest inspiration I ever had, being a solo artist, just in general.

You started playing guitar – is that your favourite instrument?
It’s my main instrument. I don’t really have a favourite. I think drums are so much fun just to rock out to. But I guess I play guitar more than anything else, so I’d have to say that’s been my main one and probably my favourite.

Your second EP is From Dusk, and as far as I can it’s not out yet – is that correct?
No, not yet.

When’s that coming out?
I’m not allowed to say yet! But it’s definitely coming and it’s a lot sooner than people think.

So you’re not allowed to say because you’ve got a record company that’s telling you that you can’t say?
No, I wish – I wish that was the news. Just my manager saying we need to keep it downlow so we can focus on the single for now.

Were you happy with how the first EP’s process went? Because you have obviously been involved with music for a while but this was your first EP in a new genre.
Surprisingly it went really well. Obviously having punk fans, they came across to it and had a listen. Some were keen on it, some weren’t too keen on it, but the majority were pretty sold on it. A lot of the people I found through the country scene have been really supportive of it as well, which is awesome. It seems there are a lot of people who are either for the new sound of country or the old sound of country, and luckily, for some reason, they like me, so I’m stoked.

You have a great voice, so that always helps. If someone’s sitting on the fence about a genre, a voice is something that humans respond to instinctually, so if the voice is there, the audience is halfway there. Also, country rock a lot of purists might think is kind of raucous, whereas your sound is melodic rock, which I think Australian country artists do really well. That’s more a statement than a question [laughs].
[Laughs] I can’t really answer that but I agree with what you said.

Do you write your own songs?
Yes, I wrote everything myself on my first EP and the second one. I just feel like I have a lot of control that way. For the next EP that I’m looking at I’m going to try to branch out and do some songwriting with other people.

Since you have done it all yourself, do you want to branch out because you think creatively it might be more interesting or you just feel like you should do it?
I’ve just never really tried it. And there’s a lot of collabs within the country scene, and I just want to really do it properly. I want to experience what these people are experiencing and try all the different things. I know I can write a song myself but I’ve never tried to write a song with another main songwriter, so I’m really interested just to try it.

Have you ever in the past, or would you consider in the future, writing songs just for others?
I’ve considered that a couple of times. There’s a couple of songs I’ve come up with that I really like but I feel like they don’t really suit me. I’ve come up with a couple of punk songs as well, so I’m thinking about giving them to those guys because what am I going to do with them now?

When it came time to select songs for the EPs, did you have a big reservoir of material to draw from or were you writing specifically with the EPs in mind?
There was a couple of songs that didn’t make the cut, but it was only a very few. I had the kind of sound that I wanted to go for when I started, so I just went with it and that’s how it happened. And with this new EP, I wrote it as I was feeling it, and I just tried to piece it all together as the way it was, so I just picked the best songs I had at the time.

Given your musical background before you came to country music, have you found you’ve had to approach songwriting almost from a different angle because it’s a different audience, or do the same rules apply?
I pretty much use the exact same thing. People that I’ve spoken to have said that I’m kind of something different in the country scene. I’m not trying to change the country scene at all – I love it as it is – but I guess I’m just putting my own spin on it and the knowledge that I have so far, I’m bringing it over.

One of the things about punk is that the song construction needs to be really tight, because you have to deliver a short, sharp message, and you might have developed a certain discipline that really helps you, moving into a new genre.
Yes, definitely.

So you love Keith – are there any other Australian artists whose careers you’re hoping to emulate or who you just love as performers?
Massive fan of the Wolfe Brothers at the moment – those guys are just killing it. Troy Kemp also – his music’s awesome. Viper Creek Band, they’re really cool. There’s a lot of bands that I’d heard of – and I’d listened to them – but once you come into the scene you start to find new artists. I’ve played with Rachel Fahim, who was the Star Maker winner, in Tamworth – she’s really cool. I just love meeting all these new artists and finding out their music and their styles. There are a couple of artists in the industry who are a lot closer to what I am than I thought I was going to have coming into country music. I thought it was going to be all John Williamson and Lee Kernaghan – and I love that sort of stuff. But there’s heaps of bands here that I didn’t even really look into until I got I into the scene.

The Wolfe Brothers have really opened up a younger audience for country rock who perhaps wouldn’t have considered country music as something they would like.
Definitely. Everyone I’ve shown their music to so far have said, ‘Oh – is this country now?’

You’re heading for the Deni Ute Muster in September – is this your first time?
Yes, I’ve never been before and I’ve heard so many awesome stories. I cannot wait to have my own.

Will you have your own ute?
I don’t know if I’m taking it down yet, because I’m going to have to drive from Brisbane. I kind of want to do the road trip but I have to bring the band as well, so band and ute and all the gear, I’m struggling to figure out how that’s going to work.

You’ve played the Gympie Muster in the past. What do you like about a big festival audience compared with a smaller crowd?
I find that with the festivals, it seems like more people come together. Being that most country artists will play three hours’ worth of show at pubs and stuff like that you can go to a festival and everyone goes there to hear the original music and a couple of covers, whereas at smaller shows it’s the other way around. And the vibe from everyone there – they just want to go there and have a good time. And that’s all there is to it.

Beyond Deni – are you heading to the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2018?
I will definitely be back in Tamworth.

So you played there this year?
Yes, that’s where I played with Rachel. It was before she won [Star Maker] – I teed up some shows and I was playing in her breaks. Then she won it and the crowds just tripled and I was, like, ‘Awesome’. She’s really cool.

Do you have a venue that you’re very keen on playing in?
I really like the Albert [Hotel]. It is an awesome little venue.

They get a lot of loud shows there.
That’s my kind of music [laughs].

And before that there is your EP. EPs have become popular for emerging artists – and in this genre you are emerging. They’re a way for people to get a taste of your music. But are you looking ahead to an album?
I’ve been thinking about it. But I feel with today’s music – just the experience of what fans who follow me are into – I feel like EPs are the way to go at the moment. They’re shorter. People’s attention doesn’t really span across a whole album any more, just from what I’ve seen. There’s still a lot of people out there who listen to albums – I still do – but if it’s a shorter album that’s better, with all the top songs instead of the filler tracks, then it just grabs people’s attention way more.

I guess in the age of streaming it makes sense. For artists these days there’s a lot to think about: social media, for one thing. You have to think about your music going on to streaming and how it’s going to sound. Do you like that side of things or is it easier to concentrate on the creative part of your job?
Honestly, I’m interested in all of it and any way to get it out there.

Do you find that you get responses from people on social media so you feel like you can interact with fans?
Definitely. I feel like it’s one of the main parts of today. You still have to go out and do your own thing in person, but with a musician now, it’s crucial to be on social media. That’s where everyone’s eyes are now – they walk around on their phones all day. Facebook is awesome to get music out there.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Raised by Eagles take flight - on tour

The audience for Melbourne band Raised by Eagles increases all the time - so it makes sense that they are on the road, winning friends and influencing people with their magnificent latest album, I Must Be Somewhere. I spoke to Nick O'Mara, who shares singing and songwriting duties with Luke Sinclair.

Have you been happy with the album’s reception?
Yes, it’s been really good. We’ve all been pleased. People seem to like it and it’s gotten good reviews – four stars in Rolling Stone, which was nice. I felt good about a lot of it and then as a whole I was unsure how it was going to be received. We have that feeling every time we release an album. But we’ve been happy.

After an album comes out, do you listen to it and think, We should have done that differently, and that differently, or do you tend to be philosophical and think, well, that’s a complete body of work now and we step away?
Oh no, definitely – I’ve listened to it a couple of times in the first month, and all I could hear was the conversations about decisions. You can’t hear it at all in that first period but we did an in-store at Basement Discs in the city and they put it on as we were packing up our gear, so I was just listening to it in the background. That was about two or three weeks ago and that felt like the first time I’d properly heard it. I was really pleased with it, which is good. But in that period, you just can’t – you totally cannot see the wood for the trees. You’re overwhelmed by the process you’ve just been through making it, so you have to step away from it.

Do you treat your live shows as an opportunity to go back to some of those conversations you had during recording and tweak things a little, or do you just let the songs take on their own life when they’re live?
All the arrangements are set now. In the studio there were decisions made about arrangements and what goes where, and then once they’re on vinyl then we’ll follow that, we’ll follow those arrangements.

Some of the reviews were comparing you to Americans – especially Ryan Adams, I saw, was quite popular in some of them. But I so often hear Australian summers, in particular, in your songs and perhaps that’s just me and my musical references. But do you think of your music as being American or Australian or just let those influences come out in the wash, so to speak?
There’s no self-conscious decision about that. I hope it’s heard as Australian but you can’t really escape the form that we’re playing in, which I think is changing quite a bit now. Rock music and pop music for the last sixty years has been, in a sense, an interpretation of American forms, really. There’s no conscious decision about that at all, and you kind of are what you eat: we’re influenced by American bands and we’re also influenced by Australian bands. When I hear it, it sounds Australian to me. Some people I’ve talked to are consciously trying to rid themselves of American influences – but that’s not really possible. If you’re strumming a guitar and you’re singing, you know, that’s an American form in a sense. This goes deep – you’d have to talk about the history of popular music, I suppose. But I think certainly [our] lyrics are Australian.

For me, it’s very evocative of a lot of Australianness. But I also get a little annoyed or agitated whenever I see Ryan Adams used in a review reference to anyone who is vaguely country music because I tend to think it’s actually being lazy.
It is.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but I think Ryan Adams is considered the gateway drug to country music for some people but I don’t think many listeners get past that. I actually can’t hear Ryan Adams in your music, and I know his back catalogue really well. There is that Melbourne alt-country and I can hear you in that but I still think you’re doing something completely different.
Thanks. I agree with that too – the Ryan Adams thing is just an easy blanket term. If he’s a guy that plays country music or whatever – country rock – it’s just an easy comparison. I can’t hear his influence at all. If anything we’re just influenced by some of the same people, like Neil Young. I know people who sound very much like him – which is fine, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone. I like Ry-Ry, he’s good, but he’s not someone I’d sit down and try to emulate. I would never do that anyway. These things are not self-conscious. But it is a lazy comparison.

And it’s especially lazy because you and Luke [Sinclair] split the singing and the songwriting, so there’s a Raised by Eagles sound but you have your own ways of writing songs, and of course you also write some together. Is it a comfortable partnership or is it one of those partnerships where you push each other, whether you’re writing separately or not?
[Laughs] We’d have to save this conversation for band therapy, I think. Creating music together, there’s always some jostling with stuff. When I bring my songs in they’re usually arranged and sometimes I demo them and I’ve got a complete idea of what they’re going to be, and then Luke’s a little bit different – he likes to bash them out with the band and kind of arrange them together. It’s hard to describe. The process is really different when you’re in a band – you throw things into this kind of whirlpool of other people’s playing and other people’s ideas, and that can be really fun and really cool and things can come up that perhaps wouldn’t if you’d made the decisions yourself. We write in different ways together. One of the songs, ‘Everyday Everyday’, was a demo that I did at home, and I played all the parts on it – I played lap steel, electric bass, acoustic guitar – and I didn’t put any lyrics on it because I just felt like I’d nailed this demo and it was just this beautiful self-contained thing, and for me it was like this finished project. At some points sometimes you just go, ‘That’s finished’. And I felt like I didn’t want to mess with it by having to tack lyrics on it. So I just sent the demo to Luke and that was really good, because then he wrote the lyrics to that and sings it on the album. So that’s a really cool way to do it, because sometimes you write something in that initial spark and you get it out, and then to finish it – occasionally you’ll hit a block when you think, This is finished. It’s not finished in form but it’s finished in terms of how far I can push it, in terms of what I wanted to create. And then Luke’s got it and said, ‘This thing is kind of finished and I can just be free to play it and listen to it and write lyrics over it.’ So that was really fun.

You creating those demos at home – as you said, you’re creating things that are formed. That suggests that you might like to control things – and I’m not using that pejoratively – but what then interests me is that you are completely prepared to turn over that control to Luke to put lyrics on. If you were legitimately a control freak, that wouldn’t happen. You would have to do everything.
That’s right. You have to sacrifice … if you’ve got that instinct, if you’re playing in a band, it’s a four-part thing that has different moving parts. It’s hopefully more than the sum of its parts, you know. Having said that, when we did go to record every day I was frantic that we were going to fuck it up and it wasn’t going to be like the demos [laughs]. That was a hard day. But thankfully it turned out good – we had a good day, and we did it live for the most part for that song. I don’t listen to it and hear the demo any more. It’s become a new thing and it captured that sound world that I wanted, which is good.

And when you do go to record you have another element in the mix – and a family member: your producer [Shane O’Mara], who might also have his opinions.
Yes, big cousin Shane. He was great. He’s just a really good producer and he just keeps things moving. That was cool. He understands what you’re trying to get. Definitely facilitated the sound that I wanted on a couple of songs that were getting really tricky and he knew exactly how … Sometimes there’s not the language to talk about music but because we all experience it in our own way, having someone there who understood what I was going for without too much talk, it was good.

Now, you’re on a major label – ABC Music, distributed by Universal. How has that been, because it’s a different beast to being independent?
It’s good for us to have people outside the band taking on some of the stuff that needs to be done and going into bat for us. It gives us a sense that we’re moving forward.

You’re playing show and you’re going out on a tour. Did you pull out a map and go ‘eeny-meeny-miney-mo’ or did you have a wish list of places to visit? How were the venues chosen?
You just feel it out in terms of how you think you’ll go there and how many people are going to turn up. It’s not an exact science. We just did a run of shows with Mick Thomas – we went to Sydney and Adelaide – and we feel like we might have made a few converts there. We were doing the support for him. We just try to play places that will have the most amount of people to turn up.

It is always tricky being a support act, because not everyone does turn up for the support – so if you feel you had converts, that’s a good win.
They were there pretty early. Mick Thomas’s fans are pretty ardent supporters. So we did play to them and they dug it. We felt like we had to win them over and I think we did.

You have some special guests on this tour – Charles Jenkins, Neil Murray and Freya Josephine Hollick, and some special guests TBA. How did you come to choose who to play with and where?
We played at a festival with Neil and he just came and said g’day. He’s a cool guy and he said he really liked the band, and asked us to get up and play with him. So we got up and played a song with him. We’re writing a song with him as well. So we made that connection with him and he sent us a demo. We’ve just finished that in the last couple of weeks, pretty much.       So he’s coming along to do the shows, which will be fun. And then Chuck – or Charles – Jenkins, Luke loves Ice Cream Hands. Everyone references Ice Cream Hands but I’ve never really heard them and I love Chuck’s solo stuff. And Freya – I think Luke Richardson suggested Freya. We heard her stuff and thought she sounded cool.

When you go on the road, is it an opportunity to create new work?
[Laughs] No. Not at all. You’re just trying not to poison yourself with beer and meat pies from servos. That takes up all your time. You’re just trying not to be hungover. I can’t imagine writing a song on the road. It would just all be about coming home.

It also suggests that different energy that’s required to do those things. Live performance looks like it’s an hour and a bit on stage, but you have to ramp up and calm down afterwards, and there is a lot involved in performance which is antithetical to the creative process.
All the clichés about it are quite true. We do these little runs – we haven’t done any big major tours yet. We’ve gone to the [United] States and stuff, but we haven’t done months of tours. We’ve got a bunch of stuff in August so that will be a reasonable run for us, but we’ll be coming home in between: three-day, four-day runs. Even when you do that it’s that thing of an entire day is just dedicated to forty minutes or an hour. It’s quite funny. When you get up it’s a joy and everything’s fantastic, and then it is hard to wind down afterwards. That cliché of when you get offstage you can’t sleep. Particularly in Australia just the distances you have to go, it’s not for the faint hearted.

So you’re driving to these places?
Some we’ll be driving, some we’ll be flying. That can be fun too – we have a good time in the band.

You can use it as an opportunity for band therapy.
[Laughs] Band therapy on the Hume ... Half of us would be hitching home.

My last question is about you and Amarillo [Nick’s other band]. Do you have a set rhythm where you go ‘this project/that project’ or do you let it sort itself out?
I let it sort itself out. Jacqui Tonks, my partner, she books gigs around the schedule of Raised by Eagles, pretty much. We’ve got some stuff coming up. We’ve changed things a little bit. We’ve been doing some different stuff where we’ve interpreting some classical music – I play it on a Jazzmaster and Jac sings some stuff. We’ve been doing some Eric Satie and writing stuff more with me playing rhythm guitar. So that’s been fun – and with Amarillo we feel like we can just do whatever we want. And we’ve been playing with Ben Franz on pedal steel, and a little less with the rhythm section and more with me, Jac and Ben, which has been really open. You can follow whatever you want to do with that band, which is nice, whereas Raised by Eagles if more contained and it has a thing, which is good too.

The bigger your Raised by Eagles audience becomes, it could be a bit of a bind in that people are expecting a certain sound and you are therefore locked into that sound.
We never think about it or talk about it in Raised by Eagles. It is contained but that’s kind of an unspoken thing – it’s just what the band is, if you know what I mean. We would never make a decision based on ‘this would be too weird’ – it’s just what the four people in it, their aesthetic is when we’re together. It’s funny – it just becomes what it is and there are boundaries where we would never say XYZ, it just kind of happens.

It sounds like you have a very interesting creative life. You’re open to a whole lot of different things and it can be easier to stick to what you know and if it’s been successful, to repeat it. It’s far more challenging and takes a lot more energy and brain space to go with what’s new – but the rewards are potentially so much bigger.
I think with this Raised by Eagles album, the themes on it are kind of larger and bigger. One of the songs I wrote, ‘Every Night’, it’s a bigger, anthemic sound and the themes are less personal and more archetypal and broad. The title track, ‘I Must Be Somewhere’, is about mortality. Luke wrote it. Lyrically it’s an incredible song.

And it does position it as an existential album.
Yes – and that’s when we got the cover for it. I wasn’t sure about it when we were throwing up ideas, but then it made sense. As it was forming I wrote this song ‘Every Night’ – it started off as this folky Steve Earle thing. I’d been reading about this movement called The Big Music – it was this kind of vague ‘movement’ from the ’80s. It was kind of Celtic, anthemic pop – bands like The Waterboys and Simple Minds and Big Country. That really big sound that has folk elements that come out through rock. I’d been reading about it because I liked all those bands from a distance, but once I’d finished that song I realised it was kind of like that [sound]. That song and ‘I Must Be Somewhere’ feel central to this album, to me. So it seems like a bigger album in more ways than one: the sound is bigger, Luke’s playing electric guitar, the themes are a bit weightier too.

It’s a natural progression as you get deeper into your songwriting and your cohesiveness as a unit. You become more comfortable going deeper – and it sounds like that’s your nature. You’re not complacent people. You are asking questions of yourselves and, therefore, of your audience.
Definitely. I feel that’s true. Hopefully it’s true.

I Must Be Somewhere is out now.
Raised by Eagles tour dates:

Friday August 18
The Workers Club
90 Little Malop St, Geelong
Ph: 03 5222 8331
With special guests TBA
  Tickets $10 + bf presale / $15 @ door.  Tickets available here
Saturday August 19
The Croxton Bandroom
607 High St, Melbourne
Ph: 03 9480 2233
With special guests Neil Murray and Freya Josephine Hollick
Tickets $20 + bf.  Tickets available 
here  From 8pm

Friday August 25
Leftys Old Time Music Hall
15 Caxton St, Brisbane
With special guest TBA
Tickets available here . Doors 7pm
Saturday August 26
Club Mullum
Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club
58 Dalley St, Mullumbimby NSW
Ph: 02 6684 2533
With special guest Ben Wilson (The Button Collective) 
Tickets $20 presale / $25 at door.  Tickets available here.  From 7pm

Saturday September 16
Caravan Music Club
95-97 Drummond St, Oakleigh
Ph: 03 9568 1432
With special guest Charles Jenkins
Reserved Seat Presale $30 +bf / General Admission Presale $23 + bf / $25 @ door
Tickets available here

Sunday September 17
Torquay Bowls Club
47 The Esplanade, Torquay
Ph: 03 5261 2378
With special guest TBA
Tickets $25.  Tickets available here . From 3pm

Monday October 2
Semaphore Music Festival
Main Stage, Foreshore Reserve
Tix avail from July 30.
Gates open 12noon, RBE on-stage 5pm.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Amber Lawrence's big year gets busier

Amber Lawrence is one of the bright lights of Australian country music, winning the 2015 Golden Guitar for Female Artist of the Year. Late last year she released a new album, Happy Ever After, and since then she's written and recorded Our Backyard, an EP with fellow Golden Guitar winner Travis Collins, ahead of their tour starting this week. She's packed in more this year besides - as I found out when I spoke to her recently about what's behind and what's ahead, including the Gympie Music Muster.

There never seems to be a dull moment in your life or career, so since Happy Ever After was released, what have been the highlights?
Since Happy Ever After, which was only September last year, the biggest highlight has been … well, there’s two now since [In Our Backyard] has been going so great. But singing in America, in New York, on the USS Intrepid in May, a song that I wrote called ‘100 Year Handshake’, and the guests of honour being [US President] Donald Trump, [Australian prime minister] Malcolm Turnbull and surviving Coral Sea Battle veterans. It was just me and my guitar standing on a stage in a silent room of 800 people, singing a song that I’d written specifically for the night. So that was kind of validation that, ‘Hey, maybe I’m okay at this job’ [laughs].

You often play with a band, but of course you are used to playing on your own with a guitar – was it really nerve wracking to be out there on your own?
The whole event was just so grand. The President of the United States was there so the Secret Service was everywhere, security – we obviously had to get cleared before it to even be able to go to it. Metal detectors, all that kind of stuff. Very important people in the room – in addition to that there was Rupert Murdoch, Greg Norman and John Travolta. Endless lists of people. So I actually didn’t get nervous. Because it was silent and they were all looking at me, I thought, You cannot get nervous right now. You cannot stuff this up. Sing it properly! It was like this reverse psychology: You have no option now – do it properly. I don’t know if I could bottle that advice or nerve cure but it kind of worked for me in the moment. Beccy Cole was there too and she said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And it was weird because I was nervous in the days leading up to it but when I got there just the huge momentousness of it made me think, You’ve just got to be good at this.

Writing a song specifically for that event, do you find it’s really helpful to have that sort of targeted project to do – does it help you channel your creativity? Or is it trickier because you have those constraints?
For me, it was easier. I really loved the challenge of that, actually, and I’ve been doing a lot of that lately – writing school theme songs, songs for tourism, songs for Western Sydney campaign, and then this one came along. I just find it really interesting because this one being a song about Australia and America’s friendship, I was nervous about writing it because it’s a big thing to write. The climate – with a new president and the prime minister and all that – I had to be writing it for the right reasons otherwise people are going to say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ So I did a lot of research, and my partner, he’s a bit of a history buff so he helped research with me and helped come up with some of the angles for the song. So we just took it to a personal place. Rather than saying this big, grand statement about American and Australian friendship, we looked at what are the things that have shown that. One of them was a man called Leslie Allen, a 26-year-old in 1943, who saved or carried twelve wounded American solders off Mount Tambu. He just kept running back into battle, dragging them out, and saved their lives. He got a Silver Star for it. He was Australian and they were American, and I thought, There’s my first example of Australian-American friendship. Then I thought about Apollo 11 and how Australia was pretty instrumental in getting the pictures to the rest of the world, out at Honeysuckle Creek, and Parkes obviously. And then the war brides were another example. I didn’t delve into really big things like ‘we’ve stood by each other in war’. That’s not who I am. I don’t make grand political statements, I make smaller statements that symbolise. It was really fun to write and send up the chain and get approval for it. [There was] ‘could you just change this word’ or ‘maybe that thing’, but on the whole the song was really embraced by the important people in America. It’s recorded now and you can buy it on iTunes or hard copy. So that’s been the highlight out of everything, but now this new project with Travis is becoming my new highlight.

You were talking about not making the big statements and making smaller statements, but I think it’s also the case that when you make a personal statement, even when it’s someone else’s story, if you’re telling it authentically and with emotion, that makes it more likely that everyone will relate than if you were making a big statement. So leading into the song with Travis and the EP, listening to that song, that’s cataloguing a whole lot of experiences that people can relate to. You’ve known Travis for a while, but how did this collaboration start?
We have been good friends for thirteen years now – we met in 2004. When I was deciding last year what to do this year for touring, I planned the tour with Catherine Britt and then thought, well, there’s going to be some time left in the year. We revisited the idea of touring with Travis, because we did it eight years ago. My manager and Travis’s manager are good friends, and they got on the phone and discussed us touring later this year. And I think just as a throwaway they said, ‘They should release an album together.’ They came back to us with the idea and both Travis and I said, ‘Yeah, why not? But here’s the thing: we’re not singing covers. We’re not singing songs other people have written. We’re writing the songs.’ So we basically arrived home from Tamworth in February this year and we had about eight co-writing sessions. We were both exhausted from a huge festival, and Travis won all those awards. So it was possible at that point that we’d say, ‘We’re too tired to write this, let’s not worry about recording.’ But we were both really determined. We wrote five songs together, and then two of the other songs on the EP are one that I’d written by myself and one that he’d written by himself. But this song, ‘Our Backyard’, came about because I went to Silverton in mid-Feb this year to go and visit Catherine Britt. And, of course, the thing you do is go and visit the Silverton sunset. We drove to the highest point in Silverton and watched the sunset, and there is nothing like it, so I wrote that down in my songwriting book. And then when [Travis and I] sat down together to write the song, I said, ‘What about this idea?’ I live in a beautiful part of the world – I live near the beach – and every time I go walking, I think, If I was overseas and I saw this, I’d say, ‘This is amazing’, but because it’s in our own backyard we just neglect to think it’s any good. Same with the Silverton sunset. We both travel so much in Australia – as well as overseas – that it was a song that was really easy to identify with. We put all those experiences overseas in and most of them I’ve done, most of them Travis has done, so together we’ve done them all, but there’s nothing like being home.

It’s a really terrific song, and apart from the lyrics being spot on it’s got a great, catchy sound
to it. So I’m sure it will do very well – it sounds like it is already. But touring the EP – I do love that you said you looked at the second half of the year and thought, I could fit in something there, when a lot of people might have thought they could fit in a rest. So to tour – when you go to plan something like that, how do you pick your venues?
We get that question all the time because people say to us, ‘Why don’t you come to our town? I can’t believe you went to the town an hour up the road when this town was better.’ We don’t really pick them. It’s a juggling act of time – we might have wanted to go to Albury on the Saturday night but they had someone else already booked so we had to go to Corowa an hour down the road. And then we’ll get everyone online saying, ‘Why did you pick that town?’ It’s because it’s really hard to fit timing, and who wants the show. It’s not just a matter of us wanting to do a show there but the venue and the town have to want us as well.

You had the writing process together and then you had the recording process – was there any argy-bargy about who got to sing lead on songs?
[Laughs] No, not really. We were both juggling different touring schedules so we weren’t in the studio the whole time together. I’d say, ‘I’ll leave that for Travis to do and I’ll be back tomorrow. He’ll finish it tonight.’ So no arguments – we left all the hard decisions up to the producer.

When I saw the announcement about the EP I thought, That is a great idea, those two working together. I imagine you’ll have people turning up to your shows also thinking it’s a great idea.
It’s great because we have really different fans as well, so it will be great crossing them over. Some of Travis’s fans have never heard of me and vice versa, and those who know us both can think, Great, two for the price of one!

Will you do a set each and then some songs together, or will the whole set be together?
I think we’ll do a set each and then the whole EP, seven tracks of the EP together, and probably finish on ‘Our Backyard’ – it seems like it’s a bit of a finale song.

And that’s a good evening’s entertainment, I have to say, to get that much music.
[Laughs] Be prepared to have a late night.

Of course, you are also heading to the Gympie Muster and I notice that you were put on the bill first for your normal show and then your kids show was added – what prompted you to add it?
I suggested it to the Muster a long time ago, that I’d be happy to do a kids show while I was there. There are families there and I think in the morning the kids are up – they’ve been up for hours – and what’s to do? The music’s not starting. Some of the singer-songwriter tents maybe the kids are a bit bored. So I thought let’s do a kids show. The Kid’s Gone Country is interactive – they learn to dance, they sing along, we learn their names, get them up on stage. But adults are allowed to come as well.

Are there any technical considerations for you in terms of your voice? If you’re used to singing later in the day, sometimes voices take a while to warm up – so for a morning show, is there anything you have to do?
Yes, you probably should prepare – not like a hard rocker, don’t stay up till 2 a.m. drinking whisky if you’re going to do a kids show. But my voice works pretty well in the morning – it’s fairly match fit, I would call it. It doesn’t need too much to get fired up.

I imagine you’ve done a few Gympies now – what are you looking forward to about the Muster?
What I’m looking forward to is always the same: genuine country fans who just get out in the dust or the mud – whichever one it is, and it’s always one of them – and they sing along to your songs, and you get to meet them. And it’s historic for me, too, because it’s one of the first festivals I ever went to. They had me on back in 2005. I was pretty lucky as a young artist, just with an EP out, that they took me on. So it’s always been one of three or four favourites that I have. I love it. I just love the dust, the dirt, and it brings out your best performance when you’re out in the sticks. You’re out in the country and you’re a country singer, so it feels good.

I guess it’s a different energy to Tamworth, too, because in Tamworth you have these confined venues – you’re inside for a lot of it – whereas at Gympie everything’s outside. I imagine that wave of energy that would come from having a massive outside crowd would be different.
Definitely. I think I’ve played there maybe five or six times – every second or third year. I’ve played in the rain. I’ve been freezing. I’ve been sunburnt. I’ve been muddy. I’ve been rained out. I’ve been every single option. So every other festival where you’re inside, it’s nice and comfortable but you don’t get that kind of raw response from the crowd that you do at Gympie. I really don’t wish for rain, though – I wish for sun and dust. That’s the best option.

You do other sorts of work – you work with RSL Defence Care and Special Olympics, and you’re a Fight Stroke Advocate. My impression of your working life is that you have a lot of different things going on and you obviously manage your time very well, but these causes are close to you because you’ve been involved for a while. How did you get involved with each of those?
Fight Stroke – my dad had a stroke when he was forty. When I wrote the song ‘Lifesaver’, which is about that, I actually sent it to Stroke Foundation and said, ‘I have a really good reason to want to help you guys out.’ If Dad had had, I guess, what they had now – that’s thirty years ago nearly that he had a stroke – he wouldn’t have been left disabled the way he was, because they would have been able to get him to hospital and change things. He would have known to check his blood pressure. But he didn’t know any of that. So my reason for doing work with the Stroke Foundation is to help prevent via awareness. I do help raise money at times, but more spread the word. Get your blood pressure tested – that’s one of the highest-risk signs of it. One family might benefit from me saying, ‘Going get your blood pressure tested’, and find out that their dad or their mum was on the verge of having stroke and avoid what our family went through, which was really tough.
Defence Care asked me after I wrote a song called ‘The Man Across the Street’ to help spread the word and, again, it’s not so much raising funds for them as awareness. They do need some money, but they also need veterans – young veterans. You say the word ‘veteran’ and you’re thinking of sixty-, seventy-year-old men, but we’re talking about thirty-year-old men here, and women. For them to know that when they come home from war or the theatre, that there is someone to help them when they don’t know why they’re not feeling that great. No physical scars but ‘I can’t really get my life back on track’ or ‘my word has fallen apart’. There are organisations out there to call, and Defence Care is one of them.

And the Special Olympics?
I’ve been helping them for a long time, and that is more about fundraising. Just performing at their events. Those Special Olympics kids are Down syndrome and autistic young people who just absolutely have the most vigour and zest for life. I love performing with them – they all get up and dance with me. It’s awesome.

Looking ahead – you’ve packed a lot into this year already, and Tamworth will be upon us before we know it, so what are your Tamworth plans, and I would imagine you’re already looking to another album.
Yes, you’re right. This year is going to be taken up with Travis and I, and then I’ll do my show on Australia Day in January. I’m not sure about touring – I might have been everywhere. I might just have a little bit of time off [laughs] … Nah, I’m sure I won’t. I think I’ll work on another kids album as well as another adults album, but it’s still early days for [Happy Ever After] so I’ll probably go the kids album next, I think.

How do you organise your time with songwriting? Do you allocate time to write or just do it when you can?
I have to allocate time. I’m certainly not a ‘oh, inspiration’s just hit me, drop everything, I’ve got to write a song’. I write a song if I put it in my diary to write a song.

Amber Lawrence will be performing at Gympie Music Muster which is held 24 to 27 August at Amamoor Creek State Forest.  For further info visit

Happy Ever After is out now. 

You can also find '100 Year Handshake' on

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Album review: From the Bottom of a Well by Brad Butcher

If, like me, you have loved music for as long as you can remember, and even been obsessed with certain albums and artists at various times, your affection sometimes waning but generally keeping faith with those you have loved most, you'll have been lucky enough to feel the rapture that comes with discovering someone great, looking forward to their next release and being rewarded for your anticipation.

Brad Butcher is a Queensland singer-songwriter whose first album still has me in thrall. His second album, Jamestown, proved that the first was no fluke. Butcher is a terrific songwriter, and, yes, he can sing and all that good stuff. But some artists have magic in them – almost a sorcery that can make you think of their songs at the oddest times and all the emotions that those songs conjure are as strong as they were the first few times you heard that particular combination of notes and words. 

That is a kind of brilliance, and it's also something that can't really be defined, otherwise we'd all know what it is and go and pluck it from a shelf somewhere. Songs from both of Butcher's albums still make me stop and listen, and occasionally cry too, even though I know them well. His stories are not complicated but they are meaningful, and there's enough meaning in them to merit going back to them over and over, because they can deliver it each time.

So, listening to Butcher's third album, From the Bottom of a Well, for the first time, I obviously had expectations, while still trying to approach it with an open mind. I did not actually want a repeat of either of the first two albums, because they're perfect as they are – and that's lucky, because I didn't get it. Instead, From the Bottom of a Well is a beautiful evolution of Butcher's skills and sounds. One of his constant strengths has been has willingness to be emotional without being manipulative of his listener. He does not write songs to provoke a response – he tells the story as it is, and brings in whatever emotion is there without second guessing what's going to work (or perhaps he's just honed his craft well enough that the guessing gets eliminated early in the process). That is the authenticity that the country music audience loves, which is why he's found a home there.

His music is also a huge compliment to his listener: he is saying to us that he trusts that we'll understand what he's telling us, and he's inviting us into the experience. The compliment is also there in how he sings: he has always had crisp articulation married with a warm tone, and that combination, again, is an invitation to the listener.

The songs on this album are a mixture of personal accounts ('All Said & Done', 'More to the Story') and other people's stories ('Glasgow Train', 'Well Dressed Man'), and there is no sense that Butcher values one over the other. He understands his role as a storyteller, and he has always been adept at serving the story and the song.

These are also songs that grow in impact with each listening - several of them become more moving with time and consideration. That's due to the layers within them lyrically, and within Butcher's voice, and also, perhaps, those introduced in the recording process. Butcher's producer for this album is Matt Fell, who has given it a different sound to that heard on the previous two albums, with more texture and light and shade. These elements give the listener cues, but none of that matters if the songs aren't working. They do – every single one.

This is another album that will make me stop and listen for years to come, and as someone who has loved music for as long as I can remember, that is just the best thing ever.

From the Bottom of a Well will be released on 4 August 2017.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fanny Lumsden announces new Country Halls Tour

With just one album Fanny Lumsden has established herself as one of Australia's leading country music artists. Her superb songwriting - each track on that album, Small Town Big Shot, is a gem - and her effervescent live performances have connected with audiences all over Australia. Not only that, but they've been awarded with a 2017 Golden Guitar, the CMC Best New Talent Award, and the APRA Professional Development Award

An important reason for Fanny's popularity is her willingness to tour to places that often don't host gigs, with her Country Halls Tours. Fanny has just announced that she will soon embark on her sixth annual Country Halls tour, in support of her new album, Real Class Act, which will be released on 22 September.

Fanny and her band, The Thrillseekers, will be heading to country halls in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, in towns including Burren Junction, Mullaley, Tullamore, Eurongilly, Tumblong and Andamooka. The tour will also aise funds for local communities, and will journey to metropolitan areas, BIGSOUND and Tamworth Country Music Festival along the way.

For the full list of shows, visit
Tickets are now on sale.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Voice winner Judah Kelly heads to the Gympie Music Muster

Each year television show The Voice uncovers new Australian talent, and the winner this year - not that long ago, in fact, was Queenslander Judah Kelly. Judah was already known within country music circles, though, as he has attended the CMAA Academy - and he's played at the Gympie Music Muster. I had a chat to Judah a few days after his win about the muster, the academy and other things.

The obvious first thing to say to you is ‘Congratulations’.
[Laughs] Thank you.

How’s your work been?
Ah … quite hectic, to be honest. I won on Sunday night, had a half-hour sleep, then Monday morning I started my interviews. I did 36 interviews on Monday. It’s just been crazy ever since.

And there’s no way to prepare for that, really – it’s such an unusual circumstance. Around an album release you’ll do a bit of press but it can be a bit spaced out, whereas this was that big hit.
That’s right. I thought about what might happen if I would win and I certainly didn’t think it would be quite this crazy.

I imagine you haven’t had a lot of sleep even since Sunday night, so are you feeling almost like you’re in a bizarro world, or is it sinking in now that you’ve won?
Oh no, it’s definitely quite weird. I’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot of hard work, and to finally reap the benefits of all that is quite amazing. I’m the dog that finally caught the car and I have no idea what to do with it. Start chasing the next one.

You performed a lot before you got on The Voice – I’m really curious to know what it’s like to perform live on television as opposed to live at a gig, because at a gig you can see your audience and on TV you can’t.
I think it’s probably a good thing that I couldn’t see the people who were watching. It is quite different. Of course, you have the audience that’s there, which is super awesome, but just knowing that you’re going live to a million people across Australia, it’s ridiculous.

You obviously handled the pressure well, because you won. But I’m going to take you back, because I’m interested in your musical lineage. You’ve been to the CMAA Academy, so there’s obviously a little thread of country music there. What’s the first music you listened to as a child and as you were growing up, what music did you love?
I have a huge love of country music now but it wasn’t always like that. I grew up listening to stuff like The Temptations and Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Then I went to my first country music competition, and this was still when I didn’t even like country music – it was just something to do this weekend. And I went along and I met a lady who is now one of my best friends, and she showed me the music of Vince Gill, and it was literally from that moment I just fell in love. And the love for country has grown ever since.

Where was that competition?
In Sarina, just south of Mackay [Queensland].

If you love singing, there’s a lot of flexibility within the country music genre, and if you love storytelling, that’s there.
That’s right. And that’s what I love about it mostly. They’re songs with meaning and thought really put into it to create something that makes people feel something and that’s what’s most important to me.

After you’d have your Vince Gill moment what artists did you find your way to?
Merle Haggard, I love Merle. George Strait, I love. I love all that older country, and then along the way I fell in love with outlaw country – Waylon Jennings and all that kind of stuff.

So you went to the CMAA Academy – when was that and how did you find that experience?
I went once as a junior, in 2011, once as a singer and once as a band member when they started the instrumental course. I think it would have been 2014 and 2015 for the last two. And they were quite amazing experiences. I was thinking about this the other day – it helped a lot with what I’m doing now. I did my first big photo shoot the other day and shooting a video for the single today. We start work on the album tomorrow. And that’s all stuff we went through at the academy. I think it would have been a lot more overwhelming if I hadn’t gone through that before.

Do you like being a member of a band as much as you like being the singer?
That’s a tough one. I’ve not really been a singer for long. Once I left high school I just needed something to pay the rent and bills, doing session work and just playing for people. And it got to a point where I didn’t want to any more. If that’s what you want to do, that’s cool – there’s nothing wrong with it at all – but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. Which is why I ended up auditioning for The Voice, because I wanted to change that. I didn’t want to just play for other people any more.

That’s really interesting, that auditioning for The Voice came out of a desire to have a change. It’s a big thing to do, it’s a big gesture to make.
I got comfortable just playing for people and I got comfortable being in the background even though I wanted to sing, which put me in a weird situation, because I felt uncomfortable being in front of people but wanting to be there. And I thought to myself, I want to sing more than I want to stay comfortable, so I gave it a go. And thankfully I did.

Speaking of being out the front, you are going to perform at the Gympie Muster. You have played the muster before as a backing musician. Now that you have established yourself as a singer, are you feeling relaxed about being out the front of a band?
Absolutely. The Voice was quite amazing with that. I just have a new belief in my own talent, and I know that the boys who are playing with me are super tight – they’re excited, I’m excited, and I’ve spent a lot of time seeing crowds’ reactions for people I was playing for, and now to know that that’s going to happen for me this time, I’m really excited.

How many shows will you have at the muster?
I have two.

What are you looking forward to experiencing again?
The crowd. The crowd is always the best part. Once they’re pumping and just that energy – that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.

How long ago did you sign on?
Not very long ago – a month, maybe.

They would be loving themselves`sick about that, then, given what happened on Sunday night.
[Laughs] Absolutely.

Given that the muster is in Gympie and you are a Queenslander, is it fair to ask you if Queensland audiences are better?
Of course – isn’t everything better in Queensland?

You mentioned you have a video to film today, and the live performances for The Voice all happen in a bit of a run, even though the auditions take place months before. How do you take care of your voice?
That’s the thing. Normally it’s fine but I just happened to get laryngitis in the last couple of weeks and haven’t exactly had time to let it heal properly. Delta [Goodrem, his coach on The Voice] is the best ever – she set me up an appointment with her doctor during the show, so that kind of kept me together as well as possible, and then today I’m going to see another doctor again just to have a check over. It’s kind of hard because I need rest, but also there is no time to rest at the moment. And that’s part of this career and part of doing this. So we get through it and do the best we can.

This album you’re recording – you probably have a whole lot of songs that you’re recording quickly. But down the track are you looking forward to writing your own songs? Or have you written some songs for this album?
The song list isn’t really final until the album’s printed, but at the moment a co-write has made the cut, which is really exciting. One we wrote on Tuesday [this interview happened on a Thursday]. I’m grateful to Universal [his record company]. I’m not much of a writer but they’re excited to get co-writes happening and help me improve on that.

After the album’s released I imagine you’ll be on tour – are you looking forward to that? Or perhaps you need to rest that voice a little bit first.
Nah, who needs rest? Rest is for the wicked [laughs]. We’ll just get the album done. It is very early days. The planning is there, it’s just making it all happen now and that takes a little bit of time. But the plan definitely is to do a tour.

What are the Queensland destinations that will be a priority when you do that tour?
The priority is everywhere and anywhere. I’m a big believer in just hitting the road and playing everywhere that someone will listen.

That’s a country music thing, too, to really want to connect with the audience. So even though you can obviously a variety of styles I think maybe in your soul, Judah, you are country music.
[Laughs] Definitely.

So does that mean we’ll see you in Tamworth?
At the moment, yes. We’re planning to get there and Universal are happy for me to be there, I really want to be there, it’s just trying to make that happen in such a busy schedule – but it is a priority.

Judah Kelly will be performing at Gympie Music Muster, held from 24 to 27 August at Amamoor Creek State Forest.  For further info check out

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