Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interview: Anna Weatherup (part II)

This is the second part of an interview with Anna Weatherup. To read the story of how I came to find out about Anna, click here.

In this part we discuss Anna's album Nearer, which is a beautiful collection of songs of faith, and the connection between music and spirituality. 

When I saw you play I was thinking that to sit in a crowd on your own, playing three sets, people are talking over the top of you – what does it actually take, particularly when you’re starting, to sit there with your guitar and just keep going?
In the beginning?

Or even all through it.
Or now, what does it take?

Both.  What was different in the beginning?
Well in the beginning it was really – I was paying more attention to my guitar because I wasn’t much of a guitarist.  I had that to distract me.  And I really threw myself in the deep end with that because I was not very good at all.  Not to say I'm a maestro now because I’m not, but I really sucked at it so all the focus was more on concentrating on getting that right.  Now it’s okay.  I can just close my eyes and drift off into another stage and try and focus on what I’m singing.  It depends on the venue too.  Small Bar, I’m there, I’d paid to be there, they always have music, people in the crowd know what they’re going to get.  I don’t really feel uncomfortable.  But sometimes when I’m booked to play other gigs or a private party they’re definitely more hard to break the ice.  And you feel really insecure sometimes.  But halfway through it people start to warm up and you start to get a few comments and it’s really nice and you leave the gig feeling like you’ve done a good job or feel positive.  But, yeah, it can be tricky sometimes, just depends, I guess.  Depends on the crowd. You get used to it as well, I think.  I just – it’s what I do.  I just get up there and do it and don’t think about it much any more.  Probably did in the beginning a bit more.

Is it tiring playing three sets?  What a lot of people may not realise is that performing in of itself, quite apart from the singing and the playing, can be quite exhausting.
Yeah, it is, actually.  I’m always bummed the next day.  It does take it out of you just energy-wise.  It is tiring.  It is very tiring, actually.  

And do you have any techniques to put the energy back in or things that you do?
No, unfortunately, I’m very slack.  I did have singing lessons years ago because I was losing my voice.  I went to a teacher and she’d help me to breathe properly and where to breathe from and sing from.  But I don’t really practise it.  So, no, there’s nothing – I mean, nothing that a cup of coffee wouldn’t fix the next day [laughs]. That’s my routine.  Coffee and relax if I don’t have to work.  I get the blues if I have to work the next day – I always like to have a day off after a gig.  I just take it easy and have a sleep0in and chill out.  My best mate who I used to live with, we used to live together in Townsville and she could never understand why I’d sleep in til 10, 11 o'clock in the morning.  She’s one of these early gym-head people.  She get up and go to the gym or whatever.  I didn’t really understand it either until later in life.  I realised, no, it really is hard work; I probably should stop giving myself a hard time.  It really takes it out of you, especially back then when I was singing til 11 o'clock at night.  It’s bloody full-on.

I remember reading somewhere that it takes more muscles to talk than it does to run.  So, therefore, if you’re singing there are a lot of muscles that are working and if you’re doing it for three hours or four hours ...
I’ll use that line on her next time.  [Laughs]

Well, it’s true [laughs].
[Laughs] yeah, there you go.  Wow.  That would explain why I’m so exhausted [laughs].

You need, as a performer, to get energy back from your audience.  And if it’s not coming back in the same measure that it’s going out from you then it can be really tiring.  
Absolutely, absolutely.  Yeah, and it really – most crowds, they kind of do their own thing, which is fine.  You can see people, though, you can spot people in the crowd who are listening, and they’ll go in and out of the conversation or whatever.  And that’s nice.  I don’t expect people to sit around and not catch up with their friends or whatever because I’d be doing the same thing, talking, probably. But it does take it out of you.  But it’s always good.  People – I’ve always had people come up and make nice comments and compliments, it’s really encouraging, and it’s nice as well.  So that keeps you going.  

Excellent.  I also wanted to ask about [your album] Nearer  – I think you described it as a gospel album – would you describe it as gospel?

It’s such a beautiful album and I don’t listen to gospel music.  I wasn’t brought up in that tradition – in a religious tradition.  But I do have my own spiritual practice.  So, for me, I was actually listening to it thinking, well, this is just a – this is a beautiful, spiritual album, I think, in the old tradition of negro spirituals, as they were called.  That's the incorrect term now.  But there was that sense of it being that kind of album.  So I wanted to ask you about how you feel or what you think about the relationship between spirituality and music?
I think music is spiritual.  I don’t think there’s any – personally I feel there’s no music out there that isn’t spiritual.  I think it’s all spiritual in a sense.  Music’s very powerful, very powerful.  It can change your mood when you put it on, turn the radio on and a song can totally change your mood, I think.  And, yeah, doing that album,  I grew up singing those songs and they mean a lot to people because of that as well.  They remind me of a beautiful time.  In my adult years I’ve come back to the church and come back to God.  So it was really important that I did that album because I just really wanted to put it out there, all these beautiful songs that I remember singing as a kid.  And, yeah, just hopefully some people take something away from it – I guess love, love the God I trust, and that we are loved.  Getting back to your question, music is very, very powerful, very spiritual, yeah.

Through that album there is a lot more going on than just the notes that are being played. And love is the correct term.
Well if people can take something away from it, that’s what it’s there for and I hope, yeah, I hope that’s the case when you listen to it.  All those old songs, too, were written in a totally different time.  They really clung onto every word as well and it’s just a different time in the world’s history.  So they weren’t just pop songs that they put out there to get on the charts.  They came from the heart.  They’ve got a lot of meaning in them.  And, hopefully, that comes through as well on the CD.  

So, for you in your religious practice or spiritual practice, and if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine –
No, I don’t mind, that’s fine [laughs].

For some people it’s very private.  But I was wondering whether in the religious practice you grew up with, music was a part of worship more strongly than say, perhaps, in the Anglican church?
Yeah, it was.  I grew up in – actually, I grew up in a bit of a conservative background.  I’m Seventh Day Adventist and a little bit conservative up north where I was from.  But I remember music being a pretty big part of that, definitely.  Yeah, although I’m not conservative myself, all those songs that are on the album I grew up singing in church.  I guess you could say it was a pretty big part of my upbringing, or part of the church, I should say.  And it still continues to be a big part of the church, music.  To sing it, when we go every week, and it’s a huge part.  I think, for me, I think for me music’s probably more powerful than someone getting up there and preaching, sometimes.  Whatever your spiritual beliefs are I think that music is the most powerful form of communication.  But, yeah, sorry, does that answer your question? [Laughs]

Yeah, yeah.  It’s all interesting.  And the notion of a calling is – probably comes from religion but it obviously has secular application.  So I was wondering if you think of music as your calling?
Oh, for sure.  Absolutely, I do.  And that’s why I say I don’t really want to give it up.  I’m just not sure on the direction of where – which way I’m going in life but I hope that music’s part of it.  I’ve always felt that I’m supposed to be a singer.  Music is spiritual no matter what.  I always have that spiritual content in the music but I do hope it is my calling.  I do believe it is so fingers crossed, hey.

Well it sounds like it is to someone who’s heard you play.  But I also think within country music there is actually a place for spiritual songs or songs of faith even.
Oh, definitely.  

More than any other genre.
Absolutely, absolutely.  Yes.  That’s funny, that, isn’t it?  'Cause, yeah, you hear a lot of country gospel and it’s totally accepted.  Not that someone would have a go at me for singing any of those newer songs in public.  But it is – you kind of expect to hear country gospel as well, don’t you?

And when I went to Charters Towers we put on a gospel concert and lots of people from the public came to hear country gospel.  I was really surprised, which makes me feel at ease.  Because I’m one of those people who – I’ve never really spoken about my upbringing and my beliefs much, only because I just didn’t want to offend people or make people feel uncomfortable.  And if I can do that through music, if I can still sing music, it’s coming from the heart and feel comfortable, it’s going to be in country music.  You’re right, that was a big – I think there’s a huge market for country gospel.  It’s definitely already a genre that exists.

More so in the United States perhaps than here.  But I think there is a place for it here, definitely.
Well, maybe I can do it in Australia.  [Laughs].

I think it’s what you just said, it’s music coming from the heart, that’s connection between the two genres really.
That’s the most important thing, I think.  Yeah.  I can try and get up there and say what I think I have to say but really it has to come from the heart.  Yeah, at the end of the day.

Well, I look forward to your country gospel album then.
Oh, thanks, hon [laughs].

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Interview: Anna Weatherup (part I)

One Sunday afternoon not too long ago I was in a bar in Crows Nest, on Sydney's lower north shore. It was fairly crowded, and a young woman with a guitar was about to start playing and singing (the microphone suggested that singing would occur). It would have taken quite a bit to penetrate through the loud hum of people talking and laughing. She didn't seem at all worried about that though. And once she started singing, I wasn't the only one paying attention.

Some cursory investigations revealed that her name was Anna Weatherup and that she was, in fact, experienced in the ways of country music. Not only that, she had one of those voices that one couldn't help but notice and listen to with wonder. I approached Anna and asked if I could interview her for the blog, and this is the first part of a later phone conversation. It turns out Anna has been singing professionally for quite a while, and cut her teeth on the country music festival circuit at a young age.

It says on your website Brisbane singer/songwriter. But I know that’s not true any more ...

I’ll have to update that [laughs].

So you can start as far back as you like and please tell us about where you come from and what your musical background is.

Okay. I’m from north Queensland originally, from Townsville. Hence why I’ve got a bit of that country influence. It’s definitely there. So I grew up singing – actually I grew up singing in church, first of all, that’s where I started singing every week and then my dad starting taking me around to the country music festivals.

How old were you at that stage?

I was probably about fifteen or sixteen, I'd say. And we went to the Charters Towers, a few of the local festivals around there. I won a few awards. I picked up a couple of awards in the festivals. And then I moved to Brisbane. So I just kept on singing through the years. I started singing professionally in Townsville when I was probably about twenty, twenty-one. And then I moved to Brisbane in 2005 and just kept singing professionally in Brisbane.

So when you say singing professionally, do you mean as in just gigs around the place or singing at events, singing at weddings, things like that?

Both, yeah, a bit of everything. I’ve done a couple of major supports for a few artists. For Colin Hay and Marcia Hines and what’s his name from bloody Men at Work – James Reyne. I think he’s Men at Work. Is he Men at Work?

Australian Crawl.

That’s it! Aussie Crawl. So I’ve done some major supports. I’ve done plenty of weddings. But I just played full time in doing those kinds of things and in pubs as well. So just playing gigs and then a bit of everything else came along with it. I also did a few original – I did some CD launches over the years as well and a couple of albums.

It’s pretty amazing to have a career as a professional singer, I think. I don’t know that there are many people who do it.

Yeah, thank you. Well it’s a hard slog. It becomes work a little bit. It can become tedious if you don’t get out and change your repertoire and constantly update what you’re doing and stay fresh. And that’s the really hard part, keeping it fun. But it has been fun. I’m just now slowly – I moved to Sydney a year and a half ago when I met my now fiancĂ©, Tim. And I just started to get back into gigging just recently in the last couple of months after having about twelve months off.

So you took twelve months off because you were moving and later life things?

Yes, change of lifestyle and just – I was a bit worn out. When I left Brisbane I was definitely burnt out a bit in terms of things. I worked pretty hard up there for a few years, so I just wanted a bit of a break. And when I got here I just sussed the place out. I’m working in a little coffee shop in Chatswood and I’ve met a fair few people working there and it’s been nice just to have a bit of time out and not be totally focused on music all the time. And then you start to miss it and then you go back for the next leg.

So you’re enjoying gigging again?

Yeah, I am. I’ve chosen the right venues too, I think. Small Bar, where we met, that’s just a beautiful venue to play. And then I do little gigs out at Luna Park. So that’s really nice as well. Just really little more intimate, not so late nights and rowdy crowds. I’m choosing more of the singer/songwriter venues.

Better for your voice, I would think, to not be in a rowdy club where you’ve got to keep raising your volume to sing over the top of everyone.

Definitely. Absolutely. And it’s a little bit more of a music-appreciative crowd as well. Although I have had some good nights at pubs and stuff; people are really fun. I just don’t like the late nights too much these days. I’m getting a bit older and [laughs] definitely – I’m definitely not into clubbing any more. It’s not my thing. I don’t really like being there entertaining them either [laughs] unfortunately.

[Laughs] I thought your set list on Sunday was just ... every song you I thought, 'She’s really judged this well'. The selection of songs you had, it was just that right balance of really good female singer/songwriter things with the odd curve ball thrown in but mainly I thought some of it was a bit older and a really good collection for that demographic.

I try and ... I guess it’s something you’ve got to try to learn to do, read a crowd. It’s very important. But I enjoy singing those songs and I probably grew up listening to them as well, bar a few. There’s some real oldies that I enjoy singing as well. But that’s stuff that I’d probably like to hear if I went out. Not this stuff, I don’t really do a lot of the later stuff because I don’t really listen to it. I’ll learn it if people really want it.

Like Lady Gaga?

I wonder, actually. I haven’t a request to learn any of her stuff. I could probably give it a go, you could probably come up with some real quirky covers [laughs]. I’m thinking more Adele. I tried to learn some Adele once but they’re big songs. You’d have to be in a really – I think you’d have to be in a pub to belt out one of her songs. I don’t know but you’d really have to build the club up to do an Adele song.

And they’re songs with big instrumentation behind them as well.

That's right, yeah. Big, big voice [laughs]. Especially with a guitar.

You’ve got a big voice but it’s more that her songs are the event of the instruments and the voice.

Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Totally.

So when you were playing country music festivals as a teenager, was it actually a genre that, at the time, you really loved and you thought, 'Oh great, I’m playing all this country music.' Or was it just that that’s where you played?

A bit of both. I can’t say that I was into all the old balladry stuff that we’d have to sing sometimes. But I listened to Shania Twain a fair bit when I was growing up. And I listened to a bit of Gina Jeffreys; a lot of Gina Jeffreys actually. So, yeah, some of it I really enjoyed singing and it was music that I listened to at that age. And then grunge found me [laughs]. And that changed everything. Or I found grunge [laughs]. So, yeah, I did – and I still, actually, enjoy – I loved the Dixie Chicks. I find now that I don’t really enjoy listening to rock much any more. I really love chucking on a country album. So I’d say that would be the music I listen to most of all. It’s just really beautiful. It reminds me that I’m Australian. It just resonates with me a lot.

And for you, as a singer, do you still listen to other singers out of interest. Not necessarily to copy them but just for technique purposes?

Not as much. I don’t really listen to a lot of music now. I don’t know why. Occasionally, if someone recommends someone I’ll go check them out, just to say I’ve had a listen, and sometimes I do. If I do go see a live show I'm definitely taking in inspiration and taking notes. Not out of judgement but out of 'I’d like to do that'. The only time I listen to music is when I’m in the car and normally I just flog the same old CDs that I’ve been flogging for ages [laughs]. I revisit the 90s a lot [laughs].

[Laughs] Well, it was a good decade.

I love the '90s music. I just – I love it. Just can’t get over it.

What, in particular?

Tim got me into Toto, so now I’m going through the Toto stage. Hilarious, hey. I just can’t listen to music. It’s really bad. I used to, growing up: Michael Jackson, Prince; I loved those guys. They were a huge inspiration. I used to listen to him and go, 'I want to be Michael Jackson when I get older'. But then I watched This is It and saw how much work he actually really puts into his career and thought, 'Wow, I don’t know if I can do that' [laughs].

It’s an obsession, I think, a career like that.

Absolute obsession. Yeah. He’s not just a singer/songwriter. He is obsessed and I don’t actually know I’m that obsessed with music [laughs]. And I love music and I love writing when I can plunge out a song, but I’m not obsessed with it. Not much any more, anyway. I used to be a little bit more, I think. I was really driven to be famous and make millions of dollars. Now I still love music and I really want to write quality music but I’m probably not as hard-driven to be famous and be a millionaire [laughs] as much as I used to be.

There’s a price to pay for – if you want to be famous you have to sacrifice something else because that’s just the way the universe works.

Absolutely, absolutely. They do, they sacrifice their lives to a certain degree. They flog it hard. And I enjoy other aspects of life too. I’m actually not that obsessed with music. I enjoy it but I don’t live and breathe it like those guys do. Sometimes that worries me a bit but --

What, in terms of into the future, whether you’re obsessed enough to keep it going?

I think I will always have the drive to want to be a singer. I have had that drive since I was a little girl and since I can remember. I remember wanting to be a singer. But I also have other passions in life, too, that pop up. Music’s always been there and I think will always be there. But I don’t know if I’d put it in front of having a family, for instance, or other things in life that happen. Not saying that people who are famous don’t have all that stuff because they do. But, I don’t know, I’m unsure of my future with music at the moment. I’m in a funny place. Because I’ve been doing it – I’ve been trying so hard and have been in that obsessed state, so it’s always about CDs and writing new albums and getting people to gigs and just totally consumed by it all, and this is the first time in ten or fifteen years that I’ve actually just taken a step back and gone, I’m just going to actually live life for a little bit and enjoy it. See if I can write some more songs and just see where it takes me. I’m actually stepping back a little bit and letting go. Which is the first time I’ve done it and it’s actually quite a nice feeling because I really – it has consumed me and, yeah, just driven me so far all the years and now I’m going, 'Oh, I still want to be a singer but I don’t know if I'm going to spend my whole life – I think I might actually get a degree like my mother said to in the first place'.

Yeah, right [laughs].

'You should get something else to fall back on.' Not to say that I’m not passionate about music or I don’t think I can make it, but I just wouldn’t mind still take a little bit of a breather and seeing where it takes me rather than just being all-consuming, I suppose.

By stepping back a bit you probably create a bit of a vacuum for things to come in. I think that often happens when people clutch on too tightly.

Definitely, definitely. I think I have to, yep. And they say normally when you let go is when it happens and I’m certainly not – that’s just a saying, it may not be true, but it may happen when I can just let go and maybe find some other passions that I have in life. And I’ll still probably play gigs. I’ll definitely still pick up the guitar and try to write music. But I’m not ... I don’t know. With the whole social media thing, too, I jumped on that bandwagon for about five years and just sitting in front of the computer trying to flog myself out into the world and flog my music for a while and it just – you go, 'Wow, what happened to the last five years of my life? I’ve been sitting in front of the computer and I haven’t really lived.'

It’s a lot of extra work, too, I think, for musicians and it’s not necessarily what you’re all good at. What you’re good at is playing music and entertaining.

That's right, that's right.

And you’ve now got to do the promotional work that a record company traditionally does.

That's right. That’s why I need a manager or something [laughs] or a management company, yeah, or a record label to do it.

Part II of this interview will be published very soon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interview: Sara Tindley (part III)

This is the third of a three-part interview with Sara Tindley. In this part Sara talks about the hard work involved in creative pursuit, and whether or not milking cows has anything to do with it.

For part I of this interview, please go here.
For part II, please go here.

So for you, now, having children and a house to run and other things no doubt in your life, where do you fit creativity in?
That can sometimes be tricky. I have a little studio that’s separate to the house and I take myself up there most days not every day but most days, even if it’s just for an hour or a couple of hours, just to kind of turn up in a sense, turn up to work and just see what comes, and if nothing else comes at least I’ve played my guitar and keep sort of refining what I do, and not all the time that I go up there is productive but it feels good just to go and be there.

Do you believe in the muse, as in you wait for the muse to appear and stimulate you?
No. I think there’s times where I’m definitely more open to whatever might come through, but I feel that to really get a body of work behind me I just need to go up there and work, whether I’m inspired or not. I just need to go up there and do something. And I think sometimes you have to write; maybe I have to write four pretty cruddy songs to get one good one [laughs] so I just keep showing up and hoping that something [laughs] good will come of it.

I think that’s really excellent advice for anyone who is in a creative pursuit, whether it's writing songs, writing books or painting. A lot of people will wait for inspiration and then get frustrated when it doesn’t happen, but that practice of just turning up and being there and working at it, having talent and application I guess.
Yeah. Well, it does – it’s not all just about sort of a creative moment can happen once every four months [laughs] and if that was all I was doing I’d be hard pressed to come up with an album’s worth of stuff. There’s a lot of hard work involved, in a funny sort of way – not so much in a physical way but in a mental way. You just have to keep applying – I feel like I just have to keep applying myself.

You mentioned sometimes you have to go through four cruddy songs until you get to a good one – do you ever go back to those kind of workman-like songs because they’ve worked through a process and bring them up to the level of the other songs?
No. But sometimes I’ll go back to them and steal a line or a verse or something [laughs]. I find with my work that if it didn’t make the grade, it’s because it really is not good enough, but often there might be a couple of lines in there or it might have a good chorus or something in there that is worth revisiting and stealing for another song.

So when it comes to selecting which songs you record, is it obvious to you which ones are there or do you need to sit down with a list and edit the list?
I have, with each album, gone in with more songs than I needed and pretty much once the process of recording begins there seemed to be almost like a path and some songs just don’t fit into that, for whatever reason – not because they’re necessarily a bad song or they don’t hold up like the other ones did, just in that context they didn’t work as well. So there’s songs that didn’t make it onto this album that possibly will make it onto the next one.

Well, speaking of the next one, do you have plans to record any time soon?
No. Not any time soon. I kind of like a good sort of year or two to let the dust settle from this album and then I’ll probably start. I’ve got a couple of new songs happening now, so I’m hoping that I’ll have a decent collection early next year, but whether I go into the studio with it straightaway, I don’t know yet.

And on a completely different note, I saw on your website in your bio that you’ve milked cows and you’ve been a machinist and a nurse, so I’ve got to ask you about the milking of cows, because I think maybe the discipline of getting up early to milk cows is good for someone to show up every day and write songs.
[Laughs] Yeah, well, I think when I was young I always imagined that I would be a farmer, for some reason. I quite idolised the farming life, having not grown up as a farmer’s daughter or anything. I think I have this romantic view of farming [laughs] and so the little stint – it was a very little stint that I did milking – really brought me back down to earth [laughs]. Yes.

And also you’ve been a nurse and you do a fair bit of training and see a fair few things when you’re a nurse. Do you do any of that anymore?
I have off and on ever since I did my nursing. I don’t particularly like to work in hospitals and stuff, but I like doing home-care type stuff. So at different stages I have done that and I can see that I probably will do that again at some point.

You said you have two daughters. I was wondering if you’d advise either of them to become musicians, if they were called in that direction.
[Laughs] No. Look, I guess I would just hope that whatever they do, they do it wholeheartedly and with passion, and so if it is music, then of course I would say go for it, if that’s really where your heart lies and where your passion lies, go for it. But [laughs] be prepared [laughs].

Do you kind of feel like you don’t have a choice really in that this is kind of what you’ve been called to do, to be a musician, to be a songwriter?
Yes. I do now. I think all the way through I have struggled with that on some level, because it’s financially a very difficult path to take, and so I’ve often thought to myself, oh, should I go back to university – or should I go, not back to university [laughs], should I go to university and do something sensible with my life? But I think now, all these years later, I have just come to terms with the fact that I am just compelled to do this and I just take little casual jobs to kind of pay my way while I work on this less lucrative career.

It is a shame that it is such a struggle in the arts but I do know and I can see it on the faces of everyone at Tamworth and every time I go to a gig that music means so much to people, and so even though it can’t be measured in terms of remuneration all the time, it’s I think what people like you, what you do is really so valuable for other people – for the community. So if that’s any consolation [laughs].
Well, it is. It is. And I think I agree that not everyone can play music just like not everyone can crunch numbers or create fabulous web designs or things like that. So I can see that at some point I had to make a decision that money was not going to drive me and I’ve kind of come to terms with that now [laughs].

Well, as I said, country music in particular, it’s a long career.
[Laughs] That’s right. And there’s always – there’s always sort of little things that happen along the way that really kind of validate what you do as an artist. There’s always some little golden nuggets in there.

Visit Sara Tindley's website at and visit her music at Vitamin Records.

Interview: Sara Tindley (part II)

This is the second of a three-part interview with Sara Tindley, whose most recent album is Time (Vitamin Records). The first part of the interview is here.

Sara has recently returned from playing in Nashville and Memphis, so we talked about that, and about whether or not she is really an 'ageing housewife'.

Did you go further afield than Nashville or was that your main destination?
No. I started in Memphis and played at the International Folk Alliance Conference. That was sort of a five-day extravaganza [laughs] of lots of shows and, yeah, a very hectic kind of schedule. And then [I] drove to Nashville and did the dig with Audrey [Auld] at the Bluebird and another gig at a venue called the Twelfth Importer and then went to Alabama and did a gig in Birmingham in Alabama.

And how does one organise a gig in Alabama?
[Laughs] Well, basically it’s a matter of sort of seeing where people are playing that are, I guess, working in a similar independent way and then just contacting those venues and hoping they say yes.

And obviously they did.

I’m really fascinated at the idea of a folk alliance. So is that an organisation in the United States?
It is, and they have this conference every year. This is the first time that I’ve been and basically it’s all run within – this year it was in the Marriot Hotel in Memphis. And so basically there’s two floors of a hotel rooms that are turned into mini venues for five days and there are probably, I don’t know, upwards of 1000 musicians playing and doing their thing. And there’s festival bookers and radio DJs and it’s kind of where the industry, I suppose, meets the artist or something.

So it’s not for the public to come and see you play?
No. No. Not so much. No. It’s more a kind of in-house sort of thing.

Did you feel that you made some good connections and that it was worthwhile going?
Yeah. A lot of people were saying Australians are really bad at selling themselves. When you go there do not – in a sort of humorous way - belittle what you do because the Americans do not get it [laughs]. That is not part of their nature. They’re very good at sort of speaking highly of themselves and believing in what they do and projecting that out, whereas I think, as Australians, we’re much more self-deprecating than that [laughs]. So that was good advice because I’m the world's worst networker so [laughs] it was quite challenging.

Well, from what I heard from Audrey, you should just stick with her because she says she’s quite a forthright person and she probably bowls up to people and says 'Hello' [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah, she’s incredible in her sort of capacity to just keep pushing it out there, just to keep going hard and keep those gigs coming in, and I’m pretty sure she does it basically single-handedly and it’s incredible – an incredibly gruelling kind of career path to do it that way.

I thinkyou need a lot of time because for all the things that come off you’d be spending a lot more time on things that don’t come off.
Yes. That is exactly what I think.

In terms of the self-deprecating thing, I noticed in something I was reading on the Vitamin Records website, you refer to yourself as an 'ageing housewife and I would never have ever thought of you like that until you put the phrase out there. I was thinking, 'What does she mean, "ageing housewife", like she’s just – she’s a musician' [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s funny that that’s kind of what has been picked up on it and I probably just said it quite lightly in passing, but at times in the lead-up to this album, I did really feel like that and did feel sort of slightly irrelevant in this youth-focused [laughs] caper of the music industry and I – yeah, I just was feeling kind of irrelevant.

Except when I was at Tamworth this year I saw Harmony James play and I was looking at her band and I thought there was a 20 year old, there was a 38 year old, a 50 year old, probably a 55 year old in the band, and I thought country is the one genre where age doesn’t matter and you can keep having a career until you drop dead, basically, like Slim Dusty. But also it’s a genre where women are really at the forefront and no one bats an eyelid, nothing is made of it, like, 'Oooh, there are so many women putting out albums or leading bands or whatever'. I think the genre is what people are attracted to and then beyond that whoever is there is great and they want to listen to them. So therefore, being an ageing housewife in country music is completely irrelevant.
[Laughs] Great. I’ll take that with me [laughs].

I also think it’s a story-telling genre and people want to hear your stories when you’re a songwriter.
Yes. Well, that’s true and when I was younger I don’t think I was very ... I feel like I’m kind of coming into it. I’m a late bloomer in a sense and I feel like I’m coming into it with much more or less to talk about and much more to say because I have lived a life and am living a life kind of thing, rather than, I don’t know, sort of clutching at straws, trying to find a story that is not resonating with me.

Yeah. And it’s, again, the audiences I find in country, they’re looking for that, it’s like they want to hear stories that can tell them something about their own lives and that they can relate to, and also just other people’s lives they find interesting. Whereas, in pop and rock it’s repetition of that theme of 'That girl doesn’t like me, I think I’m going to walk on a train track or something'. [Laughs] I don’t know.
[Laughs] Yes, all done with a sort of sexy bum wiggle or something [laughs].

In the last part of the interview, to be published very soon, Sara talks about fitting in creativity in everyday life.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Interview: Sara Tindley (part I)

On her most recent album, Time, Sara Tindley teamed up with The Yearlings to produce a wonderful collection of songs that appeal to folk and country audiences alike. I have to admit that it took a while for the album to grow on me, but now that it has I have it on regular rotation. This is my way of explaining why this interview is taking place several months after the album was released!

Before the interview formally commence I asked Sara if her name is pronounced 'Sarah' or 'Sah-ra', as it seems to be different for different people - in case you're curious, it's 'Sah-ra'.

I bought your album last year and I saw you play at the Orphanage Sessions in Parramatta and it was such a lovely gig. It was quite different seeing those songs live to hearing them on the album. To be honest, it took me a while to really love the album and I think it was because The Yearlings were playing on it and it didn’t seem like it was entirely you, and when I saw you play live I was like okay, I get it now.
Well, that’s really interesting because it has been a kind of slow grower, if you like. It seems to have taken people ... people are not instantly engaging with it.

But now that I’ve been listening to it for a while I just love it. There are so many songs on it that really stick in my brain and I find myself hearing them at odd times in my head. It’s always fascinating the way songs can work like that.
Yes. Yes.

I want to ask a little bit about the recording process, because this album was quite different from the album before, in terms of the backing music. There’s definitely a continuity of songwriting and, obviously, of your voice, but I was wondering what it was like to have a set of songs and go into the studio with The Yearlings and sort of have them say, 'Well, here’s how we are going to play with you'.
When I had decided that I wanted to work with The Yearlings, in part it was because of the way that they play and the kind of spare – is that the word? - spare and styling, what they do, and so I went there with complete trust in their ability to treat the songs both with respect, I guess, and beautifully and I feel that they did that well and – what am I saying? [laughs]

Well, they did, The arrangements are lovely.
Yeah. And it was basically just – it was different to Lucky the Sun in that it was by and large played live and everything was either done in the first or second take, and that was something that I had really wanted with this album, which was also in part why I chose The Yearlings to do it, with their studio, because they had those limitations, I guess. Because you can put a lot of bells and whistles on songs and there’s a million ways to treat a song, and I guess I just wanted things taken back to their essential nature or something.

And is the idea of recording them live that it is more immediate and it’s also capturing that moment in time, rather than, well, this is what the producer thinks the song should sound like?
Yes. And I think sometimes, too, I’ve never really been in the position where I’ve laboured over songs and done fifty million takes to try and get that perfect take, and I think I would probably drive myself insane if I did [laughs]. I like the idea of just going in there, doing the best work that you can do on that day and calling it done.

The instruments on this one were quite different, because the last one had the more traditional country instruments on it - I think there was a bit of banjo - and so for you, as someone who has slotted into country music but I know you fit in broader categories than that, was it unusual to hear your songs with those different instruments or different instrumentation?
No. I don’t think it was. I don’t think I found it unusual. I did at times feel exposed, because I played the guitar on pretty much all the tracks to this album and I have never been a particularly confident guitar player, and so I did worry that I was going to be there as a kind of a weaker link in the chain, but it didn’t feel like that once I was there. My fears were calmed and put aside, which was great.

Certainly having seen you play live, you seemed pretty comfortable on the guitar, so it seems like you’re okay!
That’s good to hear.

You now live in northern New South Wales but you’re from Victoria, so how did you end up in – I think you’re near Byron Bay or in Byron Bay?
Yeah. Yeah. Though I did spend quite a few years in Byron. I’m further south now, only by about 40, 45 minutes. But, look, I really think by and large it was a climatic thing. The cold in Victoria just became wearing on me and I came up here in search of a more ideal climate.

And you found it?
Hmm. But it does rain a lot [laughts].

Every time I’ve been in Byron Bay it has rained, so I’m convinced that it does rain there a lot!
Yeah. I believe it.

So you’re not thinking of going even further north to Queensland? You’ve stopped in Byron Shire?
Yes [laughs]. I did. I was happy, the countryside here is stunningly beautiful and the beaches are gorgeous and the community that I’ve found myself in has really nurtured my music and my career so far.

Do you get to play locally - are there venues where if you felt like picking up your guitar and playing a couple of sets you could go?
Yes. I haven’t been doing that as much as I used to. I think I’ve felt that I was maybe getting a bit ove exposed up here or something – I was feeling a bit comfortable and so I’ve spent the last couple of years really trying to push what I do further afield.

In terms of touring round the country?

I would imagine, though, that when you have a family [Sara has two children] it’s often hard to coordinate and it’s one of those limitations that often I think when people say, 'Oh, just follow your dreams and be creative', then it’s like, 'Well, I’ve got a house to run'. So do you sort of fit things in around school holidays if you can?
Yes and no. Now that both my girls are at school I feel like it’s easier to juggle now rather than when my littlest was still at home. I don’t really just do school holidays but I try and keep things in kind of three-night runs, so that I will often head off on a Thursday and be back on the Monday or something.

And is that heading to Sydney, heading to Brisbane, or is it getting on planes and try to get further afield?
It’s all of that. I get on the plane, I get in the car. I’ve actually just come back from a trip over to the States which was really exciting. I’m just doing whatever I can. It’s like being a bit of a niche artist in a little country – you can’t play endlessly I guess.

No. And I was talking to Audrey Auld last week. I said something about how there weren’t many venues really in Australia for country artists or even anyone who is country-esque, even though the viewer numbers on CMC in cities are apparently high, and she said something like, 'Look, Australia doesn’t get it' or 'I think the music press don’t get it'.
[Laughs] Yeah. I don’t know whether they don’t get it but it is difficult. And I actually played – Audrey invited myself and The Yearlings to do a gig with her at the Bluebird CafĂ© in Nashville, so that was a real treat.

In the next instalment of this interview Sara talks about the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis - something I'd never heard of before. Stay tuned ...