Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview: Lee Kernaghan

It's doubtful that there's a country music fan alive in this country who doesn't know who Lee Kernaghan is. So it was my great pleasure to interview this living legend - and former Australian of the Year - ahead of his new tour, which kicks off on 16 March and is in support of his album Beautiful Noise

The interview looked like it wasn't going to happen at one point when Lee's phone line was down due to road works near his home. But he hastily rescheduled and it was able to happen - which means I got to find out first hand just how his passion for music - and life - and his dedication to his work has taken him to the heights of success.

**For tour dates, please visit Lee's website:**

After so many shows and tours, are you just as keen to get on the road now, as you ever were?
Absolutely. It’s great to be able to go out – [there have been] 31 number ones over the last 20 years of recording.  So being able to play songs that people know and love, it’s not hard work. It’s a lot of fun.  And to make it even better, we’ve got this new album, Beautiful Noise, and new songs like ‘Ute Me’ and ‘It’s Only Country’ and ‘Flying with the King’, new material to play and that always keeps it new and exciting as well.

You wouldn’t be able to fit 31 number one songs in an evening set though would you?

So I rely on Facebook before I head out on tour. [I ask] What are the songs that you really want to hear?  And my band, the Wolfe Brothers, have learnt everything; they can play any song I’ve ever recorded.  So we can work off the cuff as well.

So are the Wolfe Brothers actually going to be playing as your band as well as your support?
Yeah, they are the support and then we play together.  I saw them on Australia’s Got Talent; they blew me away with their awesome talent and songs.  We ended up catching up in Sydney.  The first time I met them was at a recording studio in Sydney and we just got together and jammed and played songs.  Everything just felt so great that we thought let’s hit the road together as a team in 2013.

And given that you have a lot of songs that people will know and you’re relying on Facebook to help you choose a set list, it must then be quite hard to decide which songs off the new album get put in the set.
That’s right.  And you actually have to go out on the road and tour it to find out what’s resonating; you know, what people really want to hear.  So we’ll be trying a whole lot of different things and some will work and some will fail.  You know, we’ll find out first hand pretty soon what the reaction is to this record. 

You’re starting the tour at the Dowerin Rodeo in WA.  So I was wondering what it’s like playing at an event like that as compared to, say, Penrith Panthers in Sydney?
Probably more alcohol.  [Laughs]. More cowboys, more Driza-bones, but I love the big outdoor shows so they’re always great.  It’s also good to get into that kind of intimate concert setting as well. I don’t do the same show everywhere I go.  In a more of a concert – say, Twin Towns – it’s much more of a concert setting.  So as opposed to the Eatons Hill Hotel, which is the biggest pub in the Southern Hemisphere, and that would be just a party town tour that one – a party town show.

You’ve done so many shows now that I’m pretty confident that you’re aware of all of the technicalities of it, so from a technical standpoint it must be challenging for those big outdoor shows for you to make sure your sounds right, that it’s getting out to the people who are right at the back of the paddock.
Yeah, well, you’ve got to have pretty good production specs so that you can guarantee people are going to get good sound.  And the show is never just about me, it’s about the people that you have around you.  You know, that great band, the crew, the sound, the lighting, there’s so many people involved in it; there’s about 35 people on the road and they all work really hard to sort of bring it together on the night and make sure people get something that sounds great and will be a memorable experience.

And this would be quite a contrast to how you first toured, which was with a horse float full of your gear, so I was wondering, first of all, if you still have the horse float and second, because I think you were touring like that on your own for quite a while, what kept you going during those years?
The need to make the next payment on my car, [laughs].

[Laughs]  That’s a good motive.
Yeah.  Just trying to survive and by about 1991, I’d pretty well given up on music.

I’d been doing it for 15 years and I was broke.  I was dejected and I was, yeah, a broken unit.  The only thing that saved me was a song called ‘Boys from the Bush’ and an album called Outback Club, which I started recording in 1991, and that really was the rebirth of me as a recording artist.

It would be tempting to say, oh well, the one song and that’s where the success came from, but those years on the road and connecting with people and smaller gigs, I tend to think that sort of work does pay off.  Even though you’re not aware of your audience building, it reaches a tipping point ,if you will, so if you put out that song, put out that album, the people are out there; it’s just that suddenly they all make themselves known.
Yeah, yeah.  Well, winning three Golden Guitars on the Outback Club and an Aria helped kick it along out there in Australia.  And Three Chain Road triple platinum, Aria, and things were just exploding.  I spent 10 years just playing nearly every night; we just toured so hard to the point that I reckon by the time I finished touring the 1959 album, I was a burnt-out unit.  I remember playing Gatton and somebody wrote in and said, “Lee Kernaghan, it looks like he’s on drugs or he’s drunk.”  But I was just jet lagged.

I bet.
Coming back from America, I was just completely burnt out from the road and I think it was around that time that I thought I’ve got to be a bit smarter how I tour or I’m not going to make it. That was the end of the ‘90s. And I took a bit of time off – I think I took a year off at the beginning of the next decade and I made Electric Radio.  But all the way along, the priority for me has been to make the best record I possibly could and if it took time, I prefer to take time – I blew so many deadlines but you’ve got to be able to stand by the work.  You can’t disown your songs once you’ve released them; they’re yours; they’re part of the family, [laughs].

And you also can’t create on demand.  It’s a real challenge for artists like you, and even artists who aren’t as successful or you or as well known as you, once you start touring, you’ve got an album out and you’ve got to write new songs; you’ve got to keep touring and they’re different parts of your brain in a way that you have to use and you can’t exactly sit down and just summon up songs when you need them.
Now, how do you know all this?  What’s your involvement in the music business because you know too much about it?You nailed it, because you have to transform into – well, I find you have to transform into just being a songwriter sometimes and you just live, eat and breathe songs.  And you live it; you breathe it; you dream it.  You go to bed at night with a song in your head and it’s not uncommon the next morning, you know, 7 a.m. and that song’s still floating around.  So you go from that phase into the let’s make a great record phase where you spend weeks, months in the studio and then you go into the phase of getting your picture taken and doing all the publicity and all the interviews.  And then you move into another phase of actually hitting the road.  That’s where it all comes together.  You know, the touring and the concerts.  That’s what makes it all worthwhile I reckon.

I think also for someone who’s had your success, I wouldn’t mind betting that you’re a bit of a perfectionist and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all.  It means that you want things just right for your audience, which means taking that time, but also possibly means that you could drive yourself a little bit crazy trying to get it that way. I think it’s a really delicate balance and to do it for so many years and so consistently is a huge achievement.
Yeah.  You’re right.  You’re very intuitive; I’ve driven myself crazy and a whole lot of other people [laughs].  Yeah.

As your audience has grown, is there anything you do miss about those early years when you were playing pubs to a smaller audience in a more intimate room?
No.  [Laughs].

[Laughs]  You like a big stage?
Yeah. I’ve loaded in and loaded out of hundreds of venues and been the singer, the sound man, the roadie, the booking agent and everything.  I’m much happier doing what I do now.

Well, you kept at it for a very long time when other people would have given up, but you obviously believed it was your calling.
I think it was probably in my blood, in the DNA to do it, but it’s still been a blessing to be able to have the opportunity to do it, you know.  I never take a moment of it for granted.

I think audiences pick up on that too.  I think country music audiences, they’re really aware of what performers and singer-songwriters are like and I think if they smelled a phony, you wouldn’t get to be around for very long.
Yep. I really respect my audience.  I don’t like using the word “fan” because when I get out on stage, it’s more like I’m playing to just mates.

Now, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about Beautiful Noise because you will be playing songs off the album.  I read that before releasing an album, you road test songs in a Land Cruiser, so I was wondering if that means you take them for a drive and see if they’re right for singing along to on the road.
[Laughs]  It’s something about the sound system in the Land Cruiser that if it sounds good in there, it’s fully certified and I know it’s going to sound great wherever it’s played. There’s nothing like getting out on the road and listening to an album and I often do that when I’m figuring the song order. So it’s got that natural flow.  Look, I reckon, my records have been made for the road – for travelling.  And I hope when I make each one that someone somewhere will slip the CD in and do a couple a hundred Ks and enjoy the ride without really noticing that they’ve driven so far.

You mentioned the audience and thinking of them as friends more than fans, and so I was wondering when you were writing songs for a new album, particularly now that you have a lot of those friends, are you conscious of writing to that audience or to their expectations?
Well, Kelly Dixon, who wrote ‘Leave Him in the Long Yard’ for Slim Dusty, he said, “Son, when you do your songwriting, if you tell the truth and you keep it real, you won’t go too far wrong.”  And that’s kind of always been my true north as far as how we’d go about writing a song.  Much of its practical, like ‘Flying with the King’; you know, I got on that Ansett flight out of Sydney to Perth.  I sat next to the king of country music and we flew across Australia together.  You know, those memories they stay with you for life.  If you can just write about it as simply as you can, I think it can resonate.  Those sorts of stories can resonate.

For me, the song that really resonated on Beautiful Noise was ‘Keeping On’ and I thought that was a really lovely tribute to the country, given that you would have travelled over so many parts of it. In terms to bring it back to the tour, instead of asking you which places you like the most to play in, I was going to ask if any journeys have been difficult?
Difficult journeys?

In touring.  Either physically difficult, or you just thought, oh, I can’t go to this place again?
Yeah.  I remember the first time I played Toowoomba with Troy Cassar Daley.  I was touring with Troy and the Blue Heeler band back in the early ’90s and we played a pub in Toowoomba and we got about 15 people for the gig.  That was a bit of a disaster and the rooms in the hotel had broken windows [laughs], and you lay on the bed and it sort of collapses underneath you.  We headed out west on that tour and the truck broke down [laughs], we had to make do with some borrowed guitars, amplifiers and some locals in town, but I think some of those harder times out on the road, the memories become a lot richer as time goes by.

And you and Troy should probably never tour together again.
Well, we didn’t after that.  [Laughs]  We just did the one tour.

Well, I wouldn’t mind betting those 15 people who were in that pub are still telling the story of how they were there that night Lee Kernaghan and Troy Cassar Daley played to 15 people.
Well, the thing is, they probably didn’t know who we were anyway when we were there.  So they’ve probably forgotten. 

I think they were a very privileged audience.  And I also really liked the song ‘Peace Love and Country’ and I was wondering if what country music has brought you is the other two words in that song, or the other two aspects in that song, peace and love?
It’s a little bit like a hymn, that song, for me.  I just love it so much and it reminds me of a little place; it’s a little shack up on the New South Wales-Queensland border up in the mountains.  It just takes me back to that place where I’ve written a lot of songs over the years and there is a sense of peace and freedom when you’re up there in the bush.  It’s not just about the landscape, it’s about it all makes sense when you’re with the right person.  I was lucky enough to marry my soul mate.  And Robbie’s been just the best wife, girlfriend, and mother that a bloke could ask for.  That song I had her very much in mind when I was writing that one and I had the place up there in the hills.  She was very much front and centre when it was being written.

I think that’s a very good note to end on, a lovely note to end on. 

Lee Kernaghan's tour runs from 16 March throughout most of the year across most states and territories. Visit for the full schedule.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Interview: Paul Greene

Paul Greene has been 'around the traps', as the saying goes, for several years - releasing albums (his latest is Behind the Stars), touring all over the country, consistently pleasing fans of all types. Paul isn't strictly a country music artist, but as he's played at Tamworth a few times, I thought he qualified for inclusion on this blog, especially as he's embarked on a new tour that sees him travelling through Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Just before the start of this tour - which sees Paul playing with his band, the Other Colours - Paul's drummer, Matt Sykes, died in a diving accident at the age of 27.  Paul wanted to talk about Matt, so that forms part of this interview.

I’m pretty sure you’ve played at Tamworth quite a bit in the past.
Yeah, I have done Tamworth a few times.

I was there last year and I thought I didn’t see your name on the program and now I know why, because you took a break.
]Well, I did it last year but I’m not a big fan of the festival, I have to say.  I’m probably going to get in big trouble for saying it because it’s politically incorrect.  The festival itself is great, the musos are great, but all the people in the town always seem really annoyed because there’s so many people there spending money and, like, buying beer and things and it just – I don’t know, it’s a funny way to do things. But, this year, I had Australia Day off and I went and swam in a river and went to a barbecue, and I haven’t done that for about 15 years, so it was really nice.

And you’re about to embark on a tour but the circumstances have changed so I’ll let you talk about Matt Sykes but obviously this is, on one level, a very straight-up thing of your band dramatically changing quickly as you’re about to go on a tour but, on another level, it’s you losing someone that you know really well, young.  So how do you manage this now as you go into your tour?
Well, it’s hard.  It’s a really hard thing to find a positive in when someone that you’re that close to and someone that is amazing as well, but, reflecting on his life over the last couple of weeks has been a pretty amazing process in itself.  You condense someone down and you think - yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot just about how he was and learnt a lot.  I guess I’ve learnt a lot, you know, in the process of just trying to figure that out. The gigs are going to be – well, I didn’t know how to quite go about it, and we’re going to miss him a lot, obviously, but I was trying to figure out a way to make work.  And my drummer that played on my last record, Ellie, Ellie is coming on tour for a couple of shows and I’ve also got – it was actually at his funeral, I met one of his students, a guy who’s only 19.  And he plays just like him.  And I think I’m going ask [Matt’s] parents if I can take his drum kit on tour with us, so I’ll have one of his students playing his kit and he plays just like Matt.  He looks like he’s about 14.  He’s 19 but he looks really young.  So I want to sort of celebrate it and want to just let people know what an amazing bloke he was and tell his story, I guess. He was really someone that lived for what he loved doing and was a great leader in his community and brought a lot of people together.  Just reflecting on those sort of things, I think, is going to be a good way to remember him.  And, personally, yeah, I know that there’s going to be times when it’s going to be a bit hard, as much just not having him on the bus or just not – you know?  Because the gig is, like, three hours of the day or four hours of the day but you’ve then got the other twenty hours.  And our being together, sleeping – not sleeping together – you know what I mean, like on the bus.  [Laughs] Sleeping in close proximity’s probably a better way to put it.  And his presence is going to be there, which kind of makes you miss him a bit more, but I’m just trying to take on the lessons I learnt from him and to supply them to my every day.  So I guess I’ll be doing that with the shows as well and just making sure that each one counts, because you just never know when it’s going to be your last.

For you, as well, because it’s a small band and obviously you didn’t just choose Matt or Neil Beaver, the other musician, randomly, so I would think, on many levels which you may not know until you get out on the road, it’s challenging.
Yeah.  I have worked with Neil as a duo a lot but the element of having a new one, having someone come on board is … well, the thing is the music had sort of grown as his input kept building, and he got to know the songs more and he was growing. The way that we played the songs had changed quite a bit through his [playing] – he was very influenced by African drumming and a lot of his African drumming was kind of coming into the music and just adding another colour to it.  But I guess it’ll just keep evolving and become something new, that’s how each person brings their own inflection and their own thing.  And that’s what’s great about playing with other musicians.  So it’ll be interesting to see what it turns into.  You never really know, when you start playing with someone, what effect they’re going to have on the music and how it’s going to permeate their playing or permeate through the music, but it’s all an interesting process and you kind of figure out pretty quickly if it doesn’t work.  And it’s a really great thing when you find someone where it does work perfectly.  But someone that’s just prepared to get in the bus and travel up and down the east coast and do gigs for nothing [laughs] and just leave their homes and girlfriends and things.  And it’s a lot to ask someone to be in your band and be there for you and go and eat two-minute noodles on the bus for weeks on end.

While you’re talking, it’s making me think, yeah, the fact that musicians, particularly those of you who have been playing for a long time, are essentially doing something in service of something greater than yourselves. Even though there can be ego involved and everything like that, there’s something bigger than you that obviously keeps you in it and keeps you going.
Yeah, definitely.  Well, there’s the music itself.  For me, it’s kind of a gift, I guess, and I just live it all the time and I love what music has done for me and the journey that it’s taken me on.  But there’s an element to it as well, that it’s important to keep Australian music going.  You know, it’s part of our culture, there’s these stories to tell and if it was just about me and my ego, it just wouldn’t – there’s not enough in that for me.  It’s definitely not about the money.  There’s a bit more and, I guess, it’s with the way I write, it’s quite personal or it comes from direct experience but that’s the whole point of it being the Paul Greene project, you know? I play in other bands where it’s not my heart and soul on the line.  But I just make music for the music’s sake, and with the Paul Greene project, it’s being myself and being open.  And the people I meet on the way and the people that kind of get the music, they always seem like really nice people, you know?  It might sound a bit like hippy bullshit but it’s true. It’s brought some amazing people into my life. They’re all at different levels, a lot of different reasons for doing it other than ego and rent.

Given that you did have a bit of a break and you released a new album last year and you’re going out on the tour, is there a sense that this is almost like a new beginning, this phase you’re going into now?
Definitely, yeah, just the way my life has been turned upside down. A lot of it around music. I’ve separated from my wife and that’s been a massive change.  I’ve still got two young daughters – that’s been a massive change, just being a part-time dad week on, week off.  But that’s definitely going to represent itself musically.  But, at the same time, it’s like I’m always looking for the positive in things – I just guess I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the last while, been through a lot of shit but I guess you either fight it or you kind of accept it and learn from it and grow.  That’s kind of what it’s about.

Yes.  And it is if you plan to be doing it for a while, because if you stay stagnant, then your audience tends to tail off and if you’re still doing it after all this time, you still have an audience.
Yeah. I’ve got people that have been coming to gigs ever since the start, and [they’ve] really been a part of the journey.  But I was solo for a very long time and having the Other Colours, it definitely changed. Also because I do a lot of producing and I’ve worked with other bands, and even that’s sort of becoming a great part of the proper development of the project as well.  It keeps changing and little offshoots appear.  A lot of things that I see, that I get exposed to through mainstream media, it’s very much passion based.  But I guess there is a lot of musicians in Australia that maybe don’t get the recognition in the mainstream but there’s people out there that love what they do and support and get out and go and see the gigs and buy the albums, and that still exists, you know?  And it’s almost like having a little community as you travel round, people that have seen you.  And most people that know me have seen me play and then come back to a gig and brought friends with them because they liked it the first time.  That’s awesome. That’s just a phenomenon in itself.  It’s just a nice reward for the effort I’ve put into doing it.

What I tend to find about country music and related genres, in Australia we’ve developed a really good storytelling culture around song and it’s related to that country music scene and any other genres that can be tacked on to it. And I think that’s what you’re describing is you’re telling stories over the course of time and people are coming back to see your stories and they’re buying your albums with the stories on.  So I guess what interests me, therefore, about you as a songwriter is how you feel about that storytelling role.
Well, it’s funny how the journey and the travelling around Australia in my bus and the people I meet and the places I go – I go pretty off the beaten track – it’s like the muse for the music.  It becomes where I find the inspiration.  But I try not to be too literal in the way that I write about it – you know, ‘This is a song about going for a swim at the beach and it’s called “Going for a Swim at the Beach”, and the first line is, “I’m going for a swim at the beach”.’  I try to put in a bit more metaphor [to describe] the experience of driving 1000 kilometres without seeing a town, the way that affects your mind.  You know, that comes out of my soul, really.  It’s that experience more than the actual kind of events. I figured out pretty early on that a lot of the best songwriters were in country, it’s where the art of songwriting is the thing that is respected, and that’s what’s important.  That’s what’s really important about country music.  And I think people often mistake country music as a style of production, where you have to sing in a certain voice and have a lap steel guitar on this bit here and a fiddle on that bit there.  And I’ve always tried to be non-derivative.  So not take too much of anything but borrow parts from things.  And so I know it’s a really amazing response from country audiences.  I was touring with Adam Brand a few years ago and the audiences got it because it was storytelling and the lyrics aren’t just there to be catchy, they’re not just there because I think that, you know, Triple J are going play it.  The lyrics are there because I’m telling a story about a situation or a place or an experience.  And that really translates well to country, which is why I’ve kind of made so many friends there.  And, yes, I do feel very at home with country even though, if you listen to it, I guess it doesn’t have that country production thing about it.

And that’s a really good way to put it.  I’ve actually not heard anyone put it in those terms before, but that’s what it is.  You’re right, it’s people thinking it’s production not style and soul or story.
Yeah.  An experience.  Like, if the song is about experiences rather than songs about how great you are – yeah, there’s a style to it. I’ve listened to a lot of country, actually.  Come to think of it, my iPod’s got a lot of country.  I’d love to make a country record one day.  I think I will do it like a traditional country record.

I think if you’re touring with Adam Brand and the audiences are responding to you, you already have made a country record.
Yeah, that’s true.  Thank you.  Thank you for reminding me of that.

I’m looking at your tour schedule and thinking there are a lot of dates here that are really back-to-back-to-back.  Like, you’ve got four nights in a row often at different places.  Do you like doing that because you get a bit of momentum, or is that just the way you have to schedule it?
Well, it’s a big country to get around and I used to just tour non-stop but I could just mosey my way from town to town.  But these days I try to make it a bit more concise and try to rest a bit more because the way I was touring was killing me. I don’t have the luxury of having a whole week to just hang around somewhere and wait for the next weekend and do some more shows.  I’ve got to keep it pretty concise and pretty tight, and then I like to come home and do a bit of fishing and do a bit of gardening and try to – well, I’m doing a lot of writing and recording and things at the moment as well.  So I try not to spend as much time on the road but, still, I like to get out there.  I think once a year, I’ll probably do a trip where I just go bush for months on end and I just go and do little towns and play in pubs and that sort of thing.  But the venues are kind of few and far between. Even on the east coast – the west coast even more so –there’s only so many places to play and I’m partial to the odd drunken pub gig, you know?  But I also like to play in nice places that have good sound and where I know that my audience is going to come and have a good experience and not have to deal with topless barmaids and stuff like that.

The country audience, in particular, is used to going to RSLs, they kind of like that nice, more sedate environment.  So I guess the trick for you guys is obviously finding places where you want to play but also where your audience expects to come.
Yeah, that’s true.  I’m quite mindful of that, I like to ensure the audience is going to have a good experience with it.  I’m just trying to make it somewhere accessible, too.  And there’s a lot of places to play but I don’t have the luxury of having as many supporters and some of the mainstream country guys, though … Hopefully people find out about [the gigs] and leave their iPhones at home and come out and support live music and hopefully, they have a great night and want to come back again.

In Victoria, at one of your gigs, you’re being supported by Jed Rowe, who I’m a fan of – he’s great.
I’ve got some fantastic supports on this tour.  I just went and saw Hussy Hicks [one of the support acts], who were doing a lot of the north coast and they’re playing in Sydney and they are one of the best bands I’ve seen in so long.  And the other bands, I’ve had a look on YouTube and seen some of the other stuff and I’m really looking forward to seeing some of these bands. The quality of the support acts that we’ve got is phenomenal.  It’s going to keep me on my toes.

You mentioned earlier that you’re doing some producing and I know you also songwrite with and for other people.  So, in terms of organising your time between touring, writing for yourself, recording, producing, are you one of those people who likes to structure your time or do you tend to go in a flow?
No, I’ve kind of planned roughly what I’m going to be doing for the next 18 months. I think things pop up randomly and I have times where I’m going to work on my new record.  At the moment, I’ve just started – well, I’ve got Karl Broadie here, he’s actually in the room just next door.  I’ve started working on an album with him, so that’s a project I’m going to really sink my teeth into when I get back from tour this time and I’m really looking forward to that because I’m a huge fan of his songwriting and of his music.  And, you know, we’ve been good mates for a long time so I’m really excited to be working on that project.  Yeah, and things come up and I’ve got a rough plan but it tends to change [laughs].

Karl’s a wonderful performer and a great songwriter.  So I’m really interested in the idea of you two working together.
We’ve just tracked the first song this morning.  We were just about to track our second one when you called, just doing guides at the moment.  It’s great, you know?  He co-wrote a song of mine last week as well and we’ve always worked well together as writers.  So he’s promised me to work on this record, too.  It’s always been easy for us, you know?  We’re just both – we have a lot of respect for the songs themselves and so we’re hoping that, with that combined, we’re going to do something that we both really enjoy and feel is going to be doing something good and worthwhile and, yeah, enjoyable.

Your first gig on this tour is on Thursday so you’re obviously trying to get a quite a bit done before you head off on the road?
Yeah, you know, never a dull moment [laughs].  I’ve still got to get the car serviced.  I haven’t done that yet.

Are you in northern New South Wales?
No, I’m down the south coast, I’m at Nowra.

Ah, I thought you were in northern New South Wales and I looked at your tour schedule and thought, ‘How is he going to get from northern New South Wales to the ACT for Thursday?’
No, the ACT’s only two and a half hours from – three hours, maybe, from where I am.  Just up over the mountain really.  So I’m about three hours south of Sydney and about three hours east of Canberra.

Well, I think that’s well situated to be just far enough away to have a bit of peace and quiet but close enough to get where you need to go.
That’s exactly right.  And you can still get a decent coffee.

Paul Greene & The Other Colours play:
Friday 15 February - The Greenwell Point Hotel, Greenwell Point NSW
Saturday 16 February - The Heritage, Bulli NSW
Sunday 17 February - Lizottes, Newcastle NSW
Thursday 21 February - The Camelot Lounge, Marrickville NSW
Friday 22 February - Kelt's Bar, Leonay NSW
Saturday 23 February - The Beachcomber, Toukley NSW
Sunday 24 February - The Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW
Thursday 28 February - The Beach Hotel, Byron Bay NSW
Friday 1 March - The Queen Street Mall, Brisbane Qld
Saturday 2 March - The Royal Mail Hotel, Goodna Qld (lunchtime)
                                  - Joe's Waterhole, Eumundi Qld
Sunday 3 March - The Hoey Moey Cafe, Coffs Harbour NSW

For full details, please visit

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gig review: The McClymonts, Acoustic Harmony Tour

North Sydney Leagues Club, NSW
9 February 2013

The McClymonts' new tour, Acoustic Harmony, may have been borne out of necessity - it seems to be Brooke McClymont's version of maternity leave (she gave birth to daughter Tiggy at the end of November 2012) - but, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of this tour, the McClymonts have found a way to not only please long-time fans (and I am one) but also present the perfect introduction to their music for those who are unwilling to embrace a loud, full-band show.

Promptly at 8 p.m. the three sisters walk onto the stage and take their seats. Those who haven't arrived on time - no doubt thinking there would be a support act - will miss out on what becomes the first of two sets. 

The McClymonts' a cappella start - a cover of Neil Young's 'After the Gold Rush' - is enough to raise the hairs on the back of anyone's neck; those amazing harmonies come from a mysterious place (as all such voices do) and reach out into the room, grabbing the attention of every person there. 

There will be three more covers as the night goes on, each with a purpose for being there, but most of the show is devoted to a chronological progression through the band's EP and three albums. This is a good way to structure an acoustic show - the show then tells us a story about the band (and they tell stories about themselves on the way, giving us some background on albums and songs). It is also brave to structure it this way, because it would have been obvious if the earlier songs had not been able to stand up to the sort of exposure that acoustic versions bring. The McClymonts were obviously - and rightfully - confident about that earlier material; as a fan who regularly listens to that first five-song EP, I was also confident that those songs would be just fine.

I don't want to give away the set list, so all I'll say is that there were some obvious choices - obvious because the recorded versions were already good showcases for the sisters' harmonies - such as 'Shotgun' (from first album Chaos and Bright Lights) and 'Where You Are' (from latest album Two Worlds Collide). There were some other songs that didn't seem so obvious, because the recorded versions are such full-band affairs, and they easily made the transition to the acoustic sound. And there were a couple of songs that I probably would have swapped for others, but they were clearly chosen because they were the singles, and a band can't be faulted for playing the songs that they expect most people to know.

The tour has been designed to put the vocal harmonies at the forefront, and it does this to the extent that it wouldn't matter what lyrics the McClymonts are singing - their voices really are everything. Listening to them sing recalls the term bhakti - bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion, typically expressed through singing and dancing. To experience bhakti is to experience the ecstatic and divine. Whatever one thinks of the McClymonts' songs, to hear them sing is to experience bhakti. The last time a group of Australian voices belonged together so perfectly it was the Bee Gees (who were, interestingly, also siblings). 

If you are a fan of the band - even a take-em-or-leave-em fan - this show is worth seeing because it is simply great entertainment. If you think you may want to be a fan of the band, this show is the ideal way to explore their music. Plus they are an all-ages band in the truest sense of the word: not because their music wouldn't offend anyone, but because they have worked out how to entertain all types of people. 

While watching the show I sincerely hoped that should the McClymonts ever release a 'greatest hits' album, they choose to make it acoustic. Or that someone at their mixing desk is recording the show each night with a view to releasing a live album. It's rare for any musical act to offer a different version of their music, and for it to work so well. The Acoustic Harmony tour is yet more proof that the McClymonts are unique, and always shall be.

For tour dates, visit the McClymonts online at

Friday, February 1, 2013

Interview: Mollie McClymont

If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll already know that I'm a fan of The McClymonts. So I'm already excited about their Acoustic Harmony Tour, which starts today and treats fans in NSW, Victoria and Queensland to a different experience: not the full-band electric show but, instead, a more intimate presentation of the sisters' songs and their incomparable harmonies. It was my great pleasure to interview Samantha McClymont last year, and it was equally great pleasure to talk to Mollie McClymont (on the left in this photo) just ahead of the 2013 Tamworth Country Music Festival to find out a bit more about the tour, amongst other things. Dates for the Acoustic Harmony Tour appear at the bottom of this post. 

Hi, Mollie. The McClymonts are the only band I get very fan‑girly about so I’m slightly nervous.
No, don’t worry [laughs].

[Laughs] So what’s prompted this interview is your Acoustic Harmony Tour. I thought I’d start by asking you about where the idea for the tour came from, because it’s going to be a bit different from what fans have seen before.
Well, we talked about it in the end of last year when we finished a national tour of playing with the band.  And we just thought, what can we do different this year – because people have been coming out to the show for a good four years.  So we decided to strip it back to just acoustic, really focus on our harmonies and get up close and personal; you know, let the audience get a bit up close and personal and into our lives a bit more.  We’ll tell stories about the songs and where they come from, whose experience it was and what we’ve been up to.  And so we decided just to make it more of an intimate show and we think it’ll be totally different to what we’ve been doing and we think it’s going to work.

From what I understand, it won’t be just the three of you.  There will be some musicians from your touring band but they just won’t be playing fully electric.
Yeah.  We’re going to have just a guitar, another acoustic guitar, and acoustic fiddle.  So it’ll fill it in and make it sound really full but you’ll be able to hear all the harmonies and you won’t be overtaken by drums or anything loud.

Your harmonies are just so beautiful and I’ve seen you guys play so many times I’ve lost count, and the harmonies are one of the main reasons I keep coming back because they’re exquisite every time I hear them.
[Laughs] Thank you.

And they sound – well, they sound very natural and I suppose that’s something to do with the fact of you growing up together and singing together.  But is that how it works when you’re recording and playing – it just seems to happen without trying too hard to make it work?
Yeah, it is very natural.  I think because we’ve been doing it for so long and we are sisters, that helps tremendously.  But we do have to have rehearsals and we do work out parts together and work out if we want to do different harmonies, not just the normal everyday harmonies; you know, if we want it to sound cooler – we’ve really got to sit down and work on it.  But it does come a lot easier to us than people we know working on harmonies.  I think we’ve realised that it’s a bit natural for us.

It sounds almost otherworldly. I read a quote from someone who’d heard you in the US who referred to them as ‘blood harmonies’. I think that’s a really good phrase.  And it’s not just because you’re related by blood but they sound really instinctual in a way.  So, yes, that’s a comment more than a question.
[Laughs] Nice.  Well, I guess that’s right, it is pretty instinctual.

Given the focus is on harmonies, has that changed the sorts of songs you do in a set list, because, obviously, when you’re doing a full show, you’ve got a certain focus there.
Yes, we are changing it up. There are songs that we usually wouldn’t put in the set because they sound better acoustically and we didn’t have the time to put them in.  You know, we didn’t have the space for them.  So we will be bringing them into the acoustic set and really thinking about what songs will sound really cool acoustically, rather than just putting a set together and hoping it works. We have been working on the set list for a couple of months now and working on the show.  We want it to be really good and we want it to work.

Every time I see you play, it’s an incredibly professional show.  And by that I don’t mean slick, I just mean that the three of you really understand your contract with the audience, which is to entertain and also put on a really good show.  But I was wondering if that’s come from a family work ethic.  Have you observed anyone else doing this?
I think it just comes from doing it for so long.  At the beginning when we started, six years ago, I don’t think our show was as slick – it didn’t flow as well as it does now.  I think just doing it for so long, you realise what works and what doesn’t, and it’s a bit of trial and error as well to see what works.  And we do talk about it before we go on the tour, what we want to say, what we want to accomplish, and you do have to sit down and talk about those things.

And I always notice as well at your shows, there’s a big age range. I’m coming to one of your shows with my father because I took him to see you in Castle Hill about a year ago and he loved it. 
Oh, that’s lovely.

I often look around the room at your shows and see people in their 70s, sometimes their 80s, but also kids who are seven and eight.  Do you think there’s a reason why there’s such a big spread?
I think it’s country music.  I mean, it’s a generational thing. Your grandparents hand it down to their kids who hand it down to their kids and it’s really family-orientated, country music.  So I think if you go to any other country show, you’ll notice the same thing.  It’s a very wide-ranging audience. I think we’re really lucky in that aspect, that we can cater to all age groups and it’s not limited to anyone.

Are you ever mindful of your language or anything like that [laughs]?
No, no.  I think – I mean, especially with the kids shows, then, yes, and we don’t swear on stage.  Well, we might say ‘shit’ or something but by accident – but, I mean, we don’t censor ourselves for the people.  We’re just pretty much ourselves and then, if they don’t like it, unfortunately, they don’t like it.  You can’t please everyone.

That’s absolutely true. I’m curious, also, about you in the band because obviously you started off as the little sister. I have a copy of the first EP where you look about 15 – and I’m not sure if you were – but obviously Samantha and Brooke have had more time to develop their musicality and their careers and then you were in the band with them. I guess what I’m trying to ask is: are you going to be singing lead anytime soon?
Well, at the moment I do a song in the show and sing lead. They finally got me to do a song.

More than one, Mollie, more than one.
No, no, they’ve got me to sing a song but it’s just not my thing.  Do you know how you have – you like to do things and you don’t?  That’s just not one of my things I enjoy doing.

Well, that’s good because I thought maybe they’d ganged up on you and they weren’t letting you sing lead.
Well, I didn’t want to do the one song but once I sang it, I quite enjoy that one song. It is a nice little add-in.

And how did you end up choosing the mandolin as your instrument?
I was a child who played every instrument when I was growing up and I just would always quit. Then when I was 14, I saw this guy playing the mandolin and Mum bought me one.  And I went to lessons and I really enjoyed it.  It was just one of those things – it’s quite an easy instrument to play.  If anything’s too difficult, I just don’t do it.  So I found mandolin pretty easy and different sounding and I really loved the sound of it.  So it kind of just stuck.

I said to your publicist, “I’ll try not to ask Mollie about her changing hair colour”, and he said, “No, you can.”  So I will ask you, Mollie: are you planning a hair colour change any time soon?
Well, I’ve now gone from blonde to pink to brown.  So we’re all brown at the moment.  It might look at bit strange on stage.  We haven’t seen us all together with the crowd so I don’t know how that’s going to go.

Well, you might have to go back to blonde.
Oh my hair was falling out on the blonde so I can’t go back blonde for a while.

This is a completely frivolous question but I also think if people have seen you play a lot, it’s something that we’d all think of, which is how many outfits do you all have and how do you choose them?
I wish someone would just give us clothes, that would be really lovely, but that doesn’t happen so we wear the same thing a lot because we’re the ones who have to go out and buy it.  So I’ll be doing a shopping trip before Tamworth and so hopefully I’ll have about six outfits that will get me through the tour.  It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

Well, no, especially if you are doing it for yourself, that is a lot of work because the three of you also seem to co-ordinate what you’re wearing, in that there’s a theme or that’s certainly how it looks.
Well, we don’t – I think, recently, we’ve just started to, but we used to turn up and sometimes we’d be wearing pretty much the same thing and we’d just laugh about it, or we wouldn’t be matching at all.  So from now on we just say, “What are you wearing?  Cool”, and we kind of go round those colours.

When I saw you play last year, it was before Brooke had announced she was pregnant and the three of you came out in leggings and tank tops.
Yeah.  See, we did not mean to do that.  We were just like, oh my goodness, we’re all in leggings, how embarrassing.

Whereas I actually looked at you all and thought, ‘Brooke’s pregnant, she’s covering up’.
Really? Yeah, she was.  I think we got to a point last year where we were like – we were always wearing the skirts and the dresses, and we still do, but we got to a point where, oh, let’s just dress comfortable and nice [laughs].

I have no idea how you all play standing in heels for two hours.
We’re so used to it.

So you’re kicking off this tour in Tamworth next week, with a big show at the TRECC. Do you kind of feel, when you play the TRECC, this is it at Tamworth, we’ve made it, we can’t go any higher?
Well, pretty much because we started busking – I mean, we’ve been going to Tamworth for 21 years, so we started busking on the streets and we started doing talent quests, and then we went into singing at people’s shows and singing at the pubs and then, you know, playing our own shows at a really small venue – then we went out to Wests and then now the TRECC.  So it’s a big deal to us and you look back going, oh my goodness, we really did start at the bottom and now this is the top.  So it is exciting for us and we really appreciate it and love that we can perform there.

You won your second ARIA at the end of last year – and deservedly so and congratulations.
Thank you.

Do you find that that increases awareness of you outside of the traditional country audience?
Yeah, for sure.  I mean, every award that you do get increases that and it can only help your career.

I don’t listen to radio stations, like Triple M or anything like that, so I don’t know if winning an ARIA would increase your radio airplay.
No.  With radio, not really.  It’s really hard to get country music on anything other than country radio here.  But, I mean, it gets you out in more newspapers and magazines and stuff like that.  But radio’s a tough one to crack.

I remember when I interviewed Samantha last year and I asked about you guys and the United States, and I said, “I can’t understand why you’re not huge there.”  And she said, “Well, you know, it’s hard to get those radio slots because there are really established artists who have them.”
Yeah, definitely.  Slowly but surely in the States.  I mean, you’ve just got to really do your time over there and just work really hard.

It sounds like you’ve already been working really hard.
We have, we have, but it’ll take probably another couple of years.  I mean, we’re doing amazing over there and we’re singing at all the big festivals and we’re on those big stages.  So it’s just staying over there and putting in the effort.

Now I was told I could ask you about Brooke’s baby, because the baby is obviously the fourth McClymont – although possibly not with the last name McClymont.

So how is this fourth McClymont going to affect what you do – or maybe it won’t, maybe Brooke will just carry on ...
We don’t know at the moment because we haven’t taken her out on the road, but, well, she’s a baby.  She doesn’t do much at home – she just eats and sleeps so she’s really easy.  And I think it’s going to be fine.  We’ve got time to look after Tiggy while we’re on stage so she’ll be looked after.  And I don’t think it’s going to affect us much at all.

Your touring schedule's pretty heavy and it looks just like a normal touring schedule.
No, it’s only every weekend, so it’s not as hectic as what we usually do, but I think it’ll give Brooke a nice break during the week and then we’ll take her out on weekends just to do the two gigs at the weekend.

When you are doing things like that just on the weekend, does it get slightly difficult to maintain that momentum to do shows or have you just been doing it for so long that you can get on stage and summon it up?
I’m not sure yet because usually we are playing four times a week, five times a week, but usually if it’s been two weeks then we get a bit rusty, but it’s only going to be every four days, we’ll have a break.  So we should be fine.

I do chuckle at the idea of you getting rusty though.  You’ve got how many 
[Laughs] Yeah, we are rusty.  No one would notice but it’s just not as tight, probably, as we could be.

When I interviewed Samantha, she said you were probably going to have about two weeks off over Christmas.  It seems like the last few years have just been – have been not relentless, because that makes it sound like it’s exhausting, but it’s just been really steady, constant, doing a whole lot of things.

Are you going to carry on through this touring now and then go into a new album maybe?  This is me saying it hopefully, a new album.
Well, we’re not sure about an album yet because we’ve got this tour up until May and then we’ll head to the States for the summer tour.  And then we don’t know whether we’re going to be doing some recording yet at the end of the year or early next year but, of course, we’re always working towards that and that’s the next goal, for sure.

I noticed on Two Worlds Collide, you actually had a few more songwriting credits than in previous times.  So are you getting more involved in the songwriting process?
We always – all of us write.  We write tonnes months and months and months before, you know, we go into record the album.  It’s just we pick whatever songs are best for the album, regardless of who wrote it.  So you’ll just notice that I’m on more of the songs because it just happens that we like those songs this time.  But we’ve always – we’ve always written, all of us, a lot for the albums - it’s just whether it gets chosen or not.

And, given that you have played probably every RSL in the country by now 
[Laughs] Yes.

I was wondering if you have any favourites – you may not want to say if you have any favourites but maybe favourite towns – just because they’re pretty or something like that.
The Newcastle crowd is always a big one and we always have a lot of fun at Newcastle.  Oh my goodness, there are so many.  I mean, out west, even Campbelltown – up Queensland way, it’s beautiful.  I really enjoy all the towns we go to.  There’s always something different to do in the day and see so they’re all pretty nice.

And, of course, your home town is Grafton, so when you go back there, I’ve noticed you seem to play the showground.  Is that your usual venue now?
We did our album launch at the racetrack  but that was like a one-off thing.  That was just special because it was the album launch.  But usually we play at all different places in Grafton and the new venue there, it’s the Saraton Theatre, which is a beautiful venue where most people go and play now.

Does it feel like most of the town’s turning out for you when you’re there?
Yeah.  They’re always so supportive.

Friday 1st February 2013
Belmont 16s, Belmont NSW
(02) 4945 0888 |

Saturday 2nd February 2013
The Cube, Campbelltown NSW
(02) 4625 0000 |

Friday 8th February 2013
Club Central, Menai NSW
(02) 9532 1800 |

Saturday 9th February 2013
North Sydney Leagues Club, North Sydney NSW
(02) 9245 3000 |

Friday 15th February 2013
Lonestar Tavern, Mermaid Waters QLD
(07) 5572 2000 |

Friday 22nd February 2013
South Sydney Juniors Club, Kingsford NSW
(02) 9349 7555 |

Saturday 23rd February 2013
Castle Hill RSL Club, Castle Hill NSW
(02) 8858 4800 |

MARCH 2013

Saturday 2nd March 2013
Rooty Hill RSL Club, Rooty Hill NSW
(02) 9625 5500 |

Friday 22nd March 2013
Bankstown Sports Club, Bankstown NSW
(02) 9722 9888 |

APRIL 2013

Friday 12th April 2013
Mathew Flinders Hotel, Chadstone VIC
(03) 9568 8004 |

Saturday 13th April 2013
York on Lilydale, Mount Evelyn VIC
(03) 9736 4000 |

Thursday 18th April 2013
Hallam Hotel, Hallam VIC
(03) 8786 0200 |

Friday 19th April 2013
Shoppingtown Hotel, Doncaster VIC
(03) 9848 6811 |

Saturday 20th April 2013
Gateway Hotel, Corio VIC
(03) 5275 1091 |

Friday 26th April 2013
Dapto Leagues Club, Dapto NSW
(02) 4261 6908 |

MAY 2013

Friday 3rd May 2013
Dee Why RSL Club, Dee Why NSW
(02) 9454 4000 |

Saturday 4th May 2013
Wenty Leagues Club, Wentworthville NSW
(02) 8868 9200 |

Friday 10th May 2013
Hamilton Hotel, Hamilton QLD
(07) 3268 7500 |

Saturday 11th May 2013 | 4:45pm
Redland Bay Hotel, Redland Bay QLD
(07) 3206 7231 |

Saturday 11th May 2013 | 9:00pm
Racehorse Hotel, Booval QLD
(07) 3282 1222 |

Friday 17th May 2013
Wests Leagues Club, Newcastle NSW
(02) 4935 1300 |

Saturday 18th May 2013
Hornsby RSL Club, Hornsby NSW
(02) 9477 7777 |