There cannot be a country music fan in Australia who does not know Adam Brand's name, if not have at least one of his albums. Adam is one of the industry's brightest, and most consistent, stars. Amongst other things, he's the winner of 12 Golden Guitars. While still a young man, Adam has reached a point in his career where it's appropriate to release a retrospective - although he is not putting out a 'greatest hits' compilation. As Adam explained when I interviewed him recently, the new album, My Acoustic Diary, is much more than that.
I’m going to start with a non-musical question about the haircut on the cover of your album, which is quite a radical haircut for you.
And I wondered if it was to reflect the stripped-backed nature of the songs.
[Laughs] A naked album, a naked head. No, look, this year I’ve just been going back to a very, very simple haircut. It’s number two all over, just walking into the barber and say, “All right mate, buzz me down.” [Laughs].
So it’s just purely for maintenance reasons. That’s not a very good story, Adam.
Oh hey, I’m lazy, what can I say [laughs].
[Laughs] Now is this the barber who appeared in the ‘Two of Us’ column with you in the Sydney Morning Herald a little while ago?
No. He’s actually quite horrified at the path I’ve taken when it comes to my follicle region [laughs]. Yeah, he’s shaking his head in disgust.
Well it’s good to have someone looking out for your hair, but I’d better get on to talking about your music. So the songs on this album span your career. I was wondering: are there any that you wanted to include because musically they were significant but lyrically they were perhaps hard to revisit? I’m thinking in particular of ‘Good Things in Life’.
Sure, and the reason why the songs are on there – usually when you do a greatest hits album or an album looking back, putting an album out with other stuff, you just go straight to singles. You whack on the singles and forget about it. But I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go back and record the songs that were important to me, the songs that marked certain times in my life that I was going through something that was a big deal or going through a growth spurt as a writer or those types of things. So I’ve really chosen songs that I wanted to reflect a pivotal point in my career and in my life over the last sort of 15 years. So some of those songs were, for want of a better word, lost in those albums – they weren’t singles, I didn’t do them live ’cause they didn’t fit onto each show at the time or whatever. So it’s such a great experience to be able to go back with those songs, singing differently and being a different person, not different but grown up a bit from then and being able to record them again. Songs like ‘That’s Who We Are’, ‘Better Than This’ and ‘Kinda Like It’, they were just songs that I really enjoyed writing and mark some sort of pretty cool parts in my career but I get to do it again, I get to have another go of it. So, yeah, it really is when you look through your diary, you look back, you look back and you go, ‘Okay, I remember what I was doing then and gee that was tough’, or ‘This is great’, or you cringe, ‘Look what I’m wearing’, blah, blah, blah.
My diary is set to music and it’s probably a bit more public than most diaries should be [laughs] but I’ve gone back and picked out the points and all these songs are diary entries in my life and my career and that’s what I wanted to share with people.
Is it hard if some of these songs are songs that you haven’t being playing live – is it essentially like discovering them new, like you have to learn how to play them again and, perhaps, your discovery of parts of those songs that you weren’t as conscious of before?
Totally. Totally. Listening back to them when I first recorded them and going, ‘Okay, this is how I do it now’, and that kind of thing … [it’s] a total discovery and also trying to capture that moment. When you write a song, it’s all exciting and new because you’ve just written a song – ‘Wow, look at this’. It’s your most favourite song until you write another one. So it’s trying to capture that euphoric sort of feeling now because I’ve recorded them nice, all stripped back and not sort of smothered in electric guitars and keyboards and things like that; they’re just raw. So it was really going back and capturing that moment where they were created.
You mentioned that one of the options you could have had was just to put singles on the album, which from a record company’s point of view would be a bit safer, I would think – but within the country music genre, I think you’re safe to go to the songs that are more emotional or more personal, because the fan support is different in country music.
Certainly. It certainly is and, look, there are definitely songs on the album which were big songs for me and so there are different points where people can connect and relate to, at all points of the career, but they’re interwoven with those other songs which are personal and [there are] personal reasons why they went onto the album as well. So hopefully it makes sense; it should. Listening to the album top to bottom – ’cause it’s in kind of chronological order – it should sort of feel like you’re going on a journey and going, ‘Okay, I’m listening, I’m flicking through this diary and I’m watching this guy change over the course of 12, 13 years, watching his music style, his lyrics, everything change and that’s where he started and now this is where he is now’.
Given that there are two new songs on the album, that’s quite a heavy responsibility to put on new songs to go on such an album as this. So how did you choose them?
Yeah, I guess it is ... Obviously you go, ‘This is where I started, this is the journey I took and this is where I am now’. So it’s got a nice little wrap-up of putting the two new songs in there, it’s giving a taste of what I’ve been writing and how I feel and the sound that I have, and also the song ‘Freedom Rebels’ really is a sort of anthem from my heart, I guess you could say, because it’s saying it doesn’t matter what anyone else might say, there’s enough inside of you to go where you want to go because only you know what you really want out of life, how you want to get there and other people around you will find a million reasons why you can’t do it, why you’re not good enough, why you shouldn’t do it, but inside of you there’s enough. So you just don’t worry about them, you just go for it; live your life like a freedom rebel [laughs]. And it talks about the connection between two people or your team, whether it’s your partner in life or your team or your business partner. It’s talking about this connection … so that’s kind of a nice way to launch into the next chapter – what’s in the road ahead –using that as your springboard.
You’ve had a long career now and you’re still a young man. You’ve had a lot of albums, you’ve played a lot of shows, you’ve got a lot of fans and there’d be a lot of industry people around you – have you found it difficult to maintain your own true course, to be that freedom rebel through your career?
There’s obviously always opinions and things that other people around you always ring in your ears, but I think that the trick is to listen to your heart, because ultimately I think you really do know what’s right or wrong in your heart; you just sort of succumb to pressure a lot of times. But I’ve certainly felt in these last couple of years that I’ve found my own voice and my own feet to know what is right for me, so that I feel completely comfortable and at ease inside that I’m doing what feels right. And I think that’s a pretty good place to get to, especially with artists, because there’s so many opinions of obviously, as you said, managers and agents and everyone around you sort of thinking what you should do, and then there’s obviously the public opinion – ‘We didn’t like that or we like your old stuff or like this or like that’. You’ve got to take all that on board but at the end of the day your heart’s got to be in it – you really need to feel good about what you’re saying and what you stand for, and I think the bottom line is [that] if everything you do is with honesty and integrity, then it’ll all fall into place.
It’s probably therefore not a coincidence that at this stage in your career, it’s not just about a retrospective but you’ve also chosen a way to record these songs in a way that really exposes your singing voice, because the voice reflects really what’s going on internally with any singer. And so to be able to record these stripped-back versions of these songs where your voice is really high in the mix and a real focus, it takes a certain amount of confidence, I guess, and a certain amount of comfort with your voice.
Yes, and I think that’s part of getting to a place where you go, ‘Okay, well, this is me, this is what I do and how I do it – it may not be pretty but it’s all I’ve got and that’s what I’ve got to work with’ [laughs]. I do feel like I’m in a pretty comfortable place with all of that stuff and I feel like whatever I do now, I’ve just got to do it with honesty and do it with integrity – not that I didn’t do that before, but I probably just didn’t understand that when you do this with other people and things like that. But I certainly feel right now that in a place of having this album out and now moving into this next album, it’s going to be – it’s me. This is who I am and I make no excuses for it and I’m just going to do the very best I can.
Well, that’s a very good philosophy and I’m also thinking that the album you’re recording now is the one I saw a photo of you taken in a studio where you had a scarf on, saying, ‘It’s freezing in here’, and I remember thinking that’s not good for a singer [laughs].
[Laughs] I don’t have to sing for about another three weeks, actually. Yeah, we’re just doing all the drum tracks, the bass tracks, that sort of stuff. So I was sitting there wrapped up but when it comes time to sing, I’ll be in another booth and I’ll have my shoes off, I’ll have a warm cup of tea while I’m singing and yeah, and it’ll be a whole different kettle of fish.
And the recording process for this new album is obviously different to what it would have been for My Acoustic Diary. Was it kind of strange for you to not have all those instruments – and I guess it probably took less time as well, because you weren’t recording so many people.
Yeah. All the albums I’ve done over the years, and most of the country albums, are done in a way that you just put the whole band, everyone sits in there and they all play then you just go and fix your little bits or redo something or put another track, part track over the top and you kind of do it like that; it all gets created at once. This album I’m doing totally differently. We’re talking about the new album for next year now. So this album for next year, I’m doing it differently. We just started to get the drums and bass tracks – we’re building it layer by layer, just a little bit different than normal. But the acoustic album we’ve done entirely 100 per cent in three days with just three of us in the studio, all in one big room all looking at each other while we just put it down live. So it’s a completely different vibe. I loved it and now I’m also loving doing this new album this way as well.
You sound like you’re a musical pig in mud or something like that [laughs].
Yeah. The best mud I love to roll around is on stage [laughs] that’s when I’m the happiest, the fattest pig and the happiest and smelliest mud, but the studio at the moment, I actually really enjoy it.
Speaking of being on stage, you’ve got the song ‘New England Highway’ on the album and I was wondering what Tamworth means to you – apart from celebrating your birthday, because of course Adam Brand’s Birthday Bash is an integral part of Tamworth.
[Laughs] Obviously Tamworth was a pivotal point in my life, not career, in my life because my life changed there. So every time you go back there, there’s definitely a feeling of this is where it all began. It’s quite a weird little feeling, a good feeling but it’s a weird feeling that that’s the place where my life took a completely different course.
As a young man coming to Sydney from Perth, you must have had dreams, because that’s a big thing to do, drive across the Nullarbor and come to Sydney. Have all your dreams come true or do you still have some in the tank?
You know what, I think your dreams change over the years. As you mature and grow older and go through things, I think your dreams change, like my dreams may have been to sell 10 million albums or whatever back then but my dream now is to have peace of mind really [laughs]. That sounds like an old Confucius saying – like my dream now is actually doing what I’m doing and that is to make a living doing something I love, and doing it in the most honest and relaxed way possible, and being surrounded by people I trust, being surrounded by guys in my band who I call my brothers, and just really enjoying the whole process of leaving home and knowing that we’re going out to play our music for people and that’s how I get to live my life. I’m blessed to be able to do that. So I think that in itself is the dream and to be able to continue to do that really is something that I don’t take for granted.
Well, I’m sure your fans will support you in this new album and I’m sure it’ll be hugely popular and then you’ll have a new one next year as well. So I’d say you are living that new version of the dream.
My Acoustic Diary is out now.