Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sarah Head is Nothin' But Love in Tamworth

Gold Coast singer-songwriter Sarah Head was a grand finalist in last year's Toyota Star Maker. This year she returns to Tamworth to launch her EP, Nothin' But Love, which was written and recorded over nine weeks in Nashville.

Sarah plays at Good Companions Hotel on Saturday 25 January at 11.30 a.m.

I spoke to her recently about the trip, her EP and her gig.

You spent 9 weeks in Nashville working on your EP – how did you plan that and and it?
I got in contact with my producer, BJ Lowrie, just basically through a mutual friend, and we got talking about me going to Nashville for a project. I went over initially in May to meet with BJ to just see how it would all pan out if it were to happen, and see what the connection was like. And from that first meeting we knew that we could work together and that we were on the verge of something good. I then decided to plan a 9-week stay – that fit in with my schedule. I didn’t have any bookings for that part of that year. That’s why it wasn’t 8 or 10 weeks. And I literally got off the plane [home] and had a gig the next night. So it was booked around my gigs. 
A lot of it was organised by BJ. I sent him samples of my songwriting and ideas that I had and he picked people who he thought would work with me stylistically. We had a general plan of what was going to happen for the 9 weeks but the specifics all happened when I was there. It was a lot of going with the flow. The idea was to songwrite for the first half of the stay and then record, so we had a pretty strict deadline. So I was just doing as much as I could every day to make sure that by the time of the recording phase I’d have enough songs to choose from. 

Is it strange to walk into a room, meeting a songwriter you don’t know and work with them? Is there any chitchat or do you just get on with it?
There’s a bit of chitchat, just getting a feel for the kind of artist you are because they want to know a bit about you before they start writing songs. And being Australian over there is a bit of a novelty, so we always started with a bit of a get to-know-you kind of session. It’s definitely daunting because it’s like every session you wear your heart on your sleeve. You have to go into a room full of people you haven’t met before and share your deepest darkest feelings and hour experiences and thoughts. It’s daunting but equally rewarding, and you just have to realise that there’s no room for shyness and ego. You’ve just got to get in there and say you’re prepared to say everything. You might give nine bad ideas and one brilliant one. The calibre of people they are – they’re just so professional and so welcoming I didn’t once feel like I was saying something silly or that I didn’t deserve to be there. 

Is it more daunting to do than step in front of a crowd?
Definitely. I've been working on my songwriting for 12 months so I’m relatively new to the game, whereas I’ve been performing for 10 years. It’s just what you’re familiar with and comfortable with. Now I’m at the stage – because  I’m about to release the EP – where I’m nervous and excited again, because I’m about to present these songs to a whole new group of people. It’s a constant whirlwind.

You went to the College of Country Music in Tamworth. Did that prepare you to have the kind of experience you had in Nashville or even to get on stage and enjoy it?
Yes, definitely. I went there in 2007 and that was really at the start of my career. I didn’t start singing until I was 17 or 18 – I started relatively late – and then I went to the college. It really does prepare you for the industry and learning how to not only network but hone in on your skills and work out who is there to help you and who is there to make you a better singer-songwriter or performer. 

The thing it couldn’t have prepared you for is crowdfunding. You crowdfunded your trip to Nashville. Is that a route you’d recommend?
It’s a rewarding experience but it’s equally exhausting. You’ve really go to put in so much time and effort to promote it because if you don’t get the promotion out there people won’t stumble across it. It definitely helped with my funding. I also received a grant from Arts Queensland and that helped significantly as well. Crowd funding definitely something for people to try. It’s a really good way of using the internet to market yourself. Not only are you giving yourself the chance to get funding for a project but you’re increasing the chance of getting a bigger fanbase.

And you’re essentially pre-selling your CD. People who give money get something tangible.
Exactly, and that’s so much ore meaningful than just asking people to donate. And it’s really positive to see the mount of people who support you. I was humbled every day to see the amount of people who were willing to come on the journey with me, and I think that also keeps up your spirits when you’re doing creative projects. 

To the EP – the single that’s out is 'Gypsy Soul'. Have you always had a gypsy soul?
It’s definitely come about with my music career, so as I’ve been focussing on becoming a more professional music artist I find that I’m constantly travelling and I just love the idea of always pushing for the next best thing and following my dreams – not sort of settling for anything less. It’s definitely something that’s come about recently, I think, and I guess it’s about that point in your life that you realise that you’ve been underestimate and you’re ready to show the world exactly who you’re supposed to be.

Who are your biggest musical influences at the moment?
Definitely Miranda Lambert. I recorded at the studio where she’d just recorded so that was really exciting for me. She actually went to the studio the day before I was there and I was so gutted – I should have scheduled one day earlier. Kacey Musgraves as well, who’s written a couple of Miranda’s songs. I go to see Kacey live in Nashville and that worked out really well because it was just before I was recording. I think stylistically they’re artists I aspire to be like.

Is it sometimes hard to avoid being too influenced by some people? As a young artist it’s important to forge your own identity.
Definitely. I think the main thing with being successful is being yourself. If you stick by that you can’t really identically be the same as someone else because you’re always going to have your own influences and your own style. So what I try to do to steer clear of that is be true to myself and make sure my own personality comes across when I’m performing and writing songs, because that’s something no one else can copy. If you’re yourself, no one else can be you. 

Last year you were one of the four grand finalists for Toyota Star Maker. What was that like for you?
That was really a pivotal moment for me in my career, I guess because it instilled that flame in me and gave me the confidence to actually keep reaching for my dream and keep going. It was a really big turning point. It made me think for this year I’m going to dedicate my time to being the best singer-songwriter I can be and really work on my skills and what I need to do for the next step in my career, and that was to record the album. Everything that happened last year  - the couple of award nominations and the actual trip to Nashville - all stemmed form that week in Tamworth.

And it gave you quite a bit of experience performing in a high-pressure environment.
Definitely. On the first night when I was on stage they announced that it was so great to have everyone here tonight, and Kasey Chambers is here. They said this when I was on stage ready to sing and I was like, ‘Oh my god – thanks for that!’ And then in the grand final we were waiting backstage with the McClymonts and Lee Kernaghan and I was starstruck - ‘I’ve gotta go and sing and they’re standing in the wings!’ They said they expected a crowd of 10 000 people or something. To be at the early stage of your career performing at your best in front of the best names in Australian country and in front of a crowd that big is a pretty big stepping stone. It’s a good decider as to whether you’re going to make it or not.

How do you find living on the Gold Coast – do you feel isolated from the industry?
I travel a lot. Being on the Gold Coast is a really good base for me, but I do actually use it as a base and I travel a lot. I travel back to Dubbo, where I’m originally from, and Tamworth about every six weeks. I’m constantly trying to do new gigs in new places. I do play pretty much every weekend in pubs and clubs up here. There’s definitely a number of clubs that are supportive of country music and new artists. 

Your gig is on the last weekend of the festival. Does that mean you’ll spend most of the festival rehearsing or feeling nervous or both?
[laughs] Yes, pretty much. It’s my birthday on the Wednesday of the festival so I’ll be celebrating that. But other than that I’ll be doing just a little bit of practice, obviously, to get ready but mostly I’ll be going out and seeing other artists and catching up with everybody. Tamworth is the best place to see everyone in the one spot – other artists that I haven’t seen for a while. 

It will be quite a different festival to last year, as you had Star Maker.
This year’s festival will be much more relaxed. Last year was mindblowing – I can’t even remember if I slept. Every day was so busy. We were constantly doing interviews and little stand-up spots. That was another thing about Star Maker – having that week of promotion was something that was unbelievable at such an early stage in your career to get that exposure for a week in Tamworth was so cool.

Sarah plays at Good Companions Hotel on Saturday 25 January at 11.30 a.m. 

Melinda Schneider - being herself in Tamworth

Melinda Schneider is too young, really, to be a 'legend' but that is what she is - a performer since childhood, she will be familiar to all Tamworth festival goers. This year, fans will be treated to something different and special as Melinda brings her new show, Be Yourself, to the Tamworth Town Hall on Wednesday 22 January at 3 p.m.

Before becoming a mother to Sullivan a year and a half ago, Melinda had enjoyed renown and popularity performing the songs of Doris Day. This new show will explore - as the title suggests - Melinda herself.

'I wrote the show with David Mitchell, who I wrote my Doris show with,' says Melinda. 'We sat down and it was very confronting for me, really. If you go back to your childhood and you think about all the things that have happened, good and bad, it is confronting. But I think it’s been quite healing and quite cathartic as well. 

'We’re just trying to make the show really entertaining and it is full of ups and downs, like anyone’s life. You know, I’ve been through a divorce, and you’re not a real country singer unless you go through at least one divorce. And I lost a baby when I was 26 and lost my dad to cancer. And then all of the great things – falling in love and having success in my work and all of the exciting things I’ve experienced over the years. It’s been a full life so far. This is the happy end of my life. I don’t think I’ll go through anywhere near the pain I did in the first 30 years … I know who I am now.'

Melinda has a huge back catalogue of songs to choose from - one of the challenges of writing the show must have been choosing which songs made it and which songs didn't.

'It was pretty hard,' Melinda admits. 'I just tried tochoose the songs that I knew people wouldwant to hear. The most well-known ones and the most popular ones, like ‘Story of My Life’ and ‘Be Yourself’ and ‘Sgt Bean’ about my dad, and ‘Dream Him Home’, which I wrote when my dad died, and ‘Wish You Were Here’. I actually posted on Facebook and asked all the people on my Facebook page which songs they’d like to hear. They may be a couple of songs that people will miss, but it’s a two-hour show, 28 songs – it’s a lot of singing.'

One of Melinda's most distinctive songs is 'It Takes Balls to be a Woman', but it hasn't garnered a guernsey in the show - yet.

'It could very well have been [included],' Melinda says, 'because I have had to find balls quite a few times. But because this is the debut of the show, it will be really interesting to see how it’s received, how the mix of songs works, and it will be good to get feedback from the audience when I’m talking to people afterwards. So it may end up there in the future, because we’re going to tour this show. I had to stop somewhere. There are just so many songs.'

Young Sullivan will, of course, be with Melinda in Tamworth. As to whether or not she'd ever want him to join her in the music business, though, Melinda says, 'I would never encourage him. I talk about that in the show, about how growing up in a showbiz family affected me, both positively and negatively. It’s not always easy for a kid growing up in a showbiz family and I only had one parent in showbiz – my dad was a policeman – but he’s got two parents who are entertainers [Melinda's partner, Mark, is in the Choirboys]. 

'We’re very conscious to just let him be a normal kid and not have pressure to go on stage performing. I performed from the age of three with Mum and recorded at the age of eight. It would have been very interesting to see what I would have done and what I would have focused on had I not been encouraged to do that. Even though Mum didn’t encourage me to be an artist but I was just always onstage. I don’t want to do that to Sully unless he wants to.’

Melinda has had 18 months off from performing to look after Sullivan - but it turns out she hasn't quite been out of practice. 

'I’ve probably been singing more in the last 18 months at home than I ever have before because I’ve been singing Sully to sleep. I’ve sung him all sorts of songs since the day he was born, and even before.'

As Melinda returns to performing at Tamworth with her infant son in tow, she will take the stage at the Town Hall - 'It’s a beautiful room and quite a traditional, formal venue, especially for this show' - and also be part of a festival that she has been a part of for many years. 

'The spirit at Tamworth is the most amazing of any country music festival I’ve been to,' she says, 'and I’ve been to festivals in many parts of the world and I think ours is the best.'

While Melinda's show will feature some of the downs as well as the ups of her life, it is clear that she'll arrive in Tamworth feeling quite content with her world. 

'I’m in a happy relationship and having Sullivan has been the best thing that has ever happened to me,' she says. 'To have a happy home life and a happy work life, that’s success to me.'

Melinda Schneider plays at Tamworth Town Hall on Wednesday 22 January at 3 p.m. For tickets visit 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hat Fitz and Cara are fighting fit

Following the release of their wonderful album Wiley Ways, Hat Fitz and Cara took an unscheduled detour when Cara was involved in a near fatal car accident. After an extensive period of recovery, Cara is playing live once more and she and Fitz are on their Fighting Fit tour of New South Wales. Their live show is a real treat, matching their recorded music for talent and intensity but with that special edge that can only come from performance. I highly recommend you see them, if you can. They're also appearing at Bluesfest in April.

Wednesday 22 January
The Brass Monkey
Thursday 23 January
Narooma Quarterdeck Marina
Friday 24 January
Milton Theatre
Saturday 25 January
The Basement
Sunday 26 January
Live @ No. 5

Interview: Catherine Traicos

Catherine Traicos's music is hard to define in terms of genre - she has had some country music influences, though, and that was enough of a connection for me to want to talk to her, because she is a quite extraordinary artist. Catherine's new album is the wonderful The Earth, The Sea, The Moon, The Sky and it's available now. I spoke to Catherine at the end of 2013, when she was just about to go on tour with her band.

I've read variously in interviews with you and on your website that you're based in Sydney or you're based in Melbourne, but I know that you are now in Perth.  So I was wondering what Perth is like for a working musician.
I've only just moved and I've got heaps of friends who are musicians who have been doing incredibly well there.  It's a really good music scene and before I left Perth I hadn't – I'm originally from there and I played a couple of gigs but I hadn't really immersed myself on the music scene as a musician, but I was going out to gigs every week and I was really familiar with all the bands and it's a really really beautiful scene.  I love it.

Is there a dominant genre of music there or is it a mixture of things?
I think that the dominant thing is that people are really good at what they do and that there is a lovely community as well.  I wouldn't say there's a dominant genre because it quite varied, there's a lot of everything, so there's a lot going on there.

Which I would think for you is fertile ground. Given that you have released a lot of albums and you are immersed in the life of a working musician, one hopes that being in an environment like that it spurs you on to more and more creativity and feeling like there are more potential collaborators out there.
I hope so.  My band, who are in Sydney, most of them are actually from Perth so that's saying a lot about [laughs] yeah, the contribution of Perth already to my music life.

Except now I'm wondering if they're in Sydney and you're in Perth, are you feeling lonely without them?
Well, at the moment because we're preparing for the tour, I'm actually in Sydney and we've been rehearsing and it's been really good but I am feeling the sense of this is all ending really soon, and I try not to dwell on that because I don't think it will, but it does feel quite sad that I'm going to be leaving them, but at the same time I have to look after myself.  And I got quite ill living in Sydney and I need to be near my family right now.

And I know that you're originally from Zimbabwe and you moved to Perth a few years ago.
That's right.

And a lot of people from Zimbabwe, South Africa do move to Perth, obviously because it's close, it's closer than the east coast of Australia.  I don't think I need to ask you why you left Zimbabwe, it's probably obvious, but it must have been a huge change.
Yeah, it was.  It was a big move.  I think it was bigger for my parents because they were older and I was leaving school so I was probably going to leave Zimbabwe anyway.  So it's a difficult move but I feel really at home in Perth and I think that's important to know where your home is.

And it's important to have community. When in exile it must feel like you are when you leave under those circumstances, it's important to have that community, and it's not unlike having a community of – it's a community of like minded people, the same way as having a community and musicians is a community of like minded people.
Absolutely.  Well, when we left Zimbabwe we were very lucky because it was by choice.  We weren't forced out.  So we weren't in a very terrible position, unlike a lot of people who actually have been and it's been really, really difficult for them.  I've got a few friends around Australia who have struggled to get citizenship but even then they're in a better position than, say, refugees coming from Pakistan or somewhere so, you know. It's not extreme, but it's still difficult.

In terms of where you grew up – the African musical traditions are ancient and well defined.  I was wondering if you bring any of the musical traditions of your homeland into your work now.
I haven't as yet, no.  I think I would feel a little bit too much like Paul Simon and I'm not ready for that [laughs]. Just because I was raised on Elvis and The Beatles.  I wasn't raised on African music.

Right [laughs].
So it doesn't feel like it's my cultural heritage.  I would feel like I was appropriating someone else's cultural heritage in order to make money, and I probably wouldn't make money [laughs].

And it strikes me that what you do comes from an authentic place.  It doesn't sound like you're writing songs to get on radio.  You're writings songs to create something unique and special. So I would imagine that authenticity is of importance.
I think it is.  I think it's of importance to everyone.  It's just that some people authentically want to be on the radio and –

– for me – no, I'm being serious.  And for me authenticity is about being true to myself and what I want to create music and do that with people who are as passionate about it as I am. Whereas other people, to them their passion is being heard and being seen and being the centre of attention and I respect that, that they know what they want and that's their thing, but I've learnt that that's really not my thing, and people want you to want to that, they want you to be this crazily ambitious person.  But if you're not, you don't have to be, and you shouldn't put that pressure on yourself just because you're creative.

Everyone's motivations are different and I think it's always good for creative people to know whether their motivation is fame or the work or money or both.
It's so important.  Or else you just end up – you're not in control of your work and you need to be.  It's very important to be.

Absolutely.  Now, in terms of your work I read that you started listening to music as inspiration for your painting, and on the latest album you seem to be painting musical portraits.  So I was wondering if you still think of yourself as a painter.
Oh [laughs].  Yes, I do.  I do often think of things in terms of specific cues of oil paints.  I do love to paint and I'm looking forward to having some time to do that now, yeah, after this album, after this tour.

Because I think that the parts of the brain that see things visually are not the parts of the brain that actually can play music.  The musical part of the brain is more a mathematical – I think they even found that scientifically that it's more the mathematical part of the brain.  And so I often think from people who can deal in images and words, sometimes it's hard to know which one to follow and sometimes I think it gets a bit difficult to follow both.
I think so, yes.  I think they are quite different but there's definitely a point where they meet, and I say that point is probably rhythm.

Oh yeah.
Because you've got the mathematics rhythm and you've got the rhythm of the action of painting.  So for me painting is always about the action, not the end result, if that makes sense.  But it's all defined by my environment really.  I paint a lot more when I'm in Perth and I don't find the time to paint when I'm in Sydney and therefore I have more time to write songs.

It's always good for storytellers, regardless of how the story is being told, to tell their stories in context.  So obviously for you in Perth it's painted stories and that's the context there.
Well, I – we'll see what happens now [laughs]. Who knows?  Who knows [laughs]?

Now, the songs on this album, according to your press release, are about desire – that's the top level theme. Was that was a consciously chosen theme or did it emerge through the process of – because I know you all individually wrote songs, is that right?
We pretty much wrote them together. We would jam them out mostly and then I was the one who  always put the words in and who kind of went, "This is how it's going to go," but then everyone was incredibly instrumental in saying, the chorus should come in here or we should do this now, or this is too long or this is too short ... we agreed on everything and that was – we would all argue our way to [laughs] an end agreement that we were all happy with. So, yes, desire – well, desire, I think, is incredibly important.  It's very closely linked to passion and to need.  I'm very interested in the difference between your needs and your desires and if you can get them to coincide then you're winning [laughs].

How often do you think that happens?
Oh gosh, I don't know [laughs].  Yeah, because you're driven by your desires but you're also – you're more driven by your needs.  So when it does happen it's serendipitous [laughs].

Obviously for musicians in particular, I think it's sort of – actually, I guess it's true of painters or writers and other creative people as well but I tend to see with musicians that the desire and the need to play music or create music are very much the same, and it's – you can't really extrapolate the desire to do it from what seems to be a very fundamental need within the musician to create music.
Yeah, I think that there's – you can definitely see when someone actually needs to play, almost like their life depends on it, you can see that when Jimi Hendrix is playing and, I don't know, heaps of amazing musicians [laughs].  But, yeah, it's an interesting one, isn't it?

Well, yeah, because I think for some musicians it becomes so dominant that that's all they can see and that upsets the balance of their lives to a great extent.
Yeah.  Yeah.  Mmm.

Sorry, I'm just thinking about that, this is great.  Lovely food for thought, yeah.  Complete passion and you can let it consume you; can't you?

And the thing with music is that it does consume a lot of musicians, in a very positive way, in that they're constantly engaged in it but I do see – with some, it's – maybe it's also getting to the  point of wondering whether it's performance that consumes them.  So whether it's the need to perform as much as the need of – for music itself.
Yeah, that's interesting, because I've noticed with myself recently that practising on my own is not as much fun as practising with the band, engaging with other people, and then performing is a whole other level of engaging with people.  And it's kind of like you create the music and then when you're sharing it with people that can – that just takes it to a different level and it becomes more real I suppose.  It's interesting. And that you get people with – I used to have major performance anxiety and, yeah – now I don't, which is good [laughs].

On the subject of performance: listening to your album, I was thinking
about how you perform it. It sounds like it's not necessarily going to be easy to recreate the sound just because they – the songs don't sound polished in that polished can mean overproduced. But they sound like they're very perfected, in a way.  So how do you take that recorded sound into a live environment?
That's an awesome question.  Because we very specifically went into the studio this time with the aim of being able to, as accurately as possible, recreate what we've put down.  So what's really interesting is that we didn't do too much happening at the same time, and a couple of songs we couldn't help ourselves because we just had all these amazing instruments and we were just like, "No, we've got to put auto harp on everything", and stuff like that.  But a lot of the interesting sounds that you hear are actually my guitarist, Darren, he's a bit of a genius and, yeah, you won't realise it but it's actually an electric guitar with amazing effect.  So he's brilliant.  So I think there's only a couple of songs where we wouldn't be able to really get what we did on the album, but other than that we're pretty close and we aimed for that because there's a – with the last album, it was – after we recorded it we were like, "Okay, how are we going to do this now?  We can't play the way we used to play it," because now it sounds – it's so much more interesting.

So you have these lovely jewels of recordedness and then try to make them live.
That's a lovely way of describing it, yeah.

Part of the mystery of performance, I guess, is who turns up on the night and how that can affect how you play, but have you and the band been together long enough now that you have your own way of working together but it's quite elastic, that you can respond to what happens on the night?
Yes, absolutely.  We've played a lot of shows together and we're all familiar with each other's touring needs and the way we are and that just makes it fun, because everyone is relaxed and – that's good [laughs]. And you kind of look out for each other.  It's like  you're like a team [laughs].

And how did you all originally come together?
Well, I knew Darren, my guitarist from Perth.  He was in the Tucker B's and they were – they still are – one of my favourite bands ever, and I used to go and watch them play – just a little band girl every week – and I just made friends with Darren, and he's a very quiet, intelligent, brilliant guitarist, and we just got on really, really well.  And he moved to Sydney about a year after I did and we didn't start playing music together until a couple of years ago though.  So when he wanted to play with me, that was awesome.  But he was insistent that we get a full band together.  And I'd met Casper – I was playing in a band for a charity night a few years ago, and Casper was the bass player.  And he's awesome.  He plays bass in so many bands and he's just enthusiastic and incredibly good at what he does.  And he was really keen to play as well.  And then Darren got another Tucker B's member, their old drummer Tim, which made me so happy [laughs] to come and drum for us.  And I was like, "Yeah," I've got like half of my favourite band playing for me, awesome [laughs]. So that was really good.  And Tim hadn't played drums  in a while, so I think it was good for him to get back into it, and I've had so many of his old friends being just like completely ecstatic that he's playing drums again because he's a really good drummer, so rhat's how we came together [laughs].

So you said you went from being a band girl to playing with half your favourite band. At what point in your life did you decide to go from being a band girl to being the band girl, if you know what I mean?
[Laughs] Well, it was never really a conscious choice at all.  Just came together years later.  It sounds like awesome instant gratification but it really wasn't.  The way it came together it was just like, oh wow, that's kind of cool.  The Tucker B's hadn't played in years because half of them were living in Sydney anyway – so they don't play many gigs any more.  But I think that I was so in awe of live music and bands that I didn't – like, I started learning guitar but I found it a very personal and private thing and I wouldn't play for many people.  But I did play for one of my friends and he said, "You should do a gig", and I did and it was disastrous and I didn't want to play ever again.  So it was a really long and slow journey to get to the point.

Except I notice you play quite a few instruments, not just guitar, so obviously along the way you've picked up quite a bit.
Yes, well my first instrument was piano but I'm not very good at playing pop piano.  I can play classical and I can fill in stuff on an album to give it a fuller sound but I think writing songs is a lot easier for me on a guitar.  nd the other instruments I play, you just hit them and make noise [laughs] basically.

So in terms of your creative process and you've got an album out now, are you constantly writing or do you write on a project by project basis?  Do you think, "Okay, it's time for a new album.  I'm going to sit down now and get some songs done?"
I've never really worked that way because I've tried to and it doesn't work.  The songs just appear).  With the band we did, I suppose, say we're going to work towards a new album, but we didn't give ourselves a timeline and we just wrote very slowly over two years.  And I don't like to create a pressure on myself because I just think that's disrespectful to my creative drive [laughs].  It's not like doing your homework and handing it in.  It's an art form and you have to work with it.  You can't – it's like a wild horse [laughs]. And, yeah, every now and then it might calm down a little bit and let you ride it but …

The Earth, The Sea, The Moon, The Sky is out now through AOA Records.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Great new Tennessee talent: Faith Evans Ruch

Memphis singer-songwriter Faith Evans Ruch has the sort of voice that doesn't come around very often: deep, mellifluous and knowing, it is reminiscent of the voice of the great Patsy Cline. I was so taken with Faith's new single, 'PBR Song', that I just had to share it:

Faith has an album, 1835 Madison, and I hope to bring you more about that soon. In the meantime, you can read more about Faith at

Tori Darke shows her star power in Tamworth

Rising country music star Tori Darke has quite a bit happening at the 2014 Tamworth Country Music Festival, including her one solo show, at West Tamworth Leagues Club on Tuesday, 21 January 2014. She is also a finalist in Toyota Star Maker.

I spoke to Tori about her Tamworth plans.

Tori, I'm surprised you entered Star Maker – you’re quite established, you’ve been playing for a few years, you have an album out. Why did you enter?
 I entered when I was a lot younger, when I was 18 and 19. A lot of thought went into me entering Star Maker this year – I thought, Do I do it? Don’t I do it? I really took a lot of time to think about whether I was doing the right thing and doing something that would be beneficial as well. The main reason for me entering Toyota Star Maker is that, even with having several conversations with the organisers of it, ‘Do you think it would be a good idea for me to enter? Do you see any reason why I shouldn’t?’ I’ve had so much support from Rural Press and all the organisers of Star Maker with me deciding to enter again. I really made this decision because when I was 18 and 19 entering Star Maker, I was the new kid on the block, I was fresh out of Country Music College, and I was really just making a start in country music. At that point in my life if I had won Star Maker, I don’t really think I would have been able to use it to my best advantage and to use all the amazing tools and opportunities get from it. Now being a few years older and having done everything that I’ve done, I really saw it as an opportunity to take all of my experience and everything I’ve learnt and put it into something good. If I was to do well with Toyota Star Maker then I’d know exactly how to work it and exactly how to get out there and start making an even bigger career in country music.

You’ve already been to Nashville and written some songs there. A lot of people would think that that’s great in terms of using industry contacts. What does Star Maker offer beyond that?
The opportunities are so amazing with Star Maker – you get to record a full album with a renowned producer and playing at all the different festivals throughout Australia in 2014 and 2015. I guess in a little bit of a way it is [about] all the people you meet through Star Maker but it was really a decision just for me to stay that I’m ready to do something like Star Maker, whereas a few years back maybe I just was too young.

You’re still young but also more experienced. If you’d won it when you’re a teenager, the amount of attention can come from that and also winning it at that early stage could have sent you in a direction that you didn’t end up wanting, but now it seems that you know what you want and this is a way to help you get it.

Exactly. Now I look at it and think if I was to do well with Star Maker I’d know exactly where I’m going, I’d know exactly how to approach everything that I’d be heading towards.

I have to say, though, Tori, having seen you perform, if I were the other finalists I’d be a little bit nervous.
Oh, no, don’t be silly! [laughs]

You have your own show coming up on the 21st of January during the festival, and the final is on the 19th – will you feel different about playing that final than playing your own show? Will you be more nervous? Less?
I’ll probably feel the same way about both. I know when I did my own show in 2013 I was shaking in my boots until the moment I went on stage and for the first few songs I was still a little bit jittery because it was my first ever ticketed show and for me it was a really big step and I was really worried about how it would go or whether people would turn up. I just didn’t know what was going on. And the fact that I had a sold-out show was amazing and I was absolutely so stoked with how my show went and how it all turned out. So to have that experience it made me even more excited to go back and do it all again and hope for the best.

Do you have the same band for your 2014 gig?
Yes, I have all the same band bar one. Unfortunately my bass player has another gig on that he’d already said ‘yes’ to. So I have a different bass player and he’s a wonderful bass player, so I’m really looking forward to him becoming part of the band this year.

Do you go to Tamworth ahead of time to rehearse there?
Funnily enough, two of the boys in my band are Queensland based. So when we get to Tamworth we just go to one of our houses and hang out and have an acoustic jam to make sure we have the flow going right and what song’s going into what – just to work it all out for us.

 I read that you’re planning to play some new songs at the show because you have about 30 songs for your new album and you’re trying to work out which ones to record.
There’s going to be quite a bit of new material played this year and I just hope that everyone enjoys it. I’m thinking of what ways I can get the view of the crowd who are there as to what songs they do like. Maybe if I give them all a marking sheet or something as they walk in, and they can give a little tick and let me know which songs they like and which songs they don’t. Choosing songs for a new album is always very difficult and as an artist you fall in love with so many of your own songs and then it’s like they’re all your babies and you don’t know what to do with them.

With that many songs you could always keep the ones left over for the album after that and save yourself some work.
That’s exactly right. I still have some left over from my first album so there’s still some to choose from there as well.

Do you get to see other people play at the festival?
I really hope so. Tamworth for me is really great for catching up with your mates who you may not have seen all year. You may have spoken to them but just not caught up in person. And it’s honestly one of the hardest things when you work in country music and you’re all in the one place at the one time and you think you will be able to catch up but it’s so difficult. Having just the one show and StarMaker this festival, I really hope I can get around and see my friends play.

It sounds like next year you have things to do, regardless of what happens with StarMaker.
Whatever happens I’m just honoured to be part of such a prestigious competition within the country music industry.

Tamworth: the picks of the gigs

Make that my picks of the gigs ... These are the artists I'm most looking forward to seeing at this year's Tamworth Country Music Festival. [All dates given are January 2014.]

Jess Holland
21  - Tudor Hotel Front Bar,  5.30 p.m.
23  - Qurindi RSL, 6 p m.
24  - Tudor Hotel Back Bar, 12 p.m. 

Ashleigh Dallas
21 - West Tamworth Leagues Club, 5 p.m.

Tori Darke
21 - West Tamworth Leagues Club, 8 p.m.

21 - Tamworth Services Club, 9.30 p.m.

Brad Butcher
22 - Tamworth Services Club, 9 a.m.
23 - Tudor Hotel, upstairs, 10 p.m.

Katie Brianna

22 - Tamworth Services Club, 9 a.m.
23 - Tudor Hotel, upstairs, 10 p.m.

The McClymonts
22 - TRECC, 2 p.m.

Kristy Cox
22 - The Pub, 8 p.m.

Shane Nicholson
23 - The Family Hotel, 7 p.m.

Catherine Britt
23 - The Pub, 8.30 p.m.

Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes
24 - The Family Hotel, 12 p.m.

Audrey Auld
24 - North Tamworth Bowling Club, 2 p.m.

Karl Broadie and Katie Brianna
24 - Tamworth Tennis Club, 4.30 p.m.