Sunday, November 19, 2017

Single release: 'Learning to Let Go' by Josh Taerk

Josh Taerk is a Canadian singer-songwriter who was playing a show in his home town, Toronto, when he was spotted by Max Weinberg, the drummer for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. Impressed, Weinberg invited Josh to open for him at his sold-out show. That was in 2010, and since then Taerk has been writing, recording and performing - and steadily building his following. He released his debut album in 2013. He then set to work on his second album, which was recorded in Nashville.

His latest single is 'Learning to Let Go', which is about taking leaps of faith - and not getting in your own way. Taerk certainly knows how to write a pop hook and layers that into a country-rock sound, and he has a great voice, so this is a song that has my favourite combination: it's meaningful and entertaining.

Watch the interview for 'Learning to Let Go' below.

Single release: 'Mr Wrong' by Natalie Pearson

When Perth native Natalie Pearson released her EP Long Time Coming, it went straight to number 2 on the Australian iTunes country music charts. The first single, 'Chance at Love', was awarded 'Best Country' in the 2016 MusicOz Australian Independent Music Awards and Natalie also received a Top 5 nomination in both the Video and Female Artist of the Year categories. She's just finished a 22-date national tour alongside Brook Chivell.

The latest single off the EP is 'Mr Wrong', a strong, catchy country rock/pop tune that should bring Pearson more fans ahead of her appearances at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January. You can watch the video below.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Album review: Queens of the Breakers by The Barr Brothers

The core of this Montreal band is, fairly obviously, the Barr Brothers, Brad and Andrew, who are joined by harpist Sarah Page. The band's folky sound initially seems to be not constrained so much as modest: there are no fancy tricks here. No doubt that's because they're not needed. The sound relies very much on the instruments, which are lovingly, crisply and expertly played, with the vocals floating over them. And it is to those instruments that the listener's attention keeps being drawn, not just because of how they're played but because of the attention to detail in the production: each of the individual sounds are so clean that it's possible to get lost inside each song, following each instrument, only to realise you need to go back and listen to the song again to listen to a different instrument ... and on it goes until you can sit back and realise that, for all the individuality, the songs cohese very, very well.

It may be self-evident to say that Canada has a rich, diverse music community - which country doesn't, really? But there is so much very good, if not excellent, Canadian music that seems to belong to a certain genre yet really plays with the boundaries of it. Call it an ingrained national trait of curiosity. There is also a strong tradition of storytelling, and it's one of the few places on the planet where a fiddle player can rise up the charts just as easily as a pop singer.

The Barr Brothers draw on those characteristics of Canadian music: they are telling stories not just in their lyrics but also through how these songs are played, offering a very well-rounded, fulfilling experience for the listener that demands you listen again and again, because there are all sorts of nooks and crannies in these songs, not to mention twists and turns. And so many jewels, too, waiting to be found.

Queens of the Breakers is out now through Secret City Records.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Single release: 'Summertime Soundtrack' by Hayley Jensen

Hayley Jensen started in country music but took a detour via Australian Idol before returning to country and embracing it with gusto. In recent times she has released an EP, Past Tense & Present Peace, and now has a new single, 'Summertime Soundtrack', from her forthcoming album.

The song is feel-good country rock of the sort that will be played out of car windows and in back gardens. It's also a really tightly written, produced and played piece of music. Jensen has a great voice, and she knows how to entertain. She sounds like she's having fun on the track, and consequently it's easy to have fun listening to her.

Watch the video for 'Summertime Soundtrack' below.

Album review: The Closest Thing to Home by Ira Wolf

Ira Wolf is Montana born and Nashville resident, but her music has taken her around the globe - including to Australia - to tour. She draws on a lineage of folk, bluegrass and Americana, and she's also studied at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. A formal education in music is not essential, of course - some may argue that it can get in the way of an artist expressing themselves. But there's another argument to be made: that a knowledge of structure is fundamentally important in order to explore freely. Learn the rules before you break them.

Wolf's pedigree is evident in the construction of the nine wonderful songs on her third album, The Closest Thing to Home. There is a wealth of skill behind each of them: they are restrained and expressive at the same time, a balance that is often present in artists who are experienced enough to know exactly what to deliver and when. It's the difficult art of editing yourself, made more challenging when you have a voice like Wolf's, which clearly has great range and a lovely timbre, and which could, no doubt, be let off the leash to wander and trill all over the place. Except that wouldn't serve the song - and there is that restraint again. That's not to say that Wolf is straining - she sounds completely at ease within each of these songs. Instead, it is her saying to the audience, 'I'm here with you - I'm not going anywhere.' And that creates an intimacy with the listener that is an essential component of the experience of listening to this album.

Lyrically, Wolf is both vulnerable and strong. These are confessional, emotional songs that honour the listener, too, because Wolf is essentially saying that she trusts us enough to share. The album sounds immediately accessible - it felt weirdly like a relief to hear these songs for the first time. The album also grows richer and warmer with each listening, the way a great friendship should. And that's what Wolf seems to be offering: an opportunity to get to know her well. It's a beautiful privilege to have it, and to be able to listen to it over and over.

The Closest Thing to Home is out now.

Single release: 'Scars' by Cloverdayle

Nasvhille-based duo Cloverdayle is made up of Chad and Rachel Hamar, who originally hail from the Pacific Northwest of the USA. 'Scars' is a song they first played live to audiences in the northern summer this year, and the response was so strong that they recorded it as soon as they could. It is a gutsy, inspiring, anthemic song and it's easy to see why it resonated with audiences. The initial concept for the lyric came in 2013, after Rachel had an unexpected major surgery, waking up with what she described as both 'physical and emotional scars'.

Listen to a snipper of 'Scars' in the video below.

Interview: Cory Chisel from Traveller

Traveller will be familiar to Australian audiences who saw the band recently at the Out on the Weekend festival and in side gigs. They will also be familiar to American audiences, both as a band and from as individuals: Cory Chisel, Jonny Fritz and Robert Ellis have so much experience and talent between them that one band possibly can't contain it all. While the band was in Australia I spoke to Cory, and learnt a bit more about them and their album Western Movies, which has already been released in Australia but not, as yet, in the United States.

I’ll offer you a late welcome to Australia because you’ve already been here and played the Out on the Weekend festival on the weekend – how was it?
Thank you. It was extraordinary. It was full of our friends from home, which is always kind of an interesting feeling when you’re far away on the other side of the world and you’re hanging out with the same people you hang out with at home. The audience was really the difference-maker. You guys are incredible music fans in this country.

You’re not unknown individuals, but this is your first venture to Australia as a group, so there was a bit of the unknown there – but it sounds like no one minded.
You can go see all the other bands who rehearse a bunch and know what their songs are going to be, or you can come see us, where anything can happen. It’s fun.

That’s probably part of the appeal – and in keeping with the spirit of a festival too.
We’ve all obviously spent a lot of time in our careers doing not predictable things but certainly well-worn pathways, so it’s really fun to get out there and push the boundaries of something that we don’t really know how it will go either. It feels present, at least.

I guess when you come into this group with so much individual experience, it’s a bit like jazz musicians coming together: once you know the structure, you can play around within it, and that’s when really interesting things happen.
Yeah, that’s a lot of the idea of the group in general, was to make sure in a lot of ways that it wasn’t well rehearsed, so we could have fun being really present and push boundaries as we’re playing. We know more or less the road map, but which road we take to get there is the fun.

So when you are on stage – because the three of you, I would imagine, have equal weight and equal roles within the band – who gets to be the band leader?
Our personalities sort of work that out easily. Some of us don’t care which song is first or last, and someone in the band really does. They’re all leaders in their own way. Like Robert, certainly, musically sets a lot of the tone for what we do because he’s just such a phenomenal player, so if he wants to change the colour or the direction, he can do that very easily. Jonny’s such a creative craftsman that I think he puts a lot of set lists together and those kinds of things. And my job oftentimes is to be the glue between the two forces that are pulling on the wheel.

In some ways it’s like forming an instant family, because you have these transactional relationships where things have to get done but it’s also intensely personal. So I was actually quite surprised to read that your induction into the band came via a text message and you didn’t know the other two when that text message came through.
Well, I definitely did know them. Jonny and I weren’t as close as Robert and I were. Robert and I really met here in Australia. That’s the thing: inside this group it’s also incestuous. We all know who each other is. But I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Jonny until we sat down to form this band. I think we figured out a lot of what our strengths are individuals. I really love writing melodies and Jonny loves writings words, and Robert’s such an explorer in his way harmonically. The power struggle is easy because I think we all fall into what we want to do and it works itself out.

So when that invitation came to join them, had you had any thoughts of doing different projects, side projects, or was it just one of those great spur-of-the-moment things where you thought, Yep, I’m in.
I’d been writing for other people for a while and working with people like Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, appearing on records with Roseanne Cash and a couple of other people, so I was really enjoying however many years it was – sixteen years – professionally just kind of beating your own drum. And then after a while you wear out on the side of your own voice. So I was definitely looking to get into something that brought the inspiration back into writing, and this was just the right opportunity for it.

So it was 2015 the band had its first live performance, and then there was a gap and you came back together to write and record the album.
Yes, that’s it. We formed for one of the largest folk festivals in the country and I think we had four or five songs or something like that. And Robert said, joking, to the promoter that he needed to book this band and he took us up on it. So we were, like, we stumbled into this and now we’ve got to get serious about it. So in that break we all went to work on our little pieces of the puzzle and just getting our schedules to line up so we could be in the same room took a few years, and now I think we’re all really prioritising this group. To be in a group that has a sense of humour is really liberating for Robert and me. So much of this job is so narcissistic and self-gratifying, that to be able to take the air out of our tyres in a group but also write songs intentionally has been really fun.

It must be a bit of a relief, too, when you know that the other two are so accomplished and the level of professionalism is the same – after all those years of doing it on your own it must be nice to think you can relax and let some other people pick up some slack, and then you can pick it up for them, and you can all enjoy yourselves that way.
It’s a vacation, truly. Even doing interviews – like today, I’m doing the one because the other boys did them the other day. It’s not so much on one individual person’s shoulders and it really is so much easier. And when you’re on stage in a band that you love with people you love, you don’t really care if anyone else likes the show – we’re doing this for us as much as anything else. It has a gang mentality, you know.

You’ve released Western Movies in Australia but not yet in the United States – I’m guessing that’s because you’re out here for the festival, but you must have some fans in the US who are wondering why they have to wait.
Yeah, but that’s the way our band works – it seemed intelligent to go exactly in a different direction with this. We thought about even not releasing it in the United States and just releasing it in Australia. We’ve had a band for the past two years without even releasing a record. In this day and age it’s such an interesting process of trying to figure out what that even means any more, to release a record. So it’s fun to come down here where we don’t have a lot of skin in the game; we’re not trying to be the largest band in Australia, we’re just trying to come and have as much fun as possible. And then when you release it in the States it starts to feel more like, How many albums are we selling? And all that kind of stuff that none of us are really all that eager to get into.

When it came to writing the album you took ten days, and it was January so it was cold and a good time to be inside. That’s a really intensive writing process, but had things been bubbling away in your mind and the others’ minds so that when you came to write it flowed pretty easily?
I don’t worry about anything other than the melodies, so I have a Rolodex, phone memos, voice memos full of ideas. The other two have such strengths of their own. I don’t think we set out as a rule but when we all came together we’d been doing our mental work ahead of time. Jonny is extremely … he gets on these creative rolls. He’s got a story and he’s saying, ‘We should write a song about this’ and ‘We should write a song about that’, and as long as I have a melody to match it, we’re good to go. We could write a whole other record while we’re here.

I work with words in my day job and I love music obsessively, but I can never imagine coming up with a melody – not even a bar that works – even though I play instruments.
Well, that’s why you’ve got to have me in your band – I’ll help you out.

[Laughs] In terms of your musical background, are melodies things that have always come easily to you?
Yes. It always sounds a littlepretentious or boring when you hear it, but they’re really around all the time. You’re humming things and they’re not songs that you’ve heard before. So you just go about collecting them and capturing them as best you can. If you’re in a public place it gets a little awkward if you’re trying to record and remember things, but they leave really quickly, so you have to be vigilant about grabbing them when they come in.

It’s a discipline to be able to capture them when they come – did it take you a while to develop that discipline, or at least that awareness that you need to do that?
No. You said the right word. I personally think everybody can do it. I think you’re sort of conditioned away from it. If you’ve ever watched a child, they’re always making up songs. They’re always making up words that sound fun together to say. And it either gets nurtured or it gets turned into ‘Oh that’s nonsense’, or ‘What are you singing?’ There’s so much, like, song shaming, I feel like that is [laughs]. And then if you foster it – my parents, the minute they caught on that I was doing this stuff, and I was really young, they got me this little tape deck and would buy me endless amounts of tapes, and they taught me how to press record and rewind. They made it into a real special thing, so I just have a long habit of cultivating it, I’d say.

And also you’ve maintained it. That’s a practice you started young and you’ve still got it, so I can’t imagine you’ve had many times away from it.
I’ve been lucky enough – knock on wood – that I’ve never had a dry spell or a time when I couldn’t access … I’ve had lots of times where the melodies don’t necessarily tell you what they want to say, and I get very frustrated in that part of the process. I don’t want to just write instrumental music, necessarily. So teaming up with other guys – if you’ve ever met Jonny, you would know in a second, he’s got a constant inner narrative running that’s funny, interesting and sad. And right on the money. It’s sort of how he walks around too. So combining those things. And Robert is literally an energy ball of ‘Give me a guitar, give me a guitar, give me a guitar, let me touch that.’ If you sit in a room and there’s only one guitar, he has it.

Therefore, it is a perfect trinity. It sounds like it has been a meeting of minds in many different ways.
And I think all of us always really wanted to be in a band, we just couldn’t find enough people in our home towns, who we grew up with, who wanted to stick with it as long as we would. So this is always what I wanted to do, essentially. I’ve never really had a huge need to be, like, ‘The world needs to know what Cory Chisel thinks’, but I do love being in the creative process with people who are pushing you and expanding. And we get to travel the world together, with our best friends. And the rhythm section of the group – you could do a whole separate article on their diverse backgrounds that they’re bringing in. When you get the right chemistry it’s fun. Until we break up and hate each other.

It sounds like it’s going too well for fights – yet.
Oh, we’ve had a shitload of fights. That’s every day. One member of the band hates the show every time we play. We rotate it.

I think that’s also part of keeping sharp. You’d get complacent if every single one of you walked off and thought, That’s great.
Yeah, we all can’t run to the same side of the boat. We have to balance each other out. Different personalities sort that out as it goes. But everybody’s really on each other’s side at the end of the day, so if there’s people who came and liked it, great, and if not – who gives a shit? We had fun.

On a slightly technical note, I read that the album was recorded and written in your 57-room former monastery. How did you manage to choose one room to be the studio – which room did you pick?
Well, we used a lot of different spaces for different reasons. The technical aspect is that there’s certain rooms that are a little easier to control musically. All the reverbs and everything like that that are in the record, we were able to use the chapel as the place where we went after those kinds of sounds. It’s a really interesting place. It’s kind of hard to explain unless you’re in it, but there’s endless options. We could make a lot of different-kind-of-sounding records. So we just want to get back in there. We’re all ready to make another one.

And do you, on your own time, experiment with the sorts of sounds that come out of those rooms or do you wait for that recording process?
This project with the monastery is really what has … other than this group and a small amount with my own music, but really the main project is understanding that building and how to use it for art making. Then when everyone shows up I get really geeked out and excited about a specific spot that I want everyone to see, and hopefully one of them gets it and we get to use it.

How amazing that you could actually find a building like that and also really engage in exploring it. That’s beautiful.
It definitely was kind of a dream-come-true scenario with the whole property. So I plan on exploiting it to its fullest over the next thirty years.

And you have many rooms in which to do so. Now, for this album you did not have a record label.
We didn’t want one [laughs].

I did some research but couldn’t find out if you’ve had one before for your own work. But I imagine it was somewhat liberating to not have a label.
It was amazing to not have anyone else’s opinions other than our perfect opinions.

[Laughs] I often talk to Australian country music artists and there’s a lot of self-funding or crowd-funding going, and the quality of work coming out is so good that one wonders whether record companies have in the past meddled too much.
All the time. All thetime. Every one of us has a story like that. It’s our job, if we want the audience to enjoy what we’re making and if the audience at first is the record company and there’s just not giving you any positive feedback, it’s pretty impossible to not change something in the record, because you’re just getting all this negative feedback. This is really from our brain and from our mind, and we like it, and if there was a recipe – if any people from a record company knew what was going to sell and what wasn’t going to sell – they wouldn’t all lose their jobs every other day.

Part of this development of artists producing their own work is that it’s so much more direct to their audience, and the reason to do this is, in large part, to reach your audience. So the audience probably feels more connected without having a record company in the middle.
We live in a direct-to-consumer world. I watch Netflix. I want to pick the show I want to watch. I don’t want to arbitrarily have someone else force-feed me the content of what I want to digest. So I think it’s really important for artists to have that access that we’ve been granted through technology to really just cut out the people who previously have been gatekeepers – arbitrary gatekeepers and bad bankers who give us shitty loans that we have to pay back, and even when we do pay them back they still own the company. It just doesn’t make sense.

To go back to your album, and its title, Western Movies, I would like to ask you: which Western movies do you like?
Ẁow, that’s a lot to answer there. We all have our own favourite. I personally love Pale Rider. Robert’s saying [The Outlaw] Josey Wales. I don’t remember what Jonny’s favourite is – some spaghetti Western. But that’s one thing a lot of us connect on in our music, exposing the stuff that we feel maybe we’re a little nerdy or dorky for liking, and then we’re, like, ‘Let’s write songs about that – let’s exploit ourselves.’

If it’s stuff you love, passion always connects with an audience.
Every girlfriend in the world has been bored to death having to sit through one of these movies because we forced them on the world.

So for my last question I’m going to ask just about you and your music separately. Do you have plans for music of your own soon or do you think it will be another album with Traveller first?

I released a new record in the States in August, and really have an interesting time releasing my own music. I don’t know if it’s just a growth phase of time. I really enjoy making them and enjoy people close to me, having something to give them that I feel belongs to them too. But the whole process of going around and stumping for everyone in the world to care about what you think, I have an interesting relationship to. But I do have a record that I’m really proud of and now on this trip we’re making plans to come over again, just solo, with my partner Adrielle, hopefully maybe in February.

Western Movies is out now.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Single release: 'It's So Cruel' by Ruby Boots

As a big fan of Ruby Boots's 2015 debut album, Solitude, I was very pleased to see news of her new single, 'It's So Cruel', from her forthcoming long player Don't Talk About It (to be released in February).

The new song is more rock than country - just to manage the expectations of those who like their country country - but it is very much Boots, with all the vim and vigour of the songs of Solitude. Along with the other songs on the new album, it was written and recorded in Nashville, made possible when Boots received the 2016 Australia Council Songwriting Award Nashville Residency.

Watch the video for 'It's So Cruel' below.

Pre-order the album here.

Album review: Nomad by Angus Gill

The debut status of Angus Gill’s album Nomad belies the fact that he is no novice in the Australian country music game. Already a Star Maker grand finalist and a three-time graduate of the CMAA Academy of Country Music, Gill has the credentials to create an impressive debut – and, as it turns out, he has the talent too.

Nomad is identifiably an Australian country music album that draws on its lineage – with shades of Slim Dusty and Lee Kernaghan – and also sounds like an album that a young man would release. Gill’s voice has a youthful lightness to it that’s paired with the seriousness with which he’s taken his craft and his history.

These are songs of the road, of mishaps and friendships, of hope and light. Gill doesn’t shy away from including genuine emotion in a song (‘Starin’ Out the Back of a Car’) but he’s also not averse to writing a very catchy song about traffic (‘Country Bloke City Driving’). This contrast does not seem at all incongruous, and that is, no doubt, due to Gill’s background in country music. Despite his youth, he’s paid a certain amount of dues, and he deserves respect accordingly – as evidenced by the appearance of luminaries such as Kevin Bennett and Adam Harvey on the album.

Come January, Gill will doubtless have many returning and new fans at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, and this album almost sounds like it was born of the festival, because it is so evocative of its genre and also captures the energy and enthusiasm that is characteristic of the festival. The album has an identity beyond that, of course, and it will be in farm houses and townhouses, on country roads and in that confounded city traffic. Gill has made an album that will please the traditionalists no end and also appeal to audiences around his age. This is quite a feat – no doubt the first of many.

Nomad is out now.

Google Play

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Single release: 'Pearly Gates of the Landfill' by Freya Josephine Hollick

With so much music - and so much great music - to listen to, it's not unusual for me to miss things ... as outlined in a recent post about Sam Hunt. And it turns out I missed Freya Josephine Hollick when she released her EP, Don't Mess with the Doyenne, earlier this year, and her album, The Unceremonious Junking of Me, last year. This was, at best, a faux pas, as Hollick's music is wonderful: whimsical, sincere, direct, sentimental, and sounding like she's standing on a dust-blown plain in about 1948, singing to the winds while remaining wholly contemporary.

Hollick is about to release a new single, 'Pearly Gates of the Landfill', with a launch show at The Spotted Mallard in Melbourne's Brunwick on 11 November. The single is the first release from her next album. So don't make the same mistake I did and miss out on Hollick's music - listen to it now, and forever more.

Tickets to the show available here

The Audreys and an anniversary

Eleven years ago Australian country music duo The Audreys released their first album, Between Last Night & Us. Despite intentions to do a ten-year anniversary tour, they are now on the road one year late - but, of course, for their fans, any time is the right time. The album won an ARIA, and there were other successful albums after that. Yet it's back to this first landmark album they'll go for this tour - and I spoke to one half of the band, Taasha Coates, about it.

How did The Audreys form all those years ago?
It was 2004. Tristan and I were playing together doing mostly covers but in our own style – slowed-down versions of pop songs and stuff – and we wanted a band name. We were just calling ourselves Taasha and Tristan, and we wanted a band name. And we started a competition. The winner – the person who came up with the band name that we chose – got a $50 drink voucher at one of our gigs. We got so many suggestions – pages and pages of suggestions. At one point after we’d chosen the name, we threw the pages away in frustration because we were so sick of looking at them, and I’ve regretted that so many times because I’ve had friends trying to name bands. But in the end it was actually me who came up with [the name]. I said, ‘It’s a shame there’s already a band called The Audreys because that would be really cool.’ And Tristan said, ‘I’ve never heard of a band called that.’ It’s just a nice reference to something old fashioned and I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan, and Hank Williams’s wife was called Audrey. So it has a few little tie-ins. And then we started writing, and recorded our first record in 2005 and it came out in 2006, and that’s this record that we’re touring now.

Did you give yourself the $50 drink voucher?
Yes, I got drunk at my own gig – it was awesome.

Listening to this album, it doesn’t sound like a debut album – which makes sense, because you were obviously playing for a long time together before that. You’d reached a point of maturity in your playing. But to you, listening back, does it sound like a really developed work?
I haven’t listened to it in years [laughs]. I guess I probably should before the tour. It’s very hard to listen to your own stuff objectively. I’ll just hear, ‘Oh my god, I sound so young’. I’m sure my voice is quite different now, eleven years on.

I don’t know about that – haven’t listened to your solo work, I don’t think your voice sounds much different. Perhaps that’s also because your voice was really developed by the time of that first album too. It sounded like you had arrived on that album ready, and therefore it doesn’t surprise me that that voice has sustained itself through the years because it’s not like you needed to do a lot of development.
Oh, that’s nice – thank you. I did actually study voice at university. I did a music degree. But that was the first time I’d recorded – it was my first time in a studio.

Even studying music at university wouldn’t necessarily prepare you for that.
No, no, because I was studying jazz. Which I kind of can’t stand [laughs] and I don’t think I was very good at. But it certainly helped me develop my instrument – as in, develop my voice – and I was using it all the time. We had been gigging for about eighteen months when we recorded. And it’s one of the nice things about being from Adelaide: no one else was really doing what we were doing, so there was nothing we were judging ourselves against, it was just very much [that] we were making our own sound and doing our own thing. So I didn’t go in the studio worried about what people were going to think of it. I thought we’d make a thousand copies at most and sell them at gigs. I wasn’t thinking of this as some grand debut – it was just doing the best that we could and trying to make a sound that we were happy with.

Has the way you and Tristan make music together changed over the years?
Actually, not really. He’s more involved in the lyrics than he was early on – we write the lyrics together now. But we’re not tech heads – we don’t demo stuff extensively òn our laptops or anything like that. We sit in a room together, with a guitar and piece of paper. And that’s how we’ve always done it.

The tools of a piece of paper and a pencil are really easy – as a piece of technology, a piece of paper works really well.
That’s very true. And then we’ll record them on voice memo or something. Early on, before that was a feature, we had a little digital Dictaphone. If we got what we thought was a basic verse-chorus kind of idea, we’d record it a snatch of it, then we’d go down the pub with our pen and paper and headphones and just listen to it over and over again, and pass the pad and paper back between each other and each have a turn writing a line. Pages and pages. There was one bar we used to go to a lot that was near our house – the staff would come over and we’d say, ‘So what rhymes with blah-blah-blah?’ and they’d all come up with different ideas about rhymes. So they felt they were involved. It was great.

I’ve never heard of a songwriting process like that.
It was good. We used to write over a week, so we’d get up and first thing in the morning is good because you’re often really fresh, and we would just bust out until we got an idea that we thought was worthwhile. Then you’re sick of your space – you’re frustrated, you need to move, you need to get out, so you go down the pub. Especially if you’re in the Adelaide Hills and a glass of wine is $4.50 [laughs]. You probably have to search a bit harder for that nowadays. We did write some of our second record in New York, but again the same process.

Now that you have done your solo album, do you prefer the process as a duo?
Yes, I found that pretty lonely, actually, pretty hard. Also it’s quite a personal record. It was me really reflecting on the year I’d had. So I was digging into some painful feelings. I wrote that record over five weeks. I did one gig every week for five weeks and the first gig I had, I think, five and a bit songs, then by the fifth week I had fourteen. So I was writing them through that whole process. But I was also working and a single mother with two young children, so it was full on. At the end of the five weeks, a couple of days after that fifth gig, I was in the studio. So it was all a bit brutal.

It also sounds like you work really well within structure – the way you work with Tristan has its own structure, and then you structured that solo process. It sounds like you looked at it and thought, By the end of these five weeks I will have written this album.
Exactly. And you have to have faith in yourself that writing is a skill you haven’t lost. I actually did quite a lot of writing this year. I went to Austin  I did a songwriting exchange. Wrote a bunch of songs over there with some Austin songwriters. I also did one of those song hub things that APRA run, where you write three songs over three days. So I’ve been writing a lot. And if you said to me, ‘You’re going to be in the studio a year from today,’ I would write everything in the last month. So I have spurts of writing and then I’ll have spurts of being a mum and a touring musician and a wife and whatever else. I’m not someone who feels like I have to write every week.

When you do write like that, once you have that collection of songs, do you put them aside and let them marinate for a bit? Actually, no, you just told me you didn’t do that!
Although I did have those gigs. The songs I’d written for the first gig, by the fifth gig were a lot more developed. So there was that month process there. I’d probably do that again. I liked that process. I think next time Tristan and I write me might book ourselves a month of shows. Because it was pretty fun.

It also sounds like you could get on a wave, then – the creative momentum was there but it was also balanced, because there was performance as well as that interior life of writing.
Yes, and they were pretty low-key gigs. I wasn’t afraid to say, ‘I just wrote this this morning.’ But there were lots of people who came to a couple of the shows and really felt like they were involved in the process and would come up and say, ‘I love what you’ve done with that song’, and, ‘This is my favourite’. It was really good. It was really fun.

It must be hugely gratifying to feel that you’re not writing or performing into the void – it is that storyteller exchange. The audience is there and you’re meeting them.
Exactly. And I think I really wanted that with the solo record because, first of all, I didn’t have Audreys gigs to try them out on, and secondly it was a new voice for me, so I think I wanted a bit of feedback.

Earlier you mentioned that with the tour coming up you might have to go back and listen to the first album. Are you and Tristan going to need much rehearsal time, or are you going to fit back together like puzzle pieces?
A lot of these songs we’ve been doing the whole time, but there are some that I’ll definitely have to go back and listen to [laughs] and make some notes about. But, also, Tristan’s brother Cam is playing with us on this tour, and he was on that first record. And he hasn’t played with us since. He’s an actor. But he’s having a break from acting at the moment, so he’s doing this tour with us. Apart from getting up as a special guest here and there over the last ten years, he’s not actually toured with us. It will be great fun having him on stage but it will mean a little bit of ‘Okay, so who plays what here?’

So he’s the one who needs rehearsal time.
Probably. But no, he’s a great musician so I’m sure at our first rehearsal everyone will have learnt their parts. That’s how the pros are meant to do it anyway [laughs].

Looking at the list of venues, are you going back to old favourites or visiting new ones?
Mostly old favourites. Where are you?

I’m in Sydney.
So Leadbelly [in Sydney’s Newtown] used to be called The Vanguard, and we played there on our first tour, I reckon. If not second. We’ve been playing there for ten years.

I can’t see country towns – well, there’s one. So you’re tending to stick to cities?
At the moment. We do regional touring. But it’s hard. I live in Adelaide, Tristan lives in Melbourne, Cam lives in Sydney. Regional touring takes a lot more time. But we’re playing down south in Victoria, we’re playing Newcastle, we’re playing Wollongong.

Are you going to change the set list each night?
Well, this is our tour where we’re playing that record. And then we’ll come back on stage and play some favourites of ours from our other records, and if people want to request stuff, totally. I might play a few things off my solo record. We might do some wacky covers.

It sounds like you won’t have time for a support act, then?
No, we do have a support act. Dylan Menzie, he’s a Canadian singer-songwriter.

Over your years of touring, what have been the best gigs?
That’s a tough one, because they can be so different. There’s something really great about a listening room, where people are there to hear the music. But there’s also something really fun about getting on a big festival stage and playing to people who haven’t heard of you, if you’re overseas or something. It’s much more challenging, but it can be really great fun and rewarding. So I like both ends of that spectrum. One thing I love about festivals is that for me, as a touring musician and also a mum, it can be hard to get out and see other bands. So if I’m at a festival, I get to see other bands. It’s so fun.

Are there any bad gigs that stick in your memory?
Oh my god, yes! [laughs] I think my worst one still stands out as … oh look, it’s probably a tie between a whole bunch of shitty ones. We played one year at the Gympie Muster and there was really bad feedback on stage, through the whole gig, and we decided it sounded like two whales having sex. And so, instead of actually mixing the gig, the sound engineer spent the entire time trying to work out where the feedback was coming from. It was a nightmare. Bad sound always does it for me. Bad sound makes a bad gig.

One last question: on the song ‘Banjo and Violin’, you said, ‘I used to be rock ’n’ roll’, and I’m wondering how you’d classify yourself now.
I say. ‘I’ve gone a bit country since I met you, baby, I used to be so rock ’n’ roll’. So Tristan and I, when we met, we were university students. He was in a rock band. He had long hair. He played electric guitar. And we started playing country music together. So it’s a reference to our evolution. I was studying jazz, so I wasn’t particularly rock ’n’ roll, so it’s a reference to Tristan. And now I’m probably a bit more rock ’n’ roll now. I wear black skinny jeans and there’s some pretty rocky songs on my solo record.        

So you’re a mix. We’ll call you country rock, how about that?
Country rock – I love that! When I was doing interviews for my solo record and someone said, ‘Where do you see yourself with this record?’ I said, ‘I want to be the dirty old granny of Australian country music’ [laughs].

I look forward to seeing you become that dirty old granny.
Thank you! I do too.

Tour dates:
Saturday 4th November 2017 | 3pm
The Milk Factory, BRISBANE QLD

Saturday 4th November 2017 | 8pm
The Milk Factory, BRISBANE QLD

Sunday 5th November 2017 | 7.30pm

Wednesday 8th November 2017 | 6pm

Thursday 9th November 2017 | 7pm
The Brass Monkey, CRONULLA NSW

Friday 10th November 2017 | 7pm
Heritage Hotel, BULLI NSW

Saturday 11th November 2017 | 6pm
Leadbelly, NEWTOWN NSW

Sunday 12th November 2017 | 12.30pm
Leadbelly, NEWTOWN NSW

Friday 24th November 2017 | 8pm
Meeniyan Hall, MEENIYAN VIC

Saturday 25th November 2017 | 7.30pm
Memo Music Hall, ST KILDA VIC

Monday, October 30, 2017

Drew McAlister is going his way

Drew McAlister is one of the busiest songwriters in Australian country music - when he's not writing and releasing his own music. His latest album is Coming Your Way, which is distinctively McAlister's sound yet also takes him in a new direction - and perhaps even towards One Direction ...

Congratulations on the album, I hope you are feeling justifiably proud.
Yes, absolutely – I’m stoked. I put everything into it. It feels really good.

The first single is ‘Coming Your Way’ and I detect a bit of a Highlands rock vibe in there. I know your family is Scottish in origin, so I thought I’d ask you if there is any Scottish music you love?
No, there’s not. But I love the pipes. I was trying to find a way to get pipes onto this album but it didn’t eventuate. I had a guy lined up and everything but it didn’t quite come to fruition. That song has definitely got [that vibe] and I don’t even know where it came from. I don’t really listen to Celtic stuff. But that song I wrote on my own over a couple of months and it just kind of came out. It’s not like I was listening to anything in particular at the time. I don’t know – maybe over the years it’s something that filtered in.

As you mentioned, you wrote that song on your own – and that isn’t something you do very often because you’re a very frequent collaborator with other Australian country music artists in particular. What do you love about collaboration?
I guess it’s what I’ve always done. I started out many, many years ago when I was 18, going around Sydney to every studio you could think of, writing with people, and it’s the way I started out. It seems to be the way that I get great songs. But having said that, writing this song on my own has taught me something. I think it’s going to be something that I do more often. Because I kind of surprised myself, to be honest. You can sit in a co-write and sometimes one person can put in more than the other, but generally speaking, across the board, you split it three ways because if those people weren’t in the room you wouldn’t have come up with the idea. But I think about how much I’ve contributed to songs and co-writes in the past, and in some cases it’s been a significant amount. So writing that song [‘Coming Your Way’] taught me that I might just sit down and write a few more on my own, see what I can come up with.

Given that collaboration is how you started, it’s almost as if you’ve never had a chance to explore this on your own before.
No, I’ve never really just sat and written on my own … It’s made me realise that maybe I have a bit more to say on my own than I thought.

Your name comes up so often when other artists talk about co-writes – I sometimes wonder if there’s any artist you haven’t collaborated with!
[Laughs] I’ve been signed as a writer with different publishing companies for years, so I’ve always gone out of my way to try to justify the fact that I was even signed as a writer. Getting a publishing deal back in the day was not so hard to do – a lot harder to do now because print and copyright and all that stuff, the market’s pretty much died because there’s no way to make any money out of it any more, really. It’s something I’ve always tried to justify so I’ve always worked hard writing for people. I’ve slowed down a little bit now, especially on this last album I just wrote with the people I wanted to write with and had a good track record with – guys I felt comfortable with – so I slowed down collaborating with a lot of people. But we’ll see what the future holds. The album is out now. I’ve got some more tunes in my brain and I’m sure they’ll come out at some point.

Over the years you’ve done a lot of your own stuff, whether it was with McAlister Kemp or solo. Writing songs with other people – is that almost like the day job? And then your own stuff feels different? Or is it all part of a continuum?
It’s interesting you ask that question – a day job is the way that I’ve tried to treat it. I’ve made sure in the past that I’ve locked away co-writes during the week – that way you’ve got to show up, you’ve got to write a song. Much how they do it in Nashville: guys there write five days a week, that’s their job. I’ve become good at showing up with not one idea and coming out with something [laughs] just because I had to. Just showing up and doing it, trying to treat it like a job. You’re a writer, you know that you can sit for hours and write stuff and it doesn’t mean you’re going to get paid for it but at the end of the day you do it because you love it and you hope that it transcribes into financial stuff down the track. So I have tried to treat it like a job but it does go up and down. I’ve tried to maintain that regularity – it doesn’t mean you come up with stuff all the time ... But getting that album out, coming to that point, is a massive brain thing for me. So we’ve got to that point and now that’s out, there’s other stuff that goes with that that I’ve now got to work on – gigs and all that stuff. But I’ll start to get an itch back and I’ll start to write again definitely.

Someone who’s on the outside of the writing process – who perhaps wants to be a songwriter – that idea of showing up five days a week and being able to summon that creativity might seem odd. Some people might say you should wait for the muse to turn up. But are you a believer in that idea that it’s showing up that can trigger the creativity?
That’s everything. That’s everything. Showing up is everything. You just have to be in the room. You don’t know what will come. I write with Allan Caswell a lot, over the years we’ve had days where we’ll sit there for three hours and nothing comes out but at least we were there trying [laughs]. And then other days we’ve written some beautiful songs and neither of us came with an idea but on that particular day something aligned and brains were functioning a certain way and you come up with something awesome. I’m just a big believer in the idea that you can create something that didn’t exist four hours ago which could potentially move people – that is just the coolest thing ever. That never gets old to me. These little acoustic demos you do and then seeing them become full-blown songs that you then get to play in front of thousands of people – that whole little trip, it never gets old. It’s pretty cool [laughs].

And I’m guessing that the fact you think it never gets old is the reason it continues to happen for you. I can hear it in your voice- that positive energy you associate with your work keeps it flowing.
Absolutely. Even when you’re writing depressing songs where you’re laying your heart out in a room of people you don’t know that well, it’s still souls getting together creating something. That’s the most organically real part of this industry, the creation of the music. Then the performing of it, for that hour and a half on stage. They’re the two things that should never be tarnished, I don’t reckon. Those two bits are, I guess, why we keep coming back, really.

I suppose it is mysterious that you need to go through all that bit in the middle to get there, because what you’ve just described, the song creation, is you beginning to create something that will ultimately connect with an audience live or recorded, but there is that machinery in the middle that you have to go through to connect, and it does seem a little bit unwieldy.
Well, yes, it is, but this has been going on for many, many years. The music industry, that ever-changing monster. But I guess the cool thing is that whether you get paid or not, people will still create music because that is the most awesome thing ever, to be able to write songs – and write books, write, create. That’s just the most cool thing ever and there’s a whole bunch of other people out there who know that we’ll always create so they’ll money off us in some way. But if you get savvy and you work it out – and I’m starting to, in my forties – you can make money out of it and be a bit smarter about how you then deliver your creation to the world.

And it must be good, particularly for a country music artist, to have a great audience on the other side. That audience stays with artists and also stays with the genre.
Oh man, ain’t that the truth. We’re one of the only genres I know of where you still go out after a gig and meet the audience and sign stuff and talk to them. I love doing that. And country music fans, they don’t like bullshit. They are just straight to the point. If you’re going to try to piss in their pocket they know straightaway. Because they’re blue collar – they are down-to-earth humans doing their best. And I’m one of them. They are a unique genre and I love that about them. I’ve been on both sides – I was signed as a pop solo artist, years ago now, with EMI and all the crap that that entailed, there was nothing real about it. So I do love the fact that this genre gives that back to you and we try to give them that as well.

It is a relationship. And, as a I like to say, country music is our national storytelling in song, and I think the artists and the audience really know their roles in that.
Absolutely. If I look at the songs I’ve written over the years touching on certain subjects, there is the blue-collar thing in its many facets. Down-to-earth Australians who are struggling. You look at the facets that could entail, what you could write about, and there are many, many things. I try to touch on it in this new album. The more you can look into it, hardship and hope, those two words, there’s so many things that you could write about because everyone’s story is different. So I’ve got plenty more albums in me – whether I get to record them or not, we’ll see.

You mentioned that you were signed as a pop artist, and your musical abilities have tended towards the rock and pop end of country. I’m interested in which artists have been influential on you as a country music artist.
There’s a lot. Tim McGraw and Zac Brown – they’re very different. Tim McGraw doesn’t write but he picks songs for his audience that are contemporary and still saying something. You’ll always find one or two songs on a Tim McGraw album that are so beautifully crafted because he’s got the handpick o the best songwriters in Nashville. I always listen to his albums because you’ll always find a gem there. He may never play it live but you’ll be able to sit in the car and go, ‘My god – listen to this song’, and tear up or whatever. Zac Brown, for different reasons. He’s organic – he writes songs that move me. But also the way he carries himself, the way he conducts himself in this industry, he’s not doing what everybody else is doing. He’s always trying to push the boundaries. And from a Tim McGraw point of view, the production on all his albums is awesome. It’s new. It’s always fresh. There’s always something that he’s doing that’s completely fresh, because the guys who are producing his album are cutting edge. Whereas Zac Brown can have a really dry production, and a lot of money spent on it, but the lyric and the song do the job.

To come back to songwriting: it’s really hard to write a catchy song and you’re really, really good at it. I often think pop music can be underrated because the presumption is that it’s easy to write a catchy song but I reckon it’s super hard.
I’m a huge One Direction fan. I wasn’t until my girls were born but now they’re both right into One Direction. My eldest has a locket with Harry [Styles] in it – she’s eight years old. I started listening to their stuff. That pop sensibility I’ve always been big on because I’ve listened to a lot of that stuff over the years, but you listen to a One Direction song, it’s awesome. Listen to the hooks – you can’t help but sing along to that stuff. I’m not just talking vocal hooks. It’s guitar hooks, it’s the structure of the song, it’s coming back to things. I’ve tried to implement that in what I write – I’ve always tried to do that – even if it’s a lyric that’s a very moving lyric, that’s very real and honest and someone’s probably going to cry listening to it, you can still implement that stuff into a song so there are hooks in it. You’ve got to have hooks. It’s like ABC for kids – that’s why they’re written that way, so that when someone listens to it, you’ve got to be able to hum it before you can sing it, because not everyone’s going to know the lyric, so you’ve got to have that hook, and I’m always conscious of that when I’m trying to write a song.

But I do think it’s hard – it’s that musical sweet spot, and to not do it the same way over and over again is probably the hardest bit.
Well, for example, in a bunch of my songs I’ve got the ‘whoa whoa whoas’, right? Caswell hates it – he says, ‘Are we going to put another whoa-whoa in?’ But listen to a lot of country, there’s whoas in every frickin’ song – it’s just how you implement them and how you say them. When you’re singing in front of thousands of people, that’s the one thing they can always sing back. But you’ve got to make sure there’s some meat and potatoes in the rest of the song because you can’t just do a whoa-whoa-whoa song all the way through – there has to be something else under the hood.

Speaking of songs – on this album, do you have any favourites or are they all your favourites?
Oh, they all are. And if you listen to the album there’s not one that’s remotely the same as the next. I’ve definitely tried to make it an interesting album for anyone to listen to. I love them all. ‘Coming Your Way’ inspires me. ‘Kissing a Girl Goodnight’ – I didn’t write that song but I picked it because it’s beautiful and it’s also about me and about a lot of people. ‘Better Buzz’ – just for the pure fact it’s got a Stones feel to it. It’s cheeky and quite silly. ‘Time’, because I’m living that with my wife – there’s just no time left any more. You’re raising these babies. They’ve all got reasons that I love them. They’ve got their own postcode and they’re all on there for a reason.

And as you said, they are all different. While it’s definitely your sound, it’s a diverse album.
And I’ve definitely tried to do that. One song, ‘Foolin’ Around in the Summertime’, we wrote that three years ago and it just sat there. I loved it but I couldn’t figure how it was going to end up on an album, so I went back and rewrote it and tried to make it the feel that it is now, which is almost like a 60s feel in places. But I don’t know … it’s a bloody science, all this [laughs].

Of course, a crucial part of the process is your producer, and you chose Andy Mac. How did you come to select him?
I heard the McClymonts album [Endless] and he produced that. So I was listening to the production, and I knew it had to be a step up from [my] last album. I produced the last album with a friend of mind, Ben Robinson, and I knew that this had to be a step up, otherwise pack up and go home. And I needed a pop approach to my songs. So I found Andy and I called him and we chatted, and I said, ‘Here’s the budget, here’s the songs. This is all we’ve got. I’d love you to do this.’ And he definitely does more pop stuff. He said yes to it, and I was stoked. From then on we traded demos, all the demos I was doing at the time, and trying to relay the way I thought they might sound, all the structures and stops and starts, and I sent that to him and he just improved on it – he really did. Some of the songs, if you heard the original demos to what they became, they got exponentially better, so I’m so glad that he could do it.

Given that you’ve achieved a lot in your career so far – very successful years in McAlister Kemp and now solo, and you’ve won Golden Guitars and other words – is there anything you still have your sights set on?

I just want to keep improving, for a start. It’d be nice to win a Golden Guitar on my own [laughs] – I’ve won it with collaboration a lot. Having said that, I’m not going to write songs to win awards. The whole ARIA thing is something I’d like to achieve on my own too. You know what I want to achieve? I want to make a living. I want to make a living where I can support my family. Back in the day I wanted to be rich and famous, but that’s not something I think about any more. I just want to have a career. As humble as that may or may not be, that’s what I’m trying to do now. 

Coming Your Way is out now through ABC Music/Universal.

  and Google Play.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

EP review: Calling You by Lyn Bowtell

There is absolutely no way that Lyn Bowtell could produce something that is not worthy of an effusive review. Even if you never paid attention to any of her lyrics, her voice alone makes her extraordinary. Those who have seen her play live know that her clean, sweet, warm, perfectly pitched sound is as pristine live as it is recorded. And they also know that she is adept at conjuring powerful emotions - it is hard to get through one of Bowtell's gigs without shedding a tear. So her voice is a powerful instrument, which means something - and means more because although she has a huge range and it has such an incredible sound, she never uses it for display. There are no superfluous notes because Bowtell also respects the song and will do whatever is necessary to serve it.

Calling You is Bowtell's first release since her exquisite 2014 album, Heart of Sorrow, although it is not entirely her work.

Three of the songs are covers: the first track, 'He Burns', was written by Foy Vance; there's also a version of her live favourite 'Hearts of Gold' by Sting, and of 'Let it Be' by that somewhat popular songwriting duo Lennon McCartney. Bowtell, of course, makes these songs sound like she wrote them - when a performer is so accomplished and also understands music so well, it can't be a surprise that she is able to find a new and personal way to interpret an old song.

Bowtell is also part of the country music troika Bennett Bowtell Urquhart and there is original music by her on their album. So I won't grumble that there's not a complete album from her now - instead, it is a treat to have any new songs. The three original songs on the EP - 'All My Life', 'Calling You' and 'Far Away' - sit beautifully beside the three covers. As with all of Bowtell's originals, they are stirring and thought provoking. If the EP were just those three songs, it would a lovely piece of work. It is an absolute treat to have more. Let's hope there is even more soon.

Calling You is out now.

Google Play

Album review: Real Class Act by Fanny Lumsden

Since Fanny Lumsden released her debut album, Small Town Big Shot, she has established herself as a pillar of the Australian country music community. She was already seasoned at touring parts of Australia that rarely see a musical act, and she continued to do that - it was a fitting activity for someone whose music appeared almost to spring from the land and its people. Lumsden seems to intrinsically understand that one of the functions of country music is to tell the story of the country. It can be quite a responsibility, and it's one she is absolutely capable of undertaking, as she showed on Small Town Big Shot and now on her second album, Real Class Act.

On this new album Lumsden may return to the themes of her first - the land and its people - but she has moved on to new stories, and where there was a touch of (healthy) cynicism on the first album, the second is mostly a more jaunty affair. There is a notable exception: 'Real Men Don't Cry (War on Pride)' is Lumsden's serious - and needfully so - plea for Australians to relinquish the stoicism which can cause so much damage. It is the sort of directness that country music facilitates and allows to be sincerely received, because of the artist's relationship with the audience and theirs with the artist. In someone else's hands this song might sound hokey; in Lumsden's - so assured, experienced and empathetic - it is moving. And it has a companion in the beautiful final song on the album, 'Here to Hear'. 

The other songs on Real Class Act are the sort that evoke scratchy summer grass, dusty roads and old friendships, with all the mixed emotions they bring. Lumsden understands that the best way to communicate a story is not by trying to sweep up as many experiences and emotions as you can into the one song. Specificity is what offers the listener the opportunity to think, Me too. Or, if there's no commonality, there is a richly detailed story to listen to instead.

As with the title of her first album, Lumsden's use of 'Real Class Act' could be taken as ironic - except it's not. At every stage of her career she has proved herself to be the real deal, and a real class act. She's also a one-off. Lumsden honours the traditions of Australian country music and takes them further along the red dirt road with her, remaking them as she goes and creating a unique sound and style that can only continue to win more fans. 

Real Class Act is out now.

Google Play

Single release: 'Here's to Me & You' by Tom Dockray

Originally from Tasmania, now resident in Denmark (via Melbourne), Tom Dockray has released a new single, 'Here's to Me & You', in advance of his return to Australia to play a few dates. On this sound Dockray has a deceptively laidback country/folk sound - deceptive because his lyricism is far from being lazy. The song is the first single from his forthcoming second album.

Watch the video for 'Here's to Me & You' below. The dates for Dockray's tour appear below the video.

All dates are in November 2017

1          The Paragon Theatre Queenstown TAS
2 House Concert Hobart TAS
3 Red Velvet Lounge Cygnet TAS
8 The Spotted Mallard       Melbourne VIC
10/11/12 Bendigo Blues Festival   Bendigo VIC
14 The Newsagency Sydney NSW
16 The Fox Den          Gloucester NSW
17 Flow Bar Old Bar NSW
18 Two Goats Cafe & Baa  Armidale NSW
19 The Bearded Lady Brisbane QLD

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Interview: Missy Lancaster

Missy Lancaster recently released the single 'Forget', which in some ways marks the end of an intense period of introduction to the music industry and also marks the start of her next phase, with her new album to be released early in 2018. The single might be said to also mark another change for Missy: her emergence from several years of living with anorexia nervosa and her determination to embrace the life she has created. Missy kindly agreed to speak about her experiences over the past few years, and it was easy for me to be impressed by this remarkable young woman.

When did your relationship with music start?
I was introduced to music when I was about three [years old], and I can remember being four and five and singing all the Shania Twain songs. It probably wasn’t until I was about thirteen – I can remember seeing The McClymonts and watching them and thinking, That’s so cool, I really want to do that. I begged my mum for a guitar and I remember her saying to me, ‘You’re never going to play it. I know if I get one you’re never going to use it.’ And I think it was just, No, Mum, I’m going to prove a point to you – I’m going to do this. Every day after school I played and played my guitar, and my fingers used to bleed daily because I’d be playing it so much. That was when I started, and started writing songs, and I just kind of fell in love with music. And I suppose it was my escape during my high school years.

What are some of the best things that music has done for you?
That’s a hard question … I think now when I’m going through something – if I’m having a tough time, or if I’m having a good time, I have a different outlook now. I think, Cool, I can write a song about that. I write songs about my life and things that are happening to me because I think people are going to connect with it on a deeper level. Music has so much power – you listen to a song and it can make you feel any kind of emotion. So I think that’s the greatest thing about it.

It sounds like you started writing songs in your early teens -  did you find at that age that you censored yourself? Did you think, This doesn’t sound cool, or This isn’t how songs are meant to sound? Or did you always feel a connection with being able to write songs?
I always felt a connection with it, but I suppose when you’re young and naïve you don’t know. I would be trying to write songs like Taylor Swift. And I suppose now as I’m getting a bit older I think, Okay, somebody’s already written that [laughs]. So you to try to write something original, and if you write things about your life and tell your story, people are going to connect with it much more rather than just trying to copy someone else.

But it’s hard, isn’t it, to weed out those influences and find that authentic voice? I think sometimes it’s hard to find an authentic singing voice as much as it’s hard finding an authentic writing voice.
Yes – and I think for me, I’ve grown up with country music being my main influence, but in saying that I’ve listened to so much pop music. All my friends were listening to Black Eyed Peas and Fergie, and Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls, and there I was listening to Kasey Chambers and The McClymonts. But I think if you can take an element from each genre and put it into what you do, I think it kind of shines through. And I think great artists are able to tap into lots of different genres.

And also that idea of finding your authentic voice – reading about your illness [Missy had anorexia nervosa for five years], that’s a chronic illness and a debilitating illness. I think it must be hard to retain a sense of self through that, let alone try to create art out of that.
Yes. Yes. I’ve only started writing about it recently and I’ve only come out about it recently because I didn’t want to write about it from a ‘poor me, I’m so sad’ kind of perspective. I wanted to write about it in an empowering way. When I was fifteen, sixteen, there was no one that I could look up to and say, ‘They kind of get me’ because no one was talking about mental illness when I was that age. So I think I’m in a headspace where I’m able to sing about it, talk about it in an empowering way and if I can help someone else who might be going through that, that’s the greatest gift of all. But, yes, it was hard and I wasn’t sure how I would go about it. I just wanted to wait until the inspiration came and I thought, Yep, I’m going to do this. `

Was there a sense of that work pulling you through? Not necessarily pulling you through into the future, because that sounds a bit cheesy, but more the idea that you had work to do. Clearly you had output in your early teens – how did that work of being a songwriter and being a musician give you some respite from what was going on but also a direction to head in?
The funny thing is, for me, that when I was really sick I actually stopped music altogether. I stopped singing, I stopped my gigs, I stopped singing lessons. I was just in and out of hospital all the time. I missed two terms of school. So I wasn’t in any state to be writing songs, because I was so sick and the treatment I was doing was so heavy. But I got to a stage where I was going in and out of the hospital and I was noticing … I kind of had a spiritual awakening in the midst of it and I was noticing that when I was going back to the hospital and spending periods of time there, it was making me worse. Then when I was away from that environment I was feeling better about myself. I think it was just going into the hospital I knew that I would have to find out my weight so a week before I would be making sure that I weighed less than I did the previous time. I think it’s when you get to age twenty that you don’t have to be admitted into a hospital because it’s considered self-harm – under the age of twenty they have to admit you – but then I got a choice. So when I was about twenty I thought, I’m going to take another approach to this. I started meditating and doing things like that, and really living every day like it was my last day. And that changed everything for me. Then once I changed my mindset, that was when my songwriting and everything started happening properly for me. I went to Nashvillle and then I ended up coming back and signing a record deal, and all of these crazy things started happening. So it was a huge turnaround from what I was having the year before.

That idea of living every day as if it’s your last: it’s quite a big, deep, almost heavy realisation to have at such a young age. It’s amazing that you had it but did you feel the weight of that?
It really did turn my life around and I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’. I just believe that if I can turn all that experience into my songs and my stories, and help someone that is going through that, that’s the greatest thing and that’s what I want to achieve.

At the time you were meditating and doing those other practices – when you realised that hospital wasn’t quite the place for you – I’m guessing there was a point at which you started to trust yourself, trust your own instinct about what was good for you, and that’s something that can stand you in very good stead as an artist. Is that what happened – that you started to believe that you knew what was good for you?
Exactly. And I’m a big believer in energy attracts energy, and I think I was just getting good at knowing how to cope with it – having coping methods. Just because they have a treatment that they give to every single patient, it might work with some but it might not work for other people. So I was able to get to a place where I thought, I am able to see clearly what is happening now. If I go back down that path, I know I’m just going to end up in hospital. And the thing is with eating disorders, they have a higher death rate than suicide. But for some reason society chooses to ignore that – I don’t know why. But I think I just decided, you know what, I’ve only got one shot at life and I’m a survivor and I’m proud of that. So if I can give everything I’ve got and try to inspire someone else to sing and do that, that would be awesome.

I wonder if that statistic isn’t as well known because it happens mostly to young women, or women in general. Sometimes the reporting around it has been, ‘It’s just this whim, they’ve just decided to not eat’ and it’s not taken seriously for that reason – but, of course, it’s extremely serious.
Yes. People still don’t understand the illness and you can’t expect people to understand it, but it is a mental illness and it’s not as simple as saying, ‘I’m going to eat now.’ What actually happens is that your organs start to shut down, everything that your body doesn’t need any more starts to shut down. So it’ll go, ‘Start shutting down parts of your brain that we no longer need, the most important thing is to keep the heart pumping’. So it actually stops sending messages from your brain to your stomach to remind you to eat, so you stop feeling that hunger because that part of your body has been switched off. So it is really interesting.

And interesting also that you can look at it almost as an outsider now and talk about it in those terms. Five years may sound like a long time but that illness can last for decades.
Yes. And that’s the thing: it is very, very easy to slip back into it, and especially being in the music industry and being in the spotlight, you have to be very careful that you don’t slip back into old habits. But I think that I am in a good enough headspace where I’m able to shut it out.

Are you still meditating?
All the time. Every day. It’s my thing.

How long do you meditate for?
I like to meditate before I go to bed, so probably about half an hour. But in saying that, sometimes I’ll just go down to the beach and I’ll just sit there and listen. It’s not always fully going into a meditative state, but just doing things that you enjoy and that help you relax.

It’s great that you say that because it shows that meditation can take many forms. It’s what works for you, not necessarily sitting in a room with your legs crossed.
And so many people say, ‘I can’t meditate, I can’t meditate’, but I reckon it’s a personal thing.

I think music is one of the best forms of meditation. Practising – because you have to be so involved with that instrument, and if you’re singing you’ve got to practise your singing. Quite often you’re so present in that moment that it’s a form of meditation.
Yes, and I think music is such a great way to express yourself and get things off your chest … There was one night when I was playing at a rodeo in outback Queensland and I was feeling really not good, and I thought, If I can just use all the energy I have and go out on stage and have fun, hopefully that will help. And I can remember going out and there were about 4000 people there and they lifted me up on such a high level. And it just shows how people can connect through music.

Also if you’re taking that attitude – that you have to bring that energy to it – the audience can sense that. If you’re flat, they sense that and then you don’t get anything back, but if you can find some way to summon that energy, that sends a signal.
I try to think when I go out there, This isn’t about me. This is about connecting with other people. Because you don’t know what other people are going through. And I find after my gigs that people will come up to me and say, ‘My parents have just died’ or ‘This has just happened to me and your music has really helped me through that and brought me so much happiness tonight’. And that’s just the coolest thing. So you really just have to give it everything you’ve got.

The country music audience loves to connect with its artists and will remain connected via whatever means: music, social media. It is a genre of music in which you have a great chance of being that role model you mentioned earlier, because there will be people who are willing to talk to you. By you starting that conversation with people, which is what you’re doing. That’s really good work for you to do – and I don’t mean that to sound patronising, I really think it’s an extraordinary thing to do.
And I really feel such a deep connection to country music. These people get me. And I’ve always felt that ever since I was young. It’s really cool to be a part of the country music community... The people are so loyal. It’s really awesome.

You’ve achieved a lot in the past couple of years, apart from becoming well. You’ve had an EP out, you’ve signed with Sony, you were a runner-up in Star Maker. Have you surprised yourself with all of that?
One hundred per cent. I honestly had no idea. And that’s the thing: I’m lucky to be alive. It’s such an awesome achievement and I actually look at it and think, Wow, this is really cool. So I think if I can keep kicking goals and doing things like that … It’s really awesome but I was actually reading an old newspaper article today and it was from five years ago – it was a Facebook memory that came up – and I had written, ‘One day I hope to travel to Nashville and one day I hope to do this and that’, and everything that I had listed I have ticked off. That was a nice little reminder to go, ‘Cool – I’m doing pretty well.’

You are doing very well, and the song’s great too. So I will now ask about the song, ‘Forget’ – that was done with Josh Kerr, a producer in Nashville. How did that connection come about?
I didn’t know Josh and we followed each other on Instagram, and we ended up hooking up a writing session together. I’m such a fan of what he does and I was really nervous going into the session. I knew that I had to go in with a good idea, and I had this melody and these words floating around in my head for a while and I wasn’t sure what it was. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write and who I was going to write it with. So I thought`, I’m going to take that idea to Josh. And we wrote the song in about half an hour, and he did up the demo of it that day, and the demo was really good. I remember saying to my manager, ‘Do you reckon we could get him to produce this track, because that would be really awesome?’ So I ended up asking him and he ended up agreeing to produce it, and he’s producing some more tracks on my album, which is super cool. He’s just such a talented songwriter, producer, and just a really cool guy, so it’s awesome to have him on board.

So is the album done?
Yes! It’s finished. I’m just waiting now. [Laughs] It sucks! But it is really exciting because it represents a chunk of my life – growing up and overcoming things that are really hard. Being thrown into the music industry as well – I wasn’t intending on getting a record deal, it just kind of happened really organically. I’m just excited about writing an album that I really feel is 100 per cent me and reflects my story.