Monday, December 18, 2017

Interview: Jonny Taylor

Western Australian singer-songwriter Jonny Taylor has spent the last few years touring Australia and winning fans all over the country. Now he has a new album, Dig Deep, that showcases his phenomenal voice and his great songwriting skill. He is set to win even more fans once he kicks off his next round of touring at the Tamworth Country Musical Festival in January. It was my pleasure to talk to him recently.

What music did you grow up listening to?
My brother was in a rock band and I pretty much grew up on his music, so I was on a diet of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, and all that sort of angsty grunge music. Then in my teenage years I went through a bit of a metal phase and a heavy prog-rock phase. Then I accidentally started going to country when I was in my mid-twenties.

So when you say ‘accidentally’ – did you trip and stumble over it one day by the roadside where it was lying down?
I literally did. I went into a competition called the Telstra Road to Tamworth. I got sent into this room – I thought I was going to a waiting room. It was this little room and there was a bottle of whiskey on a sink … It turned out to be James Blundell’s dressing room. I walked in and thought, This is the weirdest waiting room ever. So he walked in – I had no idea who he was – introduced himself, and he was really kind and really nice. I was telling my father-in-law about it and he said, ‘James Blundell’s a star – check out his music.’ And that’s how it started. I heard this James Blundell record called Amsterdam Breakfast and I thought that was pretty cool – there was lots of lyrical imagery, it just painted this perfect picture. So for the first time ever I discovered this new realm of songwriting with these lyrics where you make little movies in your mind, and I thought it was really cool.

What year was that?
That was 2012.

So that’s a fairly recent conversion. After you’d discovered James, what music did you listen to next?
Actually, I have to correct that – it was 2010 when I met James.

My conversion only pre-dates yours by a handful of years, so we’re both not lifelong country people.
It’s weird, isn’t it?

But for the same reasons – I think it’s the storytelling in song that really attracted me, so I really understand what you said about it.
Totally, and especially guys like James who write such … there’s actually a story worth telling in his lyrics. They’ve got  fair bit of substance. So from Blundell I think it just opened my mind – for the first time ever I wasn’t like a lot of the rock kids that were, like, ‘I hate country music!’ [laughs] I think I came across John Williamson next, and that blew my mind. And, again, I hated country music when I was a kid – I just thought it was so dorky. It took a while to accept it, actually, that I might like stuff.

I completely understand -  I was a rock person and a pop person and I didn’t think much of country music. It is kind of a mind-blowing thing, country, because it is such a rich genre and to an extent in Australia it is hiding in plain sight.
Absolutely – especially in WA, because we’ve only got one major country festival here, in February. So outside of that you have to go seeking it. There’s plenty of closet country fans out there.

After you started listening to more country music did you find amongst your peers or your friends, or your musical peers, that you were tempted to mention it, or did you keep it to yourself?
The funny things is I didn’t know it was happening – it just snuck up on me. Because I still love my rock music. I was appreciating that I was enjoying a bit of country music but I was still unaware that it was beginning to creep into my own music. And I recorded this little EP called Skin and Bones and showed it to a friend of mine. The first thing he says: ‘That’s country music, man!’ He just hated it. [Laughs] And that was the first time I thought, Wow, maybe it is. And I was in denial for years about the fact that it was part of me.

It certainly is now. On the record I can hear the lineage of rock and country, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve wedged them together – it feels like this is something that’s organically grown out of you. You obviously have this incredible voice and it’s a great rock voice but you have certainly turned it to country. So it seems as if they’ve both seeped into your marrow in a way.
Thank you, that’s really nice to hear you say that – and that’s why this record took four and a half years. When the last CD came out in 2013 I thought that I’d found a market there with the real heavy stories. I was trying to prove a point with every single song. Then with this second record I thought I’m just going to try to be more crafty about that and make music that’s fun and a bit more upbeat and rocky to play but can still have a bit more lyrical substance as well.

And it certainly has that. But I’m also interested in your voice: when did that voice emerge?
I don’t really know. When I was seventeen I had a couple of singing lessons and I had to give it up because I had a lock-jaw problem. I just couldn’t do any of these techniques. It wouldn’t have been until I was about 20 or 21 that I figured out I could sing a little bit.

I think ‘a little bit’ is understating it, just quietly.
[Laughs] It’s probably grown from that point. I was never comfortable with it. I would never have classed myself as a singer – I was always just a guitarist that could sing a little bit. So I’m a really late bloomer. I think a lot of that had to do with having a deep voice as well. I felt that it wasn’t a voice that I could use in everyday situations. I could only do baritone stuff and I found that really restrictive. There was a band called The Tea Party that I heard – I’m on strike from listening to them now, but when I first heard them it was the first time I heard a cool deep voice and I thought, Maybe there is a place for deep voices.

There aren’t that many around, actually.
No. And there’s a natural tendency to want to sing high and want to belt all the time, and I’m guilty of that myself, but there’s certainly a time to embrace the low stuff as well.

At what age did you pick up a guitar for the first time?
I remember dragging my dad’s acoustic around when I was a real little fella. But it wasn’t until I was 14, my parents gave me a classical guitar, and I was spewing – ‘Classical guitar! What’s this?’ Because I thought I was going to be a rock star. I didn’t say that to their faces, of course. So I accidentally just fell in love with this beautiful flamenco – this Spanish guitar style.

That’s a really solid grounding for anything you want to do after that, genre wise.
I would not change a thing about my musical upbringing.

Your grandparents might have been prescient – perhaps they looked at you and thought, This person could be a musician.
I think so. My grandma is a piano player and she played in the church for years – church organ lady. And I do remember playing at the piano a little bit with her. I never took it seriously but I could fumble around. So maybe she could see a bit of something that she wanted to encourage.

So when you turned to songwriting, what age was that and do you remember what your first song was about?
I do. I distinctly remember my first song was called ‘Mateesha’s Song’ and I wrote it for a girl that passed away when we were in Year Seven, final year of primary school. One of our classmates passed away – she had a chronic heart condition her whole life and we lost her, and we weren’t necessarily close but it hurt. It hurt real bad for all of us. And that was the first time I’d ever written a song. I guess that goes to show that what inspired me to do that was something that moved me so much, or really affected me.

And not the usual subject matter for first songs, which are often about lighter things or frivolous things. Obviously your storytelling instinct was pretty strong from the start.
I could never do the light-hearted stuff. I don’t know if I’m a miserable bugger or what it is, but I always tended to go hard. Go for stuff that really means something and is going to make people feel something. And sadly I think most of my songs are about serious stuff. With the last album I tried to raise social issues that I felt we needed to discuss with people. But the common theme at the end of all of it – and still in my songwriting now – is that we’re all in this together, we’re all going through stuff as humans, and it’s really nice if we can be there for each other and help each other through it.

When you’re in the country music genre, the audience will accept those more serious subjects because they are looking for substance. They’re looking to tap their toes, often, in time to it but they do want something meaty.
And that was exactly the key with Dig Deep. I just thought when I wrote this album that I wanted it to be something that’s got plenty of energy and sounds good if it’s on in the background, and doesn’t require you to sit down and focus on lyrics and think about it. I just wanted to have that element. If you want to listen, the substance is there. If you don’t want to listen then it will still feel good in the background.

When did you start writing the songs for this album?
I reckon pretty much after the last one came out, 2013. And I had a huge body of work written and partially recorded a couple of years ago, and then I just decided I didn’t like it, and scrapped it and started again.

That’s the sign of someone who’s constantly creative – you obviously trusted that there would be more songs coming. You didn’t think you had to clutch onto those songs because you may not have any more.
I had an epiphany. I’ve always really struggled with that, and even in the studio with the previous record I was a bit resistant to change of production things. I’d say, ‘Nope, this is how the songs are, that’s how they’re going to stay.’ And then I just got ruthless. I turned thirty and thought, You know what? I’ve written these songs intended for an audience, and I don’t want to do that – I want to just write an album that I’m going to be proud of for the rest of my life. So I just started from scratch.

As an artist that requires a bit of courage. It requires having the courage of your convictions – which is a trite phrase, but I think it’s a true one – but it’s also thinking, well, this is what I believe in. If you can be courageous and you can stick to what is right for your work, it does tend to find an audience but it does take that initial leap of thinking, I can do this and I know what I’m doing.
Totally, yes. And for me that leap came from a point where I got really stuck. I felt that I was hamstrung in my career, to an extent, and then I had this waking moment when I hit thirty and I thought, If I’m going to write a record, there’s a chance that it’s going to take off and there’s a chance that it’s going to fail. If it fails, I at least want it to be a record that I like personally.i

Did you record this album independently and then it went to Red Rebel Music, or how did that process work?
Yes, that’s correct. I had been hunting down a major record deal for a long time and came relatively close-ish once or twice, but I just kept forging ahead in the background anyway, because I knew that I couldn’t put my plans on hold waiting for a major deal to come through. So it was 90 per cent done by the time I presented it to Kaz. Which, in hindsight, was a really good way to go because I’d already kind of defined who I was an artist so then I could just say, ‘Well, if you like it, we can work together’. Because there is always that danger of being changed a little bit if you go with a major record deal.

They put money in and they want to have some influence accordingly, I guess.
Absolutely. And they’re entitled to do that if they’re investing all that cash. But I just hit that point where I thought, Bugger it – I’m just going to do this for me and see what comes from it organically.

In country music over the past few years there’s been quite a bit of independent recording going on. The albums are really high quality and there doesn’t’ seem to be a barrier to the music getting to the audience. I guess the traditional model of a record company is partly about distribution, but when you have an audience that will turn up to shows and turn up to festivals, as country music audiences do, you’ve got that direct channel to them, so that intermediary isn’t as necessary.
I tend to agree. We’d all love to have the financial backing but it does come at a cost. And with the way things in the world today, with the internet and everything, it’s so much easier to get the job done without depending on somebody else being behind you. Having said that, I’ve loved having the support of Red Rebel Music. The whole dynamic of my career has shifted since having them on board.

That’s obviously a meeting of the minds.
I think so. Very similar musical influences as well. Kaz didn’t come from a country background. We’ve got very similar tastes in music, actually, so it’s really comforting to know that she likes the album as it is and doesn’t want it to be more country or less country or whatever.

And she’s also got James Blundell on the roster, so that seems like it’s fated.
Isn’t it weird, how it’s come around full circle? It’s beautiful.

Just looking at some of the songs on the album – I’m looking at some of your track-by-track notes. ‘Get It Back – you mention that it’s about making mistakes and learning from them. Is there a mistake you’ve made that turned out well?
I reckon almost every one. I couldn’t give you a specific scenario but I’m a big believer in the old ‘everything happens for a reason’. And I really do. I’ve made some decisions that have had terrible, destructive impacts on my life and I’ve learned massive lessons from every one of them, and they’ve been awesome lessons.

And that’s a very good philosophy to have, because the you don’t get caught up in the mire.
That’s it. And I do still reflect a lot. I can’t live with no regrets – I always think about those sorts of things -but onwards and upwards, as they say.

‘Diamonds’ is about some tests in life. Has music ever tested you?
Oh-ho-ho boy [laughs]. Every waking second is just a mission. Anyone that’s creative questions every element of what they’re doing. And I’m like that, real bad.

So, therefore, it’s polishing the diamond – or cutting away to get to the diamond – constantly and never believing that the diamond is completely polished.
That’s kind of it, yeah [laughs]. That song in particular is about life just never going according to plan, and you don’t have a choice but to get on with it.

As you’ve done – and, as you said, learnt from your mistakes, so I can see how this album is a really good representation of lots of different facets of         you. One of which is the three years you spent touring Australia, which you talk about in ‘You Are My Home’. What prompted the three years of touring?
We [Jonny and his wife] basically went to Tamworth. We’d just built a house in Mandurah, about an hour south of Perth, and we went to Tamworth and leased the house out for a short period of time and did a little bit of a tour. Then we had a call from the property manager saying, ‘Your tenant wants to stay on’, I think for a six- or twelve-month lease. Nicole and I just looked at each other and said, ‘All right, they can do that and we’ll just keep travelling.’ So that’s what we did. And I had no interest in travel whatsoever but this all happened really naturally, so we ran with it and turned into gypsies.

Were you playing around the place as you did that?
Yes. It funded our life for three years and we were very fortunate that Nicole wasn’t tied down by a full-time job at that time. She was able to do a little bit of remote contract work. And that was the really cool thing as well: I had to book the shows to make sure we could afford to stay alive, I guess. So that led to awesome relationships with booking agents and venues, and then every year that I hit the road it just become easier and easier, because I had all these great contacts.

And word of mouth starts to spread about people, the more you play.
Totally, and that was the only way to sell records, really – to get out in front of people and try to dazzle them and hopefully talk them into spending fifteen bucks.

What do you love about playing live?
I think you live for those moments when people are responsive – where they’re actually sitting there enjoying the music, listening to the music. But the travel in general and getting to meet people and hear their stories, I find that really inspiring.

One of the great things about getting into towns is that people do turn up for shows and they do want to talk to you.
Yes, and the country towns especially. I don’t really do much in the capital cities at all. Most of the time I’m way out bush, and I live way out bush, so I’ve really responded to that kind of lifestyle. And you’re right, people will come out for that kind of entertainment and they will tell their stories – because those country folk don’t mind a chat. [Laughs]

And one of the lovely things about country music is that the artists stay behind after shows and the audience knows that. You guys give so much time to your audience. I can’t think of another genre where it’s done so consistently – where there is that exchange between artist and audience, so that the audience does feel really very much part of the music.
And we’re very accessible. That’s something I found really attractive when I first started in the country scene: how accessible people were and how generous they were with their time, with other artists and with the audience.

For my last question: what are you looking forward to in 2018? What are your plans?
I’m looking forward to a day off next year.

One day off? [Laughs]
Yes, just one – that’s all I want. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But basically I’m hitting the road. I’m doing Tamworth – I’ve got two weeks there, the pre-festival and the festival festival. I do most of my band shows exclusively with the Wests Group – Wests Leagues and Wests Diggers.

Very good venues.
They’ve changed my life, actually. So there’s that, and then after Tamworth I’ve got to shoot back to WA to do some shows with James Blundell.

Oh, how nice is that?
It’s awesome. It’d be nicer if he could come to WA when I’m actually in WA, though. I’ve literally got to fly home. But there’s no end date on the tour yet so I’m pretty much just going to keep driving until Nicole rings me and says, ‘You’ve got to come home.’

Well, it sounds like you’ve put everything in place: fantastic album, lots of experiences, good philosophical basis to your music and your life. So I hope everyone listens to this album and enjoys it as much as I have.
I hope so. I think the common theme in the whole record was just ‘try not to be too hard on yourself’.

And make the best of your life – that’s what I got out of it too.
That’s kind of it, and I’m pleased to hear that because the feedback I got from the last record was that it was too depressing, and I really didn’t want that to happen.

I didn’t think it was depressing at all. There’s a lot of honesty there but it’s not miserable honesty. It’s saying, ‘Here’s light, here’s dark, but in the end it’s what you make of it and try to make the best of it.’
Heyyy – it’s working!

Dig Deep is out now through Red Rebel Music/MGM Distribution.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Single release: 'Always' by Lucy Parle

Lucy Parle's name will likely be new to you, as it is to me - and that's because she's only 14 years old. But her new song, 'Always', is a heartfelt song that indicates that Parle is able to access a range of emotions for her work, and channel them into her writing and performance. Parle has a great country music voice, and that, combined with her obvious talent, is no doubt why she was crowned the winner of the Central Coast (NSW) Discovered Competition, with the prize including a songwriting workshop with Gina Jeffreys and the exciting opportunity to record with Rod McCormack at The Music Cellar Studio.

The accolades haven't stopped there: in November 2017, Parle attended the Australian Songwriters Association National Songwriting Awards night in Sydney. With thousands of entries received from across Australia in 13 categories, ‘Always’ took out 1st Place in the Youth Category.

Parle was one of only 25 students selected from across Australia to attend the intensive eight-day singer-songwriter course at the Academy of Country Music in Tamworth, where she was mentored by Golden Guitar award winning artists, including Lyn Bowtell, Roger Corbett, Ashleigh Dallas, Aleyce Simmonds, David Carter and Amber Lawrence.

That is unlikely to be Parle's only trip to Tamworth - if 'Always' is any indication, she will be gracing stages there for years to come.

Listen to 'Always' on Soundcloud.

Single release: 'See You Around' by I'm With Her

I was already a fan of American artist Sarah Jarosz when I found out about her new project, a band called I'm With Her that includes Sara Watkins and Aoife O'Donovan.

The women - who have several Grammy Awards and nine albums between them - had crossed paths over the years, but I’m With Her came together by happenstance for a performance at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Clearly they realised they were on to something special - and that can be heard in 'See You Around', the first single from their upcoming album of the same name.

To have three singer-songwriters and musicians of this calibre (Watkins plays fiddle and ukulele, Jarosz mandolin and banjo, and O'Donovan piano and synth, as well as each playing guitar) performing together is a rare treat - their harmonies alone are magical, but in this one song their years of craft are also evident. It's not a foregone conclusion that three solo performers can blend this well together - after years of working alone, melding with others can't be easy. What is required is, often, a sense of serving a greater purpose in the music that you're making together. The members of I'm With Her have come together to create something beautiful. And that's just one song. The album is sure to be an event.

Watch a live performance of 'See You Around' below.

See You Around is out 16 February 2018.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Single release: 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' by Kora Naughton

Kora Naughton is sixteen years old but her music sounds like it's made by someone with a lot more life experience - and, no doubt, that is because Kora has already had a fair bit going on in her life.

In 2015, Kora found out that due to a serious spinal cord condition, she would have to give up her passion of cheerleading - a sport she had loved since she was seven years old. The condition resulted in two surgeries in twelve months and it was during this time that she turned to music. Kora taught herself to play guitar, sing and write songs.
In January 2017 Kora attended her first Tamworth Country Music Festival, where she busked for ten days and decided that country music was her path. She then applied for and was accepted into the CMAA Junior Academy of Country Music. Part of the application process was creating a recording of her original music, leading to her first single, 'Wrong'. The track hit airplay charts all around Australia including #7 on the Australian Country Radio Top 10, #40 on Country Tracks Top 40 and #3 on My Country Australia's Top 40.

In August 2017, Kora was named a Finalist in the Today's Country 94.1's Brand New Star Competition and in October, she was crowned the Southern Stars Rising Female Artist at the Mildura Independent Country Music Festival.

Kora's second single is 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' and although its title sounds like the sort of thing a teenager might say, the tone of the song is serious, and delivered beautifully by Kora. 

You can find the single at CD Baby:

Album news: The Western Saloon's Christmas Mix Tape

The Western Saloon is Western Australia's home of alt-country and Americana music - and Christmas has come early for country music fans, with the release of a very special Christmas Mix Tape featuring some of The Western Saloon's most festive performers.

Tracks include:
'Mele Kalikimaka' by Simone and Girlfunkle
'Silent Night' by J.A. Rogers
'So This Is Xmas' by the Lindsay Drive Choir
'Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas' by The Little Lord Street Band
'White Christmas' by Michael Savage
'Family of Friends' by Coyote Sands and Francis Midnight
'Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant' by Wayward Johnson
'Santa Baby' by Delilah Rose & the Gunslingers

Proceeds from the Mix Tape benefit Pia's Place, a fully accessible, inclusive playground in Perth's Whiteman Park.

Delilah from The Western Saloon kindly answered a handful of questions about the project:

When did the Western Saloon come into being?
The Western Saloon is the brain child of Natasha Shanks from The Little Lord Street Band.

When did the idea for this EP first come about?
I LOVE Christmas carols and it’s been a dream of mine to put out a Christmas EP for a couple of years now. After finding a kindred spirit in Michael Savage, and a few other artists, we thought we’d have a go at it!

How did you come to choose Pia's Place to be the recipient of proceeds?
We were on the hunt for an appropriate charity to team up with when Pia’s Place came into our periphery through a friend and the fit was right! Sometimes things just happen that way.

Out of the artists on the EP, who is naughtiest and who is nicest? 
Wayward Johnson is definitely the naughtiest, Chinese-eating cat in town with Simone and Girlffunkle being the most nicest, hip-shaking, Hawaiian hunnies you’ve ever heard!

Buy the EP:
Learn more about Pia’s Place: 
Facebook event:

Interview: Michael Rose

Australian singer-songwriter Michael Rose first played to audiences in the pub-rock scene in the 1970s. He took a break for a few years and has re-emerged with Give Back the Night, an album of very personal songs that can sometimes be confronting because they're so emotional. But that's all part of his drive to be honest in his music, and to connect with listeners, and the experience of listening to this album is one of being allowed into someone's most private thoughts - you don't know what to expect, and you may be discomfited by some of what you hear, but it's a rare experience and a gift to the listener. It was a real pleasure talking to Michael recently about this album.

What did you grow up listening to and what do you listen to now?
I grew up listening to anything and everything. And that sounds like I’m trying to avoid the question!

No, not at all.
It would have been from The Who, early days, to Paul Williams, ‘Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song’, the Stylistics right through to Focus. Then these days back towards one of my great Australian loves, Graeme Connors, and his Road Less Travelled album was a bit of a watershed for me back when it was released because it felt like I was in the wilderness, but when I heard that I went, Ooh, it’s possible. I love his stuff. And today I don’t really get time to sit and listen to much, to be brutally honest. We own three cafes in Yass, Goulburn and Mittagong here in New South Wales. Running those, recording with my good friend Herm Kovac and everything else that goes with it, no, I don’t listen to much these days. [But] I grew up listening to everything – whatever was good music. My favourite, of course, was Rodgers and Hammerstein as a kid.

Very well-composed songs, and songs that were for entertainment.
Very, very well-composed songs. I listen to that and think, Geez, who am I pretending to be? [laughs] They’re very good. [I had] a very diverse background. Rock ’n’ roll – I think I was in a band that was one of the first to play Black Sabbath in Australia, back in the day. And then you go from that to listening to Paul Williams, with his lines ‘If I can make you cry just by holding you, that’s enough for me’.

When it came to forming your own sound – and I know that you had a previous pub-rock existence – is that something that’s organically developed over time, or do you feel that there’s one influence or a few influences that are stronger than others?
No, I think it’s just organic. The one thing that has always been a dilemma in my life, and a positive, is that it’s very difficult to stay true to what you are, to not try to diversify and go away from what you think is right but to copy another genre. And I’ve stayed at that and been like that for years and years and years – hence, maybe, there’s no success [laughs]. The old story. But that’s the joy of what I’ve done with Herm [on the new album] – I’ve stuck to what I did. I dropped six songs off to Herm, who’s been a mate for many, many years. I said, ‘Mate, I’d just to record a couple of songs for the kids’, who are now young adults, so that they knew that Dad really wasn’t fibbing all the time about what he did [laughs] and who he met and who he knew and all those sorts of things. Anyway, so I dropped the songs off to him and he rang me the next day and said, ‘Well, where’s the rest, mate?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘But haven’t you got heaps yet?’ I said, ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘These have developed beautifully – let’s do an album’. Give Back the Night is the consequence of that. Those songs range from … ‘I Heard a Voice’ I wrote in my parents’ bathroom – best acoustics in town – when I was probably twenty, twenty-one. One of the songs was written a year ago because of an incident we had in business. To be brutally honest, it’s very nice to finally have something that I’m really, really comfortable with, because it is me. It’s not someone I’m trying to be. And I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to do that, either through feelings of inadequacy or ‘I want to be this’ or ‘I want to be that’. Now I’m very content in my own skin. It’s a nice place to be.

It’s the best place to be as a creator because you’re coming from an authentic pace and audiences tend to recognise that.
I hope so. I’ve had a couple of people say to me about ‘Fat Little Boy’ that they got a little misty when they heard it – that’s what it’s about, that’s why I stick to what I do. Whether any success ever comes of it is irrelevant – I haven’t chased it for the kudos, I’ve chased it for the idea that I’d like to play my music and my songs and see if somebody actually likes it. And if they don’t, fine, I’ve worn that for many, many years. I’m quite comfortable with that too [laughs]. That happens in every life – it doesn’t have to be music, it can be in any career, in any place in life where you have aspirations and dreams and goals. You turn round and you go, ‘I’ve either got to remain true to who I am or I have to change.’ A lot of people change things to chase things, and I think that would be even more heartbreaking. For me, being able to say this time, looking from my hill here, going, ‘Well, I’m a failure’ … [laughs]

If the definition of success is material success and you’re changing what you do so you can fit into a vertical idea of what things are then, yes, you might have material success but if you look back on the work, or if that person looks back on the work, are they proud of it?
That’s a very good saying – ‘vertical’. I love it! You hit the nail on the head. How do you judge that? And I can’t talk for everyone else, it’s just for me. Those moments in my life when I’ve felt the most desperate and the most … the feelings of failure have been the ones when I actually did stick to what I thought and you put it out there … I’ve had producers in the past say to me – one in particular, who I won’t mention, said, ‘Your voice is terrible, mate.’ And you go, ‘Oh, okay, well, you’ve just produced how many hits? Okay. Right. I’ll just quietly go away. No drama.’ And those sorts of things, they do affect you, but in the end I couldn’t be anyone else but me, and I’m sure you can’t be anyone else but young Sophie. [laughs]

It’s such a subjective thing, too, to say, ‘I don’t like your voice.’ If you’re singing off key, that’s one thing – but you don’t sing off key. So from an objective definition it’s not a terrible voice.
But that’s the industry we’re in. It is subjective, and that’s fine – you’ve got to understand that.

I don’t watch The Voice often but every now and again I catch wind of what’s going on, and I know there’s been the occasional country music artist on it who hasn’t gone very far – people who already have careers. It really shows that difference between focusing on just the voice and trying to make that slot into something, and then the artist who is separate.
I have an inkling who you’re talking about.

Lyn Bowtell, yes.
Lyn won Star Maker back when – 1990-whatever it was. And a recent song I heard of hers – it was beautiful. I thought, That’s really cool, Lyn – you’ve got a beautiful voice. And a little bit of envy – a little bit of green monster comes up and you go, ‘Bugger, how come you wrote that?’ But we all have that. But if you’re chasing the fame and the glory for the sake of the fame and the glory, you tend to fall on your face. Maybe I could be wrong. Lots of people have achieved lots of things in life with not doing that. But at my ripe old age, I look back at it all … I sound like my father. I look back at all this stuff and think it’s got to count for something. I am a happy person. I have a great business and wife and kids, and we all have our ups and downs, but it’s so nice to get to this stage where the things I’ve written and the stories that I’ve told – and it’s basically my life written down in Give Back the Night. Episodes from when I was twenty and being an idiot and questioning myself, and all those sorts of doubts. They’re here, they’re out there and I’m really comfortable with it.

You talked about the songwriting, and I do have some questions about that. You mentioned ‘Fat Little Boy’, and when I listened to it I thought that it’s so rare to hear something expressed so baldly. That emotion, that experience, often metaphors are used to skirt around it and you just came out and said it. And it’s not the only personal song, of course, on the album. There’s the emotion in writing the song, and then the emotion in recording the song – what is it like to try to bring that up in the studio when you might be doing several takes? How difficult is it to access that emotion?
It’s funny, when I wrote the songs – and there’s one in particular we’re putting on the next album – I wrote them because of that emotion, and you either come up with a couple of chords or whatever and suddenly the words start pouring out. It was easy doing it in the studio with Herm. The emotion was still there. And with Michael Carne and a couple of the other kids – blokes I know … I call them kids because they’re younger than me. But everyone is [laughs]. They said, ‘That’s really harsh.’ And I said, ‘Well, it happened.’ And it does happen. It’s life. The one thing I’d like to get across with ‘Give Back the Night’, the song, that was done because I felt guilty about something someone said to me. The story goes that a beautiful, bouncing lady – she was gorgeous – somebody said to me, ‘You see her? She’s good looking.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, she’s very attractive’. And this person said, ‘He beats the shit out of her.’ And you go, ‘Oh, oh – what have I done? What do I do?’ This was twenty-odd years ago. I went home and started writing that song. The fear of being … she must be suppressing that feeling all day to be bright and bubbly. And then knowing a misplaced word or action ends up in … and that’s where that song came from. That emotion came through in the studio and everyone was involved in it, which was really tickling for me too. Everyone that was involved in the production of it and finishing it off all said the same sorts of things. Even when we did the film clip with Duncan Toombs. I was standing on – I think it’s Elephant Rock, on the other side of Gosford from Pittwater in Sydney, and I walked down the hill – we’d done all the filming up on the rock, and they were all singing it. I was back down on the road listening to this, thinking, That’s really cool. If nothing ever happens, they’re into it, they’ve felt that emotion that’s come out of it. Something’s gelled But that comes back to the same thing: it’s not contrived, it’s real. When they hear me singing it, or when Herm hears the song, he puts into it what he puts into it, the other guys put into it what they are, and I think that makes the process easier.

When you are writing songs from that authentic place, so often there must be a temptation almost to censor yourself or edit yourself. I imagine there’s a process whereby you’re thinking, People are going to hear this – what are they going to think? And that’s a normal thing. But it seems like you didn’t censor yourself and there’s really sense of open heartedness in the songs.
And, to be honest, it’s actually bounced back and bitten me with one of the songs in there. Somebody said to me, ‘How dare you write that. Nobody ever knew that.’ And I said, ‘Hang on – it happened, it’s real. I didn’t do it. It’s real. It’s part of my life. But that’s it – that’s what this person thought of me back in those days.’ But it’s one of those things where you go, ‘If the honesty’s not there, what else have I got to build on? And if I lie about it – not being a very good liar – I’ll probably trip myself up.’ [laughs]

And it’s hard to perform those songs if you’re lying, because the voice is a reflection of what’s going on inside, and if you’re feeling blocked then it doesn’t come out.
Yes. You’ve nailed it [laughs].

Listening to your album was almost like eavesdropping on your thoughts, and that’s an unusual sensation. It felt like a privilege, actually.
I find that very flattering, thank you. That’s a really nice sentiment. And you’re more than welcome to eavesdrop on my thoughts. Everyone is. Because I can’t hide who I am. I keep telling my kids: you have to be honest and straight to who you are. Yes, we all fib at times and life’s not always the straight and narrow, and you won’t get what you think you deserve sometimes, and sometimes it can be wonderful. But unless you get out of bed in the morning and have a go at it, and keep a smile on your face, doing those sorts of things and be honest and candid about it, you carry around an awful big suitcase, don’t you?

You do, and it gets exhausting.
Very. I had enough trouble being overweight – I don’t need any other suitcases [laughs].

Obviously part of this process is bringing your songs to an audience, but given you have all those businesses, do you have much time to play gigs?
Yes, I do. It’s been wonderful. My wife and kids are all part of the business. I have four daughters and they’re partners, running the shops with my wife. And my wife is a terribly strong woman. She’s the one doing overarm in the pool and I’m the little fella behind doing dog paddle, trying to keep up – and happily so. It’s been a wonderful relationship. And with all of this [the album], they’ve all gone ‘Dad, this is fantastic, you do what you’re going to do.’ So we’re looking to do some gigs in the new year ... You make the time. And life has given me now that space. I’ve spent those few years working really hard. My dear wife said to me, ‘You’ve got to chase this. You love it and that’s what you’ve wanted to do all your life.’

And one of your daughters sang on the album as well, didn’t she?
Yes, my third daughter, Alison. We wanted to have a representative female – I know that sounds condescending, but it’s not. At the end of ‘Give Back the Night’ I wanted an uplifting female voice in there and I said, ‘Do you want to have a sing of this?’ and [Alison] said, ‘Oh Dad, I’ve never sung behind a microphone before.’ So we took her up and Herm was wonderful. And out of my young daughter’s mouth came this wonderful voice – no autotune, no prompting. I said, ‘Alison, I’ll be supporting you! [laughs] As long as you make lots of money and pass it down!’

Or you can be her roadie.
Oh, thanks. No, I’m too old for that! I’ll need to have a walking frame.

Give Back the Night is out now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Single release: 'Pity Me' by Paula Standing

This new song from South Australian artist Paula Standing evokes dusty roads, broken dreams, love gone wrong and revenge about to be taken. You know when a song contains a lyric about fluid being drained out a brake, something is about to turn bad ... Standing's narrator means business, and Standing sounds like the business as she sings the story.

Standing is a classically trained singer, which accounts for her fantastic tone and control; she is newer to guitar, which she took up in 2010. Standing is set to release her new EP Good Heart soon, the follow-up to her 2015 album All Fun & Games. 

Watch the video for 'Pity Me' below.

Single release: 'Fall Apart' by The Sound of Ghosts

As more proof of my theory that some of the most interesting country music is coming out of Los Angeles, The Sound of Ghosts is a band that combines traditional country sounds with Americana with brass and some rock and blues. The result is the powerful, irresistible sound heard on their new single, 'Fall Apart' from their upcoming album Delivery & Departure, a song about being 'perfectly imperfect' with lead vocals from Anna Orbison, who also plays uke. She's one of five members of the group along with James Orbison (vocals, bass), Anna Orbison (vocals, ukulele), Ernesto Rivas (lead guitar), Phoebe Silva (fiddle) and Jon Sarna (drums).

Listen to 'Fall Apart' on Soundcloud.

Single release: 'To Our Home' by Anais

Brisbanite (Brisvegan? Where are we landing on that these days?) Anais is 17 years old and has already had a life-changing moment thanks to social media. After placing second in the Ekka Country Music Showdown, she posted a photo on Instagram and was noticed by producers Will and Michelle Gawley of Lighthouse Records in Nashville. Despite initially thinking their message was a joke, Anais soon found herself travelling to Tennessee between school terms to record her debut EP, Push Through.

Her new single from that EP is 'To Our Home' and it's clear very quickly why Anais would have received the opportunity offered by the Gawleys: she has a well-developed country music voice and style. She's already attended the CMAA Country Music Academy, and Tamworth festival goers can look our for her this coming January.  

Listen to 'To Our Home' below.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Album news: Wild & Free by Vanessa Delaine

New Zealand/Australian singer-songwriter Vanessa Delaine has released Wild & Free, a country-blues album that had its beginnings in the end of an 18-year relationship. It's likely not surprising, therefore, that this is a personal and somewhat confessional album - and from the sound of these songs, and Delaine's voice, she's doing just fine. As she sings on the third track, 'Good Advice', 'I don't need anybody tellin' me what to do'.

Delaine has a background in country music, having studied it several years ago, although she took a break for a few years and didn't return to performance until her fortieth birthday party, when she performed for her guests accompanied by a neighbour who played guitar. Now she has Michael Barnard as her guitarist and another Michael (Carpenter) produced the album. Delaine doesn't sound like she took a break from music - she's a natural singer - but the advantage of coming back to it might have been that she had life experience to bring to her songwriting, resulting in a mature work that balances light and dark, and offers some very sweet moments.

Wild  Free is available now.

Single release: 'Got Me Fallin'' by Emily Markham

Emily Markham is from the South Coast of New South Wales, and played to audiences there recently when she opened for Amber Lawrence and Travis Collins on their Our Backyard tour. Emily's new single, 'Got Me Fallin'', can be found on her debut EP, Come on Over. It's a lovely song about the beginning of a relationship - with its great tempo and Markham's smooth voice, just the thing to play to put a smile on your face.

Markham is working on some new material to be released in early 2018 - and keep an eye out for her in the Star Maker competition at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Watch the lyric video for 'Catch Me Fallin'' below.

Album news: Aurora by Case Garrett

The amount of music I'm being sent these days is far outstripping my ability to keep up - but instead of being paralysed by choice, I'm going to try to cover as much as of the good stuff as possible even if it means I can't always do a full album review, as these can take a few hours.

Which leads me to this very first 'album news' piece - not a review, but not not a review. A shorter review, if you will.

Aurora is the debut album from Missouri-born New York City resident Case Garrett. This is backwoodsy, bluesy country music that tells stories of travels around the countryside and to Garrett's interior. There is tradition and humour, and Garrett's voice holding true throughout.

I've seen this album described as alt-country but I tend to think that label gets applied to work that is actually quite traditional in its lineage - in other words, not alternative to country. Garrett strikes me as a traditionalist in that you could draw a straight line from his work back a few decades and find its roots. That doesn't mean his music sounds old - it means he knows his country music, and he is drawing on it to fine effect on Aurora.

Aurora is out now.

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 video 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.