Thursday, September 21, 2017

Christie Lamb has her Judgement Day

Australian singer-songwriter Christie Lamb released her second album, Loaded, earlier this year, and it seems as though she has packed every day since with achievements. I had a chat to her recently about the song and its video, as well as her recent trip to Nashville and a lovely highlight for her year.

How long were you in Nashville?
Five weeks, it ended up being. It was a pretty lengthy trip, doing lots of songwriting. I think I came back with about thirty-five songs, so it was pretty busy.

Do you arrive and go straight to work? Is it set up as appointments with co-writers every day? How does it work?
I went from the 17th of July to the 20th of August but I started booking in the songwriting sessions probably from end of March, start of April. Sending out emails – These are the dates that I’m here, I’d love to write – can we get a couple of sessions in? Or if it was a new writer, just trying to get the one session with them, see how we worked together. So it was pretty crazy and some people booked that far in advance and some didn’t, so there was less to choose from and it was hard trying to fit those in at the end. But it worked out quite well. There was a couple of days when we were doing double-writes a day, particularly towards the end of the trip when we were just trying to make extra sessions fit in. But it was great. Èvery writer over there was great to work with – we didn’t have anyone we couldn’t get a song out of [laughs]. It was very productive. But then on the weekends we had some time off.

What happens if you get to the end of a session, and it’s your last session with that person, and the song’s kind of hanging? Do you go away and finish it?
I think I’ve got one song like that, that I have to just tidy up a little bit. We’ve got the first verse and the chorus – it’s the second-verse curse, we call it. You get to the second verse and go, ‘Now, what have I got left?’ So there’s only one song that I’ve got to finish up and agree to what the exact lines are for the second verse, but we’ve got the bridge and the chorus and the first verse, and we’ve got the melody for all of it, it’s just lyrics. So the fact that we all know how that melody goes, and how it’s going to be phrased and how many words have to fit, it just means we can send each other an email back and forth to finish off those lyrics. But it’s not very likely that that does happen. Some of the songwriting sessions it depends how busy the writers are. Generally you get three hours to write a song. Sometimes, particularly if it’s an afternoon, we’ve gone four hours and we make sure we get it done. Sometimes that extra hour can help with those little tweaks and getting the song together structurally.

When you go into that structured songwriting do you find it easy to switch on to that mindset of now you’re writing a song, or does it take a little bit of preparation?
There’s a bit of everything. Basically from when I start sending out those emails and trying to book in appointments, I’m trying to jog my brain into just writing down, whether it’s a title or just a few random lines for a song. I go there with what I call the red folder – it’s a basic plastic red folder. But everyone says, ‘What’s in your red folder today?’ because they all know about those folder of random scribbles and titles. I flip through the pages and shout out a few titles or some lyric lines and see what jumps at them. Because sometimes you might be feeling like writing a particular song but your co-writers don’t click with that idea, so you have to have multiple ideas when you go in there. So it did take that preparation to get that red folder ready. And then as you’re there – particularly as I was there for so long – I had to try to block out what I’d just written, go into another session fresh, and just keep blocking them out so I didn’t keep writing the same song. But then at night I’d think, Okay, what have I already written? How many up-tempos do I have? Do I have too many ballads? Do I have too many up-tempos? What’s missing? And then I have to go into the session the next day and say, ‘Can we kind of write a song like this? I’m missing that kind of a song.’ So it is a lot of constant work. You have to do the prep with the ideas beforehand. You have to go in there open-minded with a whole bunch of ideas and be able to jump onto the idea that your co-writer wants to write and liked of ours. And then you’ve got to be able to block them out as well so you can keep writing fresh things and you don’t keep writing the same song.

It’s almost like you need a brain holiday at the end of that five weeks.
Pretty much. And I think that’s why most songwriters over there will not write with you on a weekend. So if I landed on a Tuesday I wrote a song Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then two days off so that your brain can have a little break and be fresh, ready for another week, because if you don’t stop it does get a bit overwhelming. `

You have an education in music – you have a Bachelor of Music and you’ve been to the CMAA College and done some other things. Was there anything in your education that prepared you for this exact way of working?
With a Bachelor of Music it’s more theory based and sound production and performance, whereas the college course was more tailored to my specific genre of country music, and collaborating, and that’s where I got that introduction to co-writing, which I hadn’t done much of before. So that was a good preparation for me in being able to chart the songs that I’ve written and things like that. But it’s very different over in Nashville – you don’t know how intense it’s going to be until you’ve got that schedule in front of you with double writes. Sometimes you’ve got ten songs to write in a week – and we you don’t really do that when we’re at home because it’s so easy to get distracted with other things you’ve got to do being an artist back home. That’s why I like going to Nashville so much – there’s amazing writers there but it’s also that clean break from being at home.

You mentioned that in your red folder you have ideas. The current single, ‘Judgement Day’, did that start out as an idea in the red folder?
Most of the time writers expect you to come in with the idea yourself because they want to help you write something that you’re going to relate to, but ‘Judgement Day’ was actually a song that I didn’t write – I would love to have written that one. It was from a lady over in Nashville. I ended up doing a co-write with a guy called John De Algostino and a couple of ladies, and one of the ladies had just gone through a break-up and came out with the first lines of ‘It only hurts when I breathe, I only cry when I’m awake’, and everyone in the room said, ‘Okay, we’ve got to write this song.’ So that was a personal experience from her but it was just one of those songs that when I heard it, it touched me because I think a lot of people – unless you’re very lucky – go through a break-up or two in their lives. It was just one of those real emotional big things, which is what I love about country music, the big power ballads. They’re what got me into country music, your Martina McBrides and Carrie Underwoods, people like that. So as soon as I heard that song it really resonated with me and I wanted to record it, and I got their approval to record that song.

The reason why I would have thought you wrote that song is because of the way you sing it – it does sound so personal, and I guess that goes to your long experience as a singer and a performer, taking on someone else’s story. Obviously you have to connect with the song, but is it a process of also feeling that song when you’re recording it?
Yes, it’s a very different experience. There’s certain artists who prefer recording to performing live, and others who prefer performing, because it’s completely different. Recording is really intimate – that mic can pick up every little detail of your voice. Whereas performing live you’ve got the natural energy of a crowd, particularly for those up-tempo tracks, they really help you punch those out on stage. I remember recording ‘Judgement Day’, in particular, and just trying to interpret it myself and thinking, This song’s got so much range to it, I need to bring all that to it. I need to have the light, tender moments, those big moments of pain. So there were times when my lips were literally touching the microphone and basically just whispering those words of pain, and then there’s times when I had to let rip and back off the microphone. You have to get a really intimate relationship with that microphone.

That’s technique and also knowing your voice, and voices are so susceptible to a whole lot of things, like the weather and what you’ve been eating. Do you do particular things to take care of your voice when you’re going into recording and gearing up for a performance?
I used to be very particular about it. I guess the older I get and the longer I’ve been singing, I feel more comfortable with my own voice and know it a lot better than I used to. I used to be really strict and not have anything dairy for a week so I didn’t get blocked up. But now I’m not as strict. As everyone does with diets, you have your little cheat moments, and I’ve done those over the years and then gone, Oh, I can actually still sing through that if I have a milkshake or something. And if you’re singing correctly you should be able to sing through anything. Of course, I don’t try to abuse my voice too much, going out screaming and partying. I try to look after it in that way. But food wise I just like to enjoy what I’m eating [laughs] and as long as I sing correctly I’ll be able to get through it.

I suppose there’s also that difficulty when you’re a working performer that occasionally you’ll have a cold or something like that, and you have to sing through it. Has there ever been a performance where you’ve thought, I simply cannot sing today?
There’s been a couple of times when I have been very sick. I’ve never – touch wood – completely lost my voice. So it’s just a matter of really warming it up and singing forward and not on my throat. There was one instance in particular that was probably the worst, which was actually recording my debut album. I went up to record in Brisbane, landed off the plane and spoke to my producer: ‘Hi’ [whispery voice]. It was just there. I think I’d done six gigs that week, plus it was winter and I’d got a cold. It was just feeling a bit tired. So I landed at night and had my medication from my producer at his house – he gave me a glass of port and said, ‘Take it to bed’, and I woke up the next morning and he said, ‘How’re you going?’ and I said, ‘It’s a bit better.’ I had another bit of port that morning and kind of cleared the cobwebs away. So we had to work around that and warm my voice up into certain songs. I started out with the ballads, where I needed to be more emotional and have more colours in my voice, and more of those croaks and emotion. And by the time I’d recorded that my voice was more warmed up and more forward and had more projection in it, so I could do more up-tempo tracks. It’s just finding your own way around it and taking a proper warm-up into songs.

I’ve digressed from the subject of ‘Judgement Day’ but I will bring us back to it and ask about the video – you did it with The Filmery, a very experienced music video house. As a performer, is it a bit weird to do a music video? I would imagine the song gets chopped up and you have to go over and over those fragments. By the end of the day do you think that it was an extremely strange thing to do?
Yes, it is, and I guess particularly at the start of my career and my first couple of videos, that was a very weird thing, to basically have my eyes drilling into the camera and not getting any reaction from the camera, whereas when you’re looking into someone else’s face you get reactions. You feel like everyone else is watching you and you’re thinking, How is this coming across on camera? And you have all these doubts: Am I looking all right on camera? Is it enough? Is it too much? What am I doing? But The Filmery did my very first clip when I was going through that stage and Duncan [Toombs] in particular was great with all that, really encouraging, and I keep going back to them because of that reason. We’ve just got this really comfortable relationship because I know, after doing so many videos with them, that they’re going to tell me the honest truth, and whatever they’re saying, just run with that. And we’ve done so many videos together now it’s pretty comfortable and you get used to the idea that the camera is meant to be your friend, so just treat it as your friend and don’t be scared of it. ‘Judgement Day’ in particular, Josh, who was directing it on his own – I’ve worked with Josh with Duncan before, but never just Josh without Duncan. Josh knew that that was a pretty big thing for me, not having Duncan there, because Duncan was always my comfort blanket            [laughs]. But he knew I wanted to do something really special with ‘Judgement Day’ because it is such a big, powerful song, such an emotional song, and I really wanted the story to come across with that. And, of course, I wanted to play the piano, because I’ve never done that in a video clip before, and it’s the instrument I’ve been playing the longest. Before I even sang I was playing piano, but I don’t get to show that side very often because pianos are pretty hard to take around to gigs. I really wanted to put that across, and locations and everything, it all ended up working out beautifully, and I was so proud of what Josh did. He was very easy to work with. Takes any of my input on board. Sat through the edit and there weren’t many changes I wanted but he was so quick doing those little edits. It was beautiful, I was really happy with it.

You’ve had a lot happen this year: the album’s come out, you’ve done some tours, you’ve just been in Nashville. Has there been one highlight?
That’s a tough question [laughs]. Of course, the hype of the album and the album launch night in particular is a really special one. I had a six-piece band for the launch, which is pretty extravagant, but it was great, because I really wanted to put the album across in the best way. We had a sellout show and special guests come along: Jasmine Rae, Amber Lawrence, Aleyce Simmonds, Melanie Dyer – there was just a whole bunch of artists that were there and supportive, so it was a really great night, seeing all that support from artists as well as the fans who showed up. Of course, touring with Lee [Kernaghan] is always a pleasure and that’s been a lot of fun. But I’d say one of them would be playing at the Bluebird Café when I was over in Nashville, because that wasn’t a planned thing, it just ended up happening. And being a country music fan, we all know about the Bluebird Café and it is so popular now because of the TV show Nashville - it’s so hard to even get into the room. So I’d never actually been inside it and I got asked to be a special guest on one of the shows on a Sunday night while I was over there. Generally I don’t get too nervous but that was pretty nerve wracking. I was enjoying listening to everybody and then I thought, Okay, I’ll just go over my song in my head, go over the lyrics, and I totally blanked out and got struck by panic. I had to reach into my bag to find my album and look through the lyric sheet to remind me what it was. As soon as I got up on stage it was fine, but it was just that moment of, I’m about to perform at the Bluebird – do I know what I’m doing? Should I be here? Okay, yep, cool. It’s such a prestigious place to sing and so hard to get into, I just slightly panicked but it was all fine when I got up there.

Loaded is out through ABC Music/Universal.
or Google Play.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Interview: Stu Larsen

Recently Australian singer/songwriter Stu Larsen released Resolute, the follow-up album to his debut release, Vagabond. Resolute was released through Nettwerk Records, and recently I was lucky to speak to this inspirational artist by phone while he was far, far away in the northern hemisphere - in a very small hotel room in New York City with no view, he told me.

When I do interviews I try to do research if I can, but I could not find out much about you.
Really? So mysterious [laughs]. 

That could be on purpose … but if you’re prepared to tell me your story, perhaps you could tell it as a musical lineage story.
I grew up in a very small country town in Queensland called Bowenville, which is near Dalby, and my parents did not listen to very cool music at all. I didn’t know anything different at the time so I thought, This is music … all right. It didn’t really do much for me. My father’s favourite artist was a guy called Johnny Horton, who’s probably kind of cool in that world, but I didn’t really enjoy listening to him [laughs] and I don’t really remember what else my parents had on. It just didn’t interest me at all. But eventually I started picking up the $2 CDs at the little music store – they’d just sell these old blues CDs out the front. So I started listening to Muddy Waters and BB King and John Lee Hooker, and all these iconic blues artists. And I guess that was the first time I started to really think about music and really listen to it properly, and I would just sit in my room and loop these albums over and over. Then eventually I moved from blues to Elvis – I don’t know how that happened but I was obsessed with Elvis Presley for a good few years. I just fell in love with his personality, I guess, and the way he lived his life. His big life.

He was a mesmerising performer, so I think getting obsessed with Elvis is completely understandable.
It wasn’t cool at my school [laughs] but I was, like, ‘Nup, I love Elvis. He’s my favourite.’ I started learning guitar around that time and writing a few little strange songs, silly little songs. And then I started to listening to some more folky kind of artists, which is what I still love today. Guys like Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – all that crew.

For up-and-coming artists where there are no CD stores any more, really – particularly in country towns – I wonder if that same kind of education is possible. Is the way to discover older music – to create a lineage – can anyone have that any more the way you had it.
That’s a really good point. With Spotify and Apple Music and things, you’re not really going to stumble across the older things. You have to go looking for it. And all the Top 50 playlists or Spotify Weekly is all going to be tailored to the current sound or whatever you’re listening to. I think you’re right – I think it is harder to discover by chance those older artists. I feel quite lucky to have literally stumbled across it - that was all I could afford, those $2 CDs out the front, not the $30 ones from inside the store.

But they did the trick. And it’s also that idea of having that education behind you, which explains how your songwriting and your singing get to the point they are – it wasn’t just you trying to pluck something out of the ether, you gave yourself an education.
True. I never really thought about it like that, but you’re right.

Your album, Resolute, started as voice memos – were these fragments of tunes or were they more developed, like verses and choruses?
Literally just a little idea, a little chorus or a little melody. And it’s because I’m lazy and when I have an idea I think I should sit down for two hours and try to write a song, but I want to go for a walk and take photos. I want to something else. So I quickly record that little idea and think, I’ll come back to that really soon, and then it takes sometimes years to come back to the idea [laughs]. And sometimes when I go through my phone and listen to voice memos there are some that I honestly do not have any recollection of. It doesn’t ring any bells. This can’t be me. It is me, because it sounds like me but I have no memory of that melody or that chord progression or anything. So I guess that’s why I record it, so I can have it again and not simply forget it.

And it’s arguable that going for a walk and taking photographs is part of your songwriting. You need your brain to work on it in the meantime so you do something else.
Definitely, yeah.

It sounds like there were hundreds of those voice memos – how long did it take to whittle them down to make a selection for the album?
It took a while. I listened to all of them and put them into two categories, of maybes and definitely nots. Then I again went through the maybe section and I picked out my top ten or twelve. I tried to make them into actual songs. But there’s so many in there, which is good because I’ve probably got enough for another album or two when I make the time to go through them again. I think it was pretty obvious, the ones that felt like a collection that would work together. So I had a fun time trying to finish them and make them into complete songs.

So you had Luke Thompson as your producer and it says here that he’s a long-term friend – and I think he would have had to be because the progress of this album was that you burst your appendix, Luke started working on it, and then you came into the album after he’d done a bit of work. I’m guessing you chose him as your producer because you trusted him, but was it still quite strange to come into        that process after it had started.
It was a bit weird, yeah, but I really trust him and I had no doubt that he would do a good job. I think he was more nervous than I was when I finally got to the studio to listen to what they’d done after two weeks of them working on it. I think he was worried that he may not have got it right or they may have wasted two weeks, but it was simply perfect and I couldn’t have been happier with what Luke had done. I honestly think he knows my songs better than I do. He just has a real musical knowledge and a musical brain, and he’s very sensitive to different genres and artists he works with. He just gets it. He’s one of those amazing guys who can just fit into any situation.

Did that medical experience [Stu had an emergency appendectomy] affect your creative process – a burst appendix is quite dramatic, and your music is not dramatic in that you’re not Queen, for example. Coming out of something so dramatic and coming back into your very sophisticated, measured sound, did it feel kind of weird?
It didn’t feel too weird but it took a while to get into it again, because I couldn’t sing – I couldn’t record the vocals for another two or three months. I had a tube shoved down my nose and throat for a couple of days, which affected things. The operation and everything was far worse than it should have been, partly because of where I was [in Indonesia]. So it took a long time to recover from that. I guess coming back into the album, it wasn’t like going from hospital to studio. It was a long, gradual process of getting back to life again. Honestly, the night before I had the operation I was thinking, Yeah, cool, no worries, gotta have an operation – my appendix will be gone tomorrow, then a couple of days I’ll fly back to Australia. It was the first time I’d had anything like that and I had no idea how it physically affects you and takes you back to square one. I wasn’t eating. I couldn’t eat food for days. I couldn’t walk on my own. It really knocked me about.

I completey empathise, as I had tubes like that and a long recovery from an operation, and I know how draining it can be, and how it can affect your voice – given that your voice is a reflection of your experience, and how you’re feeling at the time, I would think for you, as a musician, that would almost have been concerning as well.
I was very worried. Especially in the hospital, when this tube was down my throat – that was all that was on my mind. I didn’t care about the appendix. I didn’t care about anything else. It was just ‘Is this going to do damage?’ Then slowly, slowly … I went and did some regional New South Wales gigs for a month, just to get my voice back to strength before I recorded the vocals again. After the first few gigs I was still a bit concerned but the strength came back, and it started to feel good again. We had tried to record vocals before those gigs and it was just never going to happen. There was no strength or power to it, and it didn’t sound like my voice. It was very concerning around that time, but eventually we got there. It took a few months, but we got there.

You sure did get there, and well enough for the album to be signed to Nettwerk in Canada. They ar such a well-regarded label. How did that connection come about?
Through my good friend Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger. I feel very lucky. I travelled around with him for a few years and got to meet all of the people he was working with, from management to record labels and booking agents. Lucky enough for me they all agreed to work with me and help me out as well. It’s a fortunate connection.

You’re certainly part of a pedigreed line-up – so the pressure is now on!
[Laughs] Yeah. I love Nettwerk. They’re big enough that they can get stuff done but they’re not too big so they neglect artists or have too many artists to worry about. I think they’re the perfect-sized label to get the job done.

I read on your Bandcamp profile that you ‘follow the opportunities that lay themselves down in front of you’. Does that feel like a brave thing to do in life, or is that your nature, to follow those opportunities as they come up?
It wasn’t my nature [laughs] but it has become very natural now. I was a super-shy kid and I would turn away from anyone and anything that came near me. I just couldn’t really interact very well with people when I was young, and I guess even into my teenage years and early twenties I was still quite shy. But when I started travelled and started playing music a bit more seriously, I think I started to adopt that as a bit of a mantra – to just take the opportunities as they come and see where they lead, and not really have too solid a plan. I have been quite happy to just see what happens. I think when you commit to something for a period of time, you can potentially miss out on other things. If I’d have locked in something ten years ago I don’t know that I’d be doing what I’m doing. Because I was so free I met Boy & Bear, and those guys helped me out and we tagged along, and then I met Passenger. Because I was not tied to anything else I was able to say ‘yes’ to those opportunities and just take it wherever it went. I hope I can live life like that for many years to come.

It seems like that flows into how you write your songs as well – you’re making these voice memos, you’re not committing to any one thing right in that moment, you’re giving yourself these little musical opportunities. Eventually that solidifies but you do have all these other prospects floating around.      

I love that you see it like that. I feel like for me it’s more laziness but I love that you’ve given me a more positive way to see it [laughs].

Resolute is out now through Nettwerk. 
or Google Play.

MountainGrass 2017: 17-19 November

MountainGrass is an annual national bluegrass and old-time music festival held in Harrietville, Victoria from 17 to 19 November 2017. MountainGrass brings American bluegrass and old-time acts to play concerts and run workshops for fans and players of all levels. MountainGrass also showcases a selection of acts from Australia and New Zealand and runs instrument and other workshops for players of all levels. Most of all, MountainGrass offers two and a half days of non-stop picking and jamming and lots of opportunities to improve your chops. So whether you're a novice or experienced bluegrasser or even just a punter hoping to take in some music, MountainGrass has something for you.

This year's line-up includes:
Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen (USA)
Wide Island - Australian Pete Denahy and friends from Japan
Mustered Courage (Aust)
Bluestone Junction (Aust)
The Kissin' Cousins (Aust)

Other Australasian Artists appearing at MountainGrass in 2017 include:
The Beekeepers
The 4 Jimmies
The Pipi Pickers
Knott Family Band
The New Macedon Rangers
Nine Mile Creek
Slim Dime
Crooked Road
Kimberley Wheeler
The Stetson Family
The Strzelecki Stringbusters

Tickets and information available

Single release: 'Undone' by Amy Lawton

Country music communities around the world have their own identities, and the UK scene is developing strongly in country-pop, in particular. Twenty-year-old singer-songwriter Amy Lawton is influenced by Taylor Swift, amongst things, and has been honing her craft on the London live scene, playing at venues all over the capital, including Ronnie Scott's, The Troubadour and many more. recently, she’s held a six-week residency at the West End nightspot Mahiki earlier this year.

The single was written with multi-platinum hit songwriter Matty Benbrook (Paolo Nutini, Jack Savoretti, Dido) and mastered by Pete Maher (U2, Lana Del Rey, Jack White).

Listen to it on Soundcloud or Spotify.

or Google Play.

Find Amy on Facebook:

Single release: 'Safe' by Sarah Leete

Sarah Leete is an exciting new country music talent who lives near Narrabri, NSW. She has released her debut single, ‘Safe’, and announces her debut EP for release on 3 November.

Having built a loyal fan base through strong vocals, an infectious personality and a unique sense of humour, the release of ‘Safe’ comes in the wake of Sarah’s first tour – The Central Australia Tour – during which she self-booked, promoted and performed at 15 venues, across 4 states, over 4 weeks.

Leete has a fantastically layered, rich voice that suggests she keeps herself safe even as she implores to be kept safe in this impressive song.

Listen to 'Safe' on Soundcloud.

or Google Play.

Single release: 'Forget' by Missy Lancaster

Missy Lancaster is a young artist from Picton, NSW, who released an independent EP last year and went on to be voted a Top 5 finalist at the CMC Music Awards for New Australian Artist of the Year in March this year.

Her new single,‘Forget’ is from her forthcoming debut album, which will be released in 2018. This infectious country-pop song was co-written and produced by highly sought-after Nashville writer/producer Josh Kerr – a writer on the recent #1 US hit single ‘My Girl’ by Dylan Scott and the Kelsea Ballerini hits ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ and ‘Dibs.’

Missy has spent a considerable amount of time in Nashville in the last 12 months, writing songs and developing her sound in the studio with Kerr and award-winning Nashville-based Australian producer Lindsay Rimes (LOCASH, The McClymonts).

Watch the video for 'Forget' below.
Find the song on or Google Play.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Single release: 'Roadworks' by Angus Gill

As soon as I heard Angus Gill's new single, 'Roadworks', from his upcoming album Nomad, I felt like I was in Tamworth at the height of the country music festival, probably in the Southgate Inn on a hot morning, tapping my toes in a crowded room. Gill is young - 19 years of age - but it appears he's already soaked in the sounds of Australian country.

'Roadworks' is a road song, and a life song, in the vein of other such Australian country songs, and in case you think 19 is too young for you to pay attention to, Gill has a pedigree: he was a grand finalist in the 2017 Toyota Star Maker competition and is a three-time CMAA Academy of Country Music graduate. Not only that, he has toured, supported and co-written with Sara Storer, Troy Cassar-Daley, Rick Price, Adam Harvey, Felicity Urquhart and Gina Jeffreys, amongst others.

Listen to 'Roadworks' on Gill's website, where you can also buy the single.

Pre-order Nomad on

Single release: 'The Devil Below Me'

When this song starts it's hard to get a sense of what it is, let alone where it will go. Then at the 45-second mark it takes flight - or, rather, Josh McGovern's voice opens up and suddenly you're inside something else unexpected but wonderful. British singer-songwriter McGovern has been compared to Tom Waits and Nick Cave, but that's more for his register than anything, for McGovern is a more melodic and, dare one say it (come for me now, Waits and Cave fans), expressive singer.

In 'The Devil Below Me' he's gone for drama, as his voice demands, and stops before it becomes overwrought. This suggests he understands how to use his voice rather than exploit it, and that makes it a powerful instrument. It will be intriguing to see what he comes up with next.

Watch the video for 'The Devil Below Me' below.

Find Josh on Facebook @Joshmmusic.

Single release: 'To the Grave' by Rick Hart

Melburnian singer-songwriter Rick Hart certainly knows how to tug on the ol' heart strings with his new single, 'To the Grave'. In this lilting country tale of heartbreak Hart's voice is a mixture of sadness and steadfastness.

The song comes from Hart's forthcoming debut album Let Me In, due for release in October 2017, and showcases his traditional Americana and country style. He won the 2014 Australian Songwriters Association (ASA) Songwriter of the Year award and his award-winning debut EP Spiral contained a number of successful singles, including 'Levon Helm'.

Watch the video for 'To the Grave' below or listen on Soundcloud.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Travis Collins and his Australian backyard

Travis Collins kicked off the year with three Golden Guitar wins then followed up with three CMC awards. Now he's joined his old friend Amber Lawrence on the road, and in the creation of the EP Our Backyard. Travis is a wonderful entertainer, and he's also committed to the ethos of Australian country music - which includes getting out into the biggest backyard of all, the Australian continent, to play shows and meet people. I spoke to him recently.

What was your main inspiration for the new EP?
It started as a couple of friends just wanting to do something different. We’ve been on the carousel now for so long going make-solo-album/tour, repeat. We finally reached a point in our careers where we thought we could finally do something a little different this time, and we’ve probably got a little more freedom to try it. We toured together many years ago, before we were established, and we had a good time doing that. We thought, Let’s get together and tour again, and that was actually the first seed that the whole thing was based on. It was always a tour first. Then our managers chipped in and said, ‘Why don’t you record some new music around it, just for something different?’ That took it to another level. And we thought if we do it we should write all the songs and make music that people haven’t heard yet – explore some new ground between her sound and mine, and I think we’ve really effectively done it. There’s stuff on this EP that’s not really fair and square in my usual sound and not really fair and square in Amber’s either, but we’ve kind of bridged the gap between the two.

When I first heard the song ‘Our Backyard’ I thought a lot of people would respond to it – have you had a good response to it?
The response has been mind-blowing, actually, especially because we weren’t so sure. We did this [as a] little bit of a self-indulgent project and then we wrote – one of the first songwriting sessions we did we went fishing for ideas and started talking about touring. Organically we got to chatting about how lucky we are to go to some of these places that we’ve got coming up on the tour. The conversation flowed into places we’ve been and seen around Australia through our touring. That’s where the line came up: ‘You don’t need to travel the world to find paradise’. We thought that’s something to build a song around. Amber had just come back from Silverton – she met people out there, on the edge of Broken Hill, who have packed everything up from the city and moved out there just for the sunsets. And I thought if there’s not a basis for a song around that … this’ll be the test, if we can’t write a song about that then we can’t write a song about anything.

You have very successfully written a song about that and other things. In terms of your songwriting and your music in general – I read a line in an article in which you said you had three parents: your mum, your dad and country music. And there were some songs that had raised you. Who have the most influential artists been in your life?
First and foremost my dad – he never had a record deal, he’s just a guy who went out and sang on weekends with the band. He has to be the number one influence because if it wasn’t for him I would never have discovered music and I certainly would never have discovered further influences – stuff that he was listening to that he put me onto. Those were the first seeds I had for music and he was into guys like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson – all of those outlaw honkytonk country artists. But it led me enough into it that I fell in love with it, and eventually when I was older and able enough to seek out my own music – pre-Spotify and all those kinds of things, you literally had to jump on a bus and go to a record shop and wait to see what was new. That led me to guys like Garth Brooks and Vince Gill – those guys were something different to what my dad was listening to and they really switched me on to new country music back then. It’s kind of relic stuff now but back then, as a sixteen-year-old kid picking up that latest Brooks & Dunn record, suddenly I had a bit of a clear idea of music. It wasn’t just something to do – it could actually be someone to be.

I can hear a bit of that in your music but I think you’ve developed your own sound – has that come naturally or have you made an effort to carve out your own sound?
I kind of make small efforts here and there. I’ve never been super focused on developing or designing a sound. I think when the songs come out, they naturally come out in keys and arrangements that feel right to me. I just try to keep that organic feel all the way through. When we go to the studio, the last couple of albums I’ve produced myself, and as far as I know producing a record is picking the musicians and really just throwing all those dominoes in a room and seeing how they fall, and that’s the sound I come up with. I nurse it here or there, or I make decisions in the studio and say, ‘That’s not working or that is’, but I don’t really tailor it as much as some people think. I just really focus on the personalities that are together making it, and just see what really comes together in the blend.

I’m interested in how big a role your guitar playing has in your sound – when you play live it’s clear you love guitar, and it’s obvious you’re very skilled technically but also you really feel it.
It’s huge. Especially in the creating of music. Lately almost everything’s come from a guitar in my hands. I suppose it’s a hippie thing to say but sometimes I feel like I don’t write a song – I just hold the guitar and the song channels through and tells me to write it down. But at the same time I’ve sort of felt a little slack lately, in that when we’re on stage and touring, the guitar has kind of taken a bit of a back seat at gigs. I’m trying to make some changes to get my hands back around the guitar and play it a bit more live, but definitely in a creative space – in a studio, writing, anywhere the creation of music is happening – it’s never far from my hands.

I guess that’s part of the challenge as you become more prominent and you’re seen as a front man, not as a singer-guitarist – being out the front means that the guitar might have to be put aside.
Absolutely, and it’ll come and go but right now I feel a lot more comfortable in my ability to entertain a crowd when I’ve got the guitar sitting in the stand. I still pull it up and play it every now and again. There are certain songs where I just don’t feel right [without it]. That song ‘Call Me Crazy’ from the Golden Guitar awards, that’s a song that it doesn’t feel right without a guitar in my hands. But there are other songs on that record – the more fun and high-energy stuff – I just enjoy the show more when I’m out the front without it. I’m surrounded by guitar players constantly. I’ve got two great guitar players in my band – much better players than I am. These guys are always egging me on to pull my guitar out on stage and play, but I constantly tell the crowd, ‘There’s no point flying the Cessna when you’ve got the jet fighters either side of you.’

I’m sure that’s not true, but they’re your guitarists so I’ll let you say it. To change tack: I’m sure there are artists who’ve played an important role in your life and career.
There’s a handful of people who have all equally influenced me. I really started to pay attention to the music industry, more than just the music itself, around about 2013 when I was really, really fortunate when Adam Brand took me out on the road and gave me my first co-headline tour with him. We forged a great friendship and we’re still the best of mates now. He took a real gamble on me back then. Relatively unknown, out on the road, and he put me up there on the poster and my name was the same size as his. He took me around for twelve months and really showed Australia who I was. I learned a lot about music; I learned a lot about performing. It’s not so ironic that that was around the time I started to put the guitar down a little bit more. Spending time on the road with someone like Brandy, who’s such a macro person – everything that he’s doing on stage is all about the people in front of him, and he’s just responding to them a hundred per cent of the time and not having to worry about what chords are coming up next. I started to see that, and not long after that tour I started dabbling in it myself, and I sort of found this whole new creative licence on stage to not have to stand at the microphone and have your guitar plugged in. You could put it down and wander the whole stage and really get in everyone’s faces, and really make sure everyone’s getting that personal reach-out and slap in their hands, things like that. Making sure that everybody who’s down there, who’s made the effort to be at the front of the stage, is acknowledged.

To circle back to your project with Amber and to ‘Our Backyard’ – it’s a song that’s proud of
Australia and I’m wondering what you love about Australian country music or what you’re proud of in Australian country music.
What I’m most proud of is the sense of community. I don’t know another genre that is so keen to put their hand up when a local kids footy club needs to raise money or someone’s fighting cancer and needs to raise money. It seems to be that the country music community are always there for their community. I’m really, really proud of that. And it doesn’t matter if it’s all the way up the top end – like Lee Kernaghan is probably the biggest star we’ve got here. That guy gives his time up every [Tamworth] festival, in January, to raise money for hay runs and people in hardships in Australia. Troy Cassar-Daley, Adam Brand, and right down to the people we don’t know – the buskers on Peel Street in Tamworth, a lot of them donate their money to charities. That’s probably the most poignant thing about country music: the mateship and the willingness to roll up your sleeves for a stranger, and use your talents and use your time to try make a difference for them.

And the reason why that’s so effective is that you can connect with the audience and bring them into the community. Going out on tour is a big way of doing that – so what are you most looking forward to about your tour?
I’m going back to a few places I haven’t been to in a long, long time – towns like D’Aguilar, Dalby in Queensland. There’s a few places that for whatever reason in the last few years I just haven’t been able to get to. So I’m really looking forward to the energy of those places and measuring ourselves against those crowds again. And, of course, being able to get on the road and play some shows with a good friend. It’s usually the whole responsibility of everything weighs on me when I tour around by myself, but this time it’s going to be good to have a little bit more of a relaxed feeling knowing that I only have to worry about half of it and Amber’s got the other half sorted out. To get out there and have some fun – it’s going to half feel like work when we’re not on stage, but when we’re on stage I just want it to be a hundred per cent fun, and so far that’s what everything about this project has been, from the studio to the writing, we’re just really trying our best to speak honestly and have a good time.

You’ve had a very big year thus far: Golden Guitar wins and CMC awards. How are you going to top it next year?  
I have this metaphor called my songwriting antenna, which is something that just goes up and, to put it politely, I sort of eavesdrop a lot more on conversations around me. I’m just now starting to look for things for the next record, and I’ve got a fair idea of where it will go and I will be starting to write that in September. At the moment there’s no real plans – whether it’s going to be 2018 or 2019 – but I do know one thing about the next record: I’ll head to the studio when the songs are ready and we won’t be working to a particular time line and writing songs for the sake of it. When we’ve got the ten best songs that I think I can possibly come up with, then we’ll go into the studio. I’m feeling really good at the moment. I’m feeling like there’s a lot of inspiration in the well to draw from, and I just really want to get out and meet people all over Australia, particularly in regional Australia. I want to sing the stories of these people and I want to give people battling out in the bush a bit more of a voice to mainstream Australia and everyone living on the coast, and tell their stories and get out there and sing country music for country people.

Our Backyard by Travis Collins and Amber Lawrence is out now through ABC Music/Universal.
  or Google Play.

Travis and Amber on tour:
Thursday 26 October      Warwick RSL Memorial Club
Friday 27 October            Dag Pub & Motel – D’Aguilar
Saturday 28 October      Hamilton Hotel
Sunday 29 October          Mary’s Commercial Hotel – Dalby
Friday 3 November         Young Services Club
Sunday 5 November       The Oaks Hotel – Illawarra
Friday 24 November       Windsor RSL

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Single release: 'Keep Me Coming Back' by Casey Barnes

Not that long ago I was not that wild about country rock - but that was before I realised that Australian country rock was doing a nice line in melodies and production that didn't make everything sound like it was from the same cookie cutter. If, like me, you appreciate a good rock song, the melding of country music sounds and sensibilities with rock can be very satisfying. And so it is with the music of Casey Barnes, who has a new single, 'Keep Me Coming Back', and a video to go with it (see below). The song debuted at number 4 on the iTunes country chart. Previous single ‘The Way We Ride’ reached #1 on various Australian country charts, including four weeks at #1 on the All Australian Top 40 Charts.

Barnes's current album is Live As One.
or Google Play.

Single release: 'Lonely Night' by Karin Page

Karin Page has some great industry credentials: she won Female Artist Of The Year and Songwriter Of The Year at the 2017 WA Music Awards, was nominated for a WAM Song Of The Year Award (for the "Lonely Night" demo) in the Blues And Roots, nominated for New Artist Of The Year at the 2017 CMC Awards. She was also the 2016 Toyota Star Maker. I've included that information for those who like to know about awards, but what's far more important, actually, is what got her those accolades: her music.

Page has released a new single, 'Lonely Night', which was written while she was travelling around Australia by caravan. It wasn't the isolation of the round, though, that prompted the heartfelt lyrics - rather, it was the isolation of modern life: we're surrounded by evidence of other people's lives, especially on social media, yet that doesn't necessarily make us feel more connected.

Page's beautiful voice is the key to why this song works so well - she could sing a shopping list and it would be interesting - but the message behind the song is given more power through the emotion in her voice and her ability to deliver the song cleanly and clearly.

Listen to 'Lonely Night' on Soundcloud, get it on or on Google Play.

Karin Page is on tour:
Thursday August 31st       Fox Den Gloucester  NSW
Friday September 1st        Lazybones Lounge  Marrickville NSW
Saturday September 2nd   Antojitos - Newcastle NSW
Sunday September 3rd      Peppertown - Mayfield NSW
Saturday September 16th  Kilcoy Festival - Kilcoy QLD
Sunday September 17th     The Triffid - Brisbane QLD

Album review: A Foreign Country by Jed Rowe

Listening to an album for the first time is akin to starting a novel: there is a process of working out what is going on and also deciding if you want to continue with the story that is unfolding. It is rare for either album or novel to grab hold of you immediately; either you arrive at a point of being swept away or you don’t, and the decision is made accordingly. This is true even if you’re predisposed to like the creator: they have a certain advantage, in that you’ve decided to listen to the album (or, first, their single) or read the book. But they still have to win you over.

When I started listening to Jed Rowe’s new album, A Foreign Country, I was predisposed to like it, having found his previous work to be compelling, fascinating and complex. Still, no free pass here: I have a lot of music to listen to and I still need to reach that point of being grabbed.

That point came in song five, ‘Tailem Bend’, which Rowe has also released as a single. But I need to be clear: songs one through four were very, very good. It’s just that it was ‘Tailem Bend’ that made me think that we were off to the races. If you pressed me as to why, I couldn’t say – music is an art, a science and a mystery, and when all those elements are in harmony it’s impossible to say exactly what captures the attention apart from to say that it’s magic. And on the second playing of the album it was clear that the same magic was present in all ten songs.

A Foreign Country is Rowe’s most Australian album to date, meaning that the lyrical content names Australian places more regularly than his previous works; Port Douglas, Mission Beach, Bondi, the Murray and the Coorong and Narromine all appear. And while Rowe is Australian, the title of the album may be a nod to the fact that Australia is geographically so diverse and vast that even its lifelong residents can find themselves in what seems like a foreign land even if it’s a hundred kilometres down the road.

As with his previous albums, the songs are stories, usually of others – and if they are stories from Rowe’s own life we’ll never know, because he tells each story with the same feeling. Rowe is a deliberate, considered, meticulous lyricist, as well as a poetic one – if you read the lyrics on their own, it is immediately clear that they don’t need music to bring them to life, because Rowe has taken care of each word and line to ensure that they are works of art. That perhaps makes it more difficult for him to turn these into songs, for poems don’t always lend themselves to accompaniment. In Rowe’s case, though, they do. Rowe has always had a wonderful voice, and he’s an accomplished guitarist, using both instruments to bring more life, and nuance, to his lyrics.

The instrumentation on this album is sparse (but not threadbare). It’s true that Rowe doesn’t need much to bring his lyrics to musical life but he’s also wise enough to exercise restraint – not so much a case of ‘less is more’ as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

Rowe has built an impressive catalogue of songs that satisfy on many levels. The lyrics always tell a story that seems complete until you realise that there are layers of story which aren’t in the songs but which have informed Rowe’s choice of words. Musically, Rowe always delivers because he applies the same attention to detail to the music as he does to the words. And then there is the meaning that Rowe brings to the songs and the space he allows for the listener to bring their own. When an artist is aware of his role, as Rowe is – when he’s aware that he is the creator but he is also the messenger and that the message never belongs completely to him – he produces songs like these, which gave the listener room to put themselves inside them. That requires a sublimation of ego to the greater purpose of art while also believing that you’re the right person to bring that message. It’s the same kind of delicately balanced dance that is required to make a great song, and Rowe has it.

A Foreign Country is out now.

or Google Play.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Single release: 'Small Town Woman' by Smith & Jones

Oh, what a lovely song this is, and from the lovely New South Wales duo Smith & Jones. Abby Smith and Sophie Jones spin a story of life as a woman in a small town - what's done and not done.

This is an honest, endearing, unsentimental tale from a very talented duo who deliver it with captivating harmonies. The song is taken from their album Dark Gives Way, available on Bandcamp or

Watch the video for 'Small Town Woman' below.

Interview: Josh Setterfield

Queensland resident Josh Setterfield has recently appeared on the Australian country music scene, with his debut EP Live it Up. He has since released a single, 'Hometown', from an upcoming EP, From Dusk. And while he's new to country, he's certainly not new to music - as I discovered when we spoke recently.

Your new single is called ‘Hometown’ and I’m wondering what is your home town?
My home town is a little place south of Newcastle [New South Wales]. It’s called Wangi Wangi. I grew up there. Moved away when I was 11 or 12 to come up to Queensland.

So now you’re a Queenslander?
No, I’m not! [Laughs] I am. In [State of] Origin I’m not a Queenslander. But I’ve lived here the majority of my life.

Where are you now?
Just north of Brisbane.

I was looking at some of your videos and I counted at least five instruments that you play. I saw a bass, a guitar, a banjo, drums and a piano. What is your musical background? When did you start playing, what was your first instrument and what did you grow up listening to?
When I got into music I was listening to a lot of pop punk. My favourite band was Simple Plan. I actually saw them on MTV back in the day and I thought, I want to be like that. I wanted to be a punk kid. I originally learned guitar and then I learnt drums because a band that I wanted to join didn’t need anything but a drummer, and I really wanted to be in that band [laughs]. So that’s how that came about. Everything else just kind of came. I don’t know when I learnt it. I just kind of pick it up and play it. I can’t actually read music at all. If it sounds right, I play it. But I was in a pop punk band for about seven years. We did some pretty cool things – got to tour with The Offspring, play Vans Warped Tour and tour with Simple Plan, my favourite band. I was so stoked. Last year sometime it came to an end and I was going to do the same thing but I kind of didn’t want to – I wanted to try something new, and I’ve always been a massive fan of country music. So I gave it a go, and here I am.

That is not necessarily a straight line from pop punk to country. You said you were already a massive fan of country music – what was the first country music you remember listening to?

My parents – my whole family, really – listened to it when I was growing up. But I’d have to say my biggest influence – and I know it’s really clichéd, being Australian – but Keith Urban was the dude that got me into it. He’s the biggest inspiration I ever had, being a solo artist, just in general.

You started playing guitar – is that your favourite instrument?
It’s my main instrument. I don’t really have a favourite. I think drums are so much fun just to rock out to. But I guess I play guitar more than anything else, so I’d have to say that’s been my main one and probably my favourite.

Your second EP is From Dusk, and as far as I can it’s not out yet – is that correct?
No, not yet.

When’s that coming out?
I’m not allowed to say yet! But it’s definitely coming and it’s a lot sooner than people think.

So you’re not allowed to say because you’ve got a record company that’s telling you that you can’t say?
No, I wish – I wish that was the news. Just my manager saying we need to keep it downlow so we can focus on the single for now.

Were you happy with how the first EP’s process went? Because you have obviously been involved with music for a while but this was your first EP in a new genre.
Surprisingly it went really well. Obviously having punk fans, they came across to it and had a listen. Some were keen on it, some weren’t too keen on it, but the majority were pretty sold on it. A lot of the people I found through the country scene have been really supportive of it as well, which is awesome. It seems there are a lot of people who are either for the new sound of country or the old sound of country, and luckily, for some reason, they like me, so I’m stoked.

You have a great voice, so that always helps. If someone’s sitting on the fence about a genre, a voice is something that humans respond to instinctually, so if the voice is there, the audience is halfway there. Also, country rock a lot of purists might think is kind of raucous, whereas your sound is melodic rock, which I think Australian country artists do really well. That’s more a statement than a question [laughs].
[Laughs] I can’t really answer that but I agree with what you said.

Do you write your own songs?
Yes, I wrote everything myself on my first EP and the second one. I just feel like I have a lot of control that way. For the next EP that I’m looking at I’m going to try to branch out and do some songwriting with other people.

Since you have done it all yourself, do you want to branch out because you think creatively it might be more interesting or you just feel like you should do it?
I’ve just never really tried it. And there’s a lot of collabs within the country scene, and I just want to really do it properly. I want to experience what these people are experiencing and try all the different things. I know I can write a song myself but I’ve never tried to write a song with another main songwriter, so I’m really interested just to try it.

Have you ever in the past, or would you consider in the future, writing songs just for others?
I’ve considered that a couple of times. There’s a couple of songs I’ve come up with that I really like but I feel like they don’t really suit me. I’ve come up with a couple of punk songs as well, so I’m thinking about giving them to those guys because what am I going to do with them now?

When it came time to select songs for the EPs, did you have a big reservoir of material to draw from or were you writing specifically with the EPs in mind?
There was a couple of songs that didn’t make the cut, but it was only a very few. I had the kind of sound that I wanted to go for when I started, so I just went with it and that’s how it happened. And with this new EP, I wrote it as I was feeling it, and I just tried to piece it all together as the way it was, so I just picked the best songs I had at the time.

Given your musical background before you came to country music, have you found you’ve had to approach songwriting almost from a different angle because it’s a different audience, or do the same rules apply?
I pretty much use the exact same thing. People that I’ve spoken to have said that I’m kind of something different in the country scene. I’m not trying to change the country scene at all – I love it as it is – but I guess I’m just putting my own spin on it and the knowledge that I have so far, I’m bringing it over.

One of the things about punk is that the song construction needs to be really tight, because you have to deliver a short, sharp message, and you might have developed a certain discipline that really helps you, moving into a new genre.
Yes, definitely.

So you love Keith – are there any other Australian artists whose careers you’re hoping to emulate or who you just love as performers?
Massive fan of the Wolfe Brothers at the moment – those guys are just killing it. Troy Kemp also – his music’s awesome. Viper Creek Band, they’re really cool. There’s a lot of bands that I’d heard of – and I’d listened to them – but once you come into the scene you start to find new artists. I’ve played with Rachel Fahim, who was the Star Maker winner, in Tamworth – she’s really cool. I just love meeting all these new artists and finding out their music and their styles. There are a couple of artists in the industry who are a lot closer to what I am than I thought I was going to have coming into country music. I thought it was going to be all John Williamson and Lee Kernaghan – and I love that sort of stuff. But there’s heaps of bands here that I didn’t even really look into until I got I into the scene.

The Wolfe Brothers have really opened up a younger audience for country rock who perhaps wouldn’t have considered country music as something they would like.
Definitely. Everyone I’ve shown their music to so far have said, ‘Oh – is this country now?’

You’re heading for the Deni Ute Muster in September – is this your first time?
Yes, I’ve never been before and I’ve heard so many awesome stories. I cannot wait to have my own.

Will you have your own ute?
I don’t know if I’m taking it down yet, because I’m going to have to drive from Brisbane. I kind of want to do the road trip but I have to bring the band as well, so band and ute and all the gear, I’m struggling to figure out how that’s going to work.

You’ve played the Gympie Muster in the past. What do you like about a big festival audience compared with a smaller crowd?
I find that with the festivals, it seems like more people come together. Being that most country artists will play three hours’ worth of show at pubs and stuff like that you can go to a festival and everyone goes there to hear the original music and a couple of covers, whereas at smaller shows it’s the other way around. And the vibe from everyone there – they just want to go there and have a good time. And that’s all there is to it.

Beyond Deni – are you heading to the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2018?
I will definitely be back in Tamworth.

So you played there this year?
Yes, that’s where I played with Rachel. It was before she won [Star Maker] – I teed up some shows and I was playing in her breaks. Then she won it and the crowds just tripled and I was, like, ‘Awesome’. She’s really cool.

Do you have a venue that you’re very keen on playing in?
I really like the Albert [Hotel]. It is an awesome little venue.

They get a lot of loud shows there.
That’s my kind of music [laughs].

And before that there is your EP. EPs have become popular for emerging artists – and in this genre you are emerging. They’re a way for people to get a taste of your music. But are you looking ahead to an album?
I’ve been thinking about it. But I feel with today’s music – just the experience of what fans who follow me are into – I feel like EPs are the way to go at the moment. They’re shorter. People’s attention doesn’t really span across a whole album any more, just from what I’ve seen. There’s still a lot of people out there who listen to albums – I still do – but if it’s a shorter album that’s better, with all the top songs instead of the filler tracks, then it just grabs people’s attention way more.

I guess in the age of streaming it makes sense. For artists these days there’s a lot to think about: social media, for one thing. You have to think about your music going on to streaming and how it’s going to sound. Do you like that side of things or is it easier to concentrate on the creative part of your job?
Honestly, I’m interested in all of it and any way to get it out there.

Do you find that you get responses from people on social media so you feel like you can interact with fans?
Definitely. I feel like it’s one of the main parts of today. You still have to go out and do your own thing in person, but with a musician now, it’s crucial to be on social media. That’s where everyone’s eyes are now – they walk around on their phones all day. Facebook is awesome to get music out there.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Raised by Eagles take flight - on tour

The audience for Melbourne band Raised by Eagles increases all the time - so it makes sense that they are on the road, winning friends and influencing people with their magnificent latest album, I Must Be Somewhere. I spoke to Nick O'Mara, who shares singing and songwriting duties with Luke Sinclair.

Have you been happy with the album’s reception?
Yes, it’s been really good. We’ve all been pleased. People seem to like it and it’s gotten good reviews – four stars in Rolling Stone, which was nice. I felt good about a lot of it and then as a whole I was unsure how it was going to be received. We have that feeling every time we release an album. But we’ve been happy.

After an album comes out, do you listen to it and think, We should have done that differently, and that differently, or do you tend to be philosophical and think, well, that’s a complete body of work now and we step away?
Oh no, definitely – I’ve listened to it a couple of times in the first month, and all I could hear was the conversations about decisions. You can’t hear it at all in that first period but we did an in-store at Basement Discs in the city and they put it on as we were packing up our gear, so I was just listening to it in the background. That was about two or three weeks ago and that felt like the first time I’d properly heard it. I was really pleased with it, which is good. But in that period, you just can’t – you totally cannot see the wood for the trees. You’re overwhelmed by the process you’ve just been through making it, so you have to step away from it.

Do you treat your live shows as an opportunity to go back to some of those conversations you had during recording and tweak things a little, or do you just let the songs take on their own life when they’re live?
All the arrangements are set now. In the studio there were decisions made about arrangements and what goes where, and then once they’re on vinyl then we’ll follow that, we’ll follow those arrangements.

Some of the reviews were comparing you to Americans – especially Ryan Adams, I saw, was quite popular in some of them. But I so often hear Australian summers, in particular, in your songs and perhaps that’s just me and my musical references. But do you think of your music as being American or Australian or just let those influences come out in the wash, so to speak?
There’s no self-conscious decision about that. I hope it’s heard as Australian but you can’t really escape the form that we’re playing in, which I think is changing quite a bit now. Rock music and pop music for the last sixty years has been, in a sense, an interpretation of American forms, really. There’s no conscious decision about that at all, and you kind of are what you eat: we’re influenced by American bands and we’re also influenced by Australian bands. When I hear it, it sounds Australian to me. Some people I’ve talked to are consciously trying to rid themselves of American influences – but that’s not really possible. If you’re strumming a guitar and you’re singing, you know, that’s an American form in a sense. This goes deep – you’d have to talk about the history of popular music, I suppose. But I think certainly [our] lyrics are Australian.

For me, it’s very evocative of a lot of Australianness. But I also get a little annoyed or agitated whenever I see Ryan Adams used in a review reference to anyone who is vaguely country music because I tend to think it’s actually being lazy.
It is.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but I think Ryan Adams is considered the gateway drug to country music for some people but I don’t think many listeners get past that. I actually can’t hear Ryan Adams in your music, and I know his back catalogue really well. There is that Melbourne alt-country and I can hear you in that but I still think you’re doing something completely different.
Thanks. I agree with that too – the Ryan Adams thing is just an easy blanket term. If he’s a guy that plays country music or whatever – country rock – it’s just an easy comparison. I can’t hear his influence at all. If anything we’re just influenced by some of the same people, like Neil Young. I know people who sound very much like him – which is fine, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone. I like Ry-Ry, he’s good, but he’s not someone I’d sit down and try to emulate. I would never do that anyway. These things are not self-conscious. But it is a lazy comparison.

And it’s especially lazy because you and Luke [Sinclair] split the singing and the songwriting, so there’s a Raised by Eagles sound but you have your own ways of writing songs, and of course you also write some together. Is it a comfortable partnership or is it one of those partnerships where you push each other, whether you’re writing separately or not?
[Laughs] We’d have to save this conversation for band therapy, I think. Creating music together, there’s always some jostling with stuff. When I bring my songs in they’re usually arranged and sometimes I demo them and I’ve got a complete idea of what they’re going to be, and then Luke’s a little bit different – he likes to bash them out with the band and kind of arrange them together. It’s hard to describe. The process is really different when you’re in a band – you throw things into this kind of whirlpool of other people’s playing and other people’s ideas, and that can be really fun and really cool and things can come up that perhaps wouldn’t if you’d made the decisions yourself. We write in different ways together. One of the songs, ‘Everyday Everyday’, was a demo that I did at home, and I played all the parts on it – I played lap steel, electric bass, acoustic guitar – and I didn’t put any lyrics on it because I just felt like I’d nailed this demo and it was just this beautiful self-contained thing, and for me it was like this finished project. At some points sometimes you just go, ‘That’s finished’. And I felt like I didn’t want to mess with it by having to tack lyrics on it. So I just sent the demo to Luke and that was really good, because then he wrote the lyrics to that and sings it on the album. So that’s a really cool way to do it, because sometimes you write something in that initial spark and you get it out, and then to finish it – occasionally you’ll hit a block when you think, This is finished. It’s not finished in form but it’s finished in terms of how far I can push it, in terms of what I wanted to create. And then Luke’s got it and said, ‘This thing is kind of finished and I can just be free to play it and listen to it and write lyrics over it.’ So that was really fun.

You creating those demos at home – as you said, you’re creating things that are formed. That suggests that you might like to control things – and I’m not using that pejoratively – but what then interests me is that you are completely prepared to turn over that control to Luke to put lyrics on. If you were legitimately a control freak, that wouldn’t happen. You would have to do everything.
That’s right. You have to sacrifice … if you’ve got that instinct, if you’re playing in a band, it’s a four-part thing that has different moving parts. It’s hopefully more than the sum of its parts, you know. Having said that, when we did go to record every day I was frantic that we were going to fuck it up and it wasn’t going to be like the demos [laughs]. That was a hard day. But thankfully it turned out good – we had a good day, and we did it live for the most part for that song. I don’t listen to it and hear the demo any more. It’s become a new thing and it captured that sound world that I wanted, which is good.

And when you do go to record you have another element in the mix – and a family member: your producer [Shane O’Mara], who might also have his opinions.
Yes, big cousin Shane. He was great. He’s just a really good producer and he just keeps things moving. That was cool. He understands what you’re trying to get. Definitely facilitated the sound that I wanted on a couple of songs that were getting really tricky and he knew exactly how … Sometimes there’s not the language to talk about music but because we all experience it in our own way, having someone there who understood what I was going for without too much talk, it was good.

Now, you’re on a major label – ABC Music, distributed by Universal. How has that been, because it’s a different beast to being independent?
It’s good for us to have people outside the band taking on some of the stuff that needs to be done and going into bat for us. It gives us a sense that we’re moving forward.

You’re playing show and you’re going out on a tour. Did you pull out a map and go ‘eeny-meeny-miney-mo’ or did you have a wish list of places to visit? How were the venues chosen?
You just feel it out in terms of how you think you’ll go there and how many people are going to turn up. It’s not an exact science. We just did a run of shows with Mick Thomas – we went to Sydney and Adelaide – and we feel like we might have made a few converts there. We were doing the support for him. We just try to play places that will have the most amount of people to turn up.

It is always tricky being a support act, because not everyone does turn up for the support – so if you feel you had converts, that’s a good win.
They were there pretty early. Mick Thomas’s fans are pretty ardent supporters. So we did play to them and they dug it. We felt like we had to win them over and I think we did.

You have some special guests on this tour – Charles Jenkins, Neil Murray and Freya Josephine Hollick, and some special guests TBA. How did you come to choose who to play with and where?
We played at a festival with Neil and he just came and said g’day. He’s a cool guy and he said he really liked the band, and asked us to get up and play with him. So we got up and played a song with him. We’re writing a song with him as well. So we made that connection with him and he sent us a demo. We’ve just finished that in the last couple of weeks, pretty much.       So he’s coming along to do the shows, which will be fun. And then Chuck – or Charles – Jenkins, Luke loves Ice Cream Hands. Everyone references Ice Cream Hands but I’ve never really heard them and I love Chuck’s solo stuff. And Freya – I think Luke Richardson suggested Freya. We heard her stuff and thought she sounded cool.

When you go on the road, is it an opportunity to create new work?
[Laughs] No. Not at all. You’re just trying not to poison yourself with beer and meat pies from servos. That takes up all your time. You’re just trying not to be hungover. I can’t imagine writing a song on the road. It would just all be about coming home.

It also suggests that different energy that’s required to do those things. Live performance looks like it’s an hour and a bit on stage, but you have to ramp up and calm down afterwards, and there is a lot involved in performance which is antithetical to the creative process.
All the clichés about it are quite true. We do these little runs – we haven’t done any big major tours yet. We’ve gone to the [United] States and stuff, but we haven’t done months of tours. We’ve got a bunch of stuff in August so that will be a reasonable run for us, but we’ll be coming home in between: three-day, four-day runs. Even when you do that it’s that thing of an entire day is just dedicated to forty minutes or an hour. It’s quite funny. When you get up it’s a joy and everything’s fantastic, and then it is hard to wind down afterwards. That cliché of when you get offstage you can’t sleep. Particularly in Australia just the distances you have to go, it’s not for the faint hearted.

So you’re driving to these places?
Some we’ll be driving, some we’ll be flying. That can be fun too – we have a good time in the band.

You can use it as an opportunity for band therapy.
[Laughs] Band therapy on the Hume ... Half of us would be hitching home.

My last question is about you and Amarillo [Nick’s other band]. Do you have a set rhythm where you go ‘this project/that project’ or do you let it sort itself out?
I let it sort itself out. Jacqui Tonks, my partner, she books gigs around the schedule of Raised by Eagles, pretty much. We’ve got some stuff coming up. We’ve changed things a little bit. We’ve been doing some different stuff where we’ve interpreting some classical music – I play it on a Jazzmaster and Jac sings some stuff. We’ve been doing some Eric Satie and writing stuff more with me playing rhythm guitar. So that’s been fun – and with Amarillo we feel like we can just do whatever we want. And we’ve been playing with Ben Franz on pedal steel, and a little less with the rhythm section and more with me, Jac and Ben, which has been really open. You can follow whatever you want to do with that band, which is nice, whereas Raised by Eagles if more contained and it has a thing, which is good too.

The bigger your Raised by Eagles audience becomes, it could be a bit of a bind in that people are expecting a certain sound and you are therefore locked into that sound.
We never think about it or talk about it in Raised by Eagles. It is contained but that’s kind of an unspoken thing – it’s just what the band is, if you know what I mean. We would never make a decision based on ‘this would be too weird’ – it’s just what the four people in it, their aesthetic is when we’re together. It’s funny – it just becomes what it is and there are boundaries where we would never say XYZ, it just kind of happens.

It sounds like you have a very interesting creative life. You’re open to a whole lot of different things and it can be easier to stick to what you know and if it’s been successful, to repeat it. It’s far more challenging and takes a lot more energy and brain space to go with what’s new – but the rewards are potentially so much bigger.
I think with this Raised by Eagles album, the themes on it are kind of larger and bigger. One of the songs I wrote, ‘Every Night’, it’s a bigger, anthemic sound and the themes are less personal and more archetypal and broad. The title track, ‘I Must Be Somewhere’, is about mortality. Luke wrote it. Lyrically it’s an incredible song.

And it does position it as an existential album.
Yes – and that’s when we got the cover for it. I wasn’t sure about it when we were throwing up ideas, but then it made sense. As it was forming I wrote this song ‘Every Night’ – it started off as this folky Steve Earle thing. I’d been reading about this movement called The Big Music – it was this kind of vague ‘movement’ from the ’80s. It was kind of Celtic, anthemic pop – bands like The Waterboys and Simple Minds and Big Country. That really big sound that has folk elements that come out through rock. I’d been reading about it because I liked all those bands from a distance, but once I’d finished that song I realised it was kind of like that [sound]. That song and ‘I Must Be Somewhere’ feel central to this album, to me. So it seems like a bigger album in more ways than one: the sound is bigger, Luke’s playing electric guitar, the themes are a bit weightier too.

It’s a natural progression as you get deeper into your songwriting and your cohesiveness as a unit. You become more comfortable going deeper – and it sounds like that’s your nature. You’re not complacent people. You are asking questions of yourselves and, therefore, of your audience.
Definitely. I feel that’s true. Hopefully it’s true.

I Must Be Somewhere is out now.
Raised by Eagles tour dates:

Friday August 18
The Workers Club
90 Little Malop St, Geelong
Ph: 03 5222 8331
With special guests TBA
  Tickets $10 + bf presale / $15 @ door.  Tickets available here
Saturday August 19
The Croxton Bandroom
607 High St, Melbourne
Ph: 03 9480 2233
With special guests Neil Murray and Freya Josephine Hollick
Tickets $20 + bf.  Tickets available 
here  From 8pm

Friday August 25
Leftys Old Time Music Hall
15 Caxton St, Brisbane
With special guest TBA
Tickets available here . Doors 7pm
Saturday August 26
Club Mullum
Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club
58 Dalley St, Mullumbimby NSW
Ph: 02 6684 2533
With special guest Ben Wilson (The Button Collective) 
Tickets $20 presale / $25 at door.  Tickets available here.  From 7pm

Saturday September 16
Caravan Music Club
95-97 Drummond St, Oakleigh
Ph: 03 9568 1432
With special guest Charles Jenkins
Reserved Seat Presale $30 +bf / General Admission Presale $23 + bf / $25 @ door
Tickets available here

Sunday September 17
Torquay Bowls Club
47 The Esplanade, Torquay
Ph: 03 5261 2378
With special guest TBA
Tickets $25.  Tickets available here . From 3pm

Monday October 2
Semaphore Music Festival
Main Stage, Foreshore Reserve
Tix avail from July 30.
Gates open 12noon, RBE on-stage 5pm.