Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Album review: Six String Heart by Jackie Dee

Sometimes I’ll get a hankering to listen to a particular type of album. This album would have lovely melodies, and heart, and the songs would be well written, and I would want to listen to this album over and over again, relishing the sweetness of its sound and finding myself wanting to find out more about the stories behind the songs. It may not be a country album, as I’m partial to pop music and the almost guilty pleasure of a great pop song is always an allure. The perfect combination is, I figure, a pop sensibility combined with something that only Australian country music has been able to give me: what feels like a direct relationship with the singer and songwriter, who are often the same person.

Admittedly, such a hankering is often satisfied by listening to a McClymonts album. Melodies, pop, great songs: all there. So when I received Jackie Dee’s new album Six String Heart and the press release with it said she has a voice like Mollie McClymont, obviously I was at least partially on the hook.

Here’s the thing, though: Jackie Dee doesn’t sound like anyone but herself, and she has a fantastic pop-country voice that embraces melodies and reaches out to connect with listeners. Her songs are heartfelt; it is clear that she feels every word, even if she hasn’t lived it (because it’s only her business to know if she has).

Six String Heart is eleven tracks that in another genre would be called ‘all killer, no filler’. I have no idea if Dee wrote fifty tracks and rejected thirty-nine to get to these eleven, but she has arrived at a great collection of stories brought to life by her voice. The album is dedicated to her brother, who died last year, and track 8 is about him, too. The song is far from maudlin: it is joyous while hinting at the bittersweet paradox at its core. It’s not the only song in which she finds the balance of light and dark while allowing the listener to feel safe within it.

Dee has had high-quality help on this album: Shane Nicholson lends his vocals to two tracks and plays guitars, banjo, mandolin and dulcimer, and Glen Hannah is on electric guitars. Matt Fell took the producer’s reins, as he has done with many other great country music releases in recent years. But there is not a single sense of these musicians compensating for something that wasn’t originally there – rather, I’m completely sure that they wanted to be involved in this album because they knew the calibre of artist they were dealing with.

This is an album that will elicit smiles and tears. It is a piece of beautiful perfection. And if, like me, you have a certain hankering, it will satisfy that too.

Six String Heart is out now. Buy it at www.jackiedee.net or on iTunes.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Young Folk: Irish folk stars on tour in Australia

As Australia passes through summer and into autumn, festivals abound. For touring artists, it's a good opportunity to meet new and old fans, and perhaps visit other places in between. So it is for Irish four-piece The Young Folk, who have become stars in their homeland and the Netherlands - and I found out why when I interviewed lead singer Anthony Furley late last week. 

In my reading I couldn’t find your origin story, for lack of a better term – how you all came together.
Myself and Paul [Butler], the pianist, we went to college together a few years ago and we were playing in a few college bands. So when college finished after two years we decided to get something together of our own, because both of us were writing music all the time. Then Tony [McLoughlin], the bass player and mandolin player, he came about two or three years later. I was working with Tony in Dublin. And then Tony was playing with another guy, Alex [Borwick], who’s from New Zealand – don’t hold that against him, though. We needed something different. We were writing a lot of folkish music and wanted to change the style a small bit. Alex played banjo first of all in the band and then he started to introduce trombone, so that was a perfect turn for us.

Trombone is not a common interest in many bands these days.
He uses it well, I must say. We didn’t know that it was going to suit what we were doing, but we tried it out and we stuck with it, and it’s perfect.

And I suppose now you can write for it, or write to include it.
Yes, we’ll include a melody or a line to suit that instrument. But he also plays a lot of other instruments, so that was handy for us too.

You mentioned those college bands – what sort of music were you playing in them?
We were playing from instrumental to heavy rock to folk music. We were playing anything we could. Any band that we could get into, we were in, no matter what the style was. There was a band we were wearing wigs – like long-haired wigs for it [laughs]. That was pretty cool. And that band was called Jesus and His Dog.

Those bands were obviously your musical apprenticeship as well.
Yes. Well, I was playing music about two or three years before going to college and I got accepted into a really good music college in Dublin. I did two years and then I got asked if I wanted to go over to Holland to study. So I went over and I could have finished – I could have got my masters at a very young age. I decided against it. For me to have my masters and try to become a teacher of music, I was too young for younger musicians to respect on what I hadn’t gone through yet so I decided that I needed to be at the highest of the highs that I could get and at the lowest of the lows, because with music it’s kind of like that. Playing live, it is like that. You’re playing to a massive crowd and then the next day you can be playing to two people. You’re only as good as your last show, so no matter if it’s to two people or a thousand people, it should always be the same.

It’s hard to sustain energy when it’s a small number of people, depending on your personality as a performer. But I think there’s some kind of energetic return in performance whereby two people aren’t necessarily giving a lot back for you to work with, but it’s all good experience.
My mum always said that to me – it’s one of the hardest professions you can get into. You can be as high as you can be and then as low as you can be in a matter of twenty-four hours. She said you just have to stick with it. All of our parents have pushed us towards what we’re doing now.

And reading your individual biographies, you do all come from very impressive and exceptional musical lineages – how do those influence the music that you create together.
I’m sure at the very start of our career they influenced us a lot. Then we started to find our own sound and started to travel around instead of hearing our parents’ stories and what they’d done and started to learn our own way of doing it. It would have been very easy for us to continue on how they left off but we didn’t want to do that we wanted to try something else. And I think what we’re trying now might be a lot more of a reward at the very end of it, or in the middle hopefully.

Certainly in a short space of time you’ve found international audiences. But I think it also takes a bit of focus and determination to do that – it doesn’t happen by accident, you don’t just suddenly wake up and play in the Netherlands, or in Australia, for that matter. Was it always an intention – you understood how your audience might be in Ireland but you were always looking more broadly?
Exactly. As an Irish band you have to concentrate on your home country first of all and then just hope that you get a break. We were actually very lucky to get a break in Holland. We were asked by our old publicist to go onto a Dutch show, like a reality show. It’s like the Ant and Dec [of Holland] and it’s called Nick and Simon. It’s absolutely massive in Holland, they’re huge, but we did not know who these guys were. And they asked us to come on just to play a song. At the very start we refused because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into – we thought it was like this X Factor reality thing, and they assured us that it wasn’t. We went on, met the guys, played one of the songs. It got aired six months later. Two days later our album went to number two in the Dutch charts. It was just luck. Complete luck. But also, not to be big headed, I think we had the talent to make sure we got what we came to do.

Luck does often come up in conversations I’ve had like this, and in every single case I’m convinced that, yes, there is luck but it’s knowing when to take advantage of it and, as you said, having the talent. It is being at a point of maturity and talent to know what to do with it if the luck comes off.
Completely. You should know your own ability. If you know you’re getting yourself into a situation where you can know you can deal with and do it, and even if it’s a tiny bit out of your comfort zone, still do it. You never know what rewards you’re going to get out of it.

So you’re now in Australia and this is not the most logical destination for a lot of bands in the northern hemisphere to come to, just from a logistical point of view. How long has this trip been in the planning?
Six months.

And you wanted to come or was it suggested that you come?
We talked about it last year. We were doing a few shows in America and with Alex being in the band, he was talking about festivals in New Zealand and Australia that we should try to apply for. We didn’t get around to doing it because we were closer to being in Holland and that just took off. We decided to concentrate on Europe. Then we were in America and on the plane on the way back to Dublin we just brought up it up again. Alex said, ‘I will send off an email to the Port Fairy Folk Festival just to see if they’re interested.’ So Alex got in touch with them and straightaway they got back saying to Alex, ‘We were actually trying to get in touch with you guys.’ And we were, like, ‘What? That’s crazy!’ They said, ‘We’ll put you up and do this for you and do that.’ It was just perfect timing. That’s one of the last shows of the tour now, so they were going to sort out pretty much everything that we needed to come over just to play that one festival. We got a woman on board, an American who’s helping us out with bookings over here. She’s extended it to a month-long tour. So how could we refuse? It’s a pretty amazing experience. I know a lot of people would love to come to Australia to play, or even for a holiday, from Ireland and they wouldn’t get a chance to and we’ve been given a chance to. So make or break, it will definitely have to be an experience and maybe we’ll get a couple of songs out of it.

Are you going to New Zealand as well?
No, unfortunately. Just with visas it was too tight for it. But we’re going to do it definitely next year.

You mentioned that you might get a couple of songs out of the trip, so obviously that balance of being on the road, writing recording, is a really hard one once you’re at a certain point in your career, but it sounds like you’re alive to those songwriting opportunities when they come up.
Yes. It’s a twenty-four job. We treat it as a job, which is great – not many musicians would think that. A lot of musicians out there would play a gig and have a few beers and wake up with a massive hangover the next day and have to try to play another gig. We treat it as a twenty-four-hour thing. You pick your battles to hang out with people and socialise. It’s like a normal job. You put yourself in a room for three or four hours if you have any ideas to write songs. Throw them out. Myself, Tony and Paul, we write in the band – to have three songwriters in the band is great because it takes the pressure off each other. But it also puts on more pressure to outdo each other, in a friendly way, but also be competitive.

Obviously that is healthy competition because in some bands the egos might intrude. Was that balance there from the start?
At the very start I was writing a lot more than the other guys. Then Paul started to write. He was writing already but his songs started to come into The Young Folk. Then Tony’s songs started to come into The Young Folk. It was kind of perfect timing in a way, because you can wear yourself out doing it all the time and I think I wore myself out for a few months where I was writing, writing, writing and then all of a sudden nothing. But I wasn’t worried that there was nothing – I was kind of relaxed. Have a break. Come back to it. You need that with every job, with everything you do in life. When I was done having a break, Paul and Tony stepped up.

I’m interested in your statement that you weren’t worried that there was nothing coming, because of course for some people that’s when the panic sets in about writers block.
Ah, there’s no such thing. Just rest your mind and if you feel like that a good thing to do is try to read a book or read a book that you would never, ever think of – get a recommendation that maybe you know or maybe you don’t know. Go into a bookstore and say, ‘What would you recommend for me?’ and when they ask you what you read, say, ‘I read this but I don’t want to read that’, and they’ll point you in a different direction. It’s another uncomfortable situation you can get yourself into that can come out with a lot of benefits and rewards.

I’ve not heard that exact advice before – but it’s that idea of changing how your brain works.
Yes, that’s it. Your brain was in a place for those few months and then for the following few months it wasn’t – you should never, ever worry about it. You just embrace it and then move on. What is it – refresh and revive. We’ve seen those signs on the road here as we’re travelling in Australia.

Just going back to something you said about seeing this as a job – most people would go into music out of passion, very few would go into it cynically. And, of course, once it becomes your job there’s that risk that the passion doesn’t necessarily die but is dimmed a little bit. Are you able to maintain that passion for what you do?
Oh yes, definitely, the passion is always there. The nerves are always there five minutes before you’re going on, you’ve always have those nerves, not knowing what’s going on.

And in terms of not knowing what’s going on, Australia is a new destination for you so did you have any expectations before you arrived?
No, we’re keeping a completely open mind. I don’t know what to think about it yet. We’ve only been here for three or four days so I’ll probably have more of an answer in the next week or two.

Well, we do love a festival here and you are going to three – there’s Cobargo at the moment then Port Fairy and Blue Mountains, so we’ll certainly get a good idea of what our festivals are like.
I hear that the small festival here are like massive festivals in Ireland, because Ireland’s only small.

Wednesday 1st March 2017 
Polish White Eagle Club, CANBERRA ACT 

Thursday 2nd March 2017 
Petersham Bowling Club, SYDNEY NSW 

Friday 3rd March 2017 
Trinity Sessions, ADELAIDE SA 
Adelaide Fringe 

Saturday 4th March 2017 
Bendigo Bank Theatre, The Capital, BENDIGO VIC 

Thursday 9th March 2017 
13th Beach Golf Clubhouse, BARWON HEADS VIC 

Friday 10th – Monday 13th March 2017 
Port Fairy Folk Festival, PORT FAIRY VIC 

Thursday 16th March 2017 
Memo Music Hall, ST KILDA VIC 

Friday 17th March 2017 
Blue Mountains Folk & Roots Festival, KATOOMBA NSW 

For more information, please visit www.theyoungfolk.com 

The latest album from The Young Folk is First Sign of  Morning. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Album review: Violet Road by Sam Newton

Longing is something most of us experience but it's not often given that name. We miss, we want, we desire, we lack. What we rarely admit to - perhaps because we can't identify the emotion given that we rarely speak its name - is longing. And if we can't name it, we can't describe it either.

Sydney singer-songwriter Sam Newton knows how to describe and depict longing: the opening tracks of his new album, Violet Road, are laced with it. Newton sounds as if he is longing for an experience that is perhaps recently or distantly past, one that's lingering within him. And along with that longing is its close companion, yearning. Both of these states of being can seem overly earnest - even twee, perhaps - but Newton is not sentimental, and, therefore, the emotions in his music are authentic and appropriate, and they never last longer than necessary. This suggests that Newton has a very good grasp of the concept of restraint. He doesn't indulge himself - the song contains what it needs to, and no more. Which is not to say that the songs on Violet Road are sparse: they are lean where they should be, and at other times they're fleshed out with some wonderful steel guitar or fiddle.

Nor is the album a collection of tunes in a minor key - because Newton understands what a song needs, the musical mood always fits what's in the lyrics. The musical style is country and folk, and often traditional in nature. These are songs that belong in a lineage; they wouldn't sound out of place on a town hall stage somewhere in a country town in 1950, yet there are also elements that are purely contemporary: at times it's not hard to imagine Newton standing on a suburban Sydney footpath, under a crescent moon, serenading the sky and whoever happens to pass him by. These are evocative songs that seem simple in construction yet come with layers of meaning. And if Newton knows how to put longing into his songs, he also knows how to leave you longing for them in turn.

Buy Violet Road on Bandcamp or iTunes.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Interview: Matt Henry

Over the past handful of years Matt Henry has been a presence in the musical scene of northern New South Wales and at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. After his debut EP, Life By Proxy, he has now released his first album, Love Without Co-Dependency, and it is an extraordinary work, as befits a singer-songwriter who respects tradition while finding his unique path through contemporary music. Matt is a thoughtful songwriter who does not overthink; he is willing to connect to his audience without labouring the relationship. The reasons why became clear when I asked him about the personal history that led to his new release.

On the press release it says that at the age of forty you are releasing this album that has been twenty-five years in the making. Has it been worth the wait?
Yes, it has. I was saying this to my mum the other day, because my mum heard the album and had all these questions for me, rang me with a whole lot of notes not just about the music but about my life and what I was singing about and a whole lot of stuff she didn’t know. I actually feel like I’ve lived two completely different lives, and if it had have come out any time during the first one it wouldn’t have been as interesting and I wouldn’t have been able to back it up and I would have somehow managed to completely stuff it up. [Laughs] So I’m very glad that I waited.

To that point about two parts of your life: there’s a note here about you having the courage to start performing live at thirty-five. I was wondering where that courage come from but I guess maybe it’s something to do with the fact that you changed your life.
The song ‘I Died on a Beautiful Day’ is about a big run of panic attacks but there was one particularly big one that got me to go to therapy, which I’ve done ever since. That was about 2003 or 2004. So ever since then, once a week I’ve fronted up and tried to work out all the different aspects of my life. So the first part of my life was really up until that point and the second life started then, and that was when I was about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Then working through all those issues – I had a marriage breakdown and a breakdown of my own and a bout of depression, and then came out the other side of it, and I was starting to come out that other side I thought I’d always wanted to be a songwriter from when I was fifteen and maybe I can do it, maybe I should have a go. I had been tinkering with some stuff and it got to a point where I realised, I have to be a singer-songwriter, I can’t give these songs to someone else, they’re too personal. So I had to start trying to perform, which was another battle. That’s why it started so late. Thirty-five, I think I was, and going out to the Country Music Academy – I’d got into the academy but I’d never sung in front of anyone. I was going out the next week and I thought, I’ve got to go and sing somewhere, so I went to an open mic night.

Partly you could say it’s relatively late to start but I think one of the advantages of starting at that age and not in your teens is that you don’t have ‘beginner’ albums behind you and you don’t have to fumble your way through finding out who you are on stage because by the time you got up to sing, you’d worked out who you were.
You do sometimes look at people who are younger – in their early to mid twenties – and you can see them really wanting to be something, really wanting to be mature and wanting to understand, but they just haven’t had the experience yet to really know some things. And there are things that you know in theory and things that you know from experience. But on the flipside, there’s two things I’ve learned about starting so late: no one takes the old guy under their wing like they would if you were younger, and also if you’re old on stage and you suck, you’re just old and suck. There’s not, like, ‘Oh, you’re fifteen’, ‘Oh, she’ll get better’, it’s just: ‘Man, you’re old and you’re not very good, you should probably not do this. We’re embarrassed for you’ [laughs].

I can’t believe you’ve had too many of those moments.
There were. There were so many. I could go through them one by one with you but we don’t have time. There wasn’t anyone saying that but you could see people looking and going, ‘Yeah. Mmm.’ [Laughs]

So there’s the courage to start performing and there’s also the courage to continue – so was it just that conviction that you were doing the right thing.
I think it’s finding your voice –and that’s always been a term that I’m familiar with, but in a literal sense I didn’t understand it. But it was getting to a place where you actually feel like the person you are day to day and that you’re being that on stage and that’s who you’re being when you open your mouth to sing, and that’s taken a really long time. I only probably just really in the last year felt that I’ve gotten a bit more to that. And during recording it was like a big crash course in that with Shane [Nicholson, the album’s producer], because I think that’s where Shane is so good as a performer and he kept saying things to me like, ‘Just try not to sing so much and try to be more.’ And he said, ‘Try doing that again but sing that line more throwaway as if you’re not really that worried about what anyone thinks about it.’ Then he was saying, ‘Try being more okay with just being where you’re at.’ And they were obviously really good pieces of advice, because they’ve stuck in my head for the last year.

As you were talking I wrote down the word ‘vulnerability’, and I think that’s what Shane was getting at – it’s a big task and a big ask to be vulnerable in front of an audience, particularly when it’s being documented. Part of what I noticed about this album is that it’s very emotional but at a certain point I think you would have had to be able to distance yourself from the emotion in order to document it, yet you were somehow still able to bring that feeling to it. So I don’t know if that’s part of the alchemy of working with Shane or the experience of being a performer for a while that’s brought you to that.
I think definitely a bit of both but more the alchemy of working with Shane. I went back – after I got the first lot of mixes I went back and said, ‘I want to redo this and I want to redo that’ because I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of the areas where it was a bit vulnerable. I thought it sounded like someone who was unsure of themselves, and there were aspects where I think that was right but there were probably more aspects where it was just vulnerable and he kept telling me during the recording, ‘I like that, it has a nice vulnerability to it’, and he kept talking about vulnerability and being okay with it. So had I gone back and not had him be clear on that I would have sung all the vulnerability out of it. It was very much his particular sensitivity and ability to recognise it that kept all of that in, which I’m so glad for now.

And it works so beautifully on the album because the lyrics suggest that it should be there and if you’d tried to sing it out of the way then it would have felt like you were singing someone else’s songs, but I don’t think that’s really your groove, if that make sense.
Totally. I agree. And it wouldn’t have made as much sense had I not been that exposed. And the good thing about is that I’ve had a couple of moments on stage this year – I can think of two or three – that I felt that I could go even further with that. It’s really hard with gigs and I’ve struggled this year with accepting particular gigs – well, I haven’t struggled, I’ve just stopped accepting particular gigs because I just feel like I can’t get up and get to that place in that environment, so I’m not going to do it.

You mean particular venues?
Particular venues, time slots. A few times I’ve had promoters throw up a Sunday – ‘Can you play this? It’s a Sunday session, it’s good money, all the people are there to listen and have a good time and have a drink.’ And it’s like, ‘I know those Sunday drinking sessions’, and I don’t feel safe enough to go there and do that with these songs. Because you get there and you sort of pour your heart out and then someone says, ‘Can you play “Wonderwall”?’ And I think, ‘You know what? I’m too old to go through that.’ [Laughs]

And it’s knowing who you are – it comes back to that.
Yes, I think so. And maybe that’s the benefit of being a bit older, too – knowing who you are and then having the strength of your convictions to say, ‘That’s not me and I’m not going to do that.’ When you’re younger you probably do a lot of stuff that you’re not really that enamoured with.

And you would do it, for a music career, in order just to get the runs on the board and make money and get some practice live. But regardless of where you are in your career, not many people say ‘no’ to work and then they probably end up feeling compromised by saying ‘yes’.
Exactly. And I don’t take for granted the fact that I have another job and I’m not doing this for a living – that makes a big difference to be able to do that. I don’t judge anyone for taking any gigs when they’re a professional working musician – you’ve got to get paid, you’ve got to eat. So I’m lucky in that sense.

That trick of having creative work is that sometimes the right decision, as much as people might think it would be lovely to do it full time, that loads up the work with a whole lot of other things. It’s arguable that if it was  your day job, you couldn’t have got yourself to the place to record the album like this because there would have been so much else on it – like, ‘I have to take all those gigs.’
That’s right. I’ve written songs since the album and you start thinking about them in the context of what other people might expect or what you’re going to do next or what might sell, or will people like this song. And it’s really hard to say, ‘I’m not doing this for money or for all of these other reasons, so I’ve got to stay true to writing what I want to write.’ I know that in any other aspect where money does come in, something gets compromised very quickly.

It is a good position to be in, but it does also take a lot of extra work. Sometimes you have to make the creative job the day job because it’s too much work to do it on the side.
The thing I’ll often thing about is that in Chinese culture, the practising visual artist who is an amateur is considered the truer artist than the professional working artist. It’s just a cultural difference in that they understand that the amateur art form is a purer form of expression. There’s something more honourable in it.

To swing back to your album and the songs, I made a note about Australian masculinity, because I think country music as a storytelling genre is probably better at allowing for and accommodating different ways of telling Australian stories and talking about Australian masculinity, but what I’m hearing on your album is that you’re an Australian bloke and to be that vulnerable and write about the subject matter that’s in these songs, it’s not common.
I’m really glad you’ve picked that up because it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. It is really hard to go there. If you met my dad he’s probably the most ocker – he’s like Paul Hogan, really. It is a difficult thing to then go and do [the album]. I think with Australian male culture, there’s this thing that exists where, first and foremost, you’ve got to be a good bloke, and there’s certain things a good bloke doesn’t do. They don’t go spouting on about beliefs or ideas or culture. You don’t overdress. You don’t look too smooth. There’s this downplaying all the time – downplaying your emotions, downplaying your sense of self, your ideas, your beliefs, your political beliefs. It’s continual. Obviously all this stuff’s going to change eventually and as is often the case, it’s when these old blokes all die off and all their old sexist and backwards viewpoints die off with them. It’ll be a much easier place to be. I hate to think how it would be growing up as a gay man in Australia. People from my generation having to go through all of that, it would be unbelievably difficult. Anyway, I’m very grateful that you recognised that.

There’s a lot of honesty in country music but as I listened to your album I could hear something else at work. I listened to William Crighton’s album quite closely and I thought of that as a certain statement about Australian masculinity, and yours is not a balance to it, because it’s a different statement, but it’s always good to look at these works in the broader cultural context – and that’s why I think what you’ve done is a really important piece of work, because there isn’t anything like it as far as I can tell.
Thank you for saying that. As I’ve been singing the songs in and feeling more comfortable singing them, I was trying to find a balance between singing them like a man, not to tilt towards hamming it on a little bit, the emotion, and trying to elicit emotion through a particular sound in my voice, and rather letting the words and the music and the honesty be the driving force behind the emotion rather than an affectation. When you can’t get to that place emotionally you do make an affectation whether it’s in your voice or your delivery, and so the challenge for me has been trying to get to that place in a real way then present it on stage but also present it as a man would present it. I always think about it as trying to be okay with not being okay. [Laughs]

It’s also having the courage – that word again – to keep digging, I guess the way one digs in therapy. You keep trying to dig a bit deeper and I guess you do that every time you get up with your guitar in front of a microphone.
Exactly, and let people know. There’s been times when I can see that what I’m singing about makes people uncomfortable or it’s just maybe not going down well or it’s not something people at that point don’t want to hear about. It’s trying to stay with it regardless of how it is for other people. Just trying to stay with what the songs are and who I am and be okay with that. That’s the thing that is really the hardest for me.

And it’s a constant practice, but hopefully now that it’s documented you feel like you’ve got that platform to keep going out and doing it.
Yes, and if you get some positive response you can feed off that. And then also – like with choosing venues and gigs – I haven’t really found my place yet. I haven’t really found my audience and I haven’t really found my place in the musical world so as I get some feedback I’ll end up finding my niche area that I can exist in and spin my wheels and enjoy it, hopefully.

Knowing you, it could be somewhere that you create – you’re good at creating those spaces [Matt created Late Night Alt at the Tamworth Country Music Festival].
That’s what I’m hoping. We’re going back to when I was at the Academy of Country Music – that was 2011 and Shane came out for one afternoon to talk to us. The thing that I recall most from the two weeks being out there was this one thing that he said, and that was, ‘Just try to find a little area of the musical universe to occupy and then just do it the best you can.’ And that just felt like a perfect description for me and I’ve held onto that since then. That was a big factor in why I went to him to record.

Love Without Co-Dependency is out now and available on iTunes.
Find Matt on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Single release: 'Sad Season' by Crying Day Care Choir

Swedish alt-folk trio Crying Day Care Choir have a way with a catchy beat, unfussy instrumentation (including a uke) and tight harmonies. The band are made up of husband and wife Jack and Sara Elz, and Jack’s brother Bill Nystedt and they have been gigging across Italy and Scandinavia, playing major tours in support of their self-released 2014 debut album Leave The KingdomThey've just released a new single, 'Sad Season', with more new music to come this year.

Listen to 'Sad Season' on Soundcloud or Spotify.


Single release: 'The Man of the House' by Emma Dykes

Emma Dykes graduated from the CMAA Academy of Country Music in January 2016 and that experience shows in the writing of her new single, 'The Man of the House', and in the crisp, warm way she sings it.

Dykes is steeped in country life and that feeling for stories of the land is evident in this lovely song. The track comes from her album Pay it Forward, which you can buy on her website or on iTunes. Watch the video for 'The Man of the House' below.


Single release: 'Heart Up in the Sky' by Old Crow Medicine Show

Membership of the Grand Ole Opry usually comes with a tag like 'country music royalty' attached and so it is for Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show, who have just released a Best Of album that includes the track 'Wagon Wheel', which as a single sold over 1 million copies. You can watch 'Wagon Wheel' below but the real news of the Best Of album is that contains two wonderful new tracks, one of which is 'Heart Up in the Sky', which you can find on iTunes.

Best of Old Crow Medicine Show is also available on iTunes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Damien Leith returns with his acclaimed Roy Orbison show

In 2016 Damien Leith had a limited run of shows performing some of Roy Orbison's best-known songs - and the response was so good that he's now taking that show to many and varied parts of Australia. I spoke to Damien about the genesis of the show and the importance of Roy's music, amongst other things. Tour dates at the end of the post, or visit damienleith.com.au.

How did your tour last year go?
It was brilliant. It was big, though – it went on for a long time. I think in the end we did about forty-five shows. So it was non-stop.

I remember when I interviewed you about that tour you said you like to run when you go to towns and that’s also a way of keeping fit for the tour. Did you manage to keep yourself fit and healthy?
No [laughs]. There’s no point in lying. I started off with the best of intentions and then I think I got a little bit lazy as time went on. But this year has started well. I’ve kicked in this whole fitness scheme, so I’ve got a good feeling about it.

And it’s good for your lung capacity, of course, to keep yourself fit.
It’s good for everything. There’s no excuse not to be doing it. I just got lazy, that was really it [laughs].

The nature of travelling from town to town can sometimes be an enemy of the sort of routine that you need for fitness.
That’s right. Sometimes you’ll get off a plane or you’ll drive for five hours and actually the last thing you want to do is run, even though you know you’ll feel better for it. Like I said – laziness, that’s all it was.

Looking at your upcoming tour schedule, I don’t know that ‘lazy’ is a word we’d apply to you. I’ll start to ask you about this tour by asking you when you first heard the music of Roy Orbison.
It was years ago. It was when I was a kid. I come from a pretty musical family. In particular, on my mother’s side they’re all singers, and my aunties used to sing Roy Orbison. Then years later my next-door neighbour actually was an incredible Roy Orbison impersonator. He didn’t do live on stage but he sounded exactly like him. His party piece was always to get up and do ‘In Dreams’, no matter where it was he’d get up and sing [that]. I suppose growing up in a musical family with a lot of musical aunts, that’s really what exposed me to Roy Orbison. Then as the years went on I got more into music and I started to get more interested in singing his songs and singing along to him and it just went from there.

It’s one thing to sing along to him and quite another to conceptualise a whole show, so what was the process of putting this together?
It started about six years ago. I recorded an album of Roy Orbison songs and it’s a different sort of album. I did it with Barbara Orbison [Roy’s widow]. I flew over to Nashville and I worked with her on the album, and the whole idea of it was to celebrate his music but not necessarily copy his music. I kind of put my own stamp on some of his songs – purely as a fan. It’s my fan’s view on these incredible songs. So that album did really well and [the show is] really on the back of that album. It’s been requested so many times and we toured it once many years ago and then we never toured it again, we went quiet on it, just because other things came my way. But we did six shows last August and the response was so good that we thought, Let’s take this out – let’s go regional. Let’s head out away from the capital cities and try to bring it around the country. So that’s where it all came from.

You said the album was to celebrate and not copy what he did, but was it hard to not fall into mimicry or did you have a really clear sense of how you were going to interpret his music?
Oh no, there was a really fine line because there’s also that whole thing of if you go too far away from a song or if you go a little bit too interpretive with the song you can actually alienate the audience. At the end of the day these are real classic songs. I think the main thing for me when I was recording the album was that I wanted to be true to the songs but I just wanted to make sure I sang them with my own voice, that was probably the most important. A lot of people would say that I have a similar sort of voice to Roy’s but in many ways we’re very different as well. He had a humungous range, he really did. I couldn’t get to some of the notes that he could hit. And the tones were different. Even if we get the structure of the songs the same, even if we went to the same places, it was more to have very clearly my sound on there. I wasn’t trying to copy his tone of voice. I think that was probably the most important thing.

I know you’ve had the same band for a very long time – when you take this show on the road, is it your band?
It is. It’s the same guys – my Chilean contingency. Well, half the band are Chilean. They call themselves The Chilettes. I didn’t call them that – they came up with that themselves. They do incredible harmonies. They’re extremely musical. Two of them are brothers and they come from a really musical family and play everything, but their harmonies are amazing. There’s a couple of the Roy Orbison songs, like ‘Leah’, where we’ve got this all a capella version and with their harmonies – every time we do it in the shows people stand up afterwards. And it’s down to The Chilettes, I have to say.

Humans do respond very well to harmonies – there was some science done on that a while ago and it explains the popularity of ABBA, amongst other things. But they don’t happen that often in shows – there aren’t a lot of bands that do them. For audiences it’s such a treat when there’s beautiful harmonies.
Even the way we structure the show, it’s got the big songs and it’s got the rocking shows, but we definitely have a section in there – and it’s very much my sort of style – that is very stripped back, because that’s what I prefer to do always, and we do ‘In Dreams’, ‘Leah’ and a few other ones where we all come to the front of the stage, it’s very acoustic, it has all the harmonies in there and it’s a cool moment in the show.

A few years ago I saw one of the very first shows that Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey did together, ahead of recording the Songbook, and I remember thinking that they looked like they were having more fun than I’d ever seen them have playing their own stuff, and I think it was because the pressure was off – they were playing other people’s songs. Do you feel like that singing Roy’s songs or do you actually feel more pressure because of the legacy of his music?
It’s a bit of both. There’s certain songs in the set where I can just sit back and love it and get into it and have fun. There a couple of key songs in there that are difficult – they start low and they end high. There’s always a couple of songs in the set where I’ve got to be really on the ball and be in the right zone to sing it properly and deliver it the way it has to be delivered. But I have to say this show over the last couple of years, it’s probably one of the most fun shows we have because of the material, really. The songs are great. They’re good fun. The likes of ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘Ooby Dooby’ – they’re great songs to play.

It’s not like you’re a slouch with your own vocals in your own songs, but I would imagine Roy’s songs are a big vocal challenge – do you have to do particular things for your voice throughout the tour?
I do a lot of vocal exercises for this tour, and I don’t drink and all the rest of it. This sort of tour I definitely try to watch what I’m doing. Make sure I get enough rest. But scales and things – I do a lot of that. It really helps an awful lot. When you go to see a Roy Orbison show, the one thing you do want to hear is some big notes. I make sure the voice is always ready to deliver.

The big notes probably have to come from a big well of emotion, too – it’s not just the voice, it’s keeping yourself in the right frame of mind.
Oh yeah, especially with Roy’s songs. I write with Joe Melson – Joe wrote ‘Crying’, ‘Blue Bayou’, ‘Running Scared’, ‘Only the Lonely’. He wrote all those songs with Roy, and I’ve been writing with Joe now for three years – actually, we have an album coming out this year. He told me some of the stories surrounding ‘Crying’ and ‘Blue Bayou’ and how they got to those lyrics. If you didn’t sing them with a lot of emotion, you’re kind of doing them a disservice because there was blood, sweat and tears gone into some of those songs.

Apart from you writing with Joe, has Roy been otherwise influential on your own music?
He has and he hasn’t. Some of the songs I’ve written over the years, you can hear I was definitely in a Roy headspace when I wrote them and you can hear the difference – it’s the structure of them. But I’ve been writing with a lot of other people as well, and whenever I’m writing with them I think it takes me away from there and I get more into whatever area they’re trying to write their songs from. I do loads of co-writes with lots and lots of different people so I think that keeps a good balance in the songwriting.

Some songwriters might like to keep everything to themselves but it seems to me that you’re someone who’s always curious, so you’re well suited to co-writes because you like that spark of creativity to come in conjunction with other people.
It’s fantastic – it really makes such a difference. Last year was a good year for me songwriting with other people. Me and a co-writer won Apple Song of the Year for the Australian songwriter awards. It’s not even a song that I’ve released. It’s things like that where if you can do them on the side it’s great because you’re working in a different head zone, you get to experiment, you don’t know what you’re going to write and before you know it you walk out with a song and sometimes it’s a nice surprise.

The tour you did last year was extensive and I’m looking at the list of shows you have for this tour and I’m wondering: when this tour is over, will there be anywhere left in Australia that you haven’t played?
[Laughs] I know. The good thing is that you can play in a lot of different places, you can even return to them, once you’re doing something different. I keep trying to give the audience a different show so if they’re going to come again they’ll kind of get what they got before but they’ll get something different. That definitely helps to keep on the road and keep moving around.

Do you have a sense that the audience that comes to this Roy show is your audience or it’s a Roy audience – or a mixture of both?
It’s definitely a mixture of both. There’s Roy Orbison fans out there who want to hear the songs and they’re looking out for shows like this, and then there’s some of my own audience, which is great. It’s brilliant for me – there’s a nice crossover and I get to perform in front of new people as well, and hopefully convince them to follow me on to the next thing.

I’m sure the Roy audience comes with very particular expectations.
For us the really important thing with the show is to make sure that we’re really true to the songs – we give the audience what they want but we also give them something a little bit more or something so that when they leave they say, ‘I like the way that was done’. When we did the six shows last year, that’s the response we got. The shows went down a bomb – they were just fantastic.

After all these years, what do you think audiences still respond to in Roy’s music?
It’s the uniqueness of the songs, I think. The songs that he and Joe, and everybody that he wrote with, created are unique – there really wasn’t anyone like them. It wasn’t just vocally – it’s the structure of the songs. ‘Blue Angel’, for instance – that’s a very strange structure. For what was regarded as a pop song, the chord changes are odd – they’re not where you’d hear anyone going. You certainly wouldn’t hear anything on the radio now with that sort of structure. There’s a lot of craft in the songs and I think it’s because of that they’ve really stood the test of time. New audiences, even new musicians, have come along and gone back to listen to that as a reference and said, ‘Oh okay, I’ve never tried that.’

You saying that makes me think that there’s a lot of music that doesn’t get played on the radio these days that would have been played then, music that served to educate listeners about music in a way because they had unusual chord structures or time signatures. I wonder if that’s a bit lost now.
It’s still out there. I have people come into my studio with all sorts of incredible songs and you do worry because a lot of what you hear – and it’s not bagging it, because there’s a lot of good stuff as well – but there’s a leaning towards songs sounding very similar. The unique songs you don’t hear all of them coming through as you did years ago. Now you can see similar structures and similar productions where you hear it and think, They’re going to do this. You know already that there’s going to be a drum swell. Whereas some of that older stuff had a couple of surprises, which is really cool. But like I say, it’s still out there – there’s a million musicians all over the place who are doing all that sort of stuff and trying to break through, and hopefully they do. And there’s some good stuff on the radio. My three kids listen to popular music so I’m listening to it all the time, and there is stuff sneaking in there, and some great stuff roaming around.

For my last question: I’m curious to know if there’s another artist you might take on in this way or feel as strongly about?
The only other one I’m going to approach – and it’s actually this year, in August – I’m doing one show of Elvis gospel songs. It’s on the anniversary of his death, because it’s forty years this year. So it’s one show, in Melbourne. I’ve always loved those songs. They’re soulful and they really speak to me, so I decided as a very special thing we’ll do a one-off and have a gospel choir and the whole lot.

 Friday 17th February 2017
Capitol Theatre, TAMWORTH NSW

Saturday 18th February 2017
Laycock Street Theatre, GOSFORD NSW

Friday 24th February 2017
Traralgon Town Hall, TRARALGON NSW
(02) 5176 3333

Saturday 25th February 2017
Karralyka Theatre, RINGWOOD VIC

Friday 3rd March 2017
Wesley Performing Arts Centre, HORSHAM VIC

Saturday 4th March 2017
Westside Performing Arts Centre, SHEPPARTON VIC

Friday 10th March 2017
Orange Civic Theatre, ORANGE NSW
(02) 6393 8112

Saturday 11th March 2017
Blue Mountains Theatre & Community Hub, SPRINGWOOD NSW

Friday 17th March 2017
Pilbeam Theatre, ROCKHAMPTON QLD

Saturday 18th March 2017
Moncrieff Entertainment Centre, BUNDABERG QLD

Saturday 8th April 2017
Park Lane Theatre, LENNOX HEAD NSW

Sunday 9th April 2017
The Jetty Theatre, COFFS HARBOUR NSW

Friday 21st April 2017
Colac Otway Entertainment Centre, COLAC VIC

Saturday 22nd April 2017
Wyndham Cultural Centre, WERRIBEE VIC

Friday 12th May 2017
Redlands Performing Arts Centre, CLEVELAND QLD

Saturday 13th May 2017
Caloundra Events Centre Playhouse, CALOUNDRA QLD

Friday 23rd June 2017
Wonthaggi Arts Centre, WONTHAGGI VIC
(03) 5672 1083

Saturday 24th June 2017
Kyneton Arts Centre, KYNETON VIC
1300 888 802

Saturday 1st July 2017

Thursday 6th July 2017
Keith Michell Theatre, PORT PIRIE SA
(08) 8586 8500

Friday 7th July 2017
Chaffey Theatre, REMARK SA
(08) 8586 1800

Saturday 8th July 2017
Barossa Arts & Convention Centre, BAROSSA SA

Friday 14th July 2017
(03) 5152 1482

Saturday 15th July 2017

Sunday 16th July 2017
Swan Hill Town Hall, SWAN HILL VIC