Thursday, March 22, 2012

Interview: Kelly Menhennett (part II)

Kelly Menhennett won the Songwriter prize at this year's Telstra Road to Discovery. Hailing from South Australia, where she has been working as a winemaker, Kelly's beautiful voice and great songs are sure to win her fans.

This is the second part of my interview with her. Part I can be read here.

Is it Nashville you go to as a prize for Telstra RTD?
Yeah, so at the end of, I think it's in September, mid-September, the Americana Festival is on and as a winner I get to showcase at this festival - I think we have that opportunity and a performance at Sounds Australia, which is like a showcasing type thing of Australian talent as well. So there'sa minimum of two performances over there, but we also have the opportunity to, sort of, create our own performance opportunities as well while we're over there .

So you're having some quiet time in South Australia now before all this hits.
Yes. In the next week or two I head to Sydney and we [Kelly and Performance category winner Andrew Redfort] sit down with the team that are helping us and kind of work out a bit of a plan for our year. And for me, I would really love to do some co-writing with other Australian writers. I've never done any co-writing before and I don't know whether I'll like it or not, becausesome people say it's not for them, they like to write by themselves. But I'd like to give it a crack, 'cause I'm a really indecisive person and sometimes writing a song can go on for months, if not years for me. So if I've got someone who's with me and can just say, 'No, that idea that you thought of is actually fine', that would work really good, otherwise I just stew over ideas.

Well, who is on your top five list of ideal co-writers? If you've got one.
Oh, I said to Bill [Page, RTD judge] yesterday in an email, a lot of my influences and people that I look up to are either overseas or they're deceased. [Laughs]

Oh, well. Can't do much about the latter.
Yes, I can't do much about that, but in Australia I love the likes of Paul Kelly and Tim and Neil Finn, but of course they'd be on the top of the wish list but possibly not able to help out. But I'm really open to suggestions, because I really don't know anyone. there's so many people in the industry that I'm oblivious to and what they've done and how talented they are, so I'd really be quite open to suggestions from people like Bill who have lots of experience and know lots of people in the industry. And, I guess, even if I just do a little bit of - like, I started to do some yesterday, but just to do research on various groups that I love and who have inspired them and perhaps even who they've worked with in the past. There was a group called The Audreys from Adelaide that came out a little while ago and The Waifs, I really love their sort of - it's probably more folk music that they do, but as a youngster, I mean, the music that inspired me is quite diverse but I listen to a lot of soul music, sort of old '50s, '60s, soul and country and whatever was popular at that time. To kind of pick someone to co-write with, it's like comparing oranges and apples 'cause it just depends what sort of song you want to write really, I guess.

I guess also you've got to be mindful of your voice and the fact that you wouldn't want to write a song with someone who's going to try to make you sing in a way that doesn't suit you, because I know with singers everyone's voices have their characteristics. You wouldn't want to put someone in front of a rock band if they're actually a really soft, melodic singer, because they're just not going to cut through. There are different voices for country and there are different voices within country. When you said soul music, I can hear that in your voice, but it's also a very jazz voice, but I could also hear that if you wanted to turn your hand to country, that's there too.
Definitely, definitely. I've always struggled to classify my music because I kind of move a bit with what the content of the writing is about. My guitar teacher was a jazz guitarist, and so that jazz influence probably came from him and then I think the soul influence is always going to be in my voice, I don't think I'll escape that ever, I think it's always going to pop out. But I like exploring, I like pushing boundaries and experimenting with different styles. Just recently a friend of mine who's a rock musician wanted some backing vocals and I did push myself and get some grit out of my voice, but it doesn't feel terribly natural to me, and whilst I try these different things, I think I've got a rough understanding of what direction I'll be moving in the future. But, yeah, it's still pretty loosely defined.

Which is exciting in a lot of ways, and it's actually a really good balance for you to have had an album out by the time you actually win a competition like this [Kelly has a CD called World of Mine] because you're not completely malleable. It's not like you're an unformed lump of clay that anyone can take and say, 'Well, we're going to make you what we want.' You already have some ideas and some experience which actually means you'll probably get more out of all of this.
Definitely. And, I think with what I've already done, too, I can sort of critique it and go, 'Right, this is good, I like this part of it, but I think in the next album I might not have so much of this', to kind of move forward and evolve. I listen to my album every now and again and think, 'Oh my goodness, how am I going to -' Like, I don't mean to blow my own trumpet, but how am I going to top this song, or I think, 'How did I do that?' I don't know where some of these things have come from. I think, 'Wow, I don't know how I did that. How am I going to do something better?'

I think that's actually when it's really working. It's like you pluck things from the ether and that's actually when it's really working 'cause that's that sense of, I think, whether you're singing or you're writing or painting, it's that sense that it's bigger than you, you're actually, you're offering something to - I mean, I don't want to say the universe, but you're offering something to everyone else and it also acknowledges that you don't own it, so you've also got a responsibility to pass it on.
I agree, and some of the songs that I've written that I think are my best are quite - like, other people have a really quite profound response to them. Sometimes I've known [where it's come from] - I've played the song and it's brought tears to people’s eyes and it came from emotion that I was experiencing and it's so amazing when you can have that sort of an effect on someone.

And it's good that you don't shy away from it, because I think some people might instinctively think, 'Well, I don't want to deal with that', but it's reassuring for the person who's having that experience that you're willing to take responsibility for it in a way.
Definitely. That's right.

The third and final part of this interview will be published soon. In the meantime, you can visit Kelly's website at

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