Thursday, November 24, 2011

Interview: Jasmine Rae

Since winning the Telstra Road to Tamworth in 2008, Jasmine Rae has become one of Australia's most popular country music artists. Her debut album, Look it Up, was #3 on the ARIA Australian Artists Country Album chart and #20 in the overall ARIA charts, as well as being nominated for Best Country Albums at the ARIAs in 2009. Her latest album, Listen Here, has reached #1 on the ARIA Country chart and #5 in the overall chart. It has spawned the popular singles 'I'll Try Anything' (with Joe Nichols), 'I Faked It' and 'Hunky Country Boys'. The latest single is 'Let it Be Me' - to mark its release and on the eve of the 2011 ARIA Awards, for which she's received another album nomination, we spoke to Jasmine and found an intelligent and grounded young woman who doesn't take any of her success - or her fans - for granted.

One of the reasons for this interview is your single ‘Let it Be Me’ so can you tell us about the song and why you chose it for the album?

For this particular album I made a point of writing a whole lot more of the material on there. I had lots more songs to put on there and this particular song was written by Molly Reed and Nicolle Galyon but I fell in love with it. I loved it so much I pushed out songs that I wrote for the album just to put this one on there because it just says it so simply but it says it so beautifully. And it’s a little bit different from what I would normally perform, because normally I would write and perform songs that are edgy and more uptempo, and even if it’s a ballad then it might be a little bit sad, but this song is just very lovely and hopeful and I just wanted to put something out there that’s a little bit different and quite vulnerable.

It is a bit sadder sounding than other songs on the album but you have that kind of deep voice – and by that I don’t mean in a lower register, but that your voice sounds like it’s coming from a place deep within you, so there’s that ability to be sad or to sound a little bit melancholy or wistful but also be a bit more raucous. Has that voice always been there or is it a recent thing?

I’ve been writing poetry and songs since I was a little girl so I started off writing more poetic and, I suppose, metaphorical songs – I didn’t usually write songs that were so straight to the point. It’s since I’ve been touring around and performing that I’ve learned to love and learned to write songs that are more uptempo and really fun to do live with the band. But it was first that I was singing ballads and really strong lyrical songs, so it’s really nice to put that back in with what I’m doing and have it all kind of connect together, so you don’t have to just be a singer who sings just really party songs, you can be both, and I like that a lot.

Well, maybe you could do more ballads on your next album, because they’re very nice!

Oh, thank you. There were some extra tracks – a track called ‘Already Broken’ that I wrote with Sheree Austin that ended up being a bonus track for this album, and whenever you bought the ‘Hunky Country Boys’ single, it came with that. So there’s been quite a few ballads for this album that were ready to go and they were great, but I had to pick between them and I picked ‘Let it Be Me’ because it’s just such a beautiful song.

What happens to those other songs that don’t get chosen? Do they see the light of day on the next album or the album after that, or are they just gone?

It just really depends, and that’s kind of the hard thing about it. When you’re writing you hope that it’s going to get onto the album. There’s a secret track on this album that I actually wrote a very long time ago, called ‘Love is No Cure’, and I didn’t even sing it with music, I just wanted to tie it in with this album. But sometimes your songs can be sung by other people, or you can sing them a few years down the track, or it can just be a song that you sing live at your shows. But when they’re songs that you love you try to work them in with your other pieces of work, because you don’t want it to just be wasted.

A lot of people who go to see music live regularly probably wonder how singers like you who have songs that you have to put in every set list don’t get bored singing the same thing. So do you ever think, ‘Oh no, not that again’?

I got a little bit like that with ‘Country Singer’, but now the audience sings along with me, and I wrote that song on my own many years ago and then you can never really get bored, when they’re singing along and it’s something that you wrote, it’s actually like ‘I really love singing this song now’. It takes it to a different level. And every time you work with a new band or a new player, you kind of just mix up a different song in there. So I don’t really get bored too easily because I just find something else that’s really cool about the situation.

You’re nominated for an ARIA in the Country Music category for Listen Here and you were also nominated for your first album, so I was wondering if that means you’re less nervous this time around.

It does. Last year, to be honest, I was so scared, because it was very quick – I’d only just released the first album, and it was the next year but we had just finished touring it and it seemed like I wasn’t ready to make the new one, and [I was thinking] ‘Does this mean this is the closing chapter of the first album?’ and then ‘Oh my god, what if I win? I’m going to have to talk on TV!’ and all this stuff, and ‘Now I have to find a dress!’ And it was just so very scary, and I loved it but I was so scared. This time around, because this Listen Here album has been a long time coming – it’s been two years that I’ve been working on it – sifting through [songs] and only the cream of the crop got onto this album song-wise, and working with Mark Moffatt, and it’s one I’m really proud of, so when I found out I was nominated I wasn’t expecting it at all but I’m more excited this time, to celebrate something – just to be nominated is really good. And I’ve got the dress beforehand!

Are you performing on the night?

No, not this time – I would have loved to, but no. The only time I’ll be seen is on the red carpet, so hopefully I won’t fall over – fingers crossed – and if I win.

It’s a competitive category – you have some stiff competition – but it’s a worthy nomination.

Oh, thank you. Kasey Chambers is also nominated and she’s someone I’ve been listening to since grade six. I’ve loved Kasey Chambers from The Captain, so to be nominated alongside her … She wasn’t nominated last year because she didn’t have an album out, so it’s very, very exciting for me. I’m going to write a speech anyway, just in case, and someone said to write something ridiculous so it’s then kind of good luck, because then, when you write something ridiculous that you’d be too embarrassed to say, you always then end up having to say it. You know, ‘Bippity boppity boo, I won an ARIA – woo!’

I’m intrigued that you were listening to Kasey Chambers in sixth grade, because country music is usually not what a lot of primary school kids listen to, so have you been listening to it for a while?

Yeah, I have. I live in the suburbs of Melbourne – I don’t live in the country at all –so I was the only kid, really, who listened to country music in primary school – and high school. So it’s always been something that I just love. I’ve listened to Dolly Parton since I was a little girl. I’m actually going to see her tonight. I’m so excited. I’ve never seen her live in concert. I know almost every song she’s ever put out. Even to people who aren’t musicians she’s just an awesome inspiration, just in her strength.

And she’s hilarious.

I know! And she’s little. And I love that, because I’m little.

I read some interviews making a bit of the fact that you’re little, and now you’ve mentioned it – is it something you’re conscious of? Well, Joe Nichols is massively tall by the look of him in your video [for ‘I’ll Try Anything’].

He’s actually not super, super tall – just really, really tall next to me! Growing up I was never really conscious of it. I’m more conscious of it now because so many country music artists are really tall. Brooks & Dunn are six-foot-four or something, and McAlister Kemp I perform with often and they’re the same – they’re so tall. So I notice it more now – I love it, it’s good. Finding clothes, you have to hack off the bottom so you make a headband that’s the same as the dress. I trip over less, because I have a lower centre of gravity. It’s good, I enjoy it – you can’t change it so you’d better like it, hey?

Looking back over the sales of your albums and where you’ve charted, and you’ve done a lot of touring – from your perspective have you seen the sales and the sizes of your audiences growing the more you’re out on the road and connecting with people?

Yes, I have. When I started – and I still feel like my audience could grow, that would be amazing – but when I first started I thought, ‘I’m not from the country, maybe these audiences are not going to like me’. And when I find them pouring in – you know, when I’m at the Gympie Muster and they’re just pouring in to watch me sing my songs and to sing along with me … Country music audiences are just amazing. They really do make you feel like you’re a success. I have no idea whether that means I actually am, but I feel like a success when they’re singing my stuff with me. It’s just so cool.

Country music artists seem to really appreciate the connection with the audience – it is part of the show almost – you stay behind afterwards, you sign things, you talk to people.

And when I get home I jump on Facebook to see what everyone thought of the show and before I go I jump on see if there are any last-minute requests before I go on stage. So it is very much a community and it makes you feel like you belong. It sounds a bit cheesy, doesn’t it? But I love it.

Not at all – I think that’s part of its strength. Given the nature of country music and how big Australia is and how many places you go to, what is the most isolated place you’ve ever played?

In Australia?


Because I’ve been over to East Timor …

You can talk about that too!

Hmmm … There have been a few places. I’ve been to Bunyip in WA, which is quite out of the way. My favourite venue is in Kuranda in Queensland, near Cairns, and it is kind of out of the way because you have to go up into a rainforest and it’s an outdoor amphitheatre in a rainforest. It is the coolest venue. But I’d like to get more remote. I’d like to go to the middle of Australia. Lee Kernaghan – I’ve travelled with him, and he did a lot of rural areas, but I’d like to do a whole lot more.

I think Troy Cassar-Daley gets out into a lot of remote communities, so maybe the three of you should do a tour …

That would be really awesome, to do that.

You live in Melbourne, so what’s the country music scene like there?

It’s growing slowly – or maybe my eyes are now more open to other people who like it, instead of just feeling like I was the only one. But it’s harder in Melbourne, to play country music – they’re slowly converting to it, but it takes a little while. The music industry’s really strong here – it’s got hip-hop and rock and funk, and country music is slowly growing, but it has been a bit of a struggle.

A lot of people in cities watch CMC, so there are people who like it – hopefully there will be more gigs for them.

This year we played Rod Laver Arena with Alan Jackson and the Forum with Joe Nichols and it was packed out, but it’s not as many gigs as I’d like.

Jasmine, thanks so much for your time – and good luck at the ARIAs on the weekend.

Thank you so much.

Jasmine's official website is


Twitter: @jasminerae

Youtube: jasminerae1

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Harmony James - new CD now in 2012

The follow-up to Harmony James's debut album, Tailwind, will now be released in early 2012. Handfuls of Sky will make its first appearance on 20 January, during the Tamworth Country Music Festival. This follows Harmony's music publishing and record label deals, with Alberts and Warners respectively. Harmony is also joining Troy Cassar-Daley for a series of shows in March 2012 - visit Troy's site for details. So it's a big year ahead for one of country music's brightest stars - I can't wait to get my hands on the CD!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Interview: Timothy Carroll (part III)

This is the third of a multi-part interview with an amazing Brisbane singer-songwriter named Timothy Carroll. In this part Timothy talks about some of his songs and about the upcoming studio recording of the songs featured on The Swedish Tapes.

Part I can be read here and Part II here.

Brisbane residents can see Timothy play at the Joynt on Wednesday 23 November.


Does Brisbane have increasingly more venues for people to play?

There was a real crisis, from my point of view, about the time of the floods. There was a real crisis with the Troubadour closing down and The Hangar stopping doing gigs in the space that they were doing them in Red Hill. Because those venues were medium-sized venues that were really beautiful and well run and had good sound, and when they fell apart I felt like there was a bit of a hole in Brisbane’s heart in terms of bands of about that size being able to perform. If you move up a bit higher there’s The Zoo and The Hi Fi and the Tivoli but that’s beyond a lot of people’s reach, really, because you need to get so many people through the door in order to make it pay. But now the Black Bear Lodge has opened and they’re doing some music. There are a few other places around town. There’s a new bar in West End called The End that I saw some bands at the other day. I’m doing some shows myself at the Joynt. I’ve formed a bit of a new band with some people to work out how we’re going to perform The Swedish Tapes.

Will you then record with them?

I was recording quite a bit of The Swedish Tapes with a guy by the name of Oscar Dawson, who is from Melbourne and an old friend of mine and a very talented musician and a really good guy. So he’s living in Berlin and performing and writing with his band, and he’s coming back to Australia in late November for a couple of months, so I’m going to get him in a studio and a few other friends and go from there. So it’s a bit of a mix of some of the people I’ve performed with and some of the people I recorded with overseas. And sometimes we might have both. It’s nice to have players that are performing the stuff come and be involved as well. We’ll just have to see how it pans out.

Now to ask you some questions about songwriting … You’re good at evoking place in your songs. In ‘To Frozen Lakes’, for example, I can almost feel the cold around the lakes and in ‘Where the Catholics Ruled’ I can get a sense of the city that the song is set in. Is that a conscious evocation of place and, if so, how do you do it? Or is it just something that comes through?

It’s certainly not conscious. And it’s funny that you should choose those two titles because those are two songs that were written in a really, really short amount of time. ‘Where the Catholics Ruled’ I wrote in about twenty minutes. It’s really simple in terms of the chord progression. I just sort of spat out a whole heap of verses and then chucked a few of them away. And ‘To Frozen Lakes’ – I was at a festival in Tasmania and there was a piano in a tent and the festival was either over or hadn’t started – there was nobody around – and I just had some candles on top of the piano and was just mucking around, because I don’t really play piano that well, and just sort of wrote that one really quickly – the story of a friend of mine. So I don’t know – I guess it just happens sometimes!

On the first album the song that haunted me, for lack of a better term, was ‘Alicia’s Song’ and I was wondering if you could tell me the story behind that.

It’s interesting that that’s a song that you like, because that’s a song that I struggle with. I never play it live. I don’t even know if I could play it. I’d started working at the Troubadour at that time and there was a friend of mine, Alicia, who was working there as well and she fell pregnant, with her partner, and was thrilled about it, and it was probably the first time that someone in my world was going to have a baby and I was just kind of thinking about the wonder of that phenomenon, of a human being forming, becoming a mother and all the different sort of relationships that that entails, like the protective father and the relationship with the mother. And so that’s what that’s about.

At the moment ‘Catholics’ is the one I can’t get out of my head.

That one’s about my parents leaving Dublin. My parents are both from Dublin and they left in ’82, and so that song’s a kind of study on what was going on in Ireland at that time. I get the impression it was quite a repressive society with Catholic values of getting married and it was that important, having children out of wedlock was frowned upon. And my parents were in that situation, having my sister without being married and they all moved down to Australia, and that’s what [the song’s] about.

It seems that you’re very much a storyteller rather than a confessional songwriter – you’re telling stories about the people around you, and perhaps about yourself as well. It’s quite common in country music but not so much in pop and rock, where it tends to be more the – to paraphrase something Tim Rogers said once – ‘I’m so miserable, that girl left me’. Is that accurate to say of you?

It does seem to be the case but again it’s not really a conscious thing. I guess I listened to a lot of storytellers growing up – I used to listen to a lot of Neil Young and Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. Perhaps some of that seeped in, in some way.

On the first album in particular there’s a certain wistfulness to the songs, or to your voice. Does that come through when you’re playing? Or maybe that’s the wrong question to ask as you may not hear it, as you’re the performer!

I do think that recording a take with the right emotion in it is the most important thing for recording – it’s not so much about how well you perform or how perfectly you sing a song, it’s about getting the take where it feels right and you’re able to perform the song ending up in a way that’s true. And when we recorded the first album it was a really beautiful studio. It was with Jamie Trevaskis who used to own the Troubadour and now owns the Junk Bar in Ashgrove [in Brisbane]. And it was late at night in his old Queenslander in Bardon and we were really close friends - I don’t see a lot of him now because he works a lot and I work a lot – but it was really relaxed and kind of wonderful. So perhaps that comes through. And also, I guess, maybe because I hadn’t recorded anything before, really, apart from a little home recording, so it was all fresh and new and exciting, and we did a lot of takes, like, first take or second take – it’s not like we were doing lots and lots of tracking. That’s something to remember – maybe I should do that on the next record.

There are some epic-sounding songs on The Swedish Tapes so it will be interesting to hear what becomes of them in the studio, in terms of many instruments and multiple tracks, but I guess you won’t know until you try.

I think we won’t have too many instruments – I don’t want it to be crowded and overdone. Another friend who’s a producer said when he wants something to sound big he puts less in it – he just has four tracks handled a certain way and that’s when you get a big-sounding moment, is when it’s simple, well recorded and well written ... I’m excited to be recording the next album live, so we’ll be in the room with drums, electric [guitar], bass and me, and that will be really nice for the ebb and flow of the songs, so we can hear each other and bond, to a degree.

Because your voice is so strong as an instrument, really, you don’t really want to drown it out, and when you take a lot of care with your lyrics – which you seem to – they need to come through. And there is the danger with a lot of instruments that the voice gets lost.

Yeah, that’s true. And the guy who I’m most likely going to be recording with, Matt Redlich, he has some wonderful mikes that are like some of the older mikes that [Roy] Orbison and the Beatles at Abbey Road used to use, and we’ll be recording to tape, so it will be nice for him to be capturing what we’re doing while we play.

Timothy's first two releases, For Bread & Circuses and The Deepest Dive, are available from and also from iTunes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

CD review: Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams

It's taken me a while to get to this review, not because I was reluctant to write it but because I wanted to give this album more time, as each time I listened to it there was something deeper and richer about it, and there was a good chance that with even more listening, more textures were going to emerge. And so it has proved.

I am a long-time Ryan Adams fan and, as his fans know, Ryan is brilliant but inconsistent. His last consistent album was either Gold, a decade ago, or Jacksonville City Nights, and the answer is dependent on which version of Ryan you like (rock or country). In and around those albums were many, many other releases that contained some astoundingly beautiful songs that I listen to over and over and over - Cold Roses and Easy Tiger deserve particular mention as being good-song-laden - but they also featured songs that I will not listen to. Ever. Ryan Adams is the only songwriter I know of who can veer so wildly between greatness and mediocrity, seemingly without awareness of same - indeed, one of his former bandmates in the Cardinals (I want to say Neal Casals, but may be wrong) said that Ryan actually can't tell the difference between a good and a bad song, which explains 'Halloweenhead' but doesn't really tell us how he can get it so right so often. Perhaps he's just capricious.

But now to Ashes & Fire, which was released a few weeks ago ... I'm going way out on my Ryan fan limb and saying it's the best album he's ever released. It is certainly his most consistent, and that solid structure gives us the opportunity to really hear what's going on. There are eleven songs of outstanding quality and, yes, they are in the country genre. Each one is worth listening to for years to come, and many times over. They are well constructed without being heavy; delicately drawn without being fluffy; and - for me, at least - they are beautiful and moving. I couldn't pick a favourite because I love them all, but I will say that 'I Love You but I Don't Know What to Say' has to be one of the greatest love songs of all time, because it's not sappy and it's not affected and it captures just what it's like to love someone - not necessarily romantically - over the course of years.

By getting out of his own way Ryan has also, finally, given us the chance to appreciate his voice. It has always surprised me that more is not made of his vocal range, which is usually well displayed in performance but not really on record, because he tends to not move up and down the octaves. He's not doing vocal acrobatics on this album either, but his control of his voice and its sensitivity as an instrument are clearly captured. It's a voice that sounds intimate - like he's right there with you - like the song is coming through him and not just out of his mouth. And if that sounds corny, too bad - because only the best singers can actually become the song.

The reasons behind this 'new, improved' Ryan Adams have been speculated on: he's stopped drinking alcohol and has now been married (to singer Mandy Moore) for a handful of years. Perhaps these things have given him the solid foundations that can be heard behind the songs; perhaps he's just grown up. Whatever it is, it's working.

Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams is out now through Pax-Am/Sony/Columbia.

Ryan Adams is touring Australia in February and March 2012. For details go to his website at

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Interview: Timothy Carroll (part II)

This is the second of a multi-part interview with an amazing Brisbane singer-songwriter named Timothy Carroll. In this second part Timothy talks about arts funding, living in Sweden, visiting Berlin and the challenges of making music independently.

Part I can be read here.

Brisbane residents can see Timothy play at the Joynt on Wednesday 16 and 23 November.


When are you recording the next album?

I teamed up with a manager about the last half-year, a friend of mine who’s pretty savvy and hasn’t actually worked that much in the music business but it’s been great to have him to build some more concrete plans and bounce ideas off ... We’re looking at a schedule of potentially going in in December and January to have the recording of tracks done then … But I don’t want to put to much of a deadline on when it’s going to be done because I don’t want to feel pressured. When I did The Deepest Dive EP I was going to Sweden, and it had to be done by this really inflexible date and it was a little bit of hard pressure, and I don’t really want to have that pressure again. Recording in December/January and then early next year is the plan.

And do you want to stay independent? I would imagine it’s a lot of extra work in terms of promotion and distribution – well, you’re distributing online mainly – but ideally would you like a record company to come along and say they’d help you out.

I’m not really that fussed about it, but I tell you the money side of things is kind of freaking me out a bit at the moment. Going into making a record is really expensive. Studio time, and you have to pay the musicians, then printing CDs, and then if you want to go down into doing some degree of press and publicity and promotion, and that’s before you’ve even looked into touring or anything. And so it’s a little bit scary when you’re at this end of it, when you’re just way in the red, you know. So some financial support from somewhere would be awesome. I went for a grant from Arts Queensland but was unsuccessful with that, so I’m again funding this next round of recording out of my credit card and savings. Arts Queensland said we were pretty close but weren’t successful, so I’m kind of moving on now. The grants are a funny beast because they take a long time to do and then you have to wait a very long time also to get an outcome, like six months, and you’re pinning hopes around that and then it falls through, not only have you not got the grant but you’ve lost some of that time. But I’m just going to move forward now and fund it myself, and if I can sell a thousand CDs – which isn’t a huge number – it’ll more or less pay for itself.

It’s interesting you say a thousand, because there is someone – I forget who it is - who has worked out that if you have 1000 true fans, that as an artist you can make a living that way.

Well, great! That’s what I need. I have a job as well – I’m a social worker, and I work four days a week doing that. So I don’t need to make a living [at music] but it’d be nice for the art to pay for itself at least.

Are you back from Sweden permanently, or are you to-ing and fro-ing?

We’re back now for a while – my partner’s from Stockholm, so that’s why we were over there. She’s got permanent residency in Australia now and she’s got two years of uni to do here, so we’ll definitely be around for two years, and then I don’t know what will happen after that. I adore Sweden and was learning the language while I was over there, and I’ve got some dear friends and family over there, and I would love to go back and spend another chunk of time. And another thing was that while I was away for that year, it was so wonderful to have enough time to be able to write and to get into the space where I was just someone who was writing music. Because when I’m back here in Brisbane working as a social worker and managing that side of life, I do find it harder to write. I can still perform and do shows and that side of things, but that pure creative process of writing, I find it somewhat challenging to sit down and do it.

It’s incredibly challenging. I don’t know how anyone does it. I guess that’s why the patronage system of the Renaissance was effective, because someone else would take care of all the concerns like making money and running a household, which all takes time and energy away from being creative.

I went to Berlin three times while I was living in Stockholm, because it was just so close and easy and cheap. And there’s a community of Australian artists that I was lucky enough to be hanging out with over there, so that’s kind of the model they’re using – living in Berlin because it’s so affordable and rent is really cheap and food is really cheap, so they can make a living from their art and really focus on it. And there were painters and sculptors and musicians and film-makers all kind of living in a community and interacting, and there was a real symbiosis of everybody living next to each other and inspiring each other. Just to spend some time amongst that – and we did some recording over there – was really inspiring. So that’s a model. Maybe I could do that.

Brisbane is getting more expensive to live in, I guess, but it’s certainly been fertile ground for musicians for the last few years, or it seems to have been. Given that Brisbane seems to produce a fair amount of rock music, do you feel like you could technically call yourself part of the Brisbane musical scene, or do you stand somewhat apart from it?

I’m feeling quite apart from it at the moment, just having been away for a year. And a year’s not that long, really, but it feels like a long time coming back. I go out and see music fairly often – it’s what I like to do on the weekend – and there are lots of bands that I’ve never heard of and whole scenes that I hadn’t seen. So I do feel a bit different. I feel kind of old, as well. There are all these young bands – 21 years olds, really talented, really eclectic bands happening. So it’s quite interesting and I guess they’re going to start performing more and you can work out what’s going on.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book review: I've Been There (and Back Again) by Joy McKean

Slim Dusty’s influence on Australian country music is legion and legend. What many people who have only a passing awareness of Slim may not realise is that his wife, Joy McKean, shared not only his life but his career – they toured together, played together and wrote songs together. They also had two children, Anne and David Kirkpatrick, who went into the family business.

Joy and Slim met because of country music, and this shared passion brought them decades of travelling and playing. At the very least, it was an interesting life, but even a casual observer can see that ‘fascinating’ would be a more accurate term. Now, Joy shares some of the stories behind their songs – from Slim’s 106 albums – in her new book, I’ve Been There (and Back Again).

This is a hardcover, illustrated book (as the jargon goes), filled with photographs from throughout Joy and Slim’s lives. Joy’s publisher has given the subject matter the respect it deserves by producing such an impressive volume, which is obviously a must for any Slim fan. I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes a good yarn about the bush, for there are many great stories about the people and places who shaped not only the songs but the people who wrote them.

Slim and Joy seemed to have visited every corner of Australia with a ready smile for anyone who came across their path. This willingness to travel far and wide was, no doubt, a large part of Slim’s success, because his audience was so broad. Joy and Slim’s openness to the country that unfurled before them was reflected in their songs, which in turn describe so much of Australian rural life, in particular, and the Australian national character in general. So this book is a social history, of sorts. And if you’re at all interested in music and musicians, it is fascinating to read about how shows were put together and what sort of life gigging musicians had in the middle of the twentieth century.

There is family history here, too – how Joy and Slim met and what their families were like, what happened when their children came along. Throughout, Joy’s direct way of telling a story – familiar to anyone who knows her songs – guides the reader through. She has a familiar, almost intimate, tone that makes the stories come alive. It’s a great read, whether you like country music or not.

I've Been There (and Back Again) by Joy McKean, published by Hachette Australia 2011. RRP: $39.99

Monday, November 7, 2011

CD review: Songs & Pictures by Beccy Cole

Beccy Cole is, not unlike her close friend Kasey Chambers, one of our most consistent singer-songwriters, although I wouldn't mind betting that a lot of people don't realise she writes most of her own songs, mainly because she's seen as a 'performer'. Indeed, Beccy is one of our great entertainers - she consistently puts on high-quality shows that combine humour, storytelling and musical performance in a way that ensures everyone leaves smiling. She is also a songwriter of considerable accomplishment, and has been for a while - her early song 'Lazy Bones' is a textbook case in how to turn a phrase in a clever, funny way.

Songs & Pictures is Beccy's latest CD and again features her own compositions, some of them written in collaboration with Kasey Chambers, Travis Collins, Luke Austen and others. It is a nostalgic, almost wistful album - there is very little of the brassiness that could be found on Feel This Free or even Little Victories. It is a 'pretty' album in many ways - Beccy has always produced melodically pleasing songs, but there seem to be more of them on this album. And perhaps more songs in minor keys. They are songs of reflection and contemplation, of appreciation for what she has and who she loves. It is the most personal of her albums, and the first that I can recall where there isn't what one could call a 'joke song' (for lack of a better word) like 'The Girls Out Here' or 'Sorry I Asked'. This is probably for the best: the joke songs may have previously obscured the fact that she is a really, really good singer, and on this new album her voice is front and centre.

It's a strong album - the songs are solidly constructed and Beccy's remarkable voice is in charge of them all. 'Millionaires' also features Kasey on vocals and it is clearly about the friendship they have have since they were teenagers - it's a lovely song. Although I love Beccy's joke songs, I do think this is the most consistent of her albums in terms of having an overall message and the songs all feeding into each other to create a complete portrait. It is also the album most likely to appeal to people who don't usually like country music - so buy it for your non-country friends.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Interview: Aleyce Simmonds (part II)

**Part I of the Jolene interview with Aleyce Simmonds is available here.**

So you’ve toured with Dianna Corcoran and Amber Lawrence. The country music community in Australia – from the punter’s point of view, at least – seems to be very supportive, especially of new artists. Did you find that when you emerging from Telstra Road to Tamworth and getting your first recording contract?

Definitely. I think that the fans, in particular, in country music – I’m not sure if it’s the same in other genres but from what I’ve heard it’s not – they embrace you. The industry as well, but more so the fans – they embrace you from a very young age in talent quest world and all that sort of stuff, and they follow through with you. They don’t drop you. They help you along the road. I still see people at my gigs that I saw ten years ago at the talent quests, and they’ll say to me, you know, ‘We love that song’ or ‘Maybe you could do this differently’ or ‘You’ve improved so much’, and they’ve sort of come on the journey as well, and it’s really quite beautiful.

It must be incredibly rewarding, particularly when you’re in that storyteller vein – you’re not up there singing songs that you don’t believe in. So I would think to have audiences connect to the stories that you’re telling, it possibly influences the stories you go on to tell.

Oh, absolutely. As a songwriter you’re always looking for inspiration, and having these amazing experiences that we are able to have in this industry, being a singer and a songwriter, with these amazing opportunities … Last weekend I just got back from Mildura and up there the inspiration’s everywhere – there are all these creative people around, there are all these wonderful fans who are more like friends, I guess. It feels weird saying ‘fans’ because they are more like friends, and they have such huge input into the music we create.

Just on the songwriting process – how did you find co-writing songs on your album? Was there any disagreement with anyone about who was going to do what?

It depends on who you’re writing with. I had a lot of that in Nashville I was writing in Nashville as an eighteen-year-old and I really had no clue. I’d only had a couple of co-writing sessions here in Australia and I went over there and really didn’t know what I was doing, so I found that to be very difficult. But back here I found a few different writers who I really connected with and it just flowed really easily. Sometimes, like with my producer Rod McCormack, it was always a great outcome, we always came out with a song that was good. But with other people I would sort of write a song and it would just be a waste of the day – well, not a waste, because we still learned a lot from the experience, but it just didn’t work. And I guess co-writing is all about being able to bounce off each other and throw your ideas around and coming up with a whole new perspective that you never even thought of.

And since writing your first album, have you met anyone who you think would be good to work with as a songwriter for the next album, whenever that is?

Yes. There are lots of people I’ve come into contact with since then. I would definitely love to go back to Nashville and write with a bunch of Nashville writers, now that I’ve got more experience and have a better idea of what I want. I think it takes a lot of courage as a co-writer, as well, to be able to stand up and say, ‘That’s a nice idea, but it’s really not for me’, and go off in a different direction. So I would like to go to Nashville, but we have so many great writers here that I’d love to write with also.

You’re a young artist and you have your first album out, and you’ve emerged at a time when it seems that there are a lot of extra demands on musicians, in particular, in terms of social media and connecting with fans. Do you think it’s harder work now to keep up with everything, particularly when you have a job and you’re trying to have a relatively normal life as well?

I think that it’s definitely harder now – just even in my short career it’s getting harder and harder with the emergence of all the illegal downloads and everything like that, and lack of live music venues. Keeping up with social media side, it’s not so hard - it is very time consuming, but it has created this amazing opportunity for us to get our music out to a wider audience so easily. It’s just so great. You can post something and five minutes later have thirty comments and different points of view, which is just amazing.

You don’t find sometimes that it’s too much feedback?

Sometimes it is. People can be brutally honest but also brutal, you know. I guess you have to be careful sometimes with what you do put out there, because you’re putting everything out there in the public eye and it can be very daunting and scary.

You live in Sydney, and that makes sense in terms of accessing record companies and thing like that. But country music audiences tend to be in rural and regional Australia, so how do you find that balance of living in the city and trying to get out and tour, or even do the odd gig, when Australia’s so big?

It is difficult. I actually work a lot around Newcastle. I have a full-time job, so I’m doing that and then doing my music after hours and every weekend, and there are a lot of gigs around Newcastle and western Sydney, certainly not much in the CBD. But the funny thing is that something like four million people watch CMC just from inner Sydney, so where are they at our gigs? There must be this huge contingent of country music followers who are sort of closet country music lovers.

I think that’s true. Also because the venues aren’t there necessarily, people think the music isn’t available, and there’s no process whereby audiences can demand it. I’d be at country music gigs every weekend in Sydney if they were on, but they’re not.

No, they’re not!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Interview: Aleyce Simmonds (part I)

Aleyce Simmonds is relatively new to Australian country music, in that she's young - although she's been performing for quite a while. Her first album, Pieces of Me, was produced by Rod McCormack, who is one of the busiest country music producers in the land, along with Nash Chambers and, increasingly, Shane Nicholson. Pieces of Me was released in January 2011 and introduced a singer-songwriter who is more accomplished and mature than 'first album' would suggest.

I spoke to Aleyce soon after she'd returned from performing at the 2011 Mildura Country Music Festival in late September. (For reasons of length, this interview will be split into two parts.)

Have you always loved country music?

Yes, I have. I grew up listening to it – in the family we always listened to American country music mainly and I guess I just fell in love with it from a really early age.

Were there any artists in particular at that young age who you really loved?

I’ve always loved Martina McBride and Faith Hill, and they were just emerging at the time that we really started getting into country music, so they influenced me, I guess, a lot as a singer and as a songwriter.

You spent some of your younger years in Tamworth .

I was born in Port Macquarie and moved over to Tamworth when I was about eleven.

I was wondering what the festival would have been like for you as a young resident.

It was awesome – it was just the most exciting time of the year. I would go in the one talent quest in Tamworth – the biggest talent quest, which was called the CCMA – and it was definitely my favourite time of year. It was great having all these people just inject into Tamworth.

I’ve heard a lot of families in Tamworth get out of town at festival time, but clearly yours stayed around.

Yes, definitely. I can’t believe so many do get out.

Are your folks still in Tamworth?

Yes, they are.

So you can stay there when you go back for the festival?

Yes, free accom – it’s the best!

It seems that there are a few talent quests around the festival – you were in the CCMA but you were also in the Telstra Road to Tamworth. Do they overlap? What’s the process?

The Telstra Road to Tamworth’s only been around for six or so years, so it wasn’t around when I was younger. I guess there are a bunch of talent quests that have been there for years but the Toyota Star Maker and the Telstra Road to Tamworth are the two big ones and they’re more for … once you’ve finished those young sort of talent quests then you move on to the more serious career-opening ones.

Where did you do your first heat for the Road to Tamworth?

It was in Armidale, so we drove an hour and a half to Armidale just to get a thousand dollars just to go back to Tamworth!

That wouldn’t have been that early in your performing career, then, if you’d already done CCMA?

Well, I’d done those but I was eighteen when I won the Telstra Road to Tamworth. It was the first big award that I’d won and I was still very green.

Do you enjoy live performance?

I do – I love it. It didn’t come as easy for me as I think it does for other people. I prefer to – or I always have preferred to – sing in a studio and all that sort of stuff. I really struggled with my nerves with my live performance, for a really long time, and it’s really just now that I feel I’m more confident and comfortable on stage, and I guess I’ve had to find what it is about me that works live. It’s not being that live, vibrant entertainer – it’s more singing my songs and telling the crowd about why I wrote the songs and the stories behind the songs, and creating more of an intimate vibe.

In country music it seems like the performers really feel that there’s a relationship with the audience, more than you’d get in a rock gig, for example, so there is a lot of talking that goes on – in a good way. There is that telling the background of the story that’s in the song and that’s really important to the audience.


And that’s how you’ve found your niche – to be that storyteller.

Yes, definitely. That’s what I love about country music, that it evokes so much emotion in the listener – it’s not just a song about a random thing, it’s a song about emotion and real-life things that people can relate to and I guess that that’s what I like to convey to the audience.

I can understand why you might have been nervous when you started performing – you have a really ‘big’ voice, and your voice is clearly a very important part of who you are, and I think it would be difficult to go out every time wondering, ‘Am I going to damage it? Am I in a club where it’s smoky? Am I going to have to strain to be heard over a band?’

That is a factor. It was great when clubs took the smoking areas outside because it is so damaging on your vocal cords and it is a worry, especially doing back to back performances. I also try to keep in with my training and make sure that I sing correctly. A lot of people look down upon classically trained singers, but in my opinion classical training is a perfect foundation - it’s just like learning how to drive a car before you can go out and drive along the freeway or whatever. It’s just a foundation, and it’s so important in any trade or anything to have the training behind it.

You have a big, almost a gutsy voice – it’s not something you often hear in people when they’re younger, as singers tend to grow into their voices a bit. Did you find your voice through your training, or have you always had that sound?

I think I’ve always had a fairly big voice - I just usually call myself a boofhead and say I have a boofhead voice. It’s funny, because when I was growing up, in school and performing in choirs and things, I would always audition for the choirs and they would say that my voice was too different, it would stick out too much. I sang a lot in choirs, but I guess because I’ve got sort of a loud voice it’s … I don’t know why I have it, or how.

It’s not so much that it’s loud but it’s a mature voice. You sound like you’re singing about things as if you’re really feeling them, and one tends to think that it’s only as you get older that you feel things and they can come into your voice.

I think with age it definitely does get easier to convey your messages and things, it’s just even unbelievable how I wrote all the songs for my album a couple of years ago and I did vocals on them back then on the demos, and listening to them now and then listening to my album vocals, there’s just so much more emotion in my album vocal, because even though it’s the same song and I wrote it back then, because I’ve felt different things since then – I’ve had my heart ripped apart and all that sort of stuff, stuff that comes with age, definitely.

And you play guitar as well – a Fender guitar, I saw in your liner notes.

I do, I play a Guild guitar. I’m endorsed by Fender but I play a Guild guitar – they own Guild as well.

You obviously appreciate instruments, and I noticed in your liner notes something about you telling [producer] Rod McCormack that you wanted more banjo and more mandolin, so I was wondering if you’re particularly fond of those instruments or if you just like that ‘country sound’.

I love those instruments. Something I love in music in general is contemporary-sounding songs but with traditional instruments, so a more contemporary country song but with mandolin and banjo all over it – that, to me, is just perfect.

Do you play the banjo or the mandolin?

I’d love to be able to play the banjo. I can play the mandolin, but very badly.

From what I hear, the banjo’s quite hard.

I think so. I haven’t even attempted it, but from what I hear it is quite hard, yes.