Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Interview: Catherine Britt

I've raved elsewhere about Catherine Britt's brilliant new album, Always Never Enough. I'm still listening to it, over and over, and finding so much to love about it each time. It is a collection of great stories and an important contribution to the tapestry of Australian storytelling in song.

Recently I spoke to Catherine, before she headed out on tour with Tim Rogers. She was vibrant, interesting and engaged, and had lots of interesting things to say about music, family and life. 

Well, I’ve been listening to your album a lot because I have to say, it is fantastic.
 Oh, my god, thank you so much.

It’s really, really, really good. As soon as I'd heard it I emailed your publicist at Universal and said, 'This is the best thing Catherine has ever done.'
Oh, my goodness.  Thank you so much.  I’m so nervous and so excited and I’m like just mixed, 'What are people going to think?' and I guess that’s natural. You do that before every album, but I’m so proud of this record and I do think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m so glad you say that. People are hopefully going to react to it the way that I want them to which is great.  Thank you.

My first question was actually going to be to say that it’s a collective album that sounds cohesive and I was wondering if there was an overarching intention because there are so many different song styles and stories on it, but there’s really this sense of it pulling together as a whole. 
Well, absolutely, and I think that’s the key to a good album is trying to make it all make sense and all flow together, but also show all the different sides of yourself and be dynamic and be non-limiting, I guess, musically. And I’ve always tried to achieve that and try to be the best artist I can be and open myself up to all sorts of genres.  And because I listen to all sorts of genres, good music’s good music, so I think that it’s important to just write what comes straight out from your heart and your soul and not sit there and try to write a country song, just try and write a song.  And I think that’s what this album is a result of and the fact that I’ve been so many different things on this album that I haven’t been before, there are a few political things on there that I never would have really spoken about before.  And, I guess, it’s because I’m getting older.

 And starting to realise that the world around me a little more and be more aware and some other peoples stories that have affected me and of course that have my own things I’ve been reminiscing or if they’re enough ... Just another good old heartbreak. Probably the most powerful heartbreaks I’ve ever written, because it was the most powerful heartbreak, I’ve ever been through so it’s very dynamic and I love that.

I think with 'Always Never Enough', I actually didn’t see it as a heartbreak song, although I did read your notes about it. I actually saw it more as a statement of what it’s like to be an intelligent, strong-minded young woman in a society that perhaps doesn’t endorse that as much as it could.
Yeah.  And look that’s – I’m so glad you caught that cause that’s exactly what it is.  It’s a double entendre – it’s supposed to be both and, look, that is exactly why I released it as the first single, because it really sums up this album and me as a person. It’s like I’m always that overachiever who tries way too hard every day to be better than she was yesterday and I’m very competitive and very much trying to push myself and try and be better. And I think that it is never enough for me and it is ‑ it’s always pushing to the next level and pushing for the next step and what’s next in my career and what am I going to do now, okay. And I think that’s that definitely the title itself sums up the album, sums up me, sums up everything. So, yes, it is a heartbreak song that is very honest and very real and I’m sure my ex-boyfriend hates my guts because of it.

[Laughs].  Too bad!
[Laughs] But, no, it also definitely sums up me as a person and as an artist.

You’ve spent quite a bit of time in the US and it’s always struck me that the United States, it is more supported or people are more supported if they are ambitious, if they want to strive to, as you said, do better today than you did yesterday. So I was wondering if you found that you actually you were more comfortable or have been more comfortable in American society in that respect.
Oh, yeah.  I guess. I mean, not really. I never felt quite like I fitted in American. Living there for six years was one of the best experiences and the worst experiences of my life. But it’s like I worked so much on it, it was like going off and getting my music degree or something, my college, my version of college but it – I fitted in in a lot of ways but I didn’t in a lot of ways. Their culture is so different from us and it’s such a different world over there that I never quite felt comfortable, I never quite felt at home quite like I do having a conversation with my parents in Newcastle, hanging out in my own town.  So I don’t think you ever really capture that anywhere else, your family, and the people that you surround yourself with that you love and adore you no matter what, and I think that’s what I wanted to come home to at the end of the day.  I still go to America all the time, I’ve been there four times in the last seven months touring, but I didn’t want to live there. At the end of the day when I come off the road, I want to come home to my best friends who adore me and who I adore, and my family who love me no matter what, and my hometown that I’m just so proud to be from. And I think that that’s what I realised as I got older, is what’s important here that I’m off taking this dream, that does it really matter, is it making any difference that I am here full time or do I balance my life out and try and find happiness in my personal life as well as my career? And that’s the decision I made.

Well, I think it’s a good one and it’s good for Australians that you’re here.

But having said that about the US, I was in Tamworth earlier this year - as one should be every year - and looking at Harmony James at a gig and looking at the make-up of her band and just reflecting.  I’d seen Felicity Urguhart the night before and I thought, 'Australian country music is really supportive of woman out the front of bands.'

And intelligent singer-songwriter women. In the US, the Dixie Chicks are really good singer-songwriters in that vein.  But a lot of what you see of women in country music in the US is perhaps a bit more of the showmanship type than, say, you or Felicity or Harmony or Beccy or Kasey, people who write really great songs and still get to perform them. 
Yeah. I think there is a really great support system here for the singer-songwriter and I think that’s very much a part of our music industry in a lot of ways.  I mean, look at our mainstream radio in Australia - the music that sells the most is indie pop rock singer-songwriters. You’ve got people like Nick Cave and Tim Rogers and things like that are our legends in Australia.  Jimmy Barnes. And in America they probably wouldn’t even be like as appreciated, I guess, as they are here. I think that it’s great that we appreciate a real singer-songwriter and real music in Australia.  And we’re just so taken with that and I think that that’s a lot of the reason why I wanted to come back here and make music here. Because I feel like Australians do get what I’m trying to do and I have a big audience here of intelligent music fans who completely support me as an artist and I love that.

And you mentioned Tim Rogers, who you’re obviously going to be touring with soon. In terms of his song writing - I was a You Am I fan pretty much from the start and I remember reading an article about him years ago where someone was asking him about his songwriting and he said something like, 'Well, I don’t like those songs that are just like, "oh, that girl left me, I’m so miserable".' Those songs aren’t interesting when you do them over and over again. He liked to tell stories and he is one of our great storytelling songwriters. 
Oh, god.  Absolutely. 

So you’re a good match.
I’m the biggest Tim Rogers fan in the world. I think he’s just awesome and brilliant and I’m so freaking excited to go out on tour with him. And also very scared, knowing Tim personally, and I have no idea what the next three months have in store for me.

But I’m very excited to be out on the road with such a brilliant musician and a brilliant man and a pure gentlemen and one of the best singers that we have here in Australia.  I mean, he really is just when it comes to songwriting and artistry, you don’t really get much better than Tim Rogers.  So I’m very, very proud and excited to be working with him.

And do those sort of tours  and I don’t know how many you’ve done where it’s kind of you and  just another artist as opposed to another band – but do these sorts of tours give you the opportunity for further collaboration?
Absolutely and I’ve done many tours like this, I mean pretty much in this day and age, it’s what you do.  You go out with another artist, it’s the only way to sort of make money and get people out to shows these days.  So I think that it’s definitely the majority of what I do when I go out on the road and it’s great because you create this friendship with other artists that last forever. And that never goes away because you create this bond on the road and this musical bond that you never would have seen before and it’s really cool.  Tim and I have been working together for, gosh, three or four years now creating this band with Bill Chambers and we call ourselves the Hillbilly Killers, and we’re actually working on an album and things like that that will come out hopefully down the track.

But that’s how we kind of became friends and then of course he asked me to come out on this tour with him, this Rogers does Rogerstein tour. So it’s just all a part of the music industry, I guess, you meet people and it takes you to different places and that’s what I love about it.

You mentioning the Hillbilly Killers is the first I’ve heard of it so now I’m very excited [laughs] to hear that.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s very much underground and in development at the moment, but we’ve been hanging out for a few years now and writing and developing this band. We’ve all got ridiculous schedules so it’s like trying to actually all get the studio and try and get together and actually make it work is another thing.  But we’ve got plans to go out and record this year, so hopefully they don’t fall through and we do end up releasing something pretty soon. It's great to work with Tim and, of course, I’ve worked with Bill since I was a little girl so it totally makes sense to have us all in, I guess, in a band together.  And we’re all from the same music, we all love the same stuff so it’s very exciting.

That is exciting, but I’ll go back to your album and what I really picked up on this is more so than on the previous albums was a feeling of confidence from you, that you were confident in yourself as a songwriter and as a singer.  So I was wondering if that was true or maybe I’m reading something into it [laughs].
Yeah.  Well, I’m like any artist, one minute I’m confident, the next minute I’m the most insecure person in the world [laughs]. That’s just what we do  we’re all the same really, I guess, at the end of the day.  But, look, I am very confident in myself musically and I always have been.  I’ve always believed in myself and, I guess, if you don’t believe in yourself, you wouldn’t do it.  You got to have confidence to go get out in front of a crowd and sing your song, but that’s what it’s all about.  We’re all show-offs at the end of the day, I’m the youngest of four and I used to get up in front of my whole family and 'Look at me, look at me'.

That’s the kid I was.  That’s what all artists are at the end of the day, we want people to pay attention to us and love us and appreciate us and give us attention. And I think that when it comes to this album, I’m more confident than I ever have been with any other album, that is absolutely true and I’m glad that it shows in the music.  That’s really cool that it comes through.

I think it’s the case that – and you would probably find this as well as a listener  that you can put on some records and you feel as a listener you relax.  Because you think okay, well, the artist was clearly quite happy about what was going on here and I can just relax and let go into this.  And sometimes  it’s the same with live music  and sometimes you put on an album, you just think, 'Oh, I’m on edge, something’s not working'.  But with this one I just put it on and immediately thought, 'Okay, I can just sit back here, I’m in Catherine’s capable hands'.
Oh, cool.  That’s such a cool way of putting it. I think that music has to have confidence behind it, you’re so right. That’s what sells the Bruce Springsteens and the Elton Johns and the Bob Dylans; people who have been around forever. That’s what sells about them is that they are 100 per cent confident in what they do with themselves as an artist. And you do, you listen to their albums and are like, 'Oh, okay, this is somebody who really knows what they’re talking about here', and you pay attention.  Like you would in a conversation, if somebody starts speaking intelligently or whatever and they’re really passionate, they know what they’re talking about, you pay attention.  You don’t brush it off as that guy doesn’t know what they’re talking about and, I guess, it’s the same with everything, music included.

Yeah.  Yeah.  Often with albums there’s the odd song you want to brush over, or maybe two or three songs for some people. I think each of these songs is really, really great which is an unusual thing for any album.  
[Laughs] Thank you.

Well, thank you for making them.  But they all sound loved, if that makes sense and they also they sound like they’ve had the sort of attention that they would get because they’re loved.  But I was wondering if you actually have any favourites out of them?
 I don’t know, being such a new album I’m so in love with all of it. [Laughs] I haven’t really kind of gone down that road yet, but I’ve been playing the new single 'Always Never Enough' and I love that, I love the song and it’s so great to play live.  But 'Sally Bones' is another song that goes over so well live, people come up to me and go, 'Play that crazy song' [laughs]. So people really love it, but I think that it affects people and same with 'Our Town', that always goes over really well live. But  they all do, I don’t know. The song about my brother, 'I’m Your Biggest Fan', is always really great at festivals and people seem to really love it even though it’s the first time they’ve heard it. It’s always really fascinating to see what happens when you sing these songs live, it’s a totally different thing. But I don’t really have a favourite as yet. We’re about to release 'Charlestown Road' as the second single and I love that song too, it’s about my childhood and where I grew up and I guess it’s essentially every Australian’s childhood, really.  But it’s cool that I was able to write that song, I haven’t been able to write that song prior to now, so I’m glad I did get the chance for that come to out.

I guess it is every Australian’s childhood but that’s part of the role of being a storyteller, to reflect that back to people so that they can find something in themselves that connects to it. 
Exactly.  Exactly.  And that’s the beauty of songwriting, songwriting is all about is writing songs that obviously come from a place that has affected you but also people can relate to it and put it in their own life and make it their own story.

And on 'Sally Bones', I didn’t find it a creepy song so much as it’s a really powerful song, but I noticed that it’s the only point on the album – and probably in any of your songs – where you actually go out of a singing voice and into a speaking tone when you say her second name.  You kind of flatten it and it’s just a little detail but I thought that’s really interesting, it’s almost like a character coming through you, like you just flatten your voice for that second.
Yeah.  Yeah.  I’ve never really sung like that before on any album and I think that it’s cool to, kind of, to try these things and that’s how I wrote it.  I didn’t intentionally think of that or anything, but that's sort of how it came out but I love that, it is telling Sally Bones’s story and that shit happens all the time.  And it’s, like, even though it’s not a great thing to happen in this world, it’s something that I like to, I guess, make people pay attention to again. And focus on even if it’s for three minutes and maybe it’ll make a difference and it’ll change some things, maybe it won’t. But at the end of the day, it’s her story and it’s a great song to sing and a great story to tell.

You mentioned you’re from Newcastle, which is fairly close to the country music community on the Central Coast [laughs].  So I was wondering if you have any plans to move to Copacabana.
Oh, yeah.  Yeah.  Just like everyone else.

No, I am so close and that’s the thing, I still hang out with all those folks but I’m also sort of outside of the industry enough to not be a part of it all as well. But I’ve always kind of been a bit of an outsider – spending a lot of my time overseas and whatever, but all those folks are very much very good friends of mine. I’ve just been on tour with Bec actually, Beccy Cole, for the last, I don’t know, I think we were out for about five months actually. In the [United] States and it was brilliant. Australian Story came out with us on the road and did a lot of recording while we were out on the road.  And it was great to watch her journey and come out as a woman and a very proud gay person, I love all of that. She’s already brilliant as an artist and I love her as a personm and it was just great to see her come into her own and be the person that she absolutely should be a hundred per cent, I love that. But, yeah, I spend a lot of time down there [on the coast] but definitely no.

I love Newcastle, I’ve got all my family and my friends here, I’m definitely going to be here for as long as I can.

For springing off on tour, Newcastle is quite pretty much as good as Sydney, you have access to main roads and an airport and all those things.
[Laughs]. Exactly. It’s like a little mini city. But it’s not too much of a city that it’s  I can’t be in Sydney for more than a day without going insane so it’s like it’s still got a sanity about it, which is good.

You are heading out on the road again, so you’ve been out with Beccy for a few months and you’ll be out for a while with Tim  do you enjoy that rhythm of being on the road?  Or is there a rhythm to it?
I love it, I’d much prefer to be on the road than anything else.  I’ve really, really enjoyed touring and I’ve enjoyed playing gigs live and yeah, that’s a big, huge part of what I do that I love. So I’m looking forward to going out with Tim and seeing what that’s going to be like and then we’ve got lots of plans for the rest of the year, which obviously we’ll bring out at an appropriate time as well.  So yes, I’m very excited about getting out on the road again.

Catherine Britt's new album is out now through ABC/Universal. Check Catherine's website for tour dates:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Interview: Katie O'Donnell (part III)

This is the third and last part of an interview with Katie O'Donnell. Parts I and II are here

Katie is an inspiring young woman, not just because she is pursuing her musical dreams. Read on and you'll find out more ...

I would imagine the country music, or even the music scene, in Perth is probably quite different to what we have on the east coast.  Given that it's more remote and you probably really depend on the artists who are right there - I imagine there wouldn't be a lot of movement of people coming in from Melbourne, say, to Perth to join the scene -   I was wondering if you can just talk a little bit about the music scene, or the country music scene in Perth?
There definitely is a country music scene in Perth and I think there's a lot of great fans and supporters out there.  As you say, with Perth and WA we've got a lot more ground, so it is quite regional and so a lot of the festivals and everything are spread out through the regional areas, so that can present some challenges with travelling.  But, yeah, definitely really active and quite strong.  Obviously maybe not quite so much compared to over the east, yeah, and we still get some of the names coming through, like Beccy Cole. So we still get people coming through, it's just probably not quite on the same scale.  But I think it's building year after year.

Which country music artists do you - I'm not going to say would you emulate, because I think, you know, it's all part of the big pot of influences - but which country music artist, either Australian or foreign, do you really like at the moment?
Especially through my teens, I listened to a lot of Martina McBride and I still love her; I think she's an amazing vocalist and similarly, Melinda Schneider as well - love, love, love her voice and her songs. So they're probably the two top country names that I could name, but I'm a huge fan of Tina Arena and lots of acts, like a really wide range of music as well.  This [country] is where I gravitated towards, but initially I wasn't deliberately planning for the EP to be specifically country.  It was just where it felt comfortable and it ended up - that's where I felt it should be.

And I also think the country music scene is really welcoming of new artists and - I was thinking this when I was in Tamworth this year - it's really welcoming of female artists.  The way a lot of other genres aren't.
Yeah.  Absolutely.  Definitely.  And yeah. That's what I love about it, obviously.  

This is completely off topic, but is your hair naturally curly?
It is, yeah.  It’s quite thick as well, I will use anything to have it straightened - it's quite a long process.  You always want what you don't have.

The only reason I'm asking about hair is because mine is curly too and I'm always desperately curious when people with curly hair straighten their hair.
You've got to get some GHDs; they will change your life.

Your hair looks really long, I can't imagine how long it takes to straighten it using those irons.
Well, I'm fortunate - it's not me - I don't have the arm strength to do it, so someone else is the poor thing that's got to stand there and do it.  So I can just sit there and read a book or watch TV and it's done for me. That's the way to do it.

Well, that's pretty good!  I think you said you've been in a wheelchair for quite a few years now, so I was wondering about the practicalities of doing gigs for you and touring.  I suppose you're quite used to moving around and making adjustments, but is it a hindrance to you doing a lot of things you'd like to do musically?
Look, I try for it not to be.  And I am a firm believer in that, you know, where there's a will there's a way, but you also have to be realistic, so there are a few things that are physical barriers, so if there's not physical access to a venue or physical access to a stage or if it's, you know, if it is a festival or something and it's particularly regional, there might not be any accessible accommodation to the level that I need. So things like that you can't really avoid.  You can kind of work within certain parameters, but yes, if there's no access there's no access.  But you can't put extra challenges in there when I travel; I can't just jump on a plane and bring my guitar and travel with it - a one-man band. I have to travel with my mum or someone to help me, and then obviously use other backing tracks or have a musician with me, so things like that.  But as I say, there's usually always a way to work around it and it's not often that you come to a complete roadblock, it's every now and then and you just kind of have to go with it.

And is Perth an accessible city?  The reason why I ask that is Sydney's not - I think one of the reason's, it's very hilly and you don't often see people in wheelchairs in the city, but in Adelaide for example, you do, because it's a lot more flat and easy to navigate. So is Perth accessible?
Yeah, it is.  We're quite flat and really good public transport systems and things like that.  The venues in particular are really good. I've probably performed in every major venue, hotel, whatever, that we've got here with the choir and I think, with the exception of a handful, they've all been fantastic, and in that respect actually, I think we're probably in a little bit better position than some of the other capital cities, that's for sure.

Good.  Everyone should be like that.

It must be really frustrating to get to regional centres and - as you said - if the accommodation's not that accessible - you would think that that alone would go right, but obviously not.
Well, it just comes down to doing your research beforehand, so there's a lot of phone calls and sometimes you've got to get people to go in and take a photo of the room, so that you've got the peace of mind, because the thing is you don't want to travel all the way there, hours and hours, and then find out, oh hold on, this is not what I was told that it was.  So by the time we're on the road and we get there, we're, you know, a hundred per cent certain that when we get there it is going to be right on the other end.  So it comes down to planning.

And it sounds like you've got it down to a fine art, I've got to say.
 There's no other way.  That’s just how it is.  So, yeah - it's a good practice, so, yeah.

If you do go to Tamworth, will you be taking - hopefully I suppose - you'll be hoping to take the musicians who played on the EP.
Yeah.  I would love to, Tim and Travis are absolutely brilliant and it's as much a credit to them as is it for me the way the finished product ended up.  I couldn't have done it without them, so yeah, I'd love for them to be able to come over as well.

And they're both Perth boys, I think, from - from what I read somewhere, so that would make rehearsal easier. 
Absolutely.  Yeah, one thing in our favour.

Do you have any more songs loitering around in your brain that you want to commit to CD?
Yes.  Now that I've started I'm really keen not to stop and really conscious of the fact that it is, you know, a learning process and hopefully I will get better with every song, so definitely just keeping that boiling along in the background. I don't know when I'll get the opportunity to record them or what I'll do with them, but you know what's in the brain until you pull it out and I'll just see what I get.

Fireproof by Katie O'Donnell is out now.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Interview: Katie O'Donnell (part II)

This is the second part of an interview with talented new artist Katie O'Donnell. The first part is here.

For you to record this EP, was this a sense you wanting to document what you've been doing thus far or you just thought, you know, I want to take my music to more people than just who's in Perth, for example.
I think it was something - it started out something that I wanted to do for myself.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could write songs that other people could relate to and other people would enjoy, and I wanted to be able, as an artist, to kind of stand up there and put my own thoughts out there and my own material out there and then, you know, obviously going through the process and the feedback that I had from people, I kind of felt that having created that , I owed it to myself then to put it out there and let people hear it and kind of let happen whatever is supposed to happen. So it was a bit of a scary process as well, not having done any songwriting before.  To put some of those lyrics and things like that out there, which obviously, you know, is really personal, but it was all part of the process and I'm still learning.

The songs are not just personal; they're quite vulnerable. Even though 'Fireproof'  sounds like it's a really strong, tough song, the lyrics show that you're quite vulnerable and so it is brave. Do you still feel a little bit exposed, now that you're talking about these songs and probably playing them to more people?
 Yeah.  Definitely.  Every time I play it for someone and they listen, you're kind of waiting and watching for the reaction because it is such a personal thing.  But it's really refreshing for me; it's so different from when you're performing covers and I'm really loving that element of it as well.  But you're right, when you start to talk about it, I guess, my naive point of view, I didn't realise that people would actually be so interested in where did the song come from; what's it about, you know, people have kind of been quite interested in the story behind a lot of it and I probably wasn't quite as prepared for that as I should have been, but it's really nice to know that people actually are looking deeper than just the melody and that initial sound.

I guess also for a lot of people, they find something in the songs that means something to them, and that'sone of the great powers of art - whether it's songs or writing books - is that you can reassure people about their own lives.
Yeah.  And I think that's why, like, some of the stuff I wrote - I've written a couple of songs about my Dad on there and he - he, you know, struggled with alcoholism - and that affected not just me, but my sister and my mum and his family, so you kind of feel cautious about putting that out there, not just for yourself but for them, because it's not just my story, it's their story. But at the same time I kind of thought, well, if we've gone through it, how many other people have gone through it? And it can only be a good thing to put that out there and probably more people can relate to it thanwhat you realise.

And by talking about it as well. Do you get the chance to play many gigs?  I know you work full time.
 I do work full time.  I do get the opportunity. I just had a little spot at the WA State Theatre on Friday night through Variety.  So through my work, which is Variety, The Children's Charity, I get to perform at a lot of different corporate and community fundraising events, so I still get to do that and really try and actually build up more of the live gigs, hoping to get over to Tamworth and a few things like that as well, so I'm definitely trying to focus on that at the moment.

In the country music tradition - and you've probably seen this yourself when you go to gigs - there's a lot of storytelling in between songs, like a lot of people say, well, this is the background to the song.  Do you think you'd feel comfortable talking about - particularly the songs that are about your dad that way, or would you rather just let the song speak for itself?
 I think it really just depends on the crowd.  I mean, when we launched it, we did do that and I was surprised at how comfortable I was talking about it; it probably helped that you're amongst family and friends and some of your really loyal supporters.  The thing I found is when you're off stage and you're talking about it, I feel that that's different to being on stage.  Once I'm kind of on stage and talking about it, I kind of slip into a slightly different mode and I find I'm actually okay singing about, you know, like the song about my dad passing away.  You know, to sing that at home in my bedroom or even in the recording process was a real struggle, but on stage it's - somehow it's a lot easier.  I can't explain it, but I'm quite grateful for that.

You've probably reached that point where you've become a real performer, that you understand that the song that you're performing at that time, belongs to the audience that’s there and that they're with you and that they give you a bit of energy or a bit of a lift to get through it, but i it's a different song each time, I guess.
Yes.  Yes.  Very true.

And just back on the point of you working full time - and this is something that a lot of artists when they're starting out in particular, and often throughout their careers manage, this full time work, often songwriting and performing.  It's not easy, you've got to be really devoted to your craft.
Yeah.  It's really easy to not make time for your art as well, because obviously you've got to bring the money in to pay the bills, so it is kind of too easy sometimes to put away - dedicating the time to writing a song or rehearsing and that kind of stuff, but I think you get so much back from it, that's where the real love lies, so you have to just make time and it's about you reap what you sow, so you have to make it happen. 

Do you get much time to sleep or have a social life?
 Absolutely.  Socialising, definitely.  And who needs sleep?

Well, that's right.  You're young!
I have a really great employer in Variety and I'm very fortunate that with the background that, you know, the Variety Youth Choir; I then went on to work for Variety, so for me getting time off to do the shows, even if they’re during the daytime, to leave early or travelling, things like that, it's never a problem for me.  I can just duck out and do what I need, so I'm probably a bit lucky there as well.

And you were a finalist for Young Australian of the Year at one stage?
 Last year.  Last year, yeah.

And was that for your work with Variety or something else?
Yeah, a little bit of everything.  For the Variety and singing in the choir and just general involvement in the community, I guess.  That was a bit of a surprise.  I think a few people got together and put that nomination in and I had no idea until it was all announced.

Part III of this interview will be published very soon.

Fireproof by Katie O'Donnell is out now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Album review: Always Never Enough by Catherine Britt

Catherine Britt is probably younger than you think. It certainly seems like she should be older, as she has released several albums and played at many a Tamworth Country Music Festival. But she's not that old - only twenty-six. So maybe it's a bit early to say that Always Never Enough is her masterpiece, but I'm going to say it anyway.

In a year that has seen some really wonderful country or country-esque releases, this is a standout. And I must be honest and say I didn't expect it. Catherine has been a consistent singer-songwriter over the course of her previous four albums and one EP. Consistent, and consistently improving. She has had the air of 'next big thing' around her for a while and it seemed like she was just waiting for the right album to make it real. If this album doesn't do it for her, I will despair at the state of the world in general.

There is not a single lacklustre song on this album. Not a single song that I want to skip over or not pay close attention to. From the opening fire of the title track, through the wistful 'Charlestown Road', 'Good Few Years' and 'Our Town', and the more traditional country constructions 'Addicted to the Pain', 'She Ain't Going Nowhere' (the only song not written by Britt) and 'Thank God There is a Train', there is a range of styles here and sophistication in delivering them.

'Sally Bones' and 'There's Gotta Be More' are outstanding, as is 'I'm Your Biggest Fan' – written about Britt's brother, it could be saccharine but it is very well observed, inspiring without being schmaltzy.

The other tracks - 'Mind Your Own Business', 'Troubled Man' (sung with Tim Rogers) and 'All I Recall' - round out what is an eclectic collection that is produced throughout with the same amount of care and, dare one say it, love. These songs have been loved - by Catherine and her producer, Bill Chambers, and also, it seems, by the musicians who play on them. This is an album that will just not let you go - you will think about these songs when you're not listening to them, and you will dream about the characters in them. By achieving this, Catherine has paid the biggest possible compliment to the genre that she's grown up in: she's telling stories, and they are great ones.

Always Never Enough by Catherine Britt is released on 10 August 2012, through Universal.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gig review: Karl Broadie

Date: 5 August 2012
Venue: The Roxbury Hotel, Glebe NSW (as part of Songwriters Live)

For the uninitiated, Karl Broadie is a Scottish-Australian singer-songwriter with four albums and a few EPs under his belt and a whole lot of other songs that will no doubt find their way onto albums - and some of them were previewed during his half-hour set at the Roxbury Hotel, as one of five artists appearing as part of the Songwriter Live showcase. 

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that Karl is a song machine - as that suggests some kind of automatism about his songwriting process, and he is nothing if not a thoughtful, heartful writer and performer - he does write a lot, and at a consistently high standard. The new songs played during this set showed his development as a writer and also in performance: his voice has never sounded so good. Two older songs, 'Diamonds in the Dark' and 'Sleepyhead', made an appearance but it was the newer songs that appealed to me more, as it's always interesting to see what he comes up with. And the tunes he revealed only made me impatient for him to release a new album so that they can be listened to over and over again. They were all little stories revealing something funny or precious or wise, and beautifully delivered.

Karl is playing gigs around and about - visit his website for details. I classify him as a 'guaranteed good time' performer as I'm yet to see a bad gig from him, so do get along to see him if you can.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Interview: Katie O'Donnell (part I)

Katie O'Donnell is a young Western Australian performer with a great voice, catchy songs and a memorable head of flame-red hair (as her EP cover shows). And my true confession is that I meant to publish this interview several weeks ago and it became a casualty of me having a rather hectic day job - and misfiling the transcription! So with apologies to Katie for my tardiness, here's the chat we had about her debut release, Fireproof

This is the first part of a multi-part interview.

Katie, you've created an ear worm for me, 'cause I can't get 'Fireproof' out of my head.
Oh really?  Well that's awesome.

The last few days I just keep thinking, what's that song in my head?  Oh, it's Katie's song.
Sorry about that!  That's very good. Great for me.  Not so good for you.

Oh, it's fine for me because it's a great song. It's really, really catchy and I actually think it's really hard to write catchy songs.  There aren't that many of them in the world when you think about it out of all the songs that are written.
 Oh well, thank you very much.  That's lovely. 

How long have you been songwriting?
It's a really new, kind of, endeavour for me.  I don't know how much you know about me, but because I'm in a wheelchair I can't actually play anything, so for  three or  four years I've had lyrics going through my head and kind of developing melodies and stuff, but it really has only been in the last 12 months that I've really said no, look, I want to do this and actually found the right musicians, so I've been able to kind of connect with what I'm hearing in my head.  And actually put together what I'm imagining and what I'm trying to explain to actually produce the kind of sound that I was after, so I've been really fortunate and lucky the way that it's all worked out.

You say you don't play anything, but the voice is an instrument, and a very powerful one, so I would imagine when you were talking to these musicians you were singing them the melody that you were hearing.
Exactly.  So singing them the melody and then trying to explain in my layman’s terms what I was imagining and what I was hearing and what I wanted, the kind of sound and style that I wanted - and they got it exactly.  don't know what that says about their state of mind, but they were able to kind of connect like that, so it was great in the end.

Your voice is really strong in the mix of these songs and if we could call them voice-led songs, because that's how you compose them, obviously the producer understood that as well?
Yeah.  And I think probably as you say too, because they really did start from purely just the melody and so, you know, I think when I was writing them I tried to make that as strong as I could as well, so I think that might stand out more than a lot of some of the instruments as well.

So you've done a lot a of singing I think with a choir, or more than one choir perhaps, and is it kind of scarier on your own, or does it feel like you were always meant to sing on your own?
I've been really fortunate with the choir to have a fair amount of solos and opportunity to represent the choir in a  solo capacity, where I have, kind of, been out on my own, so I really, really enjoy that. But it's definitely very, very different to have that sole focus on you and no one else to kind of back you up, so I am still adjusting to it and every performance that I do I'm getting more comfortable with it. 

And you mentioned you're in a wheelchair - I'm really curious, and I hope you don't mind me asking, but from a physiological point of view, I know that I don't sing as powerfully when I'm sitting down as I do when I'm standing up, so I'm just wondering for you - because your voice is not exactly weak, so I'm just wondering what kind of adjustments you might have had to make to be able to sing with that amount of power?
 Well, I don't really know. I guess for me, because I did used to be able to walk around, but I certainly wasn't performing on stage when I was still walking, so by the time I really started seriously performing I was already in the wheelchair, so I have nothing to compare it to.  So in my mind this is just how everyone sings, but by the same token, you know, my lung capacity is only about 30 per cent, or 35 per cent compared to the average person out there. So, you know, you work with you've got and I guess when you do this every day and you just find little knacks and ways of doing it, and sometimes it's in the phrasing or in a melody and stuff like that. But it's just what it is and you kind of have to work with it.

And I guess also singing voices do come from somewhere else a lot of the time. It's not just the lungs and the larynx and that sort of thing - it's an expression. So I guess for you - well, for anyone singing - that's where a lot of that power comes from. At what age did you start singing?
I first started when I was probably about eight and then I gave it up for a little while and then I started again when I was 12 and then I haven't stopped since. So that was when I first started doing some public performances and deciding, you know, that I really wanted to pursue it, so and that’s more than half my life now. I'm turning 30 next month, so yeah - a long time. 

Part II will be published very soon.

Fireproof by Katie O'Donnell is out now. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Album review: Now by Paul Cowderoy

While I’m not usually a fan of what I’d call the ‘American style’ of contemporary country music – more stylised than the typical singer-songwriter output, with song structures and vocal styles that seem to vary little between songs, albums or artists – every now and again I will listen to it. Sometimes even willingly. Because this style of country music is reliable and comfortable – and entertaining and enjoyable. It’s the comfort food of country music, and there’s no denying that millions of people like their musical food comfy, so there is clearly something of value in it. It’s all a matter of taste, obviously – I like music with a little more edge and bite, and sometimes it seems as though these ‘produced’ albums don’t have it.
            There aren’t many Australian country music performers in this style, but the most obvious example I can point to is Keith Urban. Keith mixes songs from his own pen with those written by others whom he is smart enough to recognise write songs that suit him and which only enhance his repertoire. There are many people who would think that Keith sounds overproduced and a bit same-samey. But there’s no denying he’s consistent and talented and very, very good at what he does. He also has that little extra something that keeps us all coming back for more – it’s something in his voice, in the way he can deliver a song. Being able to interpret a song so that you don’t trample on it – to get out of the song’s way and be its servant rather than its overlord – is a hugely underrated skill and also says a lot about a performer and how much they respect the actual writing of a song.
            Keith Urban was the performer who most came to mind when I listened to Paul Cowderoy’s debut album Now. Cowderoy  a finalist in the 2011 Australian Independent Country Music Awards,  the 2011 Australian Country Music People’s Choice Awards and the Channel C Country Music Awards for Best New Talent – does not have a voice like Keith’s but he does know how to deliver a song: clearly, to the heart of the listener, and he has that certain something in his voice that made me want to listen to the album over and over. The collection of songs on the album – some written by him, some by others – is solid rather than being remarkable but we go back to that comfort food analogy again: I’d rather listen to this album again than other albums that may have that edge to them but which just aren’t as satisfying.
            As this is a debut album, we can presume that Cowderoy still has his training wheels on as a performer and songwriter, and this is a confident start for someone at that stage. It will be very interesting to see what he does next.

Now, Paul Cowderoy (WJO) – available now on CD and iTunes.