Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Have a Buddy Goode Christmas

Your Christmas will not be complete this year - or any year hereafter - without the dulcet tones of country superstar Buddy Goode and his new album, It's a Buddy Goode Christmas, coming through your hi-fi stereo system. With tracks such as 'Cheeses', 'Yellow Snow', 'Joseph the Chippy' 'A New Front Bum', 'She Pulls My Bonbon' and 'The Gingerbread Man', it's an instant classic [warning: those with religious sensitivities may not wish to read further].

With the release of this new LP Buddy is in high demand, but I was able to steal him away from the eggnog for a conversation about his new album, Christmas in general, and his search for love - or, at least, for the next Mrs Goode.

What does Christmas mean to Buddy Goode?
Christmas is about tinsel. It’s about mistletoe. It’s about puddin’. It’s about turkey. It’s about children. And it’s about gettin’ together with people you never see.

Are there people you never see who you’re looking forward to seeing at Christmas – or not?
Well, I’m actually not seeing anyone, so it’s gonna be a great Christmas. So I won’t be seeing anyone. It’s just me. I won’t be going anywhere. I’m just going to sit at home and listen to my Christmas album about a dozen times with a Christmas hat on. That’s my Christmas Day.

How is it possible, though, that one of the most popular men in country music is going to spend Christmas Day alone?
It’s a time to reflect, ya know? And I think the best way to be able to reflect on things, on your life and past loves, past conquests, is to spend that moment on your own. I think Christmas Day’s a special time to do that because everyone’s so caught up doin’ what they’re doin’ and goin’ where they’ve gotta go and bein’ a whole bunch of places, givin’ presents they don’t necessarily want to, to people they don’t want to to. So I think it’s the best day to sit at home, watch King of Kings, have a glass of Maison and just reflect.

Can you restrict yourself to just a glass?
It’s hard to get a case of Passion Pop these days so I’m going to limit myself to the one bottle of Maison.

Have you ever dressed up as Santa?
I did. I did. Once upon a time when I was just sixteen, at my local Baptist Church, the Fourteenth Chapter of the Baptists of Pennsylvania, and I was in the church choir, and what we did every Christmas Eve, we’d gather at the church – the whole community would come together – and we’d form a live nativity scene. One year I lost my Joseph outfit and I had to wear my Santa Claus outfit. It wasn’t quite appropriate but it was better than wearing a Hawaiian shirt. I thought it was the closest thing I could get. It was either go as a Christmas Elf or I could go as Santa, so I went as Santa. And no one seemed to notice.

Did the story of Joseph the Chippy inspire you either to become a chippy or become the father of the Messiah?
My attachment to that song is very dear. I have an affinity with chippies, labourers, and of course Joseph was the original chippy, the most famous carpenter of them all. In the song ‘Joseph the Chippy’, I was watching a documentary on Youtube one night – so it obviously has to be true – but the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to Joseph and they went into it in great detail [in the documentary]. And I watched that before I watched an episode of Air Crash Investigations, so I may have got my wires crossed. Maybe some of the information got a little bit twisted. But I’m pretty sure it’s accurate.

I tend to think all of your songs are factually accurate. It’s a policy I’ve had for a while.
Well it’s as factually accurate as the Bible. And I’ve read the Bible from back to front, because I like knowing how it ends. I can’t handle the excitement so I like to know what’s going to happen before it happens.

If Christmas is all about cheeses, what happens if you could only pick one cheese – which cheese would it be?
Blue vein. A big chunk of blue vein always goes down well at my house.

Would you like to narrow that down – Stilton? Roquefort? Gorgonzola?
All the varieties. And the smellier the better.  Washed down with a bottle of Maison and a packet of Ritz crackers.

And also, one would imagine, accompanied by some gingerbread – because the Gingerbread Man may come around?
The Gingerbread Man, Bill, he very rarely brought gingerbread – it was one of the things he probably felt funny about bringing because of his heritage. He used to bring around lots of different things.

Does he still bring presents to his special ginger children-friends?
It’s been a long time since I’ve spent any time in the neighbourhood. I occasionally get a postcard from Aunt Siobhan. And evidently Bill’s still gettin’ around there. Every week – every Monday morning – he’s still delivering his bread and his French stick – his baguette. He’s still giving a few ladies in the neighbourhood the odd baguette. I think these days he’s part-timin’ too as the Neighbourhood Watch guy. He’s like a safe haven for kids after school. Especially the ones with ginger hair.

As you probably don’t want a new front bum for Christmas yourself, what’s on your wish list for Santa?
I’m after companionship this year. I want to spend twelve months looking for the next Mrs Goode. So I’m combing the country looking for a partner in life, someone who’s prepared to endure the touring schedule and recording schedule of an international superstar. But also somebody who wants to share all the good things in life – in summertime the beach, the sand, the beautiful holidays, the candlelit dinners, and in winter the beach, the sand, the beautiful candlelit dinners and the snow.

I would think with your international touring schedule, it would be the eternal summer – when it’s winter in Australia you could be touring where it’s summer. So the future Mrs Goode could indeed be enjoying beachtime, summetime, even in wintertime.
Exactly. She’s gotta be flexible, like Nadia Comaneci, ya know. She’s gotta be flexible and adapt to anything that Buddy Goode’s up to. Of course she’s gotta be independent too. She’s gotta know what she wants in life – as long as I’m on top of that list.

This is your opportunity to put out a detailed personal ad for the future Mrs Goode, so are there are any other attributes you’d like her to have?
I like most of it to be real, you know what I mean. Not fussy which parts aren’t, but at least 90 per cent of what God gave her, and the other 10 per cent I’m flexible. But I need someone with a good, strong mind, someone who’d love to play Sudoku or someone who’s intelligent enough to answer at least one question in Glenn A Baker’s Rock Academy trivia game.

I think it’s likely, as you tour around, that you’ll find someone with those attributes. So 2014 is looking good for Buddy Goode.
I’m hoping. And especially as I tour the regional areas – that’s where I’m hoping to find the right Mrs Goode. Because I love country girls. Country girls seem to be able to offer a lot more than city girls. They’re not as fussy. They offer far more because they accept a whole lot less.

At what age did you get too big for Santa’s knee?
Never. Never too big for Santa’s knee. I wrote a song about it on my album but  the reason I did that is that it’s a protest song, like ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. It’s my Christmas protest song. No matter what age you are, you should be allowed to go to Grace Bros or David Jones or your local Westfield and be able to go up and sit on Santa’s knee no matter how big you are. We’re all kids at heart, and that never dies.

So will you be doing that this year?
I’ve done it at least a dozen times already. Per day. They see me comin’ and they’re reachin’ for that ‘Back in 10 Minutes’ sign, I tell ya.

And while you’re waiting for Santa to return, perhaps you’re eating some yellow snow … But it seems to me that you have not heard Frank Zappa’s song about not eating the yellow snow.
I have heard it. But when you write these songs about your own experiences in life, it’s amazing the people you don’t know personally who have had the same experiences. So who would have thought that me, standing out the back of my little hut up in the mountains, with all my friends, building a snowman made out of snow filled with urine, that Frank Zappa had the same experience when he was a kid.

Now, it’s an ambitious thing to release a Christmas album when so many have before, like Michael Bolton. But do you feel yours could sit alongside your more classic Christmas releases, like Johnny Mathis and Bing Crosby and Jim Nabors?
Certainly. I put mine right in there just above Johnny Mathis and just right below Jim Nabors, which is  a little bit of a worry. The classics, as we all know, are Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ and his other Christmas records. But the '80s was a good time for the Christmas album too – the Bros Christmas album; the Starship Christmas album. There’s always plenty. But it’s always funny how many people do these Christmas albums and they never get any recognition for them. None of the Christmas albums ever get nominated for Grammys or Golden Guitars, but I’m plannin’ to change that next year. I’m hopin’ that this Christmas album will certainly win me my second ARIA and my first Golden Guitar. And maybe a Grammy.

Well, your Christmas album would one of the few ever to feature original songs.
That’s a good point. There’s been a lot of controversy lately over Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey’s album Country Song Book. It’s a fabulous record. All those great songs that we’ve heard a million times. But I love it. When I was writing songs for my Christmas album I was kind of planning to do a few of the old classics, you know. But I just couldn’t do it. I thought I’d get in too much trouble. Once something’s been done so perfectly in the past, it’s not for Buddy Goode to go in there and do it better.

It's a Buddy Goode Christmas is out now from ABC Music. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Interview: Corrina Steel

Corrina Steel has enough country music in her albums to qualify for inclusion on this website - and I'm so glad she does, as she was a delight to interview. Corrina has just released the wonderful Borrowed Tunes, an eclectic collection of cover songs, with her long-time collaborator Mike Steel, and I spoke to her recently about choosing and recording the songs, and all sorts of other things. 

I saw something in your bio about you being in France and there being wine, cheese and clothes and singing Rod Stewart songs at parties and that was the germ of the idea for this album.  Is that the case?
Yes.  That's right.  That's very true.  We were playing some shows over there and it's pretty easy to get carried out away and yeah, we'd have our little after-parties in our apartment and Mike and I would just end up belting out these Rod Stewart songs and everybody did shut up and listen so we thought oh, maybe we're onto something here.  Let's do a covers album.

Do you have a particular affection for Rod Stewart?
Seventies Rod, most definitely. [Laughter]

So you think the multiple-divorcee Rod is not really your style?  It's early ’70s Rod.
No, no.  Definitely ’70s Rod, full mullet ’70s Rod. [Laughter]

I read that you had or have some original songs already recorded but you released Borrowed Tunes before releasing the new original material. Why did you make that decision?
I just wanted to put something out quickly really and start playing live again.  And, I guess, mainly because I love the recording process.  I find that the most fun and challenging part.  And we've made two albums now in my lounge room so it's very easy and the guys have fun doing it this way.  This one we made over three weekends, just sitting around the lounge room and eating lots of yummy food.  To me the most fun you can have on the weekend is making an album.

You're actually the first person, I think, I've ever spoken to who says they love the recording process. 

Or maybe I just haven't asked but no-one has ever really just come out with it like that before saying - usually they say they prefer performing above anything.  But I guess it is a form of performance, recording.
Yes.  Well, it is but I'm the other way around.  I get a bit nervous performing.  I'm not in my natural zone doing that.  To me, it's more about sitting around the microphone and it's very intimate and - I don't know - just trying to get everything sounding really authentic and natural.  It's quite a challenge but I've made five albums now, so I think I'm getting my head around how to make it the most fun for everyone.

I'd imagine with your albums that they're recorded live, that you're not recording vocal tracks separately to the instrumental tracks?
Yeah, that's right.  On this one especially, Mike and I found out we really need to record his guitar part and my vocal live because we bounce off each other a lot, so the drummer had to sit down and listen to it.  They think the timing is probably way out but Mike was just really wrapping his guitar around my vocals and what I was doing.  So it's technically certainly not perfect but, I think, it sounds quite real [laughs].

Your voice is also very high in the mix, which is appropriate because that should be the focus of your albums, you singing the songs.  But you can find in some albums that the instruments threaten to swamp the vocals.  I guess that's the art of production and of recording properly. 
Yes.  And I guess with this album, because a lot of it is just nylon string and vocals, so that just wasn't a problem at all.  But yeah, in past recordings, I've had my vocals pulled back because it's different when you're singing your own songs.  You're not always as confident.  Whereas belting out other people's hits - just as a singer, it's a whole different concept for me.  And you just do become a lot more confident. 

I saw Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey a while ago now and they did their very first Country Song Book tour, which was them taking all sorts of old country songs - most of them old - and playing them.  And I've seen both of them play live separately.  I have never seen them have so much fun or be so relaxed as when they were playing other people's songs.  And I thought there must be like giving yourself permission to just be a musician, I guess, as opposed to thinking, Do people like this song? Is this song working?  So there seems to be a particular joy at it.
Yes.  It's very, very true.  You're just not as self-conscious because you're not revealing your own heart on your sleeve.  It's doing something that's already tried and tested [laughs], I guess. That's interesting you say that about them.

It was really interesting for me because I thought they're such experienced performers, the two of them, but they really just looked like there was a weight off their shoulders.  They looked younger, their shoulders were more relaxed, literally, and they keep doing it.  They've released the album and they've toured this album again already.  And they're doing it again next year so they must enjoy it. 
And it was probably also all of the songs they grew up listening to, like me with this.  They're songs that you had in your life forever so it's just fun.

Given that the songs that you've recorded are songs you've, as you said, had in your life,  when you're singing them, do you feel a like you're channelling the original singer – so there's an element of little kid playing dress-ups, in a way?  That's, probably, not the right way to put it but you know what I mean.
No [laughs], I do.  Not so much, because we wanted to make it our own as well.  Some songs, a few we did try that we threw away because I felt like I was just being an impersonator.  And we didn't really want to be playing dress-ups so - but I know what you mean, but we actually threw those ones away that we felt didn't have our own personal stamp on them.

And just on that theme, I would actually think it's quite hard as a singer to not do that.  It seems like it's no surprise that you ended up recording some that did sound a bit like the originals because that would be what's in your brain, I would think, when you're approaching the song.  So to make it your own, you've got to put it through some, kind of, internal process.
Yes.  I mean there's a couple on the album which, probably … Linda Ronstadt is, possibly, my all-time favourite singer and so to put one of her songs on there was a bit of a challenge to not to sound like a cover band, you know?  So that's why we approached it with just having the nylon string and the mandolin, because her production was very big.  And also the Tammy Wynette one.  But, yes, it did go through my mind of not wanting to sound like a cover band but also keeping it similar but somehow making it a bit new.  It's just a very fine line actually [laughs].

It’s something that a very new performer probably can’t do successfully.  There are new performers who do covers, especially if they're playing live, because that's a way to get a foot in the industry in performance, but I think it does take an artist at a certain level of experience who is actually, to a degree, confident in themselves  to then sing other people's songs and make them their own.  I don't think that someone who's not experienced and who doesn't know who they are can pull that off, actually.
I don't think doing a covers album straight off the bat would have worked for me fifteen, twenty years ago, because you'd just probably be trying to sound like whoever that singer is you love.  But doing it further down the track is very interesting and also, as I was saying, it's a lot of fun and I've got to now get back focused to writing songs.  But it is very tempting to want to go and do it again. Three weekends with the boys and you've got another album.  It is fun.

Even though this album sprang out of a Rod Stewart thing, it's not a Rod Stewart album, so how did you even start selecting songs for this?
Gosh, well, I've got a pretty huge vinyl collection so I thin, I started there, just pulling out albums that I love - our only rule was to not have any rules.  So that leaves you with a pretty wide spectrum.  And not knowing at all if the songs were going to fit together was another thing which we didn't even really keep in mind.  We just focused on being inside the song there and then and hoped and prayed that, at the end, they'd all fit together. We eliminated a couple and then they did. [Laughter]

So you eliminated a couple after you recorded them?

So there's some bonus tracks floating around out there somewhere.
Yeah, there are [laughs].  There are but Mike, my guitar player, he is definitely more from the rock end of town so the Primal Scream song was his idea.  The Iggy Pop song, the Stooges song, was his idea.  And he was also going through a Tammy Wynette phase at the time so he brought a lot of those things to the table.

Sorry, it was the juxtaposition of Iggy Pop and Tammy Wynette that I was laughing at.
Yes, you got that. [Laughter]

Maybe it's a stage in a man's life where you graduate from Iggy Pop to Tammy Wynette, I don't know.
Yeah, that's right.  Well, she was married to George Jones.

Well, true.  And, actually, on the subject of Mike – he's not just your collaborator for this album, he's your guitarist, as you said, and collaborator for your original material.  So I was wondering about how that collaboration first formed and whether it works differently when you're working on your originals as opposed to how it worked when you did this album?
No.  Mike and I just - we've got to the point where we can just read each other really well and we're just musically very much on the same page.  We never disagree about anything when it comes to songs at all.  And so no, it's very natural and very simple for us.  So very lucky, very blessed to have found him.

It's an unusual creative synergy to have with someone else.  Even if you have friends that you're musically in agreeance with, it's quite a different thing to have a creative relationship with someone along those lines.
Yes, it is but, I think, you know that old saying about music? There's two types – good and bad.

I thought you were about to say ‘;country and western’ there, but no.
No.  Good and bad, and Mike and I have our own very distinct good and bad.  There's not much he likes that I don't and vice versa.  And that's right across the board of music.  I mean, he'll put me onto some obscure hip hop scene and I'll put him onto some obscure old blues thing.  And we always just tend to agree on what we think is cool or not.

Yes that's a very lucky find in a person.  It sounds to me like since childhood, you've just been immersed in music.
I guess like a lot of people, growing up in the ’70s.  It was just always on in the house and, I don't know, I guess we just took it for granted.  And I had two older brothers, so my dad was blaring country music and my older brothers were playing rock ’n’ roll and punk.  And somehow I landed up being quite young and finding Neil Young and when all my friends were listening to Boy George, I was listening to Neil Young.  I'm not sure how that happened.

It probably made you a very interesting person to have around high school.
Maybe. [Laughter]

So you carried that through, obviously, when you went into your own musical career, it was not pop.  It was of a country theme.
Yes.  My first album was pretty country, I guess.  I think when I'd made that that whole alt-country thing was just becoming big.  But I wasn't really paying attention to that.  I've never really paid attention to what's going on. [Laughter]

You could be too heavily influenced as an artist, I guess, if you're paying attention to what other people are doing.  If your interest is in authentically pursuing music, really, whatever it is, it's good to not be too aware of what others might tell you to do or what others think you should do or what other people are doing.
Definitely.  Well, for me it is.  That's why, when we made this album, I was sitting in a cafĂ© in Indonesia and I heard a version of ‘I Want To Be Your Dog’ come on.  I was saying, ‘Oh my God’, and it was a girl doing it with an acoustic guitar.  And I thought, This is exactly why I didn't Google anybody doing any of these songs besides the original I knew, because I just did not want to hear what anyone else was doing it - how anyone else was doing it.  Just to try and keep it original and fresh.  But back to what everyone else is doing: I think maybe it works for some artists but for me, definitely not.  I maybe need to listen to more music than I do.

You’re playing as part of the Tamworth Country Music Festival, in Nundle, which is a beautiful town and still part of the festival.  So you can catch up with what people are doing there.
Yes, exactly. 

I know there are a few people playing at Nundle this year.  I think they've made a real effort to put more people on in Nundle, which is great.
,It is, yeah, because Tamworth can be a little bit overwhelming, can't it?

I haven't been for a few years but it's so huge and it's so hot.  I haven't had that much to do with Tamworth but I'm really looking forward to Nundle.

I hope you'll enjoy it.  I also wanted to ask you – because you release your albums on your own label, you obviously like that or you'd seek to do something else.  But is it a lot of extra work putting things out on your own label, having to run that side of your life?
Yes, definitely.  That's why once the recording process is actually finished, the bit I love, you have to allow yourself a week or two just to sink a little bit before you take on the next challenge, which is that side of it.  Which I find to be a thousand times more hard work.  But I've got a distribution company - I go through MGM - so that's a great help.  But no, definitely, I think most artists find that side of it a bit daunting, but you have to do it.

It seems that there are a lot of musicians doing it now more than ever and making a go of it, which I find really interesting.  And they're mainly within country music but they're working musicians.  They're playing gigs and they're producing their own records and they're having them distributed and managing everything.  And while I think that the creative side of your life can, sometimes, be threatened by having to do all that other left-brain management business work, if you can pull it off, it's probably, more satisfying in the end than handing a lot of it over to other people.
Exactly.  I couldn't handle the idea of having people sitting in an office, pushing you to make their percentage to pay their mortgage.  That's certainly doesn't sounds like much fun [laughs].  But to allocate time frames, that's the only way I found I can do it.  You have the creative process or you're making something and then have the time to do the business side of it.  And then Mike and I only just started rehearsing again last week for our run of gigs.  Now, all that stuff is in the past and we're back into the creative part of it.  I can't juggle both bits, I'm afraid [laughs].  Some people can, I can't. So again, back to the exciting bit again now, yeah.

As a songwriter, as a recording artist and as a performer, even though to people on the outside that just seems like it falls under the label ‘musician’, they are quite distinct skill sets so it's no surprise to me to hear you say you have those happening at separate times.  If you tried to do them all at once, there's a danger that they can affect each other in terms of how well you can do each of them.
Yeah, absolutely.  Definitely.  And when I'm doing all that, the more business side of things, I'm just not interested in playing and trying to force it because, to me, the music side of it has to be very natural and feel authentic and passionate.  And you've been swamped with emails and press releases and this, that and the other, I don't feel that I can do that job - the proper job properly.

Well, I'm going to let you get back to your proper job because I've had you talking for over 20 minutes.

[Laughter] Thank you, Sophie.  It was lovely to talk to you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Interview: Catherine Britt

Catherine Britt is one of the brightest sparks of Australian country music - an accomplished songwriter and performer, with Golden Guitars, multiple albums and tours behind her, and she's still only 28 years old. That may seem a young age to have a retrospective album released, but that's what The Hillbilly Pickin' Ramblin' Girl So Far is. It's a great introduction to Catherine's work for those who are not yet familiar, and it's a very fine collection of songs - not just a collection of singles - for those fans who want their favourites all in one place. I recently spoke to Catherine about the release of this new album, and about what's ahead.

You're still so young that a retrospective may seem premature but looking at your output, it's not.  So I was wondering how you've managed to be so productive in such a short space of time, really.
Well, yeah, I guess it is and it isn't.  Fourteen years, five albums in 14 years would seem a little lazy to some people. [Laughter] I don't know.  I've just tried to consistently release albums every two or so years, and take my time in doing it so that I release albums I'm proud of.  I guess I didn't realise I was at this point until the label suggested this ‘Best of’ and I had to look back and go, ‘Oh my God, yeah, I have been doing this for a while, eh?’  It's been a long time, so it feels really good to be able to this.

It's a fantastic collection of songs but, then again, you did have a lot of great material to choose from.  Was it a pleasure to choose these songs or did you find it difficult to pick which ones would go on it?
A bit of both, to be honest. There's only so much you can fit on a CD and there's only so much video you can fit on a DVD, so we had to be a little bit selective, which was quite hard at times.  But I think that, at the end of the day, we got it down to the best possible reflection of my career.  So I feel pretty good about what we've put on there.

The first songs are from your very first EP, which was released when you were 14, and you sound very assured on those songs – and you should assured for someone who is 34 or 44, let alone someone who was 14.  But do you look back at yourself then and think that you weren't that assured or confident or do you still look back and think, yeah, I knew what I was doing?
[Laughs] Funnily enough, I felt like I did.  I felt like I was really confident on who I was as an artist and I never denied myself that.  I never held back from that.  I always knew exactly what I was going to be and exactly the artist I wanted to be and I never got confused or strayed away from it, especially early on.  I was very set in what I was going to do and no one was going to change that.  It was nice to have that at such a young age.  I felt pretty lucky, looking around at my friends who didn't even know what they wanted to be when they grew up.  And I'm, like, ‘Well, I'm going to be this and this is the sort of music I want to make’ [laughs].  I knew, so it was weird.

Do you remember how you started to formulate those ideas when you were young?  Because that's quite a degree of clarity, I think, at an age when your brain is still literally a brain storm, they say teenagers have.  It’s a very singular thing to focus on at that age.
It is, which makes me wonder if I - I don't know - I may have a little bit autistic ways in me, I think.  In the fact that I focus on something and then that's it.  It's definitely a slight sign there. But I just - I knew and I focused on it and it became a bit of an obsession and that all, I guess, stems from the artists that I loved. 

In the song ‘I'm Your Biggest Fan’, you write about your brother getting married and becoming a father very young and having a very focused life, really, setting himself up - him and his wife through education and homes and more kids.  So I'm wondering, actually, whether it's a family trait to be very organised and focused.
[Laughs] Oh boy, I mean, we have a pretty special parents.  They're super smart and very - I don't know - they're very much like that.  I guess they ingrained it in us to be organised and to be proud of who we are and to follow that path 100 per cent and never hold back.  They supported us no matter what we did, even if they may have felt like it wasn't the right idea.  I mean, I'm sure my parents didn't really want me to be a country singer [laughs].  But they supported it anyway, so that's was nice.

Well, and it's paid off, it sounds like for you and your brother and, possibly, your other brothers as well. 
Yeah, absolutely.

But listening to these songs, there are a lot of songs on the album so, I think, for fans, it's definitely - it's a lot of quality output on one album. The songwriting is really consistent in that it's consistently very good.  So it's not like we could look at your early songs and say, oh well, Catherine didn't know what she was doing and now she really does.  So I was wondering if you look back on all of these songs and all of the albums and think that you have developed a lot as a songwriter at all or whether it's just you've had that consistency of vision and storytelling throughout?
Well, first off, thank you. Look, I think I've, hopefully, gotten better and, hopefully, grown as a songwriter.  I still think my best songs are to come.  I think every album I get slightly better at it. I'm still proud of my early songs and stuff.  But I sing some of them at my gigs and it is from a 14 year old’s point of view or a 15 year old’s point of view, some of the songs.  And it's not really something I can totally relate to at 28 but I can because it was me.  So I’m confused but, yeah, I knew what I was talking about back then, I'm sure [laughs].

Well, I think it sounds like it.  And also as a singer because on that first EP, you had more of a, shall we say, hillbilly twang to the way you sang but it disappeared pretty quickly.  So I was wondering whether that was something you were into at the time or whether there's still a lurking hillbilly twang somewhere.
I reckon it comes out pretty often.  But I don't know, I think I sang a little differently when I was younger, definitely.  I was still learning to sing.  God, I never really did any lessons or anything like that, which I should have done. I had no idea what I was doing and I just did it anyway [laughs].  So it's a bit of a worry but I think I was still just learning.  And every album as I went on, I learnt a little bit better how to sing in the studios and I got better because I was performing a lot.  And my voice just developed and kept changing and growing so, hopefully, that will continue to happen.

And I forgot to ask, when you were talking about the song selection, what the criteria were.  Was it you looking at songs thinking, I'm going to put on the singles or the ones that people respond to when I'm performing live, mainly, or is it the ones that in my heart, I really want to put on there?
The first disc was all about singles and fan favourites, so I based my show in Tamworth this year, I put out a thing on Facebook and asked my fans that were coming to the gig what their favourite songs were.  I did a voting system and it's funny, songs like ‘Drive-in Movie’, which is an album track I never released as a single, came up as the most-voted song.  So I put that on there as well as ‘In The Pines’, which is one of the first songs I ever sang as a kid starting out at gigs.  Then it became a bit of a signature track for me and, of course, the pilot track of my first EP for that reason.  So I left off a couple of songs that were soft releases.  Single number five of albums that just would tide me over but never really did anything huge and replaced them with some fan favourites.  So it was a hard decision but, I think, it was the right one.

And there's enough variety on there for people who might already have all of the albums to want to have that particular arrangement of songs. I guess that's part of the challenge for you as an artist, just thinking, if people already have all of my albums, how do I put these songs together so that it's something - there's something a bit new about it?
Yeah, exactly.  And I guess that's also why we did the new single as well, so that there was a new track element to it as well.  Not just all old stuff.  And, of course, the B side on the CD has quite a bit on there that people wouldn't have played before either.  So there's a fair bit of new stuff on there as well that will make it a little bit more of a special thing for people who already have my records.

About the new song - there was a track you had on Always Never Enough about people in the music industry talking about other people behind their backs or whatnot.  And it sounds like ‘Who Cares’ is a bit of a companion piece to that?
Yeah, definitely.  I think you're talking about ‘Mind Your Own Business’?

Yes, that's it.
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.  I think ‘Who Cares’ was a song I've been wanting to write recently for the reasons of the song, really.  I've struggled a lot with people talking and saying things.  I don't know what it is about me that [laughs] makes people want to - I don't know - talk when I'm in a room.  But it's been something I've always had to deal with and I felt like this song was something I really wanted to say because it's not important.  Those things are so insignificant in the grand scheme of things and if you know you're a really good person and you're just doing the best you can do.  There's human error with everybody, then you can sleep well at night knowing that so, I guess, I really wanted to express that in a different way this time with ‘Who Cares’ and make it a bit more like I can't let this affect me.  You've got to just get on with life and be happy with who you are and be settled in that, so that's a little bit of a progression from ‘Mind Your Own Business’.

And in a short space of time, I've got to say because ‘Mind Your Own Business’ was only released a year and a bit ago so I think - - -
A bit ago, yeah [laughs].

But also just on that point of why people react the way they do.  I sometimes think if you do have a clear vision about your life and if you've pursued it, that actually stands almost as a living example to people who like to believe that other people should do things for them.  So people who would say ‘things keep happening to me and I don't know why, it's God's fault, it's the universe's fault, it's everyone else fault but mine’.  If there's someone like you who actually says, ‘I want to do this and I am doing it’, and then you've continued to do it, it shows up that other type of person that they have no excuse.  And that could be very annoying to them.
[Laughs] Okay, well, that's - thank you.  That makes me feel a bit better, I guess, understanding how they think.

So … even though this interview is about the CD, you must have some new material in the works, I would imagine, because it seems like you always have new material.
Yeah, I do.  I'm working on another album now so I'm looking towards, maybe, releasing something mid next year.  So this is perfect actually, it's going to tide me over nicely.

And you're playing 23 January at the pub in Tamworth and will that be a band show or is that a solo show?
Full band and it'll be the Hillbilly Pickin’ Ramblin’ Girl So Far tour show so it'll be, basically, our focus on this record and all the hits or whatever you want to call them, all the singles.  It should be really good and a little different to what we've been doing, obviously, the last five or six years at The Pub with the Hillbilly sessions.  I just wanted to bring it back to basics and just make it all about the career so far.  So I'm looking forward to that actually.  It should be really cool.  I've got a great band together so I'm pumped.

And will you do some more shows off the back of that or this is the main one with the band and then you might do some solo shows?
This is it.  I just do that one big show in Tamworth and then I, usually, go around and get up at Bill Chambers’s jam and things like that.  But they're all really small appearances and I do lots of interviews and things where I might play a song.  But I usually focus on just the one performance.  Other than my band, The Hillbilly Killers, have a show as well on the Tuesday night but that's totally different [laughs].  So, yeah, that's all I'll be doing in Tamworth.

That actually was going to be my last question - what's happening with the Hillbilly Killers - but I think you've just answered it.
Yeah, yeah.  Well, that's the next step.  We’ve just been over in America.  We played Americana Festival for all the Americans, which was pretty special, and now we're doing another show in Tamworth.  So it's going to be our second consecutive year and then we'll working towards an album release, by the sounds of it.  So it's all still moving forward and still happening slowly, because we've all got our own lives and busy schedules, especially Tim Rogers.  So it makes it a bit hard to make things move fast [laughs].

Very true.  Actually, I'll ask you one final question - and this is, probably, a cruel question - if you had to pick one song on this album from your heart that you think, This is the song I just love more than the others, which one would it be?  I said it was cruel.
Yeah [laughs].  I think the most significant - which I think is different - the most significant song for me would, probably, have to be ‘Sweet Emmylou’.  As far as the accolades that I received for it and the, I guess, attention it got, you'd never imagine that a single song would do so much and I'm so glad it's the song that I love and still, to this day, love to sing and I'm really proud of.  So I was lucky in that way, that it's a good song.  That's one that I do at every gig so, yeah, I really love that song.
The Hillbilly Pickin' Ramblin' Girl So Far is out now.
Catherine Britt is appearing at the Tamworth Country Music Festival on the evening of 23 January 2014 at The Pub. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Interview: Kristy Cox

Kristy Cox's country music path started off in country pop but she is now firmly a bluegrass artist, as the following interview shows. Kristy's switch to bluegrass has taken her to Nashville, where she is now based - but she's coming home for one show at the 2014 Tamworth Country Music Festival on Wednesday 22 January at 8 p.m., at The Pub. Kristy was a real pleasure to interview - as you shall see.

I’ve been watching the TV series, Nashville, so now I keep thinking of it as this very racy town – I don’t know if you’ve seen that show, but it’s certainly gives a different perspective on the town.
It’s actually not that far from reality, like, once you move here and live here [laughter]. It’s not that far from reality and that’s scary [laughter].  They’ve done a really good job of it.

It seems like it’s a real industry town.
Definitely, definitely.  Everybody here is a singer, a writer, publicist, a journalist, yeah, everybody here is a somebody [laughter]. It’s the town of runaways, they call it, because there’s not many locals.  Not many people that are born in Nashville live in Nashville.

When you arrived there, how do you start to find your way in, considering it is a town where people come in not knowing other people?
I’m still trying to work that out myself [laughter]. It’s kind of scary, because you come from being in Australia  – you know I spent 17 years performing in Australia since I was 11 years old, and meet people as a kid and people that you knew through the people, and by the time you’ve got to doing what I was doing with my career in Australia, you kind of have a really good base of people around you and it’s a really good community in the bountry scene back home. But then I get here and it’s like I’m 11 years old again, I’m starting all over again, so it’s really interesting, I’m just really lucky that I’ve got a great producer, Jerry Sally – you just meet a lot of people, and I’ve got the record deal and the publishing deal, which are really kind of helping me set things up. I’ve got a bit more support around me than what a lot of people have when they move here, so I guess I’m lucky in that way.

And people make their own luck, because you don’t get those sorts of deals unless you’ve got the talent for them, and not just talent, I think, but professionalism.  A lot of people on the outside wouldn’t realise that talent only takes you so far.  If you’re going to another country and you’re getting a record deal, and you’re getting publishing deals because other people want to work with you. 
Yeah.  I come from a strong business background in Australia, I have a business degree, Bachelor of Business, and in my last job I ran 47 coffee houses … so I guess, from a business point of view, I know that it is just a business; it’s a business that works in the music industry. A lot of artists, they think that if you’ve got the talent, then that’s all that matters. But I’m working full time on music here and I’m singing an hour a day, I’m not singing all day every day, I’m emailing and making phone calls, and doing all that fun, exciting stuff [laughter]. I wish I was just singing.  One day, I might be able to just do that; that would be great.

Well except then your voice might wear out.
[Laughter] This is true.  See, there’s a hidden benefit to everything.

So when you’ve got a publishing deal like this, some people might think that just means that they’re taking care of the rights to your songs, but from my understanding, particularly in Nashville, a publishing deal means you’re writing a lot for other people?
Definitely. I wrote 46 songs over the summer, so 12 weeks that I was here for the summer, before I went home to Gympie, I wrote 46 songs. Bluegrass, basically, is what I do, but most of the time that I’m writing, I’m writing country pop songs that are definitely not for me.  Obviously some writing sessions that I lock in, especially coming up to recording a new album, I made sure that I had writing sessions in there with people that I wanted to write with for my albums.  But publishing deals here, you are required to write a certain number of full songs a year – so, say, if your total is 14, that means you need to write 14 full songs; so if you co-write with two people, that’s only counted as half a song, so that means you have to write 28 songs if they’re all co-writes, so if there’s three ways, obviously that’s only a third of a song.  So Nashville is a definite song factory, and if there was no such thing as a guitar, and no such thing as songwriting, there’d be still enough songs in this town to last 100 years, I reckon [laughter].

This is at odds, of course, with the idea of songwriters sitting around waiting for the muse to strike.  It sounds a bit like you get up in the morning and you go to work as a songwriter.
Yeah, pretty much.  And the great thing is, is the more you do it, the more – like, I never consider myself as a writer and when the publishing company came to me and said they wanted to sign me as a writer because they heard my song ‘Miles and Timezones’, I was, like, ‘Are you sure? Because I don’t really consider myself a songwriter.’ Then the more you get into it, just the smallest thing can trigger you, and you write it down, and it really is [that] you sit down and you say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea, I’ve got this concept, if you’re keen on writing that’, and some days you’re writing songs that you would have absolutely nothing to do with, and they’re the fun ones, they’re the most challenging ones.  It’s an interesting – that’s something different from making coffee for me [laughter].

Or running coffee shops, as you did, but it’s still an enterprise, I guess, and I suppose, just to go back to what we were talking about with business. It is about relationships between people in a business context.  In order for you to make your songs work for other artists, you have to understand the whole chain of relationships through to that artist.  If you’re writing songs with someone else, you’ve got to understand how that relationship works with them. 
Pretty much.  So sometimes you’ll sit down and you’ll have an artist in mind who you want to write for, other times you sit down and you write a song and you go, that would be really good for this artist – and then you pitch, or you demo it and it gets pitched out with the 15,000 other songs the artist is listening to and maybe, in 15 years’ time, I might get a cut, that will be great [laughter].

Well, since you’ve mentioned you write for yourself, you write bluegrass-tinged-Country. Is bluegrass your first love?
Old-time country was my first love. I grew up listening to the likes of Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn – pretty much anything before 1980 was the kind of country that I grew up listening to, and that’s still the kind of music that I really love, and bluegrass is, these days, really heavily influenced from the skills and the melodies of that kind of country, so bluegrass has really progressed into what I do.  Contemporary bluegrass has progressed from traditional bluegrass, where it’s just great tunes and really simple melodies and great harmonies; it’s kind of progressed into almost acoustic country.  The more contemporary stuff is really country influenced.  I tried the country pop scene, and as much as I love to listen to it, it just really didn’t sit at home with me; I just was never truly happy performing country pop. And I got to know the Davidson Brothers quite well, and they introduced me to this thing called bluegrass. I’d heard a few bluegrass acts – Alison Krauss and that – but I’d never really sat and listened to it, and it’s definitely 90 per cent of the time the music playing in my car is bluegrass; I’m pretty heavily into it these days, I’m completely obsessed with it, it’s good [laughter].

[Laughter] It sounds like that’s almost an emotional response to bluegrass, as opposed to you as a musician picking it apart and thinking, I can see how this works for me. 
Yeah, bluegrass musicians, I would say, would have to be some of the most talented musicians on the planet.  I just don’t understand how they play that fast and the songs are just really well structured musically, and it’s a little bit above my head; I was never good at the serious side of music, but the lyrics and the harmonies and the vocal lines really drew me in, and I guess, coming from a traditional country background, I was like, this is the kind of music that I need to be doing now; I don’t want to be doing country pop where the melodies are quite catchy but don’t challenge me as a singer.  So I moved away from what the grind is, I suppose, what everybody else is doing; I kind of just naturally moved away from it because of where I come from and what I grew up listening to, basically.

I think though from a career point of view, it could have been a difficult decision, because bluegrass isn’t the most well-known sub-genre of country, and certainly, both here and in the United States, country pop or country rock predominate. So you could have been putting yourself into a strand that wasn’t going to get as much airplay or get as much fan attention – but that doesn’t seem to have been the case, so it was obviously the right decision?
Yeah. I was really nervous. My first bluegrass album, Breaking New Ground, it was … my title to my albums are always kind of summing up where I’m at in life, and Breaking New Ground, the first single from that, ‘That’s Where the Faith Comes In’, that song, the whole reason I believed in that first was because I was really scared, I was [thinking], Is this going to work?  Is the industry going to go, ‘What is she doing?  What is she doing?’ [laughter] And not play me. Because this could go one of two ways: either I’ve completely destroyed my career, or I’m carving out a niche that nobody else is hitting in Australia, and I guess I’ve just been lucky. When you’re true to yourself and you’re 100 per cent happy with doing something yourself, and you’re positive about it, then I guess the power of positive energy, I guess, the other people kind of jump on board, and I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made; I’m making music that I want to make and that I love doing. With this album, I’m a little bit nervous, it’s happening all over again. This album is a lot more bluegrass than the last two, so it will be interesting to see how the Australian market takes it, but it should be good [laughter].

There are a couple of ways I could go from that, but since you mentioned that your songs reflect where you are in life, that’s a nice lead-in for me to ask you about your new single, ‘One Heartbreak Away’. So I was wondering if you could just talk a bit about the inspiration behind that song, or not inspiration, if that’s what it is, and also a bit about recording the album?
I guess it’s a song about love that could go wrong, or it could go right, and it just really depends on whether the guy wants to get his stuff together, basically [laughter]. It seems to be a common theme with my girlfriends these days, that they’re in relationships and they’re always ready to take that extra step a lot sooner than the other half, and sometimes it happens the other way around – the guys are the ones that want to take the step sooner. And I guess it’s just that time where I’m ready for you to put me first and if you’re not going to put me first, then I’m sorry, but I’m only one heartbreak away from leaving if it doesn’t go right.  It’s a catchy, up-tempo bluegrass song that sums up, pretty much musically, where the album is going, and it’s definitely the first ever song that I’ve released that is as bluegrass as this one, so I’m nervous to see how it goes, but I’m excited because I think it’s a strong song; I really enjoyed recording this one, so yeah, we’ll see how it goes.

And so the album is in the can, so to speak – it’s been recorded, it’s been mixed, it’s ready to go. Because you’re going to release the first copies of it in Tamworth?
The official album launch date is the 18th of February, but I’ve got exclusive copies that are going to be available for Tamworth, so the label over here is letting me bring the physical – they’ve pushed printing so that I have it for Tamworth, and so that I have it for my fans, and the industry back in Australia, because Australia is always going to be home for me, and the market back home is always going to be a priority in my mind. I haven’t moved to Nashville and recorded and found a deal over here to forget where I’ve come from; I’ve done it to widen my market and broaden my market, because bluegrass is so small in Australia … I was pretty pushy with [the label], I’m like, ‘We have to have this thing ready for Tamworth’, so it’s not going to be ready for worldwide release, so it won’t be on iTunes or anything until February, but I will have physical copies with me at my launch party in Tamworth.

And just in regards to that launch party, I’m curious about the logistics of putting that together, so how much time you allow to come back and rehearse with the band you’re going to play with, and how much time you give yourself in Tamworth when you’re there?
I fly home just before New Year’s, so I’m going straight to Adelaide to visit my family, because I won’t be home again to tour in Australia until August/September, so I’m going to go straight home and see my family for a few days, and then we’ll be up in Tamworth on the 13th of January.  So I’ve got nine days of running through songs and doing all of that with the band before the launch.  But the launch night is going to be a great time; we’re going to have an opening act, which I’m still narrowing down; I’ve got a few small bluegrass bands that are just starting out that are full of really great young singers, but I’m just trying to pick which one I want to put in there, and they’re going to open the night, and then I’ll do two full sets of mixing them up with songs from the new album and going through the last couple, so it will be good.  It will be just a lot of fun; I just want to have a good fun night.

I’m sure you will with that much preparation, that’s quite a few days’ rehearsal. I would imagine that you’re making sure that you’re rehearsing enough so that you can go to that night and relax?
Yes. It’s kind of nerve wracking, because my guitarist that I’ve always used in my band is going to be there, but my mandolin player isn’t coming to Tamworth this year, and my bass player is going to a holiday in Thailand, so I’ve had to put together a band of people that I’ve played with in the past and that I love working with, but I haven’t been on stage with as much.  So it’s going to be a lot of fun, I’m really looking forward to it, but it’s also going to be a lot of work for these poor guys that have to learn 25 new songs before Tamworth, so I feel sorry for them [laughter].

Oh, that’s nothing – I find with Tamworth, one of the interesting things is the amount of professional musicians, not necessarily even working as musicians, but certainly during Tamworth they do a huge number of gigs and the standard of playing is always so high that I think you can probably be confident that whoever you’ve got will know what they’re doing.
Yeah, yeah. There’s just so many good musos, I wasn’t even concerned when half my band couldn’t do the gig, because I was like, ‘Oh, no, there’s, like, a hundred other people that can play, they’re all so good [laughter].’

Given that you’ll be rehearsing for a lot of the time before your Tamworth gig, do you have time afterwards to run around and see other acts and see who’s new, see who’s changed?
Yes. We’ll probably only have maybe three or four rehearsals before the album launch, I mean, they’ve already got the material, so it’s just a matter of tying it together, the guys will learn the stuff before we get there.  So I’m going to be out and about. I’m doing the Country Music Cocktail event on the Sunday. I’ve got a bunch of PR stuff that I’m doing just before the launch, and I’m always out watching other music. I’m a big believer that you need to support the industry that you’re in, so I’m one of the first people to download most of the new albums on iTunes. I’ve got most of the albums that came out in the last 12 months, [they’re] on my phone.  So I try to get to as many shows and gigs as I can, support other artists with what they’re doing, and it feels good when it’s turned back around, like my last album launch, Kasey Chambers rocked up, and Aleyce Simmonds, and all of these artists were sitting there watching me, and it does feel good to know that you’ve got peers that support you and what you’re doing, and I really like to make sure that I get out and do the same.  So my diary will be full; I’ll be up from 8 o’clock every morning. I’ll make sure I catch at least one of the Bluegrass Breakfasts, and probably won’t get to bed ‘til 3.00 am, that’s the normal Tamworth drill.

It’s an extraordinary festival, but I guess, to an extent, maybe living in Nashville is like permanent Tamworth, because there’s so much music around all the time?
Yes, it’s still – you know, it’s funny, I always thought – I came to CMA Fest this year for the first time, which is obviously the big festival here in Nashville, and I thought, This is going to be huge.  Compared to Tamworth, it’s not a whole lot different, like at Tamworth, we really hold our own over there, and the amount of people we’ve got is fantastic. 

Kristy's new single, 'One Heartbreak Away', is available now. See her at The Pub in Tamworth on 22 January at 8 p.m.