Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Album review: Sand and Stone by The McMenamins

What a delicious treat this album is - to be in such capable hands as those of sibling duo Fleur and Simon McMenamin that to listen to their songs feels like an invitation to lie back on a grassy slope in the sun and let oneself be carried along by these gentle, yet commanding, songs.

Fleur's voice fairly calls, 'Come closer to me, listen to what I'm telling you' - and it is hard to resist. By the fourth track, 'Moon Over Tamworth', I was ready to do away with plans for the rest of the week and just sit around listening to the album. I couldn't, of course, but it was a comfort to be able to carry these songs with me as I went about the daily routine of commute, work and everything else. The McMenamins' music is a companion, a relief and a reassurance - it offers succour but doesn't let the listener believe that it's anything other than intelligent, thoughtfully composed and played music.

This is music that draws from country, folk and traditional influences. It is spare, in that it comes mostly from two musicians - albeit musicians who can each wield a number of different instruments. An unembellished sound is only dangerous if the songs aren't up to scratch, and of course this does not apply to the McMenamins, who are now several albums into a distinguished career. Each song on Sand and Stone is a self-contained vignette that tells the listener a story without demanding that they drain themselves of all emotion to understand it. There is love - of family, of place, of life - slipping in between words and lodging itself in notes. Even on first listening it is tempting to laugh and cry through most of the songs, because they are poignant and strong, and they feel familiar without being at all wearisome. They sound almost like Fleur and Simon are sitting around my kitchen table telling me a story, but also like they belong in a grand venue with a hushed, rapt audience.

All of this makes Sand and Stone an unusual album - I can't think of a direct comparison for it, although I could identify a lineage if pressed. Yet there is something unique about the McMenamins' sound - that lineage may come, in part, from other lands, but this is an Australian album telling Australian stories in a very touching, accomplished way.

Sand and Stone is out now through MGM.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interview: Ricky Young

True confession: I hadn't heard of Ricky Young until I received an email from his publicist asking if I'd be interested in interviewing this rising Nashville-based star. In my defence, I mainly focus on Australian country music because that's what I'm interested in supporting. But having talked to Ricky - who patiently let me call him almost an hour late after I mucked up the time zones and chatted while he was walking his dog - I'm glad to know about him, and believe that star will continue to rise. As you'll see in this interview, he's committed to his music, clear eyed about what it takes to make it and willing to work hard. It was my great pleasure to make his acquaintance.

If you don’t mind talking now, I’d love to talk to you now for a few minutes, if that’s okay?
Sure, I’m here right now.

Okay.  So you said you’ve got a train near you.  Does that mean you live by a train line?
Yeah.  I’m in downtown Nashville – I’m out walking my dog right now and there’s a train that’s going by.  But, I mean, they don’t usually blow their horns at us.  It’s just pretty loud.

It sounds like you’re from the South originally anyway.  Are you a Tennessee boy or are you from elsewhere?
I’m a South Carolina boy not born but raised pretty much my whole life.  And I’ve bounced around the south-eastern part of the United States.  I was in Atlanta for a while, Raleigh, North Carolina and now Nashville.  So I’ve kind of bunkered around the south-east.

And so how do you find Nashville life?  I guess it’s Mecca when you’re a country music performer.
Well, for sure.  The cool part about Nashville is a – it’s kind of two-part: it’s a big small town, so you see a lot of the same faces all over town and so it has the small-town feel with a big-city vibe to it also.  But it’s a very friendly town and it’s funny because it’s not because it’s southern.  I just don’t think anyone’s from here. I’ve only lived here six months and have yet to meet a person that actually is from Nashville.  So I think it’s just known to be a friendly place.  People come because it’s a cool place to live and obviously with the whole country music thing and just the music thing in general.  There’s so many different genres of music here.

I don’t actually know if you song-write much as well as perform.
Yeah, I definitely do.  I’ve probably written over 1000 songs in my lifetime, probably 900 or more of them have been by myself.  I’ve always been a solo songwriter until I moved to Nashville.  And it’s a big part of really growing as an artist and as a singer-songwriter is to branch out and write with other people – like, today, I wrote with one of these guys in Derek Rutter’s band.  I’ve written with two guys, one of the guys from the Zac Brown Band – and so I’ve written with several number one songwriters, which is really cool, and like I said what happened here so quickly, and moving to Nashville.

It seems that Nashville is partly a songwriting factory, in that obviously people go there to perform and to get noticed as performers, but it does seem to be this part of the industry there that is really just churning out songs, whether it’s people writing them for themselves or writing them for other people.  And it sounds like that’s what you’ve hooked into already.
That’s exactly right. You know, it’s tough these days to get a publishing deal, which is when they pay you annually a salary to write for them.  But the easiest way to do it these days is to be an artist-songwriter; the reason being is because most guys who are putting out records now are putting most of the songs that they’ve written on it.  And so just being a songwriter without having the artist side of it is a lot more competitive than it’s ever been because you have songwriter-artists who are doing, you know, a big part of their job, if that makes sense.

It does.  And so given that you can do both and there are a lot of musicians who are just performers, who don’t write, do you prefer writing to performing or are they both great for you?
That’s a good question. The easy answer is I love being an artist-performer. I think any artist you talk to would say the best part of what we do is performing in front of other people and reaching out to someone who really likes and believes what you’re doing, you know?  And that, to me, is the top of the heap as far as what you can get out of what you’re doing.  Songwriting is really cool because it is truly an artform.  And so is performing but, that being said, it’s a whole ’nother ball game, really, is what it comes downs to.

Well, yeah, it is.  And it takes a certain personality type to really enjoy performing, I think.  You’ve really got to like that exchange with the audience.  You have to, I guess, open yourself up to that.  But I would think that, at times, that’s at odds with what makes a good songwriter, because a lot of songwriters would be quite insular in that they’re trying to not get influences from outside, if that makes sense.
Yeah. Everybody has different influences from life in general, I guess. Songwriters who don’t perform I think can pull from a different area maybe than songwriters who do perform.  And everybody’s life is so different and they’re all from the different areas and all different stories and, heck, half of the time you end up writing nothing about your life at all, which is even more fun to bounce out. 

Well, country music is a storytelling genre, so I guess that’s one of the great things about it – the songwriters and performers can end up telling so many different stories, not just their own.  Do you see yourself in that tradition, that storytelling tradition?
I have songs like that.  I don’t think that’s my personal writing style.  The songs that I’ve written that have been like a storytelling are usually the slower, more ballad, the ones that hit to the core when you hear them immediately, lyrically.  I would think I was leaning more towards writing songs that have really good hooks so when you hear them, you almost want to nod your head and sing along to it.  But it is a melody thing, it’s about the melody.  When you hear a song you’re, like, this song sounds good.  I try to write songs like that, not necessarily that have deep, deep, deep root meanings.  But then I think everybody has a little piece of all of those, really, when it comes down to it.  I don’t think everybody has just one spot that they, you know, attack.

I agree with you.  I’m a melody person. What attracts me to a song is whether I really like the sound of it.  So I would wholeheartedly endorse your path there. When someone’s performing, when people respond to songs, what they’re responding to is, on some maybe even subconscious level, not so much the melody as the voice that’s singing it.
Well, for sure.  And, you know, I’m the type of guy that 95% of what I’m playing live are fun, upbeat songs. Unless you’re doing the singer-songwriter type [of show] – you know, not really performing but when you’re just getting up to play – that is usually the time when I’ll play the more lyrical, maybe a little less melodical songs that really say a little bit more but probably aren’t as fun to watch live. I’m a high-energy performing type of artist.  It’d be kind of weird for me to pull out some really deep song, you know, that had great lyrics in the middle of a set.

You said you’re a high-energy performer and you’re going to need a lot of energy soon because I understand you’re off touring colleges in the US.  Is that true?
Yes. I’m really excited about it – the Honky Tonkin’ University Tour.  It’s 36 cities and three months, all college towns.  I’m with another artist on the bill and then we have other regional performers that’ll be opening the show for us.  So, yeah, we’re gearing up towards that.  That starts, I think, in February and it’ll be my first solid legitimate tour on the bus, doing the radio thing and really trying to promote it really, really hard.  So I’m really excited about that.

It seems like you’d to have to train for that, because I’d imagine you use a lot of energy on a show. Do have you got some kind of regime that you go in thinking, okay, I’m going to have to lift weights for a week? Apparently Mick Jagger does that before a Rolling Stones tour, he trains like a marathon runner.
Well, it’s funny, I’ve been an athlete my whole life and the older I get, the less athletic I’ve got but I’ve never stopped working out.  I’ve worked out since I was at about 18.  I never stopped.  So that’s just a daily part of my regimen. I think that helps. I’m tired after a show but it’s more because I just gave everything I had and then I wake up and then I’m ready to do it again, you know what I mean?

Well, that’s good if you’ve got three months of touring.
Yeah, I’m going to need that, that’s for sure.

You picked up the guitar at 17, which sounds almost quite late to fall in love with guitar and with music.  Was there something earlier in your life that you loved about music and performing, earlier than 17?
Yes, definitely.  It was just music in general. I guess everybody has an attraction to music because music – you know, no matter what the song is, there are songs that affect you throughout your whole life.  So years ago, that was a big part of my life before I ever played guitar and when I picked it up, I picked it up later than most people. I played a little bit in church and I had a career in the minor leagues – in minor league baseball for five years – and I wrote a lot better but still was not really performing yet.  I didn’t perform until about six years ago.  And six years ago, I started it doing more and more and more and started getting better feedback and more feedback and [people saying] this is really good, like, you’re going to get to Nashville.  So that’s a very short version of it, at least.

There’s nothing in your bio that says you’re a minor league baseball player, so that’s news to me. I can’t think of any other country music performer who’s had a professional sporting career, so that’s a quite a shift.
That’s where all my focus was in the younger part of my life, too. I played at college, at the University of South Carolina, spent five years in the minor leagues, and then I took a real job right after that in sales and I was really just doing that.  I was kind of pretty much doing that all along, waiting for this music thing to take off.  And, finally, just, you’re just taking off.

It seems to me that the discipline you’d need to be a professional athlete would stand you in really good stead.  The discipline and the patience that I imagine you have building a sporting career would stand you in really good stead for what you’re doing now, in that you have to put in the work and you have to wait your time for things to build.  Do you think that that’s true to say?
For sure.  I think two things have helped me out.  One is the competitive side, meaning I want to be as good – I need to be as good as I can be, because the best are going to be better than me, you know what I mean.  Not that I want to be better than somebody else.  It’s an inward competition.  I want to be as good as I can possibly be so that certainly helps with the drive and the motivation for my athletic background.  And then the sales thing has helped out because I was very successful.  I had a very successful sales job and that’s helped me understand all the business side of music.  So both of those things really put me in a position to where I’m able to be in Nashville and do things that I’ve been wanting to do my whole life.

You sound quite relaxed almost and not relaxed as in, ‘Well, you know, I just know I’m going to make it’, but relaxed as in all the pieces are in place, you know you’ve done the preparation and now you’re just enjoying what you’re doing.
Yeah, that’s right.  I mean, there’s still so much more to be done.  I think I’ve laid a decent foundation considering I didn’t come from a music background. I didn’t have anyone telling me this is how you do it – there is not one way to do it, by the way. I think you almost have to think a little more creatively and a little more outside of the box to really speed up the process of making the Nashville thing happen on a bigger scale, if you know what I mean.  So the foundation is laid and we’ll just keep building on that and the goal now is really just to grow the fan base as big as I can grow it and you can only do that by touring.

And it’s a big country.  That’s the thing with the US – Australia is geographically large but we don’t have that many cities.  So for country music performers here, it’s little towns that they go to, but you’ve got a lot of ground to cover and a lot of cities to play and so I would think you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you this year.
It’s almost overwhelming when you think about it, but you can only look at it as about a couple of weeks at a time because when you’re looking at it from the big grand scheme of things, you’re like, wow.  It’s like climbing Mt Everest and you don’t even have tennis shoes yet, you know? [Laughs]  Not tennis shoes, but climbing shoes.

Do you tour with a band?

So how do you go about choosing your band members?  Is it people you already know or do you actually  sort of cobble together different members based on what you need?
It’s really the networking part of being in Nashville, you meet a lot of people, you meet a lot of guys and then it’s taken me awhile to find them.  It took me five months to find guys that I was comfortable with and believed in what I was doing, that wanted to be a part of it and get on the road and not make any money.  So it was really a part of the networking thing, you know, getting out and about and meeting folks is what allowed that to happen.  I didn’t move to Nashville with a band.

Do you like – is it the camaraderie of the band, does that happen?  Do you enjoy it with the band?
Yeah, for sure. They’re good guys, I think, which is the most important part. I don’t care how good of a player they are but if I don’t like them, I probably wouldn’t have fun with them on the road.  So we’ve got good, talented guys that are all just good guys in general.  And they’re fun, easy to get along with, not dramatic.  These are all good things that you need in a band.

I think in the US, you do a lot of touring by bus, so I’d imagine you’re all on the bus together as well?
Yeah, yeah.  A lot of times you’re sleeping on that bus.

And I would imagine that one of the movies you’re watching on the bus is The Nutty Professor, because I read that that’s your favourite movie.
Yes, this is true.  You know, it’s always weird to say that but I think there’s just the two sit-down parts of when the family’s at the dinner table where, I don’t care how many times I watch it, I can’t stop laughing, I’ll cry laughing every time.  And I think it’s because I know that Eddie Murphy played like, you know, 9 of the 11 characters so it’s funny to think of how awkward that must have been when he’s the only one at the table doing it [laughs].

That’s very true.  So you obviously like a comedy more than a drama?
Well, yes – yes and no.  You know, that’s not a serious movie so it’s what I call my favourite.  It’s the most fun to watch, I guess.  But I like any drama, action, suspenseful-type movies in general.  Those would be my favourite type of movies.

And it always interests me with professional musicians, in terms of you watching movies and having time to do it, is each day for you quite different?  Like, you get up in the morning and you might be rehearsing or you might be writing or you might be meeting people?  It’s not really like you’re doing the same thing every day.
Yeah.  And I’ve been put in a position to where I run my own sales business via my phone and email.  So I still do what I’ve done for the last six years, although I put myself in a position [that] now it doesn’t take much time.  So I get up at 6 a.m. and try to hammer out as much work as I can.  All my friends call me the fastest rising person – you know, meaning getting up in the morning and then you’re rising – person in Nashville.

But, I mean, really, I have to do that because until music really is – when you get to the point where you’re selling enough records to where it can support your living habits – everybody’s done something, whether it’s marketing or waiting tables, until you get to that elite status of where you, literally, don’t have to.  So I’m an early riser.  I get up and it’s one thing that I’ve probably got that I’ll always do.  I’ll always be a hard worker.  I think hard work ultimately pays off.  Well, I know that because it’s paid off in several different avenues of my life and, you know, I don’t like sitting on the couch, I don’t like getting bored.  So I’d rather have something to do, whether it be sales, play guitar, rehearse, hang out with friends, whatever the case is. I don’t like to sit.

So you’ll be running your business while you’re on the road then, touring these colleges?
For sure.  I do it all day every day. But it’s not a very huge time-consuming part of my life. It’s only because I work hard to now just be able to maintain it the way that I do.

Just listening to you talking thinking, you seem to be able to focus on one thing and work at it hard and then succeed at it, and then you’ve got those skills and you can keep them there and keep going and then move on to other things. You were a major league baseball player, now you’ve got a business, now you’re a musician, but it all fits.
Well – yeah, it certainly does. You know, you don’t realise that if you look back 10 years that what you will have done, 10 years later – and the business that I got into, if you had have told me that 10 years ago, I would have laughed at you, that I’d have been doing recycled paper sales, you know?  But that was an opportunity I had that I thought I could do well with and, you know, you work hard to do it and you look back and you’re like, “That’s very funny”, you know?  I went from being in professional baseball to selling recycled paper and to playing music on stage in front of people, you know?  It’s just a random mix of opportunities that have been created by just who I am.

Yeah.  But I guess it’s also I think there’s a real talent in taking opportunities as they come up.  A lot of people will see opportunities and not do anything with them.  It’s quite something to actually identify the opportunity and then do something with it.  And, again, I think that it sounds very much that’s what you’re doing.  You can see something and you’re working at it and you work towards it and then it happens and so it doesn’t surprise me that – I was looking at your Facebook page and there’s over 20,000 likes.  And I thought, well, for someone whose career’s just starting, that’s amazing.
I’ve been fortunate to do well in work life, I’ve been able to budget, to be able to advertise and do some things that maybe the starving artist hasn’t been able to do.  And I had that video, you know?  I put my first video out for my CD and it’s got over 400 000 views already and that was only six weeks ago [at the time of interview].  So it blew up and everybody’s cared and they did a good job of the video, but we did it on a very tight budget.  And that part has been able to help me out, because if you have a little bit of money that you can advertise and promote yourself, more people are going to know who you are.  It’s as simple as that, you know what I mean?  So that’s been fun, man.  It’s helped me take a couple of steps faster than if I were to just have moved here and was waiting tables that I wouldn’t be able to do.  Does that make sense?

Yes.  I think it also helps you move faster than if you move there and actually expected things to come to you rather than doing them yourself or making things happen yourself.  I think a lot of people actually – particularly in creative work, they think, well, all I need to do is show up and I’m talented enough and things will just happen to me.  And then they get very disillusioned and often stop what they’re doing and their talent’s then lost to everyone.  But you’re applying yourself and that’s just the combination. 
You have to if you want to be successful.

[Laughs] Yes, good – yeah.  I think you’re right.
I’ll tell you the inside story on this tour.  This tour is set up and has been bankrolled by two of my friends who are investors, who are basically young millionaires who want to be a part of the music business.  And I told them – I explained to them my situation and what I need to do by being on the road.  So they’re fronting all the money for tour support, the bus, representation, all of that and I’m an official owner in the company that will run the Honky Tonkin’ University Tour.  It’s a biannual tour.  This is the very first leg of it.  So we’re doing all the work and then we’re branding that tour and it will be around.  So this is just another little thing where I saw an opportunity and had some guys who had been fortunate to do well in life as well, and you team up with those guys and, you know.  But we’ve pitched this tour to several kind of bigwigs in Nashville and they’re, like, what an amazing idea.  No one has done that yet.  It needs to be done and it will be very successful.  So to get feedback from guys like that is really, really cool, especially when you’re brand new to town.

So when you say this sort of tour hasn’t been done before, you mean like taking a country music tour through colleges?
Well, no.  There’s not been a tour for up-and-coming artists.  The tours are always for someone who’s already established.  So we’ve gone out and gotten sponsors, obviously got the venues on board, transportation; we’ve done all the leg work that you can do for the tour for ourselves; no one else is doing it. But you have to have a little bit of money to do that.  You can’t just do it from your living room, you know what I mean?  You’ve got to have some financial backing.  So the two guys, the two investors, saw the opportunity, loved the idea of it and were – this is going to be a small scale right now but I’m looking out two or three years from now and the tour will be a full-time job for several people.  It’ll be a small version of, like, the Country Throwdown Tour or all those bigger tours that have been around for a long time.

It’s a great idea.  You go – you take up and coming artists to up-and-coming people because college students are young, they’re often more open-minded about music that they’re listening to.

And the artists are most likely quite young as well, so it’s a really good match.  So I think, yes, you’re on to a winner.
Well, thank you.  I think we think we are [laughs].

 [Laughs] I don’t have a physical copy of your album so I haven’t been able to look at the credits or anything, so I was wondering: did you independently release it?
Yes, everything was independently funded, the video was independently funded.  I don’t owe anybody anything, which is nice – again, that all comes from really working hard and other avenues and setting money aside and really having a CD done right.  Like my CD is – whether you like the songs or like me, the quality is as good as any major label artist that is already in town, just based off of the players that played on it.  My buddies that played on my album are the same guys that play on Trace Adkins, Toby Keith and as far back to even Lynyrd Skynyrd  – it’s crazy, the guys that played on it.  But it was because of the producer that gave me that opportunity is how that lined up.

So you had someone who played with Lynyrd Skynyrd?  [Laughs] That’s great.
Well, he played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, I mean, and God knows, I could tell you all day. His bio list – what do you call it, his credits – are like 18 pages long.  I mean, he’s played with everybody.  And he was, like, excited to be playing with me, which is so humbling.  It was awesome.

Have you liked doing this yourself?  Do you like being able to control the process this way and would you continue to do it?
Well, yeah, ultimately, you’ve got to let the reins go because that’s the only way you can take that next step.  But it’s been fun being able to be in control because I’ve learned so much along the way.  If you just dish it off and let someone else do it, I don’t think I would have learned what I’ve learned so far.  And from that standpoint, it’s right – I think it really helped me, you know, learn a different side of business that I never knew before.

Yeah.  Well, Ricky, I’m going to let you go because I’ve had you talking for almost half an hour and your dog is probably sick of walking. 
Yeah, well, I’m sitting outside. He’s looking at me like, “What’s up, Ricky?  Come on.”

I’ll let you take him in the house. It’s been so interesting talking to you and I have every confidence that this tour will do really well and that you will be a very successful artist and hopefully I’ll be talking to you in a year’s time when you are the King of Nashville.
I love the sound of that.  Thank you so much for your time as well.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Album review: The Hurting Scene by Melody Pool

From time to time I'll hear an album that from almost the first note makes me want to lie down weeping with joy that I've heard it - or it makes me feel like my head is going to explode from trying to work out what's going on, because it's all so good, and from trying to take it all in on that first listening, temporarily forgetting that I can listen to it again (and again and again).

As you may have guessed from that introduction, that's how I feel about The Hurting Scene, the new album from Melody Pool, who hails from the Hunter region of New South Wales. This is a sophisticated collection of exquisitely played and produced songs that launch themselves straight at the listener's heart - well before the head gets involved - and strike definitively. I almost swooned during the first song, and kept swooning throughout. 

There is a balance of rolling and rambunctious with wistful and contemplative, struck from the first two tracks, 'The Hurting Scene' and 'Open Book'. There are stories here and thanks to Melody's voice - which is sweet but not syrupy, clean edged and clear - they are all heartbreaking. Hers is the voice of someone who should be years older - Pool is 21 - because it is so assured and knowing and sometimes melancholy. It is a voice that makes you want to crawl inside the songs and stay there as you listen to tales of travel and woe and self-reflection, time slipping past and love slipping away that mark Pool as an accomplished songwriter as much as she is a gifted singer. 

I ordered Melody's album (old-school CD) from her website - you can too at It's also available on iTunes. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Interview: Fleur McMenamin

Recently The McMenamins - a brother and sister duo from Far North Queensland - crept into my consciousness, and not long afterwards I discovered that they had a new album due out, and then not long after that I was offered the opportunity to interview Fleur McMenamin, who was inspiring and thoughtful and interesting and completely made me want to see her and her brother Simon when they tour, which they're about to do. Hopefully you'll feel the same way after reading this interview - tour dates appear after it.

I know we don’t have too much time, so I’m going to launch straight into questions.  And I’ll start by actually asking you about where I imagine you are now, which is Babinda. 

From what I understand, you are the third generation of your family to live in that area.  And I would imagine that gives some context to your music and to your song writing, so I thought I’d ask you a bit about where you come from musically as well as the area and the land?
Sure.  Well, I have moved to Babinda in the last three years, but my family is from Cairns, and we’re the third generation in the far north area.  And we feel very connected to where we come from, and the land that is around us.  And I think that it’s really reflected in our music, and the music that we write. 

And is that reflected in the way your music evolved, into playing the genre you play in now?
Yes. I guess our genre is very – I think it’s quite a broad range of music within the blues – well, within the roots genre, really.  So that flavour comes through both blues and roots, and also alternative country.  But also we kind of tell the stories about people that we have known and loved, and our ancestors, and also tell stories about our children and what we want for them in years to come, and stories about people that we see around us, experiences that we have, I guess.

It’s quite often when I talk to country musicians, I mention that in particular that country music and its branches – because there are several – is our Australian storytelling genre song. really, and it’s a way for storytellers to reach their audience in a way that perhaps they can’t do in print necessarily.  So obviously you very much fit into that mould.
I think so, yes.  I think telling our stories is such an important part of passing on who we are and where we come from and what is important to us.  It’s folk music in the true sense, and it’s also, it’s culture in a true sense – being able to use music and art to express ourselves. 

So did the stories come first for you and then you picked up musical instruments and sang to be able to tell them, or was it the other way around?
Usually it’s the other way around.  It’s a feeling and a desire, and something compels me to pick up the instrument, and then those feelings work out themselves into lyrics, and then the song, the music is born. 

So do you tend to believe in the muse, in having a muse when you’re writing?
I think the muse presents itself in many different forms as I go through my journey.

And do you write mainly – well, actually I should ask you about those forms, since you gave me that and I almost skipped past it.  So are there any forms you’d like to identify?
Well, it’s very much the people that I love, and the people around me, and also the things that I see and experience, things that happen to me along the way, and what I feel about those.  Certainly my family and my partner and my children, I would say, they are quite prominent as muses, I guess.

How old are your children?
Five and four, two little girls.

I would imagine it’s quite a feat then to try to organise a tour, when you have children that young who aren’t necessarily taking themselves off to school, or dressing themselves in the morning?
Yes, absolutely, it’s all very busy in my life [laughter] at the moment.  And I also have a job as a coordinator of the music program in the community up here, helping other musicians sort of attain their goals.  So I’m very, very busy, as well as trying to organise the tour and manage us, and get the album written and produced, and then released.  It’s a big, big undertaking.

So therefore does Simon do anything, or does he just let you do all the work?
Well, Simon has a job also.  He’s a head of strings department in one of the high schools up here, and he teaches music, instrumental music.  And he also has two children.  So he does provide a great deal of support to me and also he helps out wherever he can.  But I have kind of taken on the management role from the beginning, because I guess it’s me driving the music, and he’s kind enough to come on the journey, I guess.

And so have you two had this musical relationship for quite a large part of your lives?
Oh, well, we only really started making music together after I had convinced him, after a lot of convincing [laughter] when I was writing my own music.  But we grew up playing classical music in all the orchestras, and we did all the music exams and all the theory and all that sort of stuff.  So we grew up playing music around each other, but not together.  And until I started writing my own music, and then we – the first real performance that we did was at the 2003 Woodford Folk Festival as emerging artists.  And ever since then we’ve been playing and writing together. 

It sounds a little bit like he might like performing a bit less than you do?
No.  I think that performing is definitely a shared love of ours.  Yeah, absolutely.  I mean, he’s actually a really, really wonderful instrumentalist, and an amazing classical musician as well.  So he performs in other capacities outside of the band yeah, he loves performing, as much as I do, I think [laughter].  I hate to speak for him, but I’m pretty sure that he shares my love of performing music.

And what do you love about performing?  Because I think most country artists or country-related artists do love it, but not every musician likes to be in front of an audience.  So what are the elements for you that are really great?
I feel like it’s a bit of a refuge being on stage and actually performing music.  I mean, by the time it gets to the stage that you are able to perform it, that’s just the joy of it.  You know, all of that work that goes into getting the music out there and writing the music, and then releasing it for people to hear, for you to be able to perform in front of audiences – the moment I step on stage, that’s the fun part for me, and it’s really a joyous thing.  I really feel the music that we deliver.

I think that’s a beautiful term to say that it’s a refuge, because I think a lot of people on the outside might imagine that it’s actually quite a stress, getting on stage and being in front of people.
I really feel the opposite when I’m on stage now.  I mean, it used to be, when I was younger – in the earlier stages of the career it was quite nerve-wracking, and I was more afraid of what people would think of the music and what the audiences wanted.  But now I’ve been sort of doing it for such a long time that when I get on stage I just really enjoy performing the music.  I really feel it and it’s kind of that quite a sanctuary for me. 

It sounds a lot like you are really able to tap into the creative flow as in when you need it, in a way.
Yes.  And sometimes I feel as though it’s just a certain amount of magic happening, because there’s two of us on stage, and it’s just the two of us, and we really tap into some kind of magic that happens when acoustic sounds come out of these instruments.  And sometimes it’s just a really beautiful feeling and place to be.  It’s – you get transported into another world.  So I don’t know if it sounds ridiculous, but it’s kind of how I feel.

No, no, I think that’s what happens when you are able to let go of all the extraneous stuff and be really present in what you’re doing on stage.  If you were worrying about what people thought about you, if you were worrying about any other little thing, you wouldn’t be there for the audience and you wouldn’t be there for yourselves.  So obviously you have over time managed to let that go, and that’s why you’re having that experience.
Absolutely, yeah.  And it’s taken a really long time to get to that stage.  But now I have it more often than not, and it’s just fantastic to be at that stage, just enjoy that, and hopefully let that evolve as we go along.

So in the times when you’re not able to tour, when you’re between albums perhaps, and you’re writing songs or preparing to record, and you’re also running your life, is there a longing for performance?
A little bit, yes.  I mean, I do long for that feeling – just the part of the excitement that surrounds it also.  I feel like I’m really doing something which my – I feel as though it’s kind of important.  I feel that’s something that I do in my life that is an important thing to do, as we have been talking about earlier, about keeping our culture alive and telling our stories and just the whole broader need of the community that I am a part of, it feels like it’s a big part of my life.

Are you passing that on to your children?
I think so, yes. Having them present at events like Woodford Folk Festival or Tamworth Country Music Festival and this year’s Blues Fest – it’s really a special thing for them to be involved in at such a young age, and they really feel the excitement.  Because Simon has two young children, too, and they are all very close in age.  I mean, they are from seven to four and they just adore being with each other.  And we get to travel and be with each other for those particular events.  I think they really feel the special community of people from all around the world, and telling them their stories.  I think they kind of grew up with that.  I hope so, anyway.

Well, they have been very lucky to be exposed to it from such a young age.
Yeah, absolutely.  And I hope they will carry that with them. 

It sounds like they may not have too much choice about whether or not they are musicians, in that both you and Simon grew up with classical training and playing music, so I guess – I mean, of course they have a choice, but it may be their destiny.
Possibly.  We’ll see. They’ve all got really good ears, and they are quite talented singers, and Simon’s little girl is playing violin already, so yeah, we’ll see how they go.

I was thinking about you playing with your brother, and I’m actually surprised there aren’t more sibling bands or sibling groups, simply because I think if the sibling relationship is fairly solid, there’s a degree of elasticity in it that I think would stand up, would be useful for touring and playing together and recording together, just because you can have the odd disagreement, but it’s not going to tear you apart.
Yes.  And we’re really fortunate we get along so well.  And if there is any disagreement, we just kind of know how to compromise and get over it, and move on.  With many years of working things out together, that’s what probably contributes to that.

In terms of the songwriting duty, is that mainly yours? I don’t have a copy of your new album yet, so I can’t see who’s written what, so I don’t know if you’ve written more than he has.
I write all the songs, and then Simon and I get together and he arranges his instrumentals and vocal harmonies, yeah.

I read a quote from you talking about the songs being heart-felt expressions of how you feel. Hearing you talk and reading a bit about you, I can tell that that’s true of you.  You play and sing from the heart.  But I was wondering if there’s a risk of wearing your heart on your sleeve, particularly when you take it to a live audience?
Sometimes I guess there is.  And I felt more, as I said, in earlier stages of our career I felt that risk a little more, but now as I get older and my inspiration has changed, and also my aspirations are different, I feel braver in the choices that I make, and I feel like I really embrace – I’m starting to embrace the artistry of being a singer/songwriter, and as I said, I don’t feel as much pressure any more.  I think that if you’re good at what you do, and you tell it how it is, and you sing from the heart, then someone out there is going to appreciate it and like it.

It seems like quite a few people have been appreciating it and liking it. You’ve released an album every so often and had these quite interesting opportunities overseas and within Australia – the conventional wisdom possibly is, get an album out as quickly as possible, get another one out as quickly as possible, but it seems for you two, that you can release an album not necessarily every year, and still find these audiences, because the venues you are going to for this tour are good ones, they are big ones. 
Yeah, I think so.  And just really working hard and sticking with it.  And as I said, it’s important to me.  Music is something that has never gone away.  It always finds me, even if I [laughter], if I’m not actively pursuing it, it comes to me, and therefore, even in a little way, I feel I have no real choice but to keep it going and keep working at it, and keep trying to get it out to people just because the response from the people that do really identify with our music is just so, so encouraging and overwhelming to me that I feel like it’s something that’s worth doing, and therefore I continue to do it, even though it’s sometimes very hard work [laughter].

It is incredibly hard work, that balancing of household and life and parenthood and employment, I think a lot of people underestimate how much work it is actually just to run a house, for one thing, and still have that creative part of your life.  So you are either highly organised, or you are really good at instinctually responding to that need to create when it comes up, or maybe both.
I agree entirely. It’s a lot of work to run a family and a household, and have a journey and a path as a group of people and a family, and let alone being creative and figuring out how to do that with a separate group of people or person, and have a sustainable career in this industry.  It’s, yes, as I said, it can be difficult at times.  But very worth it, I think, and people really do appreciate it.  As I said, that magic that you feel on stage just makes everything else go away. 

And for you as a singer, as you mentioned classical training when you were younger, I’m presuming that was instrumental. You might have been trained as a singer.  But singing actually comes in a lot of ways from a different place than playing an instrument.  It’s obviously an expression of the spirit.  So I was wondering how you feel about yourself as a singer, or how you’ve evolved as a singer?
I started learning, acquiring it from a very young age, classical  music, and I also then went on to do singing, so I did all my classical singing exams at the Trinity College of London, and went up to Grade 8 et cetera, so I was doing classical singing. But of course I loved singing the pop songs and the folk songs of the day, whatever I was listening to.  And as soon as I let go of the classical training and picked up a guitar, which I had no training in whatsoever, I felt free to be able to sing however I wanted and express myself in that way.  I just – I guess I fell in love with it.  Singing has evolved for me into something that is really quite joyous and open, and I feel – I guess that makes me feel some kind of artistic freedom in a way.

Sometimes I find with classically trained musicians that the structure that training gives is actually what facilitates that ability to improvise, in a way, to explore and be free, and if you don’t have the structure then sometimes it can take longer to actually set free.  Has that been your experience?
I think so. The training, the background that I have in classical music and all the theory and the training, it does develop your ear and your musical sensibility, so dramatically, as opposed to someone who may not have had that training.  But in that same sense you can always have those musical prodigies and freaks [laughter] where they – it just works for them.  But certainly in Simon’s case, I think his classical training has just enabled him to be such an incredible improviser, when it comes to getting all the notes right, and the next note, that training is evident.

Because both of you work in music as well as being musicians, I guess you would advocate fairly strongly for including musical education in the lives of children as well as in adults?
Absolutely, yes. I have sung to my children since before they were born, and every night since, and the development that can be encouraged through musical training, not only memory and even coordination of actions – it really is remarkable, I think, the influence that it has on young developing brains.  And also children learn – I would just encourage education through music or anything to do with music in any way.  I think it’s really important.  And the system that we grew up with here, instrumental music being delivered in the schools, that’s just the basis of our entire career, I believe.  And I have some concerns that that may be about to go in Queensland, because it’s the only state that still delivers instrumental music in the schools.  I have great fears that that is about to go, and that really makes me sad, in a way.

That attitude towards music possibly comes from the idea that music is something that is not essential to human life, when actually – you mention stories about your ancestors before – that music has connected people through time, and always will.  It’s not just a frippery for some people to indulge in, it’s fundamental.
That’s right.  I believe that wholeheartedly.  And not only music, but art in general, it is something that’s so underrated and overlooked in our society as not being essential.  However, if you think of any kind of message that was ever told, it started from some point of artistic origin; it’s the way it’s been carried on.  And to me it is just so important, and yes, I suppose I will continue giving that message till the day I die.

I actually didn’t mean to turn this into a discussion about education in schools, but I just thought, the opportunity is there, I think it’s important to say. Because even though people all have music in their lives, a lot of them never consciously realise how easily it may not be in their lives if education is withdrawn.
Yes.  And it’s really an important part of our cultural identity and our development as any group of people, I believe.

Well, now, I’m almost at the end of my allotted time, so I’ll end with a logistical question: living a few hours south of Cairns, this is a big country to get around, and you seem to be going both coasts and quite a bit of the eastern seaboard.  So I was wondering about the logistics of getting out on the road, for rehearsing, for everything like that – do you plan months ahead?
Well, not exactly. The tour is all booked months ahead in advance, and the rehearsing just happens whenever we have time for [it] – we do as much as we possibly can. Both of us having families, and me being an hour away from the regional centre, it is difficult at times, but we do it.  We get around as best we can.  And it’s not only that we have done quite a bit of touring, especially in the last couple of years, and we’ve been doing pretty extensive show-after-show kind of stuff for much of the time.  So I think just, you just have to draw a line around all of that and do what you can.

And actually I just remembered I did have one other question, which is, what music are you listening to now for pleasure?
I listen to all sorts of different music, [laughter] and sometimes it’s very much centred around what the children want to listen to.  The only time I really get to listen to it is like in the car when I’m driving to wherever I have to get to.  So there’s a lot of Taylor Swift on the stereo [laughter].  But personally, it ranges from sort of Radiohead to The National, to people like Kasey Chambers and Patty Griffin, and Gillian Welch – a whole bunch of artists that I really adore. 

It’s been a delight talking to you, Fleur.  Thanks for your time.
Thank you.  Bye.

The McMenamins are touring through March and April:

Thursday 14 March 2013 | 7.30pm 
The Toff in Town, Melbourne VIC 
With special guest Emma Heeney 
Tickets: $13.30 [presale] | $15.00 [door] 

Sunday 17th March 2013 | 3.30pm 
Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane QLD 
Live Spark - FREE EVENT 

Thursday 21st March 2013 | 7.30pm 
Lizotte’s, Newcastle NSW 
With special guest Amy Vee 
Tickets: $18.00 

Sunday 24th March 2013 | 7pm 
The Vanguard, Sydney NSW 
With special guests Amy Vee & Sam Buckingham 
Tickets: $18.80 [show only] | $56.80 [dinner & show] 

Wednesday 27th March 2013 | 7pm 
The Glasshouse, Port Macquarie NSW 
The Ross Family Studio 
Tickets: $20.00 

Saturday 30th March 2013 | 1.15pm 
Bluesfest, Byron Bay NSW 

Monday 1st April 2013 | 2.45pm 
Bluesfest, Byron Bay NSW 

Thursday 4th April 2013 | 7.30pm 
Burdekin Theatre, Ayr QLD 
Tickets: $19.00 | $15.00 [conc] 

Saturday 6th April 2013 | 7.30pm 
Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns QLD 
With special guests Laneway 
Tickets: $25.00 | $20 [conc] 

Thursday 11th April 2013 | 7.30pm 
Fly By Night, Fremantle WA 
Tickets: $23.50 [presale] | $25.00 [door]