Monday, November 25, 2013

Interview: Adam Brand

There cannot be a country music fan in Australia who does not know Adam Brand's name, if not have at least one of his albums. Adam is one of the industry's brightest, and most consistent, stars. Amongst other things, he's the winner of 12 Golden Guitars. While still a young man, Adam has reached a point in his career where it's appropriate to release a retrospective - although he is not putting out a 'greatest hits' compilation. As Adam explained when I interviewed him recently, the new album, My Acoustic Diary, is much more than that.

I’m going to start with a non-musical question about the haircut on the cover of your album, which is quite a radical haircut for you.

And I wondered if it was to reflect the stripped-backed nature of the songs.
[Laughs] A naked album, a naked head.  No, look, this year I’ve just been going back to a very, very simple haircut.  It’s number two all over, just walking into the barber and say, “All right mate, buzz me down.”  [Laughs].

So it’s just purely for maintenance reasons.  That’s not a very good story, Adam.
Oh hey, I’m lazy, what can I say [laughs].

 [Laughs] Now is this the barber who appeared in the ‘Two of Us’ column with you in the Sydney Morning Herald a little while ago?
No.  He’s actually quite horrified at the path I’ve taken when it comes to my follicle region [laughs].  Yeah, he’s shaking his head in disgust.

Well it’s good to have someone looking out for your hair, but I’d better get on to talking about your music.  So the songs on this album span your career. I was wondering: are there any that you wanted to include because musically they were significant but lyrically they were perhaps hard to revisit? I’m thinking in particular of ‘Good Things in Life’.
Sure, and the reason why the songs are on there – usually when you do a greatest hits album or an album looking back, putting an album out with other stuff, you just go straight to singles.  You whack on the singles and forget about it. But I really didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to go back and record the songs that were important to me, the songs that marked certain times in my life that I was going through something that was a big deal or going through a growth spurt as a writer or those types of things.  So I’ve really chosen songs that I wanted to reflect a pivotal point in my career and in my life over the last sort of 15 years.  So some of those songs were, for want of a better word, lost in those albums – they weren’t singles, I didn’t do them live ’cause they didn’t fit onto each show at the time or whatever.  So it’s such a great experience to be able to go back with those songs, singing differently and being a different person, not different but grown up a bit from then and being able to record them again.  Songs like ‘That’s Who We Are’, ‘Better Than This’ and ‘Kinda Like It’, they were just songs that I really enjoyed writing and mark some sort of pretty cool parts in my career but I get to do it again, I get to have another go of it.  So, yeah, it really is when you look through your diary, you look back, you look back and you go, ‘Okay, I remember what I was doing then and gee that was tough’, or ‘This is great’, or you cringe, ‘Look what I’m wearing’, blah, blah, blah.

My diary is set to music and it’s probably a bit more public than most diaries should be [laughs] but I’ve gone back and picked out the points and all these songs are diary entries in my life and my career and that’s what I wanted to share with people.

Is it hard if some of these songs are songs that you haven’t being playing live – is it essentially like discovering them new, like you have to learn how to play them again and, perhaps, your discovery of parts of those songs that you weren’t as conscious of before?
Totally.  Totally.  Listening back to them when I first recorded them and going, ‘Okay, this is how I do it now’, and that kind of thing … [it’s] a total discovery and also trying to capture that moment.  When you write a song, it’s all exciting and new because you’ve just written a song – ‘Wow, look at this’. It’s your most favourite song until you write another one.  So it’s trying to capture that euphoric sort of feeling now because I’ve recorded them nice, all stripped back and not sort of smothered in electric guitars and keyboards and things like that; they’re just raw.  So it was really going back and capturing that moment where they were created.

You mentioned that one of the options you could have had was just to put singles on the album, which from a record company’s point of view would be a bit safer, I would think – but within the country music genre, I think you’re safe to go to the songs that are more emotional or more personal, because the fan support is different in country music.
Certainly.  It certainly is and, look, there are definitely songs on the album which were big songs for me and so there are different points where people can connect and relate to, at all points of the career, but they’re interwoven with those other songs which are personal and [there are] personal reasons why they went onto the album as well.  So hopefully it makes sense; it should.  Listening to the album top to bottom – ’cause it’s in kind of chronological order – it should sort of feel like you’re going on a journey and going, ‘Okay, I’m listening, I’m flicking through this diary and I’m watching this guy change over the course of 12, 13 years, watching his music style, his lyrics, everything change and that’s where he started and now this is where he is now’. 

Given that there are two new songs on the album, that’s quite a heavy responsibility to put on new songs to go on such an album as this.  So how did you choose them?
Yeah, I guess it is ... Obviously you go, ‘This is where I started, this is the journey I took and this is where I am now’.  So it’s got a nice little wrap-up of putting the two new songs in there, it’s giving a taste of what I’ve been writing and how I feel and the sound that I have, and also the song ‘Freedom Rebels’ really is a sort of anthem from my heart, I guess you could say, because it’s saying it doesn’t matter what anyone else might say, there’s enough inside of you to go where you want to go because only you know what you really want out of life, how you want to get there and other people around you will find a million reasons why you can’t do it, why you’re not good enough, why you shouldn’t do it, but inside of you there’s enough.  So you just don’t worry about them, you just go for it; live your life like a freedom rebel [laughs]. And it talks about the connection between two people or your team, whether it’s your partner in life or your team or your business partner.  It’s talking about this connection … so that’s kind of a nice way to launch into the next chapter – what’s in the road ahead –using that as your springboard.

You’ve had a long career now and you’re still a young man. You’ve had a lot of albums, you’ve played a lot of shows, you’ve got a lot of fans and there’d be a lot of industry people around you – have you found it difficult to maintain your own true course, to be that freedom rebel through your career?
There’s obviously always opinions and things that other people around you always ring in your ears, but I think that the trick is to listen to your heart, because ultimately I think you really do know what’s right or wrong in your heart; you just sort of succumb to pressure a lot of times.  But I’ve certainly felt in these last couple of years that I’ve found my own voice and my own feet to know what is right for me, so that I feel completely comfortable and at ease inside that I’m doing what feels right. And I think that’s a pretty good place to get to, especially with artists, because there’s so many opinions of obviously, as you said, managers and agents and everyone around you sort of thinking what you should do, and then there’s obviously the public opinion – ‘We didn’t like that or we like your old stuff or like this or like that’.  You’ve got to take all that on board but at the end of the day your heart’s got to be in it – you really need to feel good about what you’re saying and what you stand for, and I think the bottom line is [that] if everything you do is with honesty and integrity, then it’ll all fall into place.

It’s probably therefore not a coincidence that at this stage in your career, it’s not just about a retrospective but you’ve also chosen a way to record these songs in a way that really exposes your singing voice, because the voice reflects really what’s going on internally with any singer.  And so to be able to record these stripped-back versions of these songs where your voice is really high in the mix and a real focus, it takes a certain amount of confidence, I guess, and a certain amount of comfort with your voice.
Yes, and I think that’s part of getting to a place where you go, ‘Okay, well, this is me, this is what I do and how I do it – it may not be pretty but it’s all I’ve got and that’s what I’ve got to work with’ [laughs].  I do feel like I’m in a pretty comfortable place with all of that stuff and I feel like whatever I do now, I’ve just got to do it with honesty and do it with integrity – not that I didn’t do that before, but I probably just didn’t understand that when you do this with other people and things like that.  But I certainly feel right now that in a place of having this album out and now moving into this next album, it’s going to be – it’s me.  This is who I am and I make no excuses for it and I’m just going to do the very best I can.

Well, that’s a very good philosophy and I’m also thinking that the album you’re recording now is the one I saw a photo of you taken in a studio where you had a scarf on, saying, ‘It’s freezing in here’, and I remember thinking that’s not good for a singer [laughs].
 [Laughs]  I don’t have to sing for about another three weeks, actually.  Yeah, we’re just doing all the drum tracks, the bass tracks, that sort of stuff.  So I was sitting there wrapped up but when it comes time to sing, I’ll be in another booth and I’ll have my shoes off, I’ll have a warm cup of tea while I’m singing and yeah, and it’ll be a whole different kettle of fish.

And the recording process for this new album is obviously different to what it would have been for My Acoustic Diary.  Was it kind of strange for you to not have all those instruments – and I guess it probably took less time as well, because you weren’t recording so many people.
Yeah.  All the albums I’ve done over the years, and most of the country albums, are done in a way that you just put the whole band, everyone sits in there and they all play then you just go and fix your little bits or redo something or put another track, part track over the top and you kind of do it like that; it all gets created at once.  This album I’m doing totally differently.  We’re talking about the new album for next year now.  So this album for next year, I’m doing it differently.  We just started to get the drums and bass tracks – we’re building it layer by layer, just a little bit different than normal. But the acoustic album we’ve done entirely 100 per cent in three days with just three of us in the studio, all in one big room all looking at each other while we just put it down live.  So it’s a completely different vibe.  I loved it and now I’m also loving doing this new album this way as well.

You sound like you’re a musical pig in mud or something like that [laughs].
Yeah.  The best mud I love to roll around is on stage [laughs] that’s when I’m the happiest, the fattest pig and the happiest and smelliest mud, but the studio at the moment, I actually really enjoy it.

Speaking of being on stage, you’ve got the song ‘New England Highway’ on the album and I was wondering what Tamworth means to you – apart from celebrating your birthday, because of course Adam Brand’s Birthday Bash is an integral part of Tamworth.
 [Laughs] Obviously Tamworth was a pivotal point in my life, not career, in my life because my life changed there.  So every time you go back there, there’s definitely a feeling of this is where it all began.  It’s quite a weird little feeling, a good feeling but it’s a weird feeling that that’s the place where my life took a completely different course.

As a young man coming to Sydney from Perth, you must have had dreams, because that’s a big thing to do, drive across the Nullarbor and come to Sydney.  Have all your dreams come true or do you still have some in the tank?
You know what, I think your dreams change over the years.  As you mature and grow older and go through things, I think your dreams change, like my dreams may have been to sell 10 million albums or whatever back then but my dream now is to have peace of mind really [laughs].  That sounds like an old Confucius saying – like my dream now is actually doing what I’m doing and that is to make a living doing something I love, and doing it in the most honest and relaxed way possible, and being surrounded by people I trust, being surrounded by guys in my band who I call my brothers, and just really enjoying the whole process of leaving home and knowing that we’re going out to play our music for people and that’s how I get to live my life.  I’m blessed to be able to do that.  So I think that in itself is the dream and to be able to continue to do that really is something that I don’t take for granted.

Well, I’m sure your fans will support you in this new album and I’m sure it’ll be hugely popular and then you’ll have a new one next year as well.  So I’d say you are living that new version of the dream.

Thank you.

My Acoustic Diary is out now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kickstarting Jill Andrews

Nashvillean Jill Andrews's 2011 album, THE MIRROR, is one of my favourite albums ever - I listen to it regularly and some of the songs linger in my daydreams. Jill is now Kickstarting her new album and I think she's worthy of a shout-out - to find out more about Jill, go to and to help Kickstart her new album, go to - I certainly will be!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview: Lizanne Richards

Lizanne Richards is a Victorian singer-songwriter whose self-titled debut album was released recently. But while it's Lizanne's debut under her own name, she has performed before under the name Lady Grey - and her experience as a songwriter and singer shows on this very accomplished 'debut'. Recently I had the great pleasure of talking to Lizanne, whose wonderful songs have clearly emerged from a rich, interesting life. 

I only got the album yesterday, but I’ve already listened to it many, many times.  And it’s a really interesting mix of obviously influences, elements, and themes.  And I was wondering if pressed to describe it in – if someone said to you, what genre are you, what genre would you say you are?
R&B alt folk.

Which is quite an interesting combination.
Yeah.  R&B alt folk with jazz-tinged vocals, I suppose.

And in terms of those jazz-tinged vocals, is that your natural inclination?  Is that where your voice wants to go or is that something you’ve developed over time?
It actually is where my voice wants to go, I think.  I’ve been kind of struggling for genres of country – Americana is probably more accurate.  For a few years under the [banner of] Lady Grey as well.  I was probably more towards the Americana.  But then with this album, I really wanted to get to the heart of what I do as me – obviously you’re influenced by whoever you’ve listened to, but I just really wanted to get closer to the heart of what I do and who I am.  It’s what I do well and I think the jazz thing – my voice is just naturally a little bit that way inclined and so I was able to really adjust with my writing, it naturally happened.  There are a few songs where you can probably hear that more so; probably ‘Awkward Smile’ and ‘Hands Up’.  A bit more of the jazz diva comes out perhaps [laughs].

Jazz in performance is quite different to alt folk or R&B in performance – do you find when you’re performing that you kind of have to rein in the jazz diva if the instruments aren’t quite matching it, if you know what I mean?
Not at all, not at all.  And when I say jazz tinged, that’s probably all it is.

Right [laughs].
As a younger woman, I used to listen to a lot of jazz and I used to go to a lot of jazz music, but then it just wasn’t really what made my bell ring in the end.  I think I got sick of the long solos and, as a vocalist, primarily I was more interested in hearing what the person was singing about.  Finally I found my niche in singer-songwriting.  The jazz is just a little touch, but it certainly is evidence of me having listened to Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holliday, Etta James, who’s probably more blues than jazz, if you can say it.  Just in my years of developing as a vocalist.

I think some singers probably find that they desperately want to be one kind of singer, but their voice really is another kind of singer.  And I’m thinking of people who might want to sing country for example, but they’ve actually got a pop voice.  It’s always interesting how voices really have their own natures that way.  But it sounds like you’ve always been comfortable with where your voice sits and what you can express using it.
I’d like to think so.  I think with each album, if I’m lucky enough to do another album, my aim will be to get a step closer to the heart of who I am and what I do in music.  So that’s what I love about it.  It’s just an ongoing path of discovery and I think with this album, maybe I got a step closer.  And that’s not to say that the next album will be more jazz because maybe I’ll have a side step back to the Americana; I’m not sure, but it’s exciting to think about anyway.

Speaking of this album, how long ago did the gestation of this album start?  How old is the oldest song on the album?
That’s a good question.  So ‘Of the Sea’ is the oldest song.  It’s the only song from my Lady Grey [days], when I was playing under Lady Grey, that kind of made the cut onto the album and it’s just been kicking around for a few years.  And actually it’s probably the most Americana song on the album.  Shane O’Mara, the producer, and I would call it my Emmylou Harris song, because it somehow – we spoke about what the song kind of sounded like and I think his production decisions ended up being influenced a little bit.  We put on Wrecking Ball and listened to her album produced by Daniel Lanois.  I ended up feeling like I sang more like Emmylou or something. 

In terms of the process of putting it together – I know you had a bit of a tree change, for lack of a better term, and so your life obviously changed a bit. So I’m wondering at what point the process proper started when you thought, right, I’m going to do this and then I will go about making it happen.
Another good question.  I reckon it happened in a January of a few years ago.  A hot summer’s day – there had been a gestation period to get to this point, but I realised I’m going to start writing songs for a full-length album.  I’d saved a bit of money; I was keeping it in a jar [laughs].  I was actually saving for an electric guitar, but I’d kind of gone beyond a couple of thousand that I needed for that and I thought, Oh well, I’m going to keep saving and save for a full-length album and see if I can do it with a real producer.  I just thought, Right, and I wrote ‘Stuck on You’ that day, which is track three.  Obviously that was the first version of it and I ended up workshopping it quite a bit to where it got to.  But at that stage, still, I was going to release it under Lady Grey.  The whole coming-out-as-me kind of came out in the wash through the process of recording and me then realising, okay, I’m going to do it now.

Obviously if you’ve got a pseudonym of sorts – as Lady Grey would be, to an extent – you’re creating a persona or you have permission to create a persona, especially when you’re performing. You talk about coming out as yourself – is it a sense of being exposed and vulnerable when you’re putting it out under your own name?
Absolutely.  You know, in a strange kind of way – I don’t like to talk about this, but, you know, the tall poppy syndrome more or less and even on a smaller familial basis. To put yourself out there in such an explicit way – I’m the youngest of five and if you brought too much attention to yourself, you were probably just told to shut up, which is great.  It keeps you kind of real.  So for me to come out with my real name and putting it out there like that, it was definitely a step which I’m happy I’ve taken now.  It’s funny, but I’ve had a long time to sit with it now.

In the history of women as creative forces, there’s a lot of art through the ages that men have released where there is visual artists, or composers, and writers, and they needed the support of a woman – women were running the households and doing everything that was required for those men to create.  But it’s meant that actually it’s not until recent times that we’ve had a lot of visible women creating, particularly in music.  And my main focus is country music, but as an umbrella term, and there are a lot of female artists in country, more I think than any other genre.  I think it’s still not just the tall poppy syndrome; it’s that sense that you don’t have centuries’ worth of creators behind you.
Yeah, you’re right.  And now is the time as a young woman, you can do anything you want.  You’ve just got to work out a way to make it happen.  You know, there’s nothing holding you back and definitely not gender.  So it’s just about your own determination and how you see yourself and how good you are at reaching your goals that you set for yourself, which is great.  And I do more or less run a little household as well at the same time have a supportive husband, and a supportive family that enables it to all happen really.

I often talk about creative people running households.  I think running a household is possibly the biggest enemy of creative work in terms of the amount of time and organisation it takes up.  The household can be a household of one or two; it doesn’t have to involve many or children, but I think it’s a really hard balance to strike.
Yeah, it is.  And I suppose it depends on how the household looks at the end of the day [laughs].  Just looking around at my living room, it could do with a vacuum that’s for sure. 

Now, you brought 16 songs into this recording process and you left with 13, so there are three orphaned songs out there somewhere.  Do you have any regrets about the choice of songs you made for the album? 
No, I don’t.  Really, the best thing about getting a producer on board – and especially Shane O’Mara – was that you have someone that has a strong opinion as to whether a song gets through or not, so I really like that.  Because often you’re kind of on your own and have to make all the decisions on your own, so it’s just nice to have someone who actually cares enough to have a strong opinion.  So those three songs – look, there is one that we recorded that didn’t get on the album and I perform that at gigs.  It’s called ‘Do-gooder’.  And the only reason it didn’t get on the album was because Shane was a bit concerned, and maybe a few of my friends were concerned, that it would be taken the wrong way.  I’m just having a bit of fun and poking some fun at do-gooders and I like to get a little bit contentious, but that’s probably the most contentious I’ve tried to get.  One of my do-gooder friends got a bit offended.  Well, she didn’t realise what a do-gooder was; she thought it was a person who does good things, but really I’m meaning do-gooders who aren’t just people who do good things, they attach things onto it.  Blah, blah, blah, you know.

Yes.  I understand [laughs].
I do like to have a bit of fun, but that didn’t make it on.  So if ever you hear me live, I might still sing that song.

 [Laughs] I read that you and Shane seem to be working on weekends a bit.  Like, you did some recording and then you catch up on weekends or once a week to keep working on the album.  Is that because you’re now in regional Victoria?
A little bit, yeah.  And also we just both have a lot of stuff going on, whether it be work or family commitments.  And it only took me an hour from door to door.  So a lot of people coming from Melbourne, to go to his studio, would only take that time anyway.  I don’t know how I could have ever done it in a different way.  But in a way, I like the breathing space that comes from that.  I’ve taken my time with the whole thing, so there was no reason to rush through this.  And look, I don’t know who can when you’re working and stuff, get three weeks off your work calendar like that.  It’s a hard thing to pull off really, for anyone.

I read in your bio, you were talking about giving up a day of work, or giving up some work when you moved to regional Victoria, and I was thinking about the idea of sacrifices being made in the name of art.  Whether it’s a change in lifestyle so you have more time to create, or whether it is giving up some work so you have time to create, or working more so you can fund your own creation.  And I thought it would be appropriate to ask you why it’s important to make those sacrifices, because it seems like you have made some adjustments in your life for your art.
All of the stuff you just said then, I completely agree with all of them.  And I often think that it’s important to do that in my own life and I really … Look, I tried not to do it.  Trust me, I tried to think, Come on, you don’t need to spend all this money on something – look, it’s an indulgence.  It’s an absolute indulgence, I think, to do what I’ve done.  But I’ve enjoyed every moment that I got to go and be in the studio working on the songs, because I’ve worked so hard to get to that point to have the songs to that standard.  And I guess I have only been enriched since having done it, and I think you’ve got to get to a point in your life where I have to look myself in the face and see that the only reason that you’re doing this is for yourself.  You know, there was no one else needing me to do this and really, with all life, that’s the case isn’t it?  There’s no good reason why we need another album in the world.  Really, other than the fact that it gives me something to do, and be engaged within the world in a healthy way, and if anything else springboards from that, then great.  But that’s really what I had to weigh up.

I dispute that assessment, in that I think singer-songwriters are storytellers, every culture needs storytellers and every culture needs stories and wants stories.  And so even though it could seem like a personal indulgence in terms of time and the amount of money you’re spending, I think it’s a really important role to play in society when you are a storyteller.  And I think if you feel that drive to do it, and to get to the stage you’re at, having gone through the process of doing the album, releasing it and everything else, I think there’s a really fundamental, almost unwilled, drive to do it.  It’s not even something you can necessarily control.  So I would dispute the idea that it’s an indulgence, Lizanne, and I would say that it’s a cultural necessity.
You’re lovely, Sophie.  Listen, if you want to get the funding bodies to continue to put money into my account just so I can keep doing it; that would be wonderful [laughs].

I’ve got to confess; I work in the publishing industry and I was on a federal government body for a year and we are working on just that kind of thing going to the future for cultural change – cultural change regarding storytelling.
Absolutely.  And it brings up an interesting discussion. I have a few critical discussions with friends and funding for arts and all of that stuff, but ultimately my output, this album, has been just me working hard in my own life, earning my money and putting my own money into it.  And so I mean, and it’s a good result and a good outcome; it keeps me happy.  I suppose I’m just not so sure that I think when people get given things for free in a way and don’t have to work so hard at it, it’s not so desperate.  The decision to actually make it in the first time hasn’t been made so desperately, I suppose.  It’s an interesting discussion.  Maybe we can have more of a discussion about that at some stage.

Where a lot of the funding could go is in shifting general awareness in the population of Australian cultural artefacts and cultural output.  The cultural cringe tall poppy syndrome is still alive in regards to Australian creators.  We don’t see it a lot in country music, where there’s a huge enthusiasm for local music, but that’s one sector of the population and I think partly we need to just really encourage more awareness of Australian storytelling in all forms.
Well, you’re doing it by having this chat with me really aren’t you.

That’s true [laughs].
I always hesitate or cringe a bit when thinking that people should be paying more attention to me, because people are doing what they do, they work their jobs and I think it’s just all hats off to any artist who’s creating something that can actually end up making people interested.  So that’s the big challenge and it’s a big challenge.  So I don’t know.  And you’ve got to be probably very smart to pull it off and work out a way to make it happen.  Maybe I just need to keep putting out albums.  They say Paul Kelly put out four albums before people really started to pay any attention to him, which is incredible when you think about how big an artist he is now.

It’s the same with novelists.  It’s usually novel three or novel four when people start to pay attention, and I think it is just that growing awareness of things.  But it’s tough for musicians – novelists can put out a novel, they don’t have to go on tour necessarily, but I would imagine you’re thinking about playing some gigs in support of this album.  So from where you are in regional Victoria, is that easy enough to arrange or do you have special travel things to do?
It’s actually really hard, so I’m going to be lucky to even pull off playing a gig in Sydney.  I did have plans – I actually went for a grant, but I was unsuccessful, and fair enough.  I’m not in any way bitter about that, but I was going to try and just do a bit more of a tour through New South Wales, the ACT, and Victoria.  In a way, you’ve got to cut your teeth and it was something that Shane O’Mara and I discussed a little bit.  Like, how do you actually make it all happen?  But to go on tour, is just so expensive and especially with more than just solo, and the logistics of it.  I just take my hat off.  For instance Stringer, Dyson, and Cloher, you know they’re at a stage where they can go on tour together and fill up probably quite substantially venues and therefore make it – pay for itself.  But they’ve been plugging away for years.  In a way, I’m probably just going to go back to the drawing board and just start working on another album.  That’s probably the best I can do, and with any luck in two years I might have another one to flog and we can have another conversation.  And there would be two more people listening and go, oh yeah, I remember that name [laughs].  You know, do the slow build and look, I’m going to try and gig as much as I can in Victoria for sure.  But you can’t over-saturate yourself as well in touring in the same place as well.  It’s tricky.

In terms of writing another album, do you need to let the field lie fallow for a while for your songwriting, or are you just always writing songs?
No.  I’m actually not a prolific writer at all.  I’m very compartmentalised with the way I live, but that’s just through a need to be able to fit in life.  I will probably, at the end of this year – I’ve got my big album launch and I’m probably going to play a few more little gigs after that, and then next year I’m thinking, I’m going to just cosy in a little bit.  I’m going to try and play a gig a month just to keep it all happening still.  But I’ll actually then start trying to dedicate whatever I can, even if it’s just half a day a week, to piping away at getting some songs happening.  Hopefully it will be more than that though.

And you’re on Vitamin Records now, so I guess basically you’ve funded the production of the album, found Shane and all those sorts of things.  Does Vitamin act as your distributor?
Yes.  They’re distributing it for me, which is fantastic.  That was my kind of base minimum goal.  And I guess life’s dream, and I’ve achieved that.  You know, gotten them on board to distribute it for me.  If it’s not at the shop where you go and buy your CDs from, you can order it now, so they can get it to that shop, which is great.  But it’s just a real tick of approval for me to kind of get them on board.  That avenue being set up, I feel like doing another album.  Although it will be a huge undertaking, it’s not going to be as huge as pulling off the first one.

Well, yes, it’s a big amount of organisation and energy to even think about starting that and I think once you’ve done it the first time and you know what’s required of you, it’s easier to roll on again. 
Yeah, I think so.  And maybe – you know I just had the first thoughts of wow, if you do a little photo shoot for your promo shots, I can’t just wear those black jeans again [laughs].  I’ll have to probably get a different look and that’s interesting.  Because I’ve never really gotten to this point having done it number one and thinking, Oh god, now the next challenge is to make it interesting in a different way.  So it’s a whole other ball game, which is great.  I’m just entering that now.  Imagine after album four, what people have to do, to come up with points of interest.

 [Laughs] Well, it sounds like you’ve had a rich and varied life thus far, growing up in Africa and living now in regional Victoria, which must be quite different from an environmental point of view if nothing else.  So it seems like there’s a nice sense of the influences of music and your life coming through in the album; that there’s all these things that you’ve seen and experienced that have reached fruition here, but I imagine there’s still quite a lot left in the tank for future songs.
Look, I hope so.  And I’m really intrigued to see what’s left in the tank.  And in a way it’s great, because the first album, you know, a couple of those songs – namely ‘Better Love’, which I’ve pushed as a single for this release.  That’s been kind of kicking around for quite a few years and it’s of my first big break-up in my life, and I guess I’ve finally nailed that down and written a song that I feel really proud of, because it’s an optimistic break-up song.  I probably don’t need to do that on album two [laughs].  Nick Cave, I remember reading something in an interview of his and how he really treats it like a job.  He goes into his office nine to five and basically he said something about how you’re in your office and really it’s about your ability to use your imagination to take you places based on your experiences and whatever fodder you’re looking into.  But it’s really that skill, isn’t it?  And that’s what I’m looking forward to exploring more.  You know the internal workings that is me and trying to get deeper into that, I suppose.  And with whatever I’m dealing with at the time and whatever I’m reading.  So that excites me a little bit.

Lizanne Richards is out now through Vitamin Records.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Interview: Lachlan Bryan

I was already a fan of Lachlan Bryan's after hearing his debut solo album, Shadow of the Gun (with The Wildes he had previously released Ballad of a Young Married Man). Recently Lachlan and The Wildes released Black Coffee and, lo, if it wasn't another stunningly good album. Two such fine albums in a row is not a coincidence - as you'll discover when you read what Lachlan has to say about songwriting, recording and a whole lot more. 

Well, first of all, congratulations on another amazing album, I'm starting to suspect you may be a genius but I don't want really want to overstate the case.
Oh, thank you very much.

I've got to say, to back it up from Shadow of the Gun so quickly ‑ this has been a very quick turnaround to have such an exceptional album last year too, to doing it this year, so I was reading in your bio that you wrote it while you were travelling across ‑ wrote most of it while you were travelling across the United States, but how quickly has it come together, really?
Oh, too quickly.  I mean, I want to do a record a year, that's really my goal and this has actually taken longer to put out than I wanted, just Shadow of the Gun was a solo last year.  As far as the writing goes, after I put out Shadow of the Gun I didn't really write anything for a few months. And then I went travelling through the States and did a lot of shows over there and I think I really just wrote all the ideas over there and just came home and in my first couple of weeks home the end of last year wrote pretty much all the songs.  There was a couple that came together early this year and then ‑ in fact, there was a couple that came together just a week or so before we got in and recorded, and so we went in and recorded in, I guess it would have been April and we completed the whole album in the weekend. I don't really do a lot of overdubs or anything like that, so it's really a live album and the band playing in the studio ‑ I believe in doing the vocals at the same time as the guitar and all that kind of stuff, and for me it's important that the [spirit] of the songs gets captured pretty early in the piece, so I don't really like to put the drums down first and then layer the guitars on and all that sort of stuff, I just prefer to do it all at once and that's what we did and you kind of get in a position where you go either it works or it doesn't, you know ‑ if you didn't sing it well you have to do the whole thing again, and I like that pressure, so it came together very quickly.  We recorded it in two days and we mixed it in four, so it was a six-day album, really, and while we were mixing we added a few extra little bits of percussion and that kind of thing, backing vocals. So it was a really fast process.

You say you just recorded it in two days, but I think of how tortured some people's ‑ or how long some people's recording processes are, and I guess it's just that ‑ you strike me as someone who is quite knowledgeable about your own creative process, or maybe it's on the subconscious level that you are … You said you had the ideas for the songs last year, then you wrote them and it's almost like they have this marinating process, so that by the time you get to record them, they are as fully formed in your mind or in your brain as they're going to be and that's why it can be recorded quite quickly.  Does that seem a reasonable thing to say?

Yeah, I think so.  I think that really what we tried to do - at least with the last two albums - is just capture the songs exactly as they are and as raw as possible. And in terms of Shadow of the Gun, it was more polished, we had session musicians and things playing on it but we still tracked it live ... I'm open to writing all kinds of songs, but the songs I've written over the last couple of years have been very much singer/songwriter songs and the kind of songs that you could ruin if you thought too much about, so I guess I'm usually pretty tight with my writing process. I don't claim the song as finished unless I'm really happy with the shape of it and the lyric and where everything goes, and so it's really just a matter of the band playing around it, and in this case I didn't really direct people what to do. The last album, Rod McCormack produced it and he had certainly a lot of ideas on the arrangements and things; this time Rod co‑produced it with me and with the band, really, and the reason that we said that we co‑produced it is because we all really just did our thing and we all threw in bits of advice in there or suggestions, but usually most of the songs - there's two songs on there that we only did one take and we thought, yeah, that sounds good, so we'll keep it.  So it's just one of those things that I think we're in the right headspace and it's the right group of people working together at the right time ‑ there's not really any need to labour over it.  Like, I would love to make a David Bowie kind of album one day where you are in the studio layering things and getting crazy with arrangements and everything, but it would have to be the right songs and these kind of songs don't lend themselves to that kind of production.

I do think there's an argument that your lyrics suggest that if you wanted to go for more and more layering as time goes on there's certainly space there to do it, just depending on the way you play the song.

Well, definitely. Kike I said, I would love to do that one day but you know, if I was going to do that, I would probably do something completely outside of the country music genre, which is not something I'd ever rule out, you know, I think in some ways this album might be seen as less country than the last one and who knows, the next one I do might be completely left field, but I do agree, I think that there is room for all kinds of production, with all kinds of songs.

Was your relationship with the band different this time, because to me this album sounds more like Shadow of the Gun than it does like Ballad of the Young Married Man, stylistically and also in terms of how it's played and maybe how it's produced as well, and that's probably because of Rod McCormack and you both being the common denominator.  But did you find going back into the studio with The Wildes, that because you'd had that time on your own it was a little bit different?

A little bit. Certainly I think the fact that we were in the same studio and the fact that Rod's playing on it and the fact that Jeff McCormack was engineering it, there's certainly some common denominators there.  I think also I probably have a greater understanding of what I do than I did when we did Ballad of the Young Married Man.  I mean, the other interesting thing probably is that Ballad of the Young Married Man actually was a lot more layered and it wasn't recorded as live, it was a much more arduous recording process; we were all quite inexperienced in this industry at the time, so that album actually did take a long time to make.  So I guess the similarity between this and Shadow of the Gun is that they were both made quite quickly.  And as far as the band goes, this is really the first time since the first few Wildes gigs that we have worked with our original guitar player, who's one of my best friends, Andy Wrigglesworth and he went off and did his own thing as well, Weeping Willows.
So it was the first time we sort of had him back in the four, and I think our relationship had changed because we used to really labour over things and we used to try and change what each other was doing all the time and second‑guess things. So we just turned around, we just kind of said play, play what feels right and everyone played what felt right and we didn't really muck around with it too much. So I guess we trusted each other a lot more and we'd grown up a bit as musicians as well. Everyone kind of heard the song and we knew what had to be done this time around, whereas with Ballad there was a lot of trying to find our feet and we also had a lot more session players play on Ballad as well … we had a different bass players play on some songs, different guitarists play on some songs, so this was much more just the four of us - or the five of us including Rod- playing together at the same time, and that, to me, made it a really exciting recording project and a really stress‑free recording project as well.

Of course, the billing for this album is different because it's now Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes.  Are you feeling more responsibility, having had a solo album and being the figurehead almost or when you're in the band does it still feel like a collective?
Well, it's a bit different, I guess, because my commitments are different to the guys’ commitments. I'm still going to be playing solo a lot, so really I feel like the band was together for the recording project, not necessarily a touring act at the minute, although obviously we'll play together at festivals and certain shows. But it feels like a real halfway in between. A lot of this is very much solo but at least the recording process did feel collaborative, and the rehearsal process. We'd just done a little tour before we went into the studio, and then we rehearsed for a few weeks and then we went into the studio and recorded, so it felt very together at that stage. And then we kind of go off and live our separate lives and then we come together for certain shows and that kind of thing.  So it's not the type of thing it was when we were just a young band, where no one really had any other kind of aspects to their lives that they were worrying about; you know, now my drummer has a drum building business and he teaches music, and our guitar player has another band and so on, the bass player runs a business as well.  So I'm kind of the only one that's left that's just a kind of, you know, travelling musician.  So the feeling was different but lots of things are the same ‑ it feels nice to be with the guys again, I guess that's the best thing I can say.

It’s also a testament to you and the other guys in the band that your relationships are solid enough to withstand that amount of change in all of your lives, and also in your musical work, so there's obviously some kind of affection that keeps you together, quite apart from being able to work well.
There definitely is, and we really are best friends ‑ it's funny, because the guitar player had left the band, like I said, but in the time that he left the band, he and I probably became the closest friends that we'd ever been and it was hard doing the solo thing as well, doing a record without those guys. Matt [the drummer] and I had played together for years and it was weird making a record without him around, so we're really lucky that we did keep a strong friendship.  We had our moments in the middle, for sure, our moments or our weeks - I don't know, months - but it did all come back together and we are, as friends, very strong.

Now, more about the songs on the album.  For me, Shadow of the Gun felt like a song cycle in a way, whereas Black Coffee is a collection of individual tales, and that probably reflects the different way you wrote it or the location you wrote a lot of the ideas in.
Mmm hmm.

Was Shadow of the Gun a song cycle or was it just that all those songs sounded like they belong together?
No, I don't think it was really a song cycle. There was a common theme, I guess, of a break‑up that I'd been through that in hindsight affected a lot of the songs.  The process in a way was similar. I haven't really changed the way I write songs … Black Coffee, the songs were written much closer together; Shadow of the Gun, the songs had been written over quite a long period of time, whereas this one the songs are very much how I was feeling in the moment and they do reflect the places where I was. When I started writing the songs I was on the road in the Midwest and Texas and then when I came home I was on the road a lot in sort of similar landscapes in Australia, so I guess to me ‑ in a way it was sort of more of a collection ‑ or more of a song cycle to me simply because these songs seem to be united by a sense of place or setting, you know. It's kind of like a road record or a highway record for me, whereas Shadow of the Gun, maybe I didn't want ‑ because it was such a personal album, maybe I didn't want to look at it so deeply.

That's okay, because I've done it for you [laughs] and I can tell you that I actually think it was much more melancholic album, but given the background to it that makes sense, and whereas on Black Coffee there's more light and dark, and it seems to me like Black Coffee has quite a few different narrators, whereas I often thought on Shadow of the Gun that it was different aspects of you that were narrating each song.
Yes, Shadow of the Gun was just this one real sad guy.

Not the serial killer one, not that one.
Yeah.  Yeah, well, you're probably right, actually, in that degree in the sense of different narrators in this song or maybe I've just grown a few more personalities since the last record.

For me, on Shadow of the Gun, ‘Going Straight’ was the song that I thought really exemplified the whole tone of the album, thematically and musically, and on Black Coffee, when I heard ‘Big Fish’, I thought maybe it would be the same, but it's not. ‘Big Fish’ is an echo of the previous album in a way and then it fits in with all these different songs which kind of make up almost a short story collection.
You've probably analysed it more than me, but I think, you know, I suppose if there was a song on this album that is kind of an essential song, is probably ‘Deathwish Country’, that was kind of the first or second song written and it was going to be the album title for a while and everyone kept saying to me, you know, you really need to stop talking about death, and I took that advice, and then when I thought about it, that the collection of songs as a whole group was more uplifting and ‘Black Coffee’ kind of exemplified the feel that I wanted people to walk away with from the albums, so that's kind of part of why that became the title track.  Interestingly, you said ‘Going Straight’ for the last album, and obviously the title of the last album came from the lyric in that song. So maybe I was more aware than I thought.

‘Going Straight’ is the one song I can't let go of from that album, in that I listen to it constantly, because there's just something about the whole cycle of it, I think it's ‑ I'm not trying to flatter you too much, Lachlan, but I think it's … actually, I will flatter you, because I think it's a song that actually could be used as a textbook to how to write a really perfect song, it's just this great story arc in it, great musical arc in it and it resolves itself without lyrically resolving anything in a way.  So, congratulations.
Well, thank you, I'm glad you're referring to the songwriting technique as opposed to the state of sobriety I was in when I wrote it.

What I found curious on the last album which is not so much present on this one is references ‑ religious references essentially and they were particularly in that song, that kind of mining of a person's morality that went on in the last album, but in this album certainly it's not so much there, that heaviness of thinking about moral compromise, in a way, is not there.
Yeah, yeah, maybe.  I don't think I've resolved those things in my life, but sometimes you have to take a break from them and so there's only a couple of mentions in there.

And now you've got Melody Pool singing backing vocals on quite a few songs and duetting pretty much on ‘Forty Days and Nights’. Having her there, it gave a different atmosphere to the whole album - it's a little lighter in tone musically. Was that a conscious decision to introduce a female voice or did you just want her on the album?
There's female voices on the last record but I guess they're much more traditional backing vocals on the previous album.

It was Catherine Britt last time and Kasey Chambers on one song, wasn't it?
Yes. Melody and I, we've known each other for years. We used to pretend that we were brother and sister at gigs and on radio interviews and stuff ‑ it's getting harder to pretend now, she's getting kind of famous. But I wanted her on the previous album, too, to be honest and I think that as far as singers that I've sung with, to at least to the point of recording this, like, in the Australian country scene I get to sing with a lot of great girl singers … but Melody, even though I guess she's not really a strictly country artist, there's something about just singing with her … she's like a child prodigy or ‑ she's not a child anymore but, you know, a person who's kind of like a child prodigy and she has the kind of same dark twisted mind that I do. She’s one of the saddest people you'd ever want to have a conversation with. And she was actually travelling with me for some of that American stuff last year, so that there's definitely a number of those reasons why she ended up on the record and then when she started singing, I just wanted her to sing more and more, and she's on a lot of it, her voice is all over the record, but we've actually cut it back from where it was originally because we sung so much together that we never sing out of phase with each other or anything like that, it's like it is a bit of a sibling kind of thing. And to be honest, the other guys in the band, I mean, we were all like family with her ‑ always her family has put us up when we've been in the area and we've always hung out together, so she's kind of like a sister to all of us, and she's pretty much in the band as well - whenever we go to Tamworth shows or shows in New South Wales, she's kind of always been playing with us. But it's harder now because she has her own career really going, but I'm really glad that she ended up as much on the record as she did. I guess the other side of it is that the backing vocals she's done, we've been careful not to make them really traditional country vocals, they're a little bit more folky, a little bit more, I guess, she doesn't go for the obvious part, she doesn't go for the high harmony all the time and that kind of thing; , that's something that's really interesting about her, her approach to singing, and something that I really wanted to have on the album.

And for you as a singer, I certainly can hear the progression from your voice on Ballad of the Young Married Man through to Shadow of a Gun, really, there was a change and then I think your voice on this album is consistent with the last album, but on Ballad, I was listening to it again just before talking to you today and I was thinking yeah, you sounded a bit like Elvis in some parts. Were you consciously trying to take on a certain type of voice and then you found your natural voice, or was it just a natural progression?
It’s a funny thing when you're a singer, because a lot of my favourite singers, their voices have changed from record to record. My favourite singers are people like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and, you know, you listen to a Bob Dylan record from the early ’60s to the late ’60s, even, and he just sounds like a completely different human being, and I think Tom Waits was even more extreme.  I kind of think that singing is like playing an instrument and we sing what's right for the song … I think with Ballad of the Young Married Man with the Elvis stuff, I was probably a little bit more rockabilly than some of the songs and we had the slight echo on and that kind of thing – and, also, we produced that album very differently. Working with Rod and Jeff, we kind of established in the last two albums a real vocal sound in terms of which microphone we're using and what sort of reverb is on the songs and what sort of delay is on the song ‑ on the vocal and with Ballad we were much more inconsistent with that, we used different mics for different songs, we recorded them in different ways, we recorded one song in a broom cupboard, you know, we did all those things, because I guess in those days we were kind of an indie band that played a bit of country, whereas now it's kind of established what we do a bit more and I guess that's reflected in the vocal.

Just going back to something you said at the start of the interview about producing one album a year; is that something you want to do for career reasons or is that an amount of creative momentum that's great to have if you can pull it off?

I think both. For career reasons it's good, because obviously as artists we need people to keep talking about us, and the best place to talk about you is to be either producing music and have new things out and have new things to sell; but from a creative perspective I think even more so, because most artists nowadays they create an album every ‑ the record label only lets you put out an album every two years and sometimes longer, and that's very tight, and to go on tour for two years and play the same songs is extremely ‑ it's boring, like, was it Miles Davis that had the quote when he was asked, "Why do you write new songs?"  And he goes, "Because I'm tired of the old ones.”
And, you know, I get tired of singing the same thing, I have new ideas, I want to always sing things that I relate to in the moment, and so keeping writing and keeping recording, I love the recording process, I sort of like the writing process and I really love the process of playing new songs to new people or to people that have already seen you as well.  So I think it's for all those reasons. In the early ’70s, artists used to put out, like, 15 albums in three years and stuff like that. Or 15 albums in five years, and it was always new material as well. So I think the more you work, the better you get, so I think doing stuff quickly adds all sorts of benefits.

I'm not quite sure where the belief came in that it was better to space out cultural products, for lack of a better term. If the audience likes you, there is that hunger for new material, same as if you stumble upon someone's fifth album, it's fantastic because then there are four you can get straightaway. So I'm interested to know whether it's just a market control device, but certainly for someone like you who can continue to create, that restriction would really chafe.
Well, I mean that's the thing - realistically I don't have a huge market, so it's a case, I guess, of making the people that do listen to my stuff … I tend to add people that are very passionate about it and so it's partly about keeping them associated, and it's partly about the fact that if you put out more stuff, then there are more things that new people can latch on to.  I can understand the record label holding back and saying, you know, let's space this out to make this one properly, but I kind of had nothing to lose, [to] put out a record and go on the road and play it, and I just want to make another one.  So I'm not really subject to those kind of restrictions or demands.

You’ve mentioned going on the road - I'll end by asking you about gigs, because obviously they will follow the release of this album; so what are your plans over the next few weeks and months?
Well, I'm going to play a few shows - I’m in Sydney at the minute.  I've been playing here more lately … I'm doing a lot of New South Wales, solo and then early November I'm in Queensland and then in November I'm in New South Wales again and then down in Tasmania and then South Australia at the end of November, and then back in New South Wales.  The rest of this year, right up until Tamworth it's not really an actual tour, it's just lots and lots of playing with different people and doing shows with mainstream country people. I'm doing shows with more Melbourne country people, I guess, alternative country people, and then next year the actual album tour will probably kick off straight after Tamworth, so I'll have a pretty hectic Tamworth festival and then get into the tour. I want to do 300 shows next year, that's part of my goal ‑ I'm kind of at a time in my life where I'm happier working than doing anything else, so I'd like to be on the road and playing as much as possible.

Black Coffee is out now. Lachlan Bryan is touring, as mentioned above, a lot. Visit for details or visit Lachlan on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Album review: Dancing with a Ghost by Ashleigh Dallas

Albums fall into all sorts of categories: there are the ones that take the top of your head off; the ones you can't ignore; the ones you're impressed by; the ones that shake you up in the best possible way. And there are the ones you fall in love with and become starry eyed about - that you daydream about, with songs that you put on repeat because you just don't want to let them go.

Having seen native Tamworthian Ashleigh Dallas play support for, separately, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, I was fairly confident that I'd love her album, Dancing with a Ghost. And now that I've heard it, I can state that it's not just love but that daydreamy song-repeating love that has me smiling at strangers and gazing out the window on the train. 

Dallas is a young artist - just 20 years of age - but she has had a solid musical upbringing which, no doubt, accounts for the confidence in her songwriting and voice. The album sounds like the product of a very established performer, just as her live performance is assured. On stage Ashleigh always seems like she is right where she's meant to be, and Dancing with a Ghost sounds like the album she's meant to release. 

The songs on the album are about family and belonging and home; about security and self. They are love songs to all sorts of subjects; touching without being schmaltzy. There is not a moment of post-teenage angst, just a dance between light and dark (lyrically and musically) which makes the album a fantastic amalgam of country, folk and pop. It is a balance Kasey Chambers - a longtime supporter of Dallas's - has managed for many years, and there is same sense of destiny about Dallas's music. Chambers always sounds like she is meant to be doing what she's doing; so, too, does Dallas, who is an accomplished fiddle, mandolin, banjo and guitar player as well as singer. If we see as many terrific albums from Dallas as Chambers has produced, they will be a very valuable addition to the country music canon. Dancing with a Ghost is an excellent start.