Monday, July 28, 2014

Album review: Whole Lot to Say by Jess Holland

Given the high standard of country music in Australia, it's not often that an artist can exceed my expectations for their new album. I expected that Jess Holland's album would be strong and bold and entertaining - she has a mighty voice and she knows how to use it. I also expected that the album might veer more towards blues - which her voice certainly suits - than country.

From the first track, 'Ain't Quittin' This Run', Holland declares that this album can take my expectations and toss them gleefully aside. Musically the album is a very well-rounded piece of work, and that's because Holland doesn't just deliver the 'big' songs but she gives us a lot of subtlety too. The first song has both, so it grabbed me and held on, and she kept me on the ride the whole way through.

Holland crowd-sourced the funding for this album and, as with all the other artists who have done this, she therefore had control over how this album was put together: who produced it, where it was recorded, who played on it. That the result is such a great album reveals not just that she is a fantastic singer and musician but also that she has a very clear vision for her music - and that this album is a true representation of what she wants to say as an artist. Given that that's the case, what Australian country music now has is a truly diverse artist who can take a rollicking road song and make it soar, give us a torch song that makes our knees weak and then deliver a straight-shooting narrative that has us sitting up and paying attention. This is an album that should make any country music fan excited about where the 'younger generation' are taking the genre: while remaining eminently respectful of tradition, they are finding ways to drive country music forwards, taking the existing audience with them and finding new listeners along the way.

In the song 'Fine Lines', Holland sings, ''It's a fine line between dreams and madness/Be careful how you play your hand'. Jess Holland was playing small pub stages at this year's Tamworth Country Music Festival. This album surely has to be her ticket to bigger venues and bigger audiences - she deserves them for this album that is very clearly the result of her playing her hand just right.

Whole Lot to Say is out now.

Jess Holland is heading for the Top End:

Humpty Doo Hotel - 22 August
Darwin Rodeo - 23 August
Darwin Railway Club - 24 August

Album review: Dead Man's Garden by Tim Hulsman

As Tim Hulsman's third album, Dead Man's Garden, opens it sounds like wide open skies and sunburnt paddocks - sounds, admittedly, that don't exist in nature, but you imagined them, didn't you? And you'll imagine them when Hulsman's guitar begins and his voice follows. While the pace of the tunes picks up, we still have the sense of being ensconced somewhere warm and comfortable, if not always comforting. 

Hulsman has a background in rock 'n' roll, folk and blues, but on this album he also brings his talents to country music. The songs respect the traditions of all those genres - this album is old style rather than old timey. These are songs for a pub on a lazy afternoon, for an evening at home in front of a fire.

Hulsman's voice isn't polished - but this isn't a 'singer's album', it's a storyteller's album. And in saying it isn't polished, that doesn't mean it's not the right voice for these songs - it's just a way of describing his singing style. Hulsman's wife, Nina Grant, provides more-than-backing vocals that beautifully compliment him and round out these songs that so often seem to be written for or about her. There are also songs of salvation, and of recovery from despair; they are songs that are about any human's life, with Hulsman's distinctive stamp on them.

Dead Man's Garden is out now through Only Blues Music.

Tim Hulsman is touring:

Wednesday 30th July                             
Frankie’s Pizza By The Slice, SYDNEY NSW
Friday 1st August
The Commons Café, HAMILTON NSW
Saturday 2nd August                                         
Wednesday 6th August                          
New Globe Theatre - The Campfire Test, FORTITUDE VALLEY QLD
Friday 8th August                                             
Royal Mail Hotel, GOODNA QLD
Saturday 9th August                                         
Saturday 9th August                                         
supporting Charting Stars
Sunday 10th August                                          
The Bearded Lady, WEST END QLD
Sunday 17th August                                          
The Wesley Anne, NORTHCOTE VIC
Sunday 24th August                                          
Thursday 28th August                           
The Retreat Hotel, BRUNSWICK VIC

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Interview: The Yearlings

South Australian duo The Yearlings have garnered quite a following over the course of their previous four albums. Now, with the release of their fifth album, All the Wandering, that following is sure to increase. I recently spoke to the delightful Laura Chalklen, who took some time away from the studio where she and fellow Yearling Chris Parkinson record other artists' work, and found out just why the Yearlings' sound is so special. 

You’re in your studio – your own album is out, so presumably you’re working on someone else’s album.
That’s right – we’ve started work with a guy called Ian Matthews – so we’re straight back in the studio.

Is a lot of your time spent on producing, then, rather than writing or performing?
No, that’s just become a thing that we really like to do. We did it with Sara Tindley – she came over and recorded in our studio – and Chris is really quite gifted in that way, in hearing things and what should be there and what would sound great for that tune. So it’s something that’s become more of what we do but it’s not a large part, even though I’d like it to be.

On Sara’s album, didn’t you two play on that as well?
Yes, with BJ, who’s our drummer. He’s on that album and he’s on this one that we’re doing with Ian, as well.

So you’re like a complete package for artists then – you’re providing a band and a studio.
[laughs] Yeah, that’s right – we’ve got it all! It’s a good marketing ploy. We’ve recorded of ours up at Mixmasters with Nick Wordley, who we’ve done all of our records with. But the one before we did down in our little home studio. But this time it’s a really beautiful, big, lush studio up here, with lots of room.

Your album was recorded on some fairly old tech originally – you recorded it to tape, is that right?
Yes – we’ve actually done all our records, except for the live one, on smelly old tape. And even the one we did in New York we carted this really heavy two-inch tape over to Brooklyn on the plane just so we could record it the old-fashioned way.

And is that because it gives it a warmer sound, do you think?
Definitely. I think there’s so much on mp3 and everything’s so compressed, and people get used to that sound – I know they do. But it’s like listening to vinyl, it’s got something surrounding the sound, it’s not all squashed and clean – it’s beautiful [and] warm and it’s got a really hard-to-describe feeling about it.

Does it make you, during the recording process, concentrate on getting things right – because with digital recording you can make arguably an infinite number of takes, but with tape you really have to hit your mark.
That is so true. And I think there’s something about the live performance and if you manage to get that down on tape, it’s fantastic. But also if you’re really limited with your choices, you don’t want to play it twenty million times because you start getting tired and losing the magic. So you’re kind of thinking, Oh, we could add a little bit of this here and drop him in here and mix that around and take that out – and you just can’t do it [with tape].

It’s interesting, in the evolution of recording artists until quite recently you had to be an accomplished performer because you had limited takes, but these days people can go into a studio without even having performed and have a finished product. But then, of course, they have to learn how to perform to go out and connect with audiences.
That’s true. I think it’s also that’s what we mainly do – we mainly perform live – and it’s not very often that you get to practise being in the studio with the red light on. So if you’re thinking, We’re just going to play a tune and here we go, we’re much more used to that instead of, ‘You play guitar and then I sing over the top of it’. I’m really not used to it, and you can hear it when I try to put a guitar track down and sing over the top of it I’m so disconnected. I’m not very good at that. Some artists are fantastic at layering and doing guide vocals and singing over the top of what they’ve already done, but for me I can really hear it – I sound too deliberate and it just doesn’t sound connected.

For the songs that you two are writing and recording, they’re a collection of stories rather than just delivering emotions, and I guess if all you were doing was just delivering emotions, you could drop in and drop out of those with the recording but when you’re telling a story you really need that integrated experience.
I’m with you on that and it’s a really fun experience to be in the room with everybody seeing where it will go and what will happen – that’s where the magic is, I think, in recording.

How did the Yearlings come to be originally?
I was in Adelaide in a really dodgy but fun girl band called Problem Pony and we want to Tamworth Country Music Festival and there playing with Mr Little was this lovely, smiley guitar player from Sydney, and that was Chris Parkinson … he ended up moving to Adelaide to come and live with me. So we started singing a lot together and playing guitar just because that’s what we love doing, and it ended up being The Yearlings. That was in 2000. So we're getting on – we’re not the yearlings any more!

Tamworth has been the site of so many great creative – and, obviously – personal collaborations. There’s obviously something about it that just enables people to come together. It’s a wonderful aspect of that festival.
It is, isn’t it? I think going there from Adelaide with Problem Pony and our eyes were so opened when we got there – there’s music everywhere, of all different types. It’s a fabulous time. So we’ve been back a few times. It’s quite a little cocktail of different music, isn’t it?

Yes – I recommend it to everyone. But I'm just thinking: you were in a band called Problem Pony and this band is The Yearlings – so horses obviously feature prominently!
[laughs] It’s so hard coming up with a band name! [laughs] We were The Bloody Lovelies for, I think, about two albums. We just kept saying, ‘You say a word, I’ll say a word’ – so that’s what we’ve come up with, and it’s stuck. And our studio’s called My Sweet Mule, so … there’s definitely some kind of equine thing going on, isn’t there?

Do you actually have horses?
I don’t any more – we live across the road from a horse stud and my dad’s got a horse, so I still ride occasionally but I don’t have my own pony any more.

A lot of band names don’t fit the music, but ‘yearlings’ is a very elegant word and it fits your style of music, which is elegant and not overdone. It’s an onomatopoeic band name, if that make sense.
I love that! I love that you said that, because I think that sometimes – that it’s got a bit of country in it, and it’s got a bit of youth in there, and ‘yearlings’ rhymes with ‘dearlings’- as in, ‘dears’ and ‘darlings’ [laughs]. So I like it because of that.

Also in terms of your style of music and how you record: it’s too easy to hide behind a lot of instruments, a lot of engineering and mixing, but really the two of you are quite exposed in terms of where your voices are placed in the mix. And you’re respectful of the songs by not overburdening them with a lot of instruments. But does that mean you feel exposed and raw sometimes as performers?
Oh yeah. To go from being in a band and then it’s just two of you. A lot of the time it’s just me and Chris – we don’t always have BJ playing with us – so it can be really intense and really exposing. But there’s so much space and I love that, that it’s not all spelt out for people and there’s a lot of room to move and breathe, I guess.

Is the creative process between the two of you a very collaborative one, or do you tend to write a song and then he writes a song, and then you talk about it?
[Laughs] I don’t think we’ve ever written an entire song together. I will go away into my little corner and write something and sometimes it will take quite a while, and then I will sit down and play it to Chris and he might add a little chord or something to change it up a bit. And with him, he’s more of a blurter – he can write a song on the way home from work or something, and I might just add another verse or line or help him out with the more editing type of [thing]. So we help each other in that way. Or sometimes I’ll just have a line or a chord and be mucking around with that, and he’ll just start playing guitar and it will lead into a good feel, and then I’ll take that away and work on that. So that’s how we collaborate – we come together at the salty end of things.  

So in creative terms you’re a settler and he’s a pioneer – pioneers tend to blurt things out and settlers sit there and polish, polish, polish. It’s an inherent thing.
[laughs] I’ll tell him that.

But it’s not the answer I was expecting from you – on the recordings you sound so integrated that I just presumed you wrote together.
Maybe sometimes he’ll say, ‘Got any lyrics lying around?’ and he might have a verse and I’ll actually write the chorus, or he’ll need another verse and I’ll write the verse, so in that way we have kind of written stuff together. But usually it’s just right at the end that we’ll come together.

You’re going on the road soon together – given that you’ve been together for a while, you perform together, you record together and you have lives together, is there ever a point at which you turn to him and think, That’s it – I’m over it! Don’t want to play with you tonight!
[laughs] You know, sometimes I think when I'm really tired and we’ve been driving and then there’s no food – you’ve got to wait around for food – and it’s just starting to get a little bit hard, and I’ve just been thinking, What are we doing? We’ve got no money and we’re cold and no one’s going to turn up … But then we’ll get up on stage and that’s what makes it worth it and that’s what keeps you going, and that’s what changes everything. There’s so many different threads besides money and food – it just keeps you going, having a fantastic gig or playing even to two or three people but just having this connection with Chris onstage is what makes it worthwhile.

Have you always had this drive to perform and to connect with people?
Not for me. I remember with Problem Pony – I’ve played in orchestras and things like that, but that was my first band. I got so nervous – it was all fine and great fun in the lounge room with my friends but onstage my bum started wobbling, I couldn’t sing – it was just horrendous. And it was even more scary when I got up with Chris – it was just, like, I don’t think I’m cut out to be a performer – I don’t think I’m a natural at wanting to get up onstage and tell lots of stories or lots of jokes – that sort of person. But actually when I am up there and making music, I don’t really think about the audience – I think this is something that’s really magical. That’s the part I love. And I don’t get the bum wobbles any more.

There are various theories about creative work and creative flow, and a lot of them come down on the side of the actual doing being the important thing – you can’t sit around waiting for the muse to strike, you need to just start working. And it sounds very much like your experience has been that you basically just kept doing things despite being nervous, despite thinking that performing perhaps wasn’t right for you – and now you’re at a point where you’re in this flow of performance and really just being present in it that makes it all worthwhile.
For sure. When we come offstage – and the other thing is that Chris is very much an improvise player, he’ll never do the same solo twice, and a lot of times we’re just jamming out, really, where he’s just going on some crazy solo and I’m just following, but then afterwards I think, That was just a magical thing that only the people who were here watching will ever witness – and I think that’s quite an addictive feeling.

Speaking of playing gigs, I saw a photo of you playing at The Bluebird Café in Nashville, which is a legendary place – how did that gig come about and what was it like for you?
We went over to Memphis with Sara Tindley and we did the Folk Alliance – it was this crazy thing where they get lots of musicians and industry people and festival directors, and you’re all in this hotel and you do showcases. So you’re playing in your bedroom to a little audience until about two or three in the morning. So there’s lots of music and there’s craziness, and we thought after that that we’d go to Nashville. And Audrey Auld, she was living there – I think she still is living there – and we’d kind of organised with her to do a show and she said, ‘Let’s do one at the Bluebird’. So we did one with her and Sara in the round. And it was crazy – you think it’s like this mythical place and then it’s way out in this suburb like near a supermarket, and it’s a very un-groovy-looking place, and then you walk in and think, This person’s been here and that person’s played here. Then you sit in the middle of the room, facing each other, and you have the audience all the way around you, behind you – so you have your backs to the audience – and then you take it in turns to sing songs. It was strange but it was … you could hear a pin drop. People are so respectful and [really] listening.

Your music demands that people listen anyway, but it is always nice to go to a gig and have people listen. Country music and its related genres do encourage listening audiences, so you can find that audiences are respectful here [in Australia] as well.
I’ve found that they’re really vocal. Like if somebody does an incredible solo – and it doesn’t always have to be the bass solo, it can be anything – they’re just whooping and hollering, so encouraging in that way. Really warm.

All the Wandering is out now and The Yearlings are on tour. Visit for information. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Redlands Bluegrass Festival: 8 to 10 August

Not too far from Brisbane there's a place called Redland Bay, and it will soon be the site of the twentieth Redlands Bluegrass Festival with its impressive line-up of Australian artists, some of whom will be familiar to country music aficionados and Tamworth Country Music Festival goers.

This year's festival will be held on 8 to 10 August and will feature The Pigs, Golden Guitar winners the Davidson Brothers, the Round Mountain Girls and Bluegrass Parkway, who have the distinction of being Australia's longest-running bluegrass band.

The festival is family friendly and it caters for musicians as well as fans - there are instrument and vocal workshops on the mornings of the 9th and 10th.

Tickets start from $40 to $125 for an all-weekend festival pass, and there are a range of accommodation  options available at the festival site, which is Kindilan Convention Centre, corner Days and German Church Road, Redland Bay.

For more information, go to:

Album review: Heart of Sorrow by Lyn Bowtell

Lyn Bowtell has been a valued member of the Australian country music industry for quite a while - her two Golden Guitars attest to that. As she hasn't reached the same level of fame as some of her contemporaries, however, Heart of Sorrow may mark the first time that many people have heard of her. And it's quite an introduction.

This is an album that defies categorisation because the category is 'the artist is wonderful', but if it recalls the work of anyone, it's that of Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden. Bowtell's voice recalls Arden's but it's actually Arden's versatility across genres that is the reason for the comparison. Heart of Sorrow ranges across genres, too – it is not a country music album but it's an album that country music fans can love; it is, to generalise, an album that clutches at the listener's heart and haunts their brain. It's an album that, when I first heard it, I felt like I'd been missing for years and I was overjoyed to discover again. 

The title song and first single should, really, be a number one, and possibly would have been in not-so-long-ago days when artists like Bowtell received the sort of promotional support that could make them known to the broad range of listeners they'd appeal to. However, the whole album is made up of songs like that. All of the songs are powerful and heartfelt and gripping. In a way, Heart of Sorrow seems like Bowtell's way of saying, 'I'm really here'. And she really is. This is an album that reveals a life lived, and still to be lived. There are no empty sentiments and no wasted words. There is no hiding, either - Bowtell's voice is a very accomplished instrument but she is not using it to obfuscate meaning in her lyrics. 

The album was produced by Shane Nicholson, who has already shown that he can take on music of many types and produce greatness. The production on this album is clean and delicate while allowing for complexity, as if Nicholson can hear the song within the song and make sure that all levels of meaning are recorded. Bowtell's remarkable voice shines, but it does not overpower the instruments that support it.

By all standards - quality of the songs, song selection, talent of the singer, production of the album - this is a remarkable album. It's also an album that should stand as a classic - but that doesn't mean anyone should take their time discovering it. It's an album that we all need, even if we don't know it yet.

Heart of Sorrow is out now through Sony Music.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Album review: Cautionary Tales by Harmony James

In all the realms of Australian country music, there is really no one like Harmony James. When her self-funded, independently released debut album Tailwind arrived in 2009, it announced a singer-songwriter whose heart was bleedingly open yet who remained shy - rather than coy - of all those who could see the wound. Here was someone who declared her insecurities along with her dreams and still found whimsy in the world. Her voice contained echoes of a yodel and country music traditions. She was an old-fashioned girl - musically and otherwise.

James's second album, Handfuls of Sky, still had that open heart but it was a more obviously commercial effort, and in places it seemed that James was trying to be 'modern' – whatever that means. The album sounded more like a collection of songs than a body of work - by any measure it was a very good album, but it wasn't Tailwind.

Cautionary Tales is James's newly released third album, and it ventures closer to her first than her second. Where Tailwind immediately captivated a listener, though, Cautionary Tales is, well ... cautious. That heart is there, for sure - and some of the stories in these songs contain all sorts of heartbreak: a dead child, lost love, dreams turned to dust. But it sounds as though James is more wary of letting us see that heart than she was on Tailwind. Perhaps now she knows the consequences of being so exposed. Or perhaps she just wants us to prove that we really want to know what she has to tell us - because repeated listening of this album really pays off. It's only once we're familiar with these songs that we can hear the nuances of what she's done: the light and shade in the lyrics; the slight tremolo in her voice that tells us more about what she's singing than the lyrics ever could; the power in her voice right when she needs it. 

So when I say that there's no one like Harmony James, it's because of these layers of meaning and emotion. The closest comparison - not in musical style but in terms of what they bring to the world - is Kasey Chambers. Chambers is an emotional singer and an emotional songwriter, and both women have the sound of someone who is playing for all the marbles - and not at all sure that she'll win them, but willing to do it anyway and let the consequences be what they are. That is courage in an artist. Harmony James showed this courage when she first released Tailwind and she's showing it again now. And quite apart from that, she's a wonderful songwriter. 

Cautionary Tales by Harmony James is out now through Warner Music Australia,

Harmony James is touring to support the album release:

8 August 2014
Rooty Hill RSL, NSW
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest Pete Denahy

9 August 2014
Mittagong RSL
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest Pete Denahy

10 August 2014
Mudgee Brewing Company
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest Pete Denahy

14 August 2014
Camelot Lounge, Marrickville
Harmony James with special guest Peter Denahy

15 August 2014
Lizotte's Dee Why
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest  Pete Denahy

16 August 2014
Lizottes Central Coast
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest  Pete Denahy

17 August 2014
Lizotte's Newcastle
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest Pete Denahy

29 August 2014
Gympie Music Muster

4 September 2014
Hallam Hotel, Victoria
Harmony James & Luke O'Shea with special guest Pete Denahy

5 September 2014
Bairnsdale RSL
Harmony James with Luke O'Shea and special guest Peter Denahy

Friday, July 11, 2014

Album review: Here's To You & I by The McClymonts

The McClymonts are an act who embody the phrase 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' - they have won many fans and made a career out of their immediately identifiable sound. For this new release they could easily have produced an album like the last one, Two Worlds Collide, and fans like me would have been very content.

Instead, they have demonstrated that they are not only a great act with a great sound - they are musicians and songwriters who are learning and growing. Here's To You & I accordingly shows a lyrical and musical maturity that befits a band who are now one EP and four albums into their career. 

Previous albums have relied on a mix of sweet ballads - usually sung by Samantha McClymont - and more uptempo, often 'rockier' songs. Here's To You & I integrates those two strands of the McClymonts sound and delivers strongly constructed songs which almost all contain light and dark, soft and loud, whether musically or emotionally.

The lyrics of most of the songs are personal - one song was written for Samantha's upcoming wedding. another (the first with lead vocals by youngest sister Mollie) about a break-up. As in the past, Brooke McClymont sings most of the lead vocals, but the McClymonts wouldn't be who they are without those incredible harmonies, and each song delivers on that front.

This review could be spent going through each song - I'll happily devote as many words as possible to this group - but it is perhaps more meaningful to describe what it's like to listen to the McClymonts overall. Music is about emotions - for the performers, for the listeners. Most of us respond to music because of how it makes us feel, not because of whether we admire the chord progressions - the chord progressions, of course, deliver the feeling but that technical side of music is invisible to most listeners. And the feeling the McClymonts consistently deliver is joy. Even their sad songs are joyful to listen to, because one can hear the joy the sisters take in what they do. Joy is an emotion that is not often discussed - 'happiness' usually gets more attention - but it is a pure, physically felt emotion that is so important to the human experience. I will always love the McClymonts because they make me feel joyful, whether I'm listening to their albums or seeing them perform live. For that reason alone they are treasures. The fact that they've released yet another great album is a bonus.

Here's To You & I is out now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Interview: Casey Barnes

Some readers will recognise Casey Barnes's name because he was a top 12 contender for Australian Idol in 2009. Others may recognise it because Casey's last album, Jet Trails, was played on several international flights. And others still may have seen Casey supporting Bryan Adams, amongst others, on national tours. 

Casey has just released a new EP, Flesh & Bone, and I interviewed him just as he had finished a training session for a marathon - obviously he's a man who likes to rack up achievements!

So you’re planning to launch an EP and run a marathon in the same month.
That’s the plan, that’s the go, hopefully.

It’s a good plan, it’s always good to aim big and you never know what you’ll achieve.
Oh, God I’ve got some work to do though, I’ll tell you.

[Laughs] Are you naturally a runner and you’re just trying to push yourself or you’ve not run a lot before?
I’ve always loved running and stuff – actually I’ve always played a lot of sport and played AFL a lot growing up as a kid and then I did a pretty severe ankle injury probably about two years ago and I haven’t been able to really play footy since then, so I thought well I’ll get stuck into something else and started just running and that sort of got me into starting to run longer distances and everything, so it’s great fun.

And actually it’s quite nice segue to talking about music, because particularly if you’re performing a lot and you’re on the road a lot, in order to maintain your health and probably your sanity it’s advisable to be fit, and lot of country music performers, I’ve noticed, are pretty fit.
Yeah, it’s a good point.  There’s quite a few that try and look after themselves and just into training and stuff.  I’ve noticed especially in the States they’re pretty fit, you don’t see a lot of out-of-shape guys.  I was only talking to somebody the other day – he’s not really a country artist – but I didn’t realise Mark Seymour from Hunters & Collectors [is] a crazy runner. He absolutely runs at wherever he is he’s always – he hits people up to go for a jog and it sort of clears his mind, and I find it’s the same thing for me: it just sort of clears your head and gets rid of all the stuff out of your system, so it’s good.

Also performing is really taxing, particularly if you’re doing a minimum one-hour show, and often a lot of performers, particularly when they start out, are doing three sets and sometimes you’re still doing three sets in some places you can play at. I remember reading ages ago you use more muscles singing than you use running. Running’s good training for singing, I guess.
That’d be right and I’ve done plenty of those over the years, so I guess it’s all helps.  It helps you get through but sometimes it gets you tired towards the end of the night – you might be lacking a bit of energy and motivation – but if you’ve got that bit of fitness there it helps you get through it, I guess.

Now, to talk about your EP – you created this EP in Nashville working with Rick Price. Rick tends to pop up all over the place, I’ve noticed, writing songs with people and also as a producer – how did you come to work with him?
That’s a good question.  There’s a pretty remarkable sort of turn of events and it’s just funny how it works with fate and luck and all these sort of things. I organised this trip to go to Nashville and I booked shows to do over there, and I was writing with a few different people. I planned things for months and as it happened me running into Rick was just completely by chance.  I was grabbing some lunch one day and he was standing behind me and recognised the Australian accent. We got chatting and he came along and had a listen to a show that I did and we just hit it off straightaway, and basically it’s just like we’re – I don’t know, it’s like we’re blood brothers or we’ve just got this really unique friendship that it just works and we work well writing together as well, so he’s been fantastic.

So while you were in Nashville, did you end up recording the EP on that same trip?
No, we wrote our first song together on that trip, called ‘Michelle’. Then we recorded that shortly after, but then the rest of the year too we actually wrote together for a time after that. Then he invited me to go back to Nashville and record it over there and he produced it and he set up all the studio and all the session players and he’s got some fantastic contacts over there, we also got a great guy who came in and mixed the EP, and this guy, he’s won a Grammy Award, so he just took the tracks to a whole new level and we’re very lucky to work with guys like that.

Sometimes that you hear the odd remark in Australian country music circles about people recording at Nashville – in fact, I saw the odd person make such remarks in Tamworth this year, along the lines of ‘Oh, why would you go to Nashville?’ but listening to you talk it’s pretty obvious: it’s because everyone’s there, you can have access to session musicians, you’ve got studios and it can all be organised relatively simply. You don’t have to draw people in from all over the place to make a record happen.
It’s a good point. It’s fifty-fifty – I mean, there’s definitely no knocking the talent of musicians that we have here and all of that type of thing, but it’s just you’ve got all the right places in the one destination, and you can just draw upon so many different people and you’ve got some of the world’s best producers and studios. We had one guy come in and play on the tracks – his name was Jake Clayton and this guy plays it something like twenty-six different instruments perfectly.  He was playing fiddle and cello and slide guitar and dobro, banjo – he just played everything and he’s just an absolute incredible talent, and it’s hard to come across guys like that floating around every day. We were lucky to have access to people like him and also the cost of recording over there really is quite competitive, so you can save yourself quite a bit of money.

They call it Music City for a reason – because that’s the business of the town.
And it is so competitive – there are so many people there, so it makes it sort of great for guys like me to go over there and come away with a really strong product, as long as the songs are good at the start of the day – I guess that the most important thing that being if you can get the players on there as well it just all sort of works all together.

I also think if you’re engaged in creative work like songwriting and performance, it’s really important to keep your well filled, so to speak, and so going somewhere like Tamworth or just listening to other music wherever you can find it is a really crucial part of keeping your work going.
That’s exactly right and trying to do as much collaborating as you can and getting out and doing as many shows with like-minded people, it just sort of keeps you in those circles. And in Nashville you just meet so many different people. I remember the first night I got there – it was the very first trip that I made to Nashville – I’d got off the plane and I was exhausted from flying and I mentioned this to another Australian guy that was based in Nashville, because he’d been sort of giving me advice about what to do, and I said, ‘I’ve just arrived – I’m pretty buggered, I reckon I’ll hit the sack pretty early tonight and I’ll get up and get into it tomorrow.’  He said, ‘Mate, you haven’t got time to sleep, you’re got to get in the car, go into town now.’ He said, ‘Just don’t stop.  Go in and check out some bands, walk around, soak up the atmosphere.’ I was exhausted but it was the best possible advice because I guess it opened the floodgates from that moment, to just to meet all these different people and then it just sort of flowed from there. You’ve just got to get amongst it.

And just back to your collaboration with Rick: I was wondering, in terms of how your creative partnership works, do you tend to react to what he does, does he react to what you do or do you work it out together?
We’ve got a sort of a similar relationship to – I don’t know, people talking about Elton John and Bernie Taupin collaborating together, they’ve always worked together for many years and Elton John’s great on the melody and Bernie Taupin’s really good with lyrics and stuff, and I tend to find that I'm strong on melodies and chords and vocal melodies and stuff, and then I’ll have an idea and Rick will come in and he’s really great with lyrics and that type of thing.  So we tend to work a lot that way, but we mix it around a little and we’ve just got that connection where he tends to be able to jump in my head and nearly say what I'm thinking, which is very hard to come across – people who you can work that easily together [with] and we tend to, most of the time, be on the same page. There was a couple of moments where we were writing these new songs – and there’s one particular track on the EP called ‘Waiting on the Day’ which is a really, really, really personal song for me, and the song just sort of came out and we wrote it and we stopped in the middle of writing this song and went, ‘Far out, man, this is pretty heavy stuff’, and Rick was actually having a bit of a – I don’t know, a bit of a quite teary look. I know it doesn’t happen every day but this song – when you hear the song you’ll understand, it’s a very personal song.  My wife and I, we lost a baby a couple of years ago, so midway through the pregnancy – you know, going through that grieving process, I found actually writing about it was a great way to deal with it so, yeah, it’s a very special song.

I noticed how much emotion was in that song and thought that you’re quite an emotional singer, and it made me realise that actually not a lot of men are emotional singers in quite the way I heard in your voice.  It doesn’t sound like it’s only in that song that you can access emotion.  So have you always been an emotional singer?
I think so … People that know me well know I probably wear my heart on my sleeve and what you see is what you get, and I’ll try and be as upfront and honest and real as you possibly can, and sometimes through writing songs it’s a good way of expressing different experiences you have in life, whether they’re good, bad or in the middle. I guess there are probably a few songs that I’ve written that do touch on different emotive moments and experiences that you’ve had and it’s a hard … Actually that particular song, ‘Waiting on the Day’, was by far the hardest song I’ve had to record vocals for.  I remember we were in the studio and I had to stop a couple of times and say, ‘Guys, I just need a couple of minutes here to get my head together’. Because to deliver the song the way you want you’ve got to get in the right head space so you can actually connect with the song because when people listen to music they can tell whether you’re just giving a half-arsed performance and it’s easy just to deliver a song without any connection but you have to connect with a song for people to actually – when they hear it to actually feel what you’re trying to sing about so, yeah, that was a really tough song to sing.

Well, I can understand why Rick got a bit teary – I did as well when I listened to it. It did seem like grief was very much in that song.
Yes, and it’s sometimes a subject matter that people find it difficult to talk about. I’ve only played the song a couple of times at live shows because it’s obviously a new track. When Rick was out here a few months ago I did a show with him on the Gold Coast and I’ve played that song and it was really interesting at the end of the night, there were about five or six different ladies who came up to me after the show and just had a bit of a chat and they all had gone through the same thing.  And they’ve said, ‘Thank you for writing that song’, because it’s something that they’ve gone through with their partner and they’ve sort of kept to themselves or they haven’t dealt with it, and I guess sometimes it’s a tricky subject matter that often people find they can’t talk about it but it does happen to so many people, it’s amazing.

When you’re taking these songs out on the road – and obviously now that this is on the EP you’ll be playing it more and more – a large part of your job is entertaining but at the same time if you’re singing this song – how do you access that emotion every time you perform it live without running yourself down, if you know what I mean?
I don’t know yet – it’s going to be a trial-and-error thing because every time I’ve played it so far it’s been a really, really tough song to sing and it’s definitely not an easy one to sing. I don’t know whether I probably play it every show because it is that type of song that you probably can’t sing every single show but I think it’s one of those songs where if it’s an intimate acoustic-type show it sort of lends itself more to that. I mean, I’d love to play if I had the opportunity because there’s quite a lot of strings, live strings and cello and stuff happening in that track, and I would absolutely love the opportunity to perform it once with an orchestra and a cello and that whole set-up just to create the same vibe that we produce in a studio, it would be a dream come true so maybe one day.

Well, Queensland has a symphony orchestra and Troy Cassar-Daley lives in Brisbane maybe you and Troy should talk about doing a show with Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
I could handle that. I could handle doing a show with Troy too, that would be great. I rate him very highly, Troy, he’s very talented and he seems like a really humble, down-to-earth guy as well, from what I’ve seen. I’d love to do a show with him one day.

You never know what happens once ideas are percolating out there.
Rick Price is probably, that’s a good example. I remember catching my bus to high school and they had the radio playing, and I remember listening to all of Rick’s songs on the radio when I was in high school and always just going, ‘Oh this guy’s got such a great voice’. And then, what do you know, you get to work with him a few years down the track. Very funny how life works.

Yes indeed.  So in two years’ time I hope to be hearing about your QSO performance because it might be how long it takes to organise, but just listening to you talking and thinking about that song and other songs on the EP, when you first started out as a performer did you feel that it was partly because you wanted to connect with an audience or was it just that you loved singing and playing and that’s what you wanted to do?
I guess it’s a funny thing.  It’s nearly like it’s born within you that you want to get into that – that type of feel. My mum’s got this really interesting photo of me when I was a little kid, I would’ve only been about the same age as my little girl now, around that four or five year old and she took me to see – I think it was Fat Cat live with Patsy Biscoe and there’s this big crowd of people and they’ll all sitting down near the stage and here’s this photo of me, I’ve climbed up on to the front of the stage and I'm on the stage with Patsy Biscoe and Fat Cat trying to get up there. I don’t know what I was trying to do, maybe trying to get up and sing or whatever, but I think that sort of was the moment where maybe my mum realised, I think this kid wants to get up and sing. There’s pivotal moments along the way when you grow up – when I went through high school, my music teacher, he was the one who pushed me – I was quite nervous to do it but he pushed me into performing in front of the whole school assembly, and I really didn’t want to do it because I was too shy, but I ended up doing it and then – when all the kids come up to you at school and go, ‘Gee, that was crazy’, and I think I was, like, ‘I think I could get used to this’. Then I guess, as you say, in that connection with an audience there’s nothing better when you can tap into a crowd of people, whether it’s ten people at a little intimate gig or – I’ve been lucky to perform in front of 50 000 people at Suncorp Stadium a couple of times. And if you can tap into a crowd and connect with them, there’s just no better feeling it’s amazing.  I love, absolutely love doing it.

I was just thinking what you’d said before about you coming up with the melodies when you’re writing with Rick. Is that an instinctual thing for you or have you had any musicianship training?
I’ve had a few different lessons and stuff growing up, but on the whole I found it easier to learn by ear.  My mum always listened to music and stuff and I’d grab a tape or then when we got into CDs or whatever, and I’d go into my room for hours and actually try and learn how to play songs just by listening to them. That taught me to play by ear and getting melodies in my head, and then I guess as I got older and started writing, often different melodies would start in my head and might just be humming something in my head and then I’d start writing it – sometimes the main thing with songwriting, it’s like you tap into something and it just flows out of you, Rick and I have spoken about it a few times because he’s had the same experience when you write – sometimes when you’re writing a great song and you don’t even know where it’s coming from, it’s just flowing out of you, and it’s a pretty amazing experience when it happens, but often it just sort of comes – little ideas come to your head and you just try and get them out as quick as you can.

It sounds very much like for you and Rick this EP is the start of a potentially very long-term creative collaboration, because it sounds from what you’re saying there’s so much more that the two of you have to do together.
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve become very good friends now and his wife and my wife have become good friends, and he’s a great person and an extremely talented guy and he’s become a bit of a mentor for me, I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to write together.  My wife and I have actually – on the EP there’s a duet, the track called ‘Valentine’. We even want to record some more stuff with Michelle and I together and write with Rick, so that’s another little project we’d love to do down the track as well.

I actually did have a question about your wife singing on that song have you sung together a lot in the past?
Yes, we have. My wife’s always been a singer and that’s how we met, through the music industry, and we’ve been singing together for years. But we’d often just muck around and do stuff for friends and family, we might record a song and we’ve always sort of had our friends saying, ‘When are you guys actually going to release a song together?’ So it was definitely one thing I wanted to do was at least write one track that was a duet with my wife and ‘Valentine’ ended up being the perfect sort of song. It turned out really well.

So is your household constantly musical? Are the two of you singing and humming around the place?
Yes, we are pretty musical, and our two little girls have got right in to it and thanks to the Frozen soundtrack my little six-year-old girl is nonstop going around singing ‘I Want to Build a Snowman’ – I don’t know what we’ve created there.  We’re definitely all very musical.

How fantastic, that would be a great household to live in, I think.
It’s pretty good.  I don’t know – our neighbours probably get sick of us sometimes but we’re always listening to music.

I’ll ask you just one more question … You’re originally a Taswegian and now you’re a Queenslander, so I was wondering if it’s easier to navigate a music career from the mainland?
Look, it’s a really good question and I don’t know what the perfect answer is, because I think when you get to a certain point in your career you can pretty much base yourself out of anywhere.  There are a lot of musicians that are probably that little bit further along the track than I am and there are all sorts of guys that base themselves up the back of Byron Bay.  They’re sort of in the middle of nowhere but when they’re out on the road and really busy and hectic lifestyles they find it great to come back to a place where there’s that bit of grounding, and my wife and I have sort met halfway in the middle and we’ve moved recently down to a little place called Kingscliff, which is south of the Gold Coast.  I find it’s great because you can come back to a place where it’s nice and laid back, and because our lives our always pretty busy but I'm still close to the Gold Coast and close to a major airport and stuff for going and touring around and doing stuff.  It’s a hard question to answer.  I still love Tassie. I’d love to go back and live there again one day, but it is a little bit harder when you are isolated sometimes though – there is that argument with some musicians basing themselves in Sydney and Melbourne that they’re in the thick of things all the time but the big city lifestyle really doesn’t connect with me, so we’ll see how we go.

And south-east Queensland is really fertile at the moment within country music and in music generally.  So I’d suggest you’re in a good place for creative cross-pollination and all sorts of things.
Well, yeah, so far so good and I think the Internet, social media and the way things work with music now is if you do have that connection with an audience and the right people and the right places, it’s amazing what you can still achieve, and I'm starting to get shows contacted by booking agents now that are asking me to play at different festivals and stuff that I didn’t used to sort of get so I think things are heading in the right direction now so it’s exciting.

 Flesh & Bone is out now.