Friday, March 27, 2015

Album review: Jamestown by Brad Butcher

The opening track of Brad Butcher’s second album, Jamestown, is ‘Simple Things’, in which he sings: ‘The simple things/We must embrace/And I’m on my way’. Inherent in this is the restlessness of someone who is searching – for experiences, for meaning. It’s someone who can appreciate the ‘simple things’ but then, as Butcher sings in the refrain, ‘the simple things lead me on my way’. The simple things are to be appreciated, but they are never enough: there is more to be found. The simple things are the catalyst for discovery.

It is this philosophy that infuses the album: that there is beauty and meaning in small moments, although a person can never stop trying to be better and do more. This is not a philosophy shared by everyone, yet it also proves that Butcher is prepared to take risks: these songs may not be for you, but they are true for him. You can either appreciate the honesty of what he’s doing, and the vulnerability that comes with that, or not.

Butcher is a Romantic, and the capital R is on purpose. Romanticism as a movement was concerned with imagination, emotion and freedom – Butcher’s songs each contain these elements, and the album as a whole is not a manifesto so much as an expression of a philosophy; perhaps, even, a wish. Many of Butcher’s songs sound as if he wants the world to be a kinder, gentler place – and that he takes responsibility for trying to make it that way. After listening to Jamestown, I’m convinced that he’s achieving it.

It is an album that can make the listener feel wistful, sad and even strangely nostalgic – like he’s nipping at the heels of a memory that can’t be his, because it belongs only to the listener. That’s the sign that Butcher is able to do what any great storyteller should: take a common experience and describe it in a way that resonates with the listener (or reader), even describe it in a way that is new but still recognisable.

It’s also an album that achieves something uncommon – at least, for me. It made me want to be a better person. It made me want to try harder and also remember to appreciate those simple things. It made me want to be still as I listened to it and also rush outside to find the birds and the trees.

The only thing that made me stop listening to Brad Butcher’s first album was the arrival of his second. I won’t mind if he takes a while to make a third, so that I can keep listening to them both, on repeat, looking at the moon and paying heed to the wind, wondering what adventures are out there and knowing that there are plenty also to be found within the lines of his songs. 

Jamestown is out now.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rose Carleo on tour to launch Time is Now

If you're new to the many talents of Rose Carleo, now is your chance to get acquainted. Rose launches her new album Time is Now at Rooty Hill RSL on Saturday 28 March with other tour dates announced, and more to come. Recently I spoke to Rose about the new tour and what it takes to pull it all together.

Are you booking this tour yourself or working with someone else? 
I’m booking it all on my own so it’s a little bit difficult because I do have contacts – in that I’ve played for years - but there are some venues that have booking agents and some that don’t. It’s just getting around and working out where to go. A couple of the dates I’ve booked – like the Acacia Ridge one in Queensland – I played there in January with Paul Woseen, and all the venues I played at said, ‘We’ll have you back, no worries’. So I was very fortunate – I just rang and said, ‘Can I book?’ and they just straightaway said, ‘Yep, what date do you want?’ So that was very handy. So I’m hoping to run the tour through for the rest of this year – probably, unfortunately, it won’t be every single weekend, but at least in my weekend I’m hoping one or two weekends a month. Because everyone’s got different schedules as well.

And this is a tour with your band, right?
Yes, the studio band – so, Paul Woseen and Ben [Ashwood], myself and Mick [Adkins]. So I’m stoked that our schedules all match up. Paul really wanted to come on tour with us so we just had to try to coordinate it with his commitments with the Screaming Jets and with Rose Tattoo as well. So far so good!

I’m just reflecting on you saying you’re booking this yourself, because a lot of people would use a booking agent. I guess for the places you’ve already played, that’s fine, you know you can go back there – but for places you haven’t yet played I guess you have to do some research and find out who to contact and all those sorts of things.
Yes. I’m happy to do it and I’m happy to ring the agents too [for those venues that have them]. But it’s been a huge job, I’ve got to tell you, pulling it all together.  I’m lucky I’ve got a really good team – I’ve got a great social media publicist and of course Hot Off the Press, Eva and the team, and she’s just been such a big support as well. So that part of it’s fine. I’m just missing a manager [laughs]. That’s what I need. But I’m sort of doing it all myself at the moment.

So do you want a manager?
Oh, look, if the right person came along, for sure.  It’s got to be the right person though, for me and for them as well.

From what I’ve heard in the past about managers, it does indeed seem to be the personality fit that counts.
Oh yeah, for sure. And I believe that someone needs to be passionate about it. You don’t sell Coke if you don’t drink it, you know what I mean? Even though you’re paying someone for a service – I know they [Hot Off the Press, music publicists] love what I’m doing, which is awesome and I’m really good mates with Eva [from HOTP] – people need to be paid for what they do, because it’s a service and people have to live. It’s the same as the boys in the band, with the recording.

You organise the tour, but no doubt when you’re on the road the organising continues, so even though you’re the focus of the act –
I’m a tour manager as well.

That’s a lot of stuff to be thinking about.
It’s huge. It’s absolutely huge. I live in the Blue Mountains, so I did the Byron leg with [Paul] and then three [gigs] in Queensland. I’ve got friends in Queensland so I said to Pauly, ‘I’m just going to drive’, because we used part of my PA and I needed a car on the ground there anyway. So I drove ten hours to Byron, got out of the car, set up the PA, we did the gig [laughs], then we did three Queensland gigs and right up past Gympie as well. I drove everything in four or five days and then I drove home. It was 2660 kilometres I’d driven [laughs].

It’s physically demanding to do that and singing is also physically demanding, as is performing, so how do you balance all of that?
I love a good road trip. I can’t wait to get in that car and just drive. First and foremost, it had to be done – there wasn’t really much of a choice, that was the best way it was going to work out. I suppose on the road your car turns into your office – you’ve got your Bluetooth on and everything. And you’ve also got time, I suppose, to get in the right head space and think about what you’re doing and all that. It does give you a lot of time to think about stuff. Then you turn up at a gig, set up and you chill out for half an hour before or whatever and get into the headspace. More time performing and less time driving is always great. It didn’t turn out that way but that’s okay. This next time round the logistics side of things will probably smoothe out and we’ll find better and easier ways of doing things.

Some people find driving creatively useful because they sometimes have ideas while they’re driving, so do you ever find that songs or ideas come to you while you’re driving?
Yeah, absolutely. I love it. I’ve had some great ideas for songs on the road. I’ve solved problems in my head. The time, the space, the surroundings – all that kind of stuff – whether you’re driving or not, I think it’s good for the soul.                

If you get an idea for a song do you quickly pick up a voice recorder or something and sing into it?
Yes – I grab the old iPhone or something else that’s near. Or I’ll write down lyrics. I’ve sometimes written almost a whole page of lyrics. If I don’t have pen and paper - I’m still old-school, I do prefer that – I’ll grab my iPad or iPhone and just throw it in there. And particularly when you stop [driving], if you can talk it or sing it into the phone – because sometimes it’s not convenient to write it down – because then I won’t forget it.

So out of this tour, therefore, there may come a new album if you write songs on the way.
Yes! There’s a really good chance. Stories not only on the road but just the whole process of everything. I think we’re forever learning and evolving as humans; you’re still learning. Even though it’s the third album, there are people who have brought out twenty and thirty and forty albums. No one time is the same. So, for sure – I reckon there’s already a few ideas forming.

You’ve said that it was a year living with the songs for this album, planning them – there’s a quote from you saying that it ‘feels like forever ago’ that you wrote them. Before you take them out on tour, do you have to reconnect with the way you felt about them when you were first creating them or first recording them?
Probably not reconnecting but relearning some parts, yes [laughs]. Lyric wise and singing wise I know them like the back of my hand. There were a few guitar parts I played in the studio that I hadn’t previously played and things like that. And the boys are all relearning their stuff at the moment, which is quite funny. Because everyone’s so busy and has a few different projects happening, it’s not like you’re playing [the songs] every single day or every weekend.

Now, I’m looking at the list of dates for the tour so far and there are none in the Blue Mountains, where you live.
I’m still working on it. I do my normal weekend gigs locally. It’s just a matter of organising a venue – there are only so many hours in a day – but I’ve got a couple on the list that I’m chasing up. We’ll be adding them as they happen.

Where do you usually play on the weekends?
Sometimes at the Oriental Hotel in Springwood. The Family Hotelin Katoomba. And the Wallacia Hotel once a month. Penrith Panthers every four to six weeks. 

I’m asking because even though I have a huge interest in country music, I often miss things. I think it’s really hard for people to find out what’s on. A lot of locals wouldn’t even know that your gigs are going on.
No. A lot of people go to those venues just because they’re there anyway, for dinner or to meet friends.

The more awareness we can get of music happening everywhere, the better it is for people. But back to your band: given that you’re drawing in band members for this tour, do you have to factor in rehearsal time, or is soundcheck going to be rehearsal?
[Laughs] Everyone’s schedules are so nuts that everyone’s got lists of stuff and probably earlier during the day we’ll have a rehearsal and nut out any discrepancies and then we’re good to go.

I also wouldn’t mind betting that because you’ve been performing most of your life and the people in the band are experienced as well, it’s a case of four professionals coming together and doing what they have to do.
Pretty much, yeah. A couple of hours before we’ll have a run-through and stuff. I’ve got to be honest – I hate rehearsing [laughs]. I think from years of rehearsal rooms, you know? And it’s just one of those things – you have to do it, but I’m happy to rehearse the day before or the day of a gig, even if it’s acoustic.

Friday 20 March 2015
Whole Lotta Love Bar, Melbourne

Saturday 21 March 2015
Power Ranch, Traflagar, Vic

Saturday 28 March 2015
Rooty Hill RSL, Rooty Hill NSW

Friday 8 May 2015
Acacia Ridge Hotel, Acacia Ridge Qld

Saturday 9 May 2015
Beerwah Hotel, Beerwah Qld

Keep an eye on for new dates to be added.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Album review: Fear and Saturday Night by Ryan Bingham

I've only seen Ryan Bingham perform once, several years ago: it was a solo set at the State Theatre in Sydney, and he was the support act for Kasey Chambers. I had no idea who he was but I was impressed by his onstage presence - impressed enough to buy his albums as they were released, and to buy the Crazy Heart soundtrack because he was involved with it.

In trying to characterise Bingham's sound, it's tempting to say he's the first cousin once removed of Ryan Adams by way of Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash, with some Waylon Jennings thrown in and maybe a bit of Willie Nelson too. Certainly, that hints at his lineage but it also makes it sound as if his music is derivative, and that would be incorrect. Well, obviously all music is derivative in its way - there are only eight notes in an octave, etc etc - but Bingham is his own man. His voice cracks its way through the first songs of his latest album, Fear and Saturday Night, and somewhere there would be a producer who'd clean that up or demand that he go back and sing those songs again - but then they wouldn't be his songs.

Bingham cracks. He rumbles and growls. He also seduces, in a way that few country music artists - actually, few singers, if one is honest - can do. Seduction is not what country music does, and it may not even be what Ryan Bingham set out to do, but it's there on this album. His innate appeal is the reason why the rattles and moans - the occasional sadnesses, too - of this album sound completely in place. Initially sceptical, after a while I wanted to be seduced by this album. It's not because Bingham sings like an outlaw, as his lineage and song titles ('Top Shelf Drug', 'Broken Heart Tattoo', 'Gun Fightin Man') suggest he might - it's because he just sings with whatever's inside him. His songs belong in a corner bar, performed for a handful of hopeless souls, and they also belong in a stadium. Where they likely don't belong is on a festival stage, where people can pass by and not really listen. It's in the close listening where Ryan Bingham becomes his own man, where his idiosyncrasies become perfections and where he'll draw you completely in so that you're completely, totally willingly seduced.

Fear and Saturday Night is out now on Axster Bingham Records through Lost Highway Australia.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Album review: Saltwater Cowboy by Pete Cullen

Country music may have the word ‘country’ in its name but not all of it is redolent of the land or landscape, even if most of it is about storytelling. There are stories of people and places, and people in places, and they don’t all have to evoke those places to be considered country music. But it’s a bonus if they do.

Queenslander Pete Cullen’s album Saltwater Cowboy may have a title that suggests its songs hug the coastline but they actually sound like they have grown from the dirt, from sitting around campfires and singing to people, listening to those people's stories and adding them to his cache. There are influences from traditional music - Celtic music - as well as country and folk. And there's saltwater here, too - in the title song, as well as 'Blue Saltwater Son' and 'Last Dance', written for Cullen's children friend and fellow surfer Matt Hughes.

Saltwater Cowboy contains the songs of a man who is prepared to own his place on this earth. He's not trying to be older or younger. He's not dreaming of living in a different place or time, or a different life. He's making sense of the life he has now, revelling in the good parts, sorting through the tricky parts and finding in music refuge, release and joy. Because Cullen's music comes from this place of self-acceptance, it only requires of the listener that he or she listens. And listening to this album becomes more and more interesting and enjoyable with each spin around the proverbial turntable. Cullen has the willingness, talent and ability to keep telling these stories - of his own life and others' - for a while. Here's hoping he does.

Saltwater Cowboy is out now.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Album review: Home Brew by The Pigs

There are certain things in life that one doesn't expect to find - or even consider finding - but which could bring a certain degree of whimsy, fun and even entertainment if they came to pass: leprechauns pitching a tent under a pandanus, for example; Pauline Hanson joining the ALP; bunyips being established as a legitimate species of Australian fauna. To that list I'm going to add a bluegrass cover of the INXS song 'Devil Inside' -  and, for good measure, the same kind of interpretation of Olivia Newton-John's 'Physical', which I may never think of the same way again ... as both of these songs appear on Home Brew: 13 Aussie Classics, the latest release from The Pigs, who will be familiar to country music festival goers across the land. 

On this album The Pigs have given some hard-workin' Australian songs a bluegrass overhaul. There's an almost sentimental treatment of Powderfinger's 'My Happiness', and Mondo Rock's 'Come Said the Boy' hits just as hard as it ever did; there's also an appropriately irreverent take on Skyhooks' 'You Just Like Me Cos I'm Good in Bed' (featuring Fanny Lumsden and Red Symons). There are songs from The Cruel Sea, The Divinyls and Cold Chisel, John Farnham's 'You're the Voice' and the dance hit 'Addicted to Bass' which is, in bluegrass form, just as infectious as the original.

You may have noticed that not one country music artist has been mentioned - and that's because there aren't any. The Pigs are possibly the only Australian country artists in recent memory to produce a cover album of entirely non-country songs. The serious part of this project is in establishing whether or not bluegrass as a genre can be adapted to all sorts of songs - or, rather, whether the songs can be adapted to it. Some work very well; some not so well. But that's actually down to the songs rather than the interpreters. The idiosyncratic composing techniques of silverchair's Daniel Johns - here represented by 'Straight Lines' - are exposed in this genre; the solid song structures that lurk beneath the occasionally shambolic stage appearances of You Am I's Tim Rogers are clear on 'Cathy's Clown'. And the cover of 'Ita' only proves what, to me, has always been self-evident: that Cold Chisel were fundamentally a country band. 

This is an eclectic collection of songs that will suit lovers of bluegrass as well as people who have a serious interest in how music works - not to mention people who just love a good party album. That's quite a lot for one album to achieve. 

Home Brew by The Pigs is out now.

The Pigs are taking their 13 Aussie classics on the road:



Interview: Travis Collins

Travis Collins will be well known to Australian country music fans. He won Star Maker in 2004 and released three albums, then he seemed to drop out of sight for a while. I saw Travis play live once - just a short set, but enough to leave a deep impression - and became convinced that he was destined to be known far and wide. His new, fourth album, Wired, should certainly help set him on that path. Recently I had the chance to speak to Travis and found him to be a thoughtful, passionate artist whose commitment to music is clear. 

I’ll start off by saying the album is terrific. I only got it a couple of days ago, but I’ve been listening to it on repeat.
Oh, thanks.

It’s a really great piece of work, really well balanced. You can hear your lineages, if that makes sense, and it also sounds like you’re having a lot of fun on it, mostly. Obviously, the last song is an exception. But, was it a lot of fun to make?
Yeah. I kind of threw away the rule book when I went into the studio with this one. The biggest difference that’s noteworthy is that this was the first time I’d produced an album, sat behind that desk and played that role by myself. And, yeah, it was a massive learning curve. I’ve got to tell you, producers are worth their weight in gold. It’s hard. It’s so hard [laughs]. But, I think, I just threw away the rules, and didn’t really try and follow any particular trends as such. I think a lot of people are caught up in trying to guess where country music is going. And I thought I’d just do an album that was celebrating my favourite part of where country music has been. And that was honky tonk music, and the really big rocking pianos, and electric guitars, and songs that mean something. So I went back for that, and I’ve been really, really amazed with the reaction to it. The response has been quite astounding.

Well, as I said, it’s a fantastic album, so I’m not surprised other people are saying that. But, just in terms of your role as a producer, I guess there’s not a divide, necessarily, but you’ve got to, as a producer, look at the songs as how the audience would hear them, and try to create them in that way. But as the songwriter, sometimes, I suppose, that might come into conflict. So did you have any of those moments of thinking, oh, God, I’ve written this song, and I’m not sure if it’s working?
Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And that was the biggest thing about this particular record, and wanting to produce it myself, was that if I was going to be fair dinkum and do that role the way it was supposed to be done, then I had to be mindful and respectful to the fact that, as a producer, I was going to have to make decisions that myself as an artist might not have been super happy about. It sounds, kind of, just schizophrenic to say it like that, but there’s definitely two hats, and you can’t wear them both at the same time. When I selected the shortlist of these songs there were a whole bunch of songs, including my own, that were on the table, and the first thing that I had to really step up as a producer was to admit to myself that the songs that I’d written weren’t on par with some of the other songs that I’d found. And this album doesn’t feature a single one of my own writings. And that was hard to do as an artist. But, as a producer, I think the album is better for it, because I just couldn’t convince myself that the songs I’d written were up to the standing of the ones I chose. And so I had to be real with myself about that, and just make the greatest album that I could with what I had. And that meant taking a few punches as an artist [laughs] from myself as a producer.

Well, absolutely. And I would think it would be quite a confusing process, in some ways, because, obviously, you’ve been writing songs for a long time, and you’ve had success at it – and those songs are still there now. So what happens to them?
I don’t know what happened creatively, but once I made the decision to run with these 11 tracks, subconsciously the writer part of my brain has just switched on since then. I don’t know exactly what it is, but something happened by not choosing a single one of my own songs for this record, that the writing side of me is absolutely switched on now. So it’s really, really flicked a switch somewhere, and I can’t wait for the next thing. I’ve just been writing ever since the final few sessions of Wired, writing things on the back of anything, whatever’s in front of me, a napkin, or a business card, or set list, I’ve been writing songs everywhere.

It’s something has happened to your creative flow. You’ve managed to step onto the wave and start to ride it to the shore.
Absolutely. And I think this album, Wired, has been a real good direction for me. And maybe that’s what my writing was missing before. And up until this album I didn’t really know what I was trying to be as a style, or what my niche was within country music. And I think taking a break away from my own songs, and just really focusing on building what I wanted ‘Travis Collins’ to sound like, it has really helped my songwriting side go, okay, well, cool, I see what I’m doing now. And since then all this stuff has been coming out.

And you’re still young. So I think you won Star Maker when you were 19. And that wasn’t that long ago. So this could be part of your maturation as an artist, finding out what your identity is and who your audience is.
Yeah. Star Maker feels like a lifetime ago. It’s been the greatest of ten years – ten or eleven years now – but, yeah, you’re absolutely right. And sometimes figuring out who you are is – as a person, and who you are musically are so tied together that you don’t even realise how close they are. But this whole process of Wired – the metaphor of Wired is me coming out of my independent days, and plugging back into a label, and plugging into a manager, and really just having the biggest throw of the dice that we’ve had yet. And that was this album. And so Wired became more than a concept about me and the people that support my music, and being connected. It became me and the industry getting back into being connected. So the last couple of years have all been about that metaphor of getting wired, and feeling connected to things, and having a team around me. And I’m really looking forward to not only the release of this record but where these relationships go in the next few years.

I have to say, and I will be frank, that it seems like you’ve been quiet the last little while. I saw you play at a Warner Bros party at Tamworth a few years ago – I’m trying to remember which year it was – and I just thought you were amazing live. This was before McAlister Kemp but that kind of big audience that McAlister Kemp gets, and the big performance you had even at The Pub. And I thought you had a sound that could really fill a huge space. Then you seemed to go a bit quiet. And I was thinking, Where has he gone? This guy should be hugely famous. So, obviously, it has been a bit quiet.
Yeah. And thanks for that compliment. I remember the gig you’re talking about too. That was – it was an ABC Warner night. But you’re absolutely right. I did my first two albums at ABC Music. And then I had a management deal fall apart around that time. And I lost a lot of faith in not only the people around me, I lost a lot of faith in what I was doing. And I started questioning if it’s the right road for me. I spent the first couple of albums recording songs and doing things the way that I thought people wanted me to do them, and not the way that I actually wanted to do them to make a difference. So the third record, which was a self-titled thing, was really just me stepping away, and really doing a bit of soul searching. And that album I wrote a lot of the songs, and it was a process of me trying to find out, frankly, if I loved it, if I wanted to do it forever. So I thought, let’s just cut all the trims off. So for three years there I was without a manager, I was without a label. And I recorded an album completely independent, and just toured around, and sold it, literally, out of the back of the car. And that really reconnected me with no other distractions but music. All I had was music. I didn’t have big deals going on. I didn’t having touring going on. I just had music and different people responding to it. And it really taught me to love it again. So when I went into the studio with Wired, at the very start it was the same sort of idea. I didn’t have a label. I didn’t have a manager at the start of this. I went into the studio and recorded these songs, and then I made a few calls to certain people, and got told ‘No’ a few times. But I was standing in the right room at the right time, and chatting to a guy who gave me his business card, which led to another person. Then it’s – we’re ready now to release, and I’ve got this great team around me, and I’m feeling better about my music, and feeling better about where I’m positioned that I ever have before. And just so much more in love with music, and country music particularly, than I’ve ever been.

And that definitely comes through on the album. It’s related to you sounding like
you’re having fun, but it also sounds like you’re in command. And those two things sometimes don’t go together. Someone’s who’s having too much fun can sometimes [laughs] be a little loose on the recordings. But this one definitely sounds like you know your own mind, and, I guess, that comes back to you being the producer as well.
I guess, it comes down to the song selection. And you’re dead right, because I’ve found a lot of songs, and some of these I’ve been sitting on for quite a while, and the songs on here like ‘Million Dollar View’, if you’d asked me when I recorded my first two albums what a ‘million dollar view’ was I would have said, ‘A big mansion with a couple of Ferraris sitting on the driveway, and looking over the French Riviera’, or something like that. But now I’m older, I’m married, and I’ve got a little house in the country, and it’s a life that I just love, a life that I’d die for and it’s basically, it’s a little house, it’s a Mazda and a Ford sitting on the pebble driveway, a couple of dogs running around and a beautiful wife. I look around, and that’s the kind of stuff that country music is about. And that’s what this whole process, and this album, have been about. It’s growing up and realising that – it’s singing about the universals of everyday man and woman. And the ‘Million Dollar View’ is one example on the album that – I think I’m more connected to country ideals, and what country music is now. I don’t think – I don’t think anyone really – I know what I’m trying to say here –

No, no. I understand what you’re saying [laughs].
It’s a hard one to explain, but I feel a little more qualified to sing about it now that I’ve – the last six years I’ve been out of Sydney, and living a small country life, and I feel like I get the people, and [I’m] somewhat qualified a bit more than I used to be about it.

And it’s a huge part of the genre, I think, understanding that relationship with the audience, because it is such a loyal audience. I like to think of Australian country music as our national storytelling in song. I think it’s really important. It’s culturally important, and I think country songs and country artists have so much meaning for so many members of the audience. And you only have to be in Tamworth and see the looks on people’s faces to understand that – what that means to them. So to be able to feel that yourself as an artist is critical to your career longevity, but also, I think, for it to have meaning for you.
Definitely. And you’ll hear a lot of artists say it, but it’s such truth that all we ever want to do is get on stage and sing, even better if we write. But all we want to do is get up on stage and sing a song that the person down in the crowd can say, ‘Man, it feels like they wrote my life.’ And with Wired all I wanted to do was not try and analyse it or be too tricky with it. Like I said, I sort of threw the rules out the window, and instead of going, ‘Okay, well let me study country people and write about country people –’ six years ago I moved out of Sydney, I thought, you know what? I’m going to live the life of a country person. And that was nothing to do with my music, it was just where I was in my life. I made that change. And then suddenly it’s time for this album. I went into the studio and thought, I’m going to write a song about my life, and maybe it will relate to country people, and it has, which I’m just so blown away by, because one of the greatest gifts you can get is when people contact you and tell you what one of these songs meant.

Now, the next question you don’t have to answer, but it has just occurred to me while you’re talking to ask it of you, which is: do you think you won Star Maker too young?
It’s a tough one – it’s a tough one because, I don’t know, everything sort of happens at the right time in one way or another. But I wish I knew about recording and more about myself stylistically before I’d won it. So yes and no in a way. I see a lot of people come along and walk away with that fantastic opportunity and really don’t know what to do with it. And I was the case that I didn’t know what to do with it, had no idea, but pretty quickly was surrounded by a label, and a management, and agents, and all that sort of stuff. But I look at everything up until now in my career as an apprenticeship, and Wired being my first commission as a serious work. And I don’t know if that’s disrespectful for the previous stuff that I’d done, because at the time, when I was learning and going through those previous albums, they were the greatest works, at the time, that I could have made, but you get to the age of 30 and you look back with a bit more of a level head, and a bit more of an understanding of who you are as a person. And suddenly it feels like you’re holding the greatest thing that you’ve achieved yet. I don’t know, maybe we’ll talk in another 10 years and I’ll tell you what a rubbish album Wired was [laughs].

[Laughs]. Oh, no. I don’t think that’s the case. I’m a pretty hard marker and I wouldn’t have covered this if I didn’t think I could say lovely things about it, because I feel like I want to be in the business of encouraging people to buy music, not discouraging them.
Oh, now that’s so great to hear you say that, because one of my big [things] lately is –on my personal Facebook account I scroll around, and obviously I’ve got a lot of media friends, and industry friends on there, and the amount of people that I see just bitching about what’s bad out there. I constantly call them or text them and say, ‘You’ve just wasted an opportunity to talk about what’s good out there.’ So thanks for that.

The more I learn about Australian country music, and the more albums I hear, and people I talk to, the calibre of material we have here is so high – or the calibre of not material, but the songs and the artists is really extraordinary. And I think that’s an important part of, as I said, our national culture that the people need to know about. And I have actually found that at least half my readers now are in the US, so there’s obviously something about Australian country music that’s appealing overseas, or that people want to know about. And I think it is that the standard is just incredibly high.
I agree. Some of the stuff that’s coming through our ranch here is, one, exciting and, two, scary for me, because I know there’s a just a matter of a few years before they rise up through the ranks and drive my career into the footpath [laughs], but it’s really exciting. And I think worldwide, as a trend, a lot of music is becoming stagnant at the moment, and it’s not just country. A lot of different genres are getting a little too stuck in what they’re doing, and everyone is following the same herd. And I don’t find that Australian country music is. I think we’ve still got that genuine culture about us, and I think that’s really important to hang onto. And it has been forged and etched by so many legends before us just to keep – while we can be influenced by American music trends we’ve really got to keep that Australian dream alive. Like I said, one example, with ‘Million Dollar View’, and that comes from an American songwriter, but I think it really adapts here, and it sits well on this record because it’s talking about what everyone just wants to find, and it’s home, and it’s family, and it’s love. And, at the end of the day, that’s country music.

Yes. But just to go back to your comment about your career being driven into the footpath, I think another good thing about country music is that there is room for everyone, if you’re great at what you’re doing. Now, you’re already great at what you’re doing. So if you hold this path steady then there really is room for everyone, and also it doesn’t matter how old you are. So I think that’s the other thing. You can be 60 and starting your career in country, and the audience is quite happy to have you. Or you can be 60 and still playing, and they’re happy to have you.
Yeah. You know what I think? It’s also because one thing with country music is we’re so lucky that we end up in a scenario where we’re blessed enough to pick up a couple of new fans, country fans, they won’t stay with you for an album, or a single, or a tour, they’ll quite literally grow with you. They’ll get old with you, and they’ll follow your music into their later years. And it’s also a form of music that’s about feeling something and, like you say, it’s storytelling. And country music is about characters. Some of us are pretty rough looking. And some of us probably aren’t as thin as what some of the pop star counterparts are, but we get onstage, and the whole thing is really just about trying to make the person listening feel something. And I think that’s why we are so fortunate to have longevity with our fans, and our careers. I try not to overthink it too much, but that’s as far as I can attribute it to.

Speaking of Australian legends within the genre, and also longevity, you went on the Brian Young tour, and that’s, kind of, an arduous experience from the sound of it. You’re travelling around to a lot of places. Sometimes they’re not easy to get to. Was that a formative experience for you?
Oh, yeah. I’ve got to give credit to Troy Cassar-Daley, because the best line I’ve ever heard explain what a Brian Young tour does came from the mouth of Troy Cassar-Daley, and that was he said he went out on the tour as a young boy and came back as a young man. And I think that really, really ties it up. Because it’s – you’re not only out there learning about the music industry, and the dos and don’ts, and how to make money, and how to stick to a routine, and logistics, and all that sort of stuff. You’re really learning about life. And it’s tough days out there, but you have really good days as well. Being beside Youngy, he’s always constantly trying to make you a better gentleman. He could swear like a sailor when there were no ladies around but the minute there was he’d just as quickly clip you around the ear for dropping a rude word in front of a woman.

It was probably the best three months that I’ve ever had on the road in hindsight. And it’s crazy to say that now, because as the time I was just out there thinking, Oh, man, we’ve got to drive 800 ks today and play to 14 people in the middle of nowhere. But I didn’t realise at the time what I was learning. And what we were doing for those people out there in the bigger picture. And people would come in from cattle stations and farms that were 600 kilometres away. Some of them would drive as far as we did that day. Because for that one night, or the couple of nights that we were playing at that rodeo, or wherever it was, they could come in, and they could forget about their stock dying because they didn’t have enough feed – they didn’t have to worry about something for a couple of days. They could just come out and have a few rums, and listen to country music, and just be around other people for a change instead of being isolated, working, stressing, worrying. And I thought, You know what? That’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learnt in my career. And it holds to date. And that is it’s not just music, it’s an escape for people. People can come. And if you can sing something that hits them in the heart that they relate to, like I said, if you can have them stand there and go, ‘That guy’s singing my life.’ I remember the times that I hear a song and I think, That guy’s singing my life, or that woman’s singing my life, and it’s an unexplainable feeling. But when you can do that it’s quite affecting, and it’s something that just keeps me inspired to be out there doing it year after year, and it’s why I’m still here doing it now.

It is a really important job. Storytellers have an important role in the culture, and country music artists have a way of delivering stories, and providing escape, and providing reassurance to their audience in a far more direct way than other people, because you are willing to go to places that not a lot of other storytellers go. And it is a critically important role, I think.
Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, country music – we’ll talk about the things that probably aren’t cool to talk about. And there’s a song on Wired, the last track is a track called ‘Lost and Uninspired’, and that was the one take in the studio – and I don’t say that as a brag, I say that because that’s all I could literally do. I heard this song on the 2nd of June, 2013 for the first time. And it was a song just about heartbreak – it was a male singer talking about a woman that left him. But, tragically, two days later I accepted a phone call, and I had to sit my wife down and tell her that her father had given up to depression and had taken his own life. And I didn’t listen to the song, or hear the song, for maybe another four weeks. But I tell you what, when I did put it back on and heard it again it spoke to me on a whole another level. And I just can’t help every time a get onstage now but come from that place now, because that was my experience with the song. And as you say, we go to some dark places, but I sing the song, and I tell that story, as hard as it is, when we tour, because I think suicide and depression are at just staggering rates in Australia, and we need to start talking about it.

Particularly in rural Australia.
Especially rural Australia. Like, where I’m talking about – places like out where I was with Youngy, and a lot of the places you don’t even have to go that far out. I mean, I’m an hour from the coastline here in the Hunter Valley, and it’s happening everywhere. It’s happening right beneath our noses, and we don’t see the signs, because, for some reason, Aussie blokes are told men don’t cry, and we grow up not sharing emotions. And it’s just absolute bullshit. So a part of the responsibility of being in front of people, and singing songs, and trying to touch their heart is to teach them that it’s okay to talk about things. This is my experience, and I want someone else to be better off for it, so this is why I’m sharing.

Speaking of going on the road, are you – no doubt you are planning a tour in support of this album. I don’t have dates in front of me, so this is your opportunity to say where you’re going to be and when.
Well, at the moment we’re focusing on just the few key festivals. I don’t really see us doing the road touring with this one until the last half of the year, maybe August onwards. But, to be completely honest, I’m having a meeting with my manager and agent next Thursday and we’re going to discuss our mud map and figure it out then. But as of right now everything has been about releasing the music, and getting it out on radio, and getting it talked about before we even look at getting on the road.

The conventional wisdom would probably be that you’ve got to promote on the road as soon as the thing’s released, but with country music people will turn up whenever you’re there, I think. So you’ve got time to do that.
I guess so. And we’re so fortunate to have a network of touring, and a network of festivals that we have. We’ve got our own Foxtel channel, which really helps, and there are hundreds of community radio presenters across Australia that do country music. There’s a few commercial stations as well. So we’ve got that infrastructure. And I don’t think we need to go out right at the time of release. Just play those few key events, and try and reach new fans. But I’d like to think we could probably get two, or the third single out of this album before we try and hit the road.

So the first single is ‘Curves’, and you could probably choose any one of the other 10 songs on there to release.
Oh, thanks, mate. I really appreciate that.

It’s true. It’s a really great album. I’m still exploring the nooks and crannies of it because that happens, I think, with albums. You put it on the first few times and there’s certain impressions of certain songs. And then the longer it’s on the more you find in it. But I think there is a lot more to find, which is always great for a listener to have multiple layers of meaning in the song.
Absolutely. Even though the production process was a couple of months long, it feels like it was a flash in the pan in the whole context of it. And so I came out of it a little bit scratched, and a little bit tired, and then when I get the master in my hand, go home and listen to it fresh and ready to hear it, I hear things for the first time as well each time that I listen to it. And it depends on what stereo I listen to it on, or where I’m listening to it, but I’m really glad it has got that aspect to it. But it’s such a credit to the engineers and the musicians that I had on it too. But I’m really, really happy, and so proud of this work.

 Wired is out now through ABC Music/Universal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Interview: women in docs in Tamworth

During this year's Tamworth Country Music Festival I had the pleasure of interviewing live-in-person some people I'd only ever interviewed by phone. One of these people was Chanel Lucas from women in docs, and as her longtime collaborator Roz Pappalardo was with her, I spoke to the full complement of women in docs.

Although Tamworth is over, its influence is felt throughout the year - as we discuss in this interview. So that's why I think it's appropriate to publish this interview now, and the rest will come soon.

So you’re playing with the Bushwhackers at the Longyard Hotel – the Longyard as a venue, talk me through it.
Roz: When we used to come here regularly, that was our regular show. We’d do sets there. It’s an audience that really loves their country music – a specific style of country music. Very attentive, very involved in the show. Certainly a different audience to a lot of other bars and pubs around.

That’s not what I would have thought of the Longyard.
Roz: This is the back in the big space, and that audience is very well trained.
Chanel: And they’re quite into songwriters, which is what we’re all about, so we go quite well there.
Roz: We’ve never played the front bar of the Longyard. Probably not our cup of tea. [But] good for the bands that do it.
Chanel: Great exposure for them. And they have the songwriters awards there, in the back bar, so there’s a —
Roz: Culture.
Chanel: Yeah, there’s a culture of songwriting.

This is one of the fascinating things about Tamworth, that one venue can house quite different spaces and things going on at the same time.
Roz: And it’s good that that venue has developed that, so it’s got the front bar for the drinkers and the partiers and the back is for the music connoisseurs.

So what was your first Tamworth?
Roz: I can’t even remember.
Chanel: I don’t know.

If you can’t remember if must have been a good one.
Roz: Oh, it was hellish [laughs]. I just think the same thing happened – we got invited by a bunch of bands to come and do special guest spots so we thought we’d make a week out of it. It was like us and two other acts, and we were all just dossing in one motel room. And Peel Street back then – this would have been ’04, ’05 – was even busier. There were more acts. I think it’s died down the last ten years.
Chanel: No, I don’t think it’s as big – well, there’s not as many buskers. It was a busker every two metres.

I didn’t go in 2013 and that was the year they apparently used an audition system for buskers and the numbers were down that year. Maybe they’re only just starting to come back up.
Roz: That makes total sense.
Chanel: I didn’t know they did that.
Roz: We were talking about [how] it seems like something like that had happened. Because it’s not as wild and crazy down there on Peel Street now. It’s a bit more tame.
Chanel: And the quality of artists is so good out there.

Last year I noticed that I was not hearing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ every five metres – you used to hear that.
Roz: No. The song yesterday was ‘Ring of Fire’.
Chanel: I’ve heard ‘Jolene’ and [singing] ‘May the Circle Be Unbroken’. I’ve heard that at least four times.
Roz: We could actually release a top ten hits of the buskers.

It would be a good survey … you two could make a list of the songs and cover them, is that what you mean?
Chanel: Yes. And we’ll record an album with all those songs on it.

Different interpretations.
Chanel: We’ll sell it on Peel Street.

And then you don’t have to busk. You just have to press ‘play’. Some people do use a backing track, after all. Having said that, there are some genuine musicians on Peel Street …
Roz: The quality is quite high this year.

There’s the young people having a go and older people having a go too.
Roz: It’s awesome. That’s what I love about Tamworth – they really foster and nurture that young generation. Young girls, young boys – they’re supportive, give them platforms to present, help them write the bio, helo them get professional publicity photos taken. That doesn’t happen in any other genre. Country kills it in that world and it’s such a great opportunity for these young people to get a great professional start in their music career. Love it.

I think as a genre as well it does respect the songwriter more than any other genre in Australia.
Roz: It does.

And I don’t know if I remarked on this to you, Chanel, in the past but I’ve certainly noticed the even spread of male and female artists throughout the festival.
Chanel: Yes.
Roz: That’s true. It’s just quality, really.

And the nature of this festival is such that the competition’s so stiff – busking’s one thing, but there’s a lot of free gigs here and you want to get people to them to buy your albums and you have to be good. So the quality of music that comes out of all the performers in this festival is extraordinary.
Chanel: It is.

And you guys are part of that, of course. The level of talent under the country music umbrella, which is broad –
Roz: It’s getting broader.

It’s quite amazing.
Chanel: We met a few people today when we were playing down at Fanzone who – it’s their first time. And I said to a couple of people, ‘What are you going to see? What are you going to do?’ And they just said, ‘We don’t know – it’s so overwhelming. We’re just walking around – everything we watch is good. Everything we see is amazing.’ And all they’re doing is just walking around to see what happens.
Roz: You get that big programme and I immediately get a panic attack. I just looked at it the other day – and I think I was really tired because we’d been up since five-thirty driving, we had a 7 a.m. interview – I looked at it and I nearly felt like breaking into tears because I just didn’t want to miss anything. You know what I mean?

I absolutely know what you mean.
I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is just too much.’ [But] fantastic, because there’s something for everyone.                 

So for you as performers, you have quite a schedule. Do you have your fallow times during the day when you can have a little rest?
Roz: We try to.
Chanel: We’ve had one in three days. Four days. How long have we been here? It feels like we’ve been here for, like, a century.                  

And you’re on tonight.
Chanel: Late nights up at the North Tamworth Bowlo there’s like a fringe thing, so tonight’s girls’ night, with all female performers, and tomorrow night will be bluegrass night and so on.

And the Lifeline concert.
Chanel: I think it’s now called ‘Country Music Cares’ or ‘Country Cares’. At the Town Hall. And all the proceeds are going to local farmers.

That’s a good thing to be invited to participate in.
Roz: That invitation and the Bushwhackers invitation actually got us here. We thought, ‘We’ve got this gig and these gigs, let’s make a week of it.’ And then Matt Henry has come in and invited us – we’ve been working with him on –

You’re going to be at the Tudor up late?
Roz: Thursday night. It just takes a couple of invitations to then put together a week.

I know for you two – because you don’t live in the same city – it’s a matter of finding that momentum to pull everything together.                 
Roz: It’s coordination but we’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s a matter of getting on a plane for me – or for you [to Chanel]. Air travel is so easy these days – do it a couple of times, get lots of Velocity points.                 
Chanel: And this is such a big festival, you almost have to do at least a gig or two a day just to reach –
Roz: Unless you’re Kasey Chambers or Troy Cassar-Daley.

Well, yes. And that’s a different kind of music, too. Roz, your name came up recently because I interviewed Leanne Tennant.
Roz: Yeah, she’s from Cairns. She’s great – a really amazing chick and she’s on her way here now.

So in Tamworth, part of the benefit of it seems to be these relationships that get made – whether it’s producers, songwriters, musicians. Has that happened for you in the past?
Roz: At this festival? For sure. The nature of this festival is that you generally collaborate – play with three or four artists on the bill and that’s how the relationships are built. That feeds into other touring, other networks.
Chanel: Other festivals. We’re doing a show with Lou Bradley – she’s going to come and do some songs with us at the Family [Hotel show]. She’s involved with some stuff down in Murwillumbah.
Roz: She started it.
Chanel: She started a new festival down there.
Roz: A country roots festival.
Chanel: She’s invited us to come and play at the end of next year down at the new country roots festival … It’s a small industry.

The impact of this one festival – and I don’t know if there’s anyone to quantify it, actually – but creatively, commercially in terms of the albums that come out of it, is quite enormous.
Roz: It would be a really good study to do that. But how you would do that …                 

[Laughs] Tamworth Council would probably want to do it.
Roz: Well, it would actually be great for them, funding wise.

The latest women in docs album is Carousel. Visit them online at