Monday, April 20, 2015

Interview: Lianna Rose

Hunter Valley singer-songwriter Lianna Rose recently released a wonderful new album, Travellers, which features a variety of musical styles within the country umbrella: some upbeat, some more contemplative. Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Lianna about the album and her creative process.

 I really love the album. There are so many highs and lows emotionally on it, in a good way – there’s a real palette of things. Did it feel like that for you writing and recording it?
Thank you for your compliment, I appreciate that. And that’s how I wanted it to be – I wanted it to be a journey. And Travellers is about a spiritual journey through a lot of grief. There’s a lot of positives in there too. It’s a very personal record, actually.            

I know the song ‘Travellers’ came particularly out of grief. Did that inform the writing of the rest of the record too?
Not necessarily, no. I think that I was pretty well halfway through the record before that song appeared. But I must admit, once that song appeared that was it – that was the direction it was pointing and it had to go there.

You obviously have a varied background in terms of musical styles – you can obviously draw on a lot of experience and influences, not just in how you sing but also the way the songs are written. When you write a song, do you start off with the music and the musical style that you’re looking for, or with the lyrics?
A bit of both. It’s swings and roundabouts. I can be driving along and I’ll have a song idea come to me and I’ll literally pull the car over and write that down. Or I’ll have a melody and I’ll record that in the car as I’m driving. But the joy for me is always once that instrument’s in my hands and I jam with myself, you know? If I’ve got a little riff that comes along. And then the lyrics comes afterwards, once I’ve got the riff happening.

With your voice the way it is – it’s such a strong instrument in and of itselfI’m surprised that you’ll go to another instrument to write on as opposed to just singing it out.
[laughs] Being a musician is a big part of what I do, so the guitar’s really important to me and the piano as well. But this particular album’s all been based around the guitar riff. I’ve been experimenting with resonators and amplified guitars and electric guitars, so I’m continually evolving in that department. I’m loving it.

So you obviously really love playing guitar as well.
I’ve been offered a few times over the years just to be a singer, to front a band, and I baulk at it every time because it’s so important for me to have that guitar in my hand. I don’t think I can express myself unless I have that guitar with me, vocally as well.

You were a back-up singer for a while, which must have seemed a bit strange considering you have such a front-of-band voice. Did you miss your guitar when you were singing back-up?
I did. I enjoyed the journey for what it was. It was an amazing experience and obviously working with the incredible artists that they were it was a really great education in how the older style of rock groups were formed. So I really learned to express and use that vocal way more than I had done before. But it was a bit intimidating standing there on stage with nothing in front of me [laughs]. I felt exposed. But I did really enjoy it. Working with the other vocalists as well and creating harmonies, that’s another beautiful experience again.

When you perform your songs live, do you prefer having a band around you?
I do. For many years I’ve created a living out of being a solo acoustic artist, but in saying that my preference is always to have a band, especially a band that really understands the songs and they’ll understand lyrically. And whenever I appoint new musos to come on the journey with me, I’m always stressing that we really need dynamic – we need to either make people cry or laugh, and we need to do that with the instruments as well. So it takes them a little while but once they see the audience response they say, ‘Oh, is that what you’re talking about?’ [laughs]

Particularly if you have anything to do with country music, that relationship with the audience is so important. There’s so much for artists that comes from the audience – not just the emotion but also sometimes even story ideas.
Absolutely. Country music’s always been relatable. Rock music is too and I love nothing more than bopping out to a good rock song, but there’s a lot of times I’ve listened to really good rock songs and I still, to this day, have no idea what the lyric is. But a country song, it’s integral – it’s the absolute pivotal point of the whole song, that lyric. So to me it’s telling stories and hopefully people can feel like they’re not alone while they’re going through something. That’s what country music does for me.

I read that you listened to country music when you were quite young, so has that always been where you thought you were headed musically?
Yes, I did the whole typical grew up young on the farm, I thought I was Loretta Lynn – I could have sworn I was the coalminer’s daughter! [Laughs] We were quite poor back then in the ’70s. But in saying that I thought I could have a family very young and travel around Australia, and of I went with my first husband. We were having babies and travelling through the Outback. And then the realisation hit me that that was just a movie [laughs]. It’s too hard to balance that in the modern world. So unfortunately I found out the hard way that that good old country music story is not always the best way to live.

It possibly is if you’re on a different continent, but I think travelling around Australia in particular is really hard.
Literally just five minutes prior to your call I was looking at a map of Australia and saying, ‘Where am I going to go now?’ Because I love the Outback more than anything and I really want to get back out there again, but I’m just weighing up, Oh yeah – there’s like five hours between that town, oh my god. [Laughs] So it’s a bit of a journey I’m just about to embark on.

So this is for you to take the album on tour?
Yes, hence the name [Travellers]. And I am an empty nester now as a parent so I really need to get out there and meet people, and literally take in as much of this life as I can because what I realised as I get older is that it’s going very fast. Losing people in my life has made me really appreciate every single day of it.

There’s a couple of things that have just come out of what you’ve said that I’d like to ask about. The first is going back to taking your kids on the road when they were quite young and you were young as well. That suggests that you are willing to pursue a dream, and certainly you’ve pursued the dream of music and that’s come off, but it’s a big dream to pursue a dream like that – a lot of people will think about it and talk about it but they won’t actually do it. So do you feel like you’ve really got the conviction of following your dreams?
Yes, absolutely. I have two daughters and I was always at them throughout their lives growing up, ‘If you have a dream or a vision, just go for it’, because that’s all we’ve got at the end of the day. If you’re just on the treadmill and generating something for somebody else’s dream, it doesn’t really fulfil you. Music fulfils me, and I don’t know how I fell into it – it was around me as a child but I feel so blessed by it and blessed by the gift, so to speak. I have to pursue this. And that’s where the song ‘Where the Post’ came from, because I got trapped singing a lot of cover songs for everybody else and then I realised, That’s not my dream. My dream is to be a songwriter first and foremost. And that’s what this album is about. You have to live your truth – you’ve got to be true to yourself otherwise the rest of it doesn’t work properly.

The other thing I was going to ask was about your children. When I was reading in your bio that you’d had children in the ’90s, I looked at your video and thought, Was she twelve when she had these children? So obviously, as you said, you’re now an empty nester and they’re grown up so you probably were about twelve. I’m wondering if any of them are musicians?
[Laughs] Well, thank you, but there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in those videos. I appreciate the lighting very much these days. But I was a young mum and like I said I had this little dream and hit the road very young and had children. But unfortunately both my daughters, they have the most incredible voices on them but they have said, ‘Mum, we just want a stable job, we want to stay home, we like being home’ [laughs]. They don’t want to pursue anything in a music career.

Except if they’ve got great voices maybe you can persuade them to join you on stage every now and again.
Look, that has happened in the last few years. My eldest daughter, Roxy, she’s an incredible little singer – she stops people in their tracks. And I know that if she wanted to, that gift is there for her as well. But at this moment she’s going through her growth period and she’s working out who she is as a young woman, so I’m just sitting back waiting to see if she comes back to it.

You’ve been an independent artist through your last couple of albums and I was wondering how much of your time – considering also that you’ve raised a family – is taken up with business and how much with creativity.
Unfortunately, especially of late with the release of the album, is leaning probably 80% towards business – maybe 85% - and less on the creativity. That does mess with me a bit. However, I went and studied for twelve months last year, doing a business course, just to get my head around the whole business side of life. That is something that’s not my strong point so I really wanted to investigate further and see how I can improve upon that. So I’ve been applying those lessons learnt and I am finding this journey a little easier now and I’m looking forward, in a few months’ time, to getting back to being creative again.

So when it came to the writing of the songs on this album, how do you manage your time? Do you find that if the muse calls you – for lack of a better term – you have to stop whatever you’re doing? You talked what happens if you’re in the car and you get an idea. But to follow up that idea, do you put aside everything else and sit down or do you have to schedule your creative time?
A bit of both. It is a bit of scheduling. My husband’s a musician as well and we have to share some space, so we’ve actually set up a little schedule and I have the music room for two days a week and so on. But, look, in saying that, that creative effort – without a word of a lie, at four o’clock this morning this song came into my head. I’ve asked to write for a younger artist in the country scene, so I went to bed with her on my mind and then sure enough, four o’clock this morning bang – this song comes to me, so I was up at 4 a.m. writing this down. I try to be organised and scheduled, but when that energy hits you, you’ve just got to move with it. It comes at any point in time. So that makes me a little hectic, I must admit. I’m certainly not organised as much as I’d like to be!

It also suggests that you trust your songwriting instinct really powerfully, that it will get you out of bed and get you to write the song.
Oh, look, if it wasn’t for my songwriting … Like I said, it is a gift. I did suffer – as I’m sure a lot of people have – depression years and anxiety years, and I’m still learning every day how to cope with some everyday issues that can really bring you down. But I must admit that songwriting drives me. It gets me out of bed. It gets me motivated to be a better performer, a better person, so I’m so thankful for that. 

I mentioned at the top about the emotions at the album. The first song, ‘Willy Wagtail’, is a very upbeat, jaunty song, and the tempos on some of the songs are that rockabilly, more driving rhythm, and then you have your ballads, some of which sound like your heart’s breaking on them, and therefore for the listener it sounds like heartbreak as well. How hard is that to summon in the studio and hard is it to sing it, if you have to do take after take?
I’ve never had [singing] lessons – I go into the song and I become a character in a movie that plays in my head. I really feel it, and sometimes those tears do actually appear, and I think that’s the only way to be honest. And when I’m in there and I am re-recording or overdubbing, it doesn’t take long to snap into it – I suppose it’s almost like an acting role and you become that character. I’ve never really had an issue with that. I’m not sure if that’s a gift, or what it is, but it just comes naturally. 

Travellers is out now.

Jake Jackson's moving Anzac anthem

Melbourne singer-songwriter Jake Jackson recently released 'I Will March for You', a song inspired by his experiences marching on Anzac Day in place of his father, who died many years ago. The song has become a favourite with his audiences and, now, has been released to the public. It has a rich history and great personal resonance - not just for Jake but for the people who hear it. Recently I spoke to Jake and found out more about his story, and the story of the song. 

What does Anzac Day mean to you?
It's really simple: it's an opportunity for me to involve my father in my life. He died when I was very young so I really had no connection with him and no time with him. So as I got to know what he'd done and where he'd been in his life I started to realise how important it was for me to connect. So I'm, I guess, using Anzac Day in a funny sort of way to reconnect with my father and, in turn, realising how important it was to remember all the things that he'd done. So that's what it means to me.

And that's a hugely resonant thing in anyone's life. Is this something you've felt since childhood or is it only recently that Anzac Day has come to mean that for you?
I think it's been the last ten years, it's becoming more and more part of my life. You know, what happens to a bloke – a man – as he goes through life without a father, and you don't really think about it that much – it's not as though you take on the victim role and consider yourself short-changed because I wasn't in any way, shape or form. I had a great childhood and a great life. So I guess when I got to my forties I started realising how important it was to understand how my father was, and when I started digging I realised he was quite a guy. So I kept digging further and further and felt more and more association with the Anzac movement and the recognition of what all those guys had done all those years ago – guys and girls, by the way. My mum was in the RAAF, so I'm not going to be too gender specific here. Certainly all those who served did a phenomenal job for us, and the freedom we enjoy today as a result of their sacrifice – it sounds very serious but it's true, you know.

When you consider the generational impact of those world wars, in particular, and the Vietnam War as well – and we'll probably see down the track Iraq and Afghanistan having generational impact – it's certainly part of our national story but also it's clear that researching your father is part of your own story but also having the opportunity to tell his story.
It's opened up this incredible labyrinth of stories. I've got this metal box that I've been going through and I've been putting together all these documents and letters and, you know, you find these things. A week ago I found a letter – a very small letter, handwritten letter – written from the front in the 14-18 war, of my great uncle who was killed at Passchendaele. And it's just a small handwritten note with a cutting from a British newspaper showing where the battle was and where the action was. And, obviously 'it's with great regret that we inform you of the loss of your son'. It was addressed to his mother. And there's a whole treasure trove of incredible stuff there and I think a lot of Australians have a similar history. And if it wasn't for that one letter I doubt if the poor fellow would even have been thought of again. It's an amazing thing and it does give us a chance to recollect and think about those who have done so much. And the song is that – the song is an ode to all those, and it's not necessarily just for my father, it certainly strikes a chord with anyone that has any empathy with people that have gone away to serve their country.

And you started writing this song after marching in last year's Anzac Day parade – was that your first time marching?
No, I've marched probably ten times now. I march with the 2/12th in Melbourne. I've watched that grow, too – that's quite an amazing thing. I was a bit sceptical about it in the beginning. I wasn't entirely sure or entirely comfortable about marching as a son of a serviceman – and servicewoman, I'll go there again. It is often so gender specific. People are always directing it to the fact that it's the men who went to war, but there's a lot of women who went to war too and they may not necessarily have been on the front but a lot were too – they were in field hospitals and so on. Anyway, I've done quite a few [marches] now and I guess I was wondering if it would ever go away, but the intense emotion that you feel when you march with the group, and in Melbourne the march ends at the Shrine [of Remembrance], and that moment when you turn the corner into the Shrine and the Shrine's standing before you with a couple of Australian soldiers there literally guarding the Shrine of Remembrance, it's a very, very moving thing. [Afterwards] I always go and have a cup of tea with my mum, who's still alive, and talk about my dad, and then go home. I sat on the couch and started writing and this song came out, and I was very, very moved by the song itself. I was unable to actually believe the thing because it was just so moving, and I didn't know what to do with it, and it was one of those funny songs where I didn't even know if I wanted to play it to anybody. I kept it to myself. Then I found myself playing it more and more, and I recorded it at home just on my iPad and started to realise that I had something pretty serious. Then I remember playing it at a gig and talking about it to the audience, then playing it, and the reaction was sort of dumbfounding, really. I looked around and almost everybody had tears in their eyes. While when you're performing it's not the ambition to have everybody burst into tears …

It's not a bad result, I have to say.
No. It's about reaching into people's hearts, you know, and the song carried so much weight that people were so moved by it. And you could physically see the people who had a real connection to it and they were immensely moved by it, and I understood that I had something very special there. As I've gone into recording the song I've tried to maintain that simplicity and that emotion. I hope I've captured it. I feel I have. Certainly the reactions I'm getting from people about the song indicate that I've managed to maintain that.

Given that you have marched several times before, what was different about last year, or did you notice anything different in yourself last year that flicked that switch, I guess – because it sounds very much like the song just came to you or came through you. So something changed.
I guess there were a few years there where I was questioning my right to be part of that movement, as the son of an Australian army person. While some took that role quite lightly and they just enjoyed the day and saw it almost as an opportunity to be part of something, I was always questioning it. And I guess last year I realised that I really was part of this thing, and it took a few years for me to get to that point. I really embraced it and felt that I had a responsibility to it, which up until then I was just sort of going along. And I was very private about it too – I wouldn't tell too many people ... What I noticed last year was the sheer weight of the movement now and the number of people who are moved by what we've done over the years. The streets were lined five, six deep this time, as opposed to some years when there'd be – obviously many thousands turn out but now it feels like its fivefold on what it used to be. Tenfold what it used to be. There's a lot of people standing on St Kilda Road now jostling for a front-row spot to be able to see people walk past wearing the medals of those who have served. My father had an OBE, New Guinea, and he served in North Africa, so consequently I feel very much part of it now. So it gave me a position where I felt like I had a right to write an anthem and this came out. That's how I view it – as an anthem. It's a melody that reflects an emotion that's saying 'I will march for you, I will remember you, I won't forget'.

Does it take a toll on you to perform it?
Massively, yes. It's a massively emotional song. Some songs I've written over the years, they've all got emotional content, they've all got feelings and they take you back to times gone by. But this one is something else, it just seems to awaken a real sense of responsibility to those who have gone.

Just in terms of performance, if you know you have a song like that which is going to take a toll, how do you manage your energy output so by the end of the night you're not completely depleted?
The nice thing about it is that people come on board with it. At my shows I always sit down and talk about the songs and introduce the songs and tell a story of the songs, so that I've got a preamble that people can grab onto and so they can understand what I'm trying to say, rather than just blasting through a set without any regard for what people think. And the nice thing about that song is that you know when you get to the end of it that 80 or 90 per cent of the audience are completely with you, so you have this sense of empathy with them, so it makes it easy to move on, to keep going. So in some ways you draw energy of the crowd that's with you. When they understand and they hear the emotions you're portraying, then it doesn't drain – it sort of adds. It's uplifting to realise that people are on the same page.

From a creative point of view, to have a song like that which you wrote and then you wrestled with it for a while, did it have an impact on writing other songs?
Definitely. It created a writer's block, for sure, because it stood up above everything else I've done so dramatically, like a shining light. It became my whole focus in terms of where I was going. In some ways I'm really looking forward to how it goes over the next few weeks because it will really give me an opportunity to move on. It's been a big part of my life, this song, for quite a long time. And I've been writing – I was away again last year, I've been writing for another album – and it's not been easy to get past this because of the effect it has on people. When you sit down and you sing a song in front of somebody and they burst into tears, it's, like, 'Oh, okay – this is pretty serious.'

And it would feel like a responsibility.
It is absolutely a responsibility, because you know that what they're doing is recollecting their past or their thoughts about their loved ones, and you know how serious that is for you, so all of a sudden you're just lighting this candle for everyone and they all light up. I do have a responsibility with this song, I really do. And you know what, it's difficult because there is a back story, there is a reality about this song – it's not something I've sat down and manufactured, it's not something I've sat down and tried to write, tried to force out, or got a group of people together and tried to do an Anzac Day song. I'm not being cynical there. That's what it's not. It's a song about my experience and my family and my experiences with having servicemen in the family, and an opportunity to remember that and respect it.

I think Lee Kernaghan's done a really good job with Spirit of the Anzacs but your song is a really good balance to that project, because the stories and  songs on that album are mostly completely impersonal, because they're letters that were found in the Australian War Memorial archive. It's actually not that common to have the sort of story you're telling in relation to war, I think. I don't know whether it's because there aren't that many people with experiences of either marching or in war who write songs.
Yes, I think it's unusual. Lee's done a great job. He's certainly got in there and done what he set out to do and done a beautiful job with it – there's no question about it. But, you know, I've got that box of letters at home that are all from my family – they're all my uncles and their mothers. So it's a very personal thing for me.

I do want to ask you about the production on the song, which is relatively simple – I say 'relatively' because it has a big sound especially building towards the end, but the dominant instrument apart from your voice really is the cello and it's used to great effect. How did you come to choose the cello for this track?
I'm going to lighten up the conversation here. I went to the Conservatorium of Music when I was young and did a degree in music, and we used to do these lunchtime concerts, and the girls playing the cello always stole my heart [laughs]. There was a very beautiful cellist at the Conservatorium who used to always get up and play the Bach Cello Suites every few months and that place was packed – everybody wanted to hear her play. So the cello left a big impression. And I did the Bach Cello Suites as well as one of my exam pieces, so the suites were pretty important to me – I spent six months of my life working on that one piece of music. But the cello's a lovely thing. If any of the stringed instruments encapsulate the human voice, it's the cello. It's a very similar range. That instrument speaks to you. So for me it was the only choice. I could have gone to the fiddle, as I normally do, but I chose the cello. Caroline came in and did a lovely job for us. And, of course, the Australian Girls Choir was lovely too – that youthful sound of those girls singing, it's just so special. It sort of juxtaposes with the sincerity and antiquity of the song's message, and then we had eighteen late-teenagers singing these beautiful parts, and they were amazing. Sally Gawley is the musical director of the choir. We wanted to keep [the production] really simple. Robyn Paine did production for me again and she did a lovely job. She's such a talented player and producer. The agenda was to keep it really nice and simple. Even the mastering that Martin did – just keeping it really simple, not trying to take it to some other place. Try to keep the purity of the message there and not disguise it with a whole lot of other instrument and other sounds and heavy arrangements.

Watch the video for 'I Will March for You' on

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lee Kernaghan's Spirit of the Anzacs

In this year commemorating the centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli, there are many projects which seek to honour Australian soldiers and cover the history of that time, and of our diggers since. So I'll be honest and say it was with a degree of scepticism that I approached Lee Kernaghan's latest album, Spirit of the Anzacs. The lyrics of the album are mostly drawn from letters in the archive of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; these were then set to music by Lee and his co-writers. For an artist as established and well known as Lee, this album could have been a risk: it's not like his others, so there was no guarantee that his fans would like it. He'd also recorded it in amongst a very long touring schedule. 

The result is a very impressive, emotional album that actually has as much to say through its music as its words, and Lee has not only created something meaningful but contributed something original to our understanding of the Australian experience of war. It was my honour to talk about the album with Lee recently, on the day he announced that Spirit of the Anzacs will tour as a show around Australia.

I wasn’t expecting to be as moved by this album as I was – it’s an extraordinary piece of work. When did you first conceive of the project?
It was the day that I went to the [Australian] War Memorial in July 2013 – I was on tour with the Wolfe Brothers in Canberra – and as I walked in I noticed a plaque with an inscription from the founder of the War Memorial, a man by the name of Charles Bean. And on the plaque it said, Here is their spirit in the heart of the land they loved and here we guard the record that they themselves made. And those words put the goosebumps up my arms and set me on some kind of a mission to learn as much as I could about the history of the Anzacs from Gallipoli right through to Afghanistan.

I’ve interviewed a couple of members of the Wolfe Brothers over the past year and a bit, so I know how much touring they’ve been doing with you – so therefore I know how much touring you’ve been doing – that’s a heavy workload. And in amongst that, how on earth did you pull this project together?
Oh well, we’ve just been going nonstop, particularly the last eighteen months. It’s been a labour of love and it’s taken an enormous amount of research and we’ve had a lot of assistance from the Australian War Memorial – their historical department – and they’ve been through every word of every song and every word of every liner note to ensure its authenticity.

To go into that vast archive of letters they have is one thing – and to get their permission is amazing – but then to be able to choose the letters that you’ve chosen, that must have been quite a daunting task as well as a time-consuming one.
Look, I think it was the songwriter in me, when I saw words on paper and these weren’t just any words, these were the voices of the diggers on the frontline, landing on Gallipoli and on the trenches of the Western Front and the desert mountains of Afghanistan – I could almost hear the music as I read the letters.

Was that the way you choose – if you could hear the music – or was there some other element to those letters that appealed to you?
I could have done a hundred of them, really – they all deserved it – but we had to be mindful that we had a lot of ground to cover from the landing at Gallipoli to the Western Front, Beersheba, Passchendaele, through to World War II, the bombing of Darwin, Kokoda, all the way through to the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and all the while it was important to us that we recognise the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. So that kind of determined what we could and couldn’t do as well.

You also represented the families – because they’re letters back home, they involve the family members of those diggers, so there’s that very human, home-side aspect to those stories.
One of the songs that almost takes my breath away is called ‘Song for Grace’, and it was written by Ted Egan and performed by Sara Storer. It tells the story of a young thirteen-year-old girl saying goodbye to her brothers Martin, Robert and Jack as they depart for the First World War. I called Ted up in the Northern Territory and I asked for his permission for us to record the song on the album, which he gave us, but I also asked if ‘Song for Grace’ was a true story and he said, ‘My word it’s a true story’. I said, ‘Ted, who was Grace in the story?’ and he said, ‘Lee, Grace was my mother. Martin, Robert and Jack were my uncles’.

Then it’s a very fitting inclusion on this album.
For sure.

And also fitting that another Territory artist, Sara Storer, recorded it.            
Yes, and she did a beautiful version of it. I think it had to be somebody who’d grown up on the land in order to really interpret it the way that she’s done it, so powerfully.

You mentioned earlier how the songwriter in you responded to some of these letters, and this is a really unusual creative project in that you have to take someone else’s heartfelt words and then translate them to music, as opposed to your own lyrics, which you’ve done many times. So as a songwriter, how did that process even start for you?
Well, it was like most songwriting sessions, getting together with my co-writers Garth Porter and Colin Buchanan, and we knew that we had a very important job to do – a very important job to do – because singing the voice of the Australian soldier is something that you just don’t take lightly, you have to take it very seriously with a great amount of care and respect. So I always found that the bar was just set so high with these songs, and even when I was recording the vocals I’d do what I thought was a good vocal and then I’d listen back to it and a few weeks later I’d want to re-record it because [I thought] I’ve just got to do better than that.

It’s clear on the album that you felt not just the emotion of those words but the importance of conveying them too. Recording your own songs obviously has emotion attached to it but recording these songs, it sounded not like you had a heavy heart but that you really felt the weight of that responsibility.
That’s right, and it was kind of putting yourself in that position of what were the diggers thinking, you know, when they were on board HMAS Armidale bound for Betano Bay out of Darwin and the enemy planes began to attack. That sense of what they must have been experiencing was definitely pretty pervasive in the recording process. That’s why I just had to keep going back and going back. I was driving everybody crazy along the way but I wanted to make it as good as it could be.

Did you feel a bit exhausted at the end of the process?

[Laughs] Yep, I reckon. Duncan Toombs, who did the video, worked nineteen hours straight – and this is after a week of editing – and I was riding shotgun with him through most of those nineteen hours, and when the video was completed it was about 3 a.m. and I just went to bed, turned off the lights and I put my head on the pillow and tears just fell out of my eyes. It was just the sheer emotion of it all.

I think you can hear that on the album in a very good way – it’s part of why I found the album so moving, I think, what I heard in your voice. The lyrics are obviously really powerful but for you as a singer to be able to convey them that way is a huge achievement.
Thanks for that … All I wanted to do on this is just properly honour then men and women who’ve served, past and present, and just getting it right for them has been the main objective, from beginning to end.

You have some musical collaborators with you – you’ve borne most of the work in terms of the recording but you do have some collaborators on the album, and one of them is Lisa McCune, who’s going with you on the road for the show. How did you choose the people who appear on the album?
It was just a matter of thinking who’d be most suited to some of those songs. ‘Kokoda’ involves John Schumann from Redgum – he gave me a singing lesson, let me tell ya. That’s one of those songs that I thought I’d done a fairly good vocal on and he came in and did the duet parts and blew me out of the water. So I had to go back in and [laughs] try to do better. Lisa McCune obviously is part of the show and it will be a really special moment singing that song, ‘The Unbearable Price of War’, with her in stage show.

I also saw on the annoucement of the tour that the Wolfe Brothers were with you in the photo so I’m presuming they’re back out on the road with you.
They are involved in the production and it’s going to be great to continue to tour with these boys – they are the hottest band in the land and lots of people would agree with me now.

Taking these songs on the road in the show is a different format to playing a gig as you would normally, and I'm wondering if you think you’ll see your fans there, or do you think there’ll be some different people who show up?
I think it will be pretty well across-the-board appeal, from young kids through to old people like me [laughs]. It’s country music but it’s also the music of our country, and probably more so than anything I’ve ever done before in my career.

And in that career you’ve spent a lot of time on and brought a lot of attention to causes that really needed attention – I’m think particularly of Australian farmers [and drought relief]. With this project you’re bringing attention to Legacy and to Soldier On. I was wondering where that – it’s not social activism, per se, but there’s obviously a real drive in you to try to highlight these causes and these organisations. Is that something you’ve had all your life?
I think it’s just a part of growing up in the country. Anybody who’s done that has a pretty keen sense of what it means to pass the hat around. I’ve been blessed with an incredible career, so being able to give back is a really important part of it for me. It’s always been that way and it always will be.

You’re performing this show for a while – in fact, it seems like it will take quite a few months – and then I would imagine you’ll go back to your normal kind of show and your normal kind of set. Do you think you’ll be able to let these songs go, or will they become part of your set?
Oh well, that’s up to the people out there who come to the shows, and which ones they want to hear – I’ll just keep playing the ones they want to hear. I think some will stand the test of time – I’m sure many of these new ones will.

It’s probably like choosing amongst children, but are there any songs on this album that are your favourites?
I love ‘I Will Always Be With You’ – it tears my heart out. It’s about Private Benjamin Chuck, 2nd Commando Regiment with Special Operations Task Group. He was on his third deployment in Afghanistan in 2010 when he lost his life in Black Hawk helicopter crash. He was twenty-seven years old; he was from Yungaburra in the Atherton Tablelands and he was one of the most elite soldiers Australia has ever produced. An incredible man and a huge loss. Such was the perilous situation that Ben and his fellow soldiers were placed in over there that they were all encouraged to have a sealed letter that only gets sent home in the event of their death. The letter that Ben wrote back to his partner forms the basis and much of the words that you hear in the song ‘I Will Always Be With You’.

Spirit of the Anzacs is out now through ABC Music/Universal.
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