Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Single release: 'Just Like Magic' by Casey Barnes

As I'm fond of saying, country music is a broad umbrella - which is why I like to cover the odd bit of country rock/pop if it's well done. Casey Barnes is an Australian artist and ARIA Top 10 artist with his recent album Live As One. His new single 'Just Like Magic' is a great, upbeat tune - and, frankly, at the end of this year the up-beats are in order.

The video was a family affair: Barnes’s eight-year-old daughter chose the dancers from amongst her teachers at the dance studio she attends. It is released ahead of Casey's appearances at Tamworth Country Music Festival and elsewhere (dates below).


Sunday, 22 January, 2017 @ 1:00pm
Toyota FanZone Stage (Corner of Fitzroy and Peel Street) - Tamworth Country Music Festival
Sunday, 22 January, 2017 @ 5:00pm
The Albert Hotel w/ Ben Ransom & 8 Ball Aitken - Tamworth Country Music Festival
Monday, 23 January, 2017 @ 3:30pm
ABC Stage (Intersection of Peel & White Street) - Tamworth Country Music Festival
* Monday, 23 January, 2017 @ 7:30pm
Flags of Country International Muster, Tamworth Town Hall (with McKenna Faith - U.S.A)
* Saturday, 28 January, 2017 @ 7:00pm
Johnny Ringo's, Brisbane QLD (With McKenna Faith and Band - U.S.A)
Friday, 17 February, 2017 @ 7:00pm
NIGHTQUARTER (with full band) - Helensvale, Gold Coast QLD

* shows with McKenna Faith. Tickets and info: http://mckenna-faith.com/tour

'Just Like Magic' is available as a single on iTunes or as part of Live As One

Single release: 'Somnus' by Hayley Wilson

Singer-songwriter Hayley Wilson turned to some experienced hands to produce her debut album, Further Than Forever (to be released on 24 February 2017): the late, much missed Karl Broadie and Glen Hannah. 'Somnus' is the first single from the album, and it's a piece of melancholic wonder, a wistful, sweet tune that will stay in your head for a long time.

You can watch the video for Somnus below. 

Buy 'Somnus' or you can receive the track when you pre-order Further Than Forever on iTunes

Monday, December 19, 2016

Single release: 'Porcelain' by Gina Horswood

A big, turbulent year needs a great, gutsy ending - just like the new song 'Porcelain', the title track from a new album by Gina Horswood.

Gina originally performed with her sister Melanie, sharing bills with Kasey Chambers, amongst others. In 2013 Gina headed for Nashville to write and record, and started playing to North American audiences. She has found success in Canada and is heading home to Australia for some shows in January 2017

Watch 'Porcelain' on Youtube or buy it on iTunes here.


Interview: Rachel Collis

Sydney singer-songwriter Rachel Collis has a voice and a talent that can't be ignored - thankfully, both are well documented on her new album, The Remains of the Day. I very much enjoyed speaking with Rachel recently about the album, her songwriting break and her musical background.

In the past you’ve written songs on piano and this time you wrote a bit on guitar – did that shape the songs differently, to use a different instrument?
I think so. I really don’t play guitar well at all. I’ve always wanted to, but piano’s always been the main instrument for me and the one that I studied. But I think with songwriting any change in your process is a good thing, it’s going to evoke different sounds and ideas, so I wanted to play guitar well enough to be able to write and explore songs on the guitar and see what comes. I think it really does change where things go.

I suppose there’s also the fact that you play gigs and pianos aren’t that portable – a guitar has that benefit.
Absoutely. I think I’m somewhat of a whinger when it comes to lugging a big, heavy keyboard around [laughs]. I tend to do shows where there’s a piano there already. But sometimes if it’s a folk club or if I’m just doing a few songs, it’s a real pest. So I though if I can play the guitar at least I can do a few songs. So I’m working on it. I have done a few performances where I’ve got the guitar up for one or two songs. Still needs time, I think [laughs].

I saw a video of you playing guitar onstage, so I know you’ve done that. I saw something on your website – the song about the duck.
Oh, that’s a ukulele, that one.

Clearly I wasn’t looking closely enough!
I’m quite short, so it probably looked like a guitar.

Since you play the ukulele I’ll divert and ask you a question about that. What do you like about the uke?
The funny thing is I only play the ukulele marginally better than the guitar, but it was a very similar thing. Part of the reason why I’ve never taken to guitar is that I have very small hands and I have a thin, small spread between my fingers, so playing Bach has always been a huge challenge. A few years ago I thought, Why don’t I get a ukulele? They don’t cost too much money. So I did, and I wrote a couple of songs on that. Then a year ago I woke up and thought, I’m going to get a mini guitar – and that was the problem solved. So I have a ukulele and a mini guitar, and that’s how I’m coping with it all [laughs].

You’ve been writing collaboratively with Peta Van Drempt and your husband, Steve – what you do you like about collaboration?
Two heads are better than one. I think that in the creative process you’re trying to bring ideas together. You’re constantly trying to generate ideas and ditching the bad ones and creating new ones and combining them, and you get stuck when you run out of ideas. But when you’ve got someone else with you, they throw in ideas and create new ideas for you. There’s more rubbish to ditch because there’s two people generating lots of bad ideas, but there’s also two people generating good material. All my favourite songwriters out of Nashville cowrite and I think it’s the best practice. The only thing that stops me is my ego that says, ‘I have to write this song on my own to prove to myself or to the world that I’m a genius’. I do write on my own but sometimes I think, Why not grab Peta, my friend, she’s such a great songwriter and let’s work this idea out together. So I do that a lot more now. I think both of us probably write better together than we do on our own. I mean – she’s written great songs on her own and I’m really proud of songs that I’ve written on my own but I think together we can be more productive, because so many of the songs that never get finished because you get stuck, we’ve been able to finish together.

When you were talking about how it was your ego demanding that you write the song on your own – of course, you are very well qualified to write songs because you have a Masters in Composition [laugh]. When you have that background, are there things you need to unlearn to write songs that you want to sing?
I think as a performer there have been things that I’ve needed to unlearn. Writing wise, I haven’t found that to be so much of a problem. I’ve always been able to separate the way I approach writing folk or something really simple from the way that I approach something that’s musically much more complex. Whereas I think performance wise that was a big jump for me, particularly vocally, that I had sort of let go of the need to sing something properly or even well. To just allow the voice to crack and show emotion and to let it be no big deal – that was a process I had to go through. Not that I regret doing the classical training but I think unlearning that really affected way of singing is really important when you’re trying to sound like you just spontaneously picked up the guitar and the singing and it’s just got to be so relaxed and natural, and I think that’s a challenge for a lot of formally trained musicians.

I guess you’re trained to sing in service of the song, whereas when you’re performing your own things, you’ve got to sing in service of the story you’re telling.
Absolutely. And emotion is shown in the vulnerability of your voice, and if you’ve been trained for your voice to be flawless and powerful, and suddenly it needs to sound vulnerable and weak, that just involves a very conscious process of letting go of the need to control everything, which is hard [laughs].

Very hard when you’ve had professional qualifications in getting that way.
That’s right, and spent many years doing it. It’s amazing how much becomes unconscious as well. I’ve listened back to – this was before I started pursuing music, when I was about twenty, and I had recordings I’d done of just singing folk stuff, but at the time I was right in the middle of my classical training. And even though I thought at the time that the way I was singing folk was completely different to my classical stuff, it’s very, very obvious that I was classically trained in the way that I was singing there. It’s something that you just do unconsciously because you’re in a world. I don’t think I would ever go back and do further classical voice training because I think that would interfere with singing the folk-rock stuff too much.

And because you are classically trained, your voice could have gone several different ways – you could have become a jazz singer, or you could have become a classical singer, and you’ve chosen a style that really suits your voice. I think it takes a certain amount of courage to come from that background and say, ‘I will sing the way I want to.’
Yes, it does. My old singing teacher has been such a powerful musical mentor for me and it took me ages to get him out of my head. The very first professional gig I did was a one-woman show back in 2012 and when he came along to that opening season, I was terrified that he would disapprove of all these horrible technical things I was doing that he’d taught me not to do. But of course he didn’t – he was pleased and proud. But that was a big fear at the time. Now it feels like no big deal.

Your voice certainly sounds relaxed, so you must be at a point where you’re comfortable.
That’s right [laughs]. I’ve gotten over it.

I saw a note saying you’d started writing songs five years ago for the first time since you were a teenager. I’m curious about what made you stop writing songs then.
I think fear. Probably lack of self-esteem. I’m a big believer that one of the most important things in being able to be creative is that you need to have a strong sense of self-worth because you have to be able to tolerate your own mistakes and trust your own instincts. And I think that there were times in that period when I wasn’t writing that I would try to write again and I just had no compass for, ‘Is this any good?’ Because I just didn’t trust myself even remotely … I think something just switched in my brain when I decided to start writing again and I just said, ‘I’m going to write something good. That’s all I have to do. If it’s not good, just write it again until it is.’ But I think it takes a certain amount of confidence as a person to be able to do that. And I know some people don’t ever struggle with that but for me that was a big thing, that I had to get over that anxiety about not being perfect, about not being brilliant all the time. I gave myself permission to be terrible – [that] was also part of that transition, was to go, ‘I’m going to start writing songs and I don’t care how bad they are.’ And then I was surprised when people were suddenly turning heads and I thought, Oh, I might actually be all right at this. So that was a lot to do with it. And I didn’t have the courage to pursue a music career so I pushed all that aside. I still played a lot of piano because I would get work as a piano player but in terms of doing my own stuff for a while there it just disappeared off my radar.

It’s a good thing that it’s back now – and speaking of songs, do you have a favourite on the album?
I have two. One is ‘Twenty to Nine’ which is a song I wrote based on Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. And the other favourite is a song called ‘Rest Assured’, which is this sort of unpretentious track buried all the way – I think it’s track seven – it’s just such a simple lullaby-type song. I really love songs that are simple lyrically and musically but are elegant and I’m really proud to have written something like that. I guess referring to the classical training and the composition training, it’s kind of easy to make something interesting by adding complicated features to it but to write something that really only has a couple of chords to it and not that many notes and not that many words and make that interesting is always a great challenge.

How did you choose your producer, Sean Carey?
I worked with Sean for my last album. My drummer, a fellow called Mike Quigley, does a lot of session work for Sean. Mike played with me for my first album and was gigging with me, and I was talking to him about the things I wasn’t pleased with on the first album and what I wanted to achieve, and he said, ‘I think you should check Sean out. I think he might be a good fit for you.’ So I madly researched Sean’s music and people who he had recorded and listened to the sound, then I went into a meeting really prepared – just really clear on what my ideas were, what sounds I liked, what sounds I didn’t like, which artists I liked, which artists I didn’t like and why, and presented that to him and he was absolutely on board. I’d say, ‘I think the piano sounds disgusting in this track’, and he’d say, ‘Absolutely – it sounds like they shoved it on a football field and covered it with a blanket.’ He understood exactly where I was coming from and I thought, This is somebody who has similar taste to me. Because what I took for granted beforehand is that everybody’s different, everybody has a different style and taste and you can go in any direction, and it’s so important to find somebody who agrees with you so that you’re not pushing this uphill battle where you’re trying to get them to create a certain sound. They have to be inspired by what they’re doing too. So we did Nightlight together and it was a no-brainer to work with him again for this album.

It sounds like you had a lot of fun recording it and it sounds like a blended whole, if that makes sense.
Yes, absolutely.

The Remains of the Day is out now and availble on iTunes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Buddy Goode has More Rubbish

Connoisseurs of fine music will already be familiar with Buddy Goode - and if you haven't introduced his Christmas album to your Yuletide festivities, do not hesitate to buy it immediately. This Christmas, however, Buddy has no new carols for his fans. Instead, he is offering them More Rubbish, a brand new album of brand new songs. And he's launching the album - his first launch ever - at Rooty Hill RSL in Sydney on Saturday 17 December.

Ahead of the launch, and the release of More Rubbish, I spoke to Buddy and, maybe, to his alter ego, Mike Carr.

The first thing I have to say is that I have not heard the album.
Well, the reason why is that we only finished recording it about ten days ago. No, it was delivered about ten days ago so it was finished recording about fourteen days ago.

And when did you start writing it?
Oh, about three days before that [laughs]. No, I started writing it a while ago but there wasn’t going to be a new album this year because I didn’t feel inspired. But I got some inspiration one night. I woke up and spoke to L Ron Hubbard and just got the inspiration. The next day I rang ABC [Music] and said, ‘Look, I’d love to do another album’, and they decided it would be a great idea, so we thought we’d do it. And it’s done and it’s here and, to be honest with you, I think it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever done [laughs].

Maybe that distilled process of creativity and productivity was the trick.
I think so, yes. And when you spend extended periods of your life really bored, the only way to get out of it is to be creative. I’d had a great break from it this year. I hadn’t done many Buddy shows this year – I only did a couple of things during the year because my alter ego, Mike Carr, was doing other things [Adam Brand and the Outlaws] and then I thought I was going to take the whole year off, but then I guess I got a little bit of itchy feet.

There is now a lot of thinking and writing about the value of boredom when it comes to creativity. The kiddies aren’t getting bored any more, they’re always occupied with the screens – it’s not good for them.
No, it’s not. I believe the children – and a lot of this album I dedicate to the kids out there, hence the reason why the very first album launch that I’m doing on December 17th at Rooty Hill – after all these years, I’ve never done one for the other albums.

Why not?
I don’t know. I can’t answer that question! I just never thought it was something I wanted to do. I haven’t even had an unofficial launch or anything like that. I’ve just released an album and gone and done the gigs. This year I thought, Oh, you know, let’s do it a bit differently. Have a launch. But it was mainly for the kids, as I said. My album launch is twelve plus – the families can come along. Not meaning that I’m going to change anything that I do in my act.

[Laughs] I was about to say, ‘How does that fit in with your act?’
Well, you know, the whole things is [that] you’re not watching Kevin Bloody Wilson. There’s no swearing in the show. It’s all double meanings. So it’s entertaining for the kids because Buddy’s just entertaining – I could be the fifth Wiggle, in all honesty. Over the years I’ve just discovered that there are a lot of families who do enjoy it with their kids and the kids like certain songs, and they’re not necessarily the dirtiest songs. Sometimes they are but [the kids] don’t have a clue what it’s about, they just think it’s funny. I’ve only ever had half-a-dozen walkouts before in all my shows, and I’ve performed to a lot of kids and families over the years. I don’t see it as a problem. It was a problem for a lot of people for a long time because they didn’t quite understand. But I said, ‘Look, you’re obviously not fans, you’re not listening to the albums – you have to listen closer.’ And once they got closer to it they could see the value in it for their children [laughs].

There’s a lot of colour and movement in a Buddy Goode proposition – the kiddies love that.
That’s right. It was Cruisin’ Country, I did a show one night in one of the bars and there was a family of six sitting right next to me – Mum and Dad and four kids – and I just looked down and the kids were all singing the words to one of my songs. Probably not the most appropriate one, but they were all having a wonderful time. So I just thought it was about time [for a show for kids] considering, as you said, technology – they’ve all got an iPad, they’ve all got a smart phone, they’re all on them all the time, they’ve seen a lot worse than Buddy Goode on there.

It must be pretty fantastic when you can look down and see people singing along.
Especially ten-year-olds. It’s amazing, you know. Because there’s nothing out there for them, ten-year-olds. What have they got to pick from – Miley Cyrus? The Jonas Brothers and the occasional two-week wonder that pops along? Buddy’s something that can stay with them forever, you know what I mean?

Just like a bad Christmas present.
That’s right. Exactly right. Like the knitted reindeer jumper. There’s a lot of influences for the songs. There’s nothing that child friendly on here but there’s some stuff that they can have a good giggle at along with their mums and dads.

If you only delivered the album ten days ago, how did you organise that cover photo so quickly – with a garbage truck, no less.
It was quite random. I had my photographer with me and we were driving round the streets looking for some alleyways and some garbage bins, just to have some shots. I drove round this corner and there was this garbage truck pulled over with three garbos having a smoko [laughs]. So I just drove in, fully dressed, and I said to the boys, ‘What are you doing for the next ten minutes?’ and they said, ‘We’re smokin’.’ And I said, ‘Can I take some photos on your truck?’ and they said, ‘Absolutely [laughs]. As long as you don’t put the numberplate in there.’ So that’s how that happened. It was totally random and I promised them all an album for Christmas. I’ve got all their addresses. So they were stoked. They had no idea what was happening to them and neither did I.

And I love the fact that they saw a fully dressed Buddy Goode and said, ‘Yep, mate – go ahead.’
[Laughs] Absolutely. They did. They were in shock.

In the press release for More Rubbish it mentions that this is a good album for the ‘average Joe and Joelene’. Does Buddy Goode relate to the average person? I’m not convinced that Buddy Goode is average.
Well, no, he’s not. He can mix in any circle, you know what I mean. He can certainly lower himself for any occasion. And the proof is on the record that he can lower himself for any occasion. The reason the album is for the average Joe is because the last two albums have been specifically themed albums: Songs to Ruin Every Occasion and the Christmas album. This time I’ve gone back to The One and Only Buddy Goode and Unappropriate. Unappropriate won my first ARIA and I think it was a great album. So this is a bit of a return to those days of Buddy Goode. There’s no themes. It’s just writing songs about the wonderful world that we live in.

When you come to write these songs, what sort of inspiration is there – is it an object, is it a person or an experience that sparks things? Or is it all completely random and you never know when an idea is going to pop in?
It’s completely random and it all depends on whether my prescription’s run out [laughs].

Prescription glasses, you mean.
Of course, of course! It depends on a lot of things. Sometimes it depends on the weather. Lots of people ask me how I write these songs and I tell you, I find it a lot easier to write these songs than I do to write normal songs because normal songs have to mean something – these don’t have to mean anything, and you can write about anything, you can make up anything you want. You can even make up words that sound funny. So I never find much pressure in writing these songs. But I do like there to be a strong meaning – at least a message that one person in the world, whether he be a garbo in Kazakhstan, something that someone can latch on to.

The fact that you can have more fun with these songs means that you can play with language more, which would be part of the fun.
Absolutely. And I have a lot of influences from my life, and I like to incorporate these people that have major influence in my life. On this album Kevin Bennett and Lee Kernaghan both get mentions.

Well, Lee and Kevin are both big presences in Australian country music.
Absolutely. Kevin just recently got nominated for 400 Golden Guitars. I was really excited for him and I was there at the party, at the nominations. I went            up to him and said, ‘I’m really thrilled for your nominations – you must be too’, and he said, ‘I heard on the grapevine that Buddy Goode has mentioned me in a song’, and I said, ‘Yes, he has’, and he said, ‘Well, that’s much more important than the six nominations I got.’ [laughs]

[Laughs] It would be pretty special to be immortalised in a song! Now – as you mentioned the Christmas album, I do have a related question: what is on your Santa list this year?
That’s a good question.

And have you been naughty or nice? That’s the next question.
Oh, I’m always naughty.

I figured that would be the answer.
Well, you have to be naughty to be nice. Because if you’re not naughty you don’t get anything out of life and if you don’t get anything out of life you can’t be nice to anybody.

Words to live by.
And my Santa list … to be honest, a Golden Guitar nomination is high priority, because I feel like the ARIA has embraced me for many years but I feel that the Golden Guitars haven’t quite embraced Buddy Goode, considering that’s where he started – his first gig was at the TRECC in Tamworth. I opened for Adam Brand, I did three songs. My very first song was an instrumental – it was ‘The Magnificent Seven’ played on the bottle with wooden spoons.

Do you remember what you wore?
Yeah – I had a white jacket on, and a white skivvy, and blue jeans tucked into wonderful white cowboy boots, snakeskin leather. No one remembers that – the gig was with Adam Brand and Michael Spibey from the Badloves, and James Blundell and Buddy Goode. That was the very first gig. I only had one song out at the time – it was before I got signed to ABC – and I walked out on stage and did ‘The Magnificent Seven’ with the bottles, then I performed my one song, then I think I finished with ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’ and walked off. [laughs] So I’d love to be embraced by the Golden Guitar awards but I can’t seem to get a look-in. Maybe I’ll have to do a duet with Kasey Chambers.

Or maybe give Adam Brand an alter ego and you two can duet –they love a duet at the Golden Guitars.
[Laughs] They do. Well, we’ll see what happens.

Before I wrap up I will ask you about Tamworth do you have a show or shows?
I have the one big show on the 25th of January at the Diggers Showroom at 7 p.m. I’ll be doing the charity event, Country Turns Pink, as well on the Saturday night where I’ll be introducing special guests to perform a song with me. And a few little bits.

And I imagine you’ll have special guests at that Diggers show too.
Last year I had Adam Brand and Seleen McAllister. Adam and I did a wonderful version of ‘Shaddap Your Face’ just for Adam to get in touch with his Italian origin. This year there is a surprise but I’m not going to announce it until the week out.

More Rubbish is flooding your neighbourhood on 16 December, courtesy of ABC Music. You can order it here or buy it on iTunes.

Buddy Goode is on Facebook.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Interview: Nick O'Mara from Amarillo

One of the greatest Australian country albums this year has come from Melbourne duo Amarillo. Eyes Still Fixed is a gorgeous, studied piece of work, and a valuable addition to the national canon. So it was with great pleasure that I spoke to Nick O'Mara, one half of Amarillo, about the band's work and the album.

How did you name the band?
Amarillo is a city in Texas and it’s just a word that I really liked. I used to write it in notebooks and stuff, and I’d mentioned to Jac [Tonks, bandmate] that I might have a band called Amarillo one day. I was playing in Mick Thomas’s band and he knew that [Jac and I] were doing some music together and he asked us to play a show. So Jac was just on the spot and didn’t want to say we didn’t have a name so she just said, ‘Amarillo’, so we kind of got stuck with it – which is good because I liked it.

So she kind of stole your thunder, because if you were planning to use it, she made the executive decision …
No, it was there for the taking.

What are your personal musical influences?
They’re pretty broad. My other band, Raised by Eagles, is more kind of Americana, alt-country. I think Jac is influenced by … look, I don’t know. Who knows if you’re the best judge of what influences you? I’m not even sure. My main influence, really, is my parents’ record collection. They had a great record collection when I was growing up. They had the Stones, heaps of Dylan and Neil Young. A lot of guitar music, a lot of acoustic music. For Amarillo, me and Jac really love English guitar pop, like The Sundays, XTC, The Smiths and Nick Drake – that kind of ’60s English folk stuff too. Jac and I really love the same music, things that hit us both. When we get struck by something new it really kind of hits us both. When we were making the album we were listening to a lot of Australian stuff – contemporary Australian music. We were listening to a lot of Laura Jean and Ben Salter and The Drones, that kind of gear. But who knows? It just kind of seeps in – you don’t even know. Well, I don’t. You don’t seem to get to choose what kind of songs you write.

And I suppose you have to be mindful to not be too influenced by someone. I can hear a little bit of the Sundays in Jac’s vocal style but not so much that I would have immediately caught the reference.
It’s not for me, or for Jac, a very self-conscious activity, writing songs. You don’t really know what a song’s going to be until after it, anyway.

Do you pluck the ideas from the either and try to find a way to bottle them, almost?
Yeah, I think so. Some songs just come out fully formed, but definitely they just kind of pop up. That’s one of the good things about having a writing partner. I play guitar a lot and something will catch Jac’s ear in whatever I’m playing. I kind of improvise all day and they usually just drift off into the universe but if Jac likes something she’ll say, ‘What was that?’ and we’ll keep it. Also when you’re writing music you’re navigating your own self-doubt, so it’s good to have someone there who can confirm your enthusiasm for something or your doubt, if you think it’s shitful, so occasionally I’ll go, ‘Yep, yep, that is shit.’ [laughs]

It’s a bit like having an in-house editor, but the editor is also qualified to do what you’re doing.

So when did you start writing songs?
I started writing music as soon as I picked up a guitar, really. I started playing guitar when I was a kid and I’ve always written music. Writing songs – probably in my twenties. I came to songs a little bit late. Jac’s always written songs. When we met she had a whole bunch of demos, a whole bunch of stuff to go, and I did as well. Songs for Raised by Eagles as well. But definitely the moment I picked up an instrument I was writing straightaway.

Were either of your parents musical?
Jac’s whole family, her mum comes from this huge Irish family and they were in this travelling Irish folk band that people still remember to this day, called The O’Down Family Show Band or something like that. So Jac’s family is super musical. But my family – my mum played a bit of guitar and some piano. Dad was just a big music fan. And my cousin’s Shane O’Mara, so there’s a few musical heads in the family.

With your parents having that extensive record collection, they obviously had a passionate interest in music and it’s always interesting to me to hear how these things are sparked in musicians and at what age, and there’s invariably a passionate parent or two in the background with a great record collection, and by osmosis you pick up the guitar young and that turns into something else down the line.
For sure. And they were both really encouraging of it and encouraging of me discovering new music. I got an acoustic guitar when I was a kid and I was that real obsessive little-boy thing with it, but it wasn’t until a few years later that the music I was listening to was this magical thing that you couldn’t actually do. I was listening to guitar music hearing this separate, magical thing as I was teaching myself, and it kind of came together – ‘Oh, I can actually do this as well.’

Which is a pretty cool realisation at any age.
It was.

You mentioned that you were writing music but not songs – what do you think changed at the point where you started to add words to things?
I played slide guitar and mandolin for someone who I think is one of Australia’s best songwriters – Yanto Shortis, who doesn’t really play any more. I think being around him – I was his sidekick for a while, just watching him write songs. This was years and years and years ago. There’s such a neat thing to just the process of writing music is kind of this magical fun thing to do, and then after that songs are the same thing. I really love the process of doing it. It’s really cool to have a collection of songs, too. Once you’ve finished them and they’re done, they become this other thing – you kind of own them, they’re like these little objects that you can pull out and show people, like little statues or something. The process can be kind of fraught but once you’ve done them I really like collecting them – ‘There’s another one on the pile’.

I guess it helps when it comes to constructing an album – it’s not a desperate scramble for material, it’s more like editing the collection you have.
Yes, that’s it.

Do you ever find that other people tend to say, well, how hard can it be to write a song?
That’s so true. Writing music – writing a simple, neat little song – is heaps more difficult than writing a big instrumental piece, which I used to do a lot of as well. Writing a really concise little song that has some beauty and honesty in it, and is within those boundaries, is hard. It’s really hard. Or it can be. Sometimes it’s really easy. I often say that if people are really critical of someone’s song – ‘sit down and write ten classic songs, see how long it takes you’ [laughs].

There’s also that process whereby you have the song, you go into the studio, you record a version of the song, and if you’re taking it on the road there’s probably a point in time where you’re thinking, Hang on a second – that recorded version is not the one I like any more.
Definitely – they become something else. They grow legs and they can morph. Sometimes you can get so far way from them. I’ve had that experience where your recording of something comes on and you think, God, this doesn’t resemble what we do now. But Amarillo’s pretty close – the arrangements are pretty sparse, so it’s kept pretty close to the recording.

I noted on the songwriting credits that there was one shared credit with you and Jac but the other songs are split between you. But I found on each song, there’s a real interplay between her voice and your guitars, and I’m presuming you are behind most of the guitars on these tracks. So even though you write separately, do you have that feeling as you’re each writing that you’re dancing around each other, not jarring at any stage, but there’s a real sense of symbiosis. Do you feel that before you start to record?
Definitely. That’s really cool that you notice that. So the songs that are Jac’s and the songs that are mine they’re still really informed by what the other person is doing with them. With my songs that Jac sings, they become something else because she sings them – even in the arrangement of them and construction of them, we do that stuff together. And I love writing guitar parts for Jac’s work as well. She’s a really lovely acoustic guitar player, really simple but it’s a lot of fun to ornament her songs. She has some really super-personal songs - her lyrics on the album are really beautiful, so it’s really nice to get invited into other people’s songs and help them out.

And it’s a great way to put, to ornament the songs, because whenever you add lap steel to a song it does have that sense of an embellishment but a necessary one.
Hopefully, yes, just keeping it within the boundaries of whatever idea she had of the sound world of whatever the song is – you don’t want to break it. But Jac definitely knows what she wants musically so we just help each other.

A lot of this album was written on the road, and quite a bit in the Top End, in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Were you there playing at the time or did you go on a songwriting trip?
We did a couple of gigs in Darwin and the Kimberley but we spent a little bit more time up there too, just trucking around and staying in hotels and motels and stuff. We’d never been up there before, either of us. It just blew us away. You feel like it’s foreign – it’s so Australian but you feel like you’re in another country. It smells like Asia or something, it’s just incredible. We went to Arnhem Land. The landscape looks prehistoric. We did write a bunch of songs up there that are on the album and we both had notebooks, we filled them up. It felt like that crept in a little bit. Then there was one track and we really thought about it when we recorded it – ‘All I Can See’ – when we were in the studio we wanted it to sound like how we felt about the landscape up there. I think we got it. I think Shane got it for us.

I’m curious about that process, because obviously translating a feeling and an impression into a song is tricky. As you’re talking to him, are you trying to describe it or are you experimenting musically until you get it?
Mostly you don’t but you’re right – there’s not really the language to do that. Talking about music is really quite difficult because you can only talk about it in really broad strokes. So if you say, ‘I want it to sound like the desert’ [laughs] that can be meaningless to someone who has no idea what you’re talking about. Or someone could kind of know what you mean. I suppose that’s the beautiful thing about music – you can’t really pin it down with language. But I guess it does make the process harder.

It no doubt helps that you know Shane well, so I’ll move on to asking about him. Were there any family squabbles in the studio?
No, no, none at all. We got on really well – it was really fun. He’s really good in the studio, in every way. He’s a world-class engineer and as a producer he’s really good at knowing when things are getting stuck. He’ll move things quickly. All the performances were pretty much one, two or three takes, mostly live. It was done quick and I think his experience is really so broad and he knows when something’s happening and something isn’t happening. So he’s really good like that. He really guided what was going on. And we were on the same page. We were driving there and I said to Jac, ‘I want my guitar to sound like Ry Cooder’s guitar on Sister Morphine.’ And I was setting up and Shane said, ‘You should go for that Ry Cooder sound on Sister Morphine.’ So there were a lot of simpatico moments for what we were after.

Shane is obviously quite busy and producing a lot of Melbourne artists. I recently interviewed Shane Nicholson and made the point to him that when you start to produce a lot of different artists, there’s a level of influence there culturally speaking – not that any of Shane’s productions sound the same – but there’s this sense that these people who are producing a lot of artists can really have a big influence on culture, because they have a lot of knowledge. I always pay attention to producer credits because I think it’s so interesting to see those webs of connection and Shane [O’Mara] certainly has one in Melbourne.
Absolutely. That’s really interesting. He’s like our sonic overlord [laughs].

There’s a few of you in the Melbourne alt-country scene doing great work – it’s obviously a mutually supportive scene and creatively rich. I don’t know if you feel that, being there?
Definitely. I feel so fortunate that there’s this thing going on – we just make really good friendships, really good collaborations. In every city in the world there’s thousands of musicians with nowhere to play, and we feel so lucky that there’s this thing going on that seems really rich and people are excited about. It’s a really good thing to be part of.

Eyes Still Fixed is out now.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Album review: Drawing Circles by Nigel Wearne

With repeated listening, an album that has a stunning impact on first play may lose the ability to create surprise, but it’s rarely the case that it doesn’t continue to impress and, if it’s been created by someone with talent, skill and experience, it grows better with time and further listening. This is the case with the double album Drawing Circles by Nigel Wearne.

Wearne has created an almost baroque yet at times piercingly simple – but not na├»ve – set of songs, chronicling seasons and moods, people and lives. ‘Simple’ because his intention is clearly to convey his songs, his stories, to listeners and he is determined to not get in their way, because he doesn’t need to; that means no elaborate production, and very little instrumental accompaniment. And there are elements of the baroque thanks to his instruments, guitar and clawhammer banjo, which are the perfect complement to his songs – as they should be, because he made them.

It’s rare to encounter an artist who writes, sings and makes the instruments too, and that is no doubt why this album is so unusual: it sounds so rich and extraordinary that it can actually take a while to realise that it’s an acoustic production. Wearne is one man with an instrument yet he sounds almost like an entire travelling show. He’s a troubadour who would sound at home on an Elizabethan stage even as his storytelling is crisp and appropriate for the modern age.

This is an album beyond categorisation although followers of folk and country music will find much to love about it. The fact that it can’t be easily labelled is a strength, and will hopefully help Wearne find fans in all sorts of places and pockets

Drawing Circles is out now.

Monday, November 7, 2016

EP review: Mae Valley

The New Zealand country music scene is growing, and artists like Kaylee Bell and Jody Direen are finding audiences beyond their home shores, in Australia. It can’t be long before duo Mae Valley also find fans outside New Zealand, if they haven’t already. The release of their debut EP announces them as major country-pop talents, with tight song construction and compelling harmonies.

Mae Valley’s members are Abby Cristodoulou and Hannah Cosgrove, who were solo musicians before meeting on the second season of The X Factor New Zealand. That meeting led to co-writing, with ‘Home’ the first song (and last track on the EP). Their experience as solo artists shows in each of the EP’s songs: this is an extremely professional effort from two singers who are clearly individual talents finding new strengths as a duo.

The EP was released in New Zealand in the first half of this year and Australia in the middle of the year. It’s taken me a while to review it but the beauty of digital music is that it’s still available for you to discover – and you should.

Mae Valley is out now through Sony Music Australia.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Interview: The Sunny Cowgirls

The Sunny Cowgirls have already passed a decade spent entertaining Australian country music fans. Their latest album, Here We Go, is a great collection of rollicking tales and heartfelt ballads, delivered in inimitable Sunny Cowgirls style. I spoke to Celeste and Sophie Clabburn - who were on opposite sides of the country - about the album and all sorts of other things.

You’ve kept up a good pace with albums, especially considering that you have a lot of other things going on in your lives. So what is the secret of your productivity?
Celeste: I don’t know … We’ve always got our eyes and our ears open. When we go on the road and things like that, we always meet new people and hear new stories, and we always have new experiences. We try to keep all of our ideas fresh and if we get an idea for a song we make sure we write it down so we don’t forget about it. I think that’s just life. Things happen and we just continue to write songs about our lives.

You said you hear new stories while you’re on the road – do people ever approach you and say, ‘I have this great family story – can you put it in a song?’
Sophie: Yes, that’s happened a few times. Which is always hard, because we tend to write about our own experiences and things that have happened to us. But sometimes we will hear a cracking story like that. Our dad’s given us plenty of stories, growing up, about people he’s worked with or people he knows, and they’ve turned into songs. So if anyone has a good story, send it our way and we’ll see what we can do!

Slim Dusty used to put the call out for songs to come to him – and you’re putting out the call for stories.
Sophie: [laughs] We’re not going to knock them back. We don’t need any for this new album but you never know, for the next one maybe

Given that you live separately, how do you collaborate? Do you Skype and send files back and forth, or do you tend to talk on the phone?
Celeste: We don’t really write our songs together. I’ll write my songs, Soph’ll write her songs, and then when we do finally get together we’ll play them and sing harmonies and stuff. We talk a bit on the phone and send emails but we’re not really into the Facetime sort of thing.

Sophie, does that mean when it comes time to choosing songs for the album there’s ever a tussle over getting an even number?
Sophie: [laughs] Well, there’s been a few tears over the years, but it’s been pretty good. We’ve been pretty lucky on this latest album – we had six [songs] each, so it was split right down the middle and we were happy. And at the end of the day we’re pretty mature about it – we try to do what’s best for the album, so if that means losing one of yours we know the other one’s going to be great.

You’ve already mentioned some inspiration that might come from stories you hear on the road, but you’ve written a lot of songs now            - are there ever days when you think, I have absolutely nothing in the tank here?
Celeste: Oh, totally. Every time we bring out a new album, it’s very daunting to think, We’re going to do another one. We’ve sort of scraped the bottom of the barrel – that’s what we feel like now. But somehow when the time comes around there’s always something new and something fresh in your mind.
Sophie: It has been two years.
Celeste: True. But you do feel like you run out of ideas – but you never do somehow [laughs]. It just sort of happens, which is good.

Sophie, you just said it’s been two years – but when you think about everything that goes on with touring an album as well as writing, recording, sorting all of that out, two years would come around quickly.
Sophie: It does. I can’t believe the last eleven years – which is the amount of time we’ve been doing this – have absolutely flown by. We can’t believe that we’ve done eight albums in that time frame. But we make plenty of time for our personal lives as well. There are always new things going on in our personal lives – I think that’s where the songs come from most of the time.

‘Cowboy’ is the latest single from the album – was it inspired by any real-life events?
[both laugh]
Celeste: I guess it’s half true. Soph did recently get married and my brother does work FIFO. It’s not like my all-time is to meet a cowboy – that’s not really the thing – but, hey, if someone who looked like Chris Hemsworth came along I wouldn’t say ‘No’, you know.

I quite liked the array of potentials you had in the video clip – it must have been an interesting casting day.
Celeste: [laughs] It was good fun. They were lovely blokes and good sports. It was all very funny.

Do you have a favourite song on the album?
Sophie: I haven’t been asked that question yet. I guess ‘Cowboy’ is my favourite at the moment. The clip’s on CMC and I still laugh every time I see it – it’s so silly. But I’ve got another song on the album which is about supporting your partner through times of drought, called ‘I’ve Got Your Back’, and that’s one of my favourites, I’d say.
Celeste: I’m with Soph – I still like ‘Cowboy’ and I was going to mention ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ as well. Another one is ‘Took Me Back’, which is about wishing you could back in time a bit when life was a little less complicated and a little bit more simple and you didn’t have to be so politically correct all the time [laughs]. There’s lots of songs on the album and it will be interesting to see what everybody else thinks of it.

You mentioned being politically correct, but country music is probably one genre where you can test the boundaries of that a little bit.
Celeste: True, we are lucky like that. We get away with it a little bit more in country music.

‘I’ve Got Your Back’ is one of two or three ballads on the album – there’s ‘I Need You’ as well. I love them because your voices really come through in that slower style. Do you like singing ballads?
Sophie: Yes. The majority of our songs are upbeat, uptempo sorts of songs, and they’re the ones that we enjoy singing, that get the crowd going, and they’re more ‘us’, I would say. But it’s really nice to throw in a ballad every now and again because it’s not something that we do very often, but when we do it is nice to break it up. Some ballads we sing terribly but if the song is right it can really work, and it’s a great dynamic in the show as well, to bring it all down every now and then.

‘Those Big Hands’ mentions barra catching and bull roping – it sounds like it could be a Northern Territory story.
Celeste: It is about the Northern Territory. I used to work up there – I did a stint up there one season. My boss had these huge hands and             you’d just hear everything about the Territory, so that’s stuck with me for a few years, and when we were writing this album I thought I’d better write a song about my Northern Territory boss.

The last song on the album is ‘Where I Wanna Be’ so I’d like to ask you both: are you where you want to be?
Celeste: Definitely.
Sophie: The only downfall for me – I love living in Gunnedah but all my family is over in Perth and Celeste is there at the moment as well. She sort of floats around a bit but I hate being that far away from everyone. If everyone could move to Gunnedah that’d be great [laughs].
Celeste: [laughs] Good luck with that, though.

The time difference with Perth can make things tricky, especially once daylight saving starts in the east.
It is hard. I’m lucky in that Soph and I are going on tour next week. I get to see her a lot more than my folks do because of the gigs, but it is a shame. It is a long way away. But who’s to say that I won’t move one day – you never know.

I’ll move on to the mechanics of the album – namely, how you came to choose Matt Fell as your producer.
Celeste: Matt is an amazing producer. We’d never worked with him before but obviously had heard a lot about him and his work. He produced Sara Storer’s album and we’re massive fans of her. So when the chats came around about who we were going to get to produce, Matt was top of our list. When he agreed to do it we were thrilled but when we were actually working with him, he exceeded our expectations so much – he’s a lot more talented than we could even imagine.We think he’s done an amazing job as producer and we hope to work with him again, for sure.

And you had quite a superstar band: Glen Hannah, who’s ubiquitous because he’s really good; Shane Nicholson on guitar; Michele Rose, who plays pedal steel for a lot of people. Was it fun working with those chaps?
Sophie: It’s always fun because they’re our friends as well, so it’s lovely to see them outside of work and when we’re working together, and watching them in the studio doing their thing, it’s mind blowing every time. They’re so talented and lovely blokes. We couldn’t have asked for a better team.

It does beg the question: who is in your touring band?
Celeste: None of those blokes.
Sophie: Unfortunately!
Celeste: They’re all busy.
Sophie: Our guitarist, Rusty Crook, has been with us from pretty much the very beginning – I think he joined our group in 2006, so we like to call him our third Sunny Cowgirl. Every show we’ve ever done, Rusty will be on stage with us. He’s from Goulburn. We have Ben Kant playing drums, from Melbourne, and he’s been with us for a fair few years now as well. So it’s a really good tight little touring band. We’re like a little family, so we get along really well and have lots of fun. We’re also bringing Jemma Beech on the road with us for this tour. She’s an up-and-comer, newbie on the road, so we’re all looking forward to working with her and I reckon the crowds will really go for her.

Because everyone is coming from different places, do you rehearse ahead of a tour or have you been together for so long now that you can go from a standing start?
Sophie: That’s what we should be doing …
Celeste: We’ll have a quick rehearsal, but the boys are so professional and Soph and I have done our homework, so we should be right – fingers crossed.

The tour is really quite extensive and you’re going to a lot of places, so how did you choose your stops?
Sophie: We just wanted to start with the east coast and pick some towns that we haven’t visited for a while, so it’s great to get back to them. We haven’t been up to the top of Queensland for a while so we’re really looking forward to getting up there and seeing all those guys. And then we make our way down to Victoria, which is always a really great spot – really good, loyal fans down there – so it’s always good to get back there. Then hopefully next year we’ll make it across west as well.

And, Sophie, your parents would like it if you could get across west because then you could see them.
Sophie: Yes, I know, I’m surprised we haven’t booked the gigs already.

This current schedule stops in December – but, of course, Tamworth is in January, so do you have Tamworth plans?
Celeste: Yes, we have two shows – at the Longyard Hotel, which will be good fun. We have an up-close-and-personal show and then on Australia Day we have an Australia Day concert, so we thought that would be pretty fitting for us – it’s called the Green and Gold Australia Day Show.

My last question is: eleven years ago, when this adventure started, did you have plans of having a country music career or did you think, Let’s give it a shot and see what happens?
Sophie: Since we were little girls it’s something that we’ve always wanted, and we weren’t sure that it was actually going to happen, but it’s always been our dream to be able to play and record and perform for a living. So when we got that record deal in 2005 we thought, Here’s our chance to make an album and hit the road – we’re living the dream. But I don’t think that either of us really thought that we’d be going for the next eleven years, still going strong and still touring. We’ve been really lucky, and we have been working hard for the last eleven years but we do feel lucky to be able to do this for a living.

And you don’t keep going for that long unless you’re doing something that people love – you’re obviously producing music and putting on shows that your audiences love, and you’ve respected them along the way. Country music audiences can really tell if someone’s heart isn’t in it – or if you’re unprofessional. You’ve done all the right things to make it a career.
Celeste: Thank you – we try. It’s nice to know that people still want to come out to our shows and they still get excited when we bring out an album. We must be doing something right, which is nice.

Here We Go is out now. 
The Sunny Cowgirls are on tour. For dates, go to:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

EP review: Open Hands and Enemies by Dan Owen

Some voices are made for country music – and UK artist Dan Owen’s is one of them. However, he is not writing, singing or recording country music, so consider his inclusion on this blog as a manifestation of a wish-list item.

Owen has a great deep, gutsy voice that, given time, might be applied to some gothic backwoodsy tales but he uses it to very good effect on the four tracks on his debut EP, which are more in the indie pop/rock vein. ‘Made to Love You’ is the single and opening track; it’s a dark rumination about a dark relationship and it sets the tone for the EP, which is of the minor-key persuasion.

The four songs on this EP are well constructed and clearly sung – and if I’m fond of mentioning singers who sing ‘cleanly’ it’s because it’s important. A singer who can enunciate clearly is a communicator who wants to make sure his or her audience understands what’s going on. This is the mark of an artist who is courteous towards their listener, and the fact that Owen achieves this on his very first outing establishes him as a performer who wants to connect, and has the skill to do it. No doubt, this will find him many fans.

Open Hands and Enemies is out now.

Dan Owen appears at The Waiting Room, London on 15 November 2016.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Interview: Tobias

Queensland singer-songwriter Tobias released the poignant single 'Just a Boy' recently, ahead of the release of his album Alive on 4 November. Tobias has played in other people's bands as well as creating his own songs; now he's focusing on a very productive solo career of writing, playing and performing. It was my pleasure to talk to him recently.

You’ve returned to the Sunshine Coast to live – how long were you away?
I moved to Melbourne nine years ago. Before that I did a lot of travelling around the world. I lived in Brisbane. I tried to settle in Noosa but the city lights beckoned. And I’ve just decided to come back now, just to be with family and stuff. It’s been really, really wonderful.

Once you’ve got an attachment to that place, it’s hard to leave it behind.
Absolutely. It was just time, you know – I was ready to come back. And it’s been great for music as well. For songwriting.

On Hastings Street [Noosa Heads] there’s the odd venue that has music, and I know there’s the surf club at Sunshine Beach. Are you finding that there’s a good number of places for you to play there?
Yes. The Sunshine Coast has really changed in the last ten years, and especially lately. There’s a lot of places that still appreciate original music. A lot of venues, and a lot of things just popping up through Yandina and Caloundra and Nambour, Eumundi. All over the coast there’s a real support for local music, and it’s great [laughs]. It’s amazing. People love it up here. They love music. Coming from Melbourne, where there’s a lot of original music and it’s really hard to get people along to shows, up here is very different. It’s very alive.

I’ll backtrack now and ask you a bit about your musical lineage – what lessons you used to listen to when you were young, where you think your musical style has come from.
I grew up in country Victoria up I was about eight. My mum and dad were real folkies. We moved out to the country and always had Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and John Denver. A lot of folk music from the ’60s and ’70s like John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman. So I grew up with that music and around that sort of art. Dad taught me how to play guitar and I just fell into the style of folk, blues, finger-pickig guitar. That’s where it all started for me – and it hasn’t ended, either [laughs]. I have new love affairs with country artists. I’m just so into Willie Nelson right now, it’s so funny. But also my music’s influence a lot by bands I grew up with in the ’80s and ’90s, like The Cure and The Smiths. Bands like The Shins. I love to think that my music’s influenced by a lot of country, folk and pop – not pop but indie music.

John Denver gives me a bit of a clue about your melodic sensibilities – I can hear pop in your music, in a good way because I love pop music. And I think it’s hard to write melody really well and in a way that suits your voice. John Denver and Johnny Cash is an interesting combination of influences. They’re definitely both in your sound. And country music is storytelling in song, that’s a big part of its appeal
Absolutely – and it’s beautiful, isn’t it, when music does tell a story, and it’s meaningful and you can connect with the music. It takes you out of your life and your body, I reckon.

Which leads me to ask you about your songwriting process – do you start with a story idea or with a melody, or both? Neither?
It starts with a melody or a chord progression but it comes hand in hand with an emotion. If I’m playing something, mucking around, or I hear a melody I’ll play it, but it normally ties in with an emotion I’m feeling, or something I’m remembering, then it snowballs from there. But I find if I just play chords and melodies there’s not much meaning in it and I shelve them. I write a lot of songs every week. I never switch it off [laughs]. But it always starts in the morning – my best times are sunrise and with my morning cuppa [laughs], when my head’s clean and fresh, and when the ideas come freely. I muck around with melodies and chords, and then if it takes me away somewhere the song will get momentum and it structures itself, I think.

With the writing every day, was that something you decided a while ago? Was it a discipline you needed to have? Or do you feel every day that you want to write?
It wasn’t something that I sat down to do – it’s something I’ve always done because I love it so much. And I just need to, it’s one of those things – like eat [laughs]. I’ve got to do it. Sometimes the songs are terrible but sometimes they can be really nice and they might take me away. It’s funny sometimes to have to talk about this stuff. But I’ve always done it.

I always find it interesting to find out about the process. Some songwriters write every day to write things out, essentially, and some like to obey the muse. There is something, I think, to be said for writing out the stuff that isn’t working to get to the stuff that is.
Absolutely. I find that one song might come out of mucking around. I might have to write three or four songs that sound the same, and then one of them comes out of it, and it won’t be until I look back at the demos that I think, Whoa, that’s all the same song. That progression, that melody. That’s a test of a good song, I think, if you always come back to that progression and think, What’s that? [laughs] ‘Oh yeah, that’s what I’m hooked on.’

You talked about expressing emotion in song – did you ever consider taking another path to do that, like painting or writing prose, or was it always music?
It’s always been music. I’ve done a lot of visual art stuff but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Music and songwriting seem to be the best way for me to express creativity and to be whole as an artist, I think. It’s just the way that’s been natural for me, and it always has since I can remember. It’s really nice to be able to still do it and hone that craft. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that haven’t come naturally and have felt very awkward, but it’s beautiful to do something that comes easily.

Do you ever write with other people?
Yes, I’ve collaborated quite a bit. But it’s something I need to work on a bit more. I get a lot out of writing songs with other people and playing with other people. I learn from ear so I grew up jamming – that’s how I learnt to play, and learnt how to play with people on stage.

In terms of how your voice developed – it has such an incredible tone to it. Is that something that came from the ether, for lack of a better term? Or have you consciously modelled it on someone?
No, I just opened my mouth [laughs].

Well, that was a happy surprise!
Yeah, sure [laughs]. It was lucky. I think it’s gotten stronger over the years – but I think it’s gotten stronger with confidence, that’s really what it’s been about. But I haven’t done much vocal training. I said to my producer recently, ‘I’m thinking of getting some vocal training’, and he said, ‘No, don’t! Don’t do it! They’ll turn you into one of those singer-singers.’

I suppose one reason to go might be to avoid damaging your vocal cords.
Yes. I definitely warm up before I perform or record – I’ve got exercises.

In one video on your website, of a live performance, you were playing a very distinctive-looking guitar – it was green. Are you loyal to one instrument or do you have a few guitars?
I have a lot of guitars. I just can’t thrown them out or sell them, so I’m carrying around a lot. That one came to me about two years ago and I haven’t played anything else but that guitar. I just have a love affair with it [laughs]. It just seems to work for me if I look after it. It’s great for finger picking and it’s quite sensitive. I can also bash it out. So I use that guitar a lot. That and a banjo I’ve got.

Was banjo hard to learn?
I think I was lucky that I’ve played a lot of finger-picking guitars and in open-chord tunings, and when I moved to the five-string banjo it was already on open G tuning, so it was just a matter of learning a few fingerings. Within six months I was playing banjo for people like Missy Higgins, Jen Cloher and those sorts of acts through Melbourne and around Australia … It’s been a great instrument, just to play with people. It’s a really fun thing. [American actor and writer] Steve Martin says, ‘You can never play a sad song on a banjo’ [laughs].

Now, on to your album title, which is Alive – why did you choose it?
I think it just sums up the experience of the way the album came about and the songwriting. Each song is really a personal experience that I’ve written about. And the only reason I can experience those is that I feel quite awake in my life right now, and I feel alive for those experiences. And the music itself is quite uplifting. So it was one word that sums up the album. Someone – a producer – said that an album’s just a snapshot of your creative career at that time, and I think that word sums up that time, this time, and the moment, and the album and the way things are.

Which is a pretty wonderful thing – some people might go their whole lives without ever feeling that.
I know. And I forget too that I do a lot of work around being awake and alive [laughs]. I do a lot of meditation and I look after myself. It all really helps.

In choose the songs for this album, did you have quite a few to choose from or were you carefully curating throughout your songwriting process to arrive at this particular collection?
Not particularly. I had about 40 songs to choose from. Some of them I want to use on the next album – that’s another story. It just sort of happened organically. A few of the songs are upbeat poppy, some of them are country, which I really love, and some of them are folk-rocky songs, and I guess I chose them to narrate a story on the album. I didn’t just throw any song that I thought would go in there -- I did carefully consider which would be nice.

I get the impression that you would be careful [laughs].
Sure [laughs]. It’s really exciting to think that in my next album recording – which I’ve already teed up in a few weeks – it will keep the process going and keep the songs alive. Another producer who I really admire said, ‘If you’ve got a bunch of songs, you don’t sit on them – you either record them and move on or just put them aside and revisit them. And I think that’s what I want to do – really have relationships with these songs. Put them onto an album and then I can move on to the next one.

On the single, ‘Just a Boy’, which the notes say is about your mother, it might have been easy or tempting to become maudlin about the subject matter but you really avoided that – so it seems like you approached the subject matter from a position of not necessarily joy – or maybe it is joy looking back at your childhood and knowing your mother.
I’m glad you said that. Even though it is a really sad memory … On my last album I wrote a tribute to my mother’s passing and it was more about the grief. This song is more looking back as a memory of joy. It was growing up and going to Noosa River and fishing – everything just being a really fun, wonderful time. All this warm weather and eating barbies all the time [laughs]. Just a happy time and it reminds me of Australia as well – we love that, being outside and being together and having a barbie and shooting the breeze. It was just a memory and I wrote it when I was feeling a little bit lonely down in Melbourne and it was cold, and the sun had just come out for the spring and I thought, Wow, that was such a beautiful time. I was so blessed to grow up in Eumundi and Noosa and ride motorbikes and make bows and arrows. [Laughs] When you lose a parent at that age a lot of that lifestyle goes, so it’s easy to look back on it nostalgically. But I’m glad you said that because it is a really joyful memory – a really beautiful memory.

And it’s a lovely song. Now, my last question: you’re about to go on tour – are you looking forward to it?
You bet [laughs]. I can’t wait. I’ve got a new tour caravan. I’m going to be on the road for about six weeks I think, doing quite a few shows from Brisbane down to Melbourne then back up to Brisbane and all the way up past Rockhampton, and a few house concerts on the way. I’m really, really looking forward to it. I love being on the road, playing for people, meeting new people.

 Alive is released on 4 November 2016.

Tobias tour dates: