Sunday, January 29, 2017

The McClymonts begin their Endless tour

After launching their new album, Endless, at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, the McClymonts are about to commence a long tour around Australia. I was able to chat to Samantha McClymont just before Tamworth to find out what they have planned, and about the creation of their album. The full list of tour dates is on their website.

Are you rested and ready for Tamworth?
Yes, we definitely are. Tamworth just comes up so fast, though – you have Christmas and New Year and then it’s, ‘Okay, we’ve got to knuckle down, it’s Tamworth time.’ We’re back into rehearsals again now and getting all the new songs down pat, because it will be the album launch in Tamworth. Playing all the new songs for the very first time, which is always quite daunting, a bit nerve-wracking playing them up on stage first go. But it’s so nice to finally have new music. It’s been two and a half years – nearly three years. So we’re definitely ready to have some new stuff.

As someone who always eagerly anticipates your albums, I was getting a bit shirty that there hadn’t been a new one for a while. But I did feel there were good excuses: a wedding, a baby, that kind of thing.
[Laughs] I know, there was so much going on. We’re lucky, though, that we weren’t being rushed by our label. They said, ‘Whenever you’re ready start songwriting and go into the studio’. And that was nice because we felt like when we had the songs we wanted we could go to record, and that was really cool. We were happy with all the songs because we were in such a good place and we were writing and weren’t rushed. We’re really happy with the songs. Have you seen the video?

I’ve heard the whole album and it’s yet another top-shelf effort. One of the things I love about the band is that the sound of you three singing together is always magic but the songs do evolve. There’s obviously different things going on and different things you want to say. On this album I was wondering what moods were coming through and for me there was quite a bit of contentment but quite a bit of regret and wistfulness, and I don’t know if that’s what you meant to put through.
There was a bit of a mixture. Definitely contentment. It’s hard for us to write really sad songs at the moment because we are happy. But what country songs are about is being truthful. As country songwriters you need to be truthful because an audience can see through it if you’re fake and writing about something that doesn’t relate to you. And we’ve drawn on stories. The song ‘Unsaveable’ is from our friend’s experience – our best friend going through something and we said, ‘Okay, we’ll use that, thank you very much’ [laughs]. Do a bit of a Taylor Swift and just grab bits and pieces from people. And those songs about making relationships work – obviously we are all married and we travel and we’re away, and relationships are tested a lot and we can write about those things. You’ve got to really work hard to make it work and we’re happy to write about those things because that’s what we’re going through.

That balance of work and family and creativity – you’ve all been doing it consistently for over a decade. I certainly find the way you operate individually and as a group inspirational. Do any of your audience members tell you that you inspire them to be creative?
It’s taken us ten years to learn how to do it [laughs]. It wasn’t that way at the start. We’ve always been creative – it doesn’t stop, it’s no nine-to-five. That can sometimes be detrimental because you don’t have an off switch and you just go-go-go and never stop, and we actually found that we had no work-life balance. It wasn’t until Tiggy [Brooke’s daughter] came along four years ago that we had to make time for work-life balance. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to us because if you live a little you have more to write about [laughs]. So we realised that we needed time to ourselves and we needed to have breaks and needed family time and alone time.

In country music shows, so often the artists look like they’re enjoying themselves. I’ve always noticed in your shows you always look like you’re having a great time and it looks genuine. But I guess even on the nights you’re not feeling it, that intention to go out and have a great time carries you through, and I wonder if that’s influenced the longevity of the career.
I think it helps that we have each other as well. I think that’s a big part of it. On the road it could get quite lonely. People think it’s very glamorous, you’re travelling all the time and doing all these amazing things. But if you’re not with your loved ones it could get quite lonely. So I think we’re so lucky that we are family and we are together and it does make it enjoyable. We have slowed things down to two or three shows a week now – once again, that work-life balance. We have Monday to Thursday home and then we’re back out on the road again. That works for us and makes us really happy, and that makes us really love the shows, because we’re ready to get out on the road – we’re excited: ‘It’s Friday! We’re ready to go!’ And I think we’re really pumped for this new tour because we only did the ten shows last year for the ten-year anniversary so it was a very short tour. It’ll be nice to get out there and play a lot more places that we haven’t been to for a long time.

The tour dates have been announced up to April but the press released said more dates will be announced – so will this tour take up most of the year?
We’re actually up to July now. There’s definitely more in there. We’re trying to get all over the place.            

Hopefully that rhythm of having the start of the week off will mean you can go for longer because obviously you’re trying to reach as many people as possible – you’re playing some places you haven’t visited before and some you haven’t been to for a while.
Absolutely. And new album – we want to get the music out to as many people as possible, we want people to hear it and play to people who have been following us for ten years. We try to make sure we get around to as many places as possible. Of course we’re going to miss some places but that’s the beauty of music, and if we can continue to do it there will be more places in other years. We’ll try to get around – Australia’s a big place.

And the more albums you release the tougher that set list gets to create. Every show I’ve seen you play something from the first EP – but it must get hard to decide what to sing.
It does. And this has been so hard to put together. The girls and I went back and forth for weeks for this Tamworth show and the tour because we’ve got so many songs, and we want to play the new ones but obviously people don’t want to be flooded with too many at the start of the tour because they might not be familiar with new songs yet. So we went back and forth – ‘I think we have to cut this song’, ‘But it’s my favourite!’ We thought it would get easier the more songs we have but it’s definitely become a lot harder.

If you’d written a whole lot of albums of bad songs, it’d be easier …

[Laughs] Thank you. It’s not a bad problem to have, then.

Talking about the songwriting – what was the first song you ever wrote and what age were you, do you remember?
Yes – they were pretty bad [laughs]. We had songwriting school in Grafton, where we grew up. They’d have these creative weeks the town would put on and you could do anything. People went to singing or whatever and I went to a songwriting workshop. I think I was twelve and I’m pretty sure [the song] was called ‘Wish’ – pretty appropriate for a twelve-year-old to write a song called ‘Wish’. It was pretty terrible but you’ve got to start somewhere.

And by that stage Brooke was probably writing already.
Brooke’s five years older than me. She was definitely leaps and bounds ahead of me at that stage, and that’s probably why I thought mine was so bad.

When did you start writing the songs for this album?
We started writing probably a year after the last album and then we really kicked into gear at the start of last year. We had a bit of a break. We’d do a bit of writing then we’d get busy – Mollie had a baby [laughs]. And then when Ned was a few months old we started again. She’d bring him along to songwriting sessions and we started doing it consistently from that moment, writing a lot and getting together. And even just having discussions about what’s been going on the last few years – what’s the stories that have been happening in our lives – and try to put it together.

Given that Brooke is your older sister, is she more of a boss in the songwriting sessions or is it more egalitarian than that?
Oh, she can be a little bit [laughs] but not in a bad way. Being sisters, we can shut each other down pretty easily. But she generally does have some great ideas or has something in mind that we can really go off. She’s a good bossypants.

I’m curious about the technical details – when you write a song, do you try to sing it at that stage, or do you try to work out bits and pieces on guitar then you put the harmonies together later?
We write it then we put it down as a demo and write a few harmonies on it, but when we’re in the studio, that’s when we really focus on the harmonies and if there are different parts. When we’re doing the song it’s more about the song and the lyrics. It’s all such a different process – every stage of making a record, which is great. Because there’s never a dull moment.

The harmonies sound effortless but I would imagine they are not.
To be honest, it probably is the easiest part for us. We’re lucky in that sense – we’ve been harmonising since we were little girls. But there’s obviously songs where they are a bit harder and it pushes us a bit more because it’s not as straightforward and we have to focus a bit more and get into the theory of music. But it’s very rare. We are lucky. There’s just something very natural about sibling harmonies and it’s definitely the fun side for us.

In country music that relationship with the audience is so important – people will turn up show after show, year after year to see you. When you’re choosing songs for an album do you think about that audience and what they might expect, or is it better to concentrate on the work itself and not worry too much about that?
It definitely comes into play. We do have more songs [than we need] and we put certain songs on the album because we know that the audience will love that song. And there are songs we don’t put on because we say, ‘You know what? I don’t think this is us at the end of the day – this isn’t the McClymonts. It’s a great song but it’s not suited to what we’re about at the moment or our audience.’ So, yes, they play a huge part in it because they are the ones who come out year to year and we want them to love our music. We obviously want to mix up and try to change things a bit but you hope you’ve grown together the last ten years and you know each other. They know our sound and we know them and what they want to hear, and we can continue doing it together and going on this journey together, and pushing each other a little bit. Seeing how far we can go with the music and changing it up a bit. And I think they can see our growth in the music, as well – where we’ve come in the last ten years.

All the great pillars of your sound were there from the start but certainly there’s been progression, and that’s fantastic for any fan, to have that, because obviously you don’t want to buy the same album over and over again.
No, and I think you’re always going to get the McClymonts sound with the harmonies because of our voices. We just hope we’ve grown musically and that our songs have grown and they sound a little bit different. I think the lyric content is a lot stronger because we’re able to get more personal these days, so I think in that sense the songs are a lot stronger.

And one of the great things about your shows is that I’ve seen people there who are eight and I’ve also seen people who are eighty.
I know! And I think that’s because country music is really generational and it’s passed down. So that eight-year-old, their mum’s there and their mum was brought up with country music playing. It’s kind of scary when you have that ten-year-old who says, ‘I have a photo of my first concert – I was just a baby’, and their parents have brought them to every show since and it’s kind of wild. That sometimes makes it hard, because we think, We are playing to every generation, we’ve got to make it acceptable to everyone [laughs]. So we have to be appropriate for an eight-year-old but then still be yourself. It is kind of crazy when we do look out in the crowd and see such a mix. So many women come along to our show dragging their boyfriends. I think the girls seem to relate to our music a lot, which is so nice to see.

One last question: as you look at this tour coming up and you have to keep yourselves in good health, do you have any tips or tricks for your voice to make sure it doesn’t wear out?
Oh yes, as hard as it is, sometimes I just have to not talk. Literally. It gets to that point where I think, I need to shut up. I talk too much. Sing too much. Much as our husbands love it – but I think it’s more annoying because you’re writing notes instead of talking. But lots of rest. Now that the holidays are over I should probably get a bit healthy – but that starts today, right? [laughs]

The Endless tour starts in Sydney on Friday 3 February. For all other dates, visit
Endless is out now through ABC Music/Universal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ann Vriend returns to Australia for February/March tour

Canadian artist Ann Vriend has a lot of fans in Australia, and she's going to help them ease out of summer by playing a string of dates in a variety of locations, accompanied by the Rooster Davis Group. Just for the tour Ann will release an EP just for Australian audiences. Entitled Anybody's Different, fans will be able to buy it at her shows - dates appear after the interview - and in the meantime enjoy the single 'Real Love'.

How was your 2016?
It’s been quite a year, I think, for a lot of people – politically and we’ve lost a lot of great artists. Economically a lot of people aren’t doing as well as they had hoped and I’m definitely in that camp. For me it’s been a really busy year touring, too, so I am really behind on things like … well, everything: paperwork and organising and my inbox is terribly unattended to.

I’m sure people who email you understand that you’re often on the road and it can be hard to keep track of things like email.
Yes, but then you get off the road. And there’s such a large amount of things when you’re an independent artist and wearing a lot of hats, doing all the business side as well as the music side. You’re not trying to be rude and ignore people, but you only have twenty-four hours in the day [laughs]. You hope people understand. There’s some people I’ve heard who say, ‘I’ve got everything cleared in my inbox’ – Oh, are you serious? [Laughs] Who can do that?

I think those people have assistants they can delegate to. When you’re an independent artist you are the delegator and the delegatee.
A lot of them aren’t yes/no answers, like: ‘What’s your marketing strategy for the next five years?’ and you can’t say, ‘No’ or ‘Yes’. That’s an involved thing to answer. Or somebody says, ‘Can you give me career advice?’ Maybe, I don’t know. The things that are more involved you tend to put off because it takes a lot of thought.

It is the challenge of the two halves of what you do: your creative work, which includes playing live, and then the business side which is that more administrative thing. There’s quite a different rhythm to that, so throughout the year it probably feels a bit like you’re chopping and changing.
That’s really one of the hardest things, just wearing these different hats and being in a totally different head space doing creative stuff to doing emails that are, like, ‘What about May 16, 2018?’ and then they ask you for your tech rider. Also: ‘What’s the new title for your EP?’ That’s exactly what I’m dealing with today when I get off the phone – I have to decide on my next EP title and then book dates to go to Europe. So you’re always mixing up, but it’s what everybody has to do. I think back in the ages when there was a lot more money in music and major labels were the only way you could have the music business work, there managers and record labels did all that stuff for the artists and the artists were just purely artists. But since the internet, that has changed everything [laughs].

I’m interested in how those changes affect creative work – creative output. Part of the reason for having that structure of the business is so you can concentrate on your creative work, because it is such a different thing to do. Perhaps we’re yet to see the effects of that and maybe we won’t for a while, but I wonder if songs get shorter and albums cease to exist simply because artists won’t have time to do that many songs at once and instead they’ll just release singles.
The way people are consuming music these days – which is largely on streaming sites like Spotify, or making their own playlists on iTunes – having an album, like a group of songs presented together, seems less and less of a thing. For instance, my record label are deciding to release a single at a time rather than a whole album, not because I don’t have enough songs but because they want one song at a time to have attention and push. Because otherwise what was happening was that you’d have this album of twelve songs and they all cost an equal amount of money to record and then only one or two were the singles that were on the radio or that people would hear or that would get marketed. So you’d have these other ones that almost got forgotten and then ignored and people who were investing in them, like a record label, weren’t really getting a return on investment. That’s the business model they’re working with. But I think you’re right in that what’s happening with artists now, because they have to do so much more than before, is that, yes, there is a danger of the music suffering, either because their output isn’t as much creatively because they’re doing all this business stuff or the quality suffers, unfortunately, and not because anybody wants it to but because you only have so much energy and head space and time to work on your time and practise every day and write every day and get better.

It’s the head space and also that mental quietness out of which songs or stories can come. You need those pauses in your life to be able to do that.
Exactly. And time. As you’d know, as a writer too, you can’t say exactly how much time it’s going to take you to write something. You start it and then you might erase a lot of what you’ve written and start over, or have to come back to it and redo parts because your editor said. So when people say, ‘Can you do this by tomorrow?’ well, maybe or maybe not. It depends, when I sit down, what comes out. I can’t tell you yet.

You mentioned your EP – and that’s scheduled for release in 2017, so I imagine you’ll bring some copies with you when you come to Australia?
Technically we’re just going to get them manufactured in Australia, not wanting to bring five suitcases [laughs]. But, yes, I’m going to have that with me. I think it’s officially going to be released on January 20 in Australia and that day a new single will be coming out, and that one’s called ‘Real Love’. And two of the singles are out on the internet because it’s been released in Canada already. So that will be the third single from it but the first one that’s really being pushed in Australia.

The last time I spoke to you, you were having your album pressed in vinyl. How did that work out? Would you do vinyl again?
Definitely. It’s a ton of work, getting all the artwork organised because it’s obviously a different size than a CD. But I’m a huge vinyl lover myself – I have a big record collection and really get off on the whole vinyl thing, love going to second-hand stores and finding treasures. What’s fun about is that there’s this resurgence in vinyl going on right now. People are going back to wanting the tactile thing and having the artwork in front of them that’s not this tiny little CD thing or zero artwork where it’s digital. We always include a download card with the vinyl so people can have the best of both worlds. So it’s really fun, although it’s still a hassle because a box of vinyl is heavy – but it’s worth it. It’s a fun thing to have and it’s more lasting, in a way.

The last time you came to Australia, I don’t remember that you had the Rooster Davis Group with you – is that right?

And there’s no guitar or bass – it’s two keyboards and drums. So in terms of transporting yourselves around, does it get a bit bulky?
Yeah, it’s quite annoying – I’m not gonna lie [laughs]. There’s many days when I wish, Oh, couldn’t I just play the piccolo or just something small like a spoon? But it’s hard to sing while playing piccolo, for one thing. When I musically put things together what I was doing I wasn’t smart enough to think about the logistics of travel. The Rooster Davis Group itself is a band unto themselves as well, and I perform in it. So when they’re doing their music, which is New Orleans blues and boogie and funk, I am either a backing singer or sometimes I sing lead, but just not my own music. And then I hire that band to be my backing band to do my original music. So on this tour we’re doing some Rooster Davis shows and some Ann Vriend shows, so that’s part of the reason that I might bring them along, so we can do these two things on the same tour.

So when you do the blues festival in Goulburn, is that you as you or is that them?
Well, in that case it’s going to be a combo [laughs] – just to make things more confusing. We’ll do a couple of my songs and then a couple of theirs and sort of change it up back and forth between who’s band leader, which keeps things interesting. The music is definitely markedly different, so people will notice the difference, but it belongs in the same lineage of being part of the R&B tradition. One is older music and mine is more modern soul.

Is there a certain freedom for you when you’re a member of the Rooster Davis band and the spotlight is not on the way it is when it’s you? I’d think it’s a nice balance for you, to be able to do that.
Totally. There’s way less pressure as a support musician rather than [when] it’s my band and the focus is on me and I’m the bandleader. It is really nice. In a way I have a lot more fun doing that because there’s less pressure on me and it’s really fun music – it’s impossible to not have fun in that genre. But it is a really nice contrast. I really enjoy being able to have those two hats to wear musically.

And it’s a paradox: the pressure is on you when you’re the bandleader and it’s your material but that’s what you work for, to have that career, but at the same time it’s hard and you’re responsible for other people. So it’s good to have a break.
Exactly. If I didn’t want it, there’s no one holding a gun to my head saying, ‘You have to have it’. I do want it and it’s really rewarding, but it takes my energy when it’s your music and it’s close to your heart and being pretty vulnerable.

You’re coming out in February and March to play a range of towns and venues – how far ahead have you planned this tour?
I’m lucky in that I didn’t have to book this one myself. The woman in charge of the company who booked it did a great job. She’d never booked a tour before – her background is in merch sales – but she did a really great job. We had another guy lined up but he got really sick, unfortunately, so she had to take the reins quickly.

There’s some great clubs there and also some good towns to visit in warmer weather, like Byron Bay.
I’m looking forward to it. I used to have to do all that [booking] myself when I was in Australia and, as you can imagine, it’s a ton of work and a lot of emails and phone calls, and sometimes by the time you’re on the tour you just want to crawl into bed because you’ve been married to your laptop and phone for so long. It’s so nice to have a team there now and people who are good at what they do. I’m very lucky.

Thursday 9th February 2017
Brass Monkey, CRONULLA NSW

Friday 10th February 2017

Saturday 11th February 2017

Sunday 12th February 2017
Smiths Alternative, CANBERRA ACT

Friday 17th February 2017

Friday 24th February 2017
The Heritage Hotel, BULLI NSW

Saturday 25th February 2017
Venue 505, SYDNEY NSW

Thursday 2nd March 2017

Friday 3rd March 2017

Saturday 4th March 2017
63 First Ave, SAWTELL NSW

Friday 10th March 2017
Nightquarter, GOLD COAST QLD

Saturday 11th March 2017
Brisbane Jazz Club, BRISBANE QLD

Sunday 12th March 2017

For more information, please visit

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lee Kernaghan: Australia Day show in Tamworth

The Tamworth Country Music Festival almost always includes Australia Day, 26 January, and it’s arguable that there’s no one more appropriate to headline an Australia Day show than Lee Kernaghan. No one can doubt that Lee loves his homeland and he finds ways to show it, whether it’s raising money to support farmers doing it tough or encouraging young Australian country music artists. At this year’s festival Lee is putting on a special Boys from the Bush 25th Anniversay Show at 8.15 p.m on the 26th, at the TRECC. I chatted to Lee towards the end of 2016 to find out what he has planned.

What does Tamworth mean to you, both the town and the festival?
It’s an amazing town because it gave birth to my music career. I first turned up in Tamworth in 1978, at the CCMA Talent Quest. I won best new artist under 14 years of age. And through the years I was lucky enough to win the Star Maker and pick up my very first Golden Guitar at the Country Music Awards in January 1993. So I really owe that town a whole heap.

When you were in that under-14 competition, was that something you’d always wanted to do – you were a really little kid working up to it – or did you just decide to do it at the time?
I think country music has been in my blood, part of my DNA. I was born with it. It had always been my dream to go to Tamworth and these days I get there and get to play some of the great venues in town, and it really has given birth to careers of people like Keith Urban, James Blundell, Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley, and we’re all really, truly grateful for what the town has done for us.

Given that you play in so many different places – and you play so much, full stop – do you have a special feeling about playing in Tamworth or is the same sort of show as elsewhere?
It’s always extra special and it’s because of those people who travel from all around Australia to be there, to share in the music. Or they might be there to try to break into the music industry – it might be busking down there on Peel Street or entering one of the talent quests, like Star Maker. There’s just so much excitement around the town. You get down there on Peel Street during the country music festival and the atmosphere is electric.

Mind you, I’d think it’s hard for you to walk down Peel Street without it taking about five hours to get from one end to the next.
Well, I don’t mind because I made my very first film clip in Peel Street, for ‘Boys from the Bush’, and I’m going back there in January and I’m going to make another film clip because it’s the 25th anniversary of The Outback Club [album]. We’ve also got a big concert on at the TRECC on Australia Day to launch the 25th anniversary tour.

The Australia Day slot is a pretty special one to have at the festival and this year you have it. Given that it’s 25th anniversary, and it’s that special day, what’s going to be different about this show?
It’s going to be different because a meeting has been called of the Outback Club and they are coming in from all over the place for this one. We’re going to be playing a lot of hits, of course, but I’m also going to be playing a lot of brand new songs that I’ve been working on in the studio with some of my heroes and mates and legends in Australian music, and we’re going to start unleashing some material on that crowd on Australia Day.

Are the Wolfe Brothers going to be with you?
I can’t confirm or deny [laughs]. I’m under strict instructions, I’ve got to keep the lid on all of that.

Except I did see on your Twitter feed that Nick Wolfe was in the studio with you …
That’s right. There’s leaks everywhere [laughs]. I love those boys and I love working with them and playing live is an awesome experience.

You’re very good complementary acts because you have incredible work ethics and you really understand audience and communicating with audience.
I remember seeing the Wolfe Brothers for the first time on Australia’s Got Talent and they just blew me away. A couple of months after seeing them on TV I ended up in a rehearsal studio with the boys, having a bit of a jam session. At that time they all had day jobs and I said, ‘Fellas, how would you feel about giving up those day jobs and coming out on tour with me?’ They jumped at the opportunity and we hit the road.

And, of course, they haven’t looked back and you roll on and get bigger and bigger as the years go on. It’s been a long time – you were there as a teenager, it’s been 25 years since ‘Boys from the Bush’, and this is a job that’s quite demanding. It’s physically demanding; it can be quite emotionally and creatively demanding. What motivates you to continue every day and every year?
The after-show parties [laughs]. I was reminiscing about the early days, back in 1992. I was on tour with James Blundell, in his band and I was his opening artist. Out there on that tour, every day would be a new town and another motel room and another big party. And we partied like there was no tomorrow – and the reason why we did that was that we thought, This is too good to be true – this can’t last [laughs]. But it did and it’s been 25 years now.

I don’t for a second believe that you indulge in too much partying because you’d have to be fit to keep up your pace.
Oh yeah, you gotta be in training, mate [laughs]. Don’t want to come into this undertrained. You’ve got to turn up, shut up and get into it.

Have you found that the shape of your audience has changed? Are they growing up with you, or older with you, as the case may be? Or do you see a lot of younger people coming into your shows?
It’s really been amazing me throughout the last two and a half decades how the audience keeps regenerating. There’s a lot of kids who get into it and I think that’s probably why ‘Boys from the Bush’ and The Outback Club impacted the way it did, because it was about a younger generation of Australians living and working on the land. And they’re still out there today and still coming along to the shows but so are their mums and dads and their grandparents. It’s a great privilege to play to all these people and I absolutely don’t think of them as fans at all, they seem to me to be more like my extended family.

I really believe that they feel that in return for you. The country music audience is accepting of a whole lot of different and new artists but I think their requirement is authenticity and connection, and for people to turn up for you year after year they really feel that connection strongly.
That’s so true, Sophie. It comes down to being real and I think that [in] the country music fraternity there’s a great level of camaraderie between the artists and, of course, their fans. It’s a great relationship. Country music, the way I see it, it’s the music of our people, our country, our way of life. It’s all about the things that make us tick, and that’s what makes it real for me.

I’m sure there are people who talk to you who might have a song idea or something they’d like you to write about, do you feel that the stories or, perhaps, concerns of your audience are changing?
With songs, you just never know where the next one’s going to come from. Often it’s in a chance meeting, a turn of phrase, rolling into a country town for the first time. It’s hard to really pin it down, where they come from. But I know that a song is only ever as strong as the idea behind it. And I think great songs are things you don’t actually manufacture in a songwriting workshop – it’s more about getting out there and living life, experiencing it first hand and talking to people, and I know that’s where most of my material comes from.

It’s probably impossible for you to pick a favourite song – but do you have one, or do you have a handful of favourites?
Songs, when you record them and you put them out on a record it’s like giving birth to a child and it’s hard to pick favourites amongst your own kids [laughs]. But ‘Boys from the Bush’ was the one that kicked down the doors and paved the way for me, so it’s a song I’ve sung thousands of times and never ever once got sick of performing it.

As an audience member I’ve often wondered how artists play the same songs over and over again, but I guess the crowd is new each time and the venue’s new, and you just never know who you’re singing that song for on that particular night.
That’s true. You share the song with the country, with the people – it’s ours. They all mean different things to different people. I know that there are certain songs that I was listening to when I was falling in love for the first time or breaking up with a girl, rolling on a mission on the Newell Highway in a 1978 Ford Cortina with a broken windscreen and I know I was listening to Hank Williams, Jr on my Craig stereo system. I had a broken heart and a broken windscreen. I think Trisha Yearwood did it best when she recorded that beautiful track ‘The Song Remembers When’.

Is there a venue or a town you haven’t played in yet that you would really like to?
Yes – Birdsville. I’ve played up in Birdsville [laughs] but I haven’t physically done a gig there. In July I’m going to be the Big Red Bash and it’s the most remote music festival in Australia and I’m going to joined by James Blundell, Troy Cassar-Daley, the McClymonts and a bunch of legends for this incredible event.

Finally: you’re well known for your charity work and supporting a lot of different causes. Is there anything you’re working with at the moment that you’d like to mention?
I’m a bit supporter of the McGrath Foundation, inspired by the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners – they did a terrific job getting feed to stock in drought-stricken Queensland. I’ve just returned from Western Queensland where it’s green, really green out there – it’s unusual to see it. There’s a lot more optimism there now than what there was a year ago. Probably the highlight of my career has been the Toyota Pass the Hat Around Australia concerts because every dollar that was raised in the town stayed in the town. No costs came out of it – it was all for the towns, and that’s how a couple of million dollars was raised for community causes around Australia and that’s something that’s still very close to my heart, and I think most people in Australia – whether you’re in the music industry or not – the Australian way is to look out for a mate who’s doing it tough. Whether it’s a drought, flood or a bushfire or an important community cause, when things are tough in Australia, Australians pass the hat around and they do look after their mates.

Lee Kernaghan plays the TRECC on 26 January as part of the 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival. Tickets here.
Lee’s 25th anniversary album will be released in March, with a tour to follow. Details at

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Wolfe Brothers and Shannon Noll join forces in Tamworth

The hardest-working band in Australian country music has to be the Wolfe Brothers, but they still found time to invite Shannon Noll to join them for a special show at the 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival on 25 January at Blaze Showroom in West Tamworth League Club. Towards the end of 2016 I caught up with Wolfes guitarist Brodie Rainbird to ask about the gig, the band's massive year and what lies ahead.

Your This Crazy Life tour – how did it go?
It was so good. For all intents and purposes it was a complete success. The boys and I were so happy with that. We were really nervous about going out on such a big tour and it was all on us, money wise and profile wise and advertising. All this big, proper adult stuff – it was all on us, there was no one else to blame if no one showed up. If it didn’t work we were up the creek. It was a great success. All the other artists brought something that none of the others could bring to that kind of show. It was fast paced. The punters loved it. It was constantly changing. People didn’t want to leave to go to the bar and get a drink because they weren’t sure what they were going to miss. It was awesome. Could not be happier.

And maybe the only thing you could have done differently was have more dates.
At the end of it we all felt a bit sad, like, ‘Why are we stopping again?’ But it definitely feels like we could have toured for another six months with that show. I know it was only a fairly short tour. But, as I said, the whole thing was a bit of a gamble and we didn’t actually know it would go that well. Maybe we can do it again [in 2017].

As it was sort of a test of concept and it’s worked, you could roll it out – the only thing is whether you have enough time to do a longer tour given all your commitments.
Yes. It’s just a case of ‘do you want to be on two tours at once?’ because we’re going to be touring with Lee Kernaghan and can you do both at the same time? I reckon we could. Another feather in the cap.

Well, if any band can, you guys can.
[Laughs] Bring it on – bring it on, I say.

Isn’t that your band motto?
Something like that, yes. I think the official motto is ‘you gotta do gigs’. So if we’ve gotta do gigs, we’ve gotta do it.

I think the experience shows in the way you play because your shows are always entertaining. And speaking of entertainment, I’m here to talk to you about your 25th of January show with Shannon Noll at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. So this seems like a marriage made in musical heaven – how did it come about?
It really is. It’s surprising that it’s taken us this long to do a gig with Shannon, because we love him. We’re all country boys; we all grew up in a similar way, on a farm. We all love our old Aussie rock and Shannon is now taking a more country approach to how it does things, and that’s really cool. The universe just brought us together one night after a gig that we’d both headlined at, and it’s taken us this long to find some spare time to actually be able to put on a gig with him – and where better to do it than Tamworth on Australia Day Eve.

How are you going to divvy up your time – are you guys playing first? Is he? Are you sharing some songs? How’s it going to work?
I don’t know yet! Being that it’s not a tour, it’s just a one-off gig, I think we’ll just go with the flow. We’ll just have some fun. We’re going to obviously share some time on stage – towards the end will probably be everyone on board, get everyone out on the stage and just really rock it out.

I was just thinking about what you said about the mini-tour and maybe trying something in 2017 … I’m foreseeing perhaps Shannon joining your line-up next time.
Maybe. There might have already been some talk. Nothing confirmed but it’s a cool idea and we’ll wait and see what happens.

As you said, that tour was all on you and organising it was moving into entrepreneurial behaviour, in a way – not that you guys haven’t always been business focused and that comes across in how professional you are, but taking those sorts of risks is a way to move your career forward and it’s exciting when it works but it is always nerve wracking. It looks like the impetus is there to keep going, though.
Yes – and people see the success more than they see the failure, because we had to fail so many times to get that success. We tried quite a few things in the past that hadn’t worked and we were due for some good luck, you know. We were due for a taste of success and we got it, and we’re so grateful.

There’s a lot of clich├ęs about learning from failure but I would think in the case of your band, you might have learned from the failures but it seems like they give you a whole lot of motivation to keep working. What I find interesting about the Wolfe Brothers is that success seems to be a by-product of your willingness to work really hard.
Well, this way of life is all we’ve ever wanted to know. When we first got together in high school, in the very early days, this was all we ever talked about doing. We dreamed about putting arena shows on and how we would open them and the big curtain would drop and we would have lights going on over our heads, all this sort of stuff. So we just keep our eye on the prize, enjoy the success when it comes and when the failure comes it’s just gigs – that’s how life is, you just have to do it.

I think that is a very good motto for any kind of work. But back to Tamworth: apart from that show with Shannon I would think you aren’t doing another show at the festival, but is there anything else you’re looking forward to?
Just looking forward to enjoying the festival because we missed it last year – we were in Nashville writing and recording. Really looking forward to getting back. We do a lot of media stuff – radio interviews all day every day, they’re always cool fun. I wouldn’t mind getting out and seeing a few gigs, actually. Our festivals are usually so busy we don’t get the chance to enjoy them but I’ve decided to put my foot down and I’m going to see a gig. It’s going to happen.

What a revolutionary idea – seeing music at a music festival!
[Laughs] It’s usually the last thing we get to do.

And it’s not just seeing the music – it’s seeing the people you know. You can catch up with them fleetingly at a radio station but if you get to go to the gigs you can probably spend a bit more time.
Exactly. And it would just be nice to be out there supporting some other artists.

As we come towards the end of 2016 – and leaving the This Crazy Life tour aside – what have been your other highlights?
Our trip to Nashville was pretty great. We did some low-level touring over there. We did county fairs and we travelled all up the way up the Midwest. We did ten-hour drives a day in our old Chev that we bought. That’s probably a trip I’ll never forget. We worked really hard there; we met some great people. We sort of tested the waters to see if what we do would translate over there. It does, and people really enjoyed the shows and they love our accent. All they wanted to do was keep asking us about Keith Urban, for some reason.

Because Australia’s so small you must all know each other.
Yeah, yeah, exactly – we must have grown up next to him, right? He plays music. You talk the same. You must be the same person … But it’s funny – you tell people over there that you’re from this place called Tasmania and they’ve got no idea where that is. It sounds exotic – ‘oh my god, your accents’. So that was really cool; it was a great trip. We did a bunch of writing as well so we’re demoing up some songs for maybe the next album. That was a huge thing. The tour – god, what else happened this year? So much stuff. The ARIAs were a huge thing to be a part of [the Wolfe Brothers were nominated for best country album]. I don’t think you can go to an ARIA award ceremony without witnessing Australian music history, which we got to with Crowded House being inducted, so that was awesome. Met Roy and HG – that was really nice. They’re a good pair of guys. It’s been such a big year. We brought the album out. Hopefully we do some new singles soon from that, but we brought out the best album we’ve ever written and recorded, and hopefully the next one I can say the same thing as well. But it’s been a massive year – I hadn’t realised until I sat down and talked to you, how big it’s been.

And if you think about the fact that there are only fifty-two weeks in a year – the amount of stuff you guys have fit in, if you look at it like that …
Only fifty-two – yeah, that’s crazy. And we haven’t been home. This is the longest we’ve been home all year.

After such a busy year, are there any lowlights?
One low point, which was [when we were] over in Nashville – we got halfway through Kentucky and our car broke down on the side of the road. That was bad. That was really bad. The alternator broke. We had no electricity in the car. Couldn’t even push-start it because the battery was dead flat. And it was freezing cold outside and there were trucks rushing past the freeway. We had no lights. They didn’t even know we were there. So it was kind of scary. But we got through that – we managed to get a tow truck out. But that’s the only one that comes to mind, it’s just all been hard work and good times.

Hopefully you didn’t miss a gig because your car broke down?
No, we didn’t miss a gig, that was the thing. We managed to get there at about five a.m. We got to the hotel, checked in, went to bed, got up a couple of hours later and went to do the gig. That was an adventure. If I think of all the hours we spent on the road in the last few years, that’s the only time that’s ever happened – and it had to happen in a foreign country.

That’s rock ’n’ roll, I guess.
That’s rock ’n’ roll. That’s gigs. That’s life. That’s how it is – wouldn’t have it any other way.

Having that kind of experience in the United States, does that change your music in a way – you seeing that there’s a completely different sector to your audience now than the one you’ve had in Australia, so do you start to think differently about how you communicate to the audience and what sort of music you might play for them?
Absolutely. Stuff like that, it’s hard not to be influenced by it. Every corner we take, we learn something, and being in the US was a big learning curve too. Some things had to be approached a little differently – we had to learn to talk a bit slower because the accent, they think we’re from England and they find us a bit hard to understand. Australians are very lazy in the way we talk and the boys and I are probably the worst in the world at it [ed. note – Brodie actually speaks very clearly!]. So we had to learn to fit in a bit better. We watched a few Keith Urban interviews and realised that that’s what he was doing as well. He spoke very slowly and clearly so that people would understand what he was saying. Just little things like that you pick up along the way. We changed the way we did the gigs and played some different songs we probably wouldn’t normally get to play in Australia because we don’t have the big radio airplay for country in Australia. But over there one of the biggest things is country radio – it’s all over the [US].

As you head into 2017, you’re obviously kicking it off with a bang in Tamworth. Lee, of course, has you on the road again. And you mentioned that you wrote some new songs, possibly for a new album, so that’s on the cards for 2017?
Definitely on the cards. I think we will go back to Nashville to write and record again because it went so well last time. We know it works and we know when we put the pressure on we can really write some cool stuff and get it done. And we’ve just a week in the studio with Lee, cutting his new album too.

[Laughs] Again, I remind you, Brodie: fifty-two weeks in this year.
[Laughs] Well, that was one of them in Sydney with Lee. And that was so cool – it was something we never, ever thought we’d get to do. Well, we never thought we’d be Lee Kernaghan’s band but we didn’t think we would get a studio guernsey and then he said, ‘I want to change things up a bit, I want to get you guys in the studio and I want your sound on my record’, and we went, ‘Yes, you can have that.’

He would be really unlikely to find anyone more experienced – you’ve been playing with him so consistently – so it makes sense.
Yes, and Kerno’s always had a formula that’s always worked for him, and to step outside that formula and take a risk on us again, because he’s obviously already done it [with touring], was such an honour. We had Garth Porter in there, who’s produced almost every single Kernaghan album and it was a bit of a thing for him, too. I think he realised after the first day that this was not going to be your typical album. We did things completely differently. Everyone was sitting there getting a feel for it and how it was going to work, and it was awesome, there were no hassles at all. Everyone was really enjoying the change in the studio, the different mindset. It was really cool.

The Wolfe Brothers' latest album is This Crazy Life
Catch them during TCMF 2017 at Blazes on 25 January - buy tickets here:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Album review: Endless by The McClymonts

The usual disclaimer applies to this review: that is, I’m always going to love the McClymonts and, therefore, you can trust that there’s a certain level of bias in this review. However, it’s their music I love – I have no personal affiliation with them – so make of that bias what you will.

So, now, to their latest album, Endless, which has taken far too long to produce, as far as I’m concerned. But the McClymonts have been busy: there have been weddings and babies, and last year there was a tour to celebrate their ten years together. It is those milestones of life that provide the content for the rounded, mature piece of work that is Endless. Gone are what might be called the ‘party tunes’ of yore, such as ‘Kick It Up’; also gone are some of the slower ballads. However, the result is a strong integration of the elements of the McClymonts’ past work and their sound. Endless has strongly constructed songs with a beat and a heart. Those inimitable sister harmonies are as central to the McClymonts sound as ever, although this time they seem to be much more woven into the fabric of each song instead of being made the feature.

While the McClymonts are personally in a place that should produce lyrics about solidity and contentment, there is plenty of wistfuless and regret on this album, which give lead singer Brooke McClymont lots of opportunity to find those lovely aches and cracks in her voice that have always made her one of the most versatile singers in Australian music. The title track is one of the sweetest love songs you’ll ever hear and Brooke stops it being saccharine because there is wisdom in her voice. There’s age too, but not in the sense of her being old – more that she sings with a real sense of knowing what she’s singing about because she’s lived it.

A quick glance at the audience at any McClymonts show reveals that it’s broad in age, and that men and women, boys and girls are all there. I used to think it was because the McClymonts always entertain – they seem to be as genetically incapable of putting on a bad show as they are capable of singing so beautifully together. Now I think it’s because their songs are always rich in emotion that is conveyed authentically. They connect with people and not just that: they like it. I will never worry about the McClymonts becoming cynical about what they do. After ten years of reaching out to their audience, they are still doing it with open eyes, hearts and arms. That is the achievement that Endless commemorates and documents. And for those who just want a great country pop album to play in the car, it's that too.

Endless is released on 13 January 2017 through Universal Music Australia. 
Find it on iTunes.
The McClymonts play the TRECC on 25 January as part of the 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jess Holland Ain't Quittin' This Run

Jess Holland is one of the leading lights of the younger generation of Australian country music performers. She has a voice that has power and subtlety in equal measure, and which cuts through the noise of a typical Tamworth Country Music Festival and draws listeners to it. Jess will appear at the 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival and in the run-up she released 'Ain't Quittin' This Run' as the new single from her latest album, Whole Lot to Say.

What did you get up to in 2016?
I’ve been so busy. I’ve been focused on writing the new album. I’ll hopefully be starting to record it at the beginning of February, so I’ve been trying to do as much writing as I can and get it all out of my system, so between that and doing a lot of gigs and festivals, it’s kept me off the streets.

Are you doing a crowdfunding campaign for the new album?
I haven’t decided yet. It worked really well for the last one so potentially – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But I haven’t thought that far ahead at the moment. I’m going to try to do as much as I can just because it’s not going to be as quick a process as it was last time. I’ve had a bit of time to write and think about things. I’ll be going in a very similar direction in that I can’t not write sassy music but on this one there’s going to be a bit more homey-rootsy songs as well.

Do you mean you might record some songs and leave it for a little bit?
Yes. I’ll probably decide on one single to release from the album and really focus on that for a bit and as I’m doing that record in the background and finish the details, so there’s not as much pressure to get an album out. Last time I really wanted to get a full-blown album out because I had so much, I guess, to prove in comparison to my first one. I really wanted to prove that my new sound and my new direction were exactly who I was and where I was up to, whereas this time I haven’t got quite to prove so there’s not as much pressure.

You mentioned that you’ve played festivals and quite a few gigs – have you found that your fans are changing or growing?
It’s definitely growing, which has been such a thrill. I’m just a bit of a bogan country kid and to think now, especially, that I can go to festivals and people are starting to really sing my lyrics, it’s a really weird feeling. I’m still getting used to it, because I go to gigs and to festivals and people know who I am and it’s kind of, like, ‘Whoa!’ I live quite a country bumpkin sort of a life. All week I’m either playing music or I’m writing or I’m out on the farm, so for me to go out to a festival or gig I’m in my own little world, and for people to say, ‘Hey, Jess, I can’t wait to hear you play’, or they’re requesting my songs, it’s a really cool feeling. So I reckon my fan base has definitely grown in the last twelve months.

The album certainly made a statement – it was like a declaration of arrival, in a way.
Well, it was so different to everything else that was brought out at that time and that’s what I loved. And, again, with this new album, I’m not trying to sound like anyone, I’m not trying to mimic. I’m writing songs that I want to write and I’m not trying to fit into a certain box or a genre. I’m writing what I’m writing and whatever comes out, comes out, and sometimes that can be a lot different to people being pressured to sound or look a certain way – and I’m so far from that it’s not even funny. I pride myself on not trying to be a certain way, it just sort of happens.

And that means your music comes from a really authentic place, and no doubt that’s what people respond to – ‘I believe her when she’s up there’.
I hope so. At my gigs I’ve been test driving a lot of my new tracks. As I write them I like to test drive them and see how people react. Especially a lot more of the getting-back-to-my-roots kind of music, people have been really responding to the storyline or the message behind it, which has been really cool. On the new album there will be something for everyone and all ages. I think for me it reflects what I’ve been through in the last twelve to eighteen months. I’ve had a complete … not lifestyle change but it’s been about getting back to my roots. I moved back out of town, whereas I’d spent a little bit of time in town but working out of town. But now I love out of town, I work out of town, I don’t go to town much unless I really need to, so the writing has been a lot more influenced by the country and the people that I meet at my little local pub.

Are you still in the Mungindi area?
No, I moved back to my home town, Mudgee, but I’m living about 20 ks out of town. I’ve been working on my dad’s farm and living in this little farmhouse. It’s been a hard time but it’s been good because it’s been helpful in the writing process.

I’m picturing you out in the stillness of the countryside – is it a good place to let inspiration come to you because you don’t have a lot of noise and distraction? Does it allow space for you to be more creative?
I think so. When I first moved back and into this little farmhouse I did not put the TV on until I felt like I’d finished writing. I could still watch TV if I wanted to – I could go into town to my parents’ place – but I actively made sure I didn’t have any distractions in regards to technology, and where I live you’re lucky if there’s one bar of phone service. It’s actually been a really cool experience. I haven’t had all those distractions like ‘I’ll just quickly look at Facebook’ or ‘I’ll just quickly check an email’ – instead it’s forced me to think. A lot of the songs I’m writing are the history that is wrapped up in this house, and all this cool stuff that I’d never thought I’d write about but because I’ve changed my situation completely it’s all come to the surface.

I can’t wait to hear these songs now.
I can’t wait to put them out. It’s a really weird process because people forget that when you release the album it’s been in the works for a long time, so the artist is really familiar with the songs so it’s a relief when they’re finally out and people can hear them.

You’re in an unusual situation in that you’re able to compare different ways of living creatively  - you’re here now on a farm where you have a bit of space and time but you’ve lived in other places where there are more distractions and more competition for your brain space. It’s great to be able to make that comparison.
Definitely, and I think it comes out in my music. A lot of the stuff I’ve been writing about – some of it is still definitely sassy and Jess Holland at the crux of it, but some of the new stuff I’ve been writing is old school. It’s more of a story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘bush ballady’ because that’s never been my direction, as much as I love listening to it and appreciate it, that was never my direction. It’s quite … vintage, I suppose.

I guess your voice demands something a little more high-stakes in the storytelling, if that makes sense.
Definitely. One of the songs I’ve had written for probably twelve months now – it’s called ‘Linburn Lane’ and it’s a cool full-circle moment because [the lane] is only about a k from where I’m living and the song is about my grandmother. She grew up on Linburn Lane. When she married she went from Linburn Lane, where all her family were, to the back of the Never Never, a long way away. So she never saw her family; she had nine or ten kids. All these hardships. But I don’t describe it as a bush balladeer thing. It’s her life story in a roundabout way and she’s telling it – the song is like she’s telling it. I’ve just moved back to that area so there’s so much history and I think that’s the reason why I wrote the song.

This is an evolution for you as a songwriter, stepping into this more personal storytelling mode, and this historical storytelling. But I just got a chill down my spine when you said you were singing the song from your grandmother’s perspective. Does it feel strange to almost inhabit an ancestor?
It took me a very long time to sing it. She was my mum’s mother and [the song] came about because when my grandmother passed away I guess I didn’t know a lot about her. I said to my mum, ‘I really want to write something about my grandma and about her life, how she got to where she was.’ I saw her from a certain age, when she got Alzheimer’s, but I didn’t want to write about that side of things. I wanted to write about the hard life she went through. I did a bit of investigation through my aunties and uncles and came up with this. [But] I haven’t been able to sing it until the last six or eight months because it’s quite emotional. You don’t think it will be – ‘It’s just another story.’ But the first time I sang it my mum was in the audience and she started bawling her eyes out and I was, like, ‘Great – thanks, Mum.’ [Laughs] I was trying to choke back the tears and I thought, What are you doing, Jess? I never thought I’d be like that. But I think I’ve tapped into something that a lot of people can relate to and, no word of a lie, every time I’ve sung that I’ve had people coming up and saying, ‘That reminds me of my grandma or my great-grandma.’ People in the area, when I sing it, they say, ‘I remember certain aspects of that song.’ It’s tapping into something that I didn’t think would be so popular and it hasn’t even been released yet.

That’s amazing. I can’t wait to hear it. But you haven’t recorded it yet. Although you have recorded the song ‘Ain’t Quittin’ This Run’ which has been released as a single, so what inspired this one?
This was one of the first songs I wrote for the current album, Whole Lot to Say, and I think a lot of the inspiration behind the album was that I’m sick of people trying to tell me that I should look like this or I should say this or sing like this. And I was getting a bit annoyed, I suppose, because I’m very sassy and people were trying to change me in order to make an album, and I said, ‘That’s not right. I am who I am.’ And part of me was thinking, Imagine who else they’re trying to pressure this onto. So for me it was, ‘No matter what you’re trying to do, I’m not going to quit. I’m going to keep being me and true to myself. I’m not going to wear blonde tight curls and high heels and fake this and fake that.’ And I think people respect that I’ve kept to my roots in regards to [the fact that] I’m not going to change for anyone. So that’s really what the song’s about, embodying that attitude of, ‘You can do and say what you want but I’m never going to quit what I’m doing.’

And nor should you. But Australian country music has so many female artists. I would have thought it was the one genre of music where there wouldn’t have been a lot of pressure to be a certain way. I’m curious to hear that it still comes up.
It kind of does, and I didn’t believe it until I delved head first into the industry and I thought, Of course pop is going to be like that because they want to see a certain image, but it’s actually quite puzzling that country music is still trying to produce these doll-like people. It still really gets to me. A lot of these people they’re portraying are gorgeous girls and they’re really nice but if you ask me if they can sing or not, it’s a whole other ball game. That is where I stuck to my guns and say I’m not going to be the next blonde bimbo or the one they’re coming to see because she’s wearing a short, tight skirt. I like to wear sparkles and skirts like everyone else but I’m not portraying myself as one of those doll-type people because I’m far from it.

I think that comes back to the authenticity of what you do, and that’s what your audience wants and what they love about your music. You wouldn’t have been authentic if you’d changed.
And I think I would have kicked myself. I’m from a very down-home family too so if I decided that I couldn’t do something because I’m wearing fake nails or I can’t do that because my hair will get dirty, my dad would say, ‘Get down here and swing off that crowbar right now!’ It just wouldn’t play. So I can’t expect other people to take to me if I was fake – I’d be pulled down to size pretty quickly if I tried all that sort of stuff.

Now to Tamworth – will you be back at the Tudor Hotel?
I will be. I’m excited because I’m doing a variety show this time. Each gig’s going to be different. I’m doing solo, I’m doing duo, I’m doing full band. And then I’ve got a bit of a special trio outfit that’s going to be happening. I’m not going to say too much but it’s just really exciting because we have only really performed together a couple of times at Mildura Country Music Festival and so we’re just having a bit of fun and for us that’s what Tamworth is all about. We get plenty of gigs and a lot of work through the year and we get to catch up with each other at Tamworth.  

Whole Lot to Say is available on iTunes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Interview: Brian Cadd

Brian Cadd’s name may not be familiar to younger music fans, but it should be. As you’ll read in the following interview, Cadd has had about ten careers’ worth of experience in music - including being a member of one of Australia's first country rock bands - and a fascinating amount of knowledge and perspective. Recently Cadd and his Bootleg Family Band released an album, Bulletproof, and they are playing dates through the start of 2017. Visit for information.

You’ve worked across most aspects of the music industry – you’ve been in A&R, a label head, songwriter, producer and performer. I’m curious as to whether the business things you learnt along the way influenced your creative work.
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that – that’s a great question. And now that I think about it – really on my front foot because I’ve never answered it before – I think probably they colour your decisions. They can’t help it. If you happen to know the business well enough to know that you need to need to move there and do one of those and have two of those, one of those, then that will help you way ahead of time to make decisions that will ensure that you try to get that happening. This goes everywhere from ‘What label do I sign to?’ to ‘When do I release a single before the album, or do I?’ All those sorts of things. If you didn’t know the industry you would obviously sometimes make the wrong choice. And I think that that’s indicative of some really great young acts – and we were the same when we were young. You do the thing that at the time appeals to you. Here’s the best example I can give you: when Axiom was ready to go overseas – Axiom, along with Gypsy Queen Flying Circus, we were Australia’s only two country rock acts – and we’d had hit as a country rock act. And where did we go? Because we all wanted to go to England – because that’s where the Stones and the Beatles were from – we went there and they hated country rock music. If we had have gone to Los Angeles, right then was the beginning of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and just before The Eagles, so we would have fitted in perfectly there, but because we loved The Beatles we went to England. So that’s an amazing example of being at the wrong place in the wrong time [laughs].

Except I guess that every decision you make along the way influences the next decision or the next opportunity, and your career has been so extraordinary, one wonders if you’d gone to Los Angeles and had success there whether you would have ended up writing for so many different people, amongst other things.
I think you’re right – in fact, I know you’re right because what happened was that Axiom didn’t make it America and broke up. And I came back and I’d been on the road with bands for quite a number of years at that point and that’s when I went into the studio and learned to be a producer, and eventually Ron Tudor kept saying to me, ‘Why don’t you make an album?’ and I’d say, ‘No, I don’t want to make an album.’ But finally I did make an album and that album contained ‘Ginger Man’ and that went up the charts, and there I was back on the road again. But I was on the road as a solo artist, something that I may not have had the courage to do in any other set of circumstances. If I look through my life I can find other instances of where that happened, you know. For instance, at exactly the same time as I came back from England, Russell Morris asked me to go on the road with him and the Bee Gees. We did this whole tour of Australia and New Zealand, and at the end of it the Bee Gees asked me to join their band, and they were the biggest act in the world at that point. I would have lived in London but I would have been just one of the Bee Gees’ band. I can remember the phone ringing in my kitchen and it was Dick Ashby, the tour manager, and they were in Singapore, and he said to me, ‘Come on, one more chance. Join the band.’ And I was so close to saying yes, but I said, ‘No, I don’t think I will, mate. I think I’d like to do some recording.’ And then I went in and cut ‘Ginger Man’. That would have been an opportunity to really spectacularly fail and not do ‘Ginger Man’.

And if you’d been in the Bee Gees, Barry Gibbs’s creativity would have dominated – whereas what I see in your career is this incredible ongoing creativity: writing songs, performing, any way you can find to create music, you’ve found it. If you’d been in that band, who knows, you might have been tamped down a little bit because Barry would have necessarily been the boss.
That’s right. I was definitely going into a subservient kind of situation, albeit a rather grand one. And I guess there’s just a little bit of instinct in all of us that says, ‘Something tells me I shouldn’t say yes.’ And I didn’t. As soon as I hung up the phone I sat there and thought, What have I done? You’re an idiot! [laughs]

What you’d done was open up all that creativity. So I’m really interested, given that you have written so many songs for so many different people, when did that creative spark start for you? What was your first memory of feeling that impetus to create something?
I’d have to take you back to the early and mid ’60s when most people didn’t write – most songs that you got you copped off an English album or an American album, and the whole thing was playing live. It was all chicks-and-beer sort of stuff – nobody expected it to last more than a year. But at that point in time was when the first people started thinking about writing, and I was really lucky because I was in a band called the Jackson Kings and had a great lead singer, Ronnie Charles, and they poached Ronnie and me when a couple of members of the group had gone to England. Now, the group had already had hits so it was a fantastic on ramp for us: pow, there we were in a hit band, and I’d only just turned twenty. And here’s the story: we were going to be recording and CBS – in those days – said, ‘You’ve got two weeks and then [the producer] is going to come down to Sydney and we’re going to do an album, so get your songs ready.’ We already had a couple of songwriters in the band – I’d never written a song before – so I got with the drummer, who had never written a song before. ‘You can have the drummer’ – ‘Oh, good.’ So the blind leading the deaf. And the others were all writing away with their songs and Richard and I were in the garage having a bit of think about it all, and really he just came up with a beat and I played a chord and we thought, ‘That’s not bad.’ We finished the song and it sounded a bit nursery-rhymish to us. So the guy comes down and everybody’s playing the songs and talking about stuff on the album, and he says, ‘So, anyone else got a song?’ And we said, ‘Oh, we’ve got one’, and we played it, and he said, ‘That’s it! That’s the single!’ So we went in and recorded it, and it was a big hit, and it was the first song I ever wrote and I thought, Wow! How long has this been going on? It did take me a long time to get another one. But it was that kind of era, wasn’t it, when things happened almost immediately. I remember when the record came out we physically took a copy to Stan Rofe, who was Stan the Man, number one jock on 3KZ. He ruled Melbourne. We walked in, and it was just us and the news, and we sat down and he played it right there and then, and he played it five times in that hour he loved it so much. In those days you really needed champions like that to go to bat for you.

What do you think has been the best development in music since that time, and what’s been the worst?
If we’re talking about Australian music – and let’s talk about Australian music – to go back to the ’60s, people like us were starting to have original songs, and we did covers and stuff but we’d write a few, and by the end of the ’60s people were writing albums. Daddy Cool arrived on the scene and it was all Ross Wilson songs. Russell Morris had had ‘Bloodstone’, and Axiom was pretty much all original stuff as well. So what happened was that we were throwing the coils, if you like, of English and American influences off and we were becoming our own people. So we were a sort of hybrid of English and American influences but gradually they faded and the thing that became Australian music happened then, and I was so lucky to be around at that point. And then all through the ’70s then on to the ’80s and up to now. There will always be an argument to say that Australian music grew up right then – or started growing – and by the time it got to the end of the century there was no such thing as ‘It’s a good record for an Australian record’, which is what people used to say. Now they don’t say that, and that’s fantastic. But if you want to look at the other side of that coin, we’ve lost a lot of the Stan Rofes and the pathways for young music to get on a major playing field. The argument is with the internet everyone can get their music heard, and that is true – it can go out to 150 people and they might like it. But it’s very difficult for young people to penetrate the real main market and to have the support of a record company and tour support, and go out and get on tours. There’s not an easy path now and that’s one thing that I don’t think is as good as it was. And the other thing is that we’ve managed to dumb down the process of making records, in the sense that – and this is not criticising across the board, it’s just that it has become over the last ten years the ability for almost anyone with a computer and a cupboard and a keyboard and a microphone to make records that sound far beyond their capabilities. They can get in time, they can be put in key, and they virtually never make records together, which is one of the tricks about this new Bootleg album – we were determined to go into the studio and recreate those days when everyone was playing in real time and everyone was in the studio at the same time. And to make it even more realistic, we determined – and this was something we all agreed on – that we were never going to do more than three takes for anything. So the idea of doing the same song for two days wasn’t going to happen. The girls were there and they sang as well. So the idea was that it was all ready from the first time we ran through the song. It was the recording tension that you need to make it exciting – tension is used there in a good way. You need that tension. You need to be really on your game and concentrating on what everyone else is playing, and reacting to them and them reacting to you. That is an ingredient is sort of missed nowadays a lot of times. We were determined to have it and I think you can hear it in the record – there’s an excitement in the record that maybe wouldn’t have happened if we’d all sat around in different rooms doing different things at different times.

How did you choose the songs for the album? Because you obviously would have had a few in the drawer, and a few that other people have already covered.
The basic thrust to it was that because I was always reasonably known for songs like ‘Ginger Man’ and ‘Let Go’ and ‘Sunshine’, things that were predominantly ballads or mid-tempo things or quite pop, I was at heart, deep down where I live, I’m a rock ’n’ roller, I always have been, and the band was. And the thing that people don’t necessarily remember about that era is that we were a big, loud rock ’n’ roll band that was full on, and we wanted to make sure that we captured that in the studio. And I had a drawerful, as you say – a metaphorical drawerful – of rock songs that I’d always wanted to do, and every time I made a record the record company would say, ‘Yeah, but we want another “Ginger Man”.’ So we got them on our terms. I got all these songs that I’d always wanted to record, plus I picked three songs that I’d written for other people that I’d always wanted to record. I never wrote them for me, I wrote them specifically for them, but after they recorded it I’d play it and think, I’d love to do that [laughs]. I might do that one day. So of course that day arrived. It was a bit like having a metaphorical basket of tunes and we picked them out and we’d play them, and sometimes we’d get halfway through and say, ‘Nah – doesn’t fit.’ There’s a lot of songs that didn’t make the cut but the ones that do marry together perfectly. There’s not a song on the album that lets down anything near it. They’re all basically the same band and that’s how I wanted it.

Bulletproof is out now and available on iTunes.