Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jessica Mauboy to headline the 2017 Gympie Music Muster

The Gympie Music Muster on Queensland's Sunshine Coast is now in its thirty-sixth year, and the musicians and fans who attend would no doubt agree that it's only getting better with age. This year the muster will be headlined by Jessica Mauboy, one of Australia's favourite singers.

Originally from Darwin, Jessica won the first Telstra Road to Tamworth competition in 2004, at the age of seventeen, and last year performed at the NRL Grand Final with Keith Urban. She was the first indigenous artist to achieve a #1 ranking on the ARIA chart, and has won two ARIA awards. Recently she has appeared on the Seven Network in The Secret Daughter, and the soundtrack for that show has dominated charts.

Appearing with Jessica at the Muster will be:
Adam Brand
Busby Marou
Graeme Connors
Amber Lawrence
Travis Collins
Sunny Cowgirls
Catherine Britt
Fanny Lumsden
Troy Kemp
Caitlyn Shadbolt
Dean Ray
Adam Eckersley Band
Reece Mastin
Davidson Brothers
Kirsty Lee Akers
Hillbilly Goats
Bondi Cigars
Anne Kirkpatrick
Mason Rack
Chad Morgan
Missy Lancaster
Travellin’ Still

and many more still to be announced. The line-up will be 100% Australian artists.

The Muster runs from Thursday 24 August to Sunday 27 August 2017.
Tickets are on sale now at

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Single release: 'Anchor' by Aleyce Simmonds

Aleyce Simmonds lends her talents to several other Australian country music artists, appearing in their shows and on their songs. Thankfully she still has time to write and release her own music, and she has written the lovely ballad 'Anchor' for her third studio album, More Than Meets the Eye.

Says Aleyce about the song, 'People enter our lives for different reasons. Some stay a while, some come and go. Sometimes the impression that they make far outlives the physical presence. At the time of writing Anchor, I was in love and happy. Most of all, I was grateful that my life had been changed for the better and I wanted to put it into song that regardless of the fate of the relationship, I’d be forever thankful for that. Maybe I did that so that I couldn't change my mind and become bitter!!' 

Watch the video for 'Anchor' below.
Buy More Than Meets the Eye on Bandcamp or

Single release: 'One Skin' by Rory Ellis

Rory Ellis lives on the north coast of New South Wales, a creatively fertile part of Australia that clearly agrees with him, as evidenced in the growling, enthralling track 'One Skin' from his album of the same name, which also happens to be his eighth long-playing release. 

The song is about about Ellis’s journey to find love.

'"One Skin' takes two hearts and wraps them together to form an unbreakable bond,' he said. 'It’s the story of two people separated by distance, fear and the hurdles overcome to make their past relationship failures, traumas and loneliness a distant memory. This song will resonate with all people that have found a home for their hearts and truly know they are safe in the hands of that one person who loves them unconditionally.'
Listen to 'One Skin' on Soundcloud.

Buy One Skin the album here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Interview: El Cosgrove

El Cosgrove's first EP, Guitars & Cigars, introduced a great new talent to Australian country music audiences, but as I found out recently when I spoke to El, she was hardly a beginner: she'd already had a lot of experience playing to country audiences, both here and overseas, and from a young age.

How old were you when you first started singing and playing guitar?
I think I was eight when I first got a guitar. I grew up singing for as long as I can remember. I was definitely not a good singer [laughs]. Just had a musical family so some of my first memories were my grandma on the piano and family members with a bunch of different instruments, so you had to get in there and either sing or play the spoons or whatever you could do to make a noise.

What sort of music did you grow up with?
Not really country – my family were more into jazz and big bands, and I started doing eisteddfods, so that was more musical theatrey. I had this cousin, Tom Curtin, who used to come and play his country songs on our verandah when I was a kid. We’d have a big day of mustering and they’d all come back and he’d play his country songs, so I think he was probably the first country influence. Then when I got my guitar I started making up songs about being around the farm and being a country kid, so it comes out sounding pretty country.

You said you couldn’t really sing when you were younger – of course, that’s your assessment and other people might have thought you could sing – so how did you find your voice?
I wouldn’t even call myself a good singer but I think it was [through] listening to a range of different music genres and having a wide variety of influences that I’ve kind of developed my own style. I probably strive to be more unique in my style than an amazing singer. But I love songwriting and I love trying to get a really unique sound into your songs.

When you started to write songs and think more about becoming a performer, at what age did that start to gel?
When I was a kid I just loved being the centre of attention, so I was into the musicals and then I was into the school choirs. During high school I really didn’t do much music at all. It’s just since finishing school I’ve been more determined to write music and get my own songs out there. I’ve been definitely a lot more focused on it as a career.

You’re not that far out of school so that’s a lot to achieve in a short space of time, but it sounds like once you’re focused on something or you’ve made up your mind about something, you can really apply yourself to it.
[Laughs] Yeah, probably. I did finish school and went over to Canada for the year and did a few gigs over there, but mostly went around the rodeos and played at different brandings and parties like that. It gave me a lot of songwriting inspiration as well, so when I came home I pretty much went straight down to Tamworth and did the Academy of Country Music, and since then I was gigging like crazy. That’s where I met Matt Fell, my producer. So then I was pretty determined to make enough money to head back down to Sydney and record with him.

When you arrived in Canada how did you manage to get those shows? That can’t have been easy.
I lived with this really cool rodeo family, it was really great. Scott Schiffner, he’s a Canadian champion bull rider, and his family. It was just going around heaps of rodeo and I met heaps of different people. I ended up playing at the Canadian PBR finals, which was amazing. That’s one of those shows that just really makes you want to go out and play music. So it rolled on from there.

I’ve just worked on a book about PBR Australia so I have a fair idea about what those finals would have been like.
I don’t even know how to explain it, it was just so cool. I was travelling around most of the rodeos for the season and you get to know so many people in the rodeo community, and everyone’s just so friendly, so the big party at the end just wrapped it up and really fun. It made me want to go and play more music.

In your bio it says, ‘She may have a wild streak …’ From what you’ve told me so far you seem quite conscientious. Is the wild streak in your music or elsewhere?
Possibly [laughs]. Possibly a bit of both. You might have to listen to my lyrics a little – it might come through in that.

Which leads me to my next question: why are guitars and cigars a good combination?
Why not, I think. The song is probably more about doing what you want to achieve now and working hard for it so that once you’ve actually got there and achieved your goal you can kick back and have a good time. And having a good time along the way too is pretty important, I think.

In making the decision to record with Matt, and choosing songs for the EP, how did you settle on those songs?
The five songs that I chose probably show who I am as a person and a songwriter more. For my debut EP I wanted people to get a sense of who I am and I think the songs that I chose show that. And they were more recently written, because I’ve been writing for a long time, so you want to use your best work and put it out there. When it came to my first single I was pretty much writing like crazy and wrote over half of it the very night before we recorded it. Matt thought I was crazy and I said, ‘No, I have to record this song – I haven’t actually written it but I’m writing it tonight in the attic of the studio’. Then I punched it out and it ended up being the first single and one my favourites on there. It was a little bit risky but it turned out well.

If inspiration strikes and you’re able to challenge it, why not go with it?
Yeah, just tack it on there last minute. I’m a bit like that sometimes.

Working with Matt – he obviously has a lot of experience, so I would imagine he’s a very good first producer, to set you on a good path. Was it a good experience working with him?
Definitely. It could have been a bit daunting because he has worked with such amazing artists, but as soon as I got into the studio he was really great at explaining everything and all of the musos that came in and worked made it a good experience. We were just there making music, so it was really fun, and he just gets out of your songs, I think, and he understands where you want to take them and what kind of sound you want. I couldn’t have asked for a better first producer.

One of the things I love about Australian country music is that there are a lot of independent artists and being independent frees people up to do what they want to do, and there is no compromise on the quality of anything. It’s a really professional product. And it’s great hearing stories like yours: you saved up the money, you chose your producer, you can set your timetable. It’s a really interesting time in music.
Yes, true. There’s definitely a lot of music out there – it’s so easy for anyone to record and get their music out there. What I try to do is stay true to who I am without sounding clich├ęd – but all the songs on there are songs that show who I am and I just loved the sound that Matt can bring to them.

So are you not living on the land at the moment but from the sound of the lyrics, life on the land is very much part of you.
Growing up on a farm definitely makes you appreciate rural life and agriculture and it will always be a part of my life.

But I guess as you go further into your music career it’s logistically difficult to travel from rural places if you need to travel a lot.
It’s a long way to travel but I think it’s important to tour out into rural towns and definitely go out west. It’s a good thing to connect with country crowds and take your music to people as well, and that’s where I grew up and I started writing on a farm. I love touring out west. It’s as important as going to the big festivals and the big shows.

In some ways it’s more important, because not only are you telling stories from the land but the performers who go to country towns are often cherished by audiences – if you turn up, they’ll give you the respect of turning up themselves. And it pays forwards through the music next time. It’s this great interaction between country audiences and country music performers that has really shaped what the music is.
And it’s usually always a great bunch of people to be playing for and having a good time with, for sure.

Is there a town in particular you haven’t played at that you’d love to?
I’d like to go around the [Northern] Territory a little bit more. I only played at Katherine last year and that was really, really good. I just want to keep touring – too many places.

And that brings up the question of what’s ahead. So the EP’s out and it sounds like you’d like to tour. Are you thinking ahead to a new EP or album, or will you let this one go for a while?
At the moment I’m planning a tour around south-western Queensland and possibly down into New South Wales a little bit, and the Northern Territory again maybe. Then once I can get that out and about I’ll just keep writing songs and hopefully an album would be next on the cards, but that’s probably a little while into the future.

Are you being your own booking agent for this tour?
Yes. I like doing those things myself. I’ve had a bit of help from a few different agents but most of the shows I’ve just worked on myself.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Interview: Jackie Dee

Jackie Dee's latest album, Six String Heart, is one of the most outstanding Australian releases in recent times, and I can attest that after repeated listening its appeal does not fade. So it was an honour to have the chance to talk to Jackie about the inspiration behind and creation of this special collection of songs.

When did your relationship with music start?
Probably at birth [laughs]. I’ve always had a relationship with music, but in a more semi-professional capacity, as young as thirteen I was performing live in venues, so it’s been a while.

It sounds like your household was full of music?
Yes, it was, and I actually have a famous aunt who is one of Australia’s greatest opera-singing exports. So I was surrounded by music and every opportunity I got, basically, to get up and sing at family barbecue or whatever it was, I would take that opportunity.

When you were performing at thirteen was that just singing or were you playing an instrument?
I was playing keyboards – don’t ask me how I was doing that because I really had no formal training other than the music lessons that you take at school. I joined an all-boy band. We were an eight-piece band and I was the token female singer. I got pushed to the side a little bit – it was a bit of an apprenticeship for me, being in an all-boy band at that age, I really had to learn to hold my own. I would be more or less designated lines in songs to sing, as opposed to songs. But it was a great foundation and the guys were writing their own original material, so it was a wonderful experience to learn about songwriting and to have the joy of performing an original song to an audience, even at that age, which was such a thrill.

At what age did you feel your apprenticeship was over?
[Laughs] I’m not sure that it is over. I think I’m learning all the time about my singing and my songwriting and my style, and where my passion lies. It should be that way – I think we should always be learning and growing and moving within the music.

Then I’ll switch and say once you finished with that band – you had opera in your family, you were in this band: how did you start to arrive at your individual style?
The opera singing was never my thing, but when you’re growing up as a little girl and listening to family members talking about Great Aunt Yvonne and what she’s doing, and she’d won scholarships and all this stuff, singing on the stages in France and London – it was pretty exciting. But my parents were pretty humble in their style of music. Dad was really into American country at the time – the ’70s Creedence, swamp rock and Glenn Campbell and Johnny Cash. Mum was more of a rock chick – she was into Status Quo and other bands. We had the old LP player in the lounge room and we would get it cranking up. My taste in music has always been in that country/blues/folk arena. It’s just what’s always drawn me in: the singer-songwriter telling a story. But I’ve dabbled in all kinds – I’ve had affairs with all genres, I promise you [laughs].

And when you love music, it’s like when you love books: you’ll read everything and you’ll listen to everything because all music is great and interesting. Often with singers I wonder if it’s a question of finding the genre that suits your voice best.
I think that’s true. So I didn’t really start my own songwriting career until my late twenties. I played in duos and did lots and lots of weddings, things like that. People were always asking me to sing. And that was lovely. But it wasn’t until I had my second child that this new reservoir of creativity seemed to open up, and I just thought, You know what? I can actually do this myself. I’d been performing other people’s songs for yonks and just felt it was time that I started to back myself a little bit. I was always very big on poetry – I’d write a lot of poetry – so the lyrics were always swimming around in my head, but putting it to music was something new. It’s been about two decades that I’ve been writing my own material and performing it live, culminating in this third album.

And what a great album it is. Just on that opening up of creativity: sometimes I wonder if artists feel like they finally have permission to do something, or they haven’t given themselves permission to do something – because, as you said, there was always poetry in your mind, and it’s interesting that it was at that point in your life that not only was there a creative uprising but you also gave yourself permission to do it.
Yes, and I think the other thing is motherhood, for me. It did open up a whole lot of material that really related to my own childhood and my own parenting, and there was a whole lot of stuff that I wanted to write about. I think it was a life stage, a change in my life, and the songwriting came with it.

Was there any sense that now there was a new generation it was almost your role to be a storyteller to that next generation?
Yes, I think so, and there’s two songs on two of my albums that I’ve almost written as a legacy to my children, with the intention that perhaps one day, many years from now when I’m fertiliser in the ground, that they’ll be listening to those songs with their children and their grandchildren. I think that’s really true. It’s nice to think that you can pass things along in generations. I don’t think there’s enough of that these days.

And often people don’t think to ask, or don’t think to tell, or don’t think they can tell. But stories are fundamental to all cultures, so it’s important to do it.
Absolutely. I’m a big believer in that. There’s likely to be another couple of albums of storytelling yet.

When did you start writing for Six String Heart?
I often say that this, that I’m always songwriting [laughs]. On any given day there’s some idea swimming around in my head that either I’ve just received from being prompted by something I’ve seen, heard or experienced, or it’s something that’s been sitting there for a couple of months and I keep going back to it. But I feel like I’m always songwriting so there’s never a starting point. I guess some contracted artists who are given a time frame and told, ‘You need to have an album ready for us by this time’, they probably work quite differently to me. I have the freedom as an independent artist to write what I want to write and when I feel like it. I guess the realisation [for this album] was probably twelve months ago when I started my crowdfunding campaign; [it] was, ‘I have enough songs now to put this album together and I really want to go through with it.’ It was also around the time that my brother was diagnosed with cancer so that gave me an added incentive to deliver the album as a tribute to him. So there was a couple of life events that really pushed this forward for me, gave it a lot more momentum. There were a lot of reasons to make this album and it was really a personal healing process for me to get this out there. I needed to share it with the world and that was healing for me, to express myself in that way, and also for my other family members.

And given the context of it – your brother’s illness and then his death – it’s not at all a maudlin album. There is joy on it and this sense almost of the universe being unlimited and a lot of beautiful things in it, which is quite an extraordinary thing considering what’s happened.
I definitely have that very universal philosophy on life in general. I don’t see things on shelves or in boxes; I’ve always seen the big-picture stuff. So it doesn’t really matter what I’m writing about, it always falls against that backdrop of something bigger, something greater, something more meaningful sitting behind it. Because for me, that helps me life my life in a more joyful way.

I guess it also helps put a death into context. It feels, from the album, very much as if your relationship with your brother continues – he’s just in a different place.
I didn’t talk about this too much through the songwriting process but my brother battled mental illness for thirty years and it was a grieving process that we had to witness for him for most of his life. To be honest, when he passed there was some relief for me that the struggle was over, but it also put life in perspective and made me think about just how much we can take for granted, like having a job, having a partner, having a child. These are all things my brother was never able to achieve because his mental illness prevented that. And so it was a relief – it felt like he was being set free finally, and I wanted to celebrate that in a beautiful way. I think [the song] ‘Zeppelin’s Playing’ achieves that.

You mentioned being an independent artist. The calibre of independent productions in Australian music is extraordinarily high. It’s interesting to contemplate that if you did have a record label and there was that deadline and there were certain expectations, what sort of music would come out. But as you said, you can work on your own timetable – and you can choose your own producer, so how did you come to choose Matt Fell?
It’s a great story, actually, because it was always my greatest dream to be able to record my own material. I really didn’t know where to start back in 2009 when I was my conceiving my debut EP. I happened to be a big fan of Rick Price’s music – I saw him as an Australian, very authentic singer-songwriter. I went to lots of his shows and saw him perform, so I thought, Why not? Let’s contact Rick and see if he’s available. I guess I don’t let things hold me back in that way – what’s the worst thing that could happen? They could say no. But he put me onto Matt Fell because he’s living in Nashville and he said, ‘Unfortunately I’m not in the country to be able to do it but I can put you onto this guy who’s making some great records.’ So I contacted Matt and I lived in Helensburgh, which is in the northern Illawarra [NSW], and it’s sort of a sleepy little coalmining town nestled on the southern fringe of the Royal National Park, and Matt travelled all the way out one night and came and met me, and I made him a cheese platter and we sat there and talked about the album. I was humbled that somebody cared enough to come all the way to see me and talk to me about my album. And it remains a very special memory, because since then his career – he’s just absolutely blossomed. But after Matt produced Tide I just was blown away – it exceeded all my expectations. So when you have such a wonderful experience, you don’t want it to end, do you? You’re, like, I reckon I could probably do this again with enough effort and focus, determination. So I did, in 2010, with Doors and Windows, and again Matt took me on that journey. For this last album I had considered Shane Nicholson for production and it just turned out that Shane was extremely busy with lots of work that year, and I was sitting there thinking, Matt –Shane – Matt – Shane. I wanted them both and I thought, Why can’t I have both? So I got Matt to produce and then Shane came and played acoustically on every track, and then he lent his beautiful vocals to two of my tracks, which is just like a bucket list thing for me.

And you also have Glen Hannah playing, and he’s another great producer. The three of them pretty much could divvy up the entire country music industry these days.
[Laughs] That’s exactly right. But the quality doesn’t come cheaply, and as an independent artist it requires a lot of effort. People say to me, ‘How come it’s been so long since your last album?’ and without being cynical it’s hard to explain to people what goes into resourcing a project like that and to see it through to where it is now, launched and promoted. It’s a substantial investment.

Of time and energy, and also of money. That’s that saying about the three sides of the triangle: fast, cheap and good. You can have any two at once but not all three.
[Laughs] That’s right. And I guess because I’ve been spoilt and had the quality of production on my albums previously, I can’t go back. I just want it to be as good as it can be.

I read in your bio that you work as a family therapist – has that ever had an impact on your creativity, either negatively or positively?
No, none [laughs]. It’s part of the fabric of who I am – I’m a songwriter and I’m a family therapist, and the two go quite nicely together, because one is a fantastic way of learning about and supporting oneself, through the work I do with others, and then I get to express that in a creative way through my music. So it’s all the same person, just different parts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Album review: Tenderheart by Sam Outlaw

I’m fortunate to be able to listen to a lot of different music, quite a bit of it sent to me without me asking for it and often without me knowing who the artist is. Over the past few years of writing about country music, and over my whole life of being obsessed with music, I’ve felt the gamut of emotions when listening to albums for the first time: from admiration to joy, giddiness, sometimes bewilderment, occasionally disappointment. Often I’m moved, not just by the songs but by the accomplishment of the work. Sometimes, rarely, I fall head over heels in love. And so I have with Tenderheart by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Sam Outlaw.

Tenderheart sounds like it has been created deep in the well of country music, arising from the bedrock of the genre’s past and swirling up through the layers of generations and change since. The water in that well is pure and clean and vital – and the well just happens to be Los Angeles, so it is infused with different stories than can be found in a lot of contemporary American country music. Outlaw draws on the life and lifestyle of Southern California, of the people he knows and the things he sees, with a clear eye and honest intentions. ‘Bougainvillea, I Think’, the story of a friendship between a young man and an old woman, is achingly beautiful, every single time I hear it. ‘Tenderheart’ is appropriately tender and sweet. ‘Bottomless Mimosas’ is knowing without being snide. The opening track, ‘Everyone’s Looking for Home’ is wistful and poignant.

Outlaw’s voice is modern yet vintage – he has the style to sing old-time country with one codicil: that music often arose from pain and Outlaw sounds like he is enjoying himself far too much for that. There are some songs that fit more comfortably into a standard country slot: ‘Two Broken Hearts’ and ‘She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid of)’, to name two. Even then, it is identifiably Outlaw at their helm, with his gentle croon. 

Outlaw sounds as if the best thing he could imagine would be to sit on a stool with his guitar and sing, no matter if there was one person, one hundred or one hundred thousand in front of him. And that sounds true even when these songs are layered with other instruments – steel guitar, of course, and also horns at times – all reinforcing songs that are so well written that they don’t need the help but they surely sound great with it.

This album may not find its way to country music purists simply because Outlaw’s relative youth and his location might see him labelled something other than a purist himself. Yet Tenderheart is the work of someone who understands and respects his musical heritage, who has found its structures liberating rather than confining, and who brings a fresh perspective to music that has such a long history. All while he’s having fun with it; while he’s letting us see who he is, unafraid to be emotional and open, honouring one of the very best things about country music: the desire of artist and audience to connect with each other and emerge better for the experience.

Tenderheart will be released on 14 April 2017 by Six Shooter Records\Thirty Tigers\Cooking Vinyl Australia.

Interview: Kalesti Butler

Queensland singer-songwriter Kalesti Butler has a wonderful new album, Airborne. While she spent her childhood performing, however, there wasn't a straight line from that to her career now - as I found out when we spoke recently. 

Your first stage appearance was at age three – do you remember how you felt?
I’m not sure that I remember how I felt but I must have been pretty excited because my dad used to tell me this story about it. I walked on stage and I had a little red beanie on, so it must have been really cold, and they announced my name and I walked out in between my mum’s legs and started singing – and the band had to catch up after.

Had you been practising that number to sing?
I’d say so. When I think back, my mum used to make me practise and practise and practise loads [laughs]. I’d say I was very well prepared.

You’re from a musical family. At age nine you won a prize as well, so clearly from the age of three you kept going, so do you remember much about your childhood and what sort of musical involvement you had?
I remember going to a lot of festivals and my mum and a couple of my aunties and cousins would be singing as well, and my grandmother, and we always toured around north Queensland, mainly, doing all the festivals. Music was really a big part of the family, so whenever we had a gathering – a barbecue or someone’s party – everyone would bring a guitar, and I remember sitting – we’d all form a kind of circle where we’d all just be sitting there playing guitar, and that’s how I learnt to play guitar, by watching them and teaching myself.

I’d written down a question saying, ‘What lit the spark of music within you?’ but it sounds like it’s just always been there.
I think I was born into it. But I went to  boarding school for twelve years and when I was in high school I didn’t sing at all, and then I went to uni and I think I was working in Mackay in about 2005 and I saw a sign about a local country music festival. I thought,  I might go and have a look. I checked it out and I was really inspired by it, so I decided to start singing again, but I had to learn all over again. There was one girl who was singing there who really inspired me to do singing again because I’d actually forgotten that I used to be – I think I used to be really good when I was a kid but I’d forgotten that. So I learnt to sing again and I was really bad. I have video and I watch it and I think, Oh my god, that was terrible – why didn’t anyone say anything?

I’m really interested in the fact that you didn’t sing at school – do you think it was because you were out of that environment you’d been in with your family and it just wasn’t something you did? Or it didn’t seem like a thing that the school wouldn’t support? Because that’s a big change: to be so musical and then not have it for your teenage years.
My parents separated when I was ten so that’s probably what affected it. But I wasn’t ever forced or pushed into it, maybe because I did so much of it as a kid. I can’t even remember why I didn’t sing at school. I did it at primary school – we had a little band – but in high school maybe it was more about getting a really good education, maybe singing and music weren’t part of that plan [laughs]. I don’t know what happened, but for some reason it just came back to me and I took it up on my own, which I think is probably a better option anyway, because then it’s something that you choose to do yourself, it’s not something that was forced upon you by your parents, so to speak.

And when you were learning to sing again, was there a point at which you thought, Right, I’m back.
[Laughs] Yeah, I was doing through a few talent quests and singing at a few places that were hosting some really bad karaoke [laughs] and then I went to Tamworth in 2011. I wanted something to take me there because I’d never been, and my mum had been because she was a Toyota StarMaker top 5 finalist the year Gina Jeffreys won. So she’d been and recorded with Lindsay Butler Studio, she’d been in the scene in the early ’90s. So she knew all about it but she’d never taken me. I entered this bush ballad star quest competition and they said I was a finalist, and so I went and I won it. I was totally shocked because I didn’t think I would win any award at Tamworth ever [laughs]. So that was kind of the moment when I thought, Maybe I can sing. Maybe I am good enough to be a professional. And from then I built on that. The competition really did open doors for me. I got gigs at really cool festivals like Gympie Muster and Caboolture Urban, when that was on, and Mildura Country Music Festival. And when I was singing at those places and people would come up to me and say, ‘You’re really good – do you have a CD?’ that was the moment for me during that twelve months: ‘I’ve got to do a CD.’ So I did and I’ve just been going on since then.

What was the first song you ever wrote?
It was ‘She’s a River’, which was on my first album and I co-wrote that with Gretta Ziller at the Academy of Country Music. We won the TSA/APRA New Songwriter of the Year award with that song as well.

I love that song – I’ve heard it on ABC digital country radio, where it’s on high rotation. I kept wondering what you were doing so it was great to see that you have a new album.
It was so long in between. I didn’t know what direction to take. I knew I started with the bush ballad stuff but that wasn’t really all that I was ever about, so I wanted to start showcasing some of my other material and showing people that I’m not just a bush balladeer.

It’s possibly also where your voice leads you. The material on your new album really suits your voice and it seems like you’ve let yourself go in the direction you’re meant to head in.
I haven’t really forced anything upon myself – it’s kind of just happened naturally that way. It’s better because it’s more real and it’s more true to what I’m about.

You also write with your mum, Val. When did that co-writing arrangement start?
It kind of started when she realised that I was getting serious about my music. With the first album, I didn’t realise but she had written thousands of songs and she gave them to me and said, ‘Here – see if there’s anything that you can use.’ And then I thought, There’s some there that are cool but I’ve got ideas for songs and maybe she can help me write these songs. So that’s where it started. Sometimes I just come up with a title for a song and then we write the song, or sometimes I come up with an idea, sometimes Mum comes up with the idea and I’ll say, ‘Okay, let’s write that song.’ Sometimes it’s over the phone, sometimes it’s while we’re driving or when she visits or if we’re at a festival. She lives fourteen hours’ drive away from me, so I only really see her a couple of times a year. So there’s not a great deal of songwriting but when we do get together at least half a dozen songs will be written, for sure.

Where do you live now?
I’m in Emerald, in Central Queensland. She’s north of me, up in the Gulf of Carpentaria still.

That’s where you grew up, in the Gulf Country, isn’t it?
Yes, I grew up on a cattle property. A lot of my aunties and uncles are still up there on cattle properties but most of them are spread across the Atherton Tablelands – Innisfail, Cairns, all that area.

Having grown up on the land, what in particular about that lifestyle stays with you?
I really like telling people how cool it was growing up on the property and the fact that we had four-wheelers and motorbikes and we used to just on weekends have free rein to cruise around and make some dust. We had our own helicopter and helicopter pilot, so if we were mustering and we got tired we could just get a free ride home and the horse would go with the mob. When we were little we’d fall asleep on the horse and our horse would be in with the mob and hopefully we wouldn’t fall off [laughs]. Maybe as a kid, or any kid, you don’t have any worries in the world but we seemed to not have any. It was so cool. Even today I like visiting cities but I prefer to be in a country town. I just like the whole … everyone’s kind of family and friendly, and even now if I got stuck I could call my auntie or my uncle and they would take me in and I could stay and eat all their food, and they wouldn’t even care, it’s just how they are.

Country music isn’t just for country people, but what do you think it offers country people in particular, in terms of storytelling? And in your album I’m thinking of that sense of place and community that comes through.
It makes you feel real. The storytelling – I don’t like singing a song that I can’t connect to, and telling a story in a song has to be real and truthful to some extent. I’m a bit of a realist as well. I don’t know. It just makes you feel good.

I think that’s the best answer, and that’s what country music performers do so well here – Australian country music artists really get that balance of entertainment and connection, and meaning. A lot of Australian country music really demonstrates that you can have songs that mean a lot but also make people feel good, and that they can tap their toes to.
Yes – I think my dad was always about, ‘It’s got to have a good tune, it’s got to have a good beat’. He was always about the toe-tapping thing. And even my mum, when she writes a song, she says if you can’t dance to it, it’s not really a good song. If we’re working on a song and we have a break, I might be in the kitchen getting a drink or something and she’s dancing around. She’s moving to the songs as she works [laughs].

You have a really solid lineage, then, for your own songs. And you’ve played a lot of festivals – what has been the highlight so far?
Probably the opening concert for the Tamworth Country Music Festival, I think in 2013. Also working with some band members at the Mildura Country Music Festival – the Toombs brothers and Jayne Denham’s band, it makes you feel cool as an artist. You feel really special.

The new album, Airborne, is out. It sounds like you and your mum write together regularly and I know you did some other collaborations for these songs. How did you end up choosing what was going on that album?
I didn’t really know what was going on that album until I sat down with Robert Mackay and nutted it out. I am really bad at that part of it. Especially if you write a song, you get so connected to something that’s your own that you can’t see if it’s good or bad [laughs] – you’re just, like, ‘Yes, it’s going on the album!’ But when we worked out what I was trying to achieve with the album, all the songs had to connect and Rob was really good at helping choose the songs and saying, ‘Yes, that’s good’ or ‘Mmm – maybe we could think about another song’. It was more about whether the song was really good. And whether it was me as well – when I was singing the song, ‘Yeah, that song’s Kalesti’ or ‘I don’t really think that song’s you’, even if I did write it, or it was a great song but it wasn’t really a Kalesti song.

Those can be tough decisions, can’t they – having the strength to let the song go for someone else to have, it’s a tricky thing.
There’s a few songs on the album that I hadn’t even heard of before – some songs were choices that Rob said, ‘Have a listen to this song and see if you like it’, then I decided yes or no. Like ‘Airborne’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shirt’, they’re songs that I didn’t know about previously.

Airborne is available now.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Single release: 'Stand Tall' by Carter & Carter

Golden Guitar winners Carter & Carter have a new album, Better Day, and the first single is 'Stand Tall'. This is anthemic, and infectious, country rock that sets the tone lyrically for the album - namely: 'The whole album contains music designed to bring people together to celebrate life, share stories, build friendships and community. It's about sharing the good times and the hard times and knowing that you're never alone.'

Listen to 'Stand Tall' on Soundcloud.

Order the new album from the Carter & Carter website.

Single release: 'Still a Mess, But Still Mine' by Ryan Daykin and Dana Hassall

Like so many of the great new emerging Australian country singer-songwriters, Ryan Daykin is a graduate of the CMAA Country Music Academy and has attended the Dag Sheep Station songwriting retreat. His debut EP, Dreams, contains the new single 'Still a Mess, But Still Mine', which features Dana Hassall. The track is a different kind of love song, and Daykin's soulful vocals meshes beautifully with Hassall's grounded, mellifluous tone.

Listen to the track on Soundcloud.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Album review: London Southern by Jim Lauderdale

If you have heard any country music in the last few years you likely know exactly who Jim Lauderdale is. He is considered to be a progenitor of the current Americana movement; he’s written songs for or with, amongst others,  the Dixie Chicks, Blake Shelton, Elvis Costello and Buddy Miller, with whom he co-hosts a radio show. The man has experience, in other words, and a solid work ethic. None of that has made him weary of music, however, if his latest album is anything to go on.

This is an album that is full of vim and vigour, sweetness and pragmatism. I wouldn’t classify it as Americana but it’s not traditional country or country rock or country pop. Perhaps we could call it Jim Lauderdale style, because Lauderdale has so much experience that he is able to synthethise a wealth of influences and create something that is identifiably country but also able to play with the genre in a way that both nods to the traditional and keeps the genre moving forwards.

The album has rich layers of musicality yet it’s clear these songs could be sung by Lauderdale sitting along on a barstool, guitar in hand, and they’d have the same impact. That’s also where his experience comes in: the construction of these songs is very tight, with nothing extraneous. The melodies are accessible, the lyrics are straightforward and the stories are relatable. As I’m fond of saying, a core element of country music is connection with the audience and Lauderdale has the art down pat. It’s not hard to imagine these songs emerging from the open window of a pick-up, being played in a bar or on a verandah on a lazy afternoon – or entertaining a festival crowd.

Simple song construction is actually not simple at all: it exists when the songwriter has learnt to edit him- or herself ruthlessly, to resist the urge to overexplain, to know enough to leave room for the listener to bring their own experiences and emotions into what they’re hearing. Simple (or simple-sounding) songs are the songs that resonate with the biggest range of people and which, therefore, can have the biggest impact. Country music folks are exemplars of this artform, and Jim Lauderdale is one of the best of those. This album is all the evidence you need.

London Southern is out now.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Interview: Nora Collins

This American singer-songwriter is an independent artist who has a new self-titled EP. Just as independent Australian country music artists are producing music of the best quality, Collins's EP is a highly professional affair of catchy country pop songs. Collins has opened for performers including Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Jana Kramer, Ashley Monroe, David Nail and Mo Pitney. The experience shows in this EP, which has the sound of a young performer who has the wisdom to choose the best work to present (an impulse sometimes not found early in a career) and do it well. I interviewed her via email.

You're relatively young but your music sounds like the work of someone who has found her place - so when did you start performing and writing songs?
I started writing songs when I was 14. I knew four chords on guitar and taught myself how to play by writing songs. I started playing out when I was 15. My first gig was at an art fair in Dousman, WI. Then, I was hired to be a musician at Potbelly Sandwich Works. I’d play every Friday and Saturday night at the two locations in my hometown. It was a great way for me to gain experience and was how I got a lot of other performance opportunities. 

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote
I do! The first song I wrote was called 'Everytime'. I wrote it the summer I was going into high school. I remember being so bored one summer day that I decided to pick up the guitar that was collecting dust in the corner of my room. I took guitar lessons for a summer when I was in elementary school but I only remembered how to play four chords. I just kept playing that progression over and over again and the words to my first song just poured out!

You've already released several albums on your own - what has been the best thing about being an independent artist and what has been the hardest?
The best thing about being an independent artist is having the ability to release new music whenever I want to! The hardest part is finding outlets for the new music to be heard on a larger scale.

Have your musical inspirations changed with time? Who are you inspired by at the moment?
Yes, my inspirations have definitely changed over time. When I was younger I was really influenced by Shania Twain. In high school, I had a guitar teacher who encouraged me to listen to Patsy Cline, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. These all big inspirations to me and influenced my writing. At the moment, I’m inspired by Miranda Lambert. She recently released a double album with songs that share her very personal experiences. Her honesty inspires me.
Has country music always been the genre you love?            
I grew up listening to all genres but country music has always had a special place in my heart. One of my first concerts was Shania Twain. I think the reason why I connect to country music so much and why I love it so much is because every song tells a story. Being a songwriter, I love a good, emotional and honest story. That’s why I’m drawn to country music.

You've supported a lot of artists already - is there a venue you haven't played that you'd love to, or a particular bill you'd really love to be on?
Being from Milwaukee, WI a dream venue for me would be to open for a headlining act during Summerfest (the world’s largest music festival) in the Marcus Amphitheater and also at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. That would just be so cool for me because I grew up going to see all of my favorite artists play those venues. Also, a goal and dream of mine is to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. That’s definitely on the bucket list!

What are you working on right now?
Right now I am writing a lot for my next project! I’m very excited about the new songs I am writing. I feel like I’m growing a lot as a songwriter so I’m looking forward to sharing these songs with people! I’ve also got some fun shows coming up this summer! On May 20th I’ll be opening for Easton Corbin at the Gobbler Theater in Johnson Creek, WI. For a full list of my summer shows, check out my website: