Monday, December 18, 2017

Interview: Jonny Taylor

Western Australian singer-songwriter Jonny Taylor has spent the last few years touring Australia and winning fans all over the country. Now he has a new album, Dig Deep, that showcases his phenomenal voice and his great songwriting skill. He is set to win even more fans once he kicks off his next round of touring at the Tamworth Country Musical Festival in January. It was my pleasure to talk to him recently.

What music did you grow up listening to?
My brother was in a rock band and I pretty much grew up on his music, so I was on a diet of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, and all that sort of angsty grunge music. Then in my teenage years I went through a bit of a metal phase and a heavy prog-rock phase. Then I accidentally started going to country when I was in my mid-twenties.

So when you say ‘accidentally’ – did you trip and stumble over it one day by the roadside where it was lying down?
I literally did. I went into a competition called the Telstra Road to Tamworth. I got sent into this room – I thought I was going to a waiting room. It was this little room and there was a bottle of whiskey on a sink … It turned out to be James Blundell’s dressing room. I walked in and thought, This is the weirdest waiting room ever. So he walked in – I had no idea who he was – introduced himself, and he was really kind and really nice. I was telling my father-in-law about it and he said, ‘James Blundell’s a star – check out his music.’ And that’s how it started. I heard this James Blundell record called Amsterdam Breakfast and I thought that was pretty cool – there was lots of lyrical imagery, it just painted this perfect picture. So for the first time ever I discovered this new realm of songwriting with these lyrics where you make little movies in your mind, and I thought it was really cool.

What year was that?
That was 2012.

So that’s a fairly recent conversion. After you’d discovered James, what music did you listen to next?
Actually, I have to correct that – it was 2010 when I met James.

My conversion only pre-dates yours by a handful of years, so we’re both not lifelong country people.
It’s weird, isn’t it?

But for the same reasons – I think it’s the storytelling in song that really attracted me, so I really understand what you said about it.
Totally, and especially guys like James who write such … there’s actually a story worth telling in his lyrics. They’ve got  fair bit of substance. So from Blundell I think it just opened my mind – for the first time ever I wasn’t like a lot of the rock kids that were, like, ‘I hate country music!’ [laughs] I think I came across John Williamson next, and that blew my mind. And, again, I hated country music when I was a kid – I just thought it was so dorky. It took a while to accept it, actually, that I might like stuff.

I completely understand -  I was a rock person and a pop person and I didn’t think much of country music. It is kind of a mind-blowing thing, country, because it is such a rich genre and to an extent in Australia it is hiding in plain sight.
Absolutely – especially in WA, because we’ve only got one major country festival here, in February. So outside of that you have to go seeking it. There’s plenty of closet country fans out there.

After you started listening to more country music did you find amongst your peers or your friends, or your musical peers, that you were tempted to mention it, or did you keep it to yourself?
The funny things is I didn’t know it was happening – it just snuck up on me. Because I still love my rock music. I was appreciating that I was enjoying a bit of country music but I was still unaware that it was beginning to creep into my own music. And I recorded this little EP called Skin and Bones and showed it to a friend of mine. The first thing he says: ‘That’s country music, man!’ He just hated it. [Laughs] And that was the first time I thought, Wow, maybe it is. And I was in denial for years about the fact that it was part of me.

It certainly is now. On the record I can hear the lineage of rock and country, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve wedged them together – it feels like this is something that’s organically grown out of you. You obviously have this incredible voice and it’s a great rock voice but you have certainly turned it to country. So it seems as if they’ve both seeped into your marrow in a way.
Thank you, that’s really nice to hear you say that – and that’s why this record took four and a half years. When the last CD came out in 2013 I thought that I’d found a market there with the real heavy stories. I was trying to prove a point with every single song. Then with this second record I thought I’m just going to try to be more crafty about that and make music that’s fun and a bit more upbeat and rocky to play but can still have a bit more lyrical substance as well.

And it certainly has that. But I’m also interested in your voice: when did that voice emerge?
I don’t really know. When I was seventeen I had a couple of singing lessons and I had to give it up because I had a lock-jaw problem. I just couldn’t do any of these techniques. It wouldn’t have been until I was about 20 or 21 that I figured out I could sing a little bit.

I think ‘a little bit’ is understating it, just quietly.
[Laughs] It’s probably grown from that point. I was never comfortable with it. I would never have classed myself as a singer – I was always just a guitarist that could sing a little bit. So I’m a really late bloomer. I think a lot of that had to do with having a deep voice as well. I felt that it wasn’t a voice that I could use in everyday situations. I could only do baritone stuff and I found that really restrictive. There was a band called The Tea Party that I heard – I’m on strike from listening to them now, but when I first heard them it was the first time I heard a cool deep voice and I thought, Maybe there is a place for deep voices.

There aren’t that many around, actually.
No. And there’s a natural tendency to want to sing high and want to belt all the time, and I’m guilty of that myself, but there’s certainly a time to embrace the low stuff as well.

At what age did you pick up a guitar for the first time?
I remember dragging my dad’s acoustic around when I was a real little fella. But it wasn’t until I was 14, my parents gave me a classical guitar, and I was spewing – ‘Classical guitar! What’s this?’ Because I thought I was going to be a rock star. I didn’t say that to their faces, of course. So I accidentally just fell in love with this beautiful flamenco – this Spanish guitar style.

That’s a really solid grounding for anything you want to do after that, genre wise.
I would not change a thing about my musical upbringing.

Your grandparents might have been prescient – perhaps they looked at you and thought, This person could be a musician.
I think so. My grandma is a piano player and she played in the church for years – church organ lady. And I do remember playing at the piano a little bit with her. I never took it seriously but I could fumble around. So maybe she could see a bit of something that she wanted to encourage.

So when you turned to songwriting, what age was that and do you remember what your first song was about?
I do. I distinctly remember my first song was called ‘Mateesha’s Song’ and I wrote it for a girl that passed away when we were in Year Seven, final year of primary school. One of our classmates passed away – she had a chronic heart condition her whole life and we lost her, and we weren’t necessarily close but it hurt. It hurt real bad for all of us. And that was the first time I’d ever written a song. I guess that goes to show that what inspired me to do that was something that moved me so much, or really affected me.

And not the usual subject matter for first songs, which are often about lighter things or frivolous things. Obviously your storytelling instinct was pretty strong from the start.
I could never do the light-hearted stuff. I don’t know if I’m a miserable bugger or what it is, but I always tended to go hard. Go for stuff that really means something and is going to make people feel something. And sadly I think most of my songs are about serious stuff. With the last album I tried to raise social issues that I felt we needed to discuss with people. But the common theme at the end of all of it – and still in my songwriting now – is that we’re all in this together, we’re all going through stuff as humans, and it’s really nice if we can be there for each other and help each other through it.

When you’re in the country music genre, the audience will accept those more serious subjects because they are looking for substance. They’re looking to tap their toes, often, in time to it but they do want something meaty.
And that was exactly the key with Dig Deep. I just thought when I wrote this album that I wanted it to be something that’s got plenty of energy and sounds good if it’s on in the background, and doesn’t require you to sit down and focus on lyrics and think about it. I just wanted to have that element. If you want to listen, the substance is there. If you don’t want to listen then it will still feel good in the background.

When did you start writing the songs for this album?
I reckon pretty much after the last one came out, 2013. And I had a huge body of work written and partially recorded a couple of years ago, and then I just decided I didn’t like it, and scrapped it and started again.

That’s the sign of someone who’s constantly creative – you obviously trusted that there would be more songs coming. You didn’t think you had to clutch onto those songs because you may not have any more.
I had an epiphany. I’ve always really struggled with that, and even in the studio with the previous record I was a bit resistant to change of production things. I’d say, ‘Nope, this is how the songs are, that’s how they’re going to stay.’ And then I just got ruthless. I turned thirty and thought, You know what? I’ve written these songs intended for an audience, and I don’t want to do that – I want to just write an album that I’m going to be proud of for the rest of my life. So I just started from scratch.

As an artist that requires a bit of courage. It requires having the courage of your convictions – which is a trite phrase, but I think it’s a true one – but it’s also thinking, well, this is what I believe in. If you can be courageous and you can stick to what is right for your work, it does tend to find an audience but it does take that initial leap of thinking, I can do this and I know what I’m doing.
Totally, yes. And for me that leap came from a point where I got really stuck. I felt that I was hamstrung in my career, to an extent, and then I had this waking moment when I hit thirty and I thought, If I’m going to write a record, there’s a chance that it’s going to take off and there’s a chance that it’s going to fail. If it fails, I at least want it to be a record that I like personally.i

Did you record this album independently and then it went to Red Rebel Music, or how did that process work?
Yes, that’s correct. I had been hunting down a major record deal for a long time and came relatively close-ish once or twice, but I just kept forging ahead in the background anyway, because I knew that I couldn’t put my plans on hold waiting for a major deal to come through. So it was 90 per cent done by the time I presented it to Kaz. Which, in hindsight, was a really good way to go because I’d already kind of defined who I was an artist so then I could just say, ‘Well, if you like it, we can work together’. Because there is always that danger of being changed a little bit if you go with a major record deal.

They put money in and they want to have some influence accordingly, I guess.
Absolutely. And they’re entitled to do that if they’re investing all that cash. But I just hit that point where I thought, Bugger it – I’m just going to do this for me and see what comes from it organically.

In country music over the past few years there’s been quite a bit of independent recording going on. The albums are really high quality and there doesn’t’ seem to be a barrier to the music getting to the audience. I guess the traditional model of a record company is partly about distribution, but when you have an audience that will turn up to shows and turn up to festivals, as country music audiences do, you’ve got that direct channel to them, so that intermediary isn’t as necessary.
I tend to agree. We’d all love to have the financial backing but it does come at a cost. And with the way things in the world today, with the internet and everything, it’s so much easier to get the job done without depending on somebody else being behind you. Having said that, I’ve loved having the support of Red Rebel Music. The whole dynamic of my career has shifted since having them on board.

That’s obviously a meeting of the minds.
I think so. Very similar musical influences as well. Kaz didn’t come from a country background. We’ve got very similar tastes in music, actually, so it’s really comforting to know that she likes the album as it is and doesn’t want it to be more country or less country or whatever.

And she’s also got James Blundell on the roster, so that seems like it’s fated.
Isn’t it weird, how it’s come around full circle? It’s beautiful.

Just looking at some of the songs on the album – I’m looking at some of your track-by-track notes. ‘Get It Back – you mention that it’s about making mistakes and learning from them. Is there a mistake you’ve made that turned out well?
I reckon almost every one. I couldn’t give you a specific scenario but I’m a big believer in the old ‘everything happens for a reason’. And I really do. I’ve made some decisions that have had terrible, destructive impacts on my life and I’ve learned massive lessons from every one of them, and they’ve been awesome lessons.

And that’s a very good philosophy to have, because the you don’t get caught up in the mire.
That’s it. And I do still reflect a lot. I can’t live with no regrets – I always think about those sorts of things -but onwards and upwards, as they say.

‘Diamonds’ is about some tests in life. Has music ever tested you?
Oh-ho-ho boy [laughs]. Every waking second is just a mission. Anyone that’s creative questions every element of what they’re doing. And I’m like that, real bad.

So, therefore, it’s polishing the diamond – or cutting away to get to the diamond – constantly and never believing that the diamond is completely polished.
That’s kind of it, yeah [laughs]. That song in particular is about life just never going according to plan, and you don’t have a choice but to get on with it.

As you’ve done – and, as you said, learnt from your mistakes, so I can see how this album is a really good representation of lots of different facets of         you. One of which is the three years you spent touring Australia, which you talk about in ‘You Are My Home’. What prompted the three years of touring?
We [Jonny and his wife] basically went to Tamworth. We’d just built a house in Mandurah, about an hour south of Perth, and we went to Tamworth and leased the house out for a short period of time and did a little bit of a tour. Then we had a call from the property manager saying, ‘Your tenant wants to stay on’, I think for a six- or twelve-month lease. Nicole and I just looked at each other and said, ‘All right, they can do that and we’ll just keep travelling.’ So that’s what we did. And I had no interest in travel whatsoever but this all happened really naturally, so we ran with it and turned into gypsies.

Were you playing around the place as you did that?
Yes. It funded our life for three years and we were very fortunate that Nicole wasn’t tied down by a full-time job at that time. She was able to do a little bit of remote contract work. And that was the really cool thing as well: I had to book the shows to make sure we could afford to stay alive, I guess. So that led to awesome relationships with booking agents and venues, and then every year that I hit the road it just become easier and easier, because I had all these great contacts.

And word of mouth starts to spread about people, the more you play.
Totally, and that was the only way to sell records, really – to get out in front of people and try to dazzle them and hopefully talk them into spending fifteen bucks.

What do you love about playing live?
I think you live for those moments when people are responsive – where they’re actually sitting there enjoying the music, listening to the music. But the travel in general and getting to meet people and hear their stories, I find that really inspiring.

One of the great things about getting into towns is that people do turn up for shows and they do want to talk to you.
Yes, and the country towns especially. I don’t really do much in the capital cities at all. Most of the time I’m way out bush, and I live way out bush, so I’ve really responded to that kind of lifestyle. And you’re right, people will come out for that kind of entertainment and they will tell their stories – because those country folk don’t mind a chat. [Laughs]

And one of the lovely things about country music is that the artists stay behind after shows and the audience knows that. You guys give so much time to your audience. I can’t think of another genre where it’s done so consistently – where there is that exchange between artist and audience, so that the audience does feel really very much part of the music.
And we’re very accessible. That’s something I found really attractive when I first started in the country scene: how accessible people were and how generous they were with their time, with other artists and with the audience.

For my last question: what are you looking forward to in 2018? What are your plans?
I’m looking forward to a day off next year.

One day off? [Laughs]
Yes, just one – that’s all I want. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But basically I’m hitting the road. I’m doing Tamworth – I’ve got two weeks there, the pre-festival and the festival festival. I do most of my band shows exclusively with the Wests Group – Wests Leagues and Wests Diggers.

Very good venues.
They’ve changed my life, actually. So there’s that, and then after Tamworth I’ve got to shoot back to WA to do some shows with James Blundell.

Oh, how nice is that?
It’s awesome. It’d be nicer if he could come to WA when I’m actually in WA, though. I’ve literally got to fly home. But there’s no end date on the tour yet so I’m pretty much just going to keep driving until Nicole rings me and says, ‘You’ve got to come home.’

Well, it sounds like you’ve put everything in place: fantastic album, lots of experiences, good philosophical basis to your music and your life. So I hope everyone listens to this album and enjoys it as much as I have.
I hope so. I think the common theme in the whole record was just ‘try not to be too hard on yourself’.

And make the best of your life – that’s what I got out of it too.
That’s kind of it, and I’m pleased to hear that because the feedback I got from the last record was that it was too depressing, and I really didn’t want that to happen.

I didn’t think it was depressing at all. There’s a lot of honesty there but it’s not miserable honesty. It’s saying, ‘Here’s light, here’s dark, but in the end it’s what you make of it and try to make the best of it.’
Heyyy – it’s working!

Dig Deep is out now through Red Rebel Music/MGM Distribution.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Single release: 'Always' by Lucy Parle

Lucy Parle's name will likely be new to you, as it is to me - and that's because she's only 14 years old. But her new song, 'Always', is a heartfelt song that indicates that Parle is able to access a range of emotions for her work, and channel them into her writing and performance. Parle has a great country music voice, and that, combined with her obvious talent, is no doubt why she was crowned the winner of the Central Coast (NSW) Discovered Competition, with the prize including a songwriting workshop with Gina Jeffreys and the exciting opportunity to record with Rod McCormack at The Music Cellar Studio.

The accolades haven't stopped there: in November 2017, Parle attended the Australian Songwriters Association National Songwriting Awards night in Sydney. With thousands of entries received from across Australia in 13 categories, ‘Always’ took out 1st Place in the Youth Category.

Parle was one of only 25 students selected from across Australia to attend the intensive eight-day singer-songwriter course at the Academy of Country Music in Tamworth, where she was mentored by Golden Guitar award winning artists, including Lyn Bowtell, Roger Corbett, Ashleigh Dallas, Aleyce Simmonds, David Carter and Amber Lawrence.

That is unlikely to be Parle's only trip to Tamworth - if 'Always' is any indication, she will be gracing stages there for years to come.

Listen to 'Always' on Soundcloud.

Single release: 'See You Around' by I'm With Her

I was already a fan of American artist Sarah Jarosz when I found out about her new project, a band called I'm With Her that includes Sara Watkins and Aoife O'Donovan.

The women - who have several Grammy Awards and nine albums between them - had crossed paths over the years, but I’m With Her came together by happenstance for a performance at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Clearly they realised they were on to something special - and that can be heard in 'See You Around', the first single from their upcoming album of the same name.

To have three singer-songwriters and musicians of this calibre (Watkins plays fiddle and ukulele, Jarosz mandolin and banjo, and O'Donovan piano and synth, as well as each playing guitar) performing together is a rare treat - their harmonies alone are magical, but in this one song their years of craft are also evident. It's not a foregone conclusion that three solo performers can blend this well together - after years of working alone, melding with others can't be easy. What is required is, often, a sense of serving a greater purpose in the music that you're making together. The members of I'm With Her have come together to create something beautiful. And that's just one song. The album is sure to be an event.

Watch a live performance of 'See You Around' below.

See You Around is out 16 February 2018.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Single release: 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' by Kora Naughton

Kora Naughton is sixteen years old but her music sounds like it's made by someone with a lot more life experience - and, no doubt, that is because Kora has already had a fair bit going on in her life.

In 2015, Kora found out that due to a serious spinal cord condition, she would have to give up her passion of cheerleading - a sport she had loved since she was seven years old. The condition resulted in two surgeries in twelve months and it was during this time that she turned to music. Kora taught herself to play guitar, sing and write songs.
In January 2017 Kora attended her first Tamworth Country Music Festival, where she busked for ten days and decided that country music was her path. She then applied for and was accepted into the CMAA Junior Academy of Country Music. Part of the application process was creating a recording of her original music, leading to her first single, 'Wrong'. The track hit airplay charts all around Australia including #7 on the Australian Country Radio Top 10, #40 on Country Tracks Top 40 and #3 on My Country Australia's Top 40.

In August 2017, Kora was named a Finalist in the Today's Country 94.1's Brand New Star Competition and in October, she was crowned the Southern Stars Rising Female Artist at the Mildura Independent Country Music Festival.

Kora's second single is 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up' and although its title sounds like the sort of thing a teenager might say, the tone of the song is serious, and delivered beautifully by Kora. 

You can find the single at CD Baby:

Album news: The Western Saloon's Christmas Mix Tape

The Western Saloon is Western Australia's home of alt-country and Americana music - and Christmas has come early for country music fans, with the release of a very special Christmas Mix Tape featuring some of The Western Saloon's most festive performers.

Tracks include:
'Mele Kalikimaka' by Simone and Girlfunkle
'Silent Night' by J.A. Rogers
'So This Is Xmas' by the Lindsay Drive Choir
'Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas' by The Little Lord Street Band
'White Christmas' by Michael Savage
'Family of Friends' by Coyote Sands and Francis Midnight
'Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant' by Wayward Johnson
'Santa Baby' by Delilah Rose & the Gunslingers

Proceeds from the Mix Tape benefit Pia's Place, a fully accessible, inclusive playground in Perth's Whiteman Park.

Delilah from The Western Saloon kindly answered a handful of questions about the project:

When did the Western Saloon come into being?
The Western Saloon is the brain child of Natasha Shanks from The Little Lord Street Band.

When did the idea for this EP first come about?
I LOVE Christmas carols and it’s been a dream of mine to put out a Christmas EP for a couple of years now. After finding a kindred spirit in Michael Savage, and a few other artists, we thought we’d have a go at it!

How did you come to choose Pia's Place to be the recipient of proceeds?
We were on the hunt for an appropriate charity to team up with when Pia’s Place came into our periphery through a friend and the fit was right! Sometimes things just happen that way.

Out of the artists on the EP, who is naughtiest and who is nicest? 
Wayward Johnson is definitely the naughtiest, Chinese-eating cat in town with Simone and Girlffunkle being the most nicest, hip-shaking, Hawaiian hunnies you’ve ever heard!

Buy the EP:
Learn more about Pia’s Place: 
Facebook event:

Interview: Michael Rose

Australian singer-songwriter Michael Rose first played to audiences in the pub-rock scene in the 1970s. He took a break for a few years and has re-emerged with Give Back the Night, an album of very personal songs that can sometimes be confronting because they're so emotional. But that's all part of his drive to be honest in his music, and to connect with listeners, and the experience of listening to this album is one of being allowed into someone's most private thoughts - you don't know what to expect, and you may be discomfited by some of what you hear, but it's a rare experience and a gift to the listener. It was a real pleasure talking to Michael recently about this album.

What did you grow up listening to and what do you listen to now?
I grew up listening to anything and everything. And that sounds like I’m trying to avoid the question!

No, not at all.
It would have been from The Who, early days, to Paul Williams, ‘Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song’, the Stylistics right through to Focus. Then these days back towards one of my great Australian loves, Graeme Connors, and his Road Less Travelled album was a bit of a watershed for me back when it was released because it felt like I was in the wilderness, but when I heard that I went, Ooh, it’s possible. I love his stuff. And today I don’t really get time to sit and listen to much, to be brutally honest. We own three cafes in Yass, Goulburn and Mittagong here in New South Wales. Running those, recording with my good friend Herm Kovac and everything else that goes with it, no, I don’t listen to much these days. [But] I grew up listening to everything – whatever was good music. My favourite, of course, was Rodgers and Hammerstein as a kid.

Very well-composed songs, and songs that were for entertainment.
Very, very well-composed songs. I listen to that and think, Geez, who am I pretending to be? [laughs] They’re very good. [I had] a very diverse background. Rock ’n’ roll – I think I was in a band that was one of the first to play Black Sabbath in Australia, back in the day. And then you go from that to listening to Paul Williams, with his lines ‘If I can make you cry just by holding you, that’s enough for me’.

When it came to forming your own sound – and I know that you had a previous pub-rock existence – is that something that’s organically developed over time, or do you feel that there’s one influence or a few influences that are stronger than others?
No, I think it’s just organic. The one thing that has always been a dilemma in my life, and a positive, is that it’s very difficult to stay true to what you are, to not try to diversify and go away from what you think is right but to copy another genre. And I’ve stayed at that and been like that for years and years and years – hence, maybe, there’s no success [laughs]. The old story. But that’s the joy of what I’ve done with Herm [on the new album] – I’ve stuck to what I did. I dropped six songs off to Herm, who’s been a mate for many, many years. I said, ‘Mate, I’d just to record a couple of songs for the kids’, who are now young adults, so that they knew that Dad really wasn’t fibbing all the time about what he did [laughs] and who he met and who he knew and all those sorts of things. Anyway, so I dropped the songs off to him and he rang me the next day and said, ‘Well, where’s the rest, mate?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘But haven’t you got heaps yet?’ I said, ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘These have developed beautifully – let’s do an album’. Give Back the Night is the consequence of that. Those songs range from … ‘I Heard a Voice’ I wrote in my parents’ bathroom – best acoustics in town – when I was probably twenty, twenty-one. One of the songs was written a year ago because of an incident we had in business. To be brutally honest, it’s very nice to finally have something that I’m really, really comfortable with, because it is me. It’s not someone I’m trying to be. And I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to do that, either through feelings of inadequacy or ‘I want to be this’ or ‘I want to be that’. Now I’m very content in my own skin. It’s a nice place to be.

It’s the best place to be as a creator because you’re coming from an authentic pace and audiences tend to recognise that.
I hope so. I’ve had a couple of people say to me about ‘Fat Little Boy’ that they got a little misty when they heard it – that’s what it’s about, that’s why I stick to what I do. Whether any success ever comes of it is irrelevant – I haven’t chased it for the kudos, I’ve chased it for the idea that I’d like to play my music and my songs and see if somebody actually likes it. And if they don’t, fine, I’ve worn that for many, many years. I’m quite comfortable with that too [laughs]. That happens in every life – it doesn’t have to be music, it can be in any career, in any place in life where you have aspirations and dreams and goals. You turn round and you go, ‘I’ve either got to remain true to who I am or I have to change.’ A lot of people change things to chase things, and I think that would be even more heartbreaking. For me, being able to say this time, looking from my hill here, going, ‘Well, I’m a failure’ … [laughs]

If the definition of success is material success and you’re changing what you do so you can fit into a vertical idea of what things are then, yes, you might have material success but if you look back on the work, or if that person looks back on the work, are they proud of it?
That’s a very good saying – ‘vertical’. I love it! You hit the nail on the head. How do you judge that? And I can’t talk for everyone else, it’s just for me. Those moments in my life when I’ve felt the most desperate and the most … the feelings of failure have been the ones when I actually did stick to what I thought and you put it out there … I’ve had producers in the past say to me – one in particular, who I won’t mention, said, ‘Your voice is terrible, mate.’ And you go, ‘Oh, okay, well, you’ve just produced how many hits? Okay. Right. I’ll just quietly go away. No drama.’ And those sorts of things, they do affect you, but in the end I couldn’t be anyone else but me, and I’m sure you can’t be anyone else but young Sophie. [laughs]

It’s such a subjective thing, too, to say, ‘I don’t like your voice.’ If you’re singing off key, that’s one thing – but you don’t sing off key. So from an objective definition it’s not a terrible voice.
But that’s the industry we’re in. It is subjective, and that’s fine – you’ve got to understand that.

I don’t watch The Voice often but every now and again I catch wind of what’s going on, and I know there’s been the occasional country music artist on it who hasn’t gone very far – people who already have careers. It really shows that difference between focusing on just the voice and trying to make that slot into something, and then the artist who is separate.
I have an inkling who you’re talking about.

Lyn Bowtell, yes.
Lyn won Star Maker back when – 1990-whatever it was. And a recent song I heard of hers – it was beautiful. I thought, That’s really cool, Lyn – you’ve got a beautiful voice. And a little bit of envy – a little bit of green monster comes up and you go, ‘Bugger, how come you wrote that?’ But we all have that. But if you’re chasing the fame and the glory for the sake of the fame and the glory, you tend to fall on your face. Maybe I could be wrong. Lots of people have achieved lots of things in life with not doing that. But at my ripe old age, I look back at it all … I sound like my father. I look back at all this stuff and think it’s got to count for something. I am a happy person. I have a great business and wife and kids, and we all have our ups and downs, but it’s so nice to get to this stage where the things I’ve written and the stories that I’ve told – and it’s basically my life written down in Give Back the Night. Episodes from when I was twenty and being an idiot and questioning myself, and all those sorts of doubts. They’re here, they’re out there and I’m really comfortable with it.

You talked about the songwriting, and I do have some questions about that. You mentioned ‘Fat Little Boy’, and when I listened to it I thought that it’s so rare to hear something expressed so baldly. That emotion, that experience, often metaphors are used to skirt around it and you just came out and said it. And it’s not the only personal song, of course, on the album. There’s the emotion in writing the song, and then the emotion in recording the song – what is it like to try to bring that up in the studio when you might be doing several takes? How difficult is it to access that emotion?
It’s funny, when I wrote the songs – and there’s one in particular we’re putting on the next album – I wrote them because of that emotion, and you either come up with a couple of chords or whatever and suddenly the words start pouring out. It was easy doing it in the studio with Herm. The emotion was still there. And with Michael Carne and a couple of the other kids – blokes I know … I call them kids because they’re younger than me. But everyone is [laughs]. They said, ‘That’s really harsh.’ And I said, ‘Well, it happened.’ And it does happen. It’s life. The one thing I’d like to get across with ‘Give Back the Night’, the song, that was done because I felt guilty about something someone said to me. The story goes that a beautiful, bouncing lady – she was gorgeous – somebody said to me, ‘You see her? She’s good looking.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, she’s very attractive’. And this person said, ‘He beats the shit out of her.’ And you go, ‘Oh, oh – what have I done? What do I do?’ This was twenty-odd years ago. I went home and started writing that song. The fear of being … she must be suppressing that feeling all day to be bright and bubbly. And then knowing a misplaced word or action ends up in … and that’s where that song came from. That emotion came through in the studio and everyone was involved in it, which was really tickling for me too. Everyone that was involved in the production of it and finishing it off all said the same sorts of things. Even when we did the film clip with Duncan Toombs. I was standing on – I think it’s Elephant Rock, on the other side of Gosford from Pittwater in Sydney, and I walked down the hill – we’d done all the filming up on the rock, and they were all singing it. I was back down on the road listening to this, thinking, That’s really cool. If nothing ever happens, they’re into it, they’ve felt that emotion that’s come out of it. Something’s gelled But that comes back to the same thing: it’s not contrived, it’s real. When they hear me singing it, or when Herm hears the song, he puts into it what he puts into it, the other guys put into it what they are, and I think that makes the process easier.

When you are writing songs from that authentic place, so often there must be a temptation almost to censor yourself or edit yourself. I imagine there’s a process whereby you’re thinking, People are going to hear this – what are they going to think? And that’s a normal thing. But it seems like you didn’t censor yourself and there’s really sense of open heartedness in the songs.
And, to be honest, it’s actually bounced back and bitten me with one of the songs in there. Somebody said to me, ‘How dare you write that. Nobody ever knew that.’ And I said, ‘Hang on – it happened, it’s real. I didn’t do it. It’s real. It’s part of my life. But that’s it – that’s what this person thought of me back in those days.’ But it’s one of those things where you go, ‘If the honesty’s not there, what else have I got to build on? And if I lie about it – not being a very good liar – I’ll probably trip myself up.’ [laughs]

And it’s hard to perform those songs if you’re lying, because the voice is a reflection of what’s going on inside, and if you’re feeling blocked then it doesn’t come out.
Yes. You’ve nailed it [laughs].

Listening to your album was almost like eavesdropping on your thoughts, and that’s an unusual sensation. It felt like a privilege, actually.
I find that very flattering, thank you. That’s a really nice sentiment. And you’re more than welcome to eavesdrop on my thoughts. Everyone is. Because I can’t hide who I am. I keep telling my kids: you have to be honest and straight to who you are. Yes, we all fib at times and life’s not always the straight and narrow, and you won’t get what you think you deserve sometimes, and sometimes it can be wonderful. But unless you get out of bed in the morning and have a go at it, and keep a smile on your face, doing those sorts of things and be honest and candid about it, you carry around an awful big suitcase, don’t you?

You do, and it gets exhausting.
Very. I had enough trouble being overweight – I don’t need any other suitcases [laughs].

Obviously part of this process is bringing your songs to an audience, but given you have all those businesses, do you have much time to play gigs?
Yes, I do. It’s been wonderful. My wife and kids are all part of the business. I have four daughters and they’re partners, running the shops with my wife. And my wife is a terribly strong woman. She’s the one doing overarm in the pool and I’m the little fella behind doing dog paddle, trying to keep up – and happily so. It’s been a wonderful relationship. And with all of this [the album], they’ve all gone ‘Dad, this is fantastic, you do what you’re going to do.’ So we’re looking to do some gigs in the new year ... You make the time. And life has given me now that space. I’ve spent those few years working really hard. My dear wife said to me, ‘You’ve got to chase this. You love it and that’s what you’ve wanted to do all your life.’

And one of your daughters sang on the album as well, didn’t she?
Yes, my third daughter, Alison. We wanted to have a representative female – I know that sounds condescending, but it’s not. At the end of ‘Give Back the Night’ I wanted an uplifting female voice in there and I said, ‘Do you want to have a sing of this?’ and [Alison] said, ‘Oh Dad, I’ve never sung behind a microphone before.’ So we took her up and Herm was wonderful. And out of my young daughter’s mouth came this wonderful voice – no autotune, no prompting. I said, ‘Alison, I’ll be supporting you! [laughs] As long as you make lots of money and pass it down!’

Or you can be her roadie.
Oh, thanks. No, I’m too old for that! I’ll need to have a walking frame.

Give Back the Night is out now.