Since winning the Telstra Road to Tamworth in 2008, Jasmine Rae has become one of Australia’s most popular country music artists. Her debut album, Look it Up, was #3 on the ARIA Australian Artists Country Album chart and #20 in the overall ARIA charts, as well as being nominated for Best Country Albums at the ARIAs in 2009. Her latest album, Listen Here, has reached #1 on the ARIA Country chart and #5 in the overall chart. It has spawned the popular singles ‘I’ll Try Anything’ (with Joe Nichols), ‘I Faked It’ and ‘Hunky Country Boys’. The latest single is ‘Let it Be Me’ – to mark its release and on the eve of the 2011 ARIA Awards, for which she’s received another album nomination, we spoke to Jasmine and found an intelligent and grounded young woman who doesn’t take any of her success – or her fans – for granted.
One of the reasons for this interview is your single ‘Let it Be Me’ so can you tell us about the song and why you chose it for the album?
For this particular album I made a point of writing a whole lot more of the material on there. I had lots more songs to put on there and this particular song was written by Molly Reed and Nicolle Galyon but I fell in love with it. I loved it so much I pushed out songs that I wrote for the album just to put this one on there because it just says it so simply but it says it so beautifully. And it’s a little bit different from what I would normally perform, because normally I would write and perform songs that are edgy and more uptempo, and even if it’s a ballad then it might be a little bit sad, but this song is just very lovely and hopeful and I just wanted to put something out there that’s a little bit different and quite vulnerable.
It is a bit sadder sounding than other songs on the album but you have that kind of deep voice – and by that I don’t mean in a lower register, but that your voice sounds like it’s coming from a place deep within you, so there’s that ability to be sad or to sound a little bit melancholy or wistful but also be a bit more raucous. Has that voice always been there or is it a recent thing?
I’ve been writing poetry and songs since I was a little girl so I started off writing more poetic and, I suppose, metaphorical songs – I didn’t usually write songs that were so straight to the point. It’s since I’ve been touring around and performing that I’ve learned to love and learned to write songs that are more uptempo and really fun to do live with the band. But it was first that I was singing ballads and really strong lyrical songs, so it’s really nice to put that back in with what I’m doing and have it all kind of connect together, so you don’t have to just be a singer who sings just really party songs, you can be both, and I like that a lot.
Well, maybe you could do more ballads on your next album, because they’re very nice!
Oh, thank you. There were some extra tracks – a track called ‘Already Broken’ that I wrote with Sheree Austin that ended up being a bonus track for this album, and whenever you bought the ‘Hunky Country Boys’ single, it came with that. So there’s been quite a few ballads for this album that were ready to go and they were great, but I had to pick between them and I picked ‘Let it Be Me’ because it’s just such a beautiful song.
What happens to those other songs that don’t get chosen? Do they see the light of day on the next album or the album after that, or are they just gone?
It just really depends, and that’s kind of the hard thing about it. When you’re writing you hope that it’s going to get onto the album. There’s a secret track on this album that I actually wrote a very long time ago, called ‘Love is No Cure’, and I didn’t even sing it with music, I just wanted to tie it in with this album. But sometimes your songs can be sung by other people, or you can sing them a few years down the track, or it can just be a song that you sing live at your shows. But when they’re songs that you love you try to work them in with your other pieces of work, because you don’t want it to just be wasted.
A lot of people who go to see music live regularly probably wonder how singers like you who have songs that you have to put in every set list don’t get bored singing the same thing. So do you ever think, ‘Oh no, not that again’?
I got a little bit like that with ‘Country Singer’, but now the audience sings along with me, and I wrote that song on my own many years ago and then you can never really get bored, when they’re singing along and it’s something that you wrote, it’s actually like ‘I really love singing this song now’. It takes it to a different level. And every time you work with a new band or a new player, you kind of just mix up a different song in there. So I don’t really get bored too easily because I just find something else that’s really cool about the situation.
You’re nominated for an ARIA in the Country Music category for Listen Here and you were also nominated for your first album, so I was wondering if that means you’re less nervous this time around.
It does. Last year, to be honest, I was so scared, because it was very quick – I’d only just released the first album, and it was the next year but we had just finished touring it and it seemed like I wasn’t ready to make the new one, and [I was thinking] ‘Does this mean this is the closing chapter of the first album?’ and then ‘Oh my god, what if I win? I’m going to have to talk on TV!’ and all this stuff, and ‘Now I have to find a dress!’ And it was just so very scary, and I loved it but I was so scared. This time around, because this Listen Here album has been a long time coming – it’s been two years that I’ve been working on it – sifting through [songs] and only the cream of the crop got onto this album song-wise, and working with Mark Moffatt, and it’s one I’m really proud of, so when I found out I was nominated I wasn’t expecting it at all but I’m more excited this time, to celebrate something – just to be nominated is really good. And I’ve got the dress beforehand!
Are you performing on the night?
No, not this time – I would have loved to, but no. The only time I’ll be seen is on the red carpet, so hopefully I won’t fall over – fingers crossed – and if I win.
It’s a competitive category – you have some stiff competition – but it’s a worthy nomination.
Oh, thank you. Kasey Chambers is also nominated and she’s someone I’ve been listening to since grade six. I’ve loved Kasey Chambers from The Captain, so to be nominated alongside her … She wasn’t nominated last year because she didn’t have an album out, so it’s very, very exciting for me. I’m going to write a speech anyway, just in case, and someone said to write something ridiculous so it’s then kind of good luck, because then, when you write something ridiculous that you’d be too embarrassed to say, you always then end up having to say it. You know, ‘Bippity boppity boo, I won an ARIA – woo!’
I’m intrigued that you were listening to Kasey Chambers in sixth grade, because country music is usually not what a lot of primary school kids listen to, so have you been listening to it for a while?
Yeah, I have. I live in the suburbs of Melbourne – I don’t live in the country at all –so I was the only kid, really, who listened to country music in primary school – and high school. So it’s always been something that I just love. I’ve listened to Dolly Parton since I was a little girl. I’m actually going to see her tonight. I’m so excited. I’ve never seen her live in concert. I know almost every song she’s ever put out. Even to people who aren’t musicians she’s just an awesome inspiration, just in her strength.
And she’s hilarious.
I know! And she’s little. And I love that, because I’m little.
I read some interviews making a bit of the fact that you’re little, and now you’ve mentioned it – is it something you’re conscious of? Well, Joe Nichols is massively tall by the look of him in your video [for ‘I’ll Try Anything’].
He’s actually not super, super tall – just really, really tall next to me! Growing up I was never really conscious of it. I’m more conscious of it now because so many country music artists are really tall. Brooks & Dunn are six-foot-four or something, and McAlister Kemp I perform with often and they’re the same – they’re so tall. So I notice it more now – I love it, it’s good. Finding clothes, you have to hack off the bottom so you make a headband that’s the same as the dress. I trip over less, because I have a lower centre of gravity. It’s good, I enjoy it – you can’t change it so you’d better like it, hey?
Looking back over the sales of your albums and where you’ve charted, and you’ve done a lot of touring – from your perspective have you seen the sales and the sizes of your audiences growing the more you’re out on the road and connecting with people?
Yes, I have. When I started – and I still feel like my audience could grow, that would be amazing – but when I first started I thought, ‘I’m not from the country, maybe these audiences are not going to like me’. And when I find them pouring in – you know, when I’m at the Gympie Muster and they’re just pouring in to watch me sing my songs and to sing along with me … Country music audiences are just amazing. They really do make you feel like you’re a success. I have no idea whether that means I actually am, but I feel like a success when they’re singing my stuff with me. It’s just so cool.
Country music artists seem to really appreciate the connection with the audience – it is part of the show almost – you stay behind afterwards, you sign things, you talk to people.
And when I get home I jump on Facebook to see what everyone thought of the show and before I go I jump on see if there are any last-minute requests before I go on stage. So it is very much a community and it makes you feel like you belong. It sounds a bit cheesy, doesn’t it? But I love it.
Not at all – I think that’s part of its strength. Given the nature of country music and how big Australia is and how many places you go to, what is the most isolated place you’ve ever played?
Because I’ve been over to East Timor …
You can talk about that too!
Hmmm … There have been a few places. I’ve been to Bunyip in WA, which is quite out of the way. My favourite venue is in Kuranda in Queensland, near Cairns, and it is kind of out of the way because you have to go up into a rainforest and it’s an outdoor amphitheatre in a rainforest. It is the coolest venue. But I’d like to get more remote. I’d like to go to the middle of Australia. Lee Kernaghan – I’ve travelled with him, and he did a lot of rural areas, but I’d like to do a whole lot more.
I think Troy Cassar-Daley gets out into a lot of remote communities, so maybe the three of you should do a tour …
That would be really awesome, to do that.
You live in Melbourne, so what’s the country music scene like there?
It’s growing slowly – or maybe my eyes are now more open to other people who like it, instead of just feeling like I was the only one. But it’s harder in Melbourne, to play country music – they’re slowly converting to it, but it takes a little while. The music industry’s really strong here – it’s got hip-hop and rock and funk, and country music is slowly growing, but it has been a bit of a struggle.
A lot of people in cities watch CMC, so there are people who like it – hopefully there will be more gigs for them.
This year we played Rod Laver Arena with Alan Jackson and the Forum with Joe Nichols and it was packed out, but it’s not as many gigs as I’d like.
Jasmine, thanks so much for your time – and good luck at the ARIAs on the weekend.
Thank you so much.
Jasmine’s official website is www.jasminerae.com.au