My affection for the McClymonts has been documented elsewhere on this blog, so I was thrilled when I recently had the chance to interview Samantha McClymont about the band’s upcoming Australian tour in support of their new album, When Worlds Collide. The band was in Nashville at the time and at the time of writing they’re still in the United States of America.
I’m happy to report that Samantha was just as delightful as I thought she would be. The interview is split into two parts – this is the first – and tour dates appear at the end. I cannot recommend highly or strongly enough that you go to a McClymonts show – they are the great entertainers, seemingly incapable of putting on a show when they are not giving their audience an experience they won’t forget.
How’s Nashville going?
It’s been amazing. We had the big CMA [Country Music Association] week last week, so that was kind of really busy with all of that. We had a big booth in the Convention Centre and would do signings every day and then we also had a big show out the front of the Bridgestone Arena, so everyone who was downtown would stop and watch, and so many Aussies were there, which was pretty fun and pretty cool. But – yeah, really crazy, big week and now we’re just settling into the touring, we’re going out on the road now and just doing a big tour.
Because I pre-ordered your new album it came with a DVD, on your road to Nashville, and it highlighted the hard slog, I guess, of trying to get noticed in a market as big as the US. But I would have thought you guys were a natural fit for that market. So are you finding more and more larger audiences and more and more people knowing about you?
Yeah. It just takes time. America is so big and there are so many markets to hit over here and people do sometimes change, whether it’s from north to south, and where you travel. So we haven’t had as much radio support as we would have liked; it’s a bit slower than what we would have liked. So it’s just slow and steady and we’re kind of creating, I guess, an underground following at the moment, by going out and touring and getting people’s attention that way, doing all the live work.
It does surprise me that radio doesn’t love you – but anyway, that’s their business.
I think it just takes a while, really. I think they play, generally, 25 songs in rotation. So as a new artist, [you’re] just trying to break through the Tim McGraws and the Faith Hills and the Kenny Chesneys and get them to play your songs.
Right, of course. I’m now going to ask you a question about your bass playing because, having seen you play live, I know you play with your fingers rather than with a pick, so I’m wondering if you’ve always been a finger-playing bass player?
I have. I haven’t moved on to the pick, the plectrum. I think with country, the sound is nicer with your fingers. It’s just the sound, it’s just completely different with a pick, and I think what we do, it just sounds a bit nicer. I know on a few of our records we’ve had double bass come in and be played, but I haven’t taken the risk and gone out and tried to to play that yet.
I think that would be quite hard to tour with.
I already get enough excess baggages as it is, with my bass. So the double bass would be a lot more.
With the three of you playing different instruments, was that a conscious choice? Like Brooke takes guitar, you take bass, Mollie takes mandolin – or it just kind of fell that way as you were growing up?
It just fell that way because Brooke had always just played acoustic guitar, so that was what she was always naturally going to play and wanted to play. Mollie and I had always dabbled in a few instruments, like acoustic, and she’d play kind of a few instruments and I’d picked up bass for a little bit. And then we got the Lee Kernaghan tour back in 2006 and we realised that we had to be our own band. So we kind of just dusted off those instruments and started playing them again, and now I wish I did play the mandolin because Mollie can just throw that on her back and go anywhere and it’s so easy, and I’m trying to cart this bass guitar around which doesn’t fit in any rent-a-cars and it’s quite painful. So, yeah, if I had my time again, maybe the mandolin.
Or even a ukulele, maybe.
Maybe. Something small.
I’m really interested in your songwriting process as a band, because I think on the first album, Brooke wrote most of the material, and then the second one, there were a few co-writers introduced, and with this one, it seems – even though there’s some co-writers, it seems more evenly spread between the three McClymonts. Is it a fairly organic process for each song or do you divvy up the duties?
Well, we never really sit down and go, okay, we want to write all the songs or we want to do this or we want to do that. A year or so out from making a record, we just start writing and whether that’s with someone or with the three of us or just setting up a point where it’s kind of natural just to go write, and then it happens that the songs we liked were with certain writers or just the three of us – all that kind of thing. Obviously there was a connection to certain people when we wrote, because that comes out, that’s what songs we like the most. So we wrote with certain people who got what we were about, maybe a bit more than others, and that’s why we kind of went towards those songs, I guess. But we write a lot and with a lot of different people, because you never know what’s going to end up on the record at the end of the day.
And I always think it must be such a challenge when you’re at a point, like you guys are, where you’re touring a huge amount, to have even the mental space to write, let alone the physical time to write. So do you tend to just fit it in wherever you can?
We do and we make sure it’s so we aren’t going too crazy. If we’re out touring, we probably won’t write because we’ve got so much to focus on with gigs, and we always do meet-and-greets and rehearsals and soundchecks, so the day is kind of gone before you know it. So it’s generally when we come home and we know we’ve got a few days off or there’s a week off or some kind of gap, that’s when we all kind of sit down and do it.
And one thing I find interesting about your live shows – and I have seen a few of them, because, as I always tell friends it’s a guaranteed good time, seeing the McClymonts.
Well, I’ve never seen you do a dud show. But what really interests me about the live show is that, touring clubs and with the set-up you have, with the three of you at the front and you perform every night, you don’t ever come out with a frown or anything. So it would take a lot of energy. And it would be tempting to have a set show, I would think, like, ‘Here is the set list, we do the same thing every night’, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you play the same set list twice.
Really? Well, then you come probably once a year or something then, because we generally do kind of do a tour show. I’m glad that you haven’t been catching the same show. That’s kind of perfect, that’s how we like it. We were just sitting down today even, working out our next tour for August, when we go back on the road. So we were all sitting down today kind of throwing in – and the show will be completely different again and if you come along, you will see a different show because we’ll be playing, obviously, a lot of new songs off the record. So probably every six months we change up the show.
So you do get some hard-core fans who will come to maybe five shows or six shows during that time, so they might see the same sort of show. But the good thing about playing live is that every night is going to be different, no matter what – we kind of go with the flow and it might be that the conversation is different or we do throw in a random song every now and then because it’s been requested – which sometimes happens – and we go off the crowd as well. Sometimes it’s more energetic because the crowd want to dance and have fun, and sometimes it’s more mellow because they’re a listening crowd and we might throw in different songs there. So every show is going to be different, depending on how we feel, how the audience feel, just even if it’s a theatre, if it’s a club. So I think even if you do hear the same show, the feel is going to be different.
I tell people that I always see you guys smiling and I think you’re the only act, solo or band, that I’ve ever seen who consistently come out and just keep smiling and put on a show. And there must be some times when you’re just really tired. But do you find that having that upbeat attitude kind of lifts you for the show?
Absolutely. Well, people have been waiting to come to your show, sometimes for a really long time, and you want to give them a good show and show that you’re into it, and that’s what our show is about. All of our songs are very – I don’t know, I guess a lot of them are probably even very women-empowerment songs, I guess you could say, and strong songs, and that’s kind of the vibe we like to give off. And no one wants to come along and see a miserable artist up on stage – I mean, I don’t. I know some artists are all about that. But we’re not about that. So it’s really important to be energetic and fun and the thing is I guess we do go out there every night and are enjoying it and having a good time.
Therefore, it must be important for you to select your touring band so that they can fit in with that ethos, really. So do you have a hard time finding musicians who – not a hard time, but it must be hard to put a touring band together exactly the way you want it. Do you tend to just see people and keep them in mind for future reference, or do you deliberately audition musicians for the band?
Well, we’ve been pretty consistent the last couple of years now, we have the same band. Because once you find musicians that click with you, you don’t want them to go anywhere, because it is hard to come by in Australia. We’ve had the same drummer for probably four years and our keys, guitar and fiddle probably the last two years. So it generally only changes if they get other gigs that might be bigger and better. Or they’re working on solo projects a lot of the time, because a lot of these artists who play with us might want to do their own thing as well. But we’ve been really lucky to have a good, solid band stick by us for the last couple of years and it’s a lot of fun because then they know all your stuff, and you can progress to new stuff and you don’t have to go backwards. You can keep going forwards and building on your repertoire and your set, so it makes it a lot easier on all of us.
Part II of this interview will appear shortly.
Australian tour dates for the McClymonts
Thursday 23rd August 2012
Gympie Muster, Gympie QLD
Friday 24th August 2012
Twin Towns Services Club, Tweed Heads NSW
Friday 31st August 2012
Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, Nowra NSW
Saturday 1st September 2012
Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Thursday 6th September 2012
Panthers, Port Macquarie NSW
Friday 7th September 2012
C-ex Services Club, Coffs Harbour NSW
Saturday 8th September 2012
Club Forster, Forster NSW
Friday 14th September 2012
Lismore Workers Club, Lismore NSW
Saturday 15th September 2012
Toowoomba Empire Theatre, Toowoomba QLD
Friday 21st September 2012
Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane QLD
Saturday 22nd September 2012
Vikings, Erindale ACT
Friday 28th September 2012
Deniliquin Ute Muster, Deniliquin VIC
Saturday 29th September 2012
Evan Theatre, Penrith Panthers, Penrith NSW
Friday 5th October 2012
Newcastle Civic Theatre, Newcastle NSW
Friday 12th October 2012
The Palms at Crown, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 13th October 2012
The Palms at Crown, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 3rd November 2012
Mud, Bulls & Music, Jimna QLD
Sunday 4th – Sunday 11th November 2012
Cruisin’ Country – South Pacific Cruise