Since Shane Nicholson released his last solo album, Bad Machines, in March 2011 he has toured the country in support of the album, which won him the 2012 APRA Music Award for Country Work of the Year for the song ‘Famous Last Words’, as well as taking out first place in the Americana section of the International Songwriting Competition for ‘The Broken Things’.
In 2012, with Kasey Chambers he co-wrote and recorded produced Wreck & Ruin, which won the 2013 Golden Guitar for Group/Duo of the Year.
Producing other people’s albums has been taking up a fair bit of Shane’s time since then. From his Sound Hole studios have come a multiple award-winning album for Beccy Cole and a critically acclaimed album for the Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, amongst other projects, and Shane was awarded 2013 Australian Producer of the Year at the Golden Guitars, to go along with the award for Wreck & Ruin.
For those who, like me, are hopeful that Shane will release a new solo work of his own, there is good news: he’s working on one. In fact, as he said to Catherine Britt the other night on Saturday Night Country, he’s working on two. And while those projects are ongoing, he’ll play three dates in New South Wales which will be recorded for a live album. These will be Shane’s only live shows for the rest of the year.
Ahead of those dates, and in between performing the many different roles that make up his career, I was able to interview Shane by email. I’m not even going to pretend I wasn’t delighted to have the opportunity – as I’ve said elsewhere on this website, I believe that Shane is out of our most outstanding musical talents.
You have an extensive, and varied, catalogue of songs – how have you decided (or how will you decide) which ones to play for the upcoming shows, and therefore to go on the live album?
I always choose the songs that still speak to me in some way. They’re usually the ones that still mean the most to the audience, too.
I saw you play at Notes at Enmore (NSW) in 2011. The power went out about half an hour before the scheduled end of your show. I remember thinking that, rather than wondering what you were going to do, you looked almost relieved – like you were free. And you then seemed to abandon your set list and do some John Prine covers, amongst other things, and seemed to enjoy all of it for that last half-hour. Do you have a sense of performing what you ‘should’ play rather than what you’d really love to play? (I also saw you at the Seymour Centre last year, when the sound went out – it seemed liberating then, too!)
It’s always exciting when a show becomes a “one-off event”. When the power goes out, when the lights go down, when the PA system blows up; I love it when this stuff happens, as automatically the show becomes something that no one prepared for, and hence a show no one forgets. It’s special.
There was quite a leap in musical and production style from Faith & Science to Familiar Ghosts – you went from a full-band indie pop/rock sound to a Shane-only, quieter album. Was it easier to make the album when you were the only member of the band?
In some ways – democracy in music can be difficult. And it’s often an illusion. It’s much easier to not have to pretend that you want other people’s opinions! Having said that, FAITH & SCIENCE was very much a solo album, even though it utilised a lot of various musicians. It took about a year to make that album. Pretty crazy in hindsight!
The progression from Familiar Ghosts to Bad Machines was clearer: through those albums, and across Rattlin’ Bones and Wreck & Ruin, you seem to be excavating the sounds of country, blues and bluegrass, almost in an archival way – do you listen to a lot of ‘old-time’ country? If so, which artists most interest you?
I grew up listening to a lot of old-time country, and I still do listen to a lot. I also listen to a lot of modern artists who are influenced by old-time music, be it country, folk, blues.
In your live shows – whether on your own or with others – you play an array of instruments. Have you just naturally picked up different instruments and been able to play them, or have you consciously learnt how to play them?
I’ve never really learned an instrument besides guitar. All the other instruments I play only out of necessity. Usually because I can’t find someone to play it exactly the way I want it to sound on an album, so I’ll teach myself how to do what I’m hearing in my head, on whatever instrument I’m wanting to hear it played on. And it also feeds my instrument-collecting fetish.
You’re now a producer – are artists approaching you to produce their albums, or are you seeking out people to produce? Or both? And do you need to be in a completely different mindset to produce, or is it on a continuum with songwriting and performing?
Production work is an extension of the creativity I feel when making my own music. It gives me good perspective as an artist and allows me to experience the creative process more often. Most often, people will seek out a producer whose work interests them, and they feel will be a good match for their music. There has also been a few times when I’ve stumbled across incredible new artists and I’ve approached them about working together.
Shane’s special guest for these shows is Ashleigh Dallas, who played fiddle and mandolin with Shane and Kasey on their ‘Little Birds & Bad Machines’ tour in 2011 and is now working on her own album. I saw Ashleigh playing recently, with Kasey, and thought she was fantastic.
Tickets for the following Shane Nicholson shows are on sale now.
Thurs August 15th LIVE N COOKIN @ LIZOTTES, Kincumber, Central Coast, NSW Bookings phone 02 4368 2017 or www.lizottes.com.au
Saturday August 17th LIVE N COOKIN @ LIZOTTES, Dee Why, NSW Show only and Bookings phone 02 9984 9933 or www.lizottes.com.au