Month: January 2014

Sarah Head is Nothin’ But Love in Tamworth

Gold Coast singer-songwriter Sarah Head was a grand finalist in last year’s Toyota Star Maker. This year she returns to Tamworth to launch her EP, NothinBut Love, which was written and recorded over nine weeks in Nashville.

Sarah plays at Good Companions Hotel on Saturday 25 January at 11.30 a.m.

I spoke to her recently about the trip, her EP and her gig.

You spent 9 weeks in Nashville working on your EP – how did you plan that and and it?

I got in contact with my producer, BJ Lowrie, just basically through a mutual friend, and we got talking about me going to Nashville for a project. I went over initially in May to meet with BJ to just see how it would all pan out if it were to happen, and see what the connection was like. And from that first meeting we knew that we could work together and that we were on the verge of something good. I then decided to plan a 9-week stay – that fit in with my schedule. I didn’t have any bookings for that part of that year. That’s why it wasn’t 8 or 10 weeks. And I literally got off the plane [home] and had a gig the next night. So it was booked around my gigs. 
A lot of it was organised by BJ. I sent him samples of my songwriting and ideas that I had and he picked people who he thought would work with me stylistically. We had a general plan of what was going to happen for the 9 weeks but the specifics all happened when I was there. It was a lot of going with the flow. The idea was to songwrite for the first half of the stay and then record, so we had a pretty strict deadline. So I was just doing as much as I could every day to make sure that by the time of the recording phase I’d have enough songs to choose from. 
Is it strange to walk into a room, meeting a songwriter you don’t know and work with them? Is there any chitchat or do you just get on with it?
There’s a bit of chitchat, just getting a feel for the kind of artist you are because they want to know a bit about you before they start writing songs. And being Australian over there is a bit of a novelty, so we always started with a bit of a get to-know-you kind of session. It’s definitely daunting because it’s like every session you wear your heart on your sleeve. You have to go into a room full of people you haven’t met before and share your deepest darkest feelings and hour experiences and thoughts. It’s daunting but equally rewarding, and you just have to realise that there’s no room for shyness and ego. You’ve just got to get in there and say you’re prepared to say everything. You might give nine bad ideas and one brilliant one. The calibre of people they are – they’re just so professional and so welcoming I didn’t once feel like I was saying something silly or that I didn’t deserve to be there. 
Is it more daunting to do than step in front of a crowd?
Definitely. I’ve been working on my songwriting for 12 months so I’m relatively new to the game, whereas I’ve been performing for 10 years. It’s just what you’re familiar with and comfortable with. Now I’m at the stage – because  I’m about to release the EP – where I’m nervous and excited again, because I’m about to present these songs to a whole new group of people. It’s a constant whirlwind.
You went to the College of Country Music in Tamworth. Did that prepare you to have the kind of experience you had in Nashville or even to get on stage and enjoy it?
Yes, definitely. I went there in 2007 and that was really at the start of my career. I didn’t start singing until I was 17 or 18 – I started relatively late – and then I went to the college. It really does prepare you for the industry and learning how to not only network but hone in on your skills and work out who is there to help you and who is there to make you a better singer-songwriter or performer. 
The thing it couldn’t have prepared you for is crowdfunding. You crowdfunded your trip to Nashville. Is that a route you’d recommend?
It’s a rewarding experience but it’s equally exhausting. You’ve really go to put in so much time and effort to promote it because if you don’t get the promotion out there people won’t stumble across it. It definitely helped with my funding. I also received a grant from Arts Queensland and that helped significantly as well. Crowd funding definitely something for people to try. It’s a really good way of using the internet to market yourself. Not only are you giving yourself the chance to get funding for a project but you’re increasing the chance of getting a bigger fanbase.
And you’re essentially pre-selling your CD. People who give money get something tangible.
Exactly, and that’s so much ore meaningful than just asking people to donate. And it’s really positive to see the mount of people who support you. I was humbled every day to see the amount of people who were willing to come on the journey with me, and I think that also keeps up your spirits when you’re doing creative projects. 
To the EP – the single that’s out is ‘Gypsy Soul’. Have you always had a gypsy soul?
It’s definitely come about with my music career, so as I’ve been focussing on becoming a more professional music artist I find that I’m constantly travelling and I just love the idea of always pushing for the next best thing and following my dreams – not sort of settling for anything less. It’s definitely something that’s come about recently, I think, and I guess it’s about that point in your life that you realise that you’ve been underestimate and you’re ready to show the world exactly who you’re supposed to be.
Who are your biggest musical influences at the moment?
Definitely Miranda Lambert. I recorded at the studio where she’d just recorded so that was really exciting for me. She actually went to the studio the day before I was there and I was so gutted – I should have scheduled one day earlier. Kacey Musgraves as well, who’s written a couple of Miranda’s songs. I go to see Kacey live in Nashville and that worked out really well because it was just before I was recording. I think stylistically they’re artists I aspire to be like.
Is it sometimes hard to avoid being too influenced by some people? As a young artist it’s important to forge your own identity.
Definitely. I think the main thing with being successful is being yourself. If you stick by that you can’t really identically be the same as someone else because you’re always going to have your own influences and your own style. So what I try to do to steer clear of that is be true to myself and make sure my own personality comes across when I’m performing and writing songs, because that’s something no one else can copy. If you’re yourself, no one else can be you. 
Last year you were one of the four grand finalists for Toyota Star Maker. What was that like for you?
That was really a pivotal moment for me in my career, I guess because it instilled that flame in me and gave me the confidence to actually keep reaching for my dream and keep going. It was a really big turning point. It made me think for this year I’m going to dedicate my time to being the best singer-songwriter I can be and really work on my skills and what I need to do for the next step in my career, and that was to record the album. Everything that happened last year  – the couple of award nominations and the actual trip to Nashville – all stemmed form that week in Tamworth.
And it gave you quite a bit of experience performing in a high-pressure environment.
Definitely. On the first night when I was on stage they announced that it was so great to have everyone here tonight, and Kasey Chambers is here. They said this when I was on stage ready to sing and I was like, ‘Oh my god – thanks for that!’ And then in the grand final we were waiting backstage with the McClymonts and Lee Kernaghan and I was starstruck – ‘I’ve gotta go and sing and they’re standing in the wings!’ They said they expected a crowd of 10 000 people or something. To be at the early stage of your career performing at your best in front of the best names in Australian country and in front of a crowd that big is a pretty big stepping stone. It’s a good decider as to whether you’re going to make it or not.
How do you find living on the Gold Coast – do you feel isolated from the industry?
I travel a lot. Being on the Gold Coast is a really good base for me, but I do actually use it as a base and I travel a lot. I travel back to Dubbo, where I’m originally from, and Tamworth about every six weeks. I’m constantly trying to do new gigs in new places. I do play pretty much every weekend in pubs and clubs up here. There’s definitely a number of clubs that are supportive of country music and new artists. 
Your gig is on the last weekend of the festival. Does that mean you’ll spend most of the festival rehearsing or feeling nervous or both?
[laughs] Yes, pretty much. It’s my birthday on the Wednesday of the festival so I’ll be celebrating that. But other than that I’ll be doing just a little bit of practice, obviously, to get ready but mostly I’ll be going out and seeing other artists and catching up with everybody. Tamworth is the best place to see everyone in the one spot – other artists that I haven’t seen for a while. 
It will be quite a different festival to last year, as you had Star Maker.
This year’s festival will be much more relaxed. Last year was mindblowing – I can’t even remember if I slept. Every day was so busy. We were constantly doing interviews and little stand-up spots. That was another thing about Star Maker – having that week of promotion was something that was unbelievable at such an early stage in your career to get that exposure for a week in Tamworth was so cool.

Sarah plays at Good Companions Hotel on Saturday 25 January at 11.30 a.m. 

Melinda Schneider – being herself in Tamworth

Melinda Schneider is too young, really, to be a ‘legend’ but that is what she is – a performer since childhood, she will be familiar to all Tamworth festival goers. This year, fans will be treated to something different and special as Melinda brings her new show, Be Yourself, to the Tamworth Town Hall on Wednesday 22 January at 3 p.m.

Before becoming a mother to Sullivan a year and a half ago, Melinda had enjoyed renown and popularity performing the songs of Doris Day. This new show will explore – as the title suggests – Melinda herself.

‘I wrote the show with David Mitchell, who I wrote my Doris show with,’ says Melinda. ‘We sat down and it was very confronting for me, really. If you go back to your childhood and you think about all the things that have happened, good and bad, it is confronting. But I think it’s been quite healing and quite cathartic as well. 
‘We’re just trying to make the show really entertaining and it is full of ups and downs, like anyone’s life. You know, I’ve been through a divorce, and you’re not a real country singer unless you go through at least one divorce. And I lost a baby when I was 26 and lost my dad to cancer. And then all of the great things – falling in love and having success in my work and all of the exciting things I’ve experienced over the years. It’s been a full life so far. This is the happy end of my life. I don’t think I’ll go through anywhere near the pain I did in the first 30 years … I know who I am now.’
Melinda has a huge back catalogue of songs to choose from – one of the challenges of writing the show must have been choosing which songs made it and which songs didn’t.
‘It was pretty hard,’ Melinda admits. ‘I just tried tochoose the songs that I knew people wouldwant to hear. The most well-known ones and the most popular ones, like ‘Story of My Life’ and ‘Be Yourself’ and ‘Sgt Bean’ about my dad, and ‘Dream Him Home’, which I wrote when my dad died, and ‘Wish You Were Here’. I actually posted on Facebook and asked all the people on my Facebook page which songs they’d like to hear. They may be a couple of songs that people will miss, but it’s a two-hour show, 28 songs – it’s a lot of singing.’
One of Melinda’s most distinctive songs is ‘It Takes Balls to be a Woman’, but it hasn’t garnered a guernsey in the show – yet.
‘It could very well have been [included],’ Melinda says, ‘because I have had to find balls quite a few times. But because this is the debut of the show, it will be really interesting to see how it’s received, how the mix of songs works, and it will be good to get feedback from the audience when I’m talking to people afterwards. So it may end up there in the future, because we’re going to tour this show. I had to stop somewhere. There are just so many songs.’
Young Sullivan will, of course, be with Melinda in Tamworth. As to whether or not she’d ever want him to join her in the music business, though, Melinda says, ‘I would never encourage him. I talk about that in the show, about how growing up in a showbiz family affected me, both positively and negatively. It’s not always easy for a kid growing up in a showbiz family and I only had one parent in showbiz – my dad was a policeman – but he’s got two parents who are entertainers [Melinda’s partner, Mark, is in the Choirboys]. 
‘We’re very conscious to just let him be a normal kid and not have pressure to go on stage performing. I performed from the age of three with Mum and recorded at the age of eight. It would have been very interesting to see what I would have done and what I would have focused on had I not been encouraged to do that. Even though Mum didn’t encourage me to be an artist but I was just always onstage. I don’t want to do that to Sully unless he wants to.’
Melinda has had 18 months off from performing to look after Sullivan – but it turns out she hasn’t quite been out of practice. 
‘I’ve probably been singing more in the last 18 months at home than I ever have before because I’ve been singing Sully to sleep. I’ve sung him all sorts of songs since the day he was born, and even before.’
As Melinda returns to performing at Tamworth with her infant son in tow, she will take the stage at the Town Hall – ‘It’s a beautiful room and quite a traditional, formal venue, especially for this show’ – and also be part of a festival that she has been a part of for many years. 

The spirit at Tamworth is the most amazing of any country music festival I’ve been to,’ she says, ‘and I’ve been to festivals in many parts of the world and I think ours is the best.’
While Melinda’s show will feature some of the downs as well as the ups of her life, it is clear that she’ll arrive in Tamworth feeling quite content with her world. 
‘I’m in a happy relationship and having Sullivan has been the best thing that has ever happened to me,’ she says. ‘To have a happy home life and a happy work life, that’s success to me.’
Melinda Schneider plays at Tamworth Town Hall on Wednesday 22 January at 3 p.m. For tickets visit


Hat Fitz and Cara are fighting fit

Following the release of their wonderful album Wiley Ways, Hat Fitz and Cara took an unscheduled detour when Cara was involved in a near fatal car accident. After an extensive period of recovery, Cara is playing live once more and she and Fitz are on their Fighting Fit tour of New South Wales. Their live show is a real treat, matching their recorded music for talent and intensity but with that special edge that can only come from performance. I highly recommend you see them, if you can. They’re also appearing at Bluesfest in April.

Wednesday 22 January
The Brass Monkey
Thursday 23 January
Narooma Quarterdeck Marina
Friday 24 January
Milton Theatre
Saturday 25 January
The Basement
Sunday 26 January
Live @ No. 5

Interview: Catherine Traicos

Catherine Traicos’s music is hard to define in terms of genre – she has had some country music influences, though, and that was enough of a connection for me to want to talk to her, because she is a quite extraordinary artist. Catherine’s new album is the wonderful The Earth, The Sea, The Moon, The Sky and it’s available now. I spoke to Catherine at the end of 2013, when she was just about to go on tour with her band.

I’ve read variously in interviews with you and on your website that you’re based in Sydney or you’re based in Melbourne, but I know that you are now in Perth.  So I was wondering what Perth is like for a working musician.
I’ve only just moved and I’ve got heaps of friends who are musicians who have been doing incredibly well there.  It’s a really good music scene and before I left Perth I hadn’t – I’m originally from there and I played a couple of gigs but I hadn’t really immersed myself on the music scene as a musician, but I was going out to gigs every week and I was really familiar with all the bands and it’s a really really beautiful scene.  I love it.

Is there a dominant genre of music there or is it a mixture of things?
I think that the dominant thing is that people are really good at what they do and that there is a lovely community as well.  I wouldn’t say there’s a dominant genre because it quite varied, there’s a lot of everything, so there’s a lot going on there.

Which I would think for you is fertile ground. Given that you have released a lot of albums and you are immersed in the life of a working musician, one hopes that being in an environment like that it spurs you on to more and more creativity and feeling like there are more potential collaborators out there.
I hope so.  My band, who are in Sydney, most of them are actually from Perth so that’s saying a lot about [laughs] yeah, the contribution of Perth already to my music life.

Except now I’m wondering if they’re in Sydney and you’re in Perth, are you feeling lonely without them?
Well, at the moment because we’re preparing for the tour, I’m actually in Sydney and we’ve been rehearsing and it’s been really good but I am feeling the sense of this is all ending really soon, and I try not to dwell on that because I don’t think it will, but it does feel quite sad that I’m going to be leaving them, but at the same time I have to look after myself.  And I got quite ill living in Sydney and I need to be near my family right now.

And I know that you’re originally from Zimbabwe and you moved to Perth a few years ago.
That’s right.

And a lot of people from Zimbabwe, South Africa do move to Perth, obviously because it’s close, it’s closer than the east coast of Australia.  I don’t think I need to ask you why you left Zimbabwe, it’s probably obvious, but it must have been a huge change.
Yeah, it was.  It was a big move.  I think it was bigger for my parents because they were older and I was leaving school so I was probably going to leave Zimbabwe anyway.  So it’s a difficult move but I feel really at home in Perth and I think that’s important to know where your home is.

And it’s important to have community. When in exile it must feel like you are when you leave under those circumstances, it’s important to have that community, and it’s not unlike having a community of – it’s a community of like minded people, the same way as having a community and musicians is a community of like minded people.
Absolutely.  Well, when we left Zimbabwe we were very lucky because it was by choice.  We weren’t forced out.  So we weren’t in a very terrible position, unlike a lot of people who actually have been and it’s been really, really difficult for them.  I’ve got a few friends around Australia who have struggled to get citizenship but even then they’re in a better position than, say, refugees coming from Pakistan or somewhere so, you know. It’s not extreme, but it’s still difficult.

In terms of where you grew up – the African musical traditions are ancient and well defined.  I was wondering if you bring any of the musical traditions of your homeland into your work now.
I haven’t as yet, no.  I think I would feel a little bit too much like Paul Simon and I’m not ready for that [laughs]. Just because I was raised on Elvis and The Beatles.  I wasn’t raised on African music.

Right [laughs].
So it doesn’t feel like it’s my cultural heritage.  I would feel like I was appropriating someone else’s cultural heritage in order to make money, and I probably wouldn’t make money [laughs].

And it strikes me that what you do comes from an authentic place.  It doesn’t sound like you’re writing songs to get on radio.  You’re writings songs to create something unique and special. So I would imagine that authenticity is of importance.
I think it is.  I think it’s of importance to everyone.  It’s just that some people authentically want to be on the radio and –

– for me – no, I’m being serious.  And for me authenticity is about being true to myself and what I want to create music and do that with people who are as passionate about it as I am. Whereas other people, to them their passion is being heard and being seen and being the centre of attention and I respect that, that they know what they want and that’s their thing, but I’ve learnt that that’s really not my thing, and people want you to want to that, they want you to be this crazily ambitious person.  But if you’re not, you don’t have to be, and you shouldn’t put that pressure on yourself just because you’re creative.

Everyone’s motivations are different and I think it’s always good for creative people to know whether their motivation is fame or the work or money or both.
It’s so important.  Or else you just end up – you’re not in control of your work and you need to be.  It’s very important to be.

Absolutely.  Now, in terms of your work I read that you started listening to music as inspiration for your painting, and on the latest album you seem to be painting musical portraits.  So I was wondering if you still think of yourself as a painter.
Oh [laughs].  Yes, I do.  I do often think of things in terms of specific cues of oil paints.  I do love to paint and I’m looking forward to having some time to do that now, yeah, after this album, after this tour.

Because I think that the parts of the brain that see things visually are not the parts of the brain that actually can play music.  The musical part of the brain is more a mathematical – I think they even found that scientifically that it’s more the mathematical part of the brain.  And so I often think from people who can deal in images and words, sometimes it’s hard to know which one to follow and sometimes I think it gets a bit difficult to follow both.
I think so, yes.  I think they are quite different but there’s definitely a point where they meet, and I say that point is probably rhythm.

Oh yeah.
Because you’ve got the mathematics rhythm and you’ve got the rhythm of the action of painting.  So for me painting is always about the action, not the end result, if that makes sense.  But it’s all defined by my environment really.  I paint a lot more when I’m in Perth and I don’t find the time to paint when I’m in Sydney and therefore I have more time to write songs.

It’s always good for storytellers, regardless of how the story is being told, to tell their stories in context.  So obviously for you in Perth it’s painted stories and that’s the context there.
Well, I – we’ll see what happens now [laughs]. Who knows?  Who knows [laughs]?

Now, the songs on this album, according to your press release, are about desire – that’s the top level theme. Was that was a consciously chosen theme or did it emerge through the process of – because I know you all individually wrote songs, is that right?
We pretty much wrote them together. We would jam them out mostly and then I was the one who  always put the words in and who kind of went, “This is how it’s going to go,” but then everyone was incredibly instrumental in saying, the chorus should come in here or we should do this now, or this is too long or this is too short … we agreed on everything and that was – we would all argue our way to [laughs] an end agreement that we were all happy with. So, yes, desire – well, desire, I think, is incredibly important.  It’s very closely linked to passion and to need.  I’m very interested in the difference between your needs and your desires and if you can get them to coincide then you’re winning [laughs].

How often do you think that happens?
Oh gosh, I don’t know [laughs].  Yeah, because you’re driven by your desires but you’re also – you’re more driven by your needs.  So when it does happen it’s serendipitous [laughs].

Obviously for musicians in particular, I think it’s sort of – actually, I guess it’s true of painters or writers and other creative people as well but I tend to see with musicians that the desire and the need to play music or create music are very much the same, and it’s – you can’t really extrapolate the desire to do it from what seems to be a very fundamental need within the musician to create music.
Yeah, I think that there’s – you can definitely see when someone actually needs to play, almost like their life depends on it, you can see that when Jimi Hendrix is playing and, I don’t know, heaps of amazing musicians [laughs].  But, yeah, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it?

Well, yeah, because I think for some musicians it becomes so dominant that that’s all they can see and that upsets the balance of their lives to a great extent.
Yeah.  Yeah.  Mmm.

Sorry, I’m just thinking about that, this is great.  Lovely food for thought, yeah.  Complete passion and you can let it consume you; can’t you?

And the thing with music is that it does consume a lot of musicians, in a very positive way, in that they’re constantly engaged in it but I do see – with some, it’s – maybe it’s also getting to the  point of wondering whether it’s performance that consumes them.  So whether it’s the need to perform as much as the need of – for music itself.
Yeah, that’s interesting, because I’ve noticed with myself recently that practising on my own is not as much fun as practising with the band, engaging with other people, and then performing is a whole other level of engaging with people.  And it’s kind of like you create the music and then when you’re sharing it with people that can – that just takes it to a different level and it becomes more real I suppose.  It’s interesting. And that you get people with – I used to have major performance anxiety and, yeah – now I don’t, which is good [laughs].

On the subject of performance: listening to your album, I was thinking

about how you perform it. It sounds like it’s not necessarily going to be easy to recreate the sound just because they – the songs don’t sound polished in that polished can mean overproduced. But they sound like they’re very perfected, in a way.  So how do you take that recorded sound into a live environment?

That’s an awesome question.  Because we very specifically went into the studio this time with the aim of being able to, as accurately as possible, recreate what we’ve put down.  So what’s really interesting is that we didn’t do too much happening at the same time, and a couple of songs we couldn’t help ourselves because we just had all these amazing instruments and we were just like, “No, we’ve got to put auto harp on everything”, and stuff like that.  But a lot of the interesting sounds that you hear are actually my guitarist, Darren, he’s a bit of a genius and, yeah, you won’t realise it but it’s actually an electric guitar with amazing effect.  So he’s brilliant.  So I think there’s only a couple of songs where we wouldn’t be able to really get what we did on the album, but other than that we’re pretty close and we aimed for that because there’s a – with the last album, it was – after we recorded it we were like, “Okay, how are we going to do this now?  We can’t play the way we used to play it,” because now it sounds – it’s so much more interesting.

So you have these lovely jewels of recordedness and then try to make them live.
That’s a lovely way of describing it, yeah.

Part of the mystery of performance, I guess, is who turns up on the night and how that can affect how you play, but have you and the band been together long enough now that you have your own way of working together but it’s quite elastic, that you can respond to what happens on the night?
Yes, absolutely.  We’ve played a lot of shows together and we’re all familiar with each other’s touring needs and the way we are and that just makes it fun, because everyone is relaxed and – that’s good [laughs]. And you kind of look out for each other.  It’s like  you’re like a team [laughs].

And how did you all originally come together?
Well, I knew Darren, my guitarist from Perth.  He was in the Tucker B’s and they were – they still are – one of my favourite bands ever, and I used to go and watch them play – just a little band girl every week – and I just made friends with Darren, and he’s a very quiet, intelligent, brilliant guitarist, and we just got on really, really well.  And he moved to Sydney about a year after I did and we didn’t start playing music together until a couple of years ago though.  So when he wanted to play with me, that was awesome.  But he was insistent that we get a full band together.  And I’d met Casper – I was playing in a band for a charity night a few years ago, and Casper was the bass player.  And he’s awesome.  He plays bass in so many bands and he’s just enthusiastic and incredibly good at what he does.  And he was really keen to play as well.  And then Darren got another Tucker B’s member, their old drummer Tim, which made me so happy [laughs] to come and drum for us.  And I was like, “Yeah,” I’ve got like half of my favourite band playing for me, awesome [laughs]. So that was really good.  And Tim hadn’t played drums  in a while, so I think it was good for him to get back into it, and I’ve had so many of his old friends being just like completely ecstatic that he’s playing drums again because he’s a really good drummer, so rhat’s how we came together [laughs].

So you said you went from being a band girl to playing with half your favourite band. At what point in your life did you decide to go from being a band girl to being the band girl, if you know what I mean?
[Laughs] Well, it was never really a conscious choice at all.  Just came together years later.  It sounds like awesome instant gratification but it really wasn’t.  The way it came together it was just like, oh wow, that’s kind of cool.  The Tucker B’s hadn’t played in years because half of them were living in Sydney anyway – so they don’t play many gigs any more.  But I think that I was so in awe of live music and bands that I didn’t – like, I started learning guitar but I found it a very personal and private thing and I wouldn’t play for many people.  But I did play for one of my friends and he said, “You should do a gig”, and I did and it was disastrous and I didn’t want to play ever again.  So it was a really long and slow journey to get to the point.

Except I notice you play quite a few instruments, not just guitar, so obviously along the way you’ve picked up quite a bit.
Yes, well my first instrument was piano but I’m not very good at playing pop piano.  I can play classical and I can fill in stuff on an album to give it a fuller sound but I think writing songs is a lot easier for me on a guitar.  nd the other instruments I play, you just hit them and make noise [laughs] basically.

So in terms of your creative process and you’ve got an album out now, are you constantly writing or do you write on a project by project basis?  Do you think, “Okay, it’s time for a new album.  I’m going to sit down now and get some songs done?”
I’ve never really worked that way because I’ve tried to and it doesn’t work.  The songs just appear).  With the band we did, I suppose, say we’re going to work towards a new album, but we didn’t give ourselves a timeline and we just wrote very slowly over two years.  And I don’t like to create a pressure on myself because I just think that’s disrespectful to my creative drive [laughs].  It’s not like doing your homework and handing it in.  It’s an art form and you have to work with it.  You can’t – it’s like a wild horse [laughs]. And, yeah, every now and then it might calm down a little bit and let you ride it but …

The Earth, The Sea, The Moon, The Sky is out now through AOA Records.

Great new Tennessee talent: Faith Evans Ruch

Memphis singer-songwriter Faith Evans Ruch has the sort of voice that doesn’t come around very often: deep, mellifluous and knowing, it is reminiscent of the voice of the great Patsy Cline. I was so taken with Faith’s new single, ‘PBR Song’, that I just had to share it:

Faith has an album, 1835 Madison, and I hope to bring you more about that soon. In the meantime, you can read more about Faith at

Tamworth: the picks of the gigs

Make that my picks of the gigs … These are the artists I’m most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival. [All dates given are January 2014.]

Jess Holland

21  – Tudor Hotel Front Bar,  5.30 p.m.
23  – Qurindi RSL, 6 p m.

24  – Tudor Hotel Back Bar, 12 p.m. 

Ashleigh Dallas
21 – West Tamworth Leagues Club, 5 p.m.

Tori Darke
21 – West Tamworth Leagues Club, 8 p.m.

21 – Tamworth Services Club, 9.30 p.m.

Brad Butcher
22 – Tamworth Services Club, 9 a.m.
23 – Tudor Hotel, upstairs, 10 p.m.

Katie Brianna

22 – Tamworth Services Club, 9 a.m.
23 – Tudor Hotel, upstairs, 10 p.m.

The McClymonts
22 – TRECC, 2 p.m.

Kristy Cox
22 – The Pub, 8 p.m.

Shane Nicholson
23 – The Family Hotel, 7 p.m.

Catherine Britt
23 – The Pub, 8.30 p.m.

Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes
24 – The Family Hotel, 12 p.m.

Audrey Auld
24 – North Tamworth Bowling Club, 2 p.m.

Karl Broadie and Katie Brianna
24 – Tamworth Tennis Club, 4.30 p.m.

Tori Darke shows her star power in Tamworth

Rising country music star Tori Darke has quite a bit happening at the 2014 Tamworth Country Music Festival, including her one solo show, at West Tamworth Leagues Club on Tuesday, 21 January 2014. She is also a finalist in Toyota Star Maker.

I spoke to Tori about her Tamworth plans.

Tori, I’m surprised you entered Star Maker – you’re quite established, you’ve been playing for a few years, you have an album out. Why did you enter?
 I entered when I was a lot younger, when I was 18 and 19. A lot of thought went into me entering Star Maker this year – I thought, Do I do it? Don’t I do it? I really took a lot of time to think about whether I was doing the right thing and doing something that would be beneficial as well. The main reason for me entering Toyota Star Maker is that, even with having several conversations with the organisers of it, ‘Do you think it would be a good idea for me to enter? Do you see any reason why I shouldn’t?’ I’ve had so much support from Rural Press and all the organisers of Star Maker with me deciding to enter again. I really made this decision because when I was 18 and 19 entering Star Maker, I was the new kid on the block, I was fresh out of Country Music College, and I was really just making a start in country music. At that point in my life if I had won Star Maker, I don’t really think I would have been able to use it to my best advantage and to use all the amazing tools and opportunities get from it. Now being a few years older and having done everything that I’ve done, I really saw it as an opportunity to take all of my experience and everything I’ve learnt and put it into something good. If I was to do well with Toyota Star Maker then I’d know exactly how to work it and exactly how to get out there and start making an even bigger career in country music.
You’ve already been to Nashville and written some songs there. A lot of people would think that that’s great in terms of using industry contacts. What does Star Maker offer beyond that?
The opportunities are so amazing with Star Maker – you get to record a full album with a renowned producer and playing at all the different festivals throughout Australia in 2014 and 2015. I guess in a little bit of a way it is [about] all the people you meet through Star Maker but it was really a decision just for me to stay that I’m ready to do something like Star Maker, whereas a few years back maybe I just was too young.
You’re still young but also more experienced. If you’d won it when you’re a teenager, the amount of attention can come from that and also winning it at that early stage could have sent you in a direction that you didn’t end up wanting, but now it seems that you know what you want and this is a way to help you get it.
Exactly. Now I look at it and think if I was to do well with Star Maker I’d know exactly where I’m going, I’d know exactly how to approach everything that I’d be heading towards.
I have to say, though, Tori, having seen you perform, if I were the other finalists I’d be a little bit nervous.
Oh, no, don’t be silly! [laughs]
You have your own show coming up on the 21st of January during the festival, and the final is on the 19th – will you feel different about playing that final than playing your own show? Will you be more nervous? Less?
I’ll probably feel the same way about both. I know when I did my own show in 2013 I was shaking in my boots until the moment I went on stage and for the first few songs I was still a little bit jittery because it was my first ever ticketed show and for me it was a really big step and I was really worried about how it would go or whether people would turn up. I just didn’t know what was going on. And the fact that I had a sold-out show was amazing and I was absolutely so stoked with how my show went and how it all turned out. So to have that experience it made me even more excited to go back and do it all again and hope for the best.
Do you have the same band for your 2014 gig?
Yes, I have all the same band bar one. Unfortunately my bass player has another gig on that he’d already said ‘yes’ to. So I have a different bass player and he’s a wonderful bass player, so I’m really looking forward to him becoming part of the band this year.
Do you go to Tamworth ahead of time to rehearse there?
Funnily enough, two of the boys in my band are Queensland based. So when we get to Tamworth we just go to one of our houses and hang out and have an acoustic jam to make sure we have the flow going right and what song’s going into what – just to work it all out for us.
 I read that you’re planning to play some new songs at the show because you have about 30 songs for your new album and you’re trying to work out which ones to record.
There’s going to be quite a bit of new material played this year and I just hope that everyone enjoys it. I’m thinking of what ways I can get the view of the crowd who are there as to what songs they do like. Maybe if I give them all a marking sheet or something as they walk in, and they can give a little tick and let me know which songs they like and which songs they don’t. Choosing songs for a new album is always very difficult and as an artist you fall in love with so many of your own songs and then it’s like they’re all your babies and you don’t know what to do with them.
With that many songs you could always keep the ones left over for the album after that and save yourself some work.
That’s exactly right. I still have some left over from my first album so there’s still some to choose from there as well.
Do you get to see other people play at the festival?
I really hope so. Tamworth for me is really great for catching up with your mates who you may not have seen all year. You may have spoken to them but just not caught up in person. And it’s honestly one of the hardest things when you work in country music and you’re all in the one place at the one time and you think you will be able to catch up but it’s so difficult. Having just the one show and StarMaker this festival, I really hope I can get around and see my friends play.
It sounds like next year you have things to do, regardless of what happens with StarMaker.
Whatever happens I’m just honoured to be part of such a prestigious competition within the country music industry.

The Wolfe Brothers set to blaze at Tamworth

Tasmanian band the Wolfe Brothers probably couldn’t have had a bigger 2013 if they’d tried. They released their debut album, It’s On, and not only did they join Lee Kernaghan on tour as his support act but they were also his band for his own set. Then they ended the year with four Golden Guitar nominations. In advance of their headlining show at Blazes at West Tamworth Leagues Club on 23 January 2013, I spoke to guitarist Brodie Rainbird. The band will also play some New South Wales shows before Tamworth -details at the end of the piece.

Congratulations on the four Golden Guitar nominations.  I would think that even though you guys have been having a lot of success, that must always come as a bit of a surprise.
Oh, absolutely.  The good things always do.  When they reeled off the nominations when we were there at the presentation morning, they just kept reeling them off and we kept adding them up, one, two, three, four.  It was like, are you sure it’s us?  Are you sure we deserve this?  We’re so honoured and thankful to be a part of the Golden Guitars this year.  It’s our first year so – to get four noms, yeah, absolutely stoked.
And so I presume you’ll be playing at the show as well?
At the Golden Guitar Awards?  I don’t think so.
Oh, really? I would have thought – – –
I don’t think they’ll let us play this year. I’m not sure if it’s set in stone yet but it looks like a no so far.
One of your nominations is for APRA Song of the Year – is it a surprise to you that that’s the song that was nominated, because there are several great songs on the album?
Mmm, ‘The Girl With All the Memories’, was that the one?
Yes, yes, that’s the one.
I don’t know, we’re just surprised to get anything at all, so [laughs] – so, I guess, ‘yes’ is the answer to that question.  I was over the moon, I’m speechless.
The next question is what are you going to wear? Everyone wants to know what people want to wear [laughs].
 [Laughs] I haven’t even thought about that. Actually, it’s good that you brought that up.  I haven’t thought about it.
The good thing with blokes is that you can kind of get away with wearing either a suit or whatever.  At Tamworth everyone seems to mix it up and it’s bloody hot, apart from anything else.
Yeah, that’s true.  I reckon – well, the only thing I know we’ll be wearing is boots.
Right [laughs].  You played a couple of shows in Tasmania in December to thank your home-town fans.  How much does that support mean to you?
Oh, it’s everything.  It’s  the home-town support is what got us where we are now.  I think when we were on Australia’s Got Talent, most of the people who live in Tasmania were voting and helping us out there and look where they got us now, we got to play with Lee Kernaghan and we’ve gone on tour with him and the Golden Guitars are everything.  We owe it all to the people who voted on that show, and most of that would have been Tasmania, I think.
Tasmania must also have given you an opportunity do a lot of playing live; do you think having that having the support of Tasmanians at your shows as you were developing as a band made you better performers?
Absolutely.  We cut our teeth here in Tassie.  Each of us would finish work on Friday afternoon and we’d drive to the venue and we’d set up all the gear and we’d go and have a shower and then come back and do a gig, pack up the gig, get up the next day, go and do another gig at North Tasmania somewhere; it would be two or three gigs a weekend – for years we did that.  And that’s really where we honed what we do and how we do it.
How did you keep up the momentum all those years doing that?  Because that’s pretty relentless when you’re working full time, and I know you all did have full-time jobs before this took off the way it has. It’s a huge commitment and it takes a lot of belief and dedication to end your working week and do what you’ve just described over the weekend.
Yeah, it does, but it’s really fun [laughs].  So it was easy.  You just – I can’t wait to do gigs.  Gigs are … we all feel the same, it’s the best thing – best part of your life, it’s the fun bit.  It’s the bit where you go and spread joy and you see smiles on people’s faces, and everything from the pub gigs to the rowdy B&Ss and the bull rides we used to do, they were the highlight of our year.  We had one called the Bull Light Dash, which is no longer there, and that was like our biggest gig of the year.  We looked forward to that.  Months out we were getting ready for that and, “Oh, should learn this song.  We’ll take it to Bull Light”, and we get there and [it was a] raucous event where everyone’s drinking Bundy and throwing the food dye around – that’s the highlight of our lives, these gigs.  So I guess in that respect it wasn’t hard, but Tom [Wolfe] used to manage us on his own and he’d be on his phone 24/7 just running this band in Tasmania, so I could see the work in that is quite a lot.  But only one person can do that otherwise it gets confusing, so none of us could really help him but – yeah, like I said, gigs are where it’s at for us.  We love it.
Because you still love it, obviously the dynamic amongst the band must still really strong, but I’m actually really curious about what it’s like for you playing in the band with brothers, whether there’s a sense that sometimes the brothers get to win if there’s a disagreement?
Oh, disagreements, oh, hell, yeah [laughs].  Yeah. Absolutely.  Oh, we’ve got them in spades.  But we’re all close enough and – they can be having an argument, 10 minutes later we’ll all be laughing about it. It’s fine.  We’ve done a lot of that over the years and we’ve worked through a lot of stuff and at the end of the day, like I said, we’ve all got a common goal and even if we weren’t in the band we’d all be hanging out as mates anyway, so it’s a pretty strong bond, and I think we’re really lucky to have that.  And it gets us through just about anything that happens.
It’s a common bond but it’s also a common focus and I guess that would carry through a lot of things.  You all love what you’re doing and you want to keep doing it.
Absolutely. We want to be doing this 40 years later [laughs].  We want to be old and grey and still be able to do gigs.
Well, as The Rolling Stones have proved, you definitely can.
Yeah, exactly, exactly.
So your background as a guitarist – have you been playing since you were a child?
I think I picked up the guitar in about grade 5.  Because my next-door neighbour played guitar and I thought, wow, that looks pretty cool – I reckon I’ll get some attention from some girls. So I picked it up in grade 5 and just really enjoyed it and sort of stuck with it, and, of course ,being mates with the Wolfe brothers, they were out doing gigs before I was and I used to go to gigs with them and help pack up the gear and stuff like that, and just go and support, and eventually I managed to get myself in the band [laughs] and away we went.
How did you manage to get yourself in the band?
There’s been a number of different line-ups and different names for this band, but I think Nick and Tom [Wolfe] had always been there and it’s just been different drummers and then I’ve come in, we had a different drummer and then we got Casey and then the whole line-up formed. But I don’t know, I think they decided they wanted another guitarist and I was there [laughs], so …
[Laughs] Right place, right time.
Yes.  Good mates. You know, I wasn’t the best player back then and still not am now, but I think the fact that we all got along really well and we’re all mates already, like that already meant more than anything else.  So that meant it would work.
Do you all get involved in songwriting?
Yeah, in some form or another.  Nick’s our main songwriter.  He’s the main genius behind it all.  But I’ve co-written a couple of songs with him and so has Tom, and so has Casey, and anyone who sits next to him becomes a good songwriter, so it’s pretty easy once you get in there with him.  And then we all get together and we talk about the song that’s just been written and we talk about what feel we want to put with it and what little things we want to do with it, where we want to take it.  So I guess we all have input in some form or another, especially when it comes to pre-production of it, if they’re deciding which direction that someone wants to be in, we’re all there, so it’s definitely a group effort towards the end.
Listening to you talk just about the various aspects of the band, it is no mystery to me why you’ve had such success because it sounds like you’ve all got incredibly professional attitudes to what you’re doing, you enjoy it and you also all really work well together. But I tend to think a lot of artists make their own luck.  To an extent, there is luck involved, it’s getting on Australia’s Got Talent, but it’s no mystery to me now listening to you why Lee Kernaghan would want to tour with you.
Oh, thanks [laughs].
[Laughs] That’s all right.
That was really good.  I really enjoyed that.
[Laughs] But he’s a professional as well, he can obviously spot it.
The thing we had going with Lee, the chemistry there in that band and when we do those gigs, you know, Lee really enjoys playing with us and we love playing Lee’s songs, we love doing Lee’s gigs. That’s another thing that we couldn’t believe was actually happening as well – we went to our first rehearsal with Lee and we’d never met the guy in person, really, and he came in and said g’day to all of us, shook our hands, and then we played one song and he said, “Well, boys, I like what I hear.  You’ve got the job.” From just one song. And ever since then it’s been a fantastic rollercoaster ride with Lee.  He helps us out any way he possibly can and he’s just a great bloke.  He’s one of our best mates now and, yeah, we love touring with him.
And guys are not only playing the support slot on the tour but you’re also – you’re also Lee’s band.  That’s quite a long night.
Oh, no, it’s fine.  It’s all good.  When we used to do the other gigs, we’d play for three hours anyway. So it’s all good.  We love it.
I think it happens in country music more than other genres where the artists just really love what they’re doing – everyone just seems to be so happy to get up in the morning and play their music.  It’s beautiful.
I don’t think you can be sad and play country music.  I don’t know, it’s just – it’s a really good thing.  I discovered country music through Brad Paisley and I’ve been happy ever since [laughs].
Well, I hope you get the opportunity to meet Brad Paisley and tell him that.
Oh, I would just – I would die [laughs].
I would think that playing with Lee sets you up really well to get spots for touring international artists.  A promoter might be thinking, Oh, well, those guys certainly know what they’re doing.  Get them on Brad Paisley’s bill.
Well we’re going to head over to America [in 2014] and do a bit more in Nashville, hopefully.  And we’re going to record the new album in March and probably take that over there as well and see how we go.  We did have a close encounter with Paisley last time we were there.  We were hanging out with our mate, Luke Wootten, who’s a Nashville producer.  He said he’s going to come over and produce our next album but we actually went to a gun range with Luke, and his phone rang while we were in the range and it came up and Tom was looking over his shoulder, being a bit of a stickybeak, and it came up, the number was Brad Paisley.  And he said, “Oh guys, I’ve got to take this, it’s Brad,” and he walks outside [laughs].  He walked outside and he was on the phone to Brad Paisley.  I couldn’t believe I was that close to that happening.  And Brad – he said he was at the gun range with an Australian band called the Wolfe Brothers.  Brad said to just watch out and make sure we don’t shoot each other’s eyes out or something like that [laughs]. So that was the closest I’ve ever got to him, and I was really happy with that.
It’s only one degree of separation now.  I think you should lean on Luke to set up an introduction.
Oh, absolutely, yeah.  Yeah, I’ll be leaning a lot for that [laughs].
Luke is coming out here to produce your album when you record it. How did you first come across him as a producer?
I think he’s done a lot of work with Lee and we have the same management, Stephen White Management, so Steve hooked us up with Luke. [He was] doing a lot of work with Lee Kernaghan and he’s just one of the best blokes you’ll ever meet.  When we went to Nashville he took a week off for us and just showed us around Nashville and took us to his favourite drinking holes and we did heaps of stuff with him.  Like I said, we went shooting together and  he’s a great bloke.  Definitely want to meet him, you know, he’s good.
Back to the touring: I guess now you’re at the point in your lives where you’re more on the road than off it.  So does it feel a bit strange to just be home?
Oh, no – we’re all getting used to the whole lifestyle now.  I think the most time we’ve spent at home in a straight run is about three or four weeks this whole year, is the longest time [laughs].  But it’s good, we’ve all adjusted to the being on the road lifestyle pretty well I think and we’re all taking it easy.  And personally I don’t have a problem living out of a suitcase in a hotel.  I think it’s great.
You’ve living the rock ‘n’ roll dream, or the country music dream.
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah.  That’s all any of us ever really wanted to do.
And that’s fantastic, because it’s relatively early in your recording career but it’s actually not early in terms of how long you’ve all been playing, so it sounds like you’ve definitely done your time preparing for this lifestyle.
Absolutely.  All the little weekends we’ve done in Tassie and road trips and sleeping on a swag somewhere in a paddock, you know, all that sort of prepared us for this, I think, and now we kind of look at it as if we’ve got it pretty easy.  I mean, we kind of do really.  Like I said, we used to sleep on swags just on the back of a truck somewhere after a gig and now we  get a hotel with a comfy bed [laughs].
So you’re not feeling nostalgic for the old days where you were sleeping in a swag?
Oh, I kind of do to be honest.  I do get a bit nostalgic. 
And now I’ll ask you about your Tamworth show, because of course Tamworth is not that far away.  You’re playing at Blazes which is, of course, the venue to play at and you’re headlining. How did you pick your support band, Lawson Shire?
Well, we heard about them.  I think this is their debut gig and we heard about them and heard a bit about what they do and just thought, yeah, I reckon they’d be right for us.
Well, that’s quite generous of you and perhaps a little bit of a risk giving someone giving someone a debut gig.
Oh, yeah, well that’s the sort of thing that Lee has done for us, so I guess we’re paying it forward.  Yeah, giving someone else a shot.
It’s quite unusual for bands around the time of their first album to get that kind of headlining spot in Blazes because it is often the preserve of artists who have been around quite a bit longer.  In a way it kind of means like you’re moving into the – not older generation, but more established generation of Australian country music.  Does it feel to you guys like you’ve kind of moved on from being newcomers?
Not quite yet, now, I don’t think.  Maybe when we get past this first Golden Guitar round.  If we get one I would quite happily say maybe we’ve moved up a level [laughs] but … maybe, I guess you’re right though looking at it that way, we are moving up, which is kind of scary.  I never thought of it that way.
Well, look, there are many, many acts who would never get to play at Blazes.  That’s all I’m saying [laughs]. It’s a big – I think it’s a big honour.
Oh, absolutely.  I can’t wait – yeah, looking forward to that gig.  It’s going to be different at Tamworth for us. Last year we had an album coming out and we did interviews all day every day, we went from one interview to the next, all – constantly all day.  So I don’t think we’ve got too much going on this time, and this is are only show, this Blazes one on Thursday the 23rd.  That’s our only gig apart from the one in the park with Lee.  So we’re going to have a good time.  We’re going to get out and see some bands and check the scene out for ourselves this year.
Which is always one of the best things about Tamworth – well, there are many great things about it but there is just so much music on offer, so I would think for you guys or for any band really to just have that opportunity to see who’s around and who you might want to put on as your next support act, would be great.
That’s something to think about too, absolutely.  Check out the talent and see who’s up and coming and say hello to them.
Then you’ve got a couple of jobs in Tamworth.  You’ve got to find something to wear to the awards and then check out and see who your new support act might be [laughs].
Absolutely.  I’m glad you reminded me about that actually.  I’ll have to go shopping now.
The Wolfe Brothers play:

17 January 2014 – Lizottes Kincumber
18 January 2014 – Lizottes Newcastle
23 January 2014 – West Tamworth Leagues Club

Jason Owen’s first Tamworth show

Jason Owen – who first won fans as the runner-up in the 2012 season of The X-Factor – will play his first ever show at the Tamworth Country Music Festival when he joins Amber Lawrence in a show at the Blazes Showroom at Wests on 23 January 2014. Amber and Jason have extended their hugely popular Islands in the Stream tour to not only take in Tamworth but a range of other cities and towns throughout the first half of this year. I spoke to Jason just before the end of last year about the tour so far, about Tamworth and also what lies ahead as he writes and records his next album.

The last time we spoke your album was about to come out and it certainly more than came out.  It went to number five on the ARIA Album Chart, and number one on the iTunes Country Chart in the first week of release.  Was that unexpected for you?  Did you think it might do really well? 
That was totally unexpected for me, because I didn’t expect to get that type of vibe back from the album. It was a few months after the show [The X-Factor] had finished, and they were auditioning the next lot of contestants and – no, I didn’t expect it to be like that at all.
Even though that album isn’t strictly country music, you certainly seemed to have built audiences in rural and regional areas really well.  Do you think that the rural and regional audiences are really good keeping faith, I guess, with you?
Yeah, look, a hundred per cent.  There are lot of people out there that love just pure country western music.  And there is a lot of people out there that like that type of heavy ballad, type of Bryan Adamsy feel.
Now you are extending your tour with Amber Lawrence, so clearly that is going very well?  Or are you secretly not getting along?
We are loving each every day together.  We have so much fun together. It is just that it is a real privilege for me to be on the road with someone that has been doing it for a little while and they have had a lot of experience.  So you have got to learn some way.  And it has been amazing.
And this is your first ever tour experience, and first time, I guess, working with a band consistently, so as a performer, what have you learnt over the last few months?
I reckon, as a performer over the last year, I would have to say I have learnt a lot about performing.  A lot about strategy of music, because, I mean, it is completely different – it is a different world when you are performing with a live band to what it is when you are performing with backing tracks, you know what I mean? It is really amazing.  And, honestly, to have learnt so much from the band about music and different things like that, I found it really, really enjoyable. 
Q:            I remember when I last interviewed you, you talked about how you warm up your voice every day and doing vocal exercises.  So I was wondering how your voice has been holding up with such consistent and long tour?
That is a really good question.  My voice has actually held up very well on tour.  There has been one show that I have had to pull out on, because I actually ended up with a vocal infection.  I had a really bad case of tonsillitis.  And I sang.  I sang with a swollen throat.  And that damaged my vocal cords.  So I had to pull out of one of the concerts.  It was Windsor.  And then I went to the doctor, and everything like that.  But luckily enough there was a month break after that show.  So by the time I was ready to come back, I was ready as well.  So it worked well.
So for a damaged vocal cord is the prescription just to rest?  Or did you have to do something else?
No, no, rest.  Whatever you do, try and talk the least you possibly can.  Definitely do not sing or you could ruin it for life.  So it was very, very – it was scary.  I wasn’t game to even say “Hello” [laughs].
It also must have been really strange for you to not sing, because it seems as if, for you, singing is really an extension of your day-to-day life, and who you are.
It is.  Like, I get with my mates, and you will sit and the car, and we will just singing along to songs all day, sitting in the car.  And they go, “Aren’t you sick of it; doing it nearly every day of the week? And you do it for a living.  It is what you do.”  And I said, “Well, that is why I don’t get sick of it, because it is something I love to do.”
Well, I think they actually should have been sitting there thinking they were getting a free concert.
 [Laughs].  Yeah, but it is not free concert when you are with them every day, and you sing and they get sick of you fairly quickly [laughs].
Fair enough!  Speaking of getting sick of things, you are not sick of singing ‘Islands in the Stream’ yet?
[Laughs]  Yes and no at the same time.  We have probably sung that about 400 times in the last six months.  But it is a great song.  It is a song that everyone loves.  And we have had so much fun singing it too. 
Often, as an audience member, I wonder how, when artists have a signature song – and for you and Amber on this tour this is the song – how you manage to make it new every night.  I mean, you possibly don’t.  But do you find different sort of things inside of it, or different ways to sing it, just to keep it interesting for yourself?
Yes and no.  For the audiences, of course, it is always something new for them, because it is not the same people see every show, so of course it is different for them.  But, for us, it is the same old ‘Islands in the Stream’ that we have been singing all along.  But, I mean, we do try and change things around.  But, the thing is, with a song like that, covered by us, and originally from two legends, it is hard to change it too much, because everyone relates back to Kenny to Dolly.
Yes [laughs].  It is a big burden.  But, obviously, you are carrying it off well or you wouldn’t still be on tour. People are obviously enjoying it.
Yeah.  Exactly.  So we can’t change it too much.  We have just put our own little spins on it.
Has it inspired you to think of doing any more duets with Amber?
I am actually working in the process of a new album, and I hope to get a duet underway with Amber as well on my new album.  Of course, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.  But she is recording an album as well.  So maybe I can jump on her album, or something.  But we are loving working with each other and we really want to keep working along with each other somewhere along the line. 
I did have a question about your album.  And as you have mentioned it, I will go to that one, which is: I am always really curious when artists are touring a lot, how they manage to fit in, or even think about, recording something down the track, or writing songs for it.  So how are you managing your time?
Being on the road, I get a lot of advice off the musos, off the band, and they have all been in the industry quite a long time … I am doing lots of songwriting in December, but as soon as you have got a few days off – because usually you perform on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday basis.  It is not very often you sing on a Thursday or something night, [so] you usually record during the week, probably, and then go to do your shows on the weekend.  It is a lot of hard work.  And it is a lot of pressure on your voice, but you have just got to look after it.
I would also would imagine with recording, because you are doing take after take after take, probably, or for some songs you are, it would be quite tough to keep it going.
It is – it is a hundred per cent.  And it is not easy to record at all.  You get a really good producer and they want everything a hundred per cent, and that is what you want in the long run.  It might seem like forever, and ‘Oh my god, I am sick of this’ in the studio, but when your album is released you will realise that it was all worth the time. 
So have you already been writing songs for this album?
I have got about three or four songs written of my own.  And, yeah, they are very, very nice songs.  I am very excited about them.
Because that is a different process again.  It would be quite easy to just be a performer and not worry about that side of things.
Yeah, a hundred per cent.  If I had professional writers writing for me, it is a good thing.  But it is good to just let your hair down and just start writing your own music.  You just put a story in place and away you go … I mean, if you write a good song, you write a good song.  But while you are sitting there writing something on a piece of paper, you never know, it could be a global hit that you are writing.  You don’t know.
Where does your song writing inspiration come from?
I sit down at home and I just write the type of songs that come to my mind.  Of course, being 19 years of age you go through a bit of love crisis when you are younger and you just relate back to that, I suppose.  A lot of famous artists that have written love songs, they have all be quite young when they write it. That is when it hurts.  You don’t even know what love is really, do you?
And you still go through a lot of chopping and changing, in regards to love, and who you love. 
That is right, a hundred per cent.
This is possibly a cheeky question, but I would think there are some young people who come to see you in concert who would be hoping they have a chance.  Have you had to deal with any over-keen fans?
Yeah, I have.  Like, on the X-Factor tour, there was a lot of fans. They would throw rocks at your window of your room, and different things like that, just to try and get your attention, just to see you. And to go down in the foyer of a morning, and they are there and they – yeah.  Look, we have had some crazy fans – pulling their shirts down and everything like that. You do get wild fans.  But I suppose you can’t complain.
I just can’t believe anyone would throw a rock at your window and expect that you are going to respond positively to that?
Well, that is what happened.  Nathaniel and I were in a room once and that happened.  And bang.  I said, “What was that?”  He said, “Probably just a fan throwing stuff at the window.”  [Laughs].
Does it make you a little bit nervous – that sort of behaviour?
It does.  Because you don’t know what to expect next, do you know what I mean?
Speaking of shows and fans, you have a big show in Tamworth with Amber.  Have you had any Tamworth experiences in the past?
I used to do a bit of recording with LBS Studios, once upon a time, when I was younger, just to experience everything of the industry.  I used to do a few shows with them at the Festival.  Out the back of their studio it was like an auditorium. But nothing like it will be this year – going to the Golden Guitar Awards and performing with Amber in the Blazes Room at the Wentworth Leagues. Big shows.  So it is going to be really good.            
Blazes, of course, is one of the key venues to play at.  So do be doing that at 19 years of age is pretty amazing.
Excellent.  Thank you much. It has just been an incredible ride.  And I must say, hopefully I can just keep pursuing the great music for everyone to listen to, and to grow my fan base.  And that is about you can try and do here in Australia.
I guess also for you, being so young, it is not as if you have had as many years as others, to dream about having this sort of career and how you might run it.  So does it feel a bit like you have been thrown into a washing machine and you are getting tumbled around?
Yeah. I have always wanted to do something with my music.  And there was a stage there when I just thought I am never going to be good enough, so what is the point?  And I just drifted away from it.  And then all of a sudden I came back to the X-Factorauditions.  And I went in that just for the sake of it.  And look what happened. You never know unless you have a go at things. 
I am curious about you saying that you thought you were never going to be good at it.  Was that because you had been sending off demos?  Or you had tried to get shows?  Or you just thought, look, it is all too hard in general?
No.  I just never thought I was good enough.  I never had any self-confidence. Everyone used to tell me I was really good and I just never believed them.  Of course, they were going to tell me I am good, because you don’t get many people who will turn around and say, “Oh, mate.  You sound like crap.” Especially where I was from, in a little town.  There was like 20 of us at the pub on a Friday night, or something, and who wants to start a fight?
[Laughs].  That is a very good point Jason.  I wouldn’t have thought of it like that. 
Oh well, it is true [laughs]. 
So, were you getting up and singing in the pub on a Friday night then?
When I was younger I did. When I was, like, 9, 10 years of age we used to go for dinner, and they set up a little amplifier and a CD player.  And you could sing Kasey Chambers, and Shania Twain, and [laughs] all those types of artist when I was little, so.
A lot of blokes wouldn’t touch a Kasey Chambers song, I don’t think.  So I am really interested that you were covering Kasey Chambers and Shania Twain.
Oh, this was when I was, like, seven or eight. A while ago.  I couldn’t sing John Denver back then.  My voice was too high [laughs].
Fair enough. But, still, I think it is great you were singing Kasey Chambers songs.  So has your band changed at all during the tour?  Do you get to continue with the same band in 2014?
We are until May but once I release my new album, I will be finding my own band.
Does that mean you essentially operate as your own band leader?  So you are making all those choices?
Definitely, when I go on tour by myself I will be choosing the band.  Choosing my songs I am singing.  Choosing the act that comes with me, whether it is a double headliner, or whether they are supporting me, or no matter what.  It really all comes down to how the next album goes.  I think if the album sells well,as good as the first, then I can take someone out the road that wants the experience of touring big time.  Like, not a double headline.  And I will just take someone out that is just starting and to give them a go.
I would imagine it is quite difficult to choose someone, because there are probably quite a few acts who would love to have the spot.  And so it is a question of working out not only who wants it, and not only who is good, but who is a good fit with you.
That’s right. You definitely want someone who would fit in well with me.  Because I am quite out there.  You don’t want someone that doesn’t swear, doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, because I’m the total opposite, you know? So you want someone that can fit into my type of genre and my type of feel. 
Is there any part of you that looks around at your friends and thinks, oh, I am doing all this work – essentially I have got more than a full-time job, and it looks like it is going to continue for a while now, maybe I should have just kicked around and gone to uni or done something else?  Are you missing your late youth, basically? 
There are always thoughts about what is going to happen. Nothing is ever certain in this industry.  Like, prime example, we have been touring this year [2013], and have had the third biggest tour in the year in the country music.  [Some big acts] just aren’t drawing the people any more.  And it just goes to show how hard it is in this industry.  It is not an easy industry at all.
But what people do respond to is entertainment.  And you and Amber have very definitely billed this show as being entertaining.  Plus, because there are the two of you, for punters coming along, that is a really good night they are going to have.  A lot of people, I think, worry about who a support act might be.  But if they know it is you and Amber both doing sets, then that is a great night out.  So it is, essentially, a sure thing for a punter.
I 100 per cent agree with you.  You have got to be very careful who you take on the road with you, and what they sing.  You don’t want someone accompanying with me singing jazz or something, because that just wouldn’t work.  So you have got to very careful of what you do.  You are a hundred per cent right with the support artist.  If the support artist is not good, then people aren’t going to want to come and see the show, do you know what I mean? 
And it is also a responsibility because you could actually break this person’s career out in the open.  You could be giving them a lot of exposure which sets them up for their own career. That is a lot of responsibility for you, as a young artist. I can’t think of many people who have been in that position so young to, essentially, almost be moving into the position of being an elder, being able to break to someone else in the industry. 
A lot of people have said that to me, “You are quite a young artist to be doing what you are doing.  And if they are going to make it, like Keith Urban did, or so forth like that, they all start where you are.  You never just straight into the limelight.  You always built it.  But you have had an amazing start.  You have got 15,000 followers on Facebook.  And that is just an incredible achievement for your first album, and everything like that.”  So, yeah, I am very excited.
Jason Owen and Amber Lawrence play at West Tamworth Leagues Club on Thursday 23 January 2014. Tickets from

Review: Slim Dime

Over the past handful of years, it has become obvious that Australian country music and its subgenres are home to independently recorded and released music that is of very high quality. The writing, producing, recording, singing and playing are all of such a standard that it should perhaps make ‘traditional’ record companies nervous – what happens if country musicians all decide to go independent?

Too many weeks ago – and I say ‘too many’ because I’ve been remiss in not reviewing these albums earlier – I was sent Hillbillly Salad by Slim Dime and the Prairie Kings, and Hold Fast by Slim Dime.  Slim Dime are a Melbourne duo, with Jen Land and Chris Taylor on vocals and all sorts of guitars. 

Hillbilly Salad is well named, its eight tracks (does that make it a long EP or a short LP?) embodying the spirit and style of honky tonk. Land’s voice has a wonderful tone and it sits comfortably and cleanly above the music. 
Hold Fast is a more melodic production – Land has lead vocals throughout (whereas they are shared on Hillbilly Salad), and the songs, and the singing, are sweeter. Some of the tracks are traditional, some covers and some originals. The traditional songs may have determined the direction of the album, towards ballads, so this is a slower, more melancholic affair than Hillbilly Salad.
Both of these recordings were independently made, and they exemplify the best of their kind. They also offer a simplicity of production that honours the songs  – the tracks are not overlaid with more instruments than they need in order to make the sound ‘bigger’ for radio, which is obviously a concern for record companies. Thus we see why independent recordings suit country music so well: in a genre where songwriting is held in such high esteem, the most outstanding recordings are those that recognise that. Slim Dime treat songs with utmost respect, and the listener is the beneficiary. Plus, I could listen to Jen Land’s voice for days.
These recordings are available on CD or via download – visit
Slim Dime are playing in the Melbourne area: visit for details.