Month: February 2017

Adam Brand leads from the heart with new album

Adam Brand is one of the great entertainers of Australian country music. His new album is Get On Your Feet, and while on one level it will get fans on their feet, on another it marks a shift in direction for Brand, as we discussed recently. 
What gets you on your feet?
Some people like their country to sit down and cry into their beer to, some people want it to tell the story about the family farm and all that kind of stuff. I want my music to be something to dance to. I want a mosh pit. I want people to tap their toes and wriggle around in their seats so much that they can’t help it, they want to get on their feet. That’s what I look for. I want to feel good. I don’t want to contemplate why I’m here and what the universe is all about when I go to a show.
When you play a show, if you don’t see people getting on their feet, how far are you prepared to push it to get them up?
Oh, I’ll down into the audience and grab someone and start dancing with them. Anything [laughs]. It depends on the show. If you’re playing a theatre, then obviously it’s difficult for them to get up so you have to judge it on each venue as is and the kind of show. In that kind of venue, that kind of environment, I’ll probably do a little bit more listening stuff. I’ll still tell people to wiggle their bum cheeks in the chair or wave their arms around or something, make some noise, but you have to feel your way.
So with this new album, Get On Your Feet, how long was it in the planning?
Eighteen months. And I was on the road with my previous album and the Outlaws – Adam Brand and the Outlaws – and we were touring everywhere and I was working on it then. I was going through demos and listening to songs. There was no real technical process for me for the song selection on this album. I wasn’t strategically ticking boxes of ‘I need this many of this type of song’ or this tempo, this key. It was purely a matter of all the songs I was getting, all the songs that I had that I liked, putting them in a playlist and as I fell out of love with them, I deleted them. I ended up being left with ten. It’s kind of like panning for gold. I swished it all around and in the bottom I saw ten specks            – these are the ones that I still love singing along to. I was doing carpool karaoke with these songs long before I recorded them.
That process of listening to songs and falling out of love with them – do you give yourself a certain amount of time for that to happen? Such as, ‘If I’ve had this on the playlist for two weeks and I’m sick of it, that’s it’? Or is it not so scientific?
Absolutely nowhere near scientific [laughs]. It’s really just fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. It all depended on when I was going to the studio. The cut-off time was basically the day I went into the studio, that I could make changes. So whatever songs were left on that playlist were the ones that were my top ten faves and that’s what I’m going to record. I didn’t even think about, These have got too many subjects about drinkin’ or fun or love. It was just the ten songs I wanted to sing along to the most. That was as scientific as I got.
On previous albums have you concentrated more on certain subject areas?
As you go through your career you change a little bit – a lot. I think your process changes too. I lead now more with my heart than my head. Whereas before I overthought it or second guessed it. I was thinking of what I should be doing or what people expected me to be doing. Or listening to what record companies or managements were saying. This one I just wanted to completely lead with my heart and say, ‘I love singing this song – what better reason is there to record it?’
That’s quite a brave thing to do, lead with your heart, because you really need to have the courage of sticking behind it. If someone questions your choice you can’t rationalise it – you can’t say, ‘I needed a song about X’ or ‘I really like the time signature’. On this album, compared with previous albums, I found a sense of an arc through the songs from beginning to end, and a sense of cohesion that comes from the way you’re singing the songs. I heard a real confidence in the way you were singing and I’m wondering if that was related to you leading with your heart.
Wow, thank you for that observation – really. And, yes, I do believe that. I believe that because I led with my heart it probably all made so much more sense, and that leads you to that cliché of ‘follow your heart’. Maybe your heart really knows what it wants. Maybe you should trust your heart more. In the studio singing these songs I felt confident – not cocky. When I was about to start singing each song and I had the lyric sheet there, and the engineer said, ‘We’re doing this one’, I said, ‘Yeah, I love this song!’ There was this passion for them and with that this confidence. And the confidence came as well because I’d been singing along to them. I knew these songs – they weren’t new ones that I was discovering and creating them in the studio. I already loved them. As you said, if someone wants you to justify it and all I’ve got is ‘Because I love it’, I feel that gives me a position of strength because that should be the ultimate reason because you record a song and want to show it to people and say, ‘Hey, have a listen to this – this is my song.’ If I can do that with my hand on my heart and not have a little spreadsheet of reasons why I felt I needed to do it … If the only reason is that I stand there saying, ‘I love this song – if you don’t like it, I don’t care’ [laughs], maybe it’s coming of age, maybe it’s a confidence thing, I’m not sure but it feels good.
And it sounds good on the album. What I’m curious about is that it’s not like you’d have had any cause to doubt your convictions earlier because of how your career’s gone. It’s interesting that it’s at this point in your career that you’re feeling this way. And I’m wondering if it has something to do with that Outlaws tour, whether going on the road, playing with your mates, having a lot of fun – did that experience inform this one?
It could have been the precursor to it. But I found just doing the Outlaws tour, putting that together, there were people who raised their eyebrows at that. There were people saying, ‘Hang on a minute – you’re doing cover songs?’ Or, ‘These aren’t country songs. You’re doing Queen? You’re doing Jet? What are you thinking?’ So I think the confidence started back then, because I had this real conviction about the album. It was an idea that I’d had for ten years. I got some of my best mates in the band with me, and they were trusting my judgment on it. They were standing behind me going, ‘We’re going to trust your judgement even if we cop some flack – we’re all in this together.’ And there were a lot of people who didn’t really get it at the start, until they saw us and they said, ‘Oh – this s just five guys having fun, isn’t it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s it. We’re just singing fun songs.’ [Laughs] So I think the strength of conviction that it took to really surge ahead with the Outlaws probably put me in a really good position to do this album, because this album is pushing the boundaries on my music. I’ve got dance loops in there. When the first single came out I had people saying, ‘You’re turned poppy and you’re doing this and you’re doing that.’ And I said, ‘I’m just doing what I’m doing because I love it. Have a listen to the whole album and then tell me what you think.’ It didn’t rock my boat and I think part of that was because I came from the Outlaws project feeling like this was an idea I’d had for so long, I backed it, my mates backed it, and it worked. So just lead with your heart and just trust that everything’s going to be okay.
You used the word ‘fun’ and when I was listening to the new album the new things I noted most were ‘confidence’ and ‘fun’. But I think in a way it’s also brave to say, ‘I just want to have fun’, because so often for artists there is pressure there to have songs that are meaningful – that idea when your audience comes in that you have to give them a show that really resonates with them. But, really, I think what most people want when they come to a show is fun.  
I’m asked a fair bit, ‘What’s your political stance? What song are you prepared to get handcuffed for?’ My political stance is: be kind to one another. That’s it. I reckon if we master that, a whole lot of other things are going to disappear. Does my show have light and shade, does it have those moments that are a bit more serious? Of course it does. I sing songs like ‘The Anzac’ which is paying respect to people who have served our country. You probably can’t get much more emotional than that. But is it fun? Absolutely. But what I class as fun isn’t just all drinking and getting stupid – it’s about squeezing of the person who’s sitting next to you because I’m singing a song that’s talking about a deep connection with someone you love. Or it’s about the value of a family and how much fun it is to be immersed in that. There’s a song called ‘That Was Us’ talking about young fellas who everyone thought were meatheads but they were actually really good boys who helped Old Man Smith bringing in the crops from his field when he had an accident. There’s lots of textures within that, having fun. But it’s about feeling good. It’s about spreading some happy, you know.
You have a really good relationship with your fans. You’re great on social media. They obviously turn up for you time after time. Do you think of them when you’re in the studio? As an artist you have to lead your fans into that fun, so do you trust that you know your fans and what you produce will be great for them, or is there ever a glimmer of wondering what they’re going to think?
Every time I hear a new song or I decide to record a song or I fall in love with a song, one of the reasons why is how I feel when I imagine myself singing it on stage. A huge part of falling in love with a song is me standing on stage and looking out as I’m singing these songs and thinking about how people are going to react to it. With the song ‘Campfires’ I straightaway saw myself on the stage of Deni Ute Muster, looking out above all the heads, out to the paddocks around the side where all the utes are parked, and all these campfires. And all the people who have done road trips to get there with their mates, and after the concert’s finished they’re all sitting around these glowing embers and there’s music blaring out of every second ute. I just pictured this and thought, Yeah, this is my song. Then I went further and thought, No – this is our song. It absolutely is an integral part of it, of how I feel we’re all going to connect with it together.
And therefore it’s no mystery to me at all how your fans have such a strong connection to you, because that level of empathy for your fans is really significant. People want to feel that connection when they really love someone’s music – they want to feel that you’re all in it together.
True. And you know what? People always talk about artists and say ‘you’re trying to get your fans connected with your music’ but I actually feel connected to them, because I don’t feel any different. I’m a fan of music. I go to gigs sometimes and I’m in the mosh pit with them. So I feel it’s something I’m connecting with then there’s a likelihood that they’re going to connect with it as well, and we’re going to connect with it together. We’re going to laugh together, we’re going to cry together, we’re just going to be swept up in an emotion together. There’s times when I’m singing ‘The Anzac’ and I look down and see a nineteen-year-old kid standing next to a sixty-year-old grandad and they’re both standing there with tears streaming down their faces and their hands on their hearts, standing for the Anzacs. At that point I’ve got to hold back my eyes from welling up, because I’ve got to perform. In those moments I think, We’re all in this together.
Speaking of those shows and those fans, I would imagine you have some touring plans lined up.
Huge amount. It starts in Lismore and then goes everywhere from Darwin to Tassie to Cairns to Perth. Last week I did Launceston on the Friday night and then Gold Coast album launch on the Saturday night.
You have twelve Golden Guitars. You might think, My life’s complete – I’ve got all those Golden Guitars. Do you feel that sense of satisfaction or do you feel that urge to do more, see more, achieve more?
I don’t really think about them very much. Am I honoured to have received them? Absolutely I am, but I don’t really think about them too much. My head and heart are more immersed in performing and singing the songs. I don’t really know how to answer that question. As an ambitious person or someone who wants to achieve things, there’s always those levels of things: Last time I charted this high; this time it would be nice if I charted this high.There’s all those sorts of things, but they’re really secondary. The awards and the sales amounts and all that kind of stuff, it’s secondary to the excitement that I get when I’m standing in front of people to sing my songs. If I’m sitting in a room playing acoustically to fifty people it can be an absolutely amazing experience that can overshadow standing in front of two thousand people. It really is all about the connection with the audience and as a performer that is the real thing that ignites me inside.
My sense of your career is that what you’re interested in is more great work. You seem to appreciate the moment but you’re also curious about what’s next.
Absolutely. I’m certainly not thinking about next sales achievement or next award achievement. I’m just thinking about what’s going to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck next time. What is going to make a difference? What is going to create something that makes people go, ‘Oh wow, that was just an awesome time.’ At the moment I’m on fire about this idea of doing free shows. I did one in Tamworth. I usually do a midnight Birthday Bash, for a lot of years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but I did an afternoon one [laughs]. I did a free one. I took over this venue at four o’clock in the afternoon, the Albert Hotel. We opened the doors and put some signs out front saying, ‘Adam Brand playing here now’. Ten past five I walked on stage. For me, it’s doing something that maybe other people don’t do. I want to show my fans and say, ‘Hey, I just want to play for you.’ Obviously there’s commercial realities with touring that’s part of the world that no one can escape from, but sometimes I just want to be able to do this. The Gold Coast album launch, I did it at night markets – food markets – the Night Quarter. They’ve got this incredible performance area. I did it for free. Just advertised it – ‘Big album launch, just come along’. It cost people three bucks to get into the market area and then it was free. We had about two thousand people there. It was amazing. I just want to do things different. I want to do things unexpected, too.
Get On Your Feet is out now through ABC Music/Universal. Buy it on iTunes.
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Album review: Six String Heart by Jackie Dee

Sometimes I’ll get a hankering to listen to a particular type of album. This album would have lovely melodies, and heart, and the songs would be well written, and I would want to listen to this album over and over again, relishing the sweetness of its sound and finding myself wanting to find out more about the stories behind the songs. It may not be a country album, as I’m partial to pop music and the almost guilty pleasure of a great pop song is always an allure. The perfect combination is, I figure, a pop sensibility combined with something that only Australian country music has been able to give me: what feels like a direct relationship with the singer and songwriter, who are often the same person.

Admittedly, such a hankering is often satisfied by listening to a McClymonts album. Melodies, pop, great songs: all there. So when I received Jackie Dee’s new album Six String Heart and the press release with it said she has a voice like Mollie McClymont, obviously I was at least partially on the hook.
Here’s the thing, though: Jackie Dee doesn’t sound like anyone but herself, and she has a fantastic pop-country voice that embraces melodies and reaches out to connect with listeners. Her songs are heartfelt; it is clear that she feels every word, even if she hasn’t lived it (because it’s only her business to know if she has).

Six String Heartis eleven tracks that in another genre would be called ‘all killer, no filler’. I have no idea if Dee wrote fifty tracks and rejected thirty-nine to get to these eleven, but she has arrived at a great collection of stories brought to life by her voice. The album is dedicated to her brother, who died last year, and track 8 is about him, too. The song is far from maudlin: it is joyous while hinting at the bittersweet paradox at its core. It’s not the only song in which she finds the balance of light and dark while allowing the listener to feel safe within it.
Dee has had high-quality help on this album: Shane Nicholson lends his vocals to two tracks and plays guitars, banjo, mandolin and dulcimer, and Glen Hannah is on electric guitars. Matt Fell took the producer’s reins, as he has done with many other great country music releases in recent years. But there is not a single sense of these musicians compensating for something that wasn’t originally there – rather, I’m completely sure that they wanted to be involved in this album because they knew the calibre of artist they were dealing with.
This is an album that will elicit smiles and tears. It is a piece of beautiful perfection. And if, like me, you have a certain hankering, it will satisfy that too.

Six String Heart is out now. Buy it at or on iTunes.

The Young Folk: Irish folk stars on tour in Australia

As Australia passes through summer and into autumn, festivals abound. For touring artists, it’s a good opportunity to meet new and old fans, and perhaps visit other places in between. So it is for Irish four-piece The Young Folk, who have become stars in their homeland and the Netherlands – and I found out why when I interviewed lead singer Anthony Furley late last week. 

In my reading I couldn’t find your origin story, for lack of a better term – how you all came together.
Myself and Paul [Butler], the pianist, we went to college together a few years ago and we were playing in a few college bands. So when college finished after two years we decided to get something together of our own, because both of us were writing music all the time. Then Tony [McLoughlin], the bass player and mandolin player, he came about two or three years later. I was working with Tony in Dublin. And then Tony was playing with another guy, Alex [Borwick], who’s from New Zealand – don’t hold that against him, though. We needed something different. We were writing a lot of folkish music and wanted to change the style a small bit. Alex played banjo first of all in the band and then he started to introduce trombone, so that was a perfect turn for us.
Trombone is not a common interest in many bands these days.
He uses it well, I must say. We didn’t know that it was going to suit what we were doing, but we tried it out and we stuck with it, and it’s perfect.
And I suppose now you can write for it, or write to include it.
Yes, we’ll include a melody or a line to suit that instrument. But he also plays a lot of other instruments, so that was handy for us too.
You mentioned those college bands – what sort of music were you playing in them?
We were playing from instrumental to heavy rock to folk music. We were playing anything we could. Any band that we could get into, we were in, no matter what the style was. There was a band we were wearing wigs – like long-haired wigs for it [laughs]. That was pretty cool. And that band was called Jesus and His Dog.
Those bands were obviously your musical apprenticeship as well.
Yes. Well, I was playing music about two or three years before going to college and I got accepted into a really good music college in Dublin. I did two years and then I got asked if I wanted to go over to Holland to study. So I went over and I could have finished – I could have got my masters at a very young age. I decided against it. For me to have my masters and try to become a teacher of music, I was too young for younger musicians to respect on what I hadn’t gone through yet so I decided that I needed to be at the highest of the highs that I could get and at the lowest of the lows, because with music it’s kind of like that. Playing live, it is like that. You’re playing to a massive crowd and then the next day you can be playing to two people. You’re only as good as your last show, so no matter if it’s to two people or a thousand people, it should always be the same.
It’s hard to sustain energy when it’s a small number of people, depending on your personality as a performer. But I think there’s some kind of energetic return in performance whereby two people aren’t necessarily giving a lot back for you to work with, but it’s all good experience.
My mum always said that to me – it’s one of the hardest professions you can get into. You can be as high as you can be and then as low as you can be in a matter of twenty-four hours. She said you just have to stick with it. All of our parents have pushed us towards what we’re doing now.
And reading your individual biographies, you do all come from very impressive and exceptional musical lineages – how do those influence the music that you create together.
I’m sure at the very start of our career they influenced us a lot. Then we started to find our own sound and started to travel around instead of hearing our parents’ stories and what they’d done and started to learn our own way of doing it. It would have been very easy for us to continue on how they left off but we didn’t want to do that we wanted to try something else. And I think what we’re trying now might be a lot more of a reward at the very end of it, or in the middle hopefully.
Certainly in a short space of time you’ve found international audiences. But I think it also takes a bit of focus and determination to do that – it doesn’t happen by accident, you don’t just suddenly wake up and play in the Netherlands, or in Australia, for that matter. Was it always an intention – you understood how your audience might be in Ireland but you were always looking more broadly?
Exactly. As an Irish band you have to concentrate on your home country first of all and then just hope that you get a break. We were actually very lucky to get a break in Holland. We were asked by our old publicist to go onto a Dutch show, like a reality show. It’s like the Ant and Dec [of Holland] and it’s called Nick and Simon. It’s absolutely massive in Holland, they’re huge, but we did not know who these guys were. And they asked us to come on just to play a song. At the very start we refused because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into – we thought it was like this X Factor reality thing, and they assured us that it wasn’t. We went on, met the guys, played one of the songs. It got aired six months later. Two days later our album went to number two in the Dutch charts. It was just luck. Complete luck. But also, not to be big headed, I think we had the talent to make sure we got what we came to do.
Luck does often come up in conversations I’ve had like this, and in every single case I’m convinced that, yes, there is luck but it’s knowing when to take advantage of it and, as you said, having the talent. It is being at a point of maturity and talent to know what to do with it if the luck comes off.
Completely. You should know your own ability. If you know you’re getting yourself into a situation where you can know you can deal with and do it, and even if it’s a tiny bit out of your comfort zone, still do it. You never know what rewards you’re going to get out of it.
So you’re now in Australia and this is not the most logical destination for a lot of bands in the northern hemisphere to come to, just from a logistical point of view. How long has this trip been in the planning?
Six months.
And you wanted to come or was it suggested that you come?
We talked about it last year. We were doing a few shows in America and with Alex being in the band, he was talking about festivals in New Zealand and Australia that we should try to apply for. We didn’t get around to doing it because we were closer to being in Holland and that just took off. We decided to concentrate on Europe. Then we were in America and on the plane on the way back to Dublin we just brought up it up again. Alex said, ‘I will send off an email to the Port Fairy Folk Festival just to see if they’re interested.’ So Alex got in touch with them and straightaway they got back saying to Alex, ‘We were actually trying to get in touch with you guys.’ And we were, like, ‘What? That’s crazy!’ They said, ‘We’ll put you up and do this for you and do that.’ It was just perfect timing. That’s one of the last shows of the tour now, so they were going to sort out pretty much everything that we needed to come over just to play that one festival. We got a woman on board, an American who’s helping us out with bookings over here. She’s extended it to a month-long tour. So how could we refuse? It’s a pretty amazing experience. I know a lot of people would love to come to Australia to play, or even for a holiday, from Ireland and they wouldn’t get a chance to and we’ve been given a chance to. So make or break, it will definitely have to be an experience and maybe we’ll get a couple of songs out of it.
Are you going to New Zealand as well?
No, unfortunately. Just with visas it was too tight for it. But we’re going to do it definitely next year.
You mentioned that you might get a couple of songs out of the trip, so obviously that balance of being on the road, writing recording, is a really hard one once you’re at a certain point in your career, but it sounds like you’re alive to those songwriting opportunities when they come up.
Yes. It’s a twenty-four job. We treat it as a job, which is great – not many musicians would think that. A lot of musicians out there would play a gig and have a few beers and wake up with a massive hangover the next day and have to try to play another gig. We treat it as a twenty-four-hour thing. You pick your battles to hang out with people and socialise. It’s like a normal job. You put yourself in a room for three or four hours if you have any ideas to write songs. Throw them out. Myself, Tony and Paul, we write in the band – to have three songwriters in the band is great because it takes the pressure off each other. But it also puts on more pressure to outdo each other, in a friendly way, but also be competitive.
Obviously that is healthy competition because in some bands the egos might intrude. Was that balance there from the start?
At the very start I was writing a lot more than the other guys. Then Paul started to write. He was writing already but his songs started to come into The Young Folk. Then Tony’s songs started to come into The Young Folk. It was kind of perfect timing in a way, because you can wear yourself out doing it all the time and I think I wore myself out for a few months where I was writing, writing, writing and then all of a sudden nothing. But I wasn’t worried that there was nothing – I was kind of relaxed. Have a break. Come back to it. You need that with every job, with everything you do in life. When I was done having a break, Paul and Tony stepped up.
I’m interested in your statement that you weren’t worried that there was nothing coming, because of course for some people that’s when the panic sets in about writers block.
Ah, there’s no such thing. Just rest your mind and if you feel like that a good thing to do is try to read a book or read a book that you would never, ever think of – get a recommendation that maybe you know or maybe you don’t know. Go into a bookstore and say, ‘What would you recommend for me?’ and when they ask you what you read, say, ‘I read this but I don’t want to read that’, and they’ll point you in a different direction. It’s another uncomfortable situation you can get yourself into that can come out with a lot of benefits and rewards.
I’ve not heard that exact advice before – but it’s that idea of changing how your brain works.
Yes, that’s it. Your brain was in a place for those few months and then for the following few months it wasn’t – you should never, ever worry about it. You just embrace it and then move on. What is it – refresh and revive. We’ve seen those signs on the road here as we’re travelling in Australia.
Just going back to something you said about seeing this as a job – most people would go into music out of passion, very few would go into it cynically. And, of course, once it becomes your job there’s that risk that the passion doesn’t necessarily die but is dimmed a little bit. Are you able to maintain that passion for what you do?
Oh yes, definitely, the passion is always there. The nerves are always there five minutes before you’re going on, you’ve always have those nerves, not knowing what’s going on.
And in terms of not knowing what’s going on, Australia is a new destination for you so did you have any expectations before you arrived?
No, we’re keeping a completely open mind. I don’t know what to think about it yet. We’ve only been here for three or four days so I’ll probably have more of an answer in the next week or two.
Well, we do love a festival here and you are going to three – there’s Cobargo at the moment then Port Fairy and Blue Mountains, so we’ll certainly get a good idea of what our festivals are like.
I hear that the small festival here are like massive festivals in Ireland, because Ireland’s only small.

Wednesday 1st March 2017 
Polish White Eagle Club, CANBERRA ACT 

Thursday 2nd March 2017 
Petersham Bowling Club, SYDNEY NSW 

Friday 3rd March 2017 
Trinity Sessions, ADELAIDE SA 
Adelaide Fringe 

Saturday 4th March 2017 
Bendigo Bank Theatre, The Capital, BENDIGO VIC 

Thursday 9th March 2017 
13th Beach Golf Clubhouse, BARWON HEADS VIC 

Friday 10th – Monday 13th March 2017 
Port Fairy Folk Festival, PORT FAIRY VIC 

Thursday 16th March 2017 
Memo Music Hall, ST KILDA VIC 

Friday 17th March 2017 
Blue Mountains Folk & Roots Festival, KATOOMBA NSW 

For more information, please visit 
The latest album from The Young Folk is First Sign of  Morning. 

Album review: Violet Road by Sam Newton

Longing is something most of us experience but it’s not often given that name. We miss, we want, we desire, we lack. What we rarely admit to – perhaps because we can’t identify the emotion given that we rarely speak its name – is longing. And if we can’t name it, we can’t describe it either.

Sydney singer-songwriter Sam Newton knows how to describe and depict longing: the opening tracks of his new album, Violet Road, are laced with it. Newton sounds as if he is longing for an experience that is perhaps recently or distantly past, one that’s lingering within him. And along with that longing is its close companion, yearning. Both of these states of being can seem overly earnest – even twee, perhaps – but Newton is not sentimental, and, therefore, the emotions in his music are authentic and appropriate, and they never last longer than necessary. This suggests that Newton has a very good grasp of the concept of restraint. He doesn’t indulge himself – the song contains what it needs to, and no more. Which is not to say that the songs on Violet Road are sparse: they are lean where they should be, and at other times they’re fleshed out with some wonderful steel guitar or fiddle.

Nor is the album a collection of tunes in a minor key – because Newton understands what a song needs, the musical mood always fits what’s in the lyrics. The musical style is country and folk, and often traditional in nature. These are songs that belong in a lineage; they wouldn’t sound out of place on a town hall stage somewhere in a country town in 1950, yet there are also elements that are purely contemporary: at times it’s not hard to imagine Newton standing on a suburban Sydney footpath, under a crescent moon, serenading the sky and whoever happens to pass him by. These are evocative songs that seem simple in construction yet come with layers of meaning. And if Newton knows how to put longing into his songs, he also knows how to leave you longing for them in turn.
Buy Violet Road on Bandcamp or iTunes.

Interview: Matt Henry

Over the past handful of years Matt Henry has been a presence in the musical scene of northern New South Wales and at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. After his debut EP, Life By Proxy, he has now released his first album, Love Without Co-Dependency, and it is an extraordinary work, as befits a singer-songwriter who respects tradition while finding his unique path through contemporary music. Matt is a thoughtful songwriter who does not overthink; he is willing to connect to his audience without labouring the relationship. The reasons why became clear when I asked him about the personal history that led to his new release.

On the press release it says that at the age of forty you are releasing this album that has been twenty-five years in the making. Has it been worth the wait?
Yes, it has. I was saying this to my mum the other day, because my mum heard the album and had all these questions for me, rang me with a whole lot of notes not just about the music but about my life and what I was singing about and a whole lot of stuff she didn’t know. I actually feel like I’ve lived two completely different lives, and if it had have come out any time during the first one it wouldn’t have been as interesting and I wouldn’t have been able to back it up and I would have somehow managed to completely stuff it up. [Laughs] So I’m very glad that I waited.
To that point about two parts of your life: there’s a note here about you having the courage to start performing live at thirty-five. I was wondering where that courage come from but I guess maybe it’s something to do with the fact that you changed your life.
The song ‘I Died on a Beautiful Day’ is about a big run of panic attacks but there was one particularly big one that got me to go to therapy, which I’ve done ever since. That was about 2003 or 2004. So ever since then, once a week I’ve fronted up and tried to work out all the different aspects of my life. So the first part of my life was really up until that point and the second life started then, and that was when I was about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Then working through all those issues – I had a marriage breakdown and a breakdown of my own and a bout of depression, and then came out the other side of it, and I was starting to come out that other side I thought I’d always wanted to be a songwriter from when I was fifteen and maybe I can do it, maybe I should have a go. I had been tinkering with some stuff and it got to a point where I realised, I have to be a singer-songwriter, I can’t give these songs to someone else, they’re too personal. So I had to start trying to perform, which was another battle. That’s why it started so late. Thirty-five, I think I was, and going out to the Country Music Academy – I’d got into the academy but I’d never sung in front of anyone. I was going out the next week and I thought, I’ve got to go and sing somewhere, so I went to an open mic night.
Partly you could say it’s relatively late to start but I think one of the advantages of starting at that age and not in your teens is that you don’t have ‘beginner’ albums behind you and you don’t have to fumble your way through finding out who you are on stage because by the time you got up to sing, you’d worked out who you were.
You do sometimes look at people who are younger – in their early to mid twenties – and you can see them really wanting to be something, really wanting to be mature and wanting to understand, but they just haven’t had the experience yet to really know some things. And there are things that you know in theory and things that you know from experience. But on the flipside, there’s two things I’ve learned about starting so late: no one takes the old guy under their wing like they would if you were younger, and also if you’re old on stage and you suck, you’re just old and suck. There’s not, like, ‘Oh, you’re fifteen’, ‘Oh, she’ll get better’, it’s just: ‘Man, you’re old and you’re not very good, you should probably not do this. We’re embarrassed for you’ [laughs].
I can’t believe you’ve had too many of those moments.
There were. There were so many. I could go through them one by one with you but we don’t have time. There wasn’t anyone saying that but you could see people looking and going, ‘Yeah. Mmm.’ [Laughs]
So there’s the courage to start performing and there’s also the courage to continue – so was it just that conviction that you were doing the right thing.
I think it’s finding your voice –and that’s always been a term that I’m familiar with, but in a literal sense I didn’t understand it. But it was getting to a place where you actually feel like the person you are day to day and that you’re being that on stage and that’s who you’re being when you open your mouth to sing, and that’s taken a really long time. I only probably just really in the last year felt that I’ve gotten a bit more to that. And during recording it was like a big crash course in that with Shane [Nicholson, the album’s producer], because I think that’s where Shane is so good as a performer and he kept saying things to me like, ‘Just try not to sing so much and try to be more.’ And he said, ‘Try doing that again but sing that line more throwaway as if you’re not really that worried about what anyone thinks about it.’ Then he was saying, ‘Try being more okay with just being where you’re at.’ And they were obviously really good pieces of advice, because they’ve stuck in my head for the last year.
As you were talking I wrote down the word ‘vulnerability’, and I think that’s what Shane was getting at – it’s a big task and a big ask to be vulnerable in front of an audience, particularly when it’s being documented. Part of what I noticed about this album is that it’s very emotional but at a certain point I think you would have had to be able to distance yourself from the emotion in order to document it, yet you were somehow still able to bring that feeling to it. So I don’t know if that’s part of the alchemy of working with Shane or the experience of being a performer for a while that’s brought you to that.
I think definitely a bit of both but more the alchemy of working with Shane. I went back – after I got the first lot of mixes I went back and said, ‘I want to redo this and I want to redo that’ because I wasn’t comfortable with a lot of the areas where it was a bit vulnerable. I thought it sounded like someone who was unsure of themselves, and there were aspects where I think that was right but there were probably more aspects where it was just vulnerable and he kept telling me during the recording, ‘I like that, it has a nice vulnerability to it’, and he kept talking about vulnerability and being okay with it. So had I gone back and not had him be clear on that I would have sung all the vulnerability out of it. It was very much his particular sensitivity and ability to recognise it that kept all of that in, which I’m so glad for now.
And it works so beautifully on the album because the lyrics suggest that it should be there and if you’d tried to sing it out of the way then it would have felt like you were singing someone else’s songs, but I don’t think that’s really your groove, if that make sense.
Totally. I agree. And it wouldn’t have made as much sense had I not been that exposed. And the good thing about is that I’ve had a couple of moments on stage this year – I can think of two or three – that I felt that I could go even further with that. It’s really hard with gigs and I’ve struggled this year with accepting particular gigs – well, I haven’t struggled, I’ve just stopped accepting particular gigs because I just feel like I can’t get up and get to that place in that environment, so I’m not going to do it.
You mean particular venues?
Particular venues, time slots. A few times I’ve had promoters throw up a Sunday – ‘Can you play this? It’s a Sunday session, it’s good money, all the people are there to listen and have a good time and have a drink.’ And it’s like, ‘I know those Sunday drinking sessions’, and I don’t feel safe enough to go there and do that with these songs. Because you get there and you sort of pour your heart out and then someone says, ‘Can you play “Wonderwall”?’ And I think, ‘You know what? I’m too old to go through that.’ [Laughs]
And it’s knowing who you are – it comes back to that.
Yes, I think so. And maybe that’s the benefit of being a bit older, too – knowing who you are and then having the strength of your convictions to say, ‘That’s not me and I’m not going to do that.’ When you’re younger you probably do a lot of stuff that you’re not really that enamoured with.
And you would do it, for a music career, in order just to get the runs on the board and make money and get some practice live. But regardless of where you are in your career, not many people say ‘no’ to work and then they probably end up feeling compromised by saying ‘yes’.
Exactly. And I don’t take for granted the fact that I have another job and I’m not doing this for a living – that makes a big difference to be able to do that. I don’t judge anyone for taking any gigs when they’re a professional working musician – you’ve got to get paid, you’ve got to eat. So I’m lucky in that sense.
That trick of having creative work is that sometimes the right decision, as much as people might think it would be lovely to do it full time, that loads up the work with a whole lot of other things. It’s arguable that if it was  your day job, you couldn’t have got yourself to the place to record the album like this because there would have been so much else on it – like, ‘I have to take all those gigs.’
That’s right. I’ve written songs since the album and you start thinking about them in the context of what other people might expect or what you’re going to do next or what might sell, or will people like this song. And it’s really hard to say, ‘I’m not doing this for money or for all of these other reasons, so I’ve got to stay true to writing what I want to write.’ I know that in any other aspect where money does come in, something gets compromised very quickly.
It is a good position to be in, but it does also take a lot of extra work. Sometimes you have to make the creative job the day job because it’s too much work to do it on the side.
The thing I’ll often thing about is that in Chinese culture, the practising visual artist who is an amateur is considered the truer artist than the professional working artist. It’s just a cultural difference in that they understand that the amateur art form is a purer form of expression. There’s something more honourable in it.
To swing back to your album and the songs, I made a note about Australian masculinity, because I think country music as a storytelling genre is probably better at allowing for and accommodating different ways of telling Australian stories and talking about Australian masculinity, but what I’m hearing on your album is that you’re an Australian bloke and to be that vulnerable and write about the subject matter that’s in these songs, it’s not common.
I’m really glad you’ve picked that up because it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to. It is really hard to go there. If you met my dad he’s probably the most ocker – he’s like Paul Hogan, really. It is a difficult thing to then go and do [the album]. I think with Australian male culture, there’s this thing that exists where, first and foremost, you’ve got to be a good bloke, and there’s certain things a good bloke doesn’t do. They don’t go spouting on about beliefs or ideas or culture. You don’t overdress. You don’t look too smooth. There’s this downplaying all the time – downplaying your emotions, downplaying your sense of self, your ideas, your beliefs, your political beliefs. It’s continual. Obviously all this stuff’s going to change eventually and as is often the case, it’s when these old blokes all die off and all their old sexist and backwards viewpoints die off with them. It’ll be a much easier place to be. I hate to think how it would be growing up as a gay man in Australia. People from my generation having to go through all of that, it would be unbelievably difficult. Anyway, I’m very grateful that you recognised that.
There’s a lot of honesty in country music but as I listened to your album I could hear something else at work. I listened to William Crighton’s album quite closely and I thought of that as a certain statement about Australian masculinity, and yours is not a balance to it, because it’s a different statement, but it’s always good to look at these works in the broader cultural context – and that’s why I think what you’ve done is a really important piece of work, because there isn’t anything like it as far as I can tell.
Thank you for saying that. As I’ve been singing the songs in and feeling more comfortable singing them, I was trying to find a balance between singing them like a man, not to tilt towards hamming it on a little bit, the emotion, and trying to elicit emotion through a particular sound in my voice, and rather letting the words and the music and the honesty be the driving force behind the emotion rather than an affectation. When you can’t get to that place emotionally you do make an affectation whether it’s in your voice or your delivery, and so the challenge for me has been trying to get to that place in a real way then present it on stage but also present it as a man would present it. I always think about it as trying to be okay with not being okay. [Laughs]
It’s also having the courage – that word again – to keep digging, I guess the way one digs in therapy. You keep trying to dig a bit deeper and I guess you do that every time you get up with your guitar in front of a microphone.
Exactly, and let people know. There’s been times when I can see that what I’m singing about makes people uncomfortable or it’s just maybe not going down well or it’s not something people at that point don’t want to hear about. It’s trying to stay with it regardless of how it is for other people. Just trying to stay with what the songs are and who I am and be okay with that. That’s the thing that is really the hardest for me.
And it’s a constant practice, but hopefully now that it’s documented you feel like you’ve got that platform to keep going out and doing it.
Yes, and if you get some positive response you can feed off that. And then also – like with choosing venues and gigs – I haven’t really found my place yet. I haven’t really found my audience and I haven’t really found my place in the musical world so as I get some feedback I’ll end up finding my niche area that I can exist in and spin my wheels and enjoy it, hopefully.
Knowing you, it could be somewhere that you create – you’re good at creating those spaces [Matt created Late Night Alt at the Tamworth Country Music Festival].
That’s what I’m hoping. We’re going back to when I was at the Academy of Country Music – that was 2011 and Shane came out for one afternoon to talk to us. The thing that I recall most from the two weeks being out there was this one thing that he said, and that was, ‘Just try to find a little area of the musical universe to occupy and then just do it the best you can.’ And that just felt like a perfect description for me and I’ve held onto that since then. That was a big factor in why I went to him to record.
Love Without Co-Dependency is out now and available on iTunes.
Find Matt on Facebook.

Single release: ‘Sad Season’ by Crying Day Care Choir

Swedish alt-folk trio Crying Day Care Choir have a way with a catchy beat, unfussy instrumentation (including a uke) and tight harmonies. The band are made up of husband and wife Jack and Sara Elz, and Jack’s brother Bill Nystedt and they have been gigging across Italy and Scandinavia, playing major tours in support of their self-released 2014 debut album Leave The KingdomThey’ve just released a new single, ‘Sad Season’, with more new music to come this year.

Listen to ‘Sad Season’ on Soundcloud or Spotify.

Single release: ‘The Man of the House’ by Emma Dykes

Emma Dykes graduated from the CMAA Academy of Country Music in January 2016 and that experience shows in the writing of her new single, ‘The Man of the House’, and in the crisp, warm way she sings it.

Dykes is steeped in country life and that feeling for stories of the land is evident in this lovely song. The track comes from her album Pay it Forward, which you can buy on her website or on iTunes. Watch the video for ‘The Man of the House’ below.