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.
Find Adam on Facebook: www.facebook.com/AdamBrandOfficial

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