Interview: Adam Brand reaches a Milestone

244056-L-LOEarlier this year Australian country music star Adam Brand marked his 20 years in the music industry with the album Milestones20 Years, a collection of hits and fan favourites from those two decades, as well as two new songs. Adam has taken those milestones on the road, and is currently touring the country. I spoke to him in between shows.

Your tour’s only just started.

Well, it’s kind of started. The album just came out but I actually started doing these Milestones shows back in May because I figured it’s not just about the album this year, it’s about the year, the whole year of just the anniversary year, so I started earlier.

Speaking of your anniversary, now 20 years as a performer, I am wondering how that’s possible when you still look 25.

You’re too kind. It might be called Photoshop, it might be called bad eyesight on your part, it might be called, I don’t know [laughs].

But it really seems not possible because obviously you’ve had a long career but 20 years sounds like a very long time when you still are a young man actually.

Sometimes I sort of think about it myself and I go, Wow, where did that go? or Can that really be true? Can it be that long? It’s been an amazing ride and not only that, I started late, I was a late starter.

I don’t believe that.

My first album didn’t come out until I was 28 – [for] a lot of people [it’s] in the early 20s or even teens.

Do you think that was an advantage starting later, because you knew you really wanted it by that age, it wasn’t just a laugh or anything like that?

Yeah, I’d already done an apprenticeship. We had a couple of little business things and worked with different people and travelled a bit, so when I made that decision and thought, Now I want to try this, I went into it without just stars in my eyes, I went into there thinking, Okay, I’m going to have a go at this, I’m going to really, really put everything I’ve got into it, rather than just spinning the lottery wheel.

 

Out of the 20 years, what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud that I’m still here talking to you after 20 years. I didn’t think I was going to last 20 months let alone 20 years, so it’s certainly way more than I expected. The loyalty of the fans, the experience that I’ve been able to have, those things are just way more than I could ever have imagined so.

The loyalty of the fans is definitely there but it’s a relationship and the relationship has to be cultivated on both sides. I think you’ve put a lot of care and work into that relationship.

I have and the reason why is because that’s the way I’m built, that’s the way I’m wired, I’m a relationship type of person, I want to be build relationships and, I guess. I want people to know how appreciative I am of the fact that they come home from work and get ready, and bustle the kids into the car, all to come to see me sing and things like that. So there’s definitely a lot of communication, I’m a big communicator – as you can tell, it’s hard to shut me up, I love talking to people and finding out their stories. So it certainly is a two-way street on the relationship and communication front.

I see it in country music in particular, there’s a lot of emotion in the relationship between audience and performer, and I think it’s on both sides. But are you conscious that for a lot of your fans, it’s a really big deal to see you and to hear your music and to meet you perhaps, and that’s quite a responsibility to have, I think, towards your fans.

I guess you could look at it that way. I see a lot of them as friends. So many people have been coming to see me and I see them at the show or they line up for an autograph or photo or something and I say, Hey, how you going? So it’s almost so many of them are like mates, and I feel that because I’ve been seeing them for so many years, because I see their profile pic, you know, every second day on Facebook and stuff like that, there’s this recognition factor. They’re all part of this thing together, you know. Sometimes I to myself, You’ve seen me a bunch of times and that phases me, why would they want to do it again?Sometimes it blows me away, the fact that they want another photo with me – okay, well that’s fine, absolutely, no problems. But, geez, really, it’s just me, you know me well enough now [laughs].

But it’s that relationship – so it’s like if they would want a photo with a family member every time they saw them.

Totally. And so many stories. So many people I’ve known for so long, in that time they’ve met someone, they’ve got married and they’ve had kids and they’re bringing their kids to see me at shows. And we would sit there and talk about it and I say, ‘I remember when you were in your mum’s tummy, we had a photo and I was pointing to it and I said, “It wasn’t me!”’ [laughs] You know, all these funny little stories and things. Twenty years is a long time to be knowing someone and some of these people, I went and played at their primary school in my first year and now they’re adults and we talk about, ‘I was in Grade 6 when you came to my school’. So it is relationship based and it’s real. Before social media, in the media everything was glossed, everything was edited, everything was homogenised and you only got to see what the artist, the management, the record company and the journalists chose for you to see – do you know what I mean?

Yes.

Now you get it all unfiltered, you know, you get to see me in my trackie dacks in my lounge room going through old photos or cooking something up for dinner or whatever it is, you get to see all of that now and that’s pretty hard to stage so, you know, it’s pretty real.

It’s hard to stage but it requires you being willing to invite them in, invite your audience into that extent. So that’s a big decision for you, I think?

It is, and because that’s the way I’m wired, I’m a pretty open-book sort of person and it’s no problem for me. Now, someone else may not be comfortable with that so they’ll have a different relationship with their fans or a different way of communicating and that’s fine. Everyone’s different. But for me, that’s the way I do it because there’s not much difference between the me you see on stage and the me you see off stage.

I think that’s a big key to why people have loved you for so long, because they know they’re getting the authentic Adam. It’s not a showman’s persona.

Yeah, yeah, I’m a cheeky bugger I suppose, what you see is what you get.

So over the 20 years – I asked you what you’re most proud of. What have you learnt in 20 years?

Well, I don’t know if I’ve learnt it 100 per cent but I’ve learnt to be patient. I’ve learnt to let things go at the pace they’re supposed to, don’t push it, that once you start pushing it you push it off the track and into the garden fence and over the cliff. It doesn’t mean you’re not motivated and work hard to push but just don’t push them too hard, just relax, it will be all right, you know.

That kind of lesson is usually a very hard one, so I think it sticks once you learn it.

Yes, yes, it certainly is a hard-fought lesson and, I guess, it’s also the point of saying, ‘Well, it will happen or it won’t and that’s okay.’

What inspires you and what has inspired you for 20 years?

People, stories. It’s the human element, it’s the emotional element, it’s the underdog battling [and] I felt I was one, you know, and I am one a lot of times. That maybe sounds strange because you think, Oh, well, you’ve done all of this stuff and that stuff, but it hasn’t been easy and it’s not easy for anyone. Anyone who says, It’s all easy, if they’ve had it on a silver platter, fair enough, but I think anything really good and anything that’s really supposed to be what you’re doing, it doesn’t come easy and it’s worth fighting for. So I love the fact that I fight tooth and nail – not in a bad way but I fight tooth and nail for what I believe in.

 

I think it’s also about making a commitment to what you’re doing and a commitment to your work, and a commitment to your fans. That’s like a mindfulness practice almost. You get up every day, you make that commitment and you’ve got to keep making it but sometimes it’s difficult and I would imagine some days it’s tiring too.

Yes, and it’s like anything, we’re all experiencing that in no matter what industry you’re in, whether you’re selling cars or you’re building fences or you’re cooking cakes – some days are a grind and you’ve just got believe that what you’re doing is right and keep doing it. I’m lucky, I’m so lucky that I get to spread joy and love, and happiness when I’m on stage, and that part of it just fills me up, it burns this hole in me at the pit of my stomach. It fires me up. But there’s a lot of things behind the scenes that you’ve got to press through to get to that point and that’s what makes you appreciate it more when you’ve really got to fight for it.

It must feed into your work – I mean it feeds into how you sing your songs and how you appear on stage. Because you’re authentic and you want to be authentic for your audience, you bring all of that with you.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. And I suppose there’s pros and cons, whether you should or shouldn’t, but that’s how I am and I’m going to share it. I get on stage and if I get emotional about something, I’ll just stop and talk about it, or if I lose my spot and forget my words – which is pretty much a daily occurrence – I’ll just have a laugh about it and half the people know that I do it all the time so they’re pointing at me and laughing at me as well, and we’re all laughing at the same things, like, well, all right, can someone Google the words for me? [laughs]

Given how many albums you’ve had out and how many songs you’d have to go through to put in a set list, it doesn’t surprise me that you forget lyrics.

I look at other people, other artists out there who just seem to have this photographic memory and I think, I hate you[laughs].

I remember seeing Frank Sinatra many years ago and he had a teleprompter, so there you go.

There you go. That would have been awesome.

Is there anything you would change about your first 20 years?

No, because I think all the mistakes I made they were my best lessons, they were the things that taught me. I think without crashing hard I probably wouldn’t have the insight into how to be now, you know. It doesn’t mean I’ve arrived where I want to end up but I find myself now in a position where I’m okay with how things go. Whether we win or we lose, I’m okay with things not turning out the way that I planned it or I foresaw it because I just think, well, this is the way it’s supposed to go and I’m where I’m supposed to be and that will be okay. I couldn’t handle that back in the day – No, it’s supposed to be like this, we’ve planned it like that– so finding yourself comfortable in my own skin to let things happen the way they’re supposed to happen, give it the best shot you’ve got but, you know, be more accepting, accepting of life and things around.

But, again, these are definitely hard-won lessons but I do really think when you are a performer who wears your heart on your sleeve, to get up on stage as you have all around the country in front of so many different people … I’m trying to think of the right way to express it, but you do make yourself very vulnerable to your audience and you’re taking a chance, I guess, of what comes back to you so there’s always the element of risk in doing what you do.

And getting to this point, it’s also that you put yourself out there and then you’re not sure what’s going to come back, but being okay with what comes back. Now what comes back, a lot of times it’s positive, it’s wonderful, but sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s negative, sometimes it’s, ‘Well, gee, I didn’t like that mate, geez your earlier stuff was better. What are you thinking?’ And to be in a position where I go, ‘I’m okay with that’, that is empowering, because I’m not letting that crush my spirit, not letting that take the rug from under my feet. Actually, it’s all right if someone doesn’t like it, it’s totally fine, because you’re not going to please everybody, everyone’s got individual tastes, so the fact that they’re actually talking to me still is a good thing, and maybe the next time I do something they might like that and they’ll be back.

I think it must always be very difficult for artists who are interested in moving and changing. Yes, you have fans who are saying, ‘I like your old stuff better than your new stuff’, but, of course, for you as an artist to keep your career progressing and to keep yourself interested in a lot of ways, musically, lyrically, you want to progress.

Yes, of course, and so you push the boundaries and take chances and say, ‘I want to try this sound or that’. I’ve had plenty of comments: ‘I like your earlier stuff, not so much this, mate’, and my answer to that is, ‘Well, hey, mate, I’m glad you liked the earlier stuff. I’m glad you liked something.’

Given that you said when you first started 20 years ago you never thought you’d have 20 years, I think it’s safe to say you’re probably going to have another 20 years at least. So if you look ahead now that you’ve got 20 years behind you and you can feel a bit sure about what’s ahead at least for a while, what do you want to achieve for the next 20 years?

There’s no end goal or finish line. For me, it’s just to be able to keep doing this with the support and with people supporting me still, if they still want to support me and they give you this platform of opportunity to continue doing this so, I want to continue doing it because I love it. I’m a never-say-never type of guy. I don’t know how long I’m going to last. I don’t know whether I’ll be relevant for how long or another two months or another two years, who knows, but I’m loving life at the moment and just feeling grateful, and this tour in particular I feel like a big Labrador pup, you know, I’m fumbling around the whole countryside because I feel like it’s my first tour again. So it’s nice, it’s got this reinvigorated energy again. I’m the 20-year guy who’s running around like he’s on his first tour if you see me out on the road.

After 20 years, to approach a tour like it’s the first time with that same enthusiasm, that’s amazing.

And it feels amazing too. The first line in the ‘Milestones’ song is ‘Still green twenty-something’ and the last line is ‘Still green forty something, so get it right’.

 

Now, speaking of that song you have two new songs on this album, both co-written with Drew McAlister and Mike Carr, and I would think that they’re both quite rowdy to have in a songwriting room with you.

Mike and I have written so many songs together over the years and it’s the first time we brought Drew in on the partnership, because Drew and I are such good mates. It was a really good experience having those guys. It had been quite a while since I’d written, actually I went through quite a large dry patch and I just said, ‘Guys, I want to write a song that is brutally honest about a 20-year journey. It doesn’t stop exactly with just mine, I want this to be indicative of all of our journey with what happens in 20 years. You win some, you lose some, you know.’ Memories and milestones, that’s what makes us up, that’s who we are. So it was nice being able to do it with those guys.

And you’re all very accomplished performers and writers so it’s no surprise that the songs are fantastic. I’ll ask you one last question, which is actually to do with your tour: given that you have played at a lot of places in Australia, how did you possibly choose where you would play this time?

I wanted to do it different this year, I didn’t want to go back to all exactly the same things, so I started chatting about it on Facebook and I put a call out and I said, ‘Right, are there any people that own a country pub, manage a pub or a venue that you know someone whose the manager or owner or what, and they don’t get many shows and they’d like to have one of my 20-year shows?’ Over two and a half thousand responses, so it then started the whole process of sifting through to see which ones we could do and which we couldn’t do, because sometimes we’d get four or five within 30 or 40 ks so you can’t do them all, obviously. So [there’s a whole branch of places this year that are new, new for them, new for us and, I think, a part of that is this excitement and this re-found energy.

 Milestones … 20 Years is out now through ABC Music.

Apple Music | iTunes

For tour dates, go to:

www.adambrandmusic.com