My conversion to Australian country music came about because of the song ‘Lazy Bones’ by Beccy Cole. It was so smart and funny, and performed so well, that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already heard it. That was before I understood how country music is so often not played on major radio stations and that, despite its large and loyal audience, it’s not considered as important to our national culture as some other forms of music. That latter element is a big part of the reason why I started writing about it – and so was ‘Lazy Bones’. That song and other country songs like it deserve to be known by as many people as possible, because the quality of this music is good. And Beccy Cole as an artist has few peers. Her live performances are legendary, her albums always a collection of songs that are heartfelt and entertaining, and sometimes just raucously good fun. There’s actually not an artist like her in the whole land. Which is why it was a huge honour to interview her recently about her new album, Lioness, which has all her fantastic hallmarks and also brings something new.
I’ve been lucky to listen to an early copy of the album, which has been a thrill because you have long been one of my favourite country music artists. Congratulations – it’s wonderful. Your fans will be very happy.
Thank you. I hope so. It’s definitely an album that I wanted to make so all I can do is hope that they like it.
This album has all women working on it, and I was really pleased to see you had a female producer working on it – there is a noticeable lack of female producers. Catherine Britt has been doing some producing but I’m really struggling to think of other producers working in country music who aren’t men. You had Julz Parker producing this – how did that come about?
I wanted it to be a 100 per cent female project. I love the sound that Julz gets for the Hussy Hicks and some other projects that she’s done, and I just think she’s awesome. She gets me. She’s got a very similar sense of humour – we always get along really well whenever we’re touring and doing shows. I get the Hussy Hicks whenever I can. They’re overseas a lot. Whenever they’re around they look up my tour dates and say, ‘Hey -can we do those six you’ve got coming up in Queensland?’ and I say, ‘Yeah!’ [laughs] But they’re just really cool to hang out with and I knew that Julz got my music and understood me. I didn’t really have any doubt. When we were choosing people to mix the album we sent away ‘Lioness’ and got about six mixes back and I had to choose which one I liked, and I said, ‘I like number three’, and Julz said, ‘That’s my mix.’ I thought, Yay!I love the fact that it’s an all-female album as far as the players on it go. There are nine girls on it.
How did you come to choose those musicians? I’m guessing Libby [O’Donovan, Beccy’s wife] is amongst them but the rest – are they in your touring band or people you brought in for the recording alone?
A lot of them are in my touring band. The Sisters of Twang is a project I started probably three years ago now when I wanted to showcase a lot of the great female musicians I’ve come across everywhere. We were playing an outback festival somewhere in New South Wales and I saw this amazing girl on guitar and said, ‘Wow – where do you live?’ and she said, ‘Cobar.’ She’s coming to do a gig with me and this weekend and she was in Tamworth earlier on, and I just think it’s really important to showcase these amazing females who probably get overlooked because it’s still very much a dude’s world, this world of music and the industry side of things. We’ve got a pool of about six female bass players that I call members of Sisters of Twang. Our regular who played on the record, Shireen Khemlani, is at the moment playing bass in Priscilla The Musical [4.10]
Your songs are often personal and you’ve document various family members in your lyrics, as you’ve done on this album – has anyone ever objected to being in a song?
No, I don’t think so. My grandma said, ‘Do we really need another one about me?’ [laughs] Jokingly. She’s ninety-nine. I just think there’s a whole album of songs about my grandma, so three in the last three albums are not enough as far as I’m concerned. Ricky [Beccy’s son], when he heard his song – he’s now doing a Diploma of Sound Engineering, there were these beautiful lyrics that I wrote about him and when I asked him what he thought of the song he said, ‘Great vocal tone, Mum’ [laughs]. I think he’s probably done. He’s probably had enough songs about him. There was one when he was a baby and now it’s, ‘You’re not my baby any more! And I’m going to write a song about that.’
One of the songs makes direct reference to your mother, in that it’s called ‘Look, Ma, I’m on CMC’. You played this live a couple of years ago and I believe fans have been asking for it to be on an album. Does the thrill of being on telly, of winning awards, of being on stage ever go away?
I get really nervous going on telly and it doesn’t get any better – in fact, I think it’s gotten worse. I love it but I would always prefer to sing songs. I forgot about ‘Look, Ma, I’m on CMC’. I wrote it to go on that awards show. I didn’t want to just go on and do my latest single like everyone else was going to do – I wanted to do something fun and different that would be a bit of a funny thing as well. It was when I was recording the album – it started on my Facebook, somebody said, ‘I hope you’re recording “Look, Ma, I’m on CMC”’, and I thought, Oh, I forgot that song. I said to the girls, ‘Do you remember that song?’ Two of them did it with me live. And I said, ‘Let’s just give it a crack’, and we played it and it ended up on the album.
In terms of you being nervous about being on television – you are one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen on stage, so I don’t understand! You’re so great with an audience. You can entertain anyone.
There’s a process to get into that Beccy Cole, and I feel a lot of pressure. On social media you read, ‘I can’t wait for Beccy’s concert – it’s going to be so funny,’ and I think, What if I’m not funny!I put a lot of pressure on myself but whatever’s going to come out will come out. I know musically [this tour] is going to be great – we’ve got an awesome band – and then whatever else is going to happen, I don’t know. A lot of people say, ‘Do you write it? Do you script it?’ If I get a decent response to something it will come out again – and sometimes too often for people: ‘We’ve heard that!’ [laughs] I don’t actually have control over parts of it. And normally I’m on that platform where I’m cheeky and I’m crazy, and afterwards I get embarrassed by what I just did and what I just said. I’m shy little Beccy again.
I don’t know if you’ve seen a video that’s on Youtube of you doing ‘Lazy Bones’ at Tamworth a few years ago.
I couldn’t watch that. No way. [laughs]
It is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Your ‘Lazy Bones’ coda is always fantastic but I think you do it for ten minutes and my jaw aches just thinking about it.
I do know that at one point one of the band members – they’d just stop playing because they’d know how long I’d go on for – he timed it one night and said, ‘Do you know that went for twelve minutes?’ I had no idea. I would have said four minutes. I had to wean myself off that whole routine … They start as little things and then they get bigger and bigger. You have to stop them before they turn into a monster.
Having said that, ‘Lazy Bones’ is a terrifically well-crafted song so I will always be happy to hear it with or without the monologue. Now, I was surprised to read that you play guitar on this album for the first time – I’m so used to seeing you with a guitar on stage that I always presumed you played on your recordings, so I’m wondering why it hasn’t happened before?
I just think I didn’t have the confidence to, nor was I encouraged to until now. Julz just wouldn’t have it. I said, ‘I’ll play on the demos and you’ll replace me because that’s the way it always happens.’ And she said, ‘No way, it’s got to sound like you.’ So I played on all the tracks and even did some lead. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t really been allowed to before and that’s another thing that goes along with working with supportive women. It’s a pretty important step for me.
I do always think of you as a guitarist – but, in fact, you play a number of instruments often when you’re doing a show.
And I love it, but I’m not technically great, and I get what the other producers were saying when they said, ‘We’ll play it like you but we’ll do it better.’ But there’s a certain feel that comes with doing it your way and that’s what I preferred. It’s not perfection but it feels good.
Lioness is out now through ABC Music.
Beccy Cole is on tour. For dates: beccycole.com
Beccy’s book, Poster Girl, is also available: https://www.hachette.com.au/beccy-cole/poster-girl