Category: interview

Interview: Ben Leece

Ben-Leece39.jpgLast year Hunter Valley singer-songwriter Ben Leece released his excellent debut album, No Wonder the World is Exhausted, and since then it hasn’t been hard to find fans of his thoughtful, and artful, songs. Leece is not, however, a newcomer – he may be relatively new to country music audiences but his love for and experience in music goes back several years and across genres. It was a pleasure to talk to him recently and find out about his album, his songwriting process and which type of music he loved first.

There’s been a great reception to the album. You must be very pleased.

Absolutely. It’s far beyond anything that I could have expected. Random messages from people that have found it and then positive reviews from people that I really respect. So it’s been pretty amazing.

How long before the release had you completed it? And why I’m asking you is to find out how long you were sitting in limbo waiting to find out what people thought.

The recording was wrapped up at the beginning of January [2018], essentially. There was maybe one or two overdubs that needed to be done by some other musicians, and mixing obviously, so maybe seven months with final mixes that were sitting on them. A long time.

In that time did you start to think, I wish I’d done X, Y, Z differently? Or were you just thinking, Oh, it’s done and I’m leaving it where it is?

I was pretty stoked. It exceeded my expectations. It turned out way beyond anything that I could have imagined that it would have. I guess it was just being patient with it and not to try and rush it out there. The thing is once you’re finished with something you’re excited, you just want to get it out there. So learning to be patient with it was hard. The biggest thing with that is I’d come out of this studio with Shane Nicholson recording it and essentially it was done. And then I went to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, so that was January 2018. And one of my gigs was playing on the floor of a Hungry Jack’s restaurant [laughs].

Which does happen at Tamworth, those sorts of gigs.

I was 36 at the time and I’d been doing music for a long time, and I’d just come out of this experience with Shane and I was on this massive high and it was this massive slump back to reality. And it was the worst gig ever. It was double booked, for a start. I was sitting there politely arguing with the other guy that was double booked about who was not going to play it [laughs]. In the end we decided to split it and the noise from the kitchen drowned us out. The two or three punters who walked through the door had zero interest in us being there. My capo broke in the second song. The power kept cutting in and out so I was fighting with the PA. It was the worst. I remember getting back in the car and just thinking, You know what, I don’t need this. I’ve done the record but I don’t need this.I literally got back in the car after that thinking that I was all but done and I got a message from my friend Tori Forsyth saying, ‘Hey, my gig at the Welder’s Dog has just sold out – do you want to come and open for me?’ And it’s just kind of been ascending ever since then. And that message from Tori is typical of this community that I’ve found myself in. It’s something really special.

And this year in Tamworth I know you played quite a few different types of gigs. I saw you perform at the Cake and Cordial sessions and then happened to head to The Press that afternoon, not knowing who was on the bill, and then you walked into that. I thought, He’s getting around!

Cake and Cordial was a great gig. I love Paddy [McHugh] and Megan Cooper that organise that. They’re great people. It’s good fun.

It was a great gig. I remember seeing you arrive before the start of the show and I
thought you must’ve been on first, but no, you were at last. So just talking about that country music community, I think part of it is that you all do show up for each other.

Well, I’ve got a connection to everyone on that bill. And it was random. I had no idea that was how it was being put together. Jenny Mitchell I’ve spent a lot of time with and I think she’s pretty special as far as songwriting goes. And obviously Paddy and Megan as well. And Michael Waugh – Michael and I had played a gig with Shane the night before. So it was pretty special.

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Lachlan Bryan on the road and ‘The Road’

The Road single artworkSinger-songwriter Lachlan Bryan seems to be almost always on tour with his band, The Wildes, so it’s appropriate that their latest single – from their forthcoming album – is ‘The Road’.  Bryan is an outstanding lyricist, so there is more to the song than it being simply about the touring life, but recently I asked him about that, about his relationship with longtime collaborator Damian Cafarella and his songwriting process.

The single is a great song, but I have to confess that I’m not shocked because you can’t write a bad song, I think.

I can. I can send them all to you if you want, I’ve got some shockers. I’m really fond of this one. I guess I’m attached to it because it feels very honest and truthful, and normally I write pretty honest and truthful, but as you know, I often write characters or whatever, whereas this is pretty autobiographical and I just thought it sounded nice too, so that’s part of it.

It is autobiographical and I was listening to it quite closely  ̶  you do make it easy to listen closely to your songs because you enunciate clearly, which I always think is a great compliment to the listener. But also it’s always worth listening to your songs because the lyrics are so rich, and you do sing about a restless spirit. But what struck me listening to that was that you write about being on the road, being away from people yet you perhaps more than most in the country music community have a lot of sustained connections with other artists, I’ve noticed. So do you think that makes you a bit of a paradox?

Maybe. It can be pretty lonely in a crowd sometimes, I guess. I do have a lot of friends in the community and outside of country music as well, just in the music community in general. And I think I’m finding more and more that I need that and I rely on that a lot more than I probably used to. Particularly lately. As you know, it’s been a pretty sad time in the country music world over the past couple of weeks [Lachlan is referring to the death of Glen Hannah]. We’ve probably all realised how connected we all are to each other. But in terms of what I’m writing about, the thing that I’ve learned is that … look, it seems a little bit crass at the moment to talk about depression and anxiety and all that kind of stuff, because I don’t have it badly. But I do find that I’m only really kind of contented and happy if I’m playing. And I hate to think what would ever happen if I stopped enjoying getting in front of an audience and playing, because I really live for it. I spend a lot of time in the studio and I produce records, and I love all that, but if a period of time goes past where I don’t actually go somewhere and play, or go somewhere different and meet different people, I really think I start to go a bit insane. And I know that it’s probably not a very sensible thing. I know that I should probably learn to be happy with day-to-day life, but I’m not. I really need it. I’m just someone who really needs to keep moving. And I think it’s probably very frustrating for people around me. I’ve definitely ended up hurting people that I would rather not have hurt. Getting back to the song, I think that’s kind of the point I’m making. But maybe I fought it more in the past and now I’m just accepting it.

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Tania Kernaghan on her new single, ‘Better Worn In’

Tania-Kernaghan-Better-Worn-In.jpgTania Kernaghan has been in constant musical motion, it seems, since the release of her first album, December Moon, in the 1990s. She is a fixture of the Australian country music scene but that doesn’t mean she’s rusted on – rather, it means she’s ‘better worn in’, as her latest single attests. It’s a tribute to feeling comfortable in your own skin, and it was a great pleasure to talk to Tania about it recently. Then again, it’s always a pleasure talking to Tania as she’s thoughtful, interesting and passionate about her music, and the many other elements of her life.


Congratulations on the new single. It’s wonderful to have new music from you. Is it the first single from a forthcoming album or is it a standalone release?

It actually is from an album, and my plan this year is to drop out new singles for radio and video clips and then they’ll go towards a body of work for a full album for next year.

Is that a way you’ve done it before, where you’ve recorded singles and then gone on to put them on an album or normally do you record the whole album and then do the singles?

In the past I’ve done the whole albums and then we drop out singles. But I think there’s no real formula anymore these days with music. I think people’s attention span is pretty small as far as they get new music and then it’s kind of old after a week or two. So I think people just want to be having something new all the time and doing it this way I’ll be able to bring out more music more regularly. So it’s a little bit different to what I’ve done in the past, but I think that it’ll be a good, positive way to go.

And seeing you on Instagram, you’re great at building excitement around the single. You were talking about the song and then talking about the video a lot and doing little snippets. You’ve obviously learned to use social media really well to get that message out that you have new music.

That’s really great you say that because I think I’m a tech nerd when it comes to social media. I’m pretty hopeless with stuff like that. I put it out there and I think, Is that really bad?Or, Is that too self-promoting?Or, Is that kind of naff?So it’s a bit nerdy, the way I do my social media stuff, but then again it’s kind of who I am. And that’s the whole thing about the ‘Better Worn In’ song and this time in my life. That’s about embracing who you are and being comfortable in your own skin and this is how it is, guys. And I think the more real you can be – and I hate using the word ‘authentic’ all the time, but the more real you can be, the better it is in the long run.

The refrain of the song is that ‘life’s like your best pair of boots, better worn in’. But I’m wondering if you had times in life when you didn’t feel like your boots fit comfortably, shall we say?

Oh, absolutely. Especially when I was younger. You know, I was so worried about are they high enough, are they square enough, are they shiny enough, are they cool enough and are they the right colour? You drive yourself crazy when you’re younger worrying about what everybody else thinks. Trying to be as good as the next person or just trying to be better. And if only you could go back and say, ‘Just don’t try so hard. Just chill and relax and enjoy every moment.’ Gosh, I would do it differently. But I suppose without all of those experiences, without those uncomfortable feelings and those twists and turns that you take in life, it wouldn’t have gotten me to where I am today. And where I am right now, I don’t look back and have regrets. There are things I probably would have done a little bit differently, but what the heck, I’m pretty happy about it all at the end of the day.

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Interview: Jed Zarb

_DSC4151.jpgJed Zarb has had a long, successful career in music – but he’s only just started to release his original work. His latest single is the infectious ‘Hillbilly Cider’, and recently asked Zarb about the song, its video and that long career.

A note: this interview mentions Glen Hannah and was conducted before Glen died recently. Glen was an essential part of the fabric of Australian country music and it is undeniable that without him the shape of that music and the industry will change.

So you’re in the Blue Mountains.

Yes, I’m in Bilpin.

That’s hard to take!

[Laughs] I was just talking about that with a mate this morning. It was just such a beautiful, crisp morning with a beautiful breeze and a few birds singing – could you be anywhere else?

Particularly from the look of your video for ‘Hillbilly Cider’, it just looks beautiful. You had a great location next to home, but also you didn’t have to go very far so it must’ve been quite a convenient video to make.

Yes, and everybody was a local, apart from Pixie Jenkins coming down from Tamworth at that time and Dani Young coming in – so apart from the guys in the band coming from everywhere. But all the extras and the director and the cameraman were all locals.

And it looked like they were having a good time

It was just organically a good time. We turned up, we had an idea of what we wanted it to look like and then we made a few phone calls and got a few people and then, about lunchtime, we didn’t really have enough people to make it look like a party. So one of the camera fellows put out a thing on the Bilpin group – ‘free apple cider’, I think’s what got them there. Next thing we ended up with 50 or 60 people and actually it was just an organic party. People turned up, the bar was set up, the bar was flowing, the music was going and people were just dancing and drinking and jumping off a Tarzan swing into the dam and having a grand old time. I think they forgot there were cameras there.

It does show in the video, that people were relaxed, and it matches the tone of the song, which is of course a lovely upbeat, celebratory song in many ways.

Thank you. Well, that’s what it’s meant to be. It’s meant to be a snapshot of the local farms here and the local people, that’s really what the song is about. I moved into the area and just made observations and, and wrote about them in a romantic sort of way, as you do.

Of course, the song has gone further than your local area. It got the number one spot on debut on the iTunes country chart, it’s popped up all over the place. Have you been pleased with the reception?

Blown away – I can’t believe it, really. I put out ‘Mountain Man’ in October last year and that didn’t have a video clip, and that went really well and I thought, That was far beyond expectations. Then ‘Hillybilly Cider’ has come out and absolutely eclipsed it. So I’m just going with it and very excited that people like it. I’ll just go with that and be happy about it.

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Lee Kernaghan on tour for Backroad Nation

Lee-Kernaghan-Backroad-Nation-tour.jpgEach time I interview Lee Kernaghan it is both a pleasure and very interesting. Kernaghan has been at the apex of Australian country music for so long that his popularity could be taken for granted, but each conversation reminds me that he’s there because he is passionate about his music, the stories he’s telling and about connecting with his audience, and he’s really, really good at all of those. His new album, Backroad Nation, will be released on 10 May and Kernaghan will be playing so many places that instead of listing them here I’ll send you to his website. It was wonderful to speak to him once more and find out about his album and his forthcoming tour.

With so many hit songs and albums and tours behind you, it seems as though you keep looking to up the ante. I was reading that you’re going to have different design, a few different elements in this show. How do you keep that momentum going through your career?

I love making music, touring and performing and singing about my country and my people and it’s what drives me.

It seems to me in observing your career, listening to your music, that you keep your audience in mind. You’re really aware of that connection with them. Does it feel to you like you have a relationship with them?

I hate the word ‘fans’ because I then think of them as fans – they’re my mates – and I want to give them music that will be a soundtrack for the parties, for barbecues, for road trips, all kinds of different occasions. And a lot of time goes into it creating those songs. A couple of years of songwriting. I travelled Australia a couple of times over collecting ideas for the album. And then I travelled halfway around the world to Nashville. Some of the greatest writers on the planet are over there and I just wanted to make sure that no stone was left unturned. I wanted to make this record a real good one.

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Interview: Ingrid Mae

AA4O2410.jpgThe music of singer-songwriter Ingrid Mae has been described as ‘Dolly Parton meets Melissa Etheridge’ and that’s an apt description for an artist who marries the pop and country sides of rock and produces something that is distinctively hers. Mae is also fundamentally an entertainer and the songs on her latest album, Holy Smoke, sound like they were born to be played live, with their big personalities and hint of swing and swagger. It was great fun to talk to Mae and discover that the humour and inherent musicality of her album comes straight from her personality.

This is very definitely a country album, but your first album sounds like it wasn’t so much. What brought you to country music?

I wasn’t very happy, I guess, with the first album. Can I say that?

Of course! It’s your album. You can say whatever you like.

I think too, as I say, life imitates art because I’ve now found my real home with country music and we’re actually playing shows and we’re on the scene, it really impacts on the music. And even from the musicians I’m playing with and Brad Bergen, who’s doing the guitars, a lot of the themes that I’m writing about, it just feels like it’s more me. And I think what happened with the first one was I got a little bit in my head about what I sounded like. I’d gone to some vocal coaches just before that album and I hated my voice. They wanted to take the twang out. They wanted to take all the country out. You can hear it. Obviously my songwriting’s evolved, but even on some of those songs the way I’m singing, it sounds like I’m a private school girl and I don’t want to step wrong.

Did that whole process teach you to trust your own voice, literally and figuratively?

Yes. In the end I went to a friend who’s a brilliant singer, who’s now in Nashville, and she helped me with a couple of things to give me the confidence. She said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your voice. I love your voice. I love the timbre. I love the colour. And if you just want to get more out of your top end, this is how you do it. You’re already doing but you don’t know you’re doing it.’

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Interview: Nathan Seeckts

NathanSeecktsHiRes002.jpgWhen Victorian singer-songwriter Nathan Seeckts released the single ‘Old Blood’ from his new album, The Heart of the City, it was clear the album itself would be special – and so it has proved. Seeckts has an incredible voice and an attention to detail in his lyrics that make for a rich listening experience. He’s also incredibly knowledgeable about country music, as the host of ‘Last Night in Town’, a weekly radio program on Victorian community radio station 94.7 The Pulse that focuses on Americana and alt-country. I spoke to him recently.

Congratulations on the album, which is wonderful.

It’s a nice feeling – a feeling I haven’t had before. it’s a bit unexpected. I didn’t know whether I’d be in this position, to be honest. As a solo person you can do the EPs, but I didn’t know when I’d be in a position where I could say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got an album coming out,’ let alone on vinyl and all the rest of it.

And vinyl is a commitment, over and above everything else you need to do to put out an album these days. Why did you make that decision to do a vinyl release as well?

I’m a vinyl junkie, honestly. I probably spend a little bit too much of my money on records. But it’s living in an age where the CD’s on its last legs, maybe. I like the idea of having something in your hand while you’re listening to music and you can read about where it was recorded and who was on that track.

Technically this is a debut album, as mentioned, but you do have those three EPs behind you so it sounds like a really mature work. Did you find there was a lot you learnt through the process, not just of writing those EPs but, I imagine, producing them as well? Since you co-produced this album.

It came down to funds when I first started. I was self-taught on a copy of ProTools on a computer that I’d built. That was part of the writing process and the recording process was trial and error. The third EP, my wife and I went over to the States for a honeymoon in 2016 – that would have turned into an album had we stuck around but I wanted to take something with me. And you do learn a lot by doing it yourself. That’s why I wanted to share the producing role with Roger [Bergodaz] with the album.

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