Category: interview

Interview: Drew McAlister on Mount Hunter Country Music Stampede

2018 Stampede Logo UPDATED.jpgMount Hunter Country Music Stampede takes place from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 October 2018 in the picturesque Wollondilly area of south-west Sydney. It’s a unique event that features fantastic country music artists at night – including Adam Brand, Adam Harvey, Jasmine Rae and Christie Lamb – with plenty of other activities by day. But I’ll let performer co-organiser Drew McAlister tell us more – we spoke recently about the festival, as well as about the fundraising single ‘Shout the Land a Drink’ and the latest single release from his album, Coming Your Way.

The country music audience has been expanding to accommodate new festivals such as Dashville and the Clarence Valley Country Muster – and, of course, there is now the Mount Hunter Country Music Stampede, which you are co-organising. How did you come to be involved?

A friend of mine, Mick Kearney, is the gentleman who owns this enormous equestrian centre [K Ranch] out in Monks Lane in Wollondilly, which is near Camden [NSW]. We sat down a couple of years ago and he said, ‘I want to put on a festival.’ This equestrian centre puts on everything from cutting to roping to bull rides. He had a boxing match out there recently. It’s two acres undercover with 150 horse stalls. He’s been a horse enthusiast his whole life. He has other businesses but this is his love. He competed in Texas and the venue he competed in was this enormous arena with a Western store down one end and a saloon bar down the other. So he came home and replicated that on his property. Over three years he built the exact same thing. So he said he wanted to put on this festival. We did it last year – we only had twelve weeks to put it on which, in hindsight, wasn’t long enough, but it did run like clockwork. This year we’ve had ten months and we think we’ve dotted our Ts and crossed our Is.

Is there one stage or several?

One stage, which we’re bringing in. It will be a mobile truck stage. We’ll probably only use half the arena, it’s that big. That will still fit a lot of people.

So it’s in Camden, and a lot of people live in that area.

It’s in western Sydney. It’s about seven to ten minutes’ drive from Camden to K Ranch.

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Interview: Lyn Bowtell of BBU

7E2D6F5D-372D-497D-B058-324CB1F98A41.jpegElsewhere on this site I have written about the extraordinary Lyn Bowtell, who is one of our finest solo artists and one of my favourite country music artists. When, in 2015, I read that she would be playing at the Tamworth Country Music Festival with another of my favourite artists, Felicity Urquhart, and with Kevin Bennett from renowned band The Flood, I thought it might have been a dream: how, in reality, could these three wonderful singers have decided to join together? That show, ‘Country Heart and Soul’, was the beginning of the group that became Bennett Bowtell & Urquhart, or BBU. In 2016 BBU released their debut eponymous album and in 2017 won two Golden Guitars for it. This September they  released their second album, Weeds. The band doesn’t play many shows, given the schedules of its members individual careers (Urquhart also hosts ABC Radio’s ‘Saturday Night Country‘), so if you have the chance to see them, you must. It is, without fail, an evening of world-class music from three of our best singers and performers.

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to Lyn Bowtell about the formation of BBU and their latest album.

Congratulations on the new album because it’s just wonderful, as I knew it would be, and as the last album was too. And, so when did you individually or the three of you start writing for it?

Well, I was trying to work this out before, and I think I told a furphy, and I said it was March but that’s not true. We actually started writing end of last year. We really wanted to have a go at writing it all ourselves this time. The first album, we were incredibly proud of that, but it was kind of one of those things, we said we’re going to do this now and we made the decision and it happened incredibly fast, and there were some great tracks on there but they weren’t our own that we just adore singing and love doing, and exactly the same thing happened this time. We looked for other material outside of our own writing pool, because I think sometimes artists miss the point, and they’re always trying to record their own songs, but they’re not always the right choice. So we were looking outside of that, outside of ourselves, but we did start writing early on together.

The way that works is, one of us will bring an idea to the table. So when we get together, we plan to write three songs within the space of a day. We bring an idea each. And it doesn’t always end up that way. Sometimes we’ll have two and a half songs or one song, you just don’t know. Songs don’t always stick to a schedule, but the idea is we bring a song each, an idea each that we could, as KB [Kevin Bennett] puts it, we could have easily finished at home but when we write it together, it definitely ends up having its own life. Because of iPhones being so incredible these days, with your voice memos on them, I was going through voice memos the other day and listening to the way I had originally written these songs, some of the tunes that I’d brought the ideas for, and some of it is exactly as I first wrote it – like, one verse is exactly the same – and then the chorus just goes completely opposite direction and has an amazing life to it now that it would never have had I been writing that by myself.

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Gord Bamford joins the Wolfe pack

5a56674388af2300013aea8a_Neon-Smoke_Square_v3.jpgAustralian-born Canadian country music artist Gord Bamford is back in Australia and joining the Wolfe Brothers and Jody Direen on the Wolfes’ Country Heart tour, in support of his latest album, Neon Smoke. Bamford has won more Canadian Country Music Awards than Shania Twain, and his fan base in Australia grows with each visit. I spoke to him not long before he kicked off his latest visit to Australia at the Deniliquin Ute Muster.

You’re coming to Australia for the Deni Ute Muster and then you’re going on tour, and you taking the Wolfe Brothers with you and Jody Direen. This is obviously now a long association with the Wolfes – what are they like as touring buddies?

Oh, they’re great.  They’re just very positive guys and just great people to hang around. Obviously we know how talented they are, so I just feel really lucky to be able to kind of ride on their backs and into their fan base and be with them. Lee [Kernaghan] has been really good to me, and we’re going to try and get the Wolfe Brothers over to Canada too, to return the favour. That’s the thing, you just never know what’s going to happen.  We’re not genies in a bottle, but if we can put each other in front of a fan base, give each other an opportunity to play our music, and you just never know, it’s been really good for me in Australia.

I know you brought your own band last time, but when you come out this time, are the Wolfes going to act as your band or will have your band with you?

I’m actually bringing my band again this time. [Manager] Steve [White] has been looking around, this will be the last time I do bring my band.  I feel it’s important to use musicians that are Aussies, so we’re going to hire our own band in Australia, because I’m going to be coming back there a lot and I really want to dedicate my time in that market. And obviously I was born there, and have a lot of family there, and I want my family to come over and experience it some more.  But this time, our band is coming from Canada and it will be great, it will be fun.

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Interview: Beccy Cole

unnamed-3My 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.

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Interview: Graeme Connors

301019.jpgQueensland singer-songwriter Graeme Connors has a new album, from the backcountry, which is a superb addition to his extensive catalogue that includes North, and the 2016 compilation 60 Summers: The Ultimate Collection, which reached #1 on the ARIA Country Album Chart. While from the backcountry is his first album of new songs in seven years, when I spoke to him recently it became clear that he has been busy in the interim. It’s also clear that he is as articulate in an interview as he is in his lyrics: a natural storyteller who has a talent for, and has worked hard at, connecting with his audience.

 

You’ve just released your first album in seven years – how long have you been writing for it?

To be honest, I only started seriously writing in February this year, after Tamworth. There had obviously been an accumulation of ideas over that seven-year period. I’m the sort of person that jots stuff down if there’s an idea or whatever it happens to be. But I just got a bit sidetracked in that period with so many other projects. We did Kindred Spirit, which was the tribute album to other Australian songwriters. Then we did North 25 Years On, which was a remix and remaster. Then we did the double DVD Concert to Camera, which reflected the touring band and the touring that I’d been doing. And then, of course, it came round to 60 Summers [a double CD collection]. So there was almost one a year in that gap between. And I got to January this year and did Tamworth, and there were a couple of things impacting on me. I got a little bit of a negative attitude towards the way the industry had been heading, in terms of streaming and the disappearance of the CD and all that sort of stuff, and I think that coloured my thinking a bit. I grew up in a time when music was like a book on the shelf: you’d go up to it and take it out of its cover and play it, and it just seemed to me that we’d gone down a path where music only exists on the internet, and I didn’t like that idea. And I felt also too that the compensation for writers and artists – and I still do feel – is unfair considering the investment that the companies involved are putting in. I have a very strong view on that. Then I just made a decision that I’m getting back in the saddle – there’s no point being a grumpy old man. Enjoy what you do. So that’s where this album came from.

 

A big part of why I do what I do is that I’d like to help people discover music. I’m really conscious that with so much being available online, discovering people is much, much harder. I suppose I’m curating, to an extent.

You’re curating by your personal taste and I think it’s a really essential role, bearing in mind a lot of my demographic have travelled with me down the years and this whole digitisation of music is a bit of a new thing. They are always still writing, contacting me, saying, ‘I want the CD. I’ll download it as well but I want a CD so I can have that possession in my hand and listen to it whenever I want to.’

 

I think the CD takes on the form of a memento of a show. They might come and see you perform and they want to take something away with them. Whether or not you sign it, it’s that reminder that they’ve seen you.

We’ve just done the opening show for this album and tour, and the CD sales were just amazing. So it’s quite clear that the CD is definitely not a dead medium. Specifically, the people who are also interested in songwriting – they like to get the words on a piece of paper so they can read them. The digital delivery systems, I don’t believe, are providing that and they really should start thinking about it if they want to compete.

 

You mention a few places in the songs on this album, such as the Kimberley frontier – how important is landscape to you?

I think it’s pretty vital. As time has gone on my references are clearly the landscapes that I’m familiar with, and they’re primarily Australian and they’ve changed over a long period of my history. And yet there are areas I’m still discovering. ‘Kimberley Frontier’ only came about because of my friendship with Alan Pigram. We spent a week together over there, just mates hanging out. They [The Pigram Brothers] had a gig up at Derby and I travelled with them. It was just such a joyous occasion – people celebrating their music – that somehow I just had to document that, even just for myself. But obviously it is further reaching that that. It’s a song about the moment and how all these things coalesce to make it a special moment. ‘Black Mountain’ – a real place 20 kilometres or so south of Cooktown [in Queensland]. My first encounter – Don Walker and I were travelling and a few minutes prior to seeing the mountain we were both commenting on how weird we felt, like there was something odd about it. Then we rounded the corner and there’s Black Mountain. After research we found that this is a very, very strong taboo area for Indigenous cultures over many years. It alters compasses on planes and everything. Nothing grows on that mountain. There’s just these massive black boulders and there have been stories of disappearances and various other things. So the mystery of landscape comes in at that level as well. I think in some ways ‘Stay Where You Are’ is a bit about my life – that sense of really knowing a community at a depth and at a level that can only come about by being in that community for a long period of time.

 

Do you have a favourite part of Australia that you like to travel to for yourself or to play in?     

Everywhere. It seems cruel to isolate. I love the different regions. Tasmania is very different to the tropics, where I live. Out west – at the moment it’s dry as hell and we all know these things, but it’s wide open spaces, it’s starry nights, it’s the difference that I enjoy. The tropical Kakadu landscape. The richness and the variety. Australia has so much to offer in terms of images. We can never wear ourselves out exploring it – there’s always something around the next corner.

 

On the song ‘One Life’ you say, ‘Paths I could have taken are mostly overgrown’, and I wonder if there are any paths you regret not taking, musically speaking?

I have a sort of fatalistic view in many ways. When I was a kid I was into BB King, I was into The Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I could have focused on any of those directions. I bought the guitars and I learnt to play. However, Kris Kristofferson really spoke to me in a really different way. The beauty and simplicity of his lyrics, as opposed to musical grooves, just reached out to the young Graeme Connors. That became, by default, the path, because I ended up touring as an opening artist for him and he, in his inimitable generous spirit, produced four songs for the first album. So that pushed me down the path of country. It’s the respect for the lyric that has mean I’ve found a home in country. Same with musical theatre as well – I love Broadway. Each word is absolutely essential to the last to create this wonderful moving picture, and I treat my songwriting with the same degree of exactitude. Trying to make sure that the ambiguity, if I choose to have it in the song, is purposeful, and normally I don’t. Normally I’m trying to get this as clear as possible. So that’s the country-ness of my work.

 

You mentioning musical theatre makes sense to me – when I listened to your album I thought about how the pieces all fit together. That idea that every word serves the next, it all becomes an overall narrative.

‘The Ringer and the Princess’ is a story song that almost acts out on the stage in people’s heads, and that’s the writing I love. I don’t force myself to do it, that’s what it is. And off this album, ‘Stay Where You Are – I’ve long harboured the desire to put together a stage musical, and between about 2006 and 2010 I was collating materials to do that but couldn’t find the key for the book of the play. And ‘Stay Where You Are’ was the theme of this unwritten play that to do this day I am still hopeful a flash will come to me and this will be how it all comes together.

 

Thinking about Kris Kristofferson supporting you and being in your lineage, are there other artists you feel you have a relationship with who carry on in your lineage?

That’s a really hard question. I listen to as much as I can, in terms of the new writers. I feel a little like the next generation are too heavily processed on an international view and are abdicating their role as image keepers of our culture. Any new writer where I get a place name or anything at all I’m immediately drawn like a compass to their work, to see if there’s something I can do to enhance that or send their way. Brad Butcher is one artist that we have that language. He’s obviously more steeped in Americana than I could ever be, because that has been his reference point, but I do like the fact that there has been other imagery coming through that is uniquely Australian. I’m on the lookout all the time and I think it’s a baton that one would love to pass on, and that is a love and expression of the Australian-ness of country music without it being rinky-tink. We’re an incredible culture and we need to pass that on.

 

I think what you’re talking about is that the specific can be universal, with is a truth of storytelling, and you and Brad both understand that really well. You tell stories with a lot of detail that are not trying to be general, they’re not trying to appeal to an overseas audience, they are telling Australian stories, but in doing that they become universal.

I hope so, because Mark Twain was the master of that – I could read Life on the Mississippi but it was like me on the Pioneer River as a kid [laughs].

 

from the backcountry is out now from ABC Music.

Apple Music | iTunes | Sanity

www.graemeconnors.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview: Kora Naughton

unnamed-4.jpgKora Naughton is a singer-songwriter new to country music – yet she’s already released her first album, Ride or Die, at the age of 16. She’s a passionate, inspiring young woman and that energy can be heard in each song. I spoke to her recently.

 

Congratulations on the album, you must be thrilled to have your debut album out.

It’s pretty awesome. Thank you very much. I recorded this album with songs that I’d written having no intention of releasing – I love writing music and they were just songs that came from wherever when I was bored. I picked 10 that I really liked and I made them into an album and due for release on Friday, so I’m really excited.

 

You said you had no intention of releasing them but it doesn’t sound to me like they were things you were dabbling in, these are really well-constructed songs. So at what point did you start thinking about releasing them?

I released my first single last year in June, and it had nothing to do with this album and it was recorded with an entirely different studio. I recorded it actually as a part of an application process for something and I thought, well, I’ve got it recorded, I may as well release it. It’s called ‘Wrong’. And it ended up winning me the Southern Star Independent Rising Female Star last year. Which was kind of crazy because I never intended to release the song … it just kind of all happened, and that was awesome. So then I wrote another song, ‘I Don’t Want To Grow Up’, with David Carter [of Carter and Carter] at the [CMAA] Junior Academy last year. I released that song through Country Rocks Records, who were doing a spotlight artist thing for me at the time, which was exciting. I didn’t intend to have [the song] on an album but I guess I had these other songs sitting there and we just thought, why not? I put everything into it, I gigged, I worked hard to pay it off and I’m still paying it off, but I gig every weekend and all the money goes back into producing more and selling more albums. But it’s been the best thing I’ve done, I’m thrilled to be where I am, and these 10 songs mean the absolute world to me. So releasing them is scary but it’s also really, really exciting.

 
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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.

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