Category: paul costa

Paul Costa to headline two TCMF 2019 shows

PC Promo copy.jpgMultiple Golden Guitar Award nominee Paul Costa is always a crowd favourite at the Tamworth Country Music Festival – so much so that for the next festival, in January 2019, he’s playing two headlining shows. Paul Costa and Friends will be at the Capitol Theatre on 19 and 26 January, I spoke to Paul recently about those shows and about his latest single, ‘Road Train’.


What is special about the Tamworth Country Music Festival?

It’s one of the biggest country music festivals in the world and we’re so lucky to have it here, accessible to us. For me, it’s helped my career a hell of a lot, building up a fan base. You’ve got country music fans coming from all over Australia. I started as a young fella playing in the street then progressed to my own shows, and now I’ve got two shows at the Capitol Theatre next year, so it’s been a continual ride. I guess I’d have to the festival a big salute for helping me get where I am.


Everyone who has visited the festival knows that there’s a lot of talent on Peel Street, and the performers aren’t just playing one show – they’re there day after day.

It is amazing you get caught up in the excitement and the atmosphere. I’ve always said that the atmosphere is electric. There are people who want to hear music, and sometimes they dance along to your music. But it can be fairly taxing [laughs].


Also, you’re outside and it’s a very warm time of year.

Definitely. But with the atmosphere your adrenaline starts pumping and you do it. When you’ve got the fans there who want to hear what you do, as a performer you find a way to do it.


The audience is never as close again as when they’re watching you on Peel Street. So many great artists, like you, start on Peel Street and I guess you learn so much about how to connect with an audience when they’re right in front of you like that.

It’s a great research and development thing [laughs]. Honing your skills as an artist. A lot of artists – Troy Cassar-Daley, Felicity Urquhart, Keith Urban – played on the street in Tamworth. Just to hold an audience is an art in itself, so without even thinking you do pick up those skills as you go along and they stick with you and become part of your style.


As you said, you’re playing at the Capitol Theatre and you have two shows, and I’ve noticed that you’ve spaced them really well so there’s one on each of the weekends, therefore capturing people who aren’t necessarily there the whole time.

Yes, that was the plan [laughs]. We normally spend the whole ten days there doing interviews and all the rest of it and that was always the build-up to the show. For the last seven years I’ve had my Capitol Theatre show on the last Saturday. And a lot of people I speak to say, ‘We’re only here for the first weekend’ or ‘We’re only here till Tuesday’. So we thought let’s try a show on the first Saturday, get everyone who wants to come on the first weekend as well as the last weekend, and we’ll see how we go. It seems to be shifting from where it used to be a build-up [towards the last weekend]. Because of school holidays I think the festival’s moved slightly later and holidays cut out towards the end of the festival now, so you get a lot of people who seem to be going just for the first weekend. So this is the first year doing two and we’ll let you know how it goes at the end [laughs].


Beccy Cole’s done both Fridays for a long time.

I think Adam Harvey’s another one who’s played two shows for as long as I can remember.


The show is Paul Costa and friends – can you reveal who the friends are yet?PC-Tam2019-A3-PREVIEW-002.jpg

Some of them are surprises and some of them want to be surprises. I can tell you that Ben Ransom – who opened the show for me last year – is going to be back opening the show on the last Saturday. He does a great job – he’s a great artist in his own right, doing very well on radio channels and that type of thing, so I’m happy to have him on board. But we like to keep the surprise guests a surprise otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise [laughs]. In the past I’ve had Amber Lawrence, Aleyce Simmonds, Graeme Connors, James Blundell sang a couple of songs with me last year. So we always get some great artists and friends of mine.


It’s one of the really special elements of Tamworth that you have all these artists in the one place but also part of the country music industry is that you’re all so willing to collaborate and perform with each other. It makes it so special for the audience.

It does. It’s a funny thing – someone’s doing a show, but as soon as another artist comes up and joins them, the whole atmosphere lifts and the cameras come out. People want to capture that special little moment and that interaction. It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect but just the way two, or three, artists interact makes it a little bit different and a little bit special.


Because you are there for the whole festival, and I know you’ll be doing media and other things because it does get very busy for the performers, is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

I’m always there for the opening concert – I always like that. It’s a great to kick off the festival. I just like getting around. We haven’t filled our calendar yet for where we’re playing, so once that’s locked in I’ll check out what else is available. But I love to see as much music as I can. The Pickers’ Night is always a big, big plus. I love Lee Kernaghan and James Blundell, Amber Lawrence and Aleyce Simmonds – all people I know but I’m also fans of their music and how talented they are. I’ll see as many shows as I can.


You’ve also released a new single off the album, and that is ‘Road Train’, which is named after a person you met. After you met him and he told you his name and a bit of his story, did you make notes straightaway, thinking you might write a song?

When he stuck his hand out and said, ‘G’day, they call me Road Train’, I said back to him – without even saying hello yet – ‘Wow, that’s a great idea for a song’ [laughs]. He looked at me funny and then we shook hands. I got his phone number, and the idea stuck with me because you know when something will work. I got together with Drew McAlister, because I always figured it would be a contemporary rock song, and who better to write something like that with than Drew? While we were writing it we rang Road Train and started talking about his story. He was just a character. Some of the things he said, as they came out of his mouth we were writing them down. There’s a line about hauling cattle that’s precisely how he said it. He grew up on a farm but that wasn’t the life for him, he wanted life on the road. The album’s been out for a while but it’s one of those songs that almost every reviewer and a lot of fans mention as their favourite. So I thought if we were going to release another single, heading up to Tamworth, that would be a good one.


After I met Road Train, I was invited back to the same event, the Gattan Festival, twelve months later. I’d written the song and we played the song. Road Train was there and so was all of his family. And given that it was a song about trucks at a truck show, you couldn’t really go wrong. He loved it and the reaction was great, so that made it really special – and that’s even before we made the album. So Road Train was pretty happy.


When you have a song you know your audiences love, do you put it in the main set list or are you tempted to keep it for an encore? Keep them waiting for it.

It all depends. You always like to have a couple up your sleeve, and given that it’s a kickarse song, I always like to finish the set with high energy. It leaves people feeling pretty good.


The idea for this song stayed with you for a while. Before you write songs do you let ideas sit in your head and see which of them stay?

When I come up with the idea the challenge is writing it down. Even if I’m driving somewhere and I come up with an idea – a feel for it, or a melody – I’ll record that on my phone so I’ve got it for reference down the track. Plenty of times that’s happened. And once you’ve got it down and you go back to it, that will turn into a song.


Earlier in the year you were a nominee at the CMC Awards. How important has CMC become for artists and country music in general?

Very important. It’s one of our main outlets to get our film clips out so people can see them. Especially now they have the awards – it was a big thrill to be named as a finalist in the Male Artist category. There were some massive names in there, and some massive names missed out on it, so I felt very fortunate to be part of that, be invited and do the red carpet. Not to mention the CMC Rocks show – if you’re reading this, Tim Daley, I wouldn’t mind being on that show! [Laughs] Any time you like! It’s an international showcase at the highest level. So CMC is a big part of our industry now.


Obviously Tamworth is sorted, but after that, what are you up to in 2019?

Starting to work on new music at the moment. I was actually speaking to my producer, Matt Fell, only yesterday to let him know that we’ve started the process. It will be a little while before we head to the studio – the best work you can do is make sure you have your songs right and up to standard. I’m really getting that itch now to start to produce new music and get it out there.


There will be some touring. We’ve got a Rail and Sail holiday happening shortly through Tamworth Travel and they’re keen to do more, so hosting holidays might be part of it later on next year.


Look at all the places country music takes you – it’s wonderful.

It’s incredible, really. It’s taken me all over Australia and different parts of the world. I just came back from a three-week tour of New Zealand, and that was magnificent. We did eleven shows over three weekends, North and South Islands. I’m very fortunate.



Paul Costa’s latest album is Whisper in the Crowd.

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Saturday 19 January 2019, 10 a.m.

Capitol Theatre, Tamworth Country Music Festival, NSW


Saturday 26 January 11 a.m.

Capitol Theatre, Tamworth Country Music Festival, NSW

Interview: Paul Costa

 Australian country music fan favourite Paul Costa is back with a new album, Whisper in the Crowd, backed by his ever-present enthusiasm for his work and his audience. I recently had a chat to Paul about making the album with producer Matt Fell, how he looks after his voice, and whether big or small crowds are his favourite.

Congratulations on your album, because it’s now out in the world and it’s terrific, as all your music is. I was listening to it thinking that even when the songs are serious, you always sound like you’re having the time of your life – what do you love about your job?
That’s a great question. I think it’s because it’s my passion, singing. I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn’t enjoy singing, right from a little kid. Singing, performing, creating music and just getting that feedback – there’s no better feeling, so I’d have to put it down to those things.
There would be a few singer-songwriters who like the studio more than they like performing, but I’ve always seen you as a real entertainer. You obviously love that connection with the audience.
Definitely. I recently did a show outback in Pooncarie [NSW]. I was singing my stuff and a lot of people knew the songs, which is always a fantastic thing. But not only that, we started going into party mode towards the end of the night. And when the young ones – the guys in their twenties – know Slim Dusty songs better than I do, you know you’re in the right place [laughs]. It’s a fantastic thing. You throwing ideas out and getting that feedback is just fantastic. That live connection.
Has there ever been a show when you’ve thought, I’m too tired to do this, or do you enjoy every gig you do.
I have to say I enjoy every gig. Some gigs you are tired because of the travelling and that type of thing, but it just all goes away. It’s like this newfound energy comes back into your body and once again, if it’s what you love doing, you don’t work a day in your life [laughs].
For your new album, when did you start assembling the songs? Most of them you’ve had a hand in. I know the lead track came from Nashville but most of the songs you’ve done yourself, so when did it all start coming together?
I look back and it’s been almost five years since my last album. It’s been three and a half or four years from the first song that I wrote [for the new album]. I’m pretty sure that ’The Best Version of Me’ was the first one I wrote that made this project. I can’t put my finger on exactly why it took so long but I’m glad, in a way, that it did because every song on it is there for a reason. It’s there because I love it. When you’ve got a bunch of songs that you really love it comes through in the recording process and it comes through when you’re singing it live. It also tends to make a lot more contact with the audience you sing it to.
I’d imagine it took that long because you’re busy playing your previous songs! When you have a back catalogue like yours, your set lists must get harder to decide on because you have so many songs to choose from. So maybe that means you don’t rush into a new album because you have all those other songs.
Maybe that’s a consideration – Wheels of Steel had some great songs that I still enjoy playing live. So I guess the more music you’re putting out, yes, it gets a bit of a competition. With a 75-minute set list, which one do you drop? [Laughs] It only happened to me not that long ago.
And with new material, you’d want to give it a run – but your fans, of course, are hoping to hear your old songs. It’s a good problem to have.
Exactly right. There is a balance. You do hear this over the years – fans come to see the show and they’re expecting the songs that they love. When the show’s too heavy with brand-new stuff they say, ‘Oh yeah, but I’ve come to hear that song and that song …’ It’s a fine line you’ve got to tread.
It’s almost like you should do two sets: the first set is new material so they can hang around for their favourites in the second set.
It’s just like you’re a mind reader, because I’ve got a hometown album launch coming on July the 8th and that’s exactly what I was planning to do. I’m going to do the first set as all-new songs and let everybody know that’s what’s happening and we’re going to do all the other stuff that you like and know and we’ll party a little bit harder for the second set.
Speaking of those new songs, I noticed a few co-writes with both Matt Scullion and Drew McAlister. How long have you been writing with them?
I think this is the third album I’ve worked with Matt Scullion and he had a hand with a couple of songs on In This Life, I think he had three songs on Wheels of Steel, and then we had five songs on this one. He’s contributed a lot to my music. He’s a fantastic writer and we just seem to get along so well. He’s one of those go-to guys for me now, which is great. He’s done so well for myself and of course Lee Kernaghan. He even got a track on the latest Cold Chisel album, which is a pretty good feather in your cap. Drew McAlister, he’s another incredible talent – such a prolific songwriter. So the two songs we wrote: ‘Whisper in the Crowd’, the title track, and ‘Road Train’. I think on the previous album he and Allan Caswell wrote a song that they pitched to me, called ‘Buying Back the Farm’, and it’s funny because I’d only listened to it once and I thought, That’s me! And that made the album. It’s always a pleasure working with such a high calibre of talent.
And I’m sure they’re happy to work with you too or they wouldn’t keep coming back.
[Laughs] I guess so.
Another of the songs is ‘Drive to Heaven’ and it’s obviously a very personal song. There’s that

element when you’re an entertainer of wanting to take something personal to your audience, but I’m also wondering how you take something so personal and take it to people. It’s almost a mystical process, I guess, so it would be hard to describe.

The whole story is that we were at the dinner table and my young son, Dylan, was only four at the time and he was trying to connect the dots of how everyone was related in the family. He was saying, ‘Grandma is your mum, Mummy, and Grandpa is your dad. Daddy, your mum’s Nonna’ – then he turns around with a puzzled look on his face and says, ‘But where’s your daddy, Daddy?’ Because my dad had passed away and he’d never met him. And I was kind of lost for words – it caught me off guard. We sort of changed the subject and went on to happier things. But about five weeks later we were going for a walk and he asked the question again: ‘Where’s your daddy, Daddy?’ And I was more ready for him this time. I said, ‘My daddy’s in Heaven.’ And said, ‘Let’s go there, I want to see him.’ And I said, ‘Heaven’s too far, we can’t walk to Heaven.’ He turned around and said, ‘Let’s drive to Heaven.’ And as soon as he said it – it’s one of those things, little moments in life, where the little lightbulb goes off and you think, There’s a song in that. Hence the way the song came out is the way the story came out. The song had really been written for about two and half years when I went to record it in the studio, and I actually became emotional in the studio singing it. Had to pause a few times. But it’s interesting that a lot of people have come back to me and said, ‘It brings a tear to my eye’ … If you can touch people with a song, it’s pretty special.
It’s also that you didn’t try to change it. That idea of taking the personal to the universal – you took the story for what it was and told it, and that authenticity of course is so important to country music, and that’s what audiences are responding to.
I think so. It’s so often that something that means a lot to the artist translates. For instance, ‘Tractors and Bikes’, my first number-one hit on my previous album, meant so much to me because that was me growing up in my teenage years, growing up on the farm, and so many people after hearing that song have said, ‘That brings me back to my years on the farm’ or ‘to my younger days’. So, like you said, it’s authenticity that people can really grab hold of.
You mentioned the song ‘Road Train’ – I really liked the detail in the press release about how a man came up to you at a gig and said, ‘People call me Road Train.’ Obviously you can get ideas from other people, but do you have many people coming up to you saying, ‘Can you tell my story in a song?’
Every now and again you get that, but once again it’s got to come from the heart, you know. With the ‘Road Train’ song, I’d just come off stage and had a great set at the Lights on the Hill Memorial Truck Show, and I was on the way to the merch tent and he stuck out his hand and said, ‘People call me Road Train’, and straight back at him I said, ‘That’s a great idea for a song.’ He sort of looked at me a bit funny [laughs]. And the next year I went back, and I’d written the song. I sang the song and he was in the audience and said, ‘I love it.’ I’m really happy it came together so well and made the album.
And it’s good that he loved it, because someone who has the nickname Road Train sounds like someone you wouldn’t want to upset.
[Laughs] He’s actually a really, really nice fella and we’d communicated since. I’ve sent him the album and he said he’s wearing it out and playing it for his friends. Writing songs about real people out there, you can’t go wrong, really.
Matt Fell was your producer for this album – how did you come to choose him? Obviously he’s a popular fellow, so you’d have to book him up ahead.
You do. And it was interesting because he almost made the previous album – I’d had him on the radar for quite a while. But I’m glad that this one came off with Matt. We had a bunch of songs – I’d sent him the songs, and we were talking about how I wanted a more-energy, contemporary sound. And one of the things that Matt came back with, which really brought enthusiasm to me, was, ‘Let’s be bold.’ And I said, ‘I like that.’ So we went along with that philosophy right throughout the project, and it was so much fun. I just can’t get over how happy I am with the end result.
And when you say ‘bold’, I had noticed that there’s quite a lot of instrumentation and some big backing vocals as well.
All that – for me, it’s overall a slightly more hi-fi sound. There’s a little bit more of the overdriven guitars and that type of thing. Some of the instruments … I’ve been a muso all my life and I couldn’t even tell you what some of these things were that he was pulling out! [Laughs] But they made sense in the track. If you’d have ever asked me, ‘Would you have a bagpipe sound in one of your albums?’ I would have said, ‘You’re crazy’, but ‘Whisper in the Crowd’, it’s there and they work really well, so you’ve got to give it to him for thinking outside the square.
And obviously you trusted him too.
I had a few people help me out with a bit of feedback as we went through the process, and ‘Whisper in the Crowd’ was basically as it is now. Some people said, ‘Should we do this or do that’, and I said, ‘Don’t touch it!’     [Laughs] It was one of those things where it worked for me and the feedback’s been that it’s one of the favourite tracks on the album.
Of course, the thing that stays identifiably you throughout all your albums is your voice, which is a very highly regarded and a wonderful instrument. Are there special things you do to take care of it? Obviously playing a lot of live shows can wear a voice out and when it’s time to record it has to be in its most perfect state.
I just find that staying fit, for me, is the best thing. Some cardio – running. I’ve got a little elliptical trainer here at home, and I find that makes a huge difference. Also sit-ups, believe it or not, help a lot – using the right muscles there just seems to work the voice and make it easier to sing. So before every session I go for a run and do some sit-ups and I find you go into the booth and, hey, it’s flowing … The easier it’s flowing, the better it sounds on tape and the more you can do to control it, put it where you want it, and pull off any tricks. I find that it even helps with vocal range – I can go lower and higher, and everything sounds beefier in the middle.
You’ve been on major labels and you’re now an independent artist – has that given you more flexibility, being independent?
I think so. With the market the way it is now I think it’s good. I’ve got everything I need as far as distribution – I’m up on iTunes, we’ve got distribution through the shops. And because of the competition and the way physical sales are declining – for everybody- labels don’t seem to have as much money to put into promoting as they used to. That’s just a fact. And we can do it – especially with technology these days, you can send your promotion around the world with the click of a button. You can do it so well in house with obviously the help of a publicist and that type of thing, and do a great job, so we’re not really missing anything there as far as getting the information out, and just having more control.
Certainly what I’ve noticed – because so many Australian country music artists are independent – is one key area in which they have control is choosing the producer, and I can see the quality of Australian country music is benefitting accordingly, because you guys all know who’s good and who’s producing who, and the decisions that are being made on that production level alone – putting aside songwriting and other elements – are really having huge benefits to the music that’s coming out.
It’s great. When you’ve done it for a little while you know, This guy’s going to work for me. And it might not work for somebody else. You might want a more traditional sound where you’d go for another producer. It’s good to have people to bounce off, but a good producer will do that for you anyway. If he thinks a song needs a little bit of treatment here or there, a good producer will let you know. So, yes, the right artist with the right producer is obviously going to produce the best result.
You play constantly so I’m not going to ask you about a tour for the album, so instead I’ll ask: because you’ve played so many different types of gigs, do you prefer a large audience or a small audience?
I’d have to say both are very, very enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be a big audience to be energetic. The energetic audience, or the one that will give you a lot of feedback, is always the best, but nothing beats a big audience with a lot of feedback [laughs]. One of the best gigs I’ve had in the last couple of years would be performing at Broadbeach [Country Music Festival] on the main stage. All the stars aligned: I was in a great time slot, there was probably 5 to 7000 people just lining the streets, all country fans. The sound was incredible, the band was cooking. I just felt – talking about the voice, I just felt it was all there. I felt good singing the songs and the feedback was incredible. So, yes, nothing beats a big crowd with big feedback.
Particularly when you know how to harness it – with all your experience I’d imagine you do.
It does become a feeding frenzy. You give that to them and if you get it back – it just keeps multiplying, which is great. If you can get it the stage where you’re not thinking about it too much and everybody’s just having a great time, that’s where you want to be.

Whisper in the Crowd is out now.

Interview: Paul Costa

Paul Costa has been a fixture on the country music scene for quite a while, as any visitor to Tamworth knows, and his brand of robustly entertaining, toe-tapping songs about life on the land (and other things besides) has found audiences all over Australia. Paul’s fourth album, Wheels & Steel, has just been released and I talked to him recently while he was driving his car one day – my main concern was that he was on a hands-free phone! (He was.)

So you did a gig in Kincumber last night?

I did, yeah, and we had a great time; it was a fun show. We had Adam Harvey and the Toombs Brothers and Luke Russell, so fun show, great crowd, yeah.

Was it like a mixed line-up, not just a show with you headlining?
Mixed line-up, yeah. It was a fundraiser for Variety Bash and so it was just a lot of fun and something that the 94.1 radio station organised. So some of the presenters from there sort of help them.

Do you live in Victoria or in New South Wales?
Well it’s about 50/50 at the moment.  We’ve still got a house in Victoria, but we spend a lot of time in a rental place up on the Central Coast, because that’s where it’s all happening for the music and the record label’s there, the recording studio’s there, a lot of the musos and songwriters are there, so we’re actually looking at making it more in New South Wales from now on; just looking at a bigger place to rent and we’ll be right.

The Central Coast certainly does seem to have developed into this incredible hub and I think it’s probably just sort of happened, not deliberately, but the studios do all seem to be there and it must feel like quite a good supportive community to be in when you’re there?
Definitely, everything you need as far as the music is there, hence they call it Hillbilly Heaven, you know. You’ve got great artists like Adam Harvey and Beccy Cole and Kasey Chambers and a whole swag of other people on the Central Coast, so as soon as I come here I feel like I’m part of the whole scene which is a good feeling.

You’ve got your fourth album coming up and I haven’t heard it yet; I’ve only heard the single.  So I can’t ask you questions about the album, but I do know it’s your first one on Core Music with is Rod McCormack’s label.  So it must really feel a bit like the industry’s kind of graduating in a way?  There’s now a label that’s dedicated to country music and it’s got distribution through Sony, you’ve got that whole set-up with Rod, in particular, producing a lot of established songwriters.  Do you feel like, as an artist, you’re in a really good place and good time?
Definitely; it feels so natural to me. My association with Rod, goes back eight years from when I recorded my first album, and he’d produced all four of my albums.  So it feels, you know, going to a studio and now the office is set up at the studio, so it feels like home. I’m just rapt with the relationship now that  has put me on the label, thought enough of me to do so, and even the recording process now, I’ve had a lot more creative freedom in this last project, which has meant that something a little bit different and also it’s more Paul Costa. So I’m very happy with the way my career is going right now, yeah.

I notice you’ve got some pretty well-established and hardworking songwriters working with you on this album – has being on this label given you access to them or to different songwriters than you’d worked with before?
Oh well, when it comes to songwriting, I think it’s mainly relationships you build up as you go. Obviously with Rod, we’ve collaborated on a number of occasions; I have him right there, not only as a great producer, a musician, record boss, but he’s also a good songwriter – a great songwriter [laughs].  So it’s good to have him on board. Writing with Tamara Stewart for this record will be … actually, we’ve had three songs with Tamara, so we seem to really click, and the work just came out great.  I’m collaborating for the first time with Drew McAlister on this project, with two songs, and then in the end he wrote one with Allan Caswell that they offered to me and I loved it, so we’re recording that one as well. And, of course, back with Matt Scullion, who is doing really well in Nashville at the moment, songwriting. I think he’s got three tracks on the new one as well, so it’s great to have that type of talent that is willing to, you know, put their time in and help with the whole process.

And is there an aspect of all of this that you prefer, between songwriting and recording and performing?  Is there one part of it that’s your favourite?
I think the performance side is definitely my favourite, although I do enjoy the whole process right through. You probably wouldn’t want to be doing it continuously, every day, but when you’re on a mission to put an album together, you just seem to go, go, go, until you know or ’til you’re satisfied that the job’s done. But the most rewarding part after you’ve written a song, recorded it, is the feedback from the audience; that’s the ultimate reward, I guess.

How did you start out performing? Was it you and a guitar and the local pub, or did you enter – I didn’t find anything in your bio about StarMaker, or anything like that, so I don’t know if you went that route?
Basically, performing with my brother and brothers over the years. We sang at weddings, parties and anything there earlier on. Did the club circuit along the Murray [River] and built up a following – a local following – but then we started going to Tamworth. And obviously people from all over Australia come to Tamworth and so we started building a national following from there, and then spinning off that, being invited to festivals all around the country and that type of thing.  So I guess it just evolved, yeah, there wasn’t any one particular thing, like I was never really into talent festivals and that type of thing, because I was already performing. When I went to Tamworth I was 19, so I was already performing and getting paid for it, so it was like we sort of skipped that first step, I guess [laughts].

When you were doing the weddings, parties and anything, were there any songs that you absolutely just got completely sick of playing?
Well I guess, anything you do for a long time is you tend to look for new challenges as an artist, and I have always been like that. Once I’ve done something for a little while, you’re looking for what’s kind of next, you know.  You constantly look for new bounds to break.

Speaking of developing as an artist, I was listening to a track off your very first album, and you had quite an Elvis sound to your voice. Are you a fan of Elvis, or was it that you just happened to sound like that?
Yeah, definitely an Elvis fan. I love Elvis’s music and used to listen to a lot of his songs from when I was growing up, but not only Elvis, a lot of even the classic country as well.  I mean, Elvis did cross over to country; of course, he started out as the Hillbilly Cat, that was his first tag. So we were always enjoying Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, and a lot of those guys as well, so there was a fairly big range. I remember going up and back to the market, had it in the truck, there always used to be music all the way up and all the way back and all those great names that I just said, including Slim Dusty and even a little bit of Chad Morgan rolled in there sometimes. It was a fun time and a great environment to grow up with country music and a bit of rock ‘n’ roll, ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll, which you can hear a little bit of that, especially in the earlier albums.

So when you got to being a teenager and wanting to play music, you didn’t ever have a moment of thinking, ‘Country music’s too daggy, I can’t play this?’
Never. Looking back at the whole thing, the very, very first song that I learnt to play on guitar and sing the whole thing right through was ‘Country Roads’. And it felt so natural; it didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, this is daggy or corny in any way,’ so that’s just the way it went [laughs].

Well, you know, sometimes kids reject their parents’ taste in everything.
Oh yeah, I guess that does happen occasionally, but no, I thought it was pretty cool, and there’s so much great, great music out there at the moment. There’s obviously some great Australian artists. I’m really big in a lot of the American stuff, like Brad Paisley and those guys, so I just think that if people listened to country music more, the broad range, I think country will be considered cool, you know, and there’s a big market for country if people don’t try and pin it down to, you know, ‘That’s country music; I don’t like that.’ I like it when people say, ‘I don’t usually like Country, but I like what you do’, so all right, let’s try and go that way a bit more.

Except I always think that part of the charm of Tamworth is that everyone’s kind of accepted that country is a bit daggy and therefore, no one’s trying to be cool and no one’s being pretentious. There’s just that understanding that we all kind of know about country and we’re all quite happy that it’s like that, so I’m not sure that I want country to become cool.
All right. Yep. Well, the thing is – there was only a comment just recently that there was a group that went over to Nashville and to the US, and they just couldn’t get over how mainstream country was, like country is as big as pop music over there, which our market here is a lot smaller, but I think there’s possibly a stigma that we need to break through, to open up the market here, and I think it could be just as big as mainstream, because there is just some great music and some great artists, that probably don’t get a chance because of that bit of stigma that’s going on, so hopefully, that doesn’t last too much longer.

Well from my perspective, as someone who loves country, listening to country and seeing it played live, it’s actually the genre that tells Australian stories and you know, I’m listening to your single and that’s a story of life on the land, and a working life on the land.  You don’t actually get a lot of songs in other genres that describe life and tell Australian stories. So do you feel that that’s part of the genre for you?
Oh definitely. It’s all about the stories, you know, and it’s a great way to express the story. So if you can put the melody and the story together in a way that they gel and work and ring home, then you know, you’ve almost got guaranteed hit song, which is not that easy to do, but when it does happen, it works and people really keep asking for that song, like last night – ‘Survivor 1932’, is one of those songs that I recorded on my last album and I just keep getting requests for that song and people are still talking about it, so it’s just hit a nerve and it’s great when that does fall into place.

Do you often play with a full band?
Yes, a lot. Sometimes it might be stripped back to an acoustic show where you’ve got a couple of players or another player, but mostly with a full band these days, yeah, which is always a lot of fun.

And when you have those full-band gigs, do you find your audience has more guys than girls, or is it fairly evenly weighted?
I think it’s 50/50, I’d say, yeah; maybe slightly more females, slightly more, yeah [laughter], but fairly even.  

Listening to your music, it sounds to me like it’s really masculine music. I think there’s such a need for really good masculine music, particularly in country, so I was just curious as to know whether it was mainly guys or girls, but maybe women are more open-minded about country music?
I don’t know. With this last album, we’ve intentionally gone a little bit tougher with the sound overall, and that’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of albums [laughter], it just hasn’t seemed to have gone that way, but this time it’s kind of fallen into place and I kind of think that with that little bit of tougher sound, that it’s going to open it up to mainly, possibly a few more of the male side liking it, as well as the female, but and probably broadening the range of the age group. I’ve had 18 year olds love it and I’ve had 80 year olds love it, so it’s good if you can kind of please the ear to that broader range of age.

I was looking at your touring page, which is how I realised you were playing last night, it didn’t seem like you had a lot of gigs booked around the launch of the album; are you planning to add some later in this year?
Yeah definitely; we’re working on shows at the moment. I’m an Ambassador for Mission Australia and we’ve got about four or five shows; the dates are just booked in for those shows. We’ve got other touring lined up, I think we’re starting off in Queensland and it’s going to be updated fairly soon. I’m going back to the Birdsville Races, which is always great; this’ll be my third time performing at the Birdsville Races. And I’ve also got a trip to Europe; a Country Music Riverboat Cruise, starting in Amsterdam and going through Budapest, two weeks, five star, all inclusive. It’s going to be really hard to take and even harder to come back to reality, I think. But I’m looking forward to keeping fairly busy and there’s going to be a lot of in-store promotions as well lined up to promote the album, so looking fairly full, at this stage, yeah.

How did you become an Ambassador for Mission Australia?
Well, I just happened to run into Sheryl O’Donnell from Goulburn. I was on tour with Amber Lawrence and helping her out. She’s sponsored by SsangYong, so we were at the SsangYong dealer and I was helping out with my little PA system and Mission Australia were there doing a sausage sizzle and we got to meet Sheryl and they booked us for a show, and I was just talking to Sheryl, she said, ‘Would you like to become an Ambassador?’ And to be truthful I didn’t know a lot about Mission Australia at that stage, but since finding out a lot more, and being involved in a lot of projects now, I was very, very proud to be asked and she inspired me to write a song called ‘Shine’, and it’s on the album [Wheels & Steel], and they’re going to use that on presentations and radio ads and also some TV, so I’m very happy with the way that’s turning out; it’s a real win/win.

So does part of being an Ambassador mean that you talk about them at your gigs, or you have their logo up, or anything like that?
I think it’s just supporting each other.  So I just do that without even thinking about it now, you know.  I talk about it a lot, when there’s something advertised, you know, I’m up or down, ‘Paul is a proud Ambassador for Mission Australia’. I’ll do a few things, just help Mission in a different ways; I’ll be an MC or I’ll make an appearance at different times and then they might get me to do other stuff.  I just flew to Darwin recently with Mark Holden and Deni Hines as part of the their urban quest, for people all around the Northern Territory, young kids from 10 to 19, picking out the best vocalists, and we ran a big competition there, so that was great, I was really happy to be a part of that. So it’s just working together and the music seems to work really well with what they do as well, so once again it’s just a win/win.

It sound like you’re working full time as a musician and you’ve got all these other aspects to it, like Mission Australia.  Have you always been working full time as a muso, since you were a teenager, or is it fairly recent that you’ve been able to do that?
Full time.  I’ve been full time for the last 12 years.  I had a job – my last job was with Elders Merchandise; I was a farm sales rep. So it was very rural, of course, and I was very comfortable and I was working in an area that I was well known, because of the music, so that kind of helped with sales as well [laughter], but I did that for six years. But the music was always pulling me, so it was something that I just had to do and it was a hard decision to make, and then when I finally had to hand the phone and the keys back to my car and walk home [laughter], and thinking, well, I’m on my own now [laughter], with no regular wage coming in, but because I’ve been doing it for a while and we already had a reasonably good plan with what we could do, it worked out – so far, so good, anyway.

I think that’s quite amazing, 12 years as a working muso.  There’s aren’t many people who would be able to do that, so good on you.
Oh thank you. No, it’s been the best 12 years of my life, and I hope it never ends [laughter].

Have you already lined up your Tamworth gigs for next year?
Just thinking about it; we haven’t locked them in 100 per cent yet, but I played last year at the Capitol Theatre and so we might be back there again, we just haven’t locked it in yet, but that was a great show there, always a good venue.

Great. Well, I’m about to wrap it up, but I just wanted to ask you, ’cause I saw in your bio that you grew up in the Mallee, so I was wondering if you will always consider yourself to be a country boy?
Oh definitely, yeah, yeah.  I mean growing up on a farm, definitely a country boy; there’s no doubt at all [laughs].

Do you miss the Mallee?
I’ve still actually got a house in Robinvale, the town I was born.  We do spend a bit of time there; we’ve got a lot of family and friends there, so I’m there quite a bit. I don’t really get time to miss it, but it’s a beautiful area, they’re right on the Mary River, and there’s very distinct bushland and even the red dirt – it’s not like anywhere else in Australia. That’s one of the reasons why when we did the film-clip for ‘Tractors & Bikes’, we took it back to one of the farms on the Mallee – you couldn’t talk about the Mallee and film it somewhere else, ’cause it just wouldn’t work [laughs].

It seems like your country credentials are extremely intact.
Oh well, I mean, I think you just be yourself and you let people decide what you’re doing or not; that’s the best way to go.

Paul Costa’s new album is Wheels & Steel, and it’s out now.