Category: women in docs

Nimbin Roots Festival: women in docs

One noteworthy act at this weekend’s Nimbin Roots Festival is women in docs, who have a dedicated fan base around the country thanks to their sublime harmonies and great songwriting. I had a chat to Chanel Lucas from women in docs (on the right in the photo) to ask about her Nimbin preparation and what she’s looking forward to.

I purposely didn’t do much research before talking to you because I thought you could tell me: what have the women in docs been doing?
Since we’ve seen you last in Tamworth last year we’ve finished off touring our album around Australia and since then we’ve been working on a new album, so we’re trying to write songs and record some stuff, which is a bit challenging for us because Roz is in Cairns and I’m in Brisbane, so we just get together when we can. We do a lot of stuff on the internet.
Before the most recent album you had a bit of a break, so now it seems like you’re in a purple patch, may we say, or you’ve got a creative wind underneath you?
[laughs] Maybe. I think we’ve just started developing new ways to collaborate, which is making it a lot easier. Because initially we lived in the same city we were used to getting together face to face, so I think it’s just taken us a while to learn how to collaborate on songs and we’re just starting to get there with that. It’s a lot easier with Dropbox and all the tools we’ve got – social media, chat rooms.
In terms of face to face, Skype offers you that capability – do you find that you tend to still like seeing each other or is it okay to send stuff back and forth.
We get together whenever one of us is nearby. So if Roz is in Brisbane on a trip for work we will always get together, and if I’m up north I’ll try to make a point to go and see her. Because really the best way to collaborate on songwriting is to be together. But long term we send ideas back and forth, especially in the editing process. One of us might say, ‘I’ve changed the bridge a bit, what do you think about this?’ and the other person will listen to it and reply. So once we get to editing it’s a lot easier.
Given that such a big part of the two of you working together is your harmonies, do you sort out the harmonising when you’re recording or is it something you work into the songwriting?
We do it at exactly the same time as the song’s being written. Both of us are singing and playing as we write, and if one person comes up with an idea and they’re sending it through – say Roz is sending something on Dropbox or Google Drive, I will record my harmonies or bass playing, whatever it is, over the top of it and send it back. So it happens at the same time because it is so integral to the women in docs style. Whereas our individual work that we do with other bands or other projects, there’s not the same focus on the harmonies.
And it’s a focus because it works so beautifully – now having seen you play live, it seems so … I don’t want to say ‘effortless’ because those things are never effortless, so I’ll say it seems very natural. When you first started to sing together, did it feel natural or has it taken a lot of working together to get to that point?
As soon as we started playing together we naturally sang harmonies to each other. And we first started playing together in rock bands in Townsville and that was the one thing that people commented on: ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a rock band with so many harmonies.’ And that was part of the motivation to then ditch the rock band and focus on the more acoustic instruments and on our harmony songwriting. Also when we first started women in docs it was the same year as the Indigo Girls, who were super popular then. And bands like Tiddas, out of Melbourne. Which we weren’t aware of until we started touring. So we were already doing what was becoming popular without having any connection to Melbourne or Sydney or Brisbane. So it was like there was this kind of national movement that happened without anyone realising [laughs]. It was weird.
I remember reading something authoritative a while ago talking about how humans respond instinctually to harmonic voices – which is why people go crazy over the Beatles and ABBA, I guess. And One Direction. But I don’t think it ever goes out of fashion, what you’re doing.
It’s a tricky one. We did a gig in Melbourne during the last album tour and one of the young guys we played with came up to us and said, ‘That was really good – really ’90s sounding.’ [laughs] I don’t know – is it timeless? I’m not sure. But I think that doing lots of harmonies is a particular sound and there’s a lot of room when you’ve got multiple voices and multiple harmonies to create different moods or different themes within the song that you don’t have as a solo singer.
So this new album you’re working on, are you working to a deadline?
Yes, I think the end of last year was the deadline [laughs]. We work at a different speed to what we used to work at because we have other things that we do. We used to do women in docs full time, we were touring nine months of the year and we were able to spend some time on it. These days we have other jobs, we have other musical projects, so it’s not that it gets left behind, it’s more that we’ve just got to be easier on ourselves in terms of deadlines. Now we’re just trying to get some good songs and once we’ve got some good songs we’ll record the album. But the plan to go into the studio is in January because we’re both on kind of a break then.
The whole nation has a break then, so that’s a good time.
Except for the festivals everyone has a little break, so it’s a good time to record.
And of course it is as women in docs that are you going to Nimbin Roots. I would imagine that you two don’t need a lot if any rehearsal time before you play together. But going to something like this, do you get together slightly early and catch up?
Yes. We either all fly in a bit earlier and make sure we’ve got time for rehearsal but also because this is how we do things now, it’s really important for all the individuals involved to be ready, so we all rehearse separately. Usually we come up with a set list, everyone rehearses beforehand then we just have a quick play-through either the day before or the morning if we’re playing that night.
I’m curious about the logistics of this kind of thing because you’re all coming from different places into a place where none of you lives, and it’s not a big town – given that you’re a band not a duo, how do you find a space to rehearse in?
You can rehearse anywhere, really. We don’t need to be plugged in to rehearse. Sometimes if we all come into a city – like if we come into Brisbane – we’ll book a rehearsal room, but if we’re coming in to a festival we’ll just find a space. So we’ll either rehearse in our motel room and drive everyone crazy or we’ll go into the park – if it’s nice weather we’ll go and sit in the park. It’s lucky that it’s not essential for us to be plugged in to rehearse.
And you just need to drive down from where you are [in Brisbane].
Yes. Usually everyone flies in to the closest city and we drive from there.
If you’re all driving together from Brisbane, isn’t it a bit like the royal family – they don’t all travel on the same plane, so why are you all in the same car? What is something happens?
[Laughs] I think maybe our drummer might be coming in a separate car, because he is also playing with Felicity Lawless.
I don’t mean to be rude but, as the drummer, is he not the most expendable member of the women in docs?
Well … we do like him. We kind of need him to be there. But if we all travelled in separate cars, where would the fun road trip be? And how would we go and find the best coffee spot? That’s kind of the fun of going to a festival.
Did you submit an audition tape or CD or something for the festival?
Yes. We’ve played together at Tamworth with Lou and with some of the other people who will be at the festival, but we applied to be part of the awards night – we still apply to be part of festivals regardless of whether you know the organisers or not. That’s the usual process with all of these festivals.
Lou seems to be incredibly good at organising things.
I think this one’s come together particular well because she’s tapped into the local community really well. I think it’s a great idea to use the bowlo – to use local businesses. And she’s really got the support of the local businesses, which I think really makes the difference with a festival and gives it longevity. Apart from the fact that instead of putting a tent up on the showgrounds and people might stop for coffee in town, it’s using venues in the town – the festival’s adding value to the local businesses. They’ve got a reason to support it and a reason to be part of it. And it makes it all-weather. I think she’s done a really great job in getting the word out there. And what a line-up – I’d buy a ticket!
It is. Is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing either in a personal or professional capacity?
I really love Paddy McHugh. He is out of Brisbane, I think. He sings sort of folk-country which has that tint of Australiana about it. A little bit of Weddings Parties Anything, a little bit of Slim Dusty. He’s telling Australian stories and sings with an Australian accent. A fabulous performer, very upbeat, really strong songwriter. So I’m looking forward to seeing him. In general I think the whole festival is quite an impressive line-up of country, roots and Australiana artists. Really diverse range of artists. So I think if people come, you’re not going to watch the same kind of music over and over again. It’s going to be a really entertaining weekend.
It must be so interesting for you as an artist to see what happens – who you meet, what results from it.
Lots of collaborations come out of these kinds of events, whether it be touring collaborations or songwriting or recording collaborations. The other good thing about playing festivals as an artist is that when we’re on tour, it’s just us, so coming to a festival is a really great connection back into our community, which is why I love playing festivals – I get to see other artists. So we’ll see what happens after this weekend – should be a good one.
Nimbin Roots Festival: 17-18 September 2016

Interview: women in docs in Tamworth

During this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival I had the pleasure of interviewing live-in-person some people I’d only ever interviewed by phone. One of these people was Chanel Lucas from women in docs, and as her longtime collaborator Roz Pappalardo was with her, I spoke to the full complement of women in docs.

Although Tamworth is over, its influence is felt throughout the year – as we discuss in this interview. So that’s why I think it’s appropriate to publish this interview now, and the rest will come soon.

So you’re playing with the Bushwhackers at the Longyard Hotel – the Longyard as a venue, talk me through it.
Roz: When we used to come here regularly, that was our regular show. We’d do sets there. It’s an audience that really loves their country music – a specific style of country music. Very attentive, very involved in the show. Certainly a different audience to a lot of other bars and pubs around.
That’s not what I would have thought of the Longyard.
Roz: This is the back in the big space, and that audience is very well trained.
Chanel: And they’re quite into songwriters, which is what we’re all about, so we go quite well there.
Roz: We’ve never played the front bar of the Longyard. Probably not our cup of tea. [But] good for the bands that do it.
Chanel: Great exposure for them. And they have the songwriters awards there, in the back bar, so there’s a —
Roz: Culture.
Chanel: Yeah, there’s a culture of songwriting.
This is one of the fascinating things about Tamworth, that one venue can house quite different spaces and things going on at the same time.
Roz: And it’s good that that venue has developed that, so it’s got the front bar for the drinkers and the partiers and the back is for the music connoisseurs.
So what was your first Tamworth?
Roz: I can’t even remember.
Chanel: I don’t know.
If you can’t remember if must have been a good one.
Roz: Oh, it was hellish [laughs]. I just think the same thing happened – we got invited by a bunch of bands to come and do special guest spots so we thought we’d make a week out of it. It was like us and two other acts, and we were all just dossing in one motel room. And Peel Street back then – this would have been ’04, ’05 – was even busier. There were more acts. I think it’s died down the last ten years.
Chanel: No, I don’t think it’s as big – well, there’s not as many buskers. It was a busker every two metres.
I didn’t go in 2013 and that was the year they apparently used an audition system for buskers and the numbers were down that year. Maybe they’re only just starting to come back up.
Roz: That makes total sense.
Chanel: I didn’t know they did that.
Roz: We were talking about [how] it seems like something like that had happened. Because it’s not as wild and crazy down there on Peel Street now. It’s a bit more tame.
Chanel: And the quality of artists is so good out there.
Last year I noticed that I was not hearing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ every five metres – you used to hear that.
Roz: No. The song yesterday was ‘Ring of Fire’.
Chanel: I’ve heard ‘Jolene’ and [singing] ‘May the Circle Be Unbroken’. I’ve heard that at least four times.
Roz: We could actually release a top ten hits of the buskers.
It would be a good survey … you two could make a list of the songs and cover them, is that what you mean?
Chanel: Yes. And we’ll record an album with all those songs on it.
Different interpretations.
Chanel: We’ll sell it on Peel Street.
And then you don’t have to busk. You just have to press ‘play’. Some people do use a backing track, after all. Having said that, there are some genuine musicians on Peel Street …
Roz: The quality is quite high this year.
There’s the young people having a go and older people having a go too.
Roz: It’s awesome. That’s what I love about Tamworth – they really foster and nurture that young generation. Young girls, young boys – they’re supportive, give them platforms to present, help them write the bio, helo them get professional publicity photos taken. That doesn’t happen in any other genre. Country kills it in that world and it’s such a great opportunity for these young people to get a great professional start in their music career. Love it.
I think as a genre as well it does respect the songwriter more than any other genre in Australia.
Roz: It does.
And I don’t know if I remarked on this to you, Chanel, in the past but I’ve certainly noticed the even spread of male and female artists throughout the festival.
Chanel: Yes.
Roz: That’s true. It’s just quality, really.
And the nature of this festival is such that the competition’s so stiff – busking’s one thing, but there’s a lot of free gigs here and you want to get people to them to buy your albums and you have to be good. So the quality of music that comes out of all the performers in this festival is extraordinary.
Chanel: It is.
And you guys are part of that, of course. The level of talent under the country music umbrella, which is broad –
Roz: It’s getting broader.
It’s quite amazing.
Chanel: We met a few people today when we were playing down at Fanzone who – it’s their first time. And I said to a couple of people, ‘What are you going to see? What are you going to do?’ And they just said, ‘We don’t know – it’s so overwhelming. We’re just walking around – everything we watch is good. Everything we see is amazing.’ And all they’re doing is just walking around to see what happens.
Roz: You get that big programme and I immediately get a panic attack. I just looked at it the other day – and I think I was really tired because we’d been up since five-thirty driving, we had a 7 a.m. interview – I looked at it and I nearly felt like breaking into tears because I just didn’t want to miss anything. You know what I mean?
I absolutely know what you mean.
I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is just too much.’ [But] fantastic, because there’s something for everyone.                 
So for you as performers, you have quite a schedule. Do you have your fallow times during the day when you can have a little rest?
Roz: We try to.
Chanel: We’ve had one in three days. Four days. How long have we been here? It feels like we’ve been here for, like, a century.                  
And you’re on tonight.
Chanel: Late nights up at the North Tamworth Bowlo there’s like a fringe thing, so tonight’s girls’ night, with all female performers, and tomorrow night will be bluegrass night and so on.
And the Lifeline concert.
Chanel: I think it’s now called ‘Country Music Cares’ or ‘Country Cares’. At the Town Hall. And all the proceeds are going to local farmers.
That’s a good thing to be invited to participate in.
Roz: That invitation and the Bushwhackers invitation actually got us here. We thought, ‘We’ve got this gig and these gigs, let’s make a week of it.’ And then Matt Henry has come in and invited us – we’ve been working with him on –
You’re going to be at the Tudor up late?
Roz: Thursday night. It just takes a couple of invitations to then put together a week.
I know for you two – because you don’t live in the same city – it’s a matter of finding that momentum to pull everything together.                 
Roz: It’s coordination but we’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s a matter of getting on a plane for me – or for you [to Chanel]. Air travel is so easy these days – do it a couple of times, get lots of Velocity points.                 
Chanel: And this is such a big festival, you almost have to do at least a gig or two a day just to reach –
Roz: Unless you’re Kasey Chambers or Troy Cassar-Daley.
Well, yes. And that’s a different kind of music, too. Roz, your name came up recently because I interviewed Leanne Tennant.
Roz: Yeah, she’s from Cairns. She’s great – a really amazing chick and she’s on her way here now.
So in Tamworth, part of the benefit of it seems to be these relationships that get made – whether it’s producers, songwriters, musicians. Has that happened for you in the past?
Roz: At this festival? For sure. The nature of this festival is that you generally collaborate – play with three or four artists on the bill and that’s how the relationships are built. That feeds into other touring, other networks.
Chanel: Other festivals. We’re doing a show with Lou Bradley – she’s going to come and do some songs with us at the Family [Hotel show]. She’s involved with some stuff down in Murwillumbah.
Roz: She started it.
Chanel: She started a new festival down there.
Roz: A country roots festival.
Chanel: She’s invited us to come and play at the end of next year down at the new country roots festival … It’s a small industry.
The impact of this one festival – and I don’t know if there’s anyone to quantify it, actually – but creatively, commercially in terms of the albums that come out of it, is quite enormous.
Roz: It would be a really good study to do that. But how you would do that …                 
[Laughs] Tamworth Council would probably want to do it.
Roz: Well, it would actually be great for them, funding wise.


The latest women in docs album is Carousel. Visit them online at womenindocs.wordpress.com.


women in docs on tour

There’s no guarantee that women in docs will wear Doc Marten boots when they’re touring … but maybe they will. The best way to find out is to turn up and see them play! Given their lovely songs and even lovelier harmonies, any boot no-show will be forgotten in an instant. You can find the women in docs on the road here:

Friday 17th October 2014 | 8pm
The Main Bar, BAKERY HILL VIC
28 Main Road, Bakery Hill VIC
(03) 5333 7722
www.trybooking.com/100747

Saturday 18th October 2014 | 6pm
Mountain Mummas, SHEFFIELD TAS
60 Main Street, Sheffield TAS
0400 467 317

Sunday 19th October 2014 | 6pm
The Grand Poobah, HOBART TAS
142 Liverpool Street, Hobart TAS
www.trybooking.com/102622

Wednesday 22nd October 2014 | 7.30pm
Melbourne Folk Club [Bella Union], MELBOURNE VIC
Bella Union, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Street, Melbourne VIC
www.bellaunion.com.au

Thursday 23rd October 2014 | 7.30pm
Friends of St Brigid’s Church, CROSSLEY VIC
212 Port Fairy-Koroit Road, Crossley VIC
www.stbrigidscrossley.org.au
www.trybooking.com/102045

 Friday 24th, Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th October 2014
Fleurieu Folk Festival, WILLUNGA SA
Main Road, Willunga SA
(08) 8327 2797 | www.fleurieufolkfestival.com.au

 For more information, please visit www.womenindocs.com

women in docs are on the Carousel

women in docs – formed by Queenslanders Chanel Lucas and Roz Pappalardo – are a little bit folk, a little bit pop and just enough country to qualify them for inclusion on this website, which is a very good thing, as their new album, Carousel, is terrific. They tell great stories and sing beautiful harmonies doing it. Recently, I spoke to Chanel Lucas about crowdfunding the album, recording it and producing it, and the business of keeping the show on the road.

You’ve run things yourselves all your career. How do you maintain the fire in the belly to do that, because I would think that sometimes the enthusiasm must wane doing it all yourself?
Well, we have just had a couple of years break. We did tour for many, many years and run our business all ourselves and we did actually kind of get to a point a couple of years ago where we just went, you know what, we just need a rest. So we went and worked on solo projects and we went and did some other work in the creative industries just for a couple of years. So then when we came back to prepare for this album we sort of had this renewed energy and kind of enthusiasm for what we were doing, which meant that we were able to pull an album together even though we all now live all over Australia, and we could still write songs and make the best use of our time because we’re kind of refreshed and ready to go. So I don’t think you can keep going kind of ad finitum. It’s good to kind of balance your time between your different pursuits.
There’s a song on the album called ‘The Hard Way’ and the lyric is ‘I’m going to choose the hard way’ and the song does end up saying ‘And that’s all right’, but I was wondering if you thought that doing everything on your own was the hard way, especially because I was reading the press release and it was talking about you did online crowdfunding for this album but you used to do the pre-sales and fundraising through snail mail. It’s really only now that a lot of bands are starting to do it on their own. When you two started it must have seemed unusual and also like quite a daunting prospect. It must have seemed like the hard way.
I think when we started it actually didn’t feel hard at all. When we started playing music we were playing in Townsville in North Queensland and there were no other folk acts in that town. There was a musos’ night at the local blues bar and so usually it would be all big guitar bands, lots of drum kits and all that sort of stuff. We went in just with two guitars and sang a bunch of Indigo Girls songs and other songs, which was weird in between two big rock bands. The owner just loved it and he booked us for a residency that week and we had a Wednesday night residency in his blues bar for weeks. That was how we built our set up. We actually were terrified because we only knew five songs when he booked us the residency. So we were like, holy shit, we better learn some music or write some songs. So that was a really great motivator. In seven days we worked out a good two-hour set. That was good. We may have played a few songs twice after I got drunk. I’ll give you my secrets now.
That’s acceptable.
Fifteen years later [laughs]. But I think we started how we meant to continue. But it never occurred to us that it was hard. It was just, well, this is what we want to do. Let’s see if it’s going to work, and it did work. People started coming to our shows and we started getting more gigs. So it never occurred to us not to do the work to get that stuff done. Because we’d come from a place where there was no one else like us and there was no one else doing what we did, it didn’t occur to us that we were owed anything or that there were any systems in place to support us. I think that’s why we have done what we’ve done. It’s not because we’re staunchly independent or we think we’ve got something to prove. It’s just how we’ve always done things, I think. So the crowdfunding right back in the snail-mail days, we needed money to produce an album and we just went, well, why don’t we just ask our fans? We’ve got a really good email list. Why don’t we just see if they will pre-order the album? That’s what we did, and they did. So we were able to produce an album and we’ve just done that ever since.
So you are well ahead of the curve. we could say?

[Laughs] There were a few other independent bands doing similar things to us, but we didn’t realise it until we left Townsville and started touring around Australia and we met other like-minded people. But before that we didn’t know that there were other people like us.
I’ve seen a lot of independent Australian acts in my time, including around the early ’90s, and I don’t recall a lot of them doing it. I think a lot of them were trying very hard to get signed up, even on small labels. So I do think, even though to you it might have seemed like a natural progression or an organic development, I think until very recently people wanted the record deal. Even the idea of not pursuing that was unusual.
Yeah, I think people still want a record deal. I’d love a record deal. That’d be awesome [laughs]. But I think the other side of that is because there’s so much information around now and because it is perceptively more easy – people think that because you can do it through digital platforms and stuff it is easier. I don’t think it’s any easier. We just have different tools to use now, that’s all. Any crowdfunding only works if you’ve got an audience who are going to purchase that product. If you don’t have a following if you haven’t gone out and done any gigs or built a relationship with your audience – strangers aren’t going to buy your music, not $10,000 worth anyway. You still have to work really hard at the same things that we’ve always worked at in terms of audience development, in terms of developing a great live show and your performance skills and your musical skills. All of that is still exactly the same regardless of these new technologies we’ve got.
Given that you know your audience to an extent do you feel like you’re writing songs for them or you are still writing songs for yourselves to sing later?
I think as a collaborative duo – which is the focus of this act, women in docs – it’s really about this collaboration between two songwriters and two performers, and we get a very different product working together. So our focus as a songwriting duo is to try to really tap into the everyday experience of people and to kind of celebrate that. So we write songs about falling in love in the supermarket on one of our previous albums. On this album, on Carousel, there’s a song called ‘Monday’, which is pretty much a celebration of that city life, of the routine of getting up and going to work every day and all that sort of stuff. The last line of the song says, ‘This is a city serenade’. It’s a celebration of the city. So that’s what we’re trying to focus on with women in docs. What we do separately in our solo projects or our other creative work is a very different focus. So we’re kind of really focusing on celebration, on a bit of humour, our sense of humour when we work together, and that kind of everyday life story.
Of course, running things yourself means you get to choose who works on your album and Anthony Lycenko is quite in demand. I’ve seen his name popping up all over the place. So I was wondering how you came to choose him to mix your album?
He actually recorded our very first album years ago – not our first EP but our first full-length album. We worked with him at Rockinghorse Studios down at Byron Bay along with a man called Ben McCarthy, and Ben has just recently produced Pete Murray’s latest album, I think … So they helped us produce our very first album, which was called Under a Different Sky. And [Anthony] has been at us for years to come and work with him again and we were really happy with that album, considering we were a brand new band and we’d never even recorded an album before. We were really happy with the production qualities on that CD. So we wanted to work with him again and we asked him to mix this album. He’s probably one of the best mixing engineers in Australia I think. So we’re really happy with the work that he’s done on the album. And it was great to work with him again.
Because you two were producing it he got to take orders from you to an extent.
[Laughs] Well, he was just doing the mixing. He wasn’t involved in the recording process.
Okay. See, I don’t understand how this works, Chanel. I’ve never had to record anything.
We recorded and produced – when we produced the album, I guess we do kind of get to boss him around a bit. But we also respect his abilities. So we give him the tracks that we’ve recorded and he makes it sound good by mixing all the volumes and putting EQs on things and he makes us sound better. That’s what his job is. All he’s got to put up with is us going, ‘My voice isn’t loud enough. Can you turn me up?’
Well, I think he’s done a very good job because your voices are both really clean and clear in the mix.
[Laughs] And he’s put up with us harassing him about it. So I think it’s a great creative relationship.
Producing must create a lot of extra work when you’re singing your tracks and you’re looking after the songs being recorded, and you’re also having to be producers. Does it mean that you’re thinking of a lot of things while you’re in the studio, or can you separate those tasks so that by the time you actually come to record you’re very clear on what you want?
It’s a bit tricky because I think there’s a real advantage in having someone outside the band as a producer to have that outside ear. In the past that’s what we have done. But we decided to produce this ourselves this time and just see how it came out. But how we do it is if I’m playing Roz will sit in the booth with the producer’s hat on and kind of go, ‘Oh, can you change this?’ or, ‘You need to work on that’. Then vice versa. She’ll go in and I’ll give her some feedback and try to kind of put the producer’s hat on then. So it works okay because we’ve got the two of us. I think it would be a lot harder as a soloist.
It’s a lot of different parts of your brain, I would imagine.
Yeah, and it’s a different focus. Like when you’re playing something, really all you’re focused on is, Am I playing this right? But when you’re the producer you’ve got to think of the whole track and the context of the whole track and is this enough instrumentation, do we need to put something else on here, does this fit? Yeah, it’s a different kind of focus.
Given all of the band members are in different parts of the country and this is recorded and mixed and mastered in different places, how long was the end-to-end process for this album, from the point where you started to organise people to be in a certain place at a certain time to when you got the finished product?
It took two years in real time. But I think it only took a few weeks in terms of actual time that we spent working on it. We had to be really strategic. So when we were together to do gigs or festivals that’s when we would write a song. So ‘Carousel’, which is the single off the album, we wrote backstage at a gig in Cairns. We had an hour to kill and Roz said to me, ‘Let’s write a song’, and I went, ‘Okay’, and she went, ‘Here, I’m going to do the first line, and now you’. We just kind of went line for line. Then we thought we’d written a bridge and then we sang it a few times and realised the bridge was actually the chorus. Then by the time we went on stage that night we had most of ‘Carousel’ kind of done and arranged and written. So we just had to be a lot more intense, we just had to be more strategic with our time.
An hour is pretty intense, I’ve got to say, to write a song. Do you pull out a notebook at that stage or do you record yourselves going back and forth?
There’s a lot of recording onto the iPhone. That’s how we kind of do it.
The iPhone has become the unsung hero for a lot of songwriters. I’ve heard other people talk about recording on their iPhone and I think, before that what happened?
Well, I used to carry around a little portable tape player or a little portable voice recorder and I would just leave it in my handbag and whip it out. So if I was driving along and I got an idea, I’d just whip the voice recorder out and sing into it. I’d probably use that more than actually writing it down on the page. But, having said that, I’ve gone back to writing things on the page, but I use my computer. So I type the lyrics out now.
There are a couple of names I recognised in your special guests list, namely Danny Widdicombe and Sue Ray. Sue Ray has also turned up on Brad Butcher’s album. I know Danny is in Brisbane. So are these people you’ve met playing in the scene?
Yeah, they’re friends of ours. Sue is now based in Nashville, I think. But at the time when we were recording, yeah, she was in Brisbane. We decided as we were halfway through the track that she’s singing on – she sings on ‘It’s Raining on Me’, which is one of the songs. We were listening to the track and we had our producers’ hats on and we decided that the song needed a big choir at the end of it. So we just rang everyone we knew could sing, that we knew sort of worked in the city area near where we were recording, and said, ‘Hey, we need a choir. Any chance you’re free after work today?’ We recorded whoever showed up [laughs]. So Sue showed up and Rebecca Wright, who’s a folkie. Then Chris Kellett, who’s involved with kind of the musical theatre scene in Brisbane. They all showed up and we went, ‘Great, we have a quorum. Let’s go, choir.’ So that’s how they ended up on there. Danny has been a friend of ours for years. We’ve played lots of gigs together and known each other for a long time. So we just asked him if he would mind playing some guitar parts and he said yes and we were stoked.
Well, yes, because he’s extremely good on that guitar.
Yeah. Some of the lead guitar tracks are Roz and then some of the others on the other tracks are Danny. He played on ‘Hard Way’ and ‘Nobody Left Here’ … which was great. He’s a very busy man.
He is, and certainly I think there’s a fertile musical community in Brisbane to draw on. So it’s good to have those people close by.
Yes, and we’re just really lucky to have such great musos. Brisbane is really happening at the moment and there’s just great music coming out of Brisbane. Some of the oldies, like us, but also from some of the younger bands. So it’s kind of nice to be here and help each other out. Because we’re so small we all help each other out all the time.
Yeah, I think ‘oldies’ only because you’ve been in the business for a while, not because you’re actually old, Chanel.
Yeah, thank you, thank you [laughs].
When you’re 90 you can be an oldie.
Right. You can interview me any day, can I just say.
Well, I might take you up on that. Actually on that theme, I have a question that was down my list but it kind of relates to being older, and it could apply to when you’re 90, because one of the songs is called ‘You Can’t Go Back’ and it’s a song you wrote. So I was wondering what wouldn’t you go back to?
That’s a good question. What wouldn’t I go back to? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d go back to the blues bar where we started [laughs]. Yeah, I don’t know. I think that song was kind of about how your life forms you. I don’t know if I would change anything that I’ve done, especially in terms of my musical career. I think it’s kind of really formed who I am as a musician and a business person. But I think that song is really about moving forward, learning from what’s happened and you can’t go backwards so you may as well just keep walking forwards and doing the best that you can.
Carousel is available now – visit womenindocs.com for more information about the band and their music.

Interview: Chanel Lucas from women in docs

Country music is a broad church, as anyone who has been to Tamworth knows. And thus the artists who get a guernsey on this website aren’t always strictly ‘country’ – sometimes they have just a smattering of country, but if I like their music then I’ll take that as enough of a qualification for inclusion! And so it is with women in docs, who are best known by the label ‘indie’ but who incorporate influences from country and folk in their beautifully harmonised songs. As women in docs are embarking on their first tour in a long time – in support of their new album, Carousel – it was a good opportunity to talk to Chanel Lucas, one half of the band (the other half is Roz Pappalardo). 
As I wasn’t aware of how women in docs first formed, that seemed a good place to kick off. And it also led to Chanel telling me some fascinating stories.
‘We started off in Townsville in North Queensland,’ said Chanel. ‘We were both at university. And we met through mutual friends.  We were kind of hanging out with the same people and we both realised that the other person played guitar and sang. [So] we started a rock band with another two friends of ours. And we used to play covers in the rock circuit around North Queensland, so Townsville, Cairns, out to the islands like Dunk Island and Hamilton Island, and we’d also go up to the mines to play.
‘We did gigs out at Cannington mine and Osborne and all those kind of places. And it was good money, really good fun, playing in a rock band around North Queensland. Then we both kind of went off travelling with different groups of friends and went around Europe and did all that backpacking stuff that you do when you first finish uni. And I came back to Townsville for a job. Then a year or so later Roz appeared back in town and we started to put women in docs together. We decided to focus on the acoustic guitar and try and let our voices show through a bit more. And we also decided that we should write our own songs.’
Even though Chanel sounded matter of fact about playing on those islands and at mining sites, it did sound like an extraordinary experience – even more so because they’d made a real go of it as a covers band. And quite apart from that, I wondered about the logistics of getting around to all of those places.
‘Well, we had some pretty curly moments,’ she said, ‘but I think the times we used to go to Dunk Island, they had a little ferry, like a little wooden ferry … And so if the weather was rough, you’d have to take all your gear on a trolley out onto the end of the jetty, and then the boat would be kind of swaying up and down at the end of the jetty, if it was really rough, and you’d kind of have to time your loading onto the boat so that it lined up with the jetty, so that the boat was lined up with the jetty. So you have to wait for the wave and then kind of launch your gear onto the boat while it was lined up, otherwise you could miss and it would fall in the water [laughs]. To get out to mines, usually we flew with all the miners.’  
The band would arrive the night before, often too late to play a gig, so they would arise in the mornings and play a gig for the miners coming off the night shift.
‘We’d be playing in the canteen at 10 a.m., playing full-on rock covers,’ explained Chanel, ‘and everyone would be drinking beer and eating bacon and eggs, ’cause it was the end of their shift.  And then we’d go for the day and have a tour of the mine and go for a swim in the pool and all that sort of stuff. And then we come back that night and play to the day shifts, when the day shift was finishing.  Then you jump on your plane and head back home again.’
Playing so early in the morning sounded like a challenge for any singer, given that voices warm up over the course of a day. 
‘Yeah, you had to get up early,’ said Chanel. ‘I always need a good couple of hours before I have to sing, to warm up. I actually do warm-ups and make sure I talk and drink like a nice hot cup of tea or something like that or some warm water with lemon or something. It takes a lot of warming up.  You know, it’s pretty hard to kind of really rock at 10 a.m.’
While the band may have focused more on rock music when they were doing covers, once they started writing their own material the music became focused on their voices – specifically, on their harmonies.
‘When we kind of came back [after taking a break from performing], we’d given up playing in rock bands for a bit, we decided to really try and create music based around our harmonies because that was the one thing that people really enjoyed about our performances in the band … So we thought, you know, maybe this is something from a business point of view that we can exploit. It was actually a conscious decision to kind of go, hey, we must be okay at this because people like it, people comment on it, so maybe we can take this further. So we purposely started writing songs with lots of harmony.  
‘Our voices are very different, so whether [the harmonies] came naturally or not, I mean, we have been singing together for a very long time so we do fall into harmony singing quite easily now, and I think we were just lucky that we had two very different voices which seem to work together.  Sometimes when voices are too much the same, it doesn’t sound like anything. But Roz has a much stronger voice and a much louder voice than me. Mine is more mid-range, it’s a bit softer in tone, and they just seem to blend for some reason. You wouldn’t think they would, but they just do.’
It is clear from the band’s songs, and they way they sing them, that there is a musical pedigree there. Chanel said she started learning acoustic guitar when she was five, ‘and then I kind of just lost it for a few years.  I picked it up again when I was in high school, and I was hanging out with my friends and people just pick up the guitar and play and have sing-alongs and all that sort of stuff.’
She also used to perform in choirs and says she did a lot of musical theatre when she was a teenager and at university – shows like Fiddler on the Roofand Les Miserables – so her experience growing up was more about singing, and it wasn’t until she was in her late teens and early 20s that she picked up the guitar again. Now, she says, wielding an instrument is an integral part of her on-stage persona and she can’t imagine not having it with her when she sings.
‘For me it’s also about putting on the frock and putting on the lipstick,’ she said of performing. ‘It’s all part of who you are and part of your persona. No matter what you do or say on stage, I think if you are a performer, you do have a different persona you take out with you, depending on which act you’re in or what band you’re playing with. It’s not really you up there. It sounds weird, it is you, but there is also, if you are a good performer, there’s also a persona that’s part of that performance.
‘There’s a fine line with song writing too about being able to tell a really honest and true story, but without kind of baring your soul …  One of the things that makes a really good song is it needs to have universal appeal. So if you can tap into, you know, yes, we all write from our own experience, like we write from our break-ups and our accidents and the funny things that happen to us, but a good song then translates that experience. It’s something that’s universal and something that will appeal to a wide range of people.  And if you can do that, I think you’re a very successful songwriter.’
The upcoming tour will be the first time in four years that women in docs have taken their songs on the road as a band – they have continued to play solo – and Chanel said that, rather than feeling trepidation, she is pretty excited about it, actually.  
‘I think we all really love travelling and we’ve always travelled a lot with women in docs. So it’s really fun and it’s really part of the whole experience. Although, we did have a little practice trip and we went up to Mackay to a festival. And that was our first kind of big trip together before this tour … and it was a bit of a shambles. I’m not sure if we’re as ready as we think we are. We forgot to book our extra baggage on our flights. So we got to the airport and had to pay a big bill because we hadn’t booked our extra baggage. And then I didn’t pack any jumpers or jeans or anything because I was going to North Queensland, so I thought, well, I’ll just take shorts and T-shirts. But it was actually really cold, so I had to go and send one of the other bands out to buy me a jumper from the local op shop while they were in town. And then on the way home, Roz left her bag at the festival. 
‘So, you know, we just kind of got in the car on the way home and went, “Well that went well, didn’t it?”’ she said, laughing.
Given that Roz lives in Cairns and Chanel lives in Brisbane – and the other band members are also scattered around the country – rehearsing for the tour is also something they need to plan.
‘One of us will always arrive a bit earlier,’ said Chanel, ‘and we’ll have a day or two to rehearse beforehand. And that’s how we’ve written the album as well – we just get together backstage. Even though we haven’t been touring for the past four years, for the last two years we have been getting together for kind of one-off gigs or just small shows, like local shows. And so we have actually seen each other and, kind of, been getting together fairly regularly. Also we were getting together to record the album.’  
Something that is different for women in docs this time around is that the new album was created with the assistance of decidedly non-musical technology: Skype and Dropbox. This technology helped them bridge the physical distance between them and, said Chanel, rather than hindering the process, ‘I think it’s really helped us produce quite a high-quality album with very well-written songs.  
‘When we used to tour nine months of the year, and we were just go-go-go, and we self-managed that, so we were doing all the gig booking, all the driving and tour management, all that kind of stuff, we just never had brain space, really [to write],’ Chanel explained. ‘Towards the end we were so full of administration and working and gigging that there wasn’t that time to write. So what’s happened is we’ve had a little bit of time off, we’ve gone ahead with the project and it’s really brought us back with a new energy, and a new kind of respect for each other’s skills.  And it just means we don’t muck around. There’s no time for kind of umm-ing and aah-ing over stuff, so it’s like, “Yeah, that’s good, no, that’s no good”. And we’re pretty kind to each other. It’s not harsh, but it means the creative process is quicker and much more efficient.’
As Carousel is the eighth album for women in docs, and they have toured extensively in the past, I asked Chanel how she and Roz find their inspiration to keep songwriting and performing.
‘I don’t know,’ said Chanel, laughing. ‘If there was some sort of magical answer, I would share it with you. I don’t know, I just love it. It’s what I’ve always done. I’ve always been a performer since I was a little girl, and I was on stage doing theatre shows, performed in choirs and if I don’t perform, I get sad and I get depressed. So I need to perform to keep myself going.’
Chanel will have plenty of opportunity to do just that as women in docs hit the road in November. The tour dates are below. Carousel is available now. For more information on the band, the tour and the album, visit www.womenindocs.com.
Friday 1st November 2013 
Joe’s Waterhole, EUMUNDI QLD 
Saturday 2nd November 2013 
Grottofest, MARBURG QLD 
Thursday 7th November 2013 
Thornbury Theatre, MELBOURNE VIC 
Saturday 9th November 2013 
Trinity Sessions, Church of Trinity, ADELAIDE SA 
Sunday 10th November 2013 
Brookfield Margate Winery, MARGATE TAS 
Saturday 16th November 2013 
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre, BRISBANE QLD 
Thursday 21st November 2013 
The Newsagency, MARRICKVILLE NSW 
Friday 22nd November 2013 
Clarendon Guesthouse, KATOOMBA NSW 
Saturday 23rd November 2013 
The Street Theatre, CITY WEST ACT