With Riverboats starting at the weekend KIMBERLEY PRICE sat down with headline act Kasey Chambers to take a behind-the-scenes peek at the performer who seems able to do it all. On stage and off.
THERE is no way to define Kasey Chambers and that’s exactly how she likes it.
Kasey has radically redefined country music, gone way beyond its too-often stereotypical boot-scooting, hoedown throwdowns a la Nashville.
With her distinctive voice, rich, organic and whimsical, she takes you on a journey through her earthy dreams and everyday emotions.
Kasey’s genre-bending melodies have seen her succeed in pop, country and alternative music.
Her almost gothic-like melodies and husky yet ethereal singing have diversified her appeal to a multi-faceted (adoring and loyal) fan base.
When going upbeat you can hear her smiling and laughing along with her melodies and collaborators to produce light and refreshing tracks.
“The music scene has changed a lot, but to be honest I just do my own thing,” Kasey said.
“I love being a part of the country music industry and I’ll always promote country music, encourage up-and-coming artists and do workshops at the Country Music Academy.
“But I’ve also become a part of the wider music industry, such as pop, so I do my own thing and help out where I can.”
Listening to her anthem Not Pretty Enough, I’m immediately transported back to childhood, sitting in front of the mirror and feeling self-conscious about the way I was in the great wide world around me.
Whether it was troubles in the schoolyard, worries of the heart or personal doubts about the future, the chart-topping smash hit resonated with every Australian – one way or another.
By the song’s end, Kasey’s radiant positivity, reassured us all that everything was going to be alright.
But for the songstress, this time in her life was a total blur.
“Even looking back on it right now with you asking me how it felt, it’s quite overwhelming,” she laughed.
“When I think back to my teenage years I have such vivid memories – but remembering the first number one is like remembering a dream.
“I actually feel really lucky I didn’t quite know what was happening. All these people were saying all these things about me and I’d just kind of be like ‘ah it’s really cool’.
“I don’t think I even knew what a seven-times platinum album meant.
“It was such a surreal situation.
“I was just a girl from the Nullarbor.”
A girl who has become an icon of the Australian music in the past 20 years since the recording of her debut solo album The Captain, which went on to be double platinum, her third most successful album.
Before 1998, Kasey fronted her family band – the Dead Ringer Band – for five years, beginning as a 10 year old. A far cry from the Von Trapps, the family went on to release one EP, three albums, be nominated for two ARIAs and won one of those.
Her first solo album was released in 1999 and featured one of her signature tracks, which lent its name to the album, The Captain. With lyrics like ‘And you be the captain/And I'll be no one/And you can carry me away if you want to’, the song has become a favourite among Chambers’ fans.
Taking listeners back to family barbecues and campfire sing-a-longs, everyone somehow knows all the lyrics to the track, even if its name doesn’t immediately ring a bell. This album went double platinum and holds second place behind Kasey’s seven times platinum album Barricades & Brickwalls.
Having been through personal hardships, which she shares her treasure chest of songs, Kasey has come full circle and is full of creativity.
“You know I’m now a single mum, I’m over 40, but I keep finding these littles things about me.
“I feel like I’m busier than I’ve ever been but I’m still so creative and I honestly think I’m writing some of the best songs yet.
“The more I’m plugged into life the more creativity comes out and more songs come out – the flood gates open!
“There’s still shit days where I’m rocking back and forth in the foetal position thinking ‘what the f**k’.
“But I’m alive.
“I think life’s about embracing the shit and embracing life.”
Kasey’s no-nonsense, unapologetic but optimistic aura has seen her travel through some of life’s toughest challenges. Yet still to this day her ethic of hard-work (and innate quirky creativity) has given her the ability to transform her everyday experiences into songs that have become embedded in the national consciousness.
Her career continues to survive the digital revolution and her lyrics resonate with audiences from her early days to newcomers.
“I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck – I don’t always get it right but I’ll always wake up tomorrow.
“I’m a big believer in choices – you choose your own happiness. That doesn’t mean it will be easy to find but at the end of the day you’re in charge.”
“I don’t worry about trends. I honestly think the artists who have been the most successful with long-standing careers are the ones who don’t worry about what others think.
“I’m not even trying to make a point with my songs.”
There’s enormous variation in the themes Kasey tackles through her music. From self-awareness, confidence, religion, parenting and relationships, her ability to continually engage with her legions of listeners has proven pivotal in her longevity.
Adding to her long list of original tracks, Kasey covers songs from a range of artists including Cyndi Lauper, Crowded House and Slim Dusty and has collaborated with the likes of Bernard Fanning, The Living End, Beccy Cole, Sara Storer and Jimmy Barnes just to name a few. However, her true passion in the music industry doesn’t lie in the production of songs, it’s in the performing.
“I love touring, I love this country and I love that I’m still able to do it.
“I’ll still be a singer/songwriter whether people come and see me or not.
“There’s always going to be a new album and new music.
“Otherwise I’d have to get a day job.
“There’s nothing like the buzz of playing live.
“I’m in the business of connecting with people – it’s my number one job.
“My whole point is to get out and connect.”
In 2017 Kasey released Dragonfly, her 11th studio album. Produced by her brother Nash and the legendary Paul Kelly, the album is arguably one of her best. Filled with collaborations, including Kelly, Keith Urban and Foy Vance, along with candid recounts of her life and emotions, Dragonfly is an insight into the inner workings of the alt-country vocalist.
The first single released from the album was Ain’t No Little Girl which is striking as an absolute contrast to the Not Pretty Enough profile. The powerhouse blues ballad opens with an exploration of Kasey’s lower-range voice before she begins to show what her post-surgery vocal chords are capable of with confident and defiant strength for the chorus ‘No I ain't no little girl/I won't cry, I won't beg/I won't plead, I won't pray/I won't ask you to stay’.
The unmistakable country twangs are still there but the eerie mood of the melody is hypnotic and Kasey’s voice is simply mesmerising.
With music running through her veins from her Golden Guitar winning father Bill Chambers and her brother and mother having music careers in their own right, it’s no wonder Kasey’s family dominates much of her life.
But one of the most inspiring things about this mother and musician is the balance she has managed to find in her work and private life.
“Being a musician was inevitable. It’s never been my driving ambition; it’s always just been a part of my life.
“I actually always just wanted to be a mum.
“And the two were always going to go hand-in-hand for me.
“I didn’t want to give up one for the other.
“I made it work.”
Kasey Chambers headlines this year’s Riverboats Festival held in the Aquatic Reserve February 16-18.
See Wednesday’s paper for a full rundown of the acts performing throughout the weekend.