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It's no surprise to find performers spruiking their latest work as their finest. What is refreshing about Australian folk-country performer Catherine Britt, is when she makes such an assertion its delivered with honest belief.

As hinted on her previous self-titled album, with new platter, Always Never Enough, sees the young Newcastle native move further away from the commercial country music she mustered on albums two and three.

Released on August 10, the album contains perhaps more of Britt than ever before - she wrote nine of the 13 tracks on her own and served as the album's co-producer with long-time friend and mentor, Bill Chambers.

''It was never really me anyway,'' Britt said of the commercial styling. ''I never sort of fit into that scene and never wanted to really. I think that this new album is more me than anything I've ever done and I keep getting more and more me with every record.''

Always Never Enough was recorded in Austin, Texas - a place that has certainly captured Britt's imagination.

''If Nashville is the country music capital of the world, then Texas is the singer-songwriter capital of the world,'' she said.

''It's very left of centre musically and it's very cool and it's just a really great town for music ... there's always great music going on and a really great vibe as well. It's exactly what we needed for this record.

''We were all booked in at Nash's [Chambers] on the central coast and then we went over to Austin to play some gigs. We went into the studio and me and Bill just looked at each other and didn't even have to say anything. We both just knew that this is where we needed to make the album. We were the only two flying the Aussie flag, everyone else were American artists and American bands, which was cool.''

Britt and Chambers recorded the new work in four to five days.

''We did the whole thing live which was totally different,'' said Britt. ''The reason I wanted to do that was because I thought, 'if I can't pull this off then I shouldn't be a musician'. In this day and age if you can't record like the big boys did back in the day without the auto-tuning and the fixing and the over-producing then you really shouldn't be in the music industry at all, because there's just no space for mediocrity any more.

''The music industry is so tough and I think that if you can't step up then there's no time for it and no space for it. So it was a real challenge for me. I wanted to, A, see whether I could pull it off, and B, I wanted to make a record that was raw and live. When you come and see me at a gig, you're going to hear exactly what you heard on the record, it's exactly the same and I was very proud of that.''

Britt said that she looked at this project as time to lift her game.

''This is album number five and I felt it was time to step up and into the producer role for the first time and get back to writing on my own like I did when I was a kid,'' she said. ''I got thrown into co-writing when I moved over to America and did all of these different things that were great and really wonderful to learn and do but really I think it's nice to get back writing on my own and where it all began ... me and my guitar and getting on the record and playing live.

''These are all the things I've never done before. It was a whole new journey for me and definitely wasn't ready until now to do.

''I feel like it's more me than any other album because I have had complete control over everything. I remember getting in front of the desk and telling people what to do and really taking charge. It was wonderful to get that role I guess and have that much control.''

Britt said there was nothing like the feeling of recording live.

''You either step up or you fail and crumble under the pressure,'' she said. ''I kind of wondered which way I would go. Thankfully we all stepped up and I think it's perfect. It sounds better than any record I've ever made and it's funny because it is live, there's no going in and fixing things - it's all standing in a room and looking at each other and 3, 2, 1 bam, press the red button and that's the song, it's done and recorded.

''It was very scary but it was exactly how I wanted to make the record and I probably won't make another record any other way from now on.''

Joining Britt on the recording were a cast of internationally renowned musicians including Lloyd Maines, Carrie Rodriguez, Gurf Morlix, Jimmy LaFave and Bobby Callus.

She also shares the microphone for two tracks, the first Troubled Man with Tim Rogers, and the later on She Ain't Going No Where with Guy Clark.

Britt cites both as invaluable friends and truly special album inclusions.

''I've known Guy for a long time,'' Britt said. ''He was like my solace when I lived in Nashville. I used to run to him at least once a week and get sanity when I was living over there.

''It was really cool to get to know him. I just always wanted to have him appear on a record and I thought this was the perfect album for it and I couldn't see a more perfect song than his song - it's his favourite song that he's ever written and it's my favourite song of his ... it just felt like the right thing to do.

''And Tim Rogers is the other duet - another person who I just totally adore and respect. Man, he's one of the best things I've ever had here in Australia and I feel so honoured to know him and call him a friend. I'm actually on tour with him at the moment. It's so crazy. It's so great to get to see him play every night and be around somebody so talented.''

Britt said that despite carrying two distinctly different musical tags, she and Rogers shared a common passion for sound.

''I think that good music is good music and it doesn't need a category,'' she said. ''I got put in the country category because I wrote country-folk songs ... that's just what came out of me naturally and I don't think I'm the countriest artist in the world at times, but other times I'm more country than anybody else.

''You've just got to write whatever comes out and I think Tim's very much the same. He grew up on Hank Williams too but what came out of him was rock 'n' roll. But he loves good music and there is no genre specific to that. It could be anything. I grew up on all sorts of music.''

Britt's current tour with Rogers will see the pair travel all around Australia until October.

She said the dynamic was incredible.

''It's been amazing,'' Britt said. ''Totally different to anything I've ever done ... it's total rock 'n' roll. I'm kind of used to the country singers and guitar players and drummers and it's a lot more layed back, where this is pure rock 'n' roll.

''It's full on and it's great and it's swearing and all that sort of stuff in the show. It's totally different. It's brilliant and so great to see him do his thing every night. I'm learning so much just from watching him as an artist and learning from him as a musician. We play in each others band and do a lot of stuff together as well. It's just wonderful. He's so supportive of what I do and of me as an artist and I feel very proud to be on the road with him.

''This isn't the typical crowd. It's the young, Triple J crowd - the music listeners, who come out to see Tim Rogers ... so it's very different. They never would have heard of me before. It's really cool to get that chance, like I'm starting all over again. It's like trying to impress a whole new crowd.

''For some reason it connects and I think that they get it and they feel the connection between me and Tim and they see why it makes sense. It's just been really great and they've been taking to the new songs and we're selling a whole heap of albums and it's been wonderful.''

Of course, Britt is quick to concede that many of her core fans have also been attending shows. She said it was really a win-win situation for both artists.

''You steal some of my fans and I'll steal some of yours,'' Britt said. ''I guess that's the beauty of it and it's great to get in front of his audiences because I think they're very intellectual and very much music lovers and people who are very on the ball with music and my fans are the same. I think we have very similar fans but I don't know that they would have ever really cross-connected before and I think when they all get in the room together it makes sense.''

While acknowledging Always Never Enough contains much in the way of personal insights, Britt is quick to point out it was far from contrived.

''I don't ever have an aim when I sit down to write a record, I just let it happen and whatever comes out comes out,'' she said. ''I think my fans expect honesty from me. I've always been very real with my fans and it's very much like a couple of pages out of my diary when I release an album. I think that's what they appreciate. I have no secrets and I have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm only human and I make mistakes like everyone else. I'm happy to expose them and lay it all out there and be honest and be real with people.''

Charlestown Road serves as the latest single from the album. It recounts her time growing up in her family home.

''Everyone thinks if you're a country artist you grew up on a farm with horses and cows - I didn't, I grew up on a main road. I grew up on a freeway in Newcastle. I went to sleep each night with the sound of trucks heading down to Sydney,'' Britt said. ''It was an interesting way to grow up but I loved it.

''You always have that soft spot in your heart for your childhood home and where you grew up and learned to walk and talk and it was a house that was in our family for a few generations. My grand parents raised their kids in it and then sold it to my parents and then they raised their kids in it and then they rented it out to my brother and then he raised his kids in it for a little while and then we sold it off to a stranger.

''I have a lot of beautiful memories there and in many ways I guess it's every Australian childhood. We all climbed gum trees and caught cicadas and played cricket in the backyard. I think it's kind of an introspective view into the Australian childhood in a lot of ways.''

Another track close to Britt's heart is I'm Your Biggest Fan - a warts and all tribute to the respect she has for her brother Adam.

''I've got three older brothers and the middle brother, that's about him - Adam is his name - and he's just a great guy and he's been through some pretty heavy stuff and he's come through the other side looking better than any of us,'' she said.

''He owns his own house now and he's a school teacher and he's just rocking his head off. He's got a beautiful family and they are just so in love, still to this day, and it's funny, you look at those situations and you think, 'that's never gonna work', or 'that's never gonna last', but you know, they proved everyone wrong. They're the happiest couple and the happiest family I know and it's just so beautiful to see him blossom into this wonderful young gentleman. He's just such a great guy and I'm a very proud sister.

''I think he's a bit embarrassed, but proud at the same time. I think he didn't know what to say when I sang it for him the first time. He kind of was shocked I guess that I was inspired to write a song about him. I would be too if somebody wrote a song about me. I'd be a bit, 'okay, oh wow', you don't really know how to take it. And it's so honest. It lays out all of his rawest moments I guess. But I think that's what makes him beautiful. He's been to hell and back and he's survived it.''

Equally worthy of note is the track Mind Your Own Business, which Britt jokes is a product of having been in the music business for too long.

''I've been around for a long time now - I'm a veteran in my 20s - and I've gotten those phone calls that, 'someone saw you do this', and it's something that gets completely blown out of proportion and a bunch of crap ... just people talking and having nothing better to do but judge other people and it's just so the business I'm in. Being in the public eye and having people judge and take notes and watch your every move. I guess that's my song when I was angry about it and kind of fighting back ... 'hey, leave me alone, I'm only human and I make mistakes just like you and you can't throw stones because everybody makes mistakes'. You can't judge people. That's so narrow-minded. I guess and it was kind of me fighting back a bit.

''I'm wondering if the people who inspired the song will ever hear it.''

Britt says she is enjoying time on the road and intends to spend the rest of the year promoting the album.

Always Never Enough is out now through Universal Music.

Visit Britt's official website here.

 
 
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Picture courtesy of Paul Denham
Brisbane-based Paul Cowderoy makes no excuses for wearing his American country music influences on his sleeve, and nor should he, considering it and his understanding of the contemporary genre have led him to release on of the truly great debut albums of 2012.

With longplayer Now, Cowderoy delivers on promises hinted from his debut singles After Tonight and Emerald Eyes.
Via 12 tracks, he shows he's a worthy torch-barer for quality contemporary Australian country music, with an album that is not only comparable to what his American counterparts are producing, but one that would give plenty a run for their money.
Cowderoy was born in the northern NSW town of Murwillumbah and grew up on a large sugar cane farm that was worked by his father and grandfather.
He was raised on a musical diet of country and rock music and cites his main influences as the likes of Lee Brice and Jason Aldean.
He left the farm at age 20 and moved to Brisbane, where he still calls home with wife Lisa and children Sibella and Ollie.
His journey to get Now released was six years in the making.
''Songs like I'm Late ... it's kind of funny because you can actually hear the difference in my voice .. it was done six years ago,'' Cowderoy said. ''We sort of debated, do we re-sing it. And we thought, 'no, it sounds great'. It's kind of cool hearing the difference in the voice from there to now. Pretty much all of the other songs have been vocalised in the last 12 to 24 months, so there was quite a few years in between where we just worked on the songs.
''It's turned out great and I'm real happy.''
Now was released to the public in June and has become one of the most talked about releases of the year, with many industry-types giving it the nod of approval.
''Probably the biggest feeling is relief and knowing that all the effort you've put in has born some sort of fruit, but at the some time its surreal,'' Cowderoy said of the album.
''I almost feel bad because I've only been in the industry for 12 months and I release an album and there are so many good artists that don't get the chance to even release an album for quite a few years.''
Of his sound, Cowderoy said there was no denying the American influence.
''I love all of the modern contemporary stuff and because I listen to that stuff so much that's had an effect on my style and how I sing and I don't apologise for having that kind of voice or putting an album out there that has songs on it that are definitely contemporary American country-style songs, even though a lot of the stories in them are from an Australian source,'' he said.
''It's kind of that crossover and that's what I love. Obviously some people are going to be irked by that but in my opinion it's great to be getting the kind of feedback that I'm getting because it sort of qualifies what I've done in that regard.
''In my opinion, Australian country music has to head in that direction more. If it wants to have a big footing in the Australian market we've got to find ways to diversify and adapt to a market that's becoming a lot more contemporary.''
Despite his contemporary stance, Cowderoy said he still carried some influence from more traditional sources.
''I can remember growing up listening to Slim Dusty, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and a lot of those American guys as well - you're still influenced by that sort of music and there are still people that are going to be doing that traditional style of country music, maybe not as much as what it was in the past but we're not going to lose that genre and I think it's just about finding the correct balance moving forward,'' he said.
''You've only got to look at McAlister Kemp. They're absolutely killing it at the moment because people like that style of music. It's fun, it's up tempo, it's good. My album is probably more towards the mid range contemporary sort of stuff - the next album may be different - but for this one we went for more of the ballad and mid range stuff because I thought there wasn't a lot of that out there. It sort of sits in its own little area more than a lot of other albums.''
Despite the lead of many of his fellow Australian artists, Cowderoy decided to reject notions to record in Nashville and instead opted for Brisbane-based producer Andrew Cochrane.
''I could have - with the same amount of money - recorded it over in Nashville and then also had the experience of being in Nashville,'' he said.
''It probably will sound contradictory saying that I sing an American style of country music and yet at the same time I'm very loyal to the industry here. I had a few options of who to produce with and I went with Andrew because he's a great producer and he's 15 minutes around the corner from me. I would pop out there when ever he needed me.
''Time wise it worked out really well, but for me to be able to invest back into the Australian country music industry was more important than saying I went over to Nashville and did my stuff over there. Nothing against the guys that are doing that, it was just a decision that I made to move that way because I could see so many people moving away.
''And we've got so many good producers over here like Andrew.''
One of the many standout tracks on Now, and perhaps its finest moment of balladry, is Cowderoy's heartfelt dedication to his wife, I Adore You.
''It wasn't my favourite but now it is,'' he said. ''The more I listen to it the more I hear little things that I just really love and it's funny because we just left it raw - we didn't even go back with the guitar. And Sophie [Spencer] is a girl that both Andrew and I know. She sings in one of the churches in Brisbane. She has got the most unique voice I have heard in a long time. When we started singing it together it was perfect - just pure luck. It's a song that I think we'll release as a single and hopefully put it up for best duet.''
Cowderoy said that despite album one only just seeing light of day, he was already looking forward to preparing its follow-up.
For now though, he's more than happy focusing on promoting current single Need To Need You.
Cowderoy says he plans to release another single in the lead up to Tamworth 2013 and hopes to tour through NSW at around the same time.

On Sunday, August 19, Cowderoy will officially launch Now at MusicKafe, West End, Brisbane. The gig will run from 3pm to 5pm.

Check out Paul Cowderoy's official website here.


 
 
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When Liz Kinninmont and Rae Moody - The Harmonators - set about preparing for their sophomore release their intent was clear ... to raise the bar they'd set for themselves on their previous releases. Now, just days away from the physical release, even they are amazed at the actual heights they've been able to achieve.
Recorded in Nashville's Fool On The Hill studios with a selection of the world's finest country musicians, Big Mouth will see the light of day on Friday and is sure to make an immediate impact.
Its ten tracks are fresh, vibrant and abundantly harmonic.
To celebrate the album, two free launches will be held.
The first will take place this Sunday at the Royal Cricketers Arms Hotel, Prospect from 1.30pm. The second will be held on Friday, May 11, at The Pub, Tamworth, from 8pm.
Sydneysider Liz, said she couldn't wait for the fans to hear the new material, which was co-produced by award winner and long time Harmonator producer Matt Fell and song-writing collaborator Sam Hawksley.
''We kind of had an inkling that this album was going to be a step way above the rest,'' Liz said. ''I think definitely song choice was a big thing on this one. There was no, 'oh, we need to put this song on the album because of xyz', it was like, best song wins out, and that comes down to a lot of assistance from Sam Hawksley.
''I'm in love with every track on this album and that's a reason why we decided to only go with the 10. We didn't want to have any fillers on the album, we didn't want to go, 'oh well we’ve got this song, let's just lay it down and put it on'. It was like, 'no, we've got 10 amazing tracks here, let's just release the ten'.''
Tamworth-based Rae agreed.
''We felt our last album [2008's Here And Now] was great and we thought we'd done really well with it, but it didn't really create as much buzz as I think we were expecting,'' she said.
''We thought it's been a while and people may have forgotten who we were so we really need to come back and hit them between the eyes.''
As hinted on their 2010 EP, Something More, the new album boasts a contemporary country gloss that wasn't as obvious on their debut EP and album. Of course the duo's trademark vocal exchanges remain intact.
''I think with this album we are in a completely new place with each other and with our music and that's a really cool thing,'' said Liz.
''We found with the Something More EP there was a definite shift where we were vocally as a duo. We'd noticed that there was a natural blend to our voices. Not that there has ever been anything forced, but we feel like we're now really fitting in the pocket with it.''
Rae said the initial planning for Big Mouth started in 2010 during the recording of Something More.
She says the plan to record in Nashville was suggested by Sam Hawksley.
''Matt has produced or co-produced all of our previous projects and we definitely knew we wanted to use Matt again, and I said to Liz I had heard a couple of things Sam Hawksley had produced and I was really interested to hear his view,'' Rae said.
''We had known Sam socially and had put a couple of his tracks on our previous albums. So we had a bit of a chat to Sam, and with him being based over there, he asked had we thought of recording in Nashville ... it's sort of a bucket list thing to do for country artists.
''He said he and Matt were putting packages together, where Matt would do things from his end, here, and Sam would do things from his end. So Liz and I came up with a budget and they came back that it could be done. We were like, 'well that's kind of it'.''
Liz said the Nashville experience was a little daunting at first, considering the pair had become so accustomed to the way studios worked locally.
''We had a two week block and we had the guys in the band in for two days of band tracking and then it was all on for doing a couple of the colour plays and the vocals, so I think specially with Rae - she's the organiser, she's really on top of time-tabling and making sure everything gets done when it needs to - I think for her it was a case of, 'are we going to get it done, is it going to be what we want','' Liz said.
Both agreed, it didn't take long for their nerves to ease once the band started playing the new material.
As opposed to their previous studio experience in which the tracks are gradually brought to life piece by piece, for Big Mouth's songs the core band track was recorded as a whole, giving Liz and Rae a near complete picture of the full track virtually instantaneously.
''They'd listen to the song once and go 'cool', then go off into their booths and lay it down maybe five or six times,'' Liz said. ''Straight away Rae and I were like, 'oh my god, there's the song in an instant'. Once we had a groove for that first song - within an hour - all that stress started to dissipate.''
''With the originals - because I had only ever heard them with a guitar and vocal - to hear a whole band behind them and to hear them come together so quickly was kind of magical and amazing,'' added Rae.
As well as showcasing the amazing vocal abilities of Liz and Rae, Big Mouth also highlights the pair's abilities as songwriters.
Six of the ten tracks were either written or co-written by the girls, including album highlights like the lead single Perfect Storm, penned by Rae with Matt Scullion, and Kiss Me Now, by both girls and Sam Hawksley.
Rae also had a hand in penning the majestic Wherever I Go.
She said that even when it came to selecting tracks written by others, it was crucial the material fit perfectly and that it wasn't just a case of the girls ''liking'' the songs they chose.
''It then means you're able to make it you're own that little bit more,'' Rae said. ''When you really connect with a song - a song that you've not written - it's certainly a lot easier to get in that booth and sing your heart out of it.''
While heaping praise on both producers, Liz said Sam's inclusion was a master stroke. She said he was extremely instrumental in ensuring quality control.
''Even to the point where on the day before we were due to go into the studio, we sat down in our hotel room and were just top and tailing the songs and we got down to the last two songs and I was singing lead on one and Rae was singing lead on the other and Sam went, 'you know what, I actually think you guys need to swap that', and he was spot on,'' Liz said.
Liz said that with Matt and Sam sharing duties, it also allowed for a different studio experience vocally.
''We're used to one of us being in the control booth with Matt while the other is recording,'' she said. ''This time I was working with Sam for most of the time and Rae was working with Matt. After a couple of hours they'd say, 'well you go in and have a listen to what Rae has been doing and Rae will come in and have a listen to what you've been doing'. And it was kind of cool too because I think Rae and I work slightly differently.''
Both of the girls say they are looking forward to incorporating the new material into their live set, starting with the weekend's launch.
''We were lucky enough to preview Perfect Storm during the festival in January [Tamworth], but on top of that Steal You Away for me is the song that I love and am absolutely thrilled that I got to sing that one,'' Rae said. ''Everybody Thinks I'm Lonely ... I think that's a real tongue-in-cheek great song, and Big Mouth I think has got a great groove to it. I'm really looking forward to playing all of those at the launch.''
While admitting it was difficult to pinpoint just a few highlights, Liz said Steal You Away, Save Her Soul and Wherever I Go were definite album favourites.
For both Liz and Rae, sharing the ride together is something they'd not exchange for solo success.
The pair first met in 2001 when studying lead vocals at the Australian Institute of Music.
''It means a hell of a lot,'' Liz said .''We don't know how some artists do it on their own. Because the workload is monumental, but also you need that other person to tell you when you're doing a good job, or tell you when you're over-reacting and stressing over something that's not so important. That's a very cool thing and we really treasure that. We're almost like sisters, we've had to go out on the road and live out of each others pockets and you do get on each others nerves at times. We're both very different people, we have very different personalities, but I think that's what creates such a cool thing about our sound and about our vibe. I really don't know what I'd do without her.''
Rae said she believed had it not been for Liz she would have ''given up the game'' long ago.
''It's great to have success and be successful and have singles that hit the charts but it's great to be able to share that with your best friend,'' she said. ''I think that's the real joy in it ... there's always somebody every step of the way that backs you up that you know is in your corner. It's not always an easy road, but we've got a really good balance going.''
Following the coming launches the girls plan a year of steady touring, taking in festivals and trips to both Melbourne and Queensland.
In fact, forward planning and taking The Harmonators into the future rate high on the agendas of both Rae and Liz.
''We're actually already looking at the next album,'' said Rae. ''I know it seems ridiculous, but we've semi-discussed a time and a place for that. It's not make or break, but we're at the time in our lives where we've really got to decide what we want to do and we think we should give this a real big push and see what happens.''
Liz couldn't agree more.
''Now is the time, this is the album ... I think it's time to step it up.''

Visit The Harmonators official website here.


 
 
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To garner success, whether it be in life or love, you sometimes have to be willing to dance among the flames. That's the basic premise of debut single Fireproof from Perth singer-songwriter Katie O'Donnell.
Recently released to Australian radio, the song serves as the title-track to Katie's maiden seven-song EP.
''I've been singing as long as I can remember and this is something I've wanted to do for such a long time, but I've only really recently got into the songwriting and had the opportunity to work with the kind of people that I have,'' she said.
''The recording process itself was done back in about January last year and we didn't wrap up to about September. It was a little bit of a labour of love in the background because I also worked fultime in between. I'm really happy with the results.''
Katie, who works for children's charity Variety WA, called in the services of local musicians Tim Count and Travis Bryant to help her complete the project.
''I worked with Tim on the compositions basically because physically I can't play any instruments,'' Katie said. ''I came up with all the lyrics and the melody and then I sang the song to him and said, 'look, basically this is the kind of feel that I want and this is what I'm hearing in my head'. I'm just really really lucky that we clicked and he really got where I was trying to come from.
''Travis did a lot of the instruments and the backing vocals with us. It was a real collaboration and it was great.''
Katie's sound is unmistakably country with an infusion of pop sensibilities, something she says is representative of her musical tastes.
''I really listened to everything growing up,'' she said. ''When I was much younger I really loved Tina Arena - and still do today - and Mariah Carey, but then as I got into my late teens I got into more of the country side of things. I love and admire people like Martina McBride, Melinda Schneider and those guys, and I found that that was influencing the kind of things that I was thinking about writing.
''I liked the storytelling aspect of it [country music], and I guess that's common for a lot of people, but for me the main thing about my music is I really want to be able to tell my story through it and I've found that format is the most suitable.''
Singing is something that has come quite natural for Katie. She's been doing it for more than half of her 29 years.
Up til now one of her main live outlets has been fronting the Variety Youth Choir, something which has led her to stages in America, New Zealand and England.
''I was really lucky to go over to London and perform over there and actually had Tony Hatch accompany me and that was a huge honour for me,'' Katie said. ''That was one of the biggest things to date. And Tony was one of the people that I sent tracks to for feedback and he's been wonderful.''
Early in her singing career Katie received tuition from Lucy D'Olimpio, mother of fellow country artist Nicki Gillis.
It has resulted in an ongoing friendship with Nicki that Katie is extremely thankful for, due to Nicki's constant offer of support and advice.
For Fireproof, Katie penned six of the seven tracks.
''While there was no deliberate strategy, most of the songs on this EP actually are more about your typical kind of breakups and love gone bad ... all the kinds of stuff that every young woman goes through I guess,'' she said. ''But also, there are a couple of songs on there that I feel strongly about ... like making the most of every opportunity and giving everything you've got to life and not letting things get you down. That's been a really important attitude to have in my life.
''A couple of the songs touch on my dad, who passed away a couple of years ago. It was a difficult situation - he struggled with alcoholism. It's hard sometimes to sing and talk about that but it's really important because it shaped my teenage years and our family life and I know that it affects so many people out there as well.''
Katie said the title track carried a distinct double meaning.
''It's actually more about admitting you're not fireproof,'' she said. ''But not in a bad way. You have to put yourself out there to allow yourself to get burned because if you try to protect yourself from that then you're never going to be successful in love or life. You have to take risks and be willing to get burned.
''But at the same time sometimes you have to act like you are [fireproof] and stand there through the fire and kind of come out through the other side and the ashes and just keep on doing what you're doing.''
The final track on the EP, On The Inside, was penned by 16-year-old Tayla Hancock, who tragically lost her battle with cancer.
Tayla's words were put to music by Suze De Marchi of the Baby Animals, and her husband Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme fame.
Katie had met Tayla through Variety and first performed the song as part of a fundraiser to help the teen purchase a prosthetic leg.
''That was a beautiful song,'' said Katie. ''I actually recorded that song before Tayla passed away. I was very lucky that she got to hear that. She was such an amazing girl that I can't even begin to put into words. The maturity and the insight that she had going through this terrible situation ... and all she wanted was for something positive to come out of it and to be remembered and to be able to inspire people to not take anything for granted and make the most out of their life.
''I kind of think that we all owe it to her to keep spreading her message and if I can help do that in a little way then I'm happy to do that.''
Sadly, Katie and the youth choir again performed the song at Tayla's funeral service.
Making the most of life and calling on inner strength are notions unlikely to ever be lost on Katie.
Since age 13 she has been confined to an electric wheelchair due to the effects of muscular dystrophy.
''I know my disability is a very obvious one,'' she said. ''You can't hide it so therefore I'm quite open about that, but I'm really keen to let my music speak for itself.
''I'm certainly not going to be precious about it ... it is my life story and I can't get away from it and I'm proud of everything I've gone through and who I am and where I am today.
''People are either going to love it or hate it [her music] ... I just want them to take the music for what it is.''
Katie said that she hadn't given much thought to the notion that hers was a story that would likely inspire many.
''If it does then I think that's a positive and I think that the more role models or encouragement for other young people out there going through, not just a disability, but any kind of tough situation, be it permanent of temporary, the more the better,'' she said. ''There should be more of that out there in the media.
''I think the biggest thing that I've learned is that nothing is going to happen for you especially when you're in a situation like mine. There's usually always a way around any obstacle, but the bottom line is you've got to do it for yourself, no one can do it for you.''
Katie is currently in media mode, aiming to get her music as far around the country as possible.
She also has plans to visit the east coast and sample some of the festivals, including Tamworth and Gympie.
Playing her original material live, in front of a dedicated country audience is the ultimate goal.
''I love it,'' she said of her time on stage. ''It's exhilaration. I still get nervous ... I think every performer does, but I love it. I love the high that you get off it. You just kind of forget everything else and enjoy the moment. You really can't describe it. It's terrifying sometimes too, but in an oddly pleasurable way.''

Check out Katie's official website here.


 
 
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In a career spanning some 12 years and five stellar album releases, American act Murder By Death have lived by their own rules, bucking trends, defying classification and in turn churning out one impressive body of work.
Next month the five-piece will leave their Indiana base for their first Australian tour - something pleasing to both the band and their many down under devotees.
The tour will take in stops in Victoria before making its way to Sydney on Saturday, May 19, for a show at the The Wall [The Bald Faced Stag].
For the uninitiated, Murder By Death are a sum of many parts - at times rock while at others cinematic and extremely moody. Then of course there's the unmistakable sound of cellist Sarah Balliet, and the odd influence of country thrown in for good measure.
Their albums, including 2010's sensational Good Morning, Magpie, are thick with substance, taking listeners on a multi-faceted musical journey.
According to lead vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla, the band's defiance of logical definition is a blessing and a curse.
''We're just trying to just make music that we think is interesting as opposed to trying to fit into whatever is modern or whatever is hip,'' he said. ''There's no goal other than the creation of the songs themselves and I think that makes it unique and that's been a positive and a negative to us.
''We owe all our hardcore fans - we have people who are so dedicated to this band, people who follow us and they buy everything we put out and they really support us as patrons - but in the same way, because we don't fit into an obvious trend there are a lot of opportunities that don't get presented to us. We've done some interesting things that we've had to fight for. It's been really good for us but also frustrating at times.''
As well as Adam and Sarah, Murder By Death comprises the talents of Matt Armstrong on bass, Dagan Thogerson on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett.
''We want to make basically aggressive music that is not like metal or hard rock, '' Adam said. ''We don't really use distortion. I think rock 'n' roll is generally a pretty aggressive style of music and as far as playing normal rock chords and that sort of thing. We try to do a little differently with the cello and the piano.
''Sometimes we're called Americana - I want to make music that feels American, I don't want to just recycle the sounds of 60s Americana or 70s Americana or what's out there right now. It's always been about trying to do our own thing and just reinterpret some of these genres of music.''
Adam said that the band had recently finished its sixth album.
He said that the album would be released during the American summer and some of the songs would be showcased on the coming tour.
According to Adam, Murder By Death are quite serious about the business of album creation.
''If you want to write a single there's generally a formula to it,'' he said. ''There's a certain way that a song usually goes and a lot of people who are more interested in pop music will just write song after song and then pick the best ones that follow that rule. We do take a different approach.
''We try to create an album that has all of these different elements to it - here's the really dark brooding moment before it breaks either in a positive or negative way. The arc of the album is really important to us. For example with this new record, when we were sequencing it we went for this sort of non traditional sequence, which I think served the album best.
''Some new person is going to start the CD and go, 'whoa, there's the best track as the first one', but for the people who are going to listen to the whole album it's going to create a really great experience and that's generally how we tend to do things. We try to do what's interesting and what we think is of higher quality over what is the most commercially effective thing to do. Once again its the sort of thing that wins you passionate devoted fans but does lose you casual listeners.''
Adam, the band's chief lyricist, said it was important to mix the heavier themes with some lighter moments.
''Pretty much all of the songs start with lyrics and a melody and we try to make the music relate to that, so it's important to us to have strong lyrics,'' he said.
''I think sometimes though for all the stories that I like to tell, you have to write a song that's a little more vague and simple, just to make sure that you're not inundating people with constant, 'and then this story has this moral'.''
Adam said that Brackett's contribution to the forthcoming album - his first with the band - added an extra dimension to the sound.
''It's interesting working with non traditional instruments because you're allowed to do things that you just can't do normally,'' he said. ''I definitely didn't want this band to be two guitars, bass and drums. Scott's playing everything - mandolin, accordion, trumpet, piano, percussion, back up vocals, theramin - it's crazy.
''There's just so many new sounds that we were able to achieve [on the new album] that we could not have done as a four-piece. He really adds to the band and it's a really cool addition to our catalogue.''
While recording is extremely rewarding, it is playing live that dominates the majority of Murder By Death's existence.
''It's the biggest part of our band,'' Adam said. ''We make a record every two years or so but we play about 100 shows a year. Making a record is like this unique rare experience for us, as opposed to touring, which is our life.
''There were years where we did 190 shows but as we've become a little more successful we've been able to narrow it down. I think last year it was like 86 - that was the least we've ever done.
''We try to do more interesting shows in interesting places, like Australia, and the live show is something that we think about constantly. It's a little different when you travel abroad because you don't have all the same gear. For example we'll probably do some production for our US tour when this album comes out but we can't afford to bring that out with us. What you do instead is make sure you put your heart into these shows and make sure they want to come and see you again.''
So with all this talk of music variety and journeys, what can the unitiated Australian audience expect from the coming Murder By Death live shows?
''It depends on the audience in some ways,'' said Adam. ''We tend to do a pretty rowdy set. We try to get people riled up. The more people sing along and play along the more fun it can be.
''We also temper our shows with dark and morose moments too, so there's these very powerful group sing-along moments but it's punctuated by these dark moments as well.''
For a full list of Australian tour dates visit the band's website here.




 
 
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Taking her lead from a host of hit-making female artists including Shania Twain and Jewel, Melbourne native Tasha aims to prove contemporary Australian country music has a place on the commercial airwaves.
By her own admission, Tasha's brand of country has little to do with what many deem to be traditional.
Like a great deal of her fellow young contemporaries, Tasha infuses elements of the genre with chunks of pop and soft rock.
It's a winning formula that shines throughout her maiden full length release, On The Run.
''It's taken me quite a long time to figure out who I am musically and where I want to go, but I think I'm in that place now,'' Tasha said.
''I just want my music to be out there and for mainstream radio stations to play music that's country influenced like mine, because I don't think there's enough doing that now.
‘‘There are a lot of young artists coming up in Australia, so hopefully we can crack that and make it more normal to hear on mainstream radio.''
Despite any future commercial ambitions, Tasha is quite happy to have a home in the Australian country music scene, something she found solidified at January's Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Not only did this year's festival serve as the launch pad for her album, but it saw Tasha declared the 'Country Winner' of the Australian Country Music Busking Championships.
It was just Tasha's second year busking at the festival.
She said that this year she came prepared, in more ways than just vocally.
''We went up there last year and because I'm quite short no one could see me,'' Tasha joked. ''So I said to my brother [who is a builder], you're going to have to build me a little stage so people can see me.
''It's nice to go out and busk because you're right there with the people and it's really sweet.
''Despite my music being crossover, I've noticed that when we've played in Tamworth and places like that people were really supportive of it. I wasn't sure how people would take it because it's not the traditional thing. But we had 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds coming up and saying they liked it.''
For On The Run, Tasha wrote 9 of the 11 tracks on her own and co-penned the other two.
She says that songwriting is something that is very much in her blood.
''I usually write all of my own songs,'' she said. ''The two cowrites on the album just happened. I didn't plan to meet up with anybody and cowrite, it just happened that way and I loved the songs. I'm not going to not put a song on the album because it's not just by me.
''I do it on my own most of the time because it's usually in the middle of the night and I'm on my own in the middle of the night.''
Tasha said her writing was largely inspired by life in general and from observing those around her - ''but not in a creepy way''.
She said that the country song structure was conducive for her style of writing and the material.
''I tend to sit back and take in a lot,'' Tasha said. ''I've always been like that, even as a little girl, I'd sit back and just take it in.
''Growing up, I used to write a lot just about myself, but as I've grown I can actually take myself out of it a little bit, which is actually really nice.''
Tasha started to get serious about singing in her mid-teens.
As a child she was surrounded by a myriad of sounds. An elder brother and sister introduced Tasha to punk and rap music, but it was the sounds of Shania and Mariah Carey that carried an overriding influence.
Tasha is quite quick to point out that she is a fan of many styles of song.
''You don't want to pigeon-hole yourself, but at the same time you want to be able to express yourself the best way you can and I just think that country music is just all about the song and that's what is important to me at the end of the day,'' Tasha said.
Tasha's first single Time To Waste was recently released to radio and a film clip is expected to air on CMC in the near future.
Already, there are plans to film a follow-up.
''It's trying to keep the momentum going that I think is the big challenge,'' Tasha said. ''At first everyone is real excited but then it slows down.''
To keep the ball rolling Tasha intends to get out and about showcasing the new material live.
While opportunities to play her style of music in Melbourne are somewhat limited, Tasha says she aims to make the trek to NSW and Queensland at some point in the future.
She is also planning for Tamworth 2013 and hoping to score a daily spot at one of the venues.
Tasha said she enjoyed the feeling of being on stage.
''I love it,'' she said. ''I was a very nervous performer when I started. It took me a few years to get comfortable. But I think in this last year it's definitely not so nervous now ... it's more exciting to be on stage.
''It's your opportunity to touch those people who have never heard your music and I really love it. I feel like I'm at home.''

Visit Tasha's website here.



 
 
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Arguably one of the hottest names in American country music at the minute, Texan quartet, Eli Young Band, are proof that hard work pays dividends.
While to many who witnessed the band during its recent [and first] Australian tour, which came to an end on Tuesday night [March 27] at Sydney's Allphones Arena, they may be newcomers, the outfit has been plying its craft on stages around America for more than 11 years.
They've been years of constant touring and creativity which has led to a catalogue of four full length releases.
Their's has been a steady build to success - with the first real explosion occurring after the landing of their most recent album, Life At Best.
It's debut single, Crazy Girl, earned the band its first certified number one hit, and has been so widely embraced that it was declared Billboard's number one country song of 2011.
To lead singer and guitar slinger Mike Eli, any band triumph is a ''baby step'' in the right direction.
Speaking before the Sydney show, on which they served as support for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Mike said that touring Australia was another great accomplishment.
''It's been awesome,'' he said. ''I think that we had certain expectations as far as how good it was going to be, but it far exceeded that. The people, the fans ... it's been incredible.''
With Tim and Faith, Mike and the band played to audiences in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, as well as filling a late afternoon spot on the final day of the annual CMC Rocks The Hunter festival in The Hunter Valley.
Mike said that The Hunter experience was certainly memorable for he and bandmates, James Young, Chris Thompson and Jon Jones.
''I think we were really fortunate to have the time slot we had as well as getting to play in front of so many fans of all kinds of music and I think the fans that were there were ready to discover new music,'' he said.
''I think we underestimated how many people really knew who we were. I don't think that's a bad thing. Coming in with an open mind is I think extremely important. This is our first time to ever travel outside of the US and be touring. It far exceeded any expectations as far as how many people were singing along out there. And that's the best compliment you can ever get ... when people are out there singing along to your music.''
Mike said that the band relished the opportunity to meet the Australian crowds and they were particularly surprised during the festival meet and greet.
''It was really amazing, our line was huge and there were a lot of people really excited about seeing us,'' he said. ''A lot of people in that line said they had never heard of us before but they really liked what we did and it was really encouraging.
''As we've gone on, maybe some word has spread because every show the attention that we're getting from the crowd and the amount of people coming to get an autograph after the show is increasing and people are buying more records. I was recognised on the streets of Sydney today. I rarely get recognised on the streets back home, so it was incredibly humbling.''
Now back on home soil, Mike said that plans would definitely be afoot for a return visit.
''We made the decision that if we were going to come to Australia we were going to be in it,'' he said. ''We didn't want to come all this way and never come back.
''In all the shows that we've done we see that now we will have that opportunity and I think that you're going to be seeing a lot of the Eli Young Band in the future ... not to mention that I can see why it's so hard to get over here because when people come here they normally probably don't want to leave. It really is an incredible place to be.
''I think that when you hit milestones like this you really feel like you're reaching the next step, not only in your career, but in your life. We've worked really hard and to see it push us this far in the literal sense as well as in our career ... we got to come all the way to Australia and play our music and I think that's a huge accomplishment and we're really proud of that and I think that we really understand how lucky we are to be here.''
Mike said that the success of Crazy Girl was something that was still sinking in.
''We feel on top of the world,'' he said. ''I think some of it doesn't necessarily feel real and I think that's a good thing. We want to keep pushing forward and working hard and to have more hits, but this song really has changed everything for us and it feels a little unreal at this point but really awesome at the same time.
''It's all worthwhile - the hard work - and we really do feel like we've made sacrifices. You can ask any of our families. They don't get to see us very much and it makes it all worth it, knowing that we get to play music for a living. This is what all four have been dreaming about all of our lives and now we're living it, so it's an incredible feeling.''
While acknowledging the band was most certainly moving forward in terms of recognition, Mike was quick to point out it was unlikely to change he or his bandmates.
''Had we been in the situations we've been in today seven years ago I definitely don't think we would have been ready for it,'' he said. ''I probably would have had an anxiety attack.
''We have been put in a lot of different situations before this and I think it really prepared us for the firestorm that comes along with success and luckily because of that, because we were more prepared, I think we get to enjoy it a lot more.
''I think people outside of our band circle certainly give us a little more attention than we used to but the great thing is we surround ourselves with honest people and if they don't keep our heads in the right place then the four of us definitely keep each other in the right place that's for sure and we're thankful for that.''
Despite Life At Best still gaining much momentum, Mike said the band were set to record its follow-up in January.
''We have a few albums worth of material to pick from,'' he said. ''We did for Life At Best as well. We've constantly been writing.
''There are a lot of songs that are ready for this next record that I'm extremely excited about, but it's just one of those things ... sometimes when you write a song you know is incredibly special you have sit on it, sometimes for a few years. There are songs that we wrote right after we finished Life At Best and it's like, 'oh well, this song won't see the light of day for a few years'.
''It's a little frustrating but incredibly encouraging, knowing that when we going to go in to the studio to record we have a lot of new material ready.''
Eli Young Band will play its first show back in America on Saturday in Las Vegas.
A heavy touring schedule will continue throughout the year, first throughout the American spring with Dierks Bentley and then during the summer with Rascal Flatts. They will also headline their own shows along the way.
Mike says the band relished the travelling.
''We make records to play live, that's always been the way we go about it,'' he said.
''That's where we're at home. We have to play. Any time we take a small break, even if it's just a week or two weeks, we're itching to get back out on a stage somewhere and play some music. It's in our souls, it's just who we are.''

Eli Young Band's Life At Best is available through Nashville Republic/Universal Music.

eliyoungband.com


 
 
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Sydney-based country rocker Ben Ransom is looking to make 2012 a year to remember.
Now known simply as Ransom, he's currently working hard towards his debut full length country release.
He hopes to have it out by July at the latest.
Ben recently released his third single to radio, The Wedding Song. He says it will be his last before the album surfaces.
It is an acoustic love song, far more stripped back than first two singles - Bourbon & Sunsets and Long Hot Day.
Ben said he was happy with the way the new material was sounding.
In late 2010 he recorded a collection of self-penned songs [The Long Way], which he says were all strong, but fell short when it came to sound quality.
''We just went into the studio,'' Ben said. ''We didn't have a producer. I just had a bag of money and said, 'okay, guys I just want to record my songs', and we basically just winged it.
''It was the engineer in the studio that played the role of the producer, but having said that, when I was demoing some of the songs there was a good mate of mine who's a drummer that helped sort of structure the songs and put them together a bit.
''But you listen to the quality of some of the other stuff out there and compare the sound and instrumentation and it just doesn't compete and that's why I didn't feel it was strong enough to release ... not that the songs themselves aren't strong enough, it's just the sound of them.''
For his second single, Long Hot Day, Ben recorded with Glen Hannah and Matt Fell. It proved a revelation of sorts.
''Listening to the quality of the sound and instrumentation on that track as opposed to the others - there's a big difference,'' Ben said. ''After doing that I decided to go back to the drawing board and start again from scratch.
''I've got new tracks, but there's a couple of good songs from that first album that we'll actually rerecord. Just to have the right people - the right musicians and the right producer on board I believe is super important.''
Ben said that he was excited when thinking about the experience both Glen and Matt brought to the table.
''Some of the new songs that we've got are really strong and Glen had said to me, 'look, we don't have to rush this, the most important thing is the music, it's all about the songs and the music, we get that right and everything else will follow'. So that's why we've taken a bit of time with it this time around.''
While the majority of Ben's material is self-penned, he said that he did intend to cowrite several new tracks in the lead up to completing the album.
Ben said he had always had a passion for music.
''I've been in bands ever since high school,'' he said. ''I went off doing some solo work - I lived overseas for two-and-a-half years and I started doing the solo work there [England and Europe]. One of the main reasons was mobility. You could travel around as a soloist and you didn't have to worry about co-ordinating a band.
''When I got back to Sydney I still continued doing that for a couple of years and then got into a band doing cover shows just to earn a bit of money. And I've done duo work as well.''
Ben said he had always had an affinity for country music and believed it was where he was best suited.
''It's a lot more honest in a lot of ways,'' he said of the medium. ''There's a lot less BS in the particular genre. A lot of it is the story and the songs themselves and I quite enjoy the sound. I have to say that I'm not a traditionalist in terms of traditional country music - I don't think that's where I fit. Country rock is what I feel most comfortable doing.''
Away from music, Ben's busy balancing his time raising a young family and working as a nurse anesthetist.
''I went through university,'' he said. ''It was not something that I wanted to do at the time; I wanted to be a rock star.
''I didn't have the support network that a lot of people seem to have. Whilst my family was very influential in encouraging me to play guitar, they didn't see it as a career, they saw it as something to be enjoyed and I wanted to do music or something within the music industry.
''At the end of Year 12 I was enrolled in the school of audio engineering - I didn't even apply to go to university - and things just kind of fell in a heap. I didn't have any money and they [his parents] said, 'you've got to go to university'. So I thought it won't hurt if I put my application in. Aside from music I quite like science disciplines and nursing was the last one on the list. I thought I could do it for a year and then swap across for a different course, but as it turned out I didn't mind it too much.
''It's actually been quite useful. It keeps you grounded - it makes you realise what really is important in life.''
Ben said that the nursing position was quite flexible, allowing him to focus on his musical career as required - an essential as far as he's concerned.
''I'll never give it up,'' he said of music. ''It's funny, just the last 12 months things have started to come together, and I can see direction and focus.
''In the past I didn't have that and I was doing things the wrong way and that's why I wasn't getting ahead. But now, with the new songs, new focus and direction, things are starting to fall into place.''
Ben started 2012 with a bang, earning himself a finalist spot in the annual Toyota Star Maker competition at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Last week he caught up with several of his fellow finalists at the Central Coast Country Music Festival, at which they were all performing, including the competition's winner Bob Corbett.
''It was great to catch up with those guys, because they're all releasing singles and albums at the moment and doing stuff as well,'' Ben said. ''I had such a good time doing Star Maker - everyone was really tops.
''It was really good to get the face out there again [at the Central Coast festival], meet new people and tell them about my stuff.''
For now it's heads down for Ben as he gets serious about preparing the new album.
''I really see that this genre is going to take off like it did in America,'' he said. ''It just seems to be getting bigger and bigger and by being in the city and sort of bringing it to the city as well, you're increasing the exposure.
''The next couple of months I'm just going to work solidly and get the money to get the album done and because I am going to get it right I'm sure it will be another stepping stone in the right direction.''

On Saturday, May 26, Ben will stage a headlining show at the Supper Club @ The Oxford Hotel in Sydney. Be sure to check his website closer to the date for full details.

ransommusic.com


 
 
The very mention of this Friday, March 16, is enough to get Troy Kemp excited, and it's not without good reason.
Together with duo partner, Drew McAlister, he will declare open the 2012 CMC Rocks the Hunter three day festival in the NSW Hunter Valley. And they will do so in style, launching the hotly anticipated sophomore McAlister Kemp album, Country Proud.
''We can not wait,'' said Troy. ''We've only ever done CMC Rocks once before - last year - and we were on the B stage. This year they've given us the main stage.
''We're the first band on. It's a pretty early slot [4.35-5.30pm] but to be able to get up there and say, 'guys welcome to CMC Rocks the Hunter 2012, we're McAlister Kemp and today you're going to hear pretty much everything off our new album as well as some old favourites' is amazing - we're pumped.
''We've added a piano player for the show and with the two electric guitars, the bass and drums and an acoustic it's just a big rockin' Bon Jovi sound. I think they're gonna go, 'what the hell', when we start ripping into some of these new tracks.''
Country Proud continues where the smashing debut All Kinds Of Tough left off. Again produced by award-winner Matt Fell, it contains all of the elements that helped win the boys the Best New Talent Golden Guitar and CMC Best New Oz Artist award in 2011.
''We're real excited about it all,'' said Troy. ''I've been listening to it for the last couple of months - we've had it in the bag for a while - so I've played it to death to the point where I can't even listen to it at the moment, but I think it's pretty cool.
''I hope it goes as well as people are anticipating. Drew and I are really close to this stuff. You're nervous about everything you put out and I just hope that it translates and people think that it rocks.''
The success of All Kinds Of Tough, including three number one singles [All Kinds Of Tough, Hard Work and Hell Yeah], posed an interesting problem for Troy and Drew when it came to preparing the follow up.
''We felt the pressure this time around,'' Troy said. ''When we first sat down to start writing, Drew and I would start to write something and we'd say, 'no that's not as good as All Kinds Of Tough, throw it in the bin, or that's not as good as this song, throw it in the bin - how do we do this?'
''We ended up talking to Tim Holland at ABC Records and he said, 'look guys, you're both great songwriters, just sit down and do what you do and you'll get the goods. You'll either get as good what you did on the last album, or better'. So when he actually said that we were like, 'yeah, maybe he's right'. So we just sat down and took the pressure off ourselves.
''We wrote about 20 songs together for the new album. We went to Nashville and wrote about 15 songs over there, so in the end we had about 35 songs and we narrowed it down to the 13 on the album and essentially we got an album that we half wrote together and half wrote in Nashville.
''There's a few songs that Drew wrote with Allan Caswell and Tamara Stewart - there's a few little ring-ins on there as well - there's Songs That Make Us Country that I wrote with Mick [McAlister Kemp guitar player Mick Hackney] ... so it's a good mix.''
Troy said it was important for the material to remain true to the core themes raised on the first McAlister Kemp album - the blue-collar worker and family.
''We've also gone a little left of centre with songs like Feed My Tractor and Cold Beer, Hot Women, which are just like tongue-in-cheek sort of party songs,'' he said.
''And then you've got a song like You Get What's Coming To You, which is the last song on the album. It's a reggae-style thing, and we've just had an email from Packed To The Rafters and they want that in the show in series five. Country band makes commercial Aussie TV, that's kind of cool.''
Troy said that he and Drew had learned a great deal since the first release.
''It was interesting to see what songs worked and what songs didn't work in the charts,'' he said. ''We were lucky. We released four songs last year and three went to number one and one went to number three and that was It Don't Buy You Love. But then again I thought It Don't Buy You Love was the nicest and most gorgeous song. I thought it would be number one for weeks, but it only crawled to three and went backwards. It's still a great place to get.
''Hell Yeah was one that we wrote one week before the album was recorded. I said to Drew, 'we need a fast song'. It took us five minutes to write it - we didn't really take any care with it - and it just proved something to us ... these people just want to jump up and down and throw their hands in the air and party. So four weeks later at number one it's like, 'we need more Hell Yeah's on the next record'. So Country Proud has got Feed My Tractor, Songs That Make Us Country, Country Proud - the live show is just cracking now. I just can't wait to start playing this stuff.''
Sure to generate a buzz on the new album is the track After Midnight, a duet with Canadian band Doc Walker.
''We were fortunate enough to be able to meet those guys about two years ago at a show they did here,'' Troy said. ''We went back stage and shook their hands, got introduced to those guys as McAlister Kemp and they probably didn't care less, but that doesn't matter - as time has gone on they've gotten to know who we are.
''I guess the record label and their management must have got together at some point and had a chat about the chances of putting us together to duet on the new album. It got to the point where the guys in Doc Walker were liking what we were doing enough and vice versa and when they were confronted with the idea, the boys in Doc Walker were just like, 'yeah, let's do this'.
''The song that we actually chose was a song written in Nashville by somebody on music row, it wasn't something that we sat down and wrote together, it was just a song that we both thought was a rocking track. We essentially layed down all of our parts on it down here in Australia and Doc Walker toured out here recently and so on the two spare hours that they had on the Wednesday or something like that they bolted out to the studio and did their vocal parts on it and we got a track that we're really happy with it. Hopefully, down the track it will lead to us getting together more to tour together, whether they come here and tour with us or we get to go to Canada.''
Troy said the notion of taking McAlister Kemp to Canada was definitely exciting.
''I lived in Canada for three years myself,'' he said. ''I just think that Canadians are frozen Aussies - they're so cool.
''We'd love to. If they're [Doc Walker] gracious enough to put the song on their next album, which we're hoping they'll do, then Canada is going to know who McAlister Kemp are and they'll look us up and then on the strength of that we'll get on a plane go over and hit the road with those guys and play our set, they'll play their set and then at the end of the night we'll  both get up and play After Midnight and hopefully our profile in another country would just start to build. It's all on the radar.
''We spoke to the record label and they're talking about maybe making After Midnight the fifth single off this new album and trying to get the guys over to do a video shoot with us and that'd be really cool for us.''
Another Walker on Country Proud is Cold Chisel legend, Don Walker, who made available his track Home for the lads.
''We think Don Walker is one of the most incredible songwriters ever and he just had this old song called Home sitting around in a vault and then suddenly we get presented it for Country Proud and it's just like, 'yeah, let's go','' said Troy. ''I can hear that song ending up on a Qantas ad, it's got that sort of potential.''
When it came to making the album, Fell tracked the boys and the majority of the music in Australia and then took the tapes to Nashville to add some finishing touches.
''All the band was layed down here - myself and Glen Hannah, Mitch Farmer and Matt Fell himself put down all the bass and guitar parts here and then Matt took the files to the states and a whole bunch of Nashville guys play all the dobro and mandolin and all that sort of stuff,'' said Troy. ''So its kind of cool, you end up with a sort of half and half album that was written half and half here and there as well.
''We wanted it to be a bit more edgy this time around. I didn't get to play guitar on the first album and I just said to Matt, 'look I really want a shot at playing guitar on this album' - the record company said to give it a nudge - and I wanted to put in more guitar riffs and cool stuff, and it's kind of funny because it sounds a bit raw but it still sounds more polished.''
Troy said McAlister Kemp would hit full promotion mode for the album around mid-year.
''We toured a lot last year and we've learned a lot along the way and it's a tough road out there,'' he said. ''There's not as much money out there as you might think - some shows you might get 8, others you'll get 80 and then at others you'll get 180. And then you'll get you're more popular venues, like Hallam Hotel in Victoria or Rooty Hill RSL [in Sydney's west] and you'll get 3-400. They're the one's you need to be doing more often.
''From the All Kinds Of Tough album we've kind of figured out and learned where all the key places to go are to so we'll definitely revisit those places later this year with the Country Proud Tour and obviously just keep hitting the big festivals as much as we can keep getting booked. We're just going to do as much as we can. Essentially the Country Proud Tour will kick off around June or July and all of the dates will be on mcalisterkemp.com.''
Despite their popularity, Troy says keeping a level head is easier than you'd think.
''It's funny mate, we've been going for three years and people still ask us, 'who are you guys', and it's like, 'what, you're a country music fan and you haven't heard of us in three years','' he said. ''You start to realise that you're not as big as you think you are and it makes you realise that you've still got a long way to go.
''For Drew and I, we sort of feel like we're at the bottom of the top and we've got to do a bit of leap-frogging.''
With a clear reality perspective, Troy says gigs such as the weekend's at the Hunter were to be truly relished.
''I love the ride man. It's good fun,'' he said. ''You've really just got to take advantage of these big ones because when you get 10,000 people into a festival they're the times that you've really got to bring your A game. They've got to leave that festival saying the best thing that we saw this weekend was McAlister Kemp, they just rocked our socks off.
''We don't want to be a stand-on-stage-look-at-your-feet sort of boring country act. We just want to put on a rocking show that no one else is doing in this country if we can, and the show's getting better and better all of the time. We're learning a lot as we go - we're streamlining it - and I really think that by the end of this record we should really be a live act that's worth a pinch of salt.''
As well as the Friday night opening slot, McAlister Kemp will play a second set at CMC Rocks the Hunter, 5.35-6.15pm on Sunday night.
''There's this little bit in the middle of Songs That Make Us Country that goes, 'can we get a hey y'all' and I just want 10,000 people to just throw a big hey y'all up in the air - it's gonna be great,'' Troy said.
''I think it's going to be the most incredible weekend. We're so pumped for it. I don't know what I'm going to do on Monday the 19th when it's all over ... I'll probably just sit there and go, 'what just happened'.''

Visit the McAlister Kemp website here.
Visit the CMC Rocks the Hunter website here.

Click here for my review of Country Proud.


 
 
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In what can now be counted as a mere matter of days, American country music icon Wynonna Judd will stage her first ever Australian performance, during the mega CMC Rocks the Hunter (March 16 to 18).
Wynonna will no doubt be a main attraction of the final day of the festival at Hope Estate in the Hunter Valley, taking to the stage on Sunday, March 18 from 6.15pm to 7.15pm.
For those needing a refresher on her credentials, Wynonna shot to fame in the 80s with mother Naomi as one half of The Judds, before carving out a name for herself as a solo artist.
The Judds are regarded one of the most celebrated duos in the history of country music, having amassed some 60 major awards and selling more than 20 million albums.
Wynonna's solo success is just as impressive. Since her debut solo release in 1992, she has gone on to sell a further 10 million albums.
In 2010 Wynonna and her mother reunited for one last tour as The Judds, as well as filming a docu-series for the Oprah Winfrey Network on American cable television tracing preparation for the tour.
Over the years Wynonna has experienced many highs and lows and she has never been a stranger to sharing her troubles publicly. She boasts having appeared as a guest on Oprah Winfrey's famous talk show some 18 times.
Now she boasts being in a great place personally, and once again it is about her music she finds herself talking the most.
Late last year I was lucky enough to chat with Wynonna about her career and her impending visit.
As with many things that have happened in her life, Wynonna said the Australian visit was not part of some grand plan.
In fact she admits to be a mysterious creature, very much divided by home life and regular flights of fancy.
''I have 50 animals and I live on a farm with my mother and my sister. I know how to drive a tractor and I can ride a Harley, but I have Rhinestones on my shoes. I'm very complex in that I'm a paradox ... I'm a walking contradiction,'' she said.
''I'm a hard working single mother who talks about falling in love forever. I'm such a work in progress. I am always in some sort of skydive into uncertainty. I never know what in the world I'm gonna do next.
''One year I'll call my manager and say, 'I wanna do symphony shows', and she says, 'excuse me', and the next thing I know I'm performing at the Kennedy Centre in New York with one of the great conductors of all time - working with people in the studio who wrote strings for the Beatles for crying out loud! Then the next minute I'm singing I Want To Know What Love Is with Jeff Beck. Then I'm in Stevie Wonder's studio and we're talking about songs and the next thing I know I'm singing at the Superbowl. I get away with so much. I think sometimes, 'how in the world did I do it', and I think it's just because I demand the right to fail and to show up and wait for my miracle.''
Wynonna makes no apologies for her sass.
''My mother says it's got nothing to do with success,'' she said. ''I was this way in third grade. I would ask a million questions and want to know why not and I think it's a curiosity, not arrogance - its confidence of knowing who I am.
''Being born and raised in a place where I was so poor, my dreams were so big that nothing surprises me. I just don't care where I end up, as long as I'm singing I'm at home.''
For Wynonna, connection with her fans via the live stage is of utmost importance.
''We have a 28-year relationship,'' she said. ''It's not just about the show, it's not just about how much production I have or how many awards - I keep my Grammys in a box in storage - I'm interested in people, I'm interested in music, I'm interested in the live performance, which I still say to this day is the greatest thing and closest thing to flying that I've ever experienced and it's the holiest moment that I have in my day.
''I go on stage and take a break from raising teenagers. I live on a farm and I get on that bus and I'm a diva. I sleep til I wake up and I love to go on stage. I think it's my place where I can set my spirit free. I can be myself and people support me and love me and I just feel so grateful because I've come such a long way.
''Country music is about fellowship and community and I think I feel really safe in country music unlike any other genre. There is a real sense of fellowship that you rely on because you know that all these people trust you. And they're now bringing their kids. I just finished a tour with my mother and we literally would be singing and I'd look out and I'd see four generations singing back to me and I'd think, 'oh my gosh'. You have to earn that; you can't be entitled to that.
''What's really great about now and coming to Australia now is that I have this attitude of gratitude I didn't have when I was 19. I think I heard it best when my guitar player/mentor said to me, 'the minute Wynonna that you think the world needs what you have, you're in trouble' ... and I had a mother to back that up.''
Wynonna looks back fondly on her early years traveling around America with her mother. She says that despite being unaware at the time - she was in her teens - she learned many a valuable life lesson along the way.
''I think what was so great about having mum on that bus for 10 years, even though I hated it - she had to come through my room to come to the front of the bus and I could never lock my doors -  was that I learned that we have to know where we end and where others begin. And I think we have to be told no,'' Wynonna said. ''My mother loved the word no. She says it's a complete sentence.
''It's really a funny story because I was so successful and yet I'm like, 'yes ma'am'. I was a kid and I had no clue and thank God I had my mother because it kept me out of rehab.''
Wynonna said that she intended to leave a lasting impression at CMC Rocks - one that would leave the organisers with no alternative but to invite her back for a repeat performance in years to come.

For more of my Wynonna interview read this month's Country Music Capital News.

For more details about CMC Rocks the Hunter visit here.