Kasey Chambers On The Differences Between America and Australia, Boobs and Boots
On Wednesday afternoon, while on tour with her family in tow, the Australian star's bus was on the verge of breaking down on the road somewhere between Nashville and Austin.
In fact, a scheduled 5 p.m. Waterloo Records in-store performance was in danger of being postponed as the bus found its way onto the side of the interstate. Lucky for the musical mother, who's expecting another child three months from now, she wasn't responsible for either driving or fixing the bus. Someone else was. And, thankfully, she was able to make her scheduled performance.
After her stops in Central Texas -- and now that the bus is up and running again -- Chambers will be hitting the stage of the Granada Theater on Saturday night.
Seeing as how Chambers only makes the occasional trip to see us here on this side of the globe, we thought it would be nice to catch up with her and take a few minutes to talk about family, the need to return to her musical roots and what makes American audiences very different from the ones of her homeland.
Over a decade ago, you were one of those proverbial "SXSW Buzz Artists." Many of those acts often fail to do much with their careers after the initial hoopla, but you've been able to build a lasting, fruitful career since that time. What's it like to look back on that period of your early career?
I still feel like that new girl in some ways. We try to tour the states once a year, even if it's only a little one. But to make a proper go of it in the states, you really have to work hard and spend a lot of time over here. I have a fairly busy life in Australia, with my family and a new baby on the way. I wish I could come here more often and build bigger audiences, but we're lucky because when we do come here, people really seem to remember me and it's crazy. I never thought I'd ever have a gig in America because it was beyond my wildest dreams when I was younger.
You just mentioned your growing family. Is that what keeps you busy in the two or three years that seem to go between your album releases?
Yes, absolutely! In fact, In between Rattlin' Bones and my new album, Little Bird, my dad and I released a children's album in Australia called Kasey Chambers, Papa Bill and the Little Hillbillies. It's fitting because my life is all about kids these days, really. We had all of the kids from our family, which is a lot, come in and sing and scream and play around, and it was just so much fun.
Even three years later, Rattlin' Bones, the album you made with your husband and fellow musician Shane Nicolson, is still one of the best roots albums around. It was such a different sound than your previous albums. What led to such a drastic change for you?
Shane's album just before Rattlin' Bones was his most commercial and least rootsy album, just like Carnival was for me, and we both had this sort of knee-jerk reaction to pull back and delve into the roots of the music that we came from. For me, it's the one album that I think I'll still feel will be my favorite album 20 years from now, even. Rattlin' Bones is quite special to me because I made it with my husband, and, musically, I feel at home on that album, more than on my other albums. Another thing I love is that it doesn't sound like any of my solo albums, and it doesn't sound like any of Shane's solo albums, either. It sounds like this record that was from this little band with two singers in it. I want to make another one like that, but time is the main factor as to why we haven't yet. But we will.
Your new album, Little Bird, seems to combine the musical vibes of Rattlin' Bones and your earlier works really cohesively. Was that intentional?
That's really cool, because that's exactly how I feel too. I feel like Little Bird is what The Captain and Barricades & Brickwalls would've sounded like had I made them after I made Rattlin' Bones. I feel like I learned so much about writing from Shane during Rattlin' Bones, so that helped with Little Bird. Before, writing for me was just therapy. I never thought too much about the actual craft of songwriting until then. So, I used all of the stuff I learned from Shane and combined that with my own therapy to write the new album.
The title track from the new album is a sneaky tune that has a real bite to it...
That song is basically "Not Pretty Enough, Part II." When I wrote "Not Pretty Enough" all of those years ago, I was just getting more familiar with how the music industry works. I was realizing that people in the industry want you to look a certain way and to sound a certain way and that, if you didn't, your music wouldn't get played on the radio. "Not Pretty Enough" is about not fitting in with that system and how I wore my heart on my sleeve too much and wouldn't stick to their formula. Now, 10 years later, I wrote "Little Bird" about how I'm glad that I didn't listen to those people that were trying to change me. Too many young girls trade in the things that make them stand-out just to be famous.
Another thing those two songs share is in the way that they could also be easily taken as love-gone-wrong songs.
Yes. Everyone thought that "Not Pretty Enough" was a love song, which helped it become a hit in Australia. It's a relatable song, whichever way you look at it. There were tons of little girls that wanted to look and be like Britney Spears or Shakira but were closer to Kasey Chambers!
There have got to be some key differences in the audiences between Australia and America. Any specific ones stand out to you?
Oh my God, it's so different. I feel like, generally, the people I play to in America are more musically-minded types of people -- not that I'm playing to a bunch of musicians in America, or anything. It just seems that the culture is more music-based than in Australia. I've been lucky in Australia and have had great audiences there, but in America, when we play a John Prine, Gram Parsons or Lucinda Williams cover, people instantly recognize the song and they know whose song it is. So, musically, I feel like I have more of a connection with American audiences as far as I feel like I have more of a connection since I grew up on much of the same music as they did. In Australia, I'm often educating my audience about a lot of this type of music. Many of the Australians who come to my shows have probably just bought the new Pink album. [Laughs.] It's just really different, I suppose.
I can't let you go without asking you about a story a friend of mine from Washington, D.C., heard you tell at a recent show. It seems as though you got your new fiddle player's boots and boobs mixed up?
[Laughs.] I can't believe that's got out already! Yeah, I just told that story at a gig a few nights ago. My new fiddle player [18 year old Ashley Dallas, making her first ever trip to the states] and I hadn't ever met until a year ago. She was at a radio station, and I came walking in. She knew who I was, but I didn't know her at the time, and when I walked past her, I casually said to her, "Nice boots!" and she meekly said, "Oh, thanks." Well, here we are, exactly a year later and now she's in my band and, a few days ago, she finally tells me that when we met that day at the radio station, she was convinced that I said "Nice boobs!" instead of "boots" to her! I was like, "What must you have thought of me?" I've loved having another girl in the band after all these years of touring with stinky boys.