An Outback Angel Grows Up
by Jason MacNeil
THERE'S AN INNER CIRCLE of singer-songwriters who seem to have told the Nashville establishment where they can shove todays bland, pre-packaged brand of country music. Most of these people, be it Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams, sound as honest as they come, in terms of their style and sound.
Kasey Chambers is only three albums into her career and shes already getting comparisons to the aforementioned lot. Its not bad for someone halfway around the world from Music City, USA.
Its intimidating, Chambers says on the line from her Australian home. Its the most flattering thing in one aspect because theyre my idols, people Ive grown up listening to my whole life and definitely my biggest influences. Then I think that people are going to expect too much.
Chambers ventured out into a solo career in 2000 with the release of The Captain, a debut which caught the attention of both Earle and Williams, resulting in Chambers landing a support slot for Williams as she toured behind Essence. The title track was featured on The Sopranos. A sophomore album, 2002s Barricades & Brickwalls was also well received. But it seems to pale greatly compared to her new album, Wayward Angel.
Chambers says that this album sounds more focused for a very good reason. When I made Barricades I was kind of in the middle of touring at the time and it was really hard to just concentrate on making an album, she says. With this one we went into the studio and pretty much played the whole thing live. It was just a really enjoyable way of doing it. I got to completely concentrate on making the album wholly and solely.
The album, produced by her brother Nash Chambers, begins with the sultry country roots of Pony before taking off with Hollywood and Stronger. Chambers says that she didnt have any pre-conceived notion of what the album would sound like.
I dont really think too much about what I want at all, she says. We dont do elaborate demos or anything like that. We all just go into the studio and make our magic at the same time. I love doing it that way, just treating every song differently and letting it come to life.
Chambers says she recorded 17 tracks for Wayward Angel and 14 made the cut. Although there are gems throughout, two songs stand out, including the title track written for her two-year-old son Talon, named apparently in reference to troubadour Fred Eaglesmith.
Its just a song telling him that Im always going to be there, she says. Im not always going to be perfect but Ill always be there. Im warning him early. She also says that the song was one of the hardest for her to write. In fact it was so difficult she only finished it a week before entering the studio.
I usually sit down and write songs from start to finish, she says. But that one I wrote the verses to two years ago just after Talon was born. I think maybe part of that was there was such a massive thing going on in my life and having a baby that I was worried about fking it up.
I never think too much about writing, she adds. If a line comes out and it doesnt seem to make much sense I think it was meant to be there anyway. But for that one I had moments of, Oh is this song good enough? Its for my son and hes the most important person in my life. I really cant mess this up!
One she certainly didnt mess up was Paper Aeroplane, a departure of sorts for the 28-year-old singer in that it was written from somebody elses point of view. It also features Chambers sweet voice with a piano behind it, resembling Sarah McLachlans Angel in some respects.
I was watching television one night and there was an interview with an old man who had lost his wife to cancer, Chambers says. It was just a really beautiful story in the way that he told it and the way he remembered her. It was just moving enough for me to sit down and write that song. The only thing difficult about it was I wrote it around the piano but I dont play piano so I had to write it on guitar first.
Chambers also had another first on this album in that she shares three co-writing credits with her boyfriend Cori Hopper, including More Than Ordinary and Follow You Home. They werent sort of planned things, Chambers explains. We just sort of sat down on different days and ended up writing songs out of boredom, really just having nothing else to do. And it was really good because I dont co-write with people a lot. I dont have much of a desire to do that. Mostly I just enjoy writing on my own.
"I guess writing for me is like a little bit of therapy. I find thats as honest as I get with myself and I find that its hard to be that honest with somebody else in the room. It just turned out to be a really fun experience.
Chambers says her career in Australia is great, especially after Barricades & Brickwalls won album of the year there, beating out pop and rock contenders.
It really does help to get your name out to a lot of people, she says. Its an encouraging thing because there are points in the music industry where you feel like youre banging your head against a wall. It doesnt change the way I do what I do, it helps me do what I do.
Its funny, songs like For Sale, thats a song dealing with different issues in my life I had at that time, she says about another album track. Its about my success here in Australia and there are moments where I just want to keep to myself. I sometimes feel like my privacy has been violated. Then I go out on stage and I play it to a few thousand people singing along, and Im thinking, What was I thinking? Of course I want this!
Chambers has been touring America this winter. Even away from home she is basically at home with brother Nash on the road, her father Bill in the band and her mother tagging along also, making it easier for her son to come along. But Talon isnt too keen on following mommys footsteps just yet.
He hates me singing to him, it really sucks! she says with a laugh. Hes got a little guitar that he hasnt touched once and when I begin singing he puts his hand over my mouth, so I dont think theres much hope at this point. He likes it if I sing Bob The Builder or The Wiggles but other than that hes not really interested in much else.
from the January-February 2005 issue