Kasey Chambers
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 today’s 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 she’s already getting comparisons to the aforementioned lot. It’s not bad for someone halfway around the world from Music City, USA.

“It’s intimidating,” Chambers says on the line from her Australian home. “It’s the most flattering thing in one aspect because they’re my idols, people I’ve 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, 2002’s 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 didn’t have any pre-conceived notion of what the album would sound like.

“I don’t really think too much about what I want at all,” she says. “We don’t 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.

“It’s just a song telling him that I’m always going to be there,” she says. “I’m not always going to be perfect but I’ll always be there. I’m 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 f–king it up.

“I never think too much about writing,” she adds. “If a line comes out and it doesn’t 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? It’s for my son and he’s the most important person in my life. I really can’t mess this up!’”

One she certainly didn’t mess up was “Paper Aeroplane,” a departure of sorts for the 28-year-old singer in that it was written from somebody else’s point of view. It also features Chambers’ sweet voice with a piano behind it, resembling Sarah McLachlan’s “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 don’t 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 weren’t 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 don’t co-write with people a lot. I don’t 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 that’s as honest as I get with myself and I find that it’s 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. “It’s an encouraging thing because there are points in the music industry where you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. It doesn’t change the way I do what I do, it helps me do what I do.

“It’s funny, songs like ‘For Sale,’ that’s a song dealing with different issues in my life I had at that time,” she says about another album track. “It’s 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 I’m 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 isn’t too keen on following mommy’s footsteps just yet.

“He hates me singing to him, it really sucks!” she says with a laugh. “He’s got a little guitar that he hasn’t touched once and when I begin singing he puts his hand over my mouth, so I don’t think there’s much hope at this point. He likes it if I sing Bob The Builder or The Wiggles but other than that he’s not really interested in much else.” •

from the January-February 2005 issue

"I guess writing for me is
like a little bit of therapy.
I find that’s as honest
as I get with myself