Close this search box.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our weekly
e-newsletter for news and updates

Advertise with us



Baz Bardoe tracks down US-based, Australian singer, songwriter and guitarist Anne McCue for a chat about her career and new album Blue Sky Thinkin’

Many years ago I used to enjoy going to see a band called Girl Monstar. They had some of the catchiest songs you could imagine and seemed destined for big things. Then they broke up. Many years passed then I heard that the lead guitarist was forging a solo career in the US. When I heard her music I was amazed – she is the complete package. A great lead guitarist, an excellent songwriter, and a very fine vocalist. I came to associate her with a contemporary blues rock roots kind of sound, but the reality is that she can play it all. Witnessing her live took it up a level again – after reviewing countless live shows I can honestly say that I am rarely so captivated.

Anne McCue is one of this nation’s finest musical talents – a national treasure who deserves far greater attention. Critics fall over themselves to heap praise upon her and with good reason. Believe the hype – she is it and a bit. But like any true star she is also incredibly humble. I was therefore delighted to be able to pose a few questions to her…….

What led you into music? When did you start playing, what tuition did you have if any, and when did you discover your voice?
Like many, I started by impersonating the Beatles on a tennis racket with my brothers and sister. I think I was Paul. I then moved to piano when I was about 6 and studied Classical for about 5 years. Then I moved to guitar. My brother was naturally gifted on the instrument so that was inspiring. I studied the old songs by Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael – that’s how I learnt all the chords – jazz chords, ‘expensive’ chords. So by the time I went to study guitar at Bruce Clarke’s, I was already well versed in all the old jazz songs. At the same time I joined a rock band and I had to learn how to play lead guitar, and quickly. It was two different worlds – I was pulled towards jazz (e.g. Miles Davis Kind Of Blue) but I was playing pub rock by night. It took me a long time to get comfy with my singing voice.

‘Girl Monstar’… a strong image, good musicianship and some genuinely catchy tunes. How did the band come about and were you happy with what you achieved? What were some highlights?
I really liked where we were going toward the end of the five years and then we split up. Sherry wrote some really catchy songs – Surfing On A Wave and Joe Cool. Good stuff and then she started writing more sophisticated songs as well, one of which she included on the latest Grapes album. I wish we could have continued in that vein ourselves. At the beginning they were playing Runaways type songs, which I never really got and still don’t. I never could stand the Hair Bands either. Ha!

Do you stay in touch with your ex band members? If so what are they up to? I know Sherry started doing country music. (Speaking of which I can recall this dude who would turn up to all the shows and present her with a bunch of roses. (I am not sure if he was referencing a theatrical tradition or whether he had a huge crush on her, but he was certainly a dedicated fan)
Was that the same guy who used to dance in front of us with a plastic guitar? If so, he was just part of a general atmosphere then that an all-girl band could never be taken seriously. We had two number 1 songs on the Indie charts but were just about the only band in Melbourne who didn’t get offered a record deal.

Yes I am in touch with Sherry. Sherry came from a country band called Cactus Fever, so she is just going back to her roots. She also has a band with Ashley Naylor called The Grapes. I wish Girl Monstar had sounded more like them!

Why did the band break up, and what was your reaction?
From memory, I believe Sherry wanted to take a break from it so we did and then we never played again. Our last gig was at the first Big Day Out. It poured rain. None of us was very mature at that stage. I was certainly a bit lost. It was like a marriage break-up and when it was over, I had to start again. I didn’t inherit any of the fans or the scene. I was an outsider. I had stage fright for about 10 years after that but I kept playing and writing songs.

From what I understand of your career, your next move was kind of lateral – you went to Vietnam. What was the reasoning behind that and how did it help your career?
After Girl Monstar, I started going to the blues jams. I had a lot to learn – still do! So that was good for me to get to play a few songs a few nights a week and build up my confidence. I was often the only girl at those jams. Geoff Achison was invited to go play in Vietnam, but he couldn’t so he asked me to go instead. Now that was a good experience because I played 6 nights a week for a year. Very good experience.

The decision to give the US a crack must have been a hard one – what preparation did you do? Did you have contacts in place, or did you just arrive and go from there?
I had returned to Melbourne from Vietnam and I went into a deep depression and a tailspin. My mother died. I was a bit messed up. I managed to finish the EP and then I was walking down the street and ran into a guy who told me about an audition for a band. I went for it and that band got signed to Columbia Records. They brought us over to the USA so I started at the top, and gradually made my way downward, tee hee. I felt good in America as soon as I arrived. It was such a trip. There was lots of hope there then. Clinton was still President.

496d55f87ec2eaa5de94f0566d4cbbebHow did you go about attracting label support and getting gigs etc? How did you get your music to the attention of some of the more well known figures who you have worked with?
By chance, often. Being in L.A. you are more likely to run into people. I was playing a show at The Mint and Jim Lauderdale played after me. That’s how I met Dusty Wakeman as he was playing bass with Jim.

One of Lucinda’s fans was there and he gave her my album. She liked it and came to see me in Nashville. I guess you have to be in it to win it. It helps to go out and play as well as you can.

Do some name dropping … who have you worked with and what have been some career highlights to date?
Touring with Heart was one of the best experiences. I got to jam a lot with Nancy Wilson and occasionally Ann would also have a play. She knows all the Lucinda songs. Those girls are so musical and so engrossed in music that was very inspiring.

What gear do generally you use?
I play Hanson electric guitars (from Chicago). I still have my old Maton acoustic guitar I got in the early ’90s. I’ve got some good amps – I tend to take my Fender Blues Jr on the road as it’s easy to carry. And some pedals!

Do you have a preference for live or studio work, and what are the highlights and negatives of both?
I love playing live shows. It keeps me sane. I quite like recording too. It would be nice to have time to sit around and record but these days, it happens pretty quickly. I am wearing so many other hats I don’t get to record as much as I would like.

In 1999 I was signed to a UK label that had a big global presence – possibly THE label to be signed to for that style of music. Suddenly I was playing lots of gigs, festivals etc. At first I was overjoyed, but I quickly came to dislike aspects of it. Lack of proper sleep, having to always pack up your stuff, losing bits and pieces, being cornered by people who always seem to want something, the personal isolation etc. It is very different in reality to the romantic notions of being ‘on the road’, especially if you are not one of the elite acts that can afford nice hotels etc. I guess we all have different personality types, but I didn’t enjoy it much despite enjoying the gigs, and I was wondering how you cope with what seems to me like quite a lot of touring? Are there times where you struggle with it? Are there tactics you have devised to help you with it?
These days I like to go out for 4 days at most and come home. Trips to Australia and Europe have to be about 4 weeks though. Yes, it’s not easy, especially for an Indie. But if I do it just the right amount, I enjoy seeing the new places and meeting new people.

I don’t drink alcohol any more or eat meat. I think that helps make everything better. If you eat enough fruit and drink lots of water you’ll be okay.

Downloading is destroying many independent labels. I know one artist for example who has had two top 40 albums in the UK, six figure sales etc. But now he makes about 1% of what he had been making, and after two decades is obliged to make a big career shift. People seem to think music should be free now. What are your thoughts on where all this is headed?
I suppose it’s out of control. We hear more music than ever before and musicians get paid less for it. My income potential has certainly dropped since 2000. Everyday you have to come up with something new. It’s not easy! Free music sucks for us!

On your latest album ‘Blue Sky Thinkin’, you have undertaken a bit of a stylistic shift – can you run me through this?
I have just gone back to my roots, which are more jazz inspired. My parents played all the old classics from the jazz era as I was growing up. I love melody, chords, harmony. I love classical musical, string quartets. I love ‘Stardust’ and ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’. Fats Waller and Cab Calloway. Peggy Lee and Billy Holiday. So I started listening to that stuff again and got really inspired then ‘voila!’ – my new album – ‘Blue Sky Thinkin’.

What lies ahead for you?
I am really loving playing live shows these days. I like a show to have all the elements – rock, swing, comedy, good times. Forget your troubles for an hour and a half, have fun and dance if you want to.

“The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!  Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Hopi Elder

Share this