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Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke with respected Australian singer, songwriter Vanessa Amorosi about her return home after spending the best part of a decade in Los Angeles developing her craft. With a vibrant new single already out and plenty more in the can, Vanessa was excited to talk about her new material.

A loping bass line and a sharp, pounding percussion beat signal not only the beginning of Vanessa Amorosi’s new single Heavy Lies The Head but also the start of a new chapter in her career. It’s been eight years since Vanessa’s last single release and we haven’t seen her on an Australian stage much either due to her relocation to Los Angeles in 2011, where she’s been honing her writing, arranging and production skills, particularly in the field of gospel music.

Vanessa captured the attention of the Australian public at a tender age with her anthemic breakthrough hit ‘Absolutely Everybody’, a Top 10 smash which stayed in the charts for six months, certified double platinum in Australia and charted through Europe. Her debut album Power (2000) notched up six nominations at the ARIA awards and saw her sing “Heroes Live Forever” at the opening of the 2000 Sydney Olympics to great acclaim before a global TV viewing audience of billions. Singles such as “Shine”, “Perfect” and “This Is Who I Am” continued her hold on the charts, while the albums “Somewhere In The Real World” (2008) and “Hazardous” (2009) expanded her reputation as a singer who constantly delivered.

In April this year Vanessa returned to Australia to perform as part of the sold out Red Hot Summer series, along with John Farnham, Daryl Braithwaite, Jon Stevens, Thirsty Merc and Dragon. She then followed that up with a tour of her own, testing out some of the new material to much acclaim (Check out links at end of story for remaining tour dates). However, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s investigate why she felt the need to leave Australia for America back in 2011.
“After I finished touring around 2011, I got an opportunity to go over there and do gospel music, gospel arrangements, counter harmonies, melodies and stuff,” Vanessa explains. “At that same time I was trying to write another record but just wasn’t inspired. I felt that my songs didn’t have any magic in them, so I thought it’s probably a good opportunity for me to sep outside of my comfort zone and do something different in the hope that it gives me another element and another exciting tool to bring to the table. When I got there, I found it wasn’t as easy as just doing it for a couple of months to achieve what I wanted to achieve. It actually took much longer and I had to start again at the bottom and climb the ropes. Then I met Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and did a gospel arrangement for one of his records and from there we started working more and I wrote a record with Dave, which I hope we’ll be releasing next year. I was also doing some writing in studios for all kinds of stuff, country, pop, RnB. Then I started working with a team, which is Aleena Gibson and Trevor Muzzy and we were writing pop music that literally set me on fire. I was so excited by it and we were just on a mission. Every time we would go in there, there would be another song and then another song, better and more exciting and that’s what stemmed me to come home. Now I feel like I have a record that has magic about it.”

After such a long break since her last single, the first offering of new material was always going to be an important decision. Vanessa had a couple of tracks earmarked for release as the first single but at the last minute changed her mind, trusted her gut and went for Heavy Lies The Head.
“The reason why I went with Heavy Lies The Head is because I feel like it is so raw and lyrically it is very blunt and to the point,” she tells me. “Vocally it demonstrates what I am about and I felt that it was probably the right song to come back with to introduce myself again. It’s always a hard thing to pick what will be the first song you come back with. What are you saying to people when you come back? I felt like that was a really risky move but also a move that I thought is the right move and makes more sense for the rest of the record

There’s a great percussive intro to the single which continues throughout the song under the verse as well. I wondered if the song was always going to appear that way or if different versions of the song were tried before she arrived at the final version?
“No, this is exactly what it is,” she says emphatically. “There were no other versions to it and that’s what is so risky because normally I would go back and re-write lyrics, re-fix melodies and probably get rid of the low ends because a low vocal is not something I have gravitated to. I have tended to write songs which would steer away from that and only use a little bit of my vocal register. When it comes to production, I am forever wanting to costume-change! This is essentially the art that happened on that day and it has just been left. It’s kind of what is exciting to me, not going back and trying to re-costume it or re-think it and just go with it and see what happens.”

Prior to Vanessa arriving in Australia to perform on the Red Hot Summer tour, we already knew she was in fine form as we were fortunate enough to witness her vocal prowess at the She Rocks Awards in Anaheim in January. On that night Vanessa performed alongside expat Aussie guitarist Orianthi as part of a Janis Joplin tribute and she also had the pleasure of meeting Janis’ brother and sister backstage at the event.
“That was fabulous,” said Vanessa. “I am a huge fan of Janis Joplin and have always put at least one of her songs in my shows, so it was awesome to be among family and peers. I did get to meet her brother and sister and they were super lovely. Looking at the brother, I saw a lot of Janis and thought yeah, definitely family.”

Vanessa sharing stage with Orianthi at the She Rocks Awards in January this year

The She Rocks Awards, celebrating women in the music industry takes place every year as part of the NAMM Show. While in Anaheim, Vanessa had a quick chance to see what the musical instrument industry trade show was all about and was mighty impressed.
“I did get in there for a few hours on one day. It was disappointing because I had to shoot off and do some other stuff but man, that was the first time I have been around that world and it is really full on. It is really overwhelming, you are just not used to what you are walking into. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was really, really full on. There’s a lot of tech talk and I suppose it’s like a haven for spending a lot of money if you’re looking for gear.”

Speaking of gear Vanessa has been seen sporting a Schecter guitar on the current tour. While not claiming to be a guitarist of note, she has been playing the instrument for some time. “I have been playing guitar on stage for maybe 15 years,” she states. “I have always played guitar … badly .. but good enough to play into Pro Tools and edit it, quantize it and what have you. It’s the same with every other instrument, I might play them badly but on Pro Tools I am amazing! My bass player plays that brand and he said give it a shot and I said hell yeah! It has been amazing, incredible. It has a nice little gritty tone to it which is great for the stuff I am doing. I have always gravitated to guitar which is bizzare because I never had lessons and I probably should have.”

What Vanessa does very well is sing and it would be easy to assume that she follows a strict warm up regime before gigs and recording sessions but apparently that’s not the case. “No, I am pretty bad with that sort of stuff actually,” she laughs. “A lot of people ask me that, if I do warm ups but I really don’t. I think talking is enough of a warm up. If I wake up in the morning and my voice is really raspy, sometimes that’s dehydration but then it’s a matter of talking until it smooths back out again and maybe the inflammation or tiredness or whatever goes. As far as getting into a creative zone, it’s a really hard one. Sometimes I can feel really creative at the worst times possible. Then when I really need to be creative, I am dead!”

The music industry moves quickly and it’s been a long time since Vanessa has been in the cut and thrust of things. A near-decade long absence from the public side of the music business has made those industry changes more obvious to her, particularly the social media aspect of the entertainment world.
“Everything is very instant, which is awesome because I like things NOW, I don’t like to wait for anything,” she explains. “That is different because normally there would be a big wait and big build up to things. The streaming and online presence, that wasn’t such a huge thing being online when I first started. I really enjoy it because that is how I get an insight into the people that I follow and those that follow me. It’s something that I have to incorporate into my life and sometimes I feel really weird … to film myself eating a sandwich … or talking to someone … film myself walking down a street … making sure that someone is filming a moment … those type of things I have never thought about and now coming back into play, I actually have to think about that stuff and sometimes I feel really dorky.”

The far from dorky Amorosi has been killin’ it on stages around the country while performing the new material that she is so thrilled to share with everyone but what’s next?
“I am hoping the album will be out at the end of this year and I’m just hoping to unleash lots of singles,” she says excitedly. “Of course I am the most impatient artist ever, I just want my stuff out there … like yesterday! I am on a big mission to explain where I have been and show people what I have been working on and I have so many things to show, so it’s going to be a case of timing. This year will be a big year as will next year too. I just want to be releasing more music than ever. I don’t want to wait around. I want to just bang out the songs because I have so many sitting there that I think are amazing and I just want to make it all about the music … let’s get it out there. And I’m still writing. That’s the thing, you keep evolving.”

Remaining Vanessa Amorosi band tour dates (More announced soon):

Thu May 16
York on Lilydale, VIC

Fri May 17
Chelsea Heights Hotel, VIC

Sat May 18
Doncaster Shoppingtown Hotel, VIC

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