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KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON

KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON
June 12, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips

Kasey Chambersshane“It wasn’t until early  2007 that country music queen Kasey Chambers and  singer-songwriter husband Shane Nicholson first sat down to write music as one. They’d been married since 2005 and knew each other well before then, but a musical collaboration for whatever reason, just hadn’t happened. With Kasey pregnant and off the road for 18 months, a weekly covers gig organised by her dad Bill Chambers at their local pub finally brought Kasey and Shane’s singing voices together. It was immediately obvious to the crowds that packed the Avoca Hotel to see ‘The Lost Dogs’ that their voices merged particularly well. Encouraged by the reception and with time to spare, Kasey and Shane wrote a collection of songs which have emerged as their debut album ‘Rattlin’ Bones’. Musically, it’s a return to Kasey’s country roots. Sonically, it’s a warm and organic concoction of old world spirit and dark alternative ‘new’ country. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to Kasey and Shane prior to the album’s release.

This is your first recording together, but you guys seem to have that warm country studio feel down pat. Do you like to experiment in the studio or do you have tried and true methods that work best for you?

Shane: As far as the recording side of it goes, this record is the most experimental recording we’ve ever done. We really wanted to create a live sound which means that technically the way we approached it was completely different. A lot of that came down to Nash, Kasey’s brother who recorded and produced it. We talked a lot about the album and how we wanted it to sound,  what it was supposed to be, and that wasn’t just the songs. There was quite a bit of experimentation in regard to instruments and how we miked things up, what gear we used. That’s a big part of why the record sounds the way it does. Nash has a lot of vintage gear, Neumann mics and a lot of vintage outboard gear and I have some and we pulled our gear together and set up in a  room with isolation booths, but then we thought we’d open up all the doors so we’re capturing everything. There’s a lot of spill. That’s the opposite way we would normally make a record, where normally it’s about keeping it tight and contained. We knew that wouldn’t work with this record the way we heard it in our heads. It was more about getting the band rehearsed and recording live. You couldn’t do a bass part or guitar part again because it’s already spilling in other people’s mics. It was good for us, made us work a little differently.

Kasey: We did our vocals together too, sitting right next to each other. So it was the same with the vocals, you couldn’t  really fix bits up. In the end there were only a few dodgy moments but I think it just adds to the sound of the record.

The percussion is way back in the mix, the focus is really on the voice and fretted instruments isn’t it?

Shane:  We only used drums on one song on this record. The rest is just bits and pieces, added later on. There might have been just a floor tom with a towel on it. We messed things  up a lot. There are actually not a lot of organic sounds which is funny for such an organic sounding record. Some of the percussion sounds were created with a  pillow case filled with tambourines and we’d drop it on the floor, sample it, and use it where we wanted. A lot of the drums on this record are distorted. We kind of killed them through a Sans Amp and really tried  to mess with things on that level. The vocals and guitars are very organic, so it was to try and give it some depth. It’s an acoustic record so you have to give an interest factor over 14 songs. It was Nash too. I think he’s on a bit of a Tchad Blake kick at the moment. Everything gets distorted … which is great.

Kasey:  Nash is cheaper than Tchad Blake too

Did you enquire?

Kasey: (laughs) No!

Shane:  Nash has a lot of great gear and I don’t think there is a tambourine on this album that isn’t distorted. He’s really into the science of recording. It was a chance to experiment and try a bit of ambient micing and messing up the tried and true process we’d usually go through. While we were experimenting with our instruments and our songs, Nash was experimenting with the studio, so everyone had free rein.

Are there any particular country albums you see as benchmarks for studio sound?

Kasey:  We have mixtures of ones. We have more ‘songs’ that we referenced rather than albums, particularly like “”Sweetest Waste of Time””. We wrote that when listening to a lot of old Emmy Lou (Harris) stuff like ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love’, that era (of her music). So that sound lended itself to our song, but wouldn’t have to any other song on the album. We treated each song quite differently. We were influenced by a  lot of different stuff over the past year because we played in a little covers band together, Shane, my dad and myself.

The Lost Dogs?

Kasey:  Yes. So we played different songs every week at this pub up the coast. We didn’t really play any originals for a year. We were writing this record but playing covers every week. It was also really good learning how we would work together musically, and got to know how each other sings.

Did you learn anything about each other from going through the process of making the album?

Kasey:  I learnt a lot about co-writing. I had never done much of that at all and Shane has. Even though we have known each other for a long time and planned on co-writing, the first song we wrote was ‘Rattlin’ Bones’ and that was at the start of last year. I learnt a lot about different ways to write. Shane plays a lot of different instruments with writing on this record. Normally I would just pick up an acoustic guitar and I am really limited with that. I always go to the same chord and melody when I pick up an acoustic guitar, then try and change it later to make it more interesting. Whereas Shane would pick up a guitar or a banjo or mandolin or dobro, which made things a lot more interesting. Also Shane won’t settle on lines and melodies. I’m a bit like ‘oh that will do’. I think that’s my downfall sometimes with writing in that I let things go by. We sort of evened each other out a little bit.

Being husband and wife and both songwriters, are you curious about the content of each other’s songs? Do you feel totally free in your writing?

Shane:  It feels free because we’ve never been challenged by the other one in regard to what any particular song is about.

Kasey:  You’re making me think about it now! I’m going to have to go back and listen. (laughs) With this record we didn’t really write about ourselves. It’s easier to do that when you are writing on your own. When you’re writing with someone else you put yourself in someone else’s position or you write a story song. But you’ve got me thinkin’ now!

How much importance do you place on the order in which the songs appear on an album?

Shane:  It’s one of the most important aspects of a record I think. Just think of your most favourite record of all time and if someone messed up the order of the songs … you’d view that album totally differently.

Kasey:  Yeah I agree. It’s something I always take a lot of time thinking about, not just with the albums but also the set list. When I play live, I think about that so much. It’s so important … how the first song made you feel compared to the next one. We didn’t have too many arguments about it with this album. I’m surprised.

Shane:  We’ve both done a lot of recording now and there are some songs that just present themselves as to where they should fit in on a record. Some you know they should be in the first or second half and some are natural album closers. So  we pretty much had the same idea but tweaked it a little. I do believe that track listing makes or potentially breaks a record.

Kasey:  Our CD player in the car is driving us mad at the moment because it is on random and we can’t get it off! It’s really annoying. We just drove to Byron Bay and back for the blues festival, so every time an album came on that we know really well, it was driving us crazy because the songs weren’t in the right order.

Shane:  One of the greatest things now, I think about ipods and itunes … is that you can make these play lists, and it really helps to track list a record. You can do like 5 alternative versions in your ipod and listen to them as a completed record and get an idea of what works best. Whereas before it was a longer process, skipping through CD tracks.

One song on the album that has a different feel to the other tracks is ‘Jackson Hole’. How did you get that megaphone type vocal?

Shane:  Again that was Nash going a bit mental with boxes in the studio. It’s just distorted through a Sans Amp. That was always the plan. Even before we recorded that song we wanted to make it sound different.

Kasey: Even before we finished writing it, we were saying it sounds like it needs to be sung through a telephone or something.

Shane:  I really wanted to do a Steve Earle angle on that song. The main thing was to force ourselves to go the full degree, not do it half-hearted. Often you have grand ideas and then you get to the mix down and you water it down or you’re not sure how far to push it. At the end of the day you wished you’d pushed it more. This time we pushed it all the way. That song is a story song, about a doco  I saw on a woman in America and this period of her life. Quite a different song.

Kasey: It’s probably the most specific song on the album. The place is actually called Jackson Hole.

Shane:  So the song’s quite different and that’s why we stuck with it and it ended up being on the record, and by the time it come around… that’s like I was saying before, that song, I knew it had to be down near the end. By track ten or so songs, you’re ready for it.

I was talking to  a guy named Danny B Harvey recently and he’s Nancy Sinatra’s guitarist. I had heard that Nancy was into your music Kasey, and I asked him about that. He said she’s a huge fan and they play your song ‘Barricades and Brickwalls’ in her show.

Kasey:  Yeah that was wild. I’ve never really looked at my songs as songs other people would record. She was doing another song live then she recorded ‘Barricades’ and I was really chuffed.

In your travels have you got to meet any of your music heroes?

Shane:  I’ve come close to meeting a lot of music heroes. I walked up to Joe Strummer because he is one of my all time heroes and I just couldn’t get a word out. I was a bit struck dumb so I never got to speak to him. Same thing happened with Elliot Smith. I played a gig with him in Brisbane. I tried to talk to him at sound check but I couldn’t figure out what to say, so never got to talk to him.

Bit of theme emerging here Shane?

Shane:  Yeah I’ve got to learn to seize the day a little more.

Kasey: We’ve just been up at Byron Bay and Patty Griffin played and she’s one of my all time favourites.  We played up there but also spent time going to see all of these different artists and having an absolute ball.

Shane:  A lot of the people we name check on this album like Emmy Lou Harris and Buddy and Julie Miller, Kasey has played with all of them. It’s kind of cool that most of the people you still class as major influences in your music, you can say you have worked with them to some degree. I think that’s quite fortunate. A lot of artists don’t get that opportunity. For Kasey to sing with Emmy Lou Harris, I don’t even think I’d get a word out.

Kasey, in our all-female edition last year, Clare Bowditch and Holly Throsby were saying how much your first big ARIA win meant to them as female artists.

Kasey: How sweet.

Did you have any sense of accomplishing something special for the girls?

Kasey: At the time I thought it was more of an accomplishment for country music. I don’t think at all about the girl power thing but I do feel really flattered when you put it like that. When I first started taking music seriously and wanted to do it for a living, I resigned myself to thinking I was never going to be that successful because of the style of music I played. I just thought people don’t really like country music. Especially the type of country I wanted to play. It wasn’t even the type of music that Nashville would play. I just told myself this is how it is going to be. You are always going to be an underground artist. I wasn’t bothered by it, but I just thought there is no way I am ever going to win an ARIA, let alone Best Female Artist or Album of the Year. When that happened, I was pretty blown away.

What does music mean to you?

Kasey:  I don’t really think of music as … well … obviously it is very special but I don’t think of it as overly special because it has always been there. When I was growing up, I lived in a really remote area of Australia and I  wasn’t exposed to a lot of the outside world. My dad would just play music to us all the time, so it was just really normal. Music was a more a part of my life than TV and I want to make sure that it’s the same with our kids. I think it can be so important in so many different ways, even for things like healing. It’s always been such a huge part of my life and I hope it is for them too. I mean I don’t want to push them into doing music for a living but I’d like it to always be around for them.

And you Shane?

Shane:  I was just thinking about it then … it sounds a little corny, but I don’t think of music as something I do. I never have. It’s more of something you ARE. It sounds a little ridiculous when you say it aloud like that but for me also it is something that has always been there. Not too different to Kase, just something I have always done. I don’t feel like someone who DOES music, it’s something that is wrapped into your life. I never made a conscious decision of playing music as opposed to something else.

Kasey: Neither of us know how to do anything  else.

Kasey and Shane began a national tour in May. Shane and Kasey’s dad, Bill  Chambers open the show, swapping songs off their own records, before Shane joins Kasey to perform tracks off the new album. ‘Rattlin’ Bones’ is out now through Liberation. www.kaseyandshane.com

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