“I was Coun­try Spice”

As her break­through al­bum The Cap­tain turns 20, Kasey Cham­bers con­sid­ers how it changed the course of Aus­tralian coun­try mu­sic – and ex­plains why she will never get tired of sing­ing its songs

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy JEDD COONEY Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS In­ter­view KATHY McCABE

As her break­through al­bum turns 20, Kasey Cham­bers con­tem­plates how it changed the Aussie mu­sic land­scape.

“And you thought that Sha­nia Twain was bad.”

Kasey Cham­bers erupts in laugh­ter as she re­calls the very first re­view she re­ceived as a solo artist, a street press take­down of her 1999 de­but sin­gle ‘Cry Like A Baby’.

She promptly had the above Sha­ni­asledge framed. “It was the first time I had ever seen a re­view with my own name on it,” says Cham­bers, who is cel­e­brat­ing the 20th an­niver­sary of that song – and the ground­break­ing de­but al­bum on which it fea­tured, The Cap­tain. “So I got it framed. I re­mem­ber at the time, the record la­bel were try­ing to hide it from me. It went on to say some­thing like, ‘Please make it stop… as the men in white coats come to cart you away.’ I didn’t care; it had my name on it!”

In hind­sight, that re­view had it all wrong any­way – The Cap­tain changed Aus­tralian coun­try mu­sic for­ever. Cham­bers looked more like a gothic punk than Dolly Par­ton, and her mu­sic aligned more closely with the emerg­ing Amer­i­cana genre than the bush bal­lads that had long de­fined the cat­e­gory’s na­tional sound. She was a charis­matic and wholly orig­i­nal rebel who shock­ingly didn’t alien­ate the es­tab­lish­ment even as she sported a nose ring, posed nude for a mag­a­zine or dressed like a Spice Girl at the an­nual fes­ti­val in Tam­worth. “I was Coun­try Spice, of course,” she tells Stel­lar.

“I re­call feel­ing re­ally sure of my­self about cer­tain things”

She hadn’t planned to go it alone. With her dad Bill, mum Diane and brother Nash, Cham­bers had been per­form­ing in the fam­ily’s Dead Ringer Band from the age of

11. She wrote songs she knew didn’t work for the band, but also had no clue what to do with them. “I think I would have kept go­ing in that band for­ever, tag­ging along like a teenager happy to be get­ting out of school,” she says. It was only when her par­ents split af­ter 25 years of mar­riage

that a solo ca­reer seemed in­evitable.

At that stage, Cham­bers and her mum had been liv­ing on Nor­folk Is­land, mak­ing ex­tra money with a “lit­tle clean­ing busi­ness” for the lo­cal ho­tels. The 20-yearold had al­ready penned The Cap­tain and had a clutch of other works in progress when Diane in­formed her daugh­ter she was go­ing to Africa on a hol­i­day. That trip started a life­long love af­fair with the con­ti­nent for Cham­bers, of­fer­ing not just a fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment for song­writ­ing, but an op­por­tu­nity to con­tribute to its or­phan­ages and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

“Mum wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent af­ter the di­vorce and I told her she wasn’t go­ing to Africa on her own,” says Cham­bers. “So we saved up for a year and booked a low-bud­get sa­fari tour through about six coun­tries. It was a life-chang­ing time, and I’ve felt con­nected

there ever since.”

When the Dead Ringer Band was put into moth­balls, Nash de­cided to chan­nel his tal­ents into pro­duc­ing, and sug­gested he and his sis­ter could work to­gether as a team. They shopped the demos and even­tu­ally signed with EMI, whose then-man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Tony Har­low told Cham­bers she should just do her, and that he would find her an au­di­ence, no mat­ter how long

it took. “We were all feel­ing our way and none of us re­ally knew what we were do­ing,” she tells Stel­lar. “Back then, the term Amer­i­cana wasn’t re­ally be­ing used, and in Aus­tralia, you didn’t even have that rootsy, singer/song­writer sound on the ra­dio. Peo­ple weren’t mak­ing songs like Missy Hig­gins or Pete Mur­ray yet – let alone the al­ter­na­tive coun­try mu­sic stuff I do.”

She re­calls that one of her first meet­ings with the team from her new la­bel set a prece­dent for her en­tire ca­reer: she would pick her bat­tles, and they knew not to try to make her sway course. “Some­one asked what I was go­ing to call the al­bum,” she says. “I said, ‘It’s called The Cap­tain.’ They said, ‘Oh yeah, great. We will put that on the list and come up with a few more sug­ges­tions.’ I told them again it was go­ing to be called The Cap­tain. I re­mem­ber feel­ing re­ally sure of my­self about cer­tain things. As soon as I wrote that song, I knew my first solo al­bum would be called The Cap­tain.”

Her in­stincts paid off. The al­bum peaked at no. 11, went dou­ble plat­inum and won Cham­bers the first two of her ca­reer’s 14 ARIA Awards. (She was in­ducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame last year.) The ti­tle track fea­tured on an episode of The So­pra­nos, and the al­bum as a whole in­spired Jessica and Lisa Origliasso, now The Veron­i­cas, to pick up acous­tic gui­tars and be­come per­form­ers. They were in the front row of her first Bris­bane con­cert in 1999 in sup­port of the record, and joined her on­stage last month at By­ron Bay Blues­fest’s 30th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions to per­form ‘The Cap­tain’.

It also in­spired a 15-year-old Re­nee Ross to hold up a sign that blared “You be the cap­tain” dur­ing Cham­bers’s very first solo per­for­mance at that iconic fes­ti­val the same year. To­day the two are friends and busi­ness part­ners who de­sign pieces for their Po­etry By Kasey And Re­nee cloth­ing line. “Our motto for the cloth­ing line is Be Your Own Cap­tain,” says Cham­bers. “For so many peo­ple that song has said, she can be who she wants to be and she doesn’t have to con­form. They can be them­selves.”

‘The Cap­tain’ has se­cured its place as her sig­na­ture song, and Cham­bers, now 42, says she will never take it off her set list. Au­di­ences can ex­pect to hear it on an up­com­ing tour to mark her mu­si­cal mile­stone, which is set to fea­ture the orig­i­nal band that played on the al­bum.

“What­ever I am play­ing, a fes­ti­val or my own show, I feel real comfort in that song,” says Cham­bers. “Be­cause it usu­ally comes af­ter ‘Ain’t No Lit­tle Girl’ [from her 2016 EP of the same name]. That is such a strong, pow­er­ful mo­ment and I go into this other world, I don’t even know where it is. And

I know ‘The Cap­tain’ will bring me back and ground me af­ter I have scared my­self.”

The Cap­tain Deluxe Edi­tion is out on Fri­day; for tick­ets to The Cap­tain

20th An­niver­sary Tour 2019, visit kas­ey­cham­bers.com.


Gui­tar Awards in Tam­worth.

KASEY WEARS Camilla skirt, au.camilla.com; her own top; (op­po­site) Lover the La­bel dress, lover­the­la­bel.com Fe­male Artist; Cham­bers with her then-hus­band Shane Ni­chol­son at the 2009 Golden

(from top) Kasey Cham­bers with her chil­dren

(from left) Arlo, Talon and Poet at last year’s ARIA Awards; with her 2000 ARIA for Best

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