AKERS FERTILISES FLOWERS FROM TEARS
“The house is full of flowers/ mum and dad are at the church/ today I get to wear my white dress/ but I'm arriving in a hearse/ I did my best to get to see 16/ but that damn cancer got the best of me/ don't you cry now/ remember all the good times.” - House Full Of Flowers (Hannah's Song ) - Kirsty Lee Akers-Jerry Salley.
Globe-trotting singer-songwriter Kirsty Lee Akers has long harvested hay from heartbreak and sorrow in diverse families in the Hunter Valley where she was raised.
So it wasn't hard for Akers to draw upon real life challenges to write about life on the edge on her fifth album.
Akers tears pages from her own family challenges in Change The World and Chasing Ghosts but it was premature death of Hannah Rye, just 15, from cancer that fuelled House Full Of Flowers (Hannah's Song.)
Rye , diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma at 13, was a music student of Kirsty's when in remission and asked her to write a song for her funeral.
Hannah, a student at Kirsty's old school Kurri Kurri High, was accompanied by Newcastle Knights NRL star Trent Hodkinson to her formal finale.
That momentous event was brought forward so Hannah could attend and share solace with her peers and close knit family.
Kirsty, 30, wrote the song, to be released on the anniversary of Hannah's death on August 21, with award winning Ohio born Nashville singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Jerry Salley on one of many visits to Nashville - her home away from home.
“I actually met Hannah a couple of years ago through teaching music when I'm not touring,” Kirsty told Country Music Capital News and Nu Country TV on the eve of her latest Canadian tour that included the famous Calgary Stampede with mentor Sheryl Crow.
“I teach about 50 students singing. She contacted me about doing some singing and we got to know each other. Just when she was about to start singing lessons she learned she had cancer so she couldn't do lessons. She had to put if off for a while. The she got better and appeared in my Ain't That Kind Of Girl video about February last year and only a couple of months later she learned the cancer had come back and she only has a couple of months left to live. She set out on a journey to make the most of that time. One of the things she wanted to do was go to her high school year 10 formal with one of the Newcastle Knights players. It made headlines in Australia and around the world. She asked me to sing her favourite song at her funeral. I left that day and started writing the song but couldn't bring myself to finish it. It turned out I was in Nashville the day of her funeral unfortunately. I couldn't attend but I recorded myself singing the song and they played it in the church.”
Kirsty releases House Full Of Flowers - follow-up single to her title track - this month.
“Hannah's 12 month anniversary is coming up at the end of August,” Kirsty explained.
“Hannah's mum sent me a bunch of footage of Hannah that is very special so I can include it in the video I make for it.”
Kirsty's collaborator Salley, a frequent visitor to Tamworth, has had more than 500 of his songs recorded by artists diverse as chart topping Kentucky coal-miner's son Chris Stapleton, Reba McEntire, John Anderson, Brad Paisley and Toby Keith.
He has also written nine #1 Australian hits and Novocastrian cancer survivor Catherine Britt's Billboard chart debut with Sir Elton John on Where We Both Say Goodbye .
KIRSTY KEEPS PACE WITH JACE
“She was born in the fall Of 88, to a teenage mother/ didn't have a chance no fire escape/ at least that's what they told her/ so many voices telling her what to do/ when there's no choice then you learn how to choose/ if you ain't got nothing then there's nothing left to lose.” - Change The World - Kirsty Lee Akers-Jace Everett.
But it was a song with her 2011 Australian touring partner - Indiana born Jace Everett - on Change The World that traces her own journey from her birth when her mother was just 17.
Chasing those dreams has taken Akers all over Australia - from the Hunter Valley to the Top End - and also the U.S. , Canada and Europe where she has performed and written songs with a vast cast of talented peers.
They include prolific Memphis born hit writer Trey Bruce, Nashville tunesmiths Phil Barton and Bruce Wallace and Brisbane born latter day Nashville chanteuse Sinead Burgess who all collaborated on two songs each.
So it's fitting that Kirsty and Sinead wrote Chasing Ghosts that boomerangs to Akers dreams of leaving town at 17 after busking on the streets of Tamworth at 14 financed her debut EP.
“I've known Sinead since we were 14 and attended CMAA Academy of Country Music in Tamworth and we have always wanted to write together but never had the chance so I hit her up when I was in Nashville,” recalled Akers
who is fiercely proud of her indigenous heritage as a woman of the Wonnarua nation.
“We have written two songs on the album. Chasing Ghosts comes from personal experience. We were sitting around having a little girl talk about our teenage years. It's about being in a relationship and chasing different things that aren't there. We wrote The First Time on the same day - they have a similar background. It's a nostalgia song – about the first time you fall in love. And also the opposite thing the first time your heart is broken is the worst. We didn't get it finished that day but finished it the day before I came home.”
KIRSTY DIGS UP BONES WITH TREY BRUCE
“About the same time every day/ after the school bus takes the kids away/ she slips out behind the garage/ and rolls a big cloud nine / the guy next door sets his watch by the smoke/ sits behind the curtain and watches her go/ up, up and away on a magic carpet ride/ with everybody's house like a valley of bones/ careful which way you go throwing stones/ skeletons in my closet/ I hope I don't forget to lock it/ I wouldn't want my dirty secrets out.” - Skeletons - Kirsty Lee Akers-Trey Bruce.
Akers also reunited with Trey Bruce - son of Ed Bruce, now 78, and the late Patsy Bruce famed for writing the Waylon & Willie hit - Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.
“I met Trey at a 2007 workshop put together by Mushroom Music over here in Australia,” Akers revealed.
“He stayed an extra week and we started writing together. We have written a lot of my previous singles Burn, Baby, Burn, Ain't That Kind Of Girl and Drive Till The Wheels Fall Off that all went to #1 on CMC.”
This time it was That Ring Don't Fit My Hand and Skeletons - a descendant of sorts of the Tom T Hall hit Harper Valley PTA.
“It's funny you should mention that, it's one of my favourite songs,” Akers revealed of the spoof of a housewife with time on her hands and a daily joint between her fingers.
RINGS AND THINGS LIKE BLING
“Shelly's 26 about to pop with her third kid/ that apple fell right under the tree/ Billy's got a job his daddy got him on the railroads/ been waiting for him since he was three/ hey, hey, I've got places to roam/ they say I should settle and find me a man/ but that aint' who I am/ that ring don't fit my hand/ momma says that I should find a boy right out of law school/ and love him till he won't let go.” - That Ring Don't Fit My Hand - Kirsty Lee Akers-Trey Bruce.
“ That Ring Don't Fit My Hand came about from scrolling through Facebook and seeing some of the people I went to school with and how different our lives are, how different my life is to people I grew up with. Also my own life with my mum who was pregnant at 16 and had me at 17 and three children by 19. It's the pole opposite to me. As soon as I finished school I didn't want to get stuck in the town I was born in. I just wanted to get out of there.”
Kirsty and Trey, 42, also wrote plastic blow-up doll song Leave It To Jesus and A Little Time In Hell for her previous albums.
The singer's annual international journeys are a far cry from her childhood busking on the streets of Tamworth that financed her debut EP.
“Mum and dad would take me to Tamworth each year,” Kirsty recalled.
“It was our one holiday of the year. They would save up all year and I would go in talent quests and busking. My mum would put all the money I earned from busking into a bank account for me. By the time I was 16 I had enough to make my first EP.
“Music and family have always been the most important parts of my life. My Nan , mum and aunt were singers and I grew up with my pop playing country music all the time. I still remember my first performance at age three. I was hooked! ”
Now, five albums down the lost highway Kirsty's Nashville sojourns have produced songs like her new album title track Under My Skin and Heart Of Stone with hit writers Phil Barton and Bruce Wallace.
“I did a writing trip to Nashville in September last year and Under My Skin came from that trip,” Kirsty explained. “I got together with Phil and Bruce. I have always loved writing with those guys. We had written a few songs but they hadn't made it onto any albums until now. It almost didn't happen because they were on tour writing with another artist. It was my last night in Nashville and I got a phone call from Phil asking if I wanted to write and we got together about 10 o'clock that night. That was the only chance. I thought I would be brain dead by then but I'll give it a crack anyway. It only took an hour to write the song. I knew when I heard it that it had to be the first single and it turned out to be the title track as well. When I got back I looked at my songs and decided I needed one more. I hadn't written by face time before. There wasn't any delay. We were very lucky. I had this title Heart of Stone and the same again it came up very quickly.”
But the filming of the Under The Skin video clip in high heel shoes was far more time consuming and strenuous.
“I had to walk on a tread mill all day long,” Akers explained.
“The calculator on the tread mill had me up to about 20 kilometres at the end of the day. Doing it in high heels was a challenge but it was definitely worth it.”
FALLING IN MAY VALLEY
“Here I lay, in this bed I made by now I should know that/ things won't change/ but you've fooled me before.”- Falling - Hayley Jensen-Abigail Christodoulou-Hannah Cosgrove.
Kirsty returned to Australia to launch her CD and perform at the Groundwater Country Music Festival on the Gold Coast at Broadbeach.
Then she returns to Canada for another festival with North Carolina nouveau outlaw Luke Combs who toured here this year with South Carolina star Darius Rucker.
“It's funny that you should mention Luke because when I return to Canada I'm opening for Luke at the Big Valley Jamboree ,” confessed Kirsty who wrote another new tune Fallin with Hayley Jensen and Abigail Christodoulou and Hannah Cosgrove of the duo May Valley .
“I met May Valley at the Tamworth festival a few years ago when they opened for me. They were in X-Factor in New Zealand . They were writing songs for their album at the time. They came to us with that idea for Fallin' . They didn't record the album. They ended up going solo which is sad but it's good for me as I finished up with the song for my album. It definitely turned out to be another favourite of mine.”
Akers also wrote It Was Always You with Alexander Seier and Brian Donkers
“One of them is from Nashville and one is from Canada ,” Kirsty explained.
“I've never written with them before. We got his out of our writing trip in Nashville last year. We got put together by a friend of mine Amy Nelson who is a Canadian artist who has been over to Australia a couple of times now. She has been instrumental in putting my music out in Canada . She put us together. They were friends of her. I wanted to have a song on the album that was lovey-dovey but not too over the top. It turned out great.”
Akers boomeranged home to launch her Social Family Records album and second single this month.