2014 CD FEATURE
AND THE WALLS OF THE HEART CAME TUMBLING DOWN
“There's a house on a hill/ with a cracked window sill/ and it's old and it's worn/ and the curtains are torn/ and tomorrow they're tearing it down/ and just like a heart, it's falling apart/ it couldn't stand up if a hard wind blew/ and it's been through it all/ and there's cracks in the wall/ they may just as well take me down too.” - House On A Hill - Kasey Chambers.
None of the precious piety of the prima donnas and cloistered chaps for the former Nullarbor nymph.
And, of course, she is no product of reality TV with its fabricated fuehrers, fuelled by canned laughter, horrific hype and other tawdry tools.
The singer uses a derelict home metaphor to drive home the message of a broken heart in the pure country passion of House On The Hill .
“ House On A Hill is sort of my classic country moment on the record and it's one of those songs that just fell out,” Chambers explains in her track by track trek.
“I sat down and started writing from a very emotional place. It wasn't like I had wanted to write about this particular topic, it just kind of evolved on its own. I had always wanted my dad Bill Chambers to sing on this song - maybe it's because the classic country sound always makes me think of my dad. I just always had it in my sights that my dad would sing on that song - he can't say no because he's my dad and he can't charge me either, so we got him cheap.”
The singer exploits a clever time-line in her salient song sequencing.
Her entrée Oh Grace enables her to indulge in gender reversal like Octogenarian Shotgun Willie Nelson practiced on Used To Her on his 69 th album Band Of Brothers.
“ Oh Grace was written from a man's perspective and it's not something I'm really used to doing,” Kasey says.
“This was about creating a little character in my head and becoming that character, believing it when you write it and when you sing it. I feel like I stepped back in time a little bit to write Oh Grace . I was listening to a lot of old music my dad listened to like Hank Williams, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. I wrote a lot of this album on the banjo - and I don't play the banjo. All my life I've written most of my songs on guitar, but I'm a really limited guitarist and I was getting to that point where I felt like I was writing the same song over and over again because I only know so many chords. I started writing some songs on banjo, but because I only know a few banjo chords it gave me a new sound and a new headspace. I was playing this old-timey vibe and it turned into Oh Grace . I actually played banjo in the studio for this song as well, which is crazy to think I'd ever be allowed to play banjo on a record. It opens the record as I wanted to set this old-timey kind of mood to put everybody in that mode. I was going back to the roots of the music I was influenced by.”
Her fitting finale is the triumphant autobiographical survival anthem I'm Alive.
“It's really that song about those hard moments in life where you say, ‘At least I'm alive!'” Chambers recalled.
“I think everyone has those, although some people have harder times than others. I was listening to a lot of Dylan at the time of writing I'm Alive . My dad brought me up listening to a lot of Dylan and my mum was a big fan of Dylan as well. I remember my mum and dad telling me about the first time they met; they were introduced by my mum's cousin, who played a little bit in a band with my dad, and my dad's first question was ‘What's your favourite music?' Mum said, ‘Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash are my favourite songwriters' and my dad said, ‘I'm going to marry her one day'. Dylan has been a pretty big part of my life growing up and every now and then I get on a Dylan kick.”
THREE WISE SONGS
“Joseph was a carpenter/ one day he overheard Isaiah say there's gonna be a sign/ he stood up tall and took a breath/ in the town of Nazareth / I'll take care of this child like he's mine.” - Christmas Day - Kasey Chambers.
“He spends half the time at his dad's place and half the time at my place. His dad Cori and I get on famously and we rarely have any parenting problems, but there's one thing we've always disagreed on; I was brought up in a very religious, Seventh Day Adventist family, but Cori is an atheist.
“We've never really had any problems with that, but I did start thinking one day about whether it confused Talon. I asked him, ‘Mate, do you get a bit confused about whether you believe in God or not when you spend half the time at your dad's place and half the time at my place?'. He said, ‘No, not at all - when I'm at your place I believe in God and when I'm at Dad's place I don't'. That really got me thinking. That works in his head and he didn't have any problem with that, so who am I to tell him what he should or shouldn't believe? I wrote Is God Real ? inspired by that conversation and it's the song that holds the record together for me. I always feel each record has one song - and it's not always the strongest song or the single - that's the glue that holds the album together.”
Sin and faith, or lack of, also fuels Too Late To Save Me that segues into Christmas Day .
“I wrote Too Late To Save Me with Trent Crawford, who plays mandolin and is one of my best mates,” Chambers adds.
“One night we were hanging around having a few drinks and ended up writing this song. It's definitely not a song about me, it's a song about a prostitute. I can't say I have had a whole lot of experience in this area and it's definitely another character song where I had to put myself in this other place. I don't know how convincing I am in the song, but I guess that's for other people to figure out.”
Chambers may be a fan of seven times wed Texan and latter day New Yorker Steve Earle but her Christmas Day is not a direct descendant of Earle's oft recorded Nothing But A Child.
“I was brought up in a fairly religious family, but over the years I have become more spiritual than religious,” Chambers explains.
“I have faith in a lot of things but I still have the influence of the classic religion in my life. Christmas Day is one of the older songs on the record and I wrote it quite a few years ago. I was sitting down and going through that story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. It's a classic story and I was thinking about how romantic that story is. I'm not a romantic person at all - I think I am more romantic in song than in person.”
CRIME SHOW STALKER
“I could wear a locket around my neck/ with a drop of your blood in it/ and show all my friends if I had one/ I would stand outside your window/ peaking in while it was dark/ and the dogs down the street are howling.” - Stalker - Kasey Chambers.
“I had just had this marriage breakdown, I hadn't been single for a very long time and got to this point where I felt ready to have feelings for another person. It just happened to be a fictitious character from a TV show! Stalker is about me trying to be noticed by Spencer Reid. I never thought it would end up on an album - or that I'd actually have to tell this story. Now I'm regretting it somewhat! The stupidest story for the end.”
Chambers also shares songwriting as therapy with another Billy - Billy Joe Shaver.
“ I Would Do is like the desperate song on the record,” Chambers says.
“I always feel really desperate when I sing that song. It's one of my favourite songs on the record and it's a love song, but it's also one of those love songs where you have that desperation to want to make somebody else happy. I hate thinking of myself as ever being desperate, but I think we all have a little desperation in us. All of my insecurities come out in songs. A lot of my early songwriting was about personal therapy, where I'd sit down and write a song to get it out. I try to pretend I'm in control and strong and have everything covered, but then I write a song like I Would Do and sit back and think, ‘Oh God, I'm still a desperate mess after all'.”
Chambers adorns her sin and redemption homily in a fantasy cloak in Heaven Or Hell .
“Before we recorded the record there were a bunch of songs that I needed to have on the record, but I also had a few songs I wasn't quite sure would make the record,” she recalled.
“ Heaven Or Hell was just a maybe for me, but once we started playing and the band got on it, it took on a life of its own. Halfway through recording it became a definite and I just couldn't lose it. I'd written it on banjo, but once I handed the banjo to a professional and they actually played what was in my head, rather than what my hands were limited to, it came to life and I fell in love with it.”
“I waited out on your street between Maple and 83/ it wasn't really anything but Bittersweet/ waited out there all night long, digging my nails into my palms/ waited for a light to come on/ waited for your light to guide me home.” - Bittersweet - Kasey Chambers-Bernard Fanning.
“I think Bittersweet is my favourite track on the album and Bernard Fanning has a little bit to do with that,” Chambers says.
“I've been lucky enough to get to know him over the years and work with him on and off, but never quite this much. For this record he was a little like a musical director - he is very musically cluey and such a nice guy to be around. He was originally sort of hired as my rhythm guitar player, but I sort of felt bad about asking Bernard Fanning if he wanted to just play rhythm guitar. He was really keen to do it and he came and played a lot of the amazing keys on the record and also sang harmonies. About a week before we went into the studio I had all the songs I was going to record but then I sat down and wrote this song, Bittersweet .”
There's also a Biblical bent to the broken-hearted belle pleading to be buried under the apple tree in Hell Of A Way To Go .
Maybe it could be a dual purpose song as a plea for organ donors.
“ Hell Of A Way To Go turned out so different from what I thought it would,” Chambers explained.
“I brought in a song that was acoustic and then Nick and the musos had all these amazing ideas. It turned out so different to what I had in my head. Dan Kelly's classic guitar sound takes me straight back to the Paul Kelly & The Messengers days. It's just so great! As soon as the song started he started playing that guitar sound. Dan Kelly was amazing and Hell Of A Way To Go is a really good example of him tapping into something that only Dan Kelly could have tapped into. It just worked so well - I loved all Dan's quirky ideas. No guitar player I've ever worked with before has thought quite like Dan Kelly. He was just amazing, a lovely guy to be around and we had so much fun.”
“She's been a big part of the sound of my band over the last few years and we wrote Wheelbarrow together on tour. I had this song going around in my head and started writing the lyric and the melody. I knew I wanted this banjo riff on there, but being so limited on the banjo I knew that I wasn't going to be able to play what I heard in my head. I got Ash to come in and help me finish writing it, since she can often play what I'm hearing in my head. We'd been able to play that song a little bit live and it really clicked. In the studio Nick DiDia put his little spin on it and Dan Kelly came in and played these awesome guitars. Dan's guitars made the whole song for Ash and me - they were amazing.”
That's the singer's personalised history of her song sources - what does it sound like, you might ask?
Well, it's aural bliss if you prefer your country more organic than the pop pap force fed by the automatons.
Bittersweet is likely to add to her tally of 10 APRA Awards, 10 ARIA Awards, 20 Golden Guitars and nominations for two Americana Music Awards.