Today marks the first release from Australia’s Country music queen Kasey Chambers in four years. Titled Bittersweet the LP is the Mt Gambier local’s 10th studio album which features an all-star studded list of collaborators, from Bernard Fanning to Dan Kelly.
Chambers is particularly excited to announce her brother Nash Chambers has joined her in the studio not as her producer (the producing credits go to Nick Di Dia) but to provide backing vocals. To celebrate, she gave us a track by track run down behind the making of this LP Bittersweet.
“Oh Grace was written from a man’s perspective and it’s not something I’m really used to doing. 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 (laughs).
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 (laughs). 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.”
Is God Real?
“Is God Real? was inspired by my eldest son Talon, who is now 12. 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.”
“Wheelbarrow was written with my band member Ashleigh Dallas, who has been in my band for about four years. 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.”
I Would Do
“I Would Do is like the desperate song on the record. 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’.”
Hell Of A Way To Go
“Hell Of A Way To Go turned out so different from what I thought it would. 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.”
House On A 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. 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.”
“I never thought this song would end up on a record. I was watching a lot of Criminal Minds at the time and I’d get really engrossed – at night I’d ‘go to Hollywood’ for a little while to help them solve crimes. My favourite character in Criminal Minds is Spencer Reid, a nerdy doctor who is very intelligent but socially awkward. He finds it hard to hold a conversation, but there’s something so endearing about this guy that I developed a major crush on him!
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… ”
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. 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.”
Bittersweet (with Bernard Fanning)
I think Bittersweet is my favourite track on the album and Bernard Fanning has a little bit to do with that. 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.
Too Late To Save Me
“I take no credit for the big reverb on this song at all – it was Nick DiDia, who produced and mixed the record. I’d never worked with him before but clicked instantly as soon as I met him. We had such a great time in the studio and I have so much respect for him, not only as a producer but also as a beautiful person to work with. He sent through his first mix and I’d never heard my voice with that much reverb on it. I was like, ‘Wow, do people really want to hear that screechy voice then echoed? I don’t know if people want to hear that!’ I’m not used to hearing my voice like that, but part of this record was stepping outside my comfort zone and letting someone else have a little bit of control, so the reverb stayed.
I wrote Too Late To Save Me with Trent Crawford, who plays mandolin and is one of my best mates. 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. (laughs) 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…”
“I was brought up in a fairly religious family, but over the years I have become more spiritual than religious. 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.”
“It’s really that song about those hard moments in life where you say, ‘At least I’m alive!’. 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’. (laughs) Dylan has been a pretty big part of my life growing up and every now and then I get on a Dylan kick.”
Bittersweet is out now via Warner.