Sunshine Coast performer Chad Shuttleworth has just been announced as a finalist in the 2012 Toyota Star Maker, but he’s been a star in the making for a few years now. He’s done his time busking on Peel Street and attended the CMAA College of Country Music in Tamworth, so if anyone’s ready for the final on 22 January, it’s him. Chad – whom I described as having ‘cheeky charm’ in a 2008 post – gave me quite a bit of his time recently and we had a wide-ranging chat which will appear in several parts. The first is below.
I’ve only seen you play once, on Peel Street, in 2008, and I remember thinking, ‘This guy’s got something’, because you were really good at working the crowd – but not in a manipulative way. It looked like you were just enjoying yourself.
Yeah, I always do, and that’s one of my main keys of being onstage. If you don’t enjoy yourself, no one enjoys themselves.
Were you a kid who liked to get up and perform?
If you talk to my parents, yeah – they will confirm that I was the kid doing magic tricks; if there was a microphone I’d be grabbing it, and I’d be singing even if there were no backing tracks. I was always trying to obviously be the star. I don’t remember any of this, but I was told.
I guess you’re doing the right thing, then, aren’t you?
Yes! Exactly. It was kind of the right thing to do, absolutely. It was either this or, at one stage, my parents wanted me to be a lawyer! Well, no, they said, ‘Lawyer’s a good job, lots of money, and you can act and debate really well’, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know if that’s true’. [Laughs]
Well, it’s never too late, of course – if you change your mind about the whole country music caper.
Yeah, well, maybe – it’s still an option …
Did you do musicals and things like that in high school?
Yes, I did it all throughout high school. Have you ever heard of a thing called Seussical the Musical?
It’s Dr Seuss books put to music, and it’s the most colourful play you could ever watch. I did that at school and then that kind of spurred me on to do a lot more things. I was always in choir at school, but from that I moved towards musical theatre, and I was at a place called the Independent Theatre in Eumundi [on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast] for about two and a half years as a kind of trainee. Then that’s when the country music kind of kicked off. That was my passion, undoubtedly. And the rest is history, I guess.
As a teenager doing musicals did you find that you had a voice you could sing with, or did you have to work at it?
I would always say that I had the voice, but I think it evolves – it always evolves. I was a very high boy singer and then when my voice dropped it was sort of mid range. And now I’m what they class in classical music as a high baritone. So it kind of develops over time. That’s the thing about gigs. I think if you work hard – if you’re [singing] for four hours a night, three or four nights a week – you start really developing strength in your voice, and also being able to pick things, being able to play with stuff. So it’s a process.
A lot of people who don’t sing don’t realise the lengths a singer has to go to in order to protect their voice. Do you take certain measures – like, you don’t eat certain things?
It’s mostly been a trial-and-error kind of thing. Before gigs, or during gigs, I don’t ever eat potatoes. It’s really strange but potato – it must be the starch in it or something – dries my throat out and I start coughing. I heard that Carrie Underwood always has a shot of olive oil before she gets onstage. It’s kind of gross, when you think about it, but it allows your vocal cords to move a bit better, it loosens them up. I do a lot of warm-ups and stuff before gigs. But I don’t know … Milk. All that usual stuff. Milk’s probably not a good thing because you get all mucusy.
On the subject of drinking stuff before gigs, I remember reading an interview with Katie Noonan years ago in which she said she had a shot of cream sherry before gigs. So maybe you could try that – it would put you in a relaxed frame of mind, at least …
I’m always happy to try things at least once!
So just back to the subject of performing – it seems like you connect quite easily to the audience. Do you see that as part of your job – as in, it’s something that you have to maintain – or is it something that you just do naturally?
A lot of people would probably say it’s part of your job, but for me it’s always been something that’s just natural. My biggest thing as an entertainer is that I always want everyone else to have a good time. So if I’m even at a party – not working – I’d prefer for me to put my hand in my pocket and make sure that people who can’t afford it have a good time, because that to me means that when they have a good time, I have a great time. But when it comes to music, I want them to have a good time and the only way I best to do that is for me to give it 110 per cent and also enjoy it myself. One guy who was my manager at one stage said, ‘You can be 110 per cent but the audience may only ever be 90 per cent, so you’ve got to be 150 per cent for them to come up to your 110. You’ve got to be bigger than life and the most energetic person in the room for them to really lift up to what you’re doing, and you encourage them. Also, I think as Australians we’re pretty reserved, you know.
One of the great things about country music is that in rock music, say, a lot of people might be self-conscious about connecting to the audience but in country music I don’t think it’s necessarily expected, but everyone seems to be happy and having a good time – there’s not that self-consciousness that happens in inner-city pubs, I guess.
Yeah, exactly. I think the self-conscious thing is a big part of why I like playing country music – because, as you said, these people are out to have a good time. They’re not out to see someone who’s arrogant, they’re out there to see someone who’s enjoying themselves and from that they also enjoy themselves. And that’s a big thing about country music – the fact that we just know how to have a good time. That’s what a lot of the songs are about – only country people kind of know how to have a really great time. You don’t need much: a guitar, a campfire and a couple of beers, and that’s the night set out for you.
Part II of this multi-part interview will be published later in the week.
Chad’s website: www.chadshuttleworth.com