Interview: Kelly Menhennett (part III)

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This is the third and final part of my interview with 2012 Telstra Road to Discovery winner Kelly Menhennett, whose beautiful voice stopped me in my tracks on Tamworth’s Peel Street earlier this year. Kelly comes from a musical family and then became a winemaker before giving her own musical dreams a shot – so far it’s paying off!

You can read the previous parts of the interview here.


So for you, this must be an interesting time in your life – I think you’re still living in the country, in South Australia, or rural areas and possibly this year, everything will change to a great extent but are you thinking that you might be having to move to a city, or Melbourne or Sydney or overseas? That must be quite a big change to contemplate.
Yeah, well, actually in the last twelve or so months I’ve been spending more time in Adelaide and that’s been a bit of a transition and I grew up on 50 acres of land and so to come to Adelaide where you’re surrounded by neighbours [laughs] all around has been a bit odd. Yeah, I’ve got to remember that I can’t just walk out to the clothesline in my undies [laughs] and things like that. But it’s been great for the opportunity with my music in the sense that I’ve become a little bit more of a part of a community of musicians here and I have a bit of a support network now, even in Adelaide, but to get things moving even further, there probably is a lot more opportunity in Melbourne or Sydney, I’d imagine. And I’m quite ready to make the move. It’d be a transition but I’d be quite happy to experience it for the sake of making my music go forward, that’s for sure.


And you can always go home when you need to.
Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t take that long to fly from Adelaide to Melbourne, you can be there in a couple of hours – or Sydney – it’s fine.


Well, given that you drove from Tamworth to Adelaide, I would think that any amount of time flying would seem like nothing.
That was ridiculous, that drive! My goodness, that Hay Plain is so boring.


What path did you take? Do you bypass Melbourne?
On the way there I drove from Adelaide through the Mallee – so Lameroo, Pinnaroo, there’s those towns – and then up to Hay and they across the West Wyalong, Parkes, had a gig in Mudgee at a lovely brewery there –


Oh, great.
Yeah, it was really nice. And then, Tamworth – that was on the way up, and then on the way home essentially the same but after Hay went to Mildura and then the river land to Barmah, where my family are. Have a few celebratory beverages with my dad and mum.


Speaking of beverages, it would be remiss of me not to ask you about being a winemaker. Do you still do any of that, or that’s gone for the time being?
Well, it’s funny you ask, because on Monday, so the day before the [Telstra RTD] final, my old workplace offered me a job as a winemaker for the harvest. And I was half contemplating it, but I told them, ‘You know, I’d like to see what happens with this competition but there’s a fair chance that I won’t get through, so it might be a possibility to earn a few dollars and try and help support my music’ – becauseit’s been quite a challenge trying to balance it all. But now I’m going to just watch my dollars a bit more, maybe pull a few beers and support myself that way and try and really focus on my writing and make the most of this 12 months. But. Yeah. I do miss that.


If you find yourself in Sydney a lot, there are vineyards in the southern highlands which are quite close to Sydney, they’re an hour on the freeway.
Actually, I drove through them. When I did a little solo New South Wales tour last year and I drove from – where would I have driven from? – I think from Canberra to Wollongong and I think I passed through the southern highlands. There’s some lovely little green places in that area.


There certainly are, and close to Sydney – lots of people commute, that’s all I’m saying. [Laughs]
I could well do that, that would probably be a good – yeah, that’d be great. See, in Adelaide there’s a few wine regions around, which is also possible for me to do both, but yeah, like we were saying, there’s probably a lot more opportunity to be in – to be based in Sydney or Melbourne than, yeah. Seems like the next thing for me to do.


The good thing is, this will be a year of change anyway, so it sounds like you’re prepared to go with the flow.
I am, yeah. [Laughs]. I certainly am. I think too, having developed a bit of an audience here in Adelaide I am ready for that next step, so otherwise I’d just become stale, I think – you become a bit stuck in a bit of a vicious cycle, I think, if you don’t force yourself out of your comfort zone.


Also, I guess Adelaide’s relatively small, there’s only a certain number of venues and it would become increasingly difficult to get gigs there if you’ve played a certain number of times, all that kind of thing.
That’s so true. Yeah, it is, definitely.


Whereas Sydney and Melbourne have multiple venues and Sydney’s now got quite a few jazz-folk venues – as in, venues where the volume is not turned up to 11, so it’s getting quite civilised. But, before I forget to mention it, someone who judged the Road to Discovery was Karl Broadie and I think you should look him up for co-writing. He’s a very good songwriter and – you just never know.
Definitely. I met Karl through it all and it was one thing that people who introduced him always said, how he’s a beautiful writer.


He really is, and he’s done a bit of co-writing, he co-wrote a song with Felicity Urquhart for her last album. So there’s all sorts of interesting people you’re going to meet.
There are, there are. And I think the whole co-writing thing will bring out parts of you that you didn’t know. Like, you’d be probably writing in a different style and all of that experience might bring out different things in your songs. I’m really looking forward to it.


It sounds like it! I’m going to ask you one more question, because I’ve had you talking for a while and there’s a softball match on. Did you ever sing to the grapes?
The grapes? Oh. I probably did, you know. [Laughs]. I used to sit in the – oh, when we were kids and we were – it was all hand picking, and we were supposed to be picking grapes, we used to pick under these hessian bags and once you’d picked the bag, you’d drag it out into the middle of the row and then the tractor would come along with a bin on the front of it and two people would pick up each end of the bag and toss the grapes in. That’s how we’d do it with the hand picking and, well, my whole time pretty much was just spent underneath the row sitting on the hessian mats with our big German Shepherd – Caesar, his name was – and we used to eat grapes and probably I’d talk to him and maybe sing to him and the grapes then, so yeah, it probably did happen.


I just think if you’re making wine and you’re singing to the grapes, they probably like it. It’s like talking to plants.
Well, that’s right. I know when I would be working, I did a couple of vintages in Spain and I did some busking and everything, and while I was over there I worked in a couple of beautiful wineries, and yeah, we would sing in the cellar to pass the time, that would help with the wine. Surely.


If you think about the vibrations of the voice and if singing is so good for humans to do, for human health, it’s got to be good for plants. [Laughs].
I think so too. I reckon it’d create a happy ferment, all the yeast in the wine would be thinking, ‘Oh, that’s lovely’. [Laughs].


Oh, so when you’ve decided that you’ve had enough of life on the road and in a few years time when you’re thinking, ‘What will I do next?’ you could do a PhD on whether singing makes better wine.
I should do that. I could definitely do that one. [Laughs]. That was hilarious. That’s a good idea, actually.


I wouldn’t mind betting that if someone’s paying loving attention to the grapes while they’re fermenting or being picked, it’s going to make a difference.
And then do a blind tasting of it with some good wine tasters and see if they can taste the delicious sung-to wine.


Absolutely. [Laughs]. So, I’m going to leave you with that idea, Kelly, so you can put it in your brain for 20 years’ time.
I’m going to be assessing every bottle now, thinking, ‘I wonder if they sang to these grapes?’ [Laughs].


Well, thank you so much for giving me so much of your time and I hope the softball goes well.
Thanks, Sophie, and thanks for your call too, that’s great. A lovely chat.


To find out what Telstra RTD winners get up to in the weeks after the ceremony, read the second part of Kelly’s interview. Hint: she’s going to Nashville!



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