Audrey Auld is a native Tasmanian now resident in Nashville, a country/folk/Americana artist who writes and performs songs that tear apart the fabric of daily life to reveal what’s beautiful, mysterious, profound and sometimes just plain funny. Audrey’s career has spanned several albums and many cities on tour. She’s currently touring Australia and I spoke to her last week while she was taking a short break in Tasmania. If you aren’t already a fan, I’m sure you will be after you find out what a fascinating, creative woman she is.
It sounds like you’re taking a few days out of touring to have a bit of a rest.
Yeah. I’ve had a busy couple of weeks and just came down to Tassie. I’ve got a week with my mum and then a weekend of gigs in Melbourne and then I go back down to Tassie for a week with my dad and a Hobart show and then wind up in Katoomba and then home.
Since we’re talking about Tasmania, I don’t know much about music venues in Hobart or anything like that, so where does a country music player perform in Hobart?
Well, I play at the Moonah Arts Centre. I played there last year and it’s run by a man that used to be my art teacher in matric and he’s just been a lifelong friend and he runs this arts centre, so it’s great. It’s like a listening concert room which is the kind of shows that I do.
And is this the guy who gave you a mixed tape of country music songs?
Yes, it is, actually – Sean Kelly. It’s Texas songwriters and Dwight, Bob Wills, John Prine, Jimmie Dale Gilmore; it was a really diverse mix of stuff and that was my first sort of introduction to country music in my early twenties.
I was reading in your bio that it was while you were travelling around Australia, I think, that you thought to pull out the mixed tape, but I was just really impressed that you still had the tape.
Yes, I do, I know. That’s why it’s a treasure.
It’s probably a very good collection that someone should put together and publish or something, I don’t know.
Yeah, it’s good idea. He’s just a real music fan and it’s nice that we know each other after all these years and now he gets to host me at his concert, so it’s pretty cool.
John Prine – I know Shane Nicholson and a few other Australian country singer/songwriters really admire him, but he’s not very well known, so it must have seemed like a lot of those songs were just kind of coming out of nowhere, or out of the ether even?
Yeah, for me it totally was, ’cause I just grew up with jazz music and classical music and so to hear stuff that had a real poetic bent and a depth to the lyrics and quite emotional and stories, plus then Patsy Cline and Bob Wills have a definite jazz influence, Dwight Yoakam, so it was kind of quite diverse and it really led me to listen to the Carter Family and Jimmy Rodgers and Loretta Lynn and I really – it kind of peaked my interest and wanted to delve into the history of the music and where it originated from.
So when you finally delved into Australian country music, who were you listening to?
Well, as I kind of lived in the Outback and a lot of the stations in the Outback had quite extensive Slim Dusty collections, and it wasn’t until I met Bill Chambers that I learnt about Tex Morton and Buddy Williams, Rick and Thel, and I got to meet Rick and we recorded a song together eventually.
It seems to me that you’re very much in that traditional storytelling vein of country music, not that you play like traditional music like Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell’s kind of music, but just acknowledging, as you’ve mentioned, that the genre is a storytelling genre primarily. So, how do you collect stories for your songs? Because one of my favourite songs of yours is ‘Last Seen in Gainesville’, which kind of makes me want to cry every time I hear it, and it’s clearly someone else’s story, but you sing it like it’s your own.
That song is amazing. I mean, that song came from – I stopped at a roadhouse in Texas to get some gas and I always like to go in and have a look around at all the American cultural stuff that’s in truck stops over there – it’s always fascinating – and as I was leaving I saw a poster on the wall near the entrance that said, Missing Person – last seen in Gainesville, with a couple of photos of a woman. And you always stop and think when you see those missing person posters, you wonder what happened and if they were found, or you never know the outcome of that story. And so I set off up the highway and I had quite a long drive ahead of me, and – as sometimes happens when it’s a good day – a song comes through from somewhere else and you really are just a vessel for it, and it’s not a song that I made up, it’s very much a song that I channelled from somewhere else and it was almost like it was tapping me on the shoulder, just really wanting to be written, and it was very strange and mysterious to me. I didn’t sing it to anyone for a long time, because I just didn’t know whose voice that was or what it was about. It was really a mystery to me and I think it really moves people, I mean, it’s a very touching song and I think it’s about consequences, the consequences of your behaviour, of the person who’s missing – I mean, did she leave or was she abducted? The consequences, the behaviour of the person that’s left behind and he’s looking at what he did and didn’t do and what he might have done differently and yeah, it’s quite a deep song really [laughs].
Even though the narrator of the song is ostensibly the man who’s left behind, to me it kind of sounds like it’s her song that she’s actually singing that through – singing the consequences through. If that makes sense?
Yeah, yeah. I never thought of that.
Well, when you say you don’t know where the song’s come from and I always think that that’s when people are truly plugged into their creativity, they do pluck things from the ether. And it kind of seems a bit like it was her saying ‘Tell my story’.
Right, right, you’re absolutely right. Yes, yes, yes. Mmm hmm.
That’s why I think that’s when those songs give you chills – because that song does give me chills every time I listen to it – and I just think, ‘Ooh, it’s coming from somewhere else’.
Yeah, yeah, you’re right now. You’ve given me something to think about. ’cause it is – you’re absolutely right, it’s her, yeah.
And it’s not just because it’s a woman singing it, it’s not because it’s your voice, obviously. You make a very convincing narrator for other people’s stories, so it’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s a woman’s voice therefore it has to be a woman’s story’. It’s just – that was my impression. But, in writing about – getting inspiration from those sorts of sources – do you think that a lot of your songwriting is about kind of trying to understand what it’s like to be human or how to make your way in the world as a decent human being?
Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, that’s very well put. I think, especially since I moved to America, I mean, I kind of fell in love and got married and found just beautiful happiness with this wonderful man and I’ve shifted hemispheres, so my whole life changed and so your perspective as a writer can’t help but change, because where once – my earlier albums – I was writing about matters of my heart and my wretched life, and then as I got happy, I was like, well, I don’t really need to kind of be writing about that all the time, and here I am in America, which is a very kind of political entity in the world and in America you’re much more aware of what’s going on politically, globally, and people talk about it and have opinions and you’re sort of faced with, ‘Well, what do I think about this and how do we all cope with all this stuff that’s going on and try to remain happy and helpful [laughing] to each other in the face of a lot of tragedy and adversity and hardship and all of that stuff that the media shove down your throat’. We’re all trying to cope and deal with it and process it and remain positive.
That’s one of the great roles of art, to help people be human or help people make their way through being a human and understand how to live a good life. And not just be decent, but also have fun. A lot of art, whether it’s music or painting or whatever, unlocks that for people, even if they don’t really understand what’s going on.
Yeah, that’s true, and I think that’s right. I think, as a writer, I do try to find the universal human experience and the expression of that. and I know that I can sing a song or write a song and people come and say, ‘Yep, that’s me’, or ‘Yep, I get that’, or they really respond to certain songs because they don’t particularly have that means of expression. For sure, like you see a painting and it speaks to you, you want to have it in your home. Same thing – it’s helping you make sense of everything.
Part II of this interview will be published tomorrow.
Audrey Auld is playing at Moonah Arts Centre in Hobart on Saturday 31 March and the Clarendon in Katoomba (NSW) on Sunday 1 April. For details go to audreyauld.com
I like what Sophie says as much as what Audrey says.