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. She’s currently touring Australia and I spoke to her last week while she was taking a short break in Tasmania. You can catch her 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
Part I of this interview is available here. In this second part Audrey talks about running her own record company, her love of performing, and being brought up with music, amongst other things.
It seems when you were growing up, you obviously grew up in a household full of music but then you were involved in art and acting and you found your way back to music. Does it feel a little bit like that’s destiny? Like that was your predestined path because your parents raised you that way, or is it just that music’s what makes the most sense for you?
We were taught to really appreciate it and my dad and my stepdad both were weekend professional musicians, and in jazz bands, but it was never presented to me as an option as a profession. It was always for the enjoyment of it and it was only later in my life, I think, I started putting bands together, but I still had a day job and I guess so, because we were brought up to really appreciate music and listen to it and not just have it on in the background. It wasn’t until I kind of got with Bill Chambers that I made that step from doing it and having a job to just playing music full time, because that can be a difficult transition, I think, to go from giving up the security of a regular paycheque to living the wonderful life of a freelance person, whatever the job is.
It’s a huge step. You set up Reckless Records in the late ’90s and I’m wondering what it’s like to set up your own record company?
Well, I come from working in the film industry and from live action to animation, which is very organised. I mean, animation, basically, you’ve got a film broken down into frames, and you’ve got to organise millions of frames and scenes, and I used to run Animation Studio, so I learnt – I’m a very organised, efficient kind of a person and so it was – I thought, I’m going to apply that kind of professionalism to my music. And Bill had a great deal of experience with touring and dealing with fans and dealing with the media and he just had been doing that his whole life. So, it was easy – I learnt a lot from him and then I brought what I knew, as far as using the computer and communicating with people and doing publicity, and I really enjoyed all of that and we made the record, the Looking Back to See record. I learn with every release, there’s always new ways to do things and I still enjoy that whole process. So, here I am, like, ten albums later and change as the internet evolves, you know, we kind of learn different ways to do things and it’s a never-ending lesson.
So you’ve put out all those records as an independent artist?
I have, yeah. I’ve got distribution, I’ve usually had distribution in Australia and America and it’s great. I’ve got a couple of ARIA nominations, some Golden Guitar nominations, and it’s very satisfying to me to be self-funded, self-produced, self-released and to get that kind of acknowledgement from the industry.
It’s also fantastic from the point of view of just controlling your own destiny – I’ll use that word destiny again – but in that you own your own recordings and you own your own songs and I think a lot of musicians find that they have to hand over ownership of the recordings and the music publishing to other people, whereas it’s all yours.
I’ve had a publisher and I just – I guess, I know I’m ambitious, but I don’t have stars in my eyes, I don’t want to just hand over everything in the name of becoming famous, because it’s just a little simplistic and I think there’s a trade when you give your music to somebody else and hope that they throw a whole lot of money behind it. But that doesn’t always happen. It’s a beautiful dream [laughing] if it happens, but so many people I know sign with labels and just get really dissatisfied and end up grossly in debt. So, I guess I’m a little bit independent [laughing]. I think I kind of like to control what I’m doing but, with that being said, I do have good long-term relationships with various distributors because we work well together.
And so, for you, having these two sides of work, really – the creative side and the business side -and also you said you’re organised initially doing that, do you have an organised structure to your day? Do you get up and think, ‘This half is for business and this part’s for something else?’
No, no, not at all. No, I could never be that person. I totally submit to the muse. When a song is coming through, I just give over to that because that’s why I do everything else, and you can just get really spent by – it feels like a treadmill to me of booking tours, promoting tours, you know, that’s a lot of work, and I’ve learnt to kind of just do it a little less. You could do that until the cows come home and you end up using that part of your brain and not enough just playing music and writing and that creative part, so it kind of goes in cycles. You’ve got to put that time in at the computer so that you can be out there touring and playing shows. Writing and playing is what you do all the other stuff for, but I’m pretty good at it and I get enough offers coming in now where it’s pretty balanced and I feel very successful, I feel very happy with my life and I don’t feel like I’m wanting for a whole lot.
Which is fantastic. A lot of people never reach that point.
Yeah, it’s really good. I’m very lucky.
It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work to make that happen, it’s not by accident. You kind of put things in place and did them consistently so that you ended up there.
Yes. I think, once you’ve done something – what do they say? If you do something for 10 000 hours, you’re an expert, and I think I’ve done that, I think I’ve done more than 10 000 hours.
So do you really love performing?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s why you do all the other stuff. I learnt to sing because I wrote songs, and then I think it’s good for people to feel good. The entertainment that I enjoyed was sort of comedians, and June Carter was a big influence – I watched a lot of the old Grand Ole Opry TV shows in the ’50s and she’s just this beautiful woman but she’s just acting up like a real old ham. And Fred Eaglesmith is another big influence because he just makes people laugh; he said he realised that he was singing all these sad songs and he was kind of surrounded by sad people [laughing]. And I think that’s a valid point.
I think there was some research done – I heard this many years ago – that looked at different genres of music and kind of like the mental state or psychological state of people who listen to them and old-style country music – your Hank Williams-era country music – the people who listened to that were more depressed than people who listened to any other types of music [laughing]. And listening to a lot of it, I think, well, yeah, because a lot of it came out of the blues and it was miserable.
Yeah, yeah [laughing]. Well, I think there was humour then, but ‘Hey Good Lookin’’ and ‘Roley Poley’ and ‘Movin’ On Over’, they’re humorous songs and I love that about country music – there is quite a lot of humour, and some of the contemporary stuff, I feel it’s a bit precious. I don’t know if there is that much humour. There is a bit in the Nashville songs, I guess, but there was something raw in that old stuff that seemed more authentic, hey?
Well, then, speaking of humour, the Americans aren’t renowned for having great senses of humour, especially compared with Australians, so how do you find that your sense of humour translates there?
Actually, very well. It’s a good question – I think it’s funny because I come back here to Australia and I feel sometimes I don’t feel like my humour translates. Things that I can say in a show in America, people laugh and they get it, and here, I can just be met with silence. So, it was really off-putting at first – I thought, ‘Oh, I have to kind of set it up better. I have to set up the joke better here, maybe explain things a little bit more or something.’ There was definitely a difference between the American audiences and Australian audiences, with the humorous aspect.
I actually wonder whether it’s that Australians aren’t that used to interacting with performers and especially, I think, the country music scene here is still quite young and we don’t see a lot of it. So, if you’re a country music fan living in a city, for example, you don’t get to go to a lot of gigs, unless you’re going to Tamworth every year. And part of the country music genre, very much, is that conversational, joke-telling thing. When Dolly Parton when out a few months ago, I read this article in the paper that was complaining that she had talked so much and told so many jokes and I thought, ‘But that’s country music, that’s part of the deal.
Oh my god, who said that?
It was Andrew Hornery in the Sydney Morning Herald, who was saying, ‘Well, you know, she was telling all this down-home stories’, and I thought, ‘She played for three hours, for one thing, so it was great value for money, and also if that’s part of the deal, you’ve got to set up the songs, you tell the stories, you connect with people – that’s what the genre is.
It’s also just mainstream Australian media. They really need to kind of travel. They really need to get out and hear some stuff, because I just find they’re not that broadminded.
It’s true. Apparently the viewing numbers for the Country Music Channel on Foxtel, in cities, are large, so there are a lot of people who love country music and even if it’s that very stylised country rock, they’re still watching CMC, they’re aware of who’s out there, and if you watch CMC for any period of time, you’re going to be exposed to a lot of different music. But it’s kind of like this gap in cultural knowledge in the media, where every year, people go, ;Oh, Tamworth is on, everyone’s pretending that country music is cool’, and I always think, ‘It’s not cool, that’s one of the reasons why we love it.’ But it’s just this kind of, oh well, have a little poke at the country music animal and see if it bears its teeth.
Oh, it’s very strange here in Australia. It’s very off in its own little corner and there’s not a lot of integration with the rest of the music industry. I’ve always felt that and a lot of the people in the country industry, I don’t think want to be integrated, you know? I remember years ago, Meryl Gross wanted to move the CMA to Sydney and they were like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, we’ve got to keep it in Tamworth’, and I just don’t know if that’s the music so well, but in America, people are less concerned about – they’re not so concerned about genre, they kind of get the Americana thing, which is this term that covers a broad range of styles and really allows people to be an individual within. You know, roots music – they don’t really use the term ‘roots music’ in America, they tend to use ‘Americana’, which is kind of what I fit into because it covers country and folk and songwriter. I mean, it’s almost like ‘songwriter’ is a genre, which is kind of weird, but they kind of get that.
Audrey Auld’s latest album is Resurrection Moon. For more information on her music and shows, go to audreyauld.com