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 atMoonah 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 and part II here. In this part Audrey talks about living in the US and moving to Nashville, about Americana music and songwriting.
In front of me I have a quote by Fred Eaglesmith about you, where it’s saying you ‘hold a unique place in contemporary Americana/Roots music. I believe that this uniqueness is largely due to the fact that she is Australian. This affords her a totally different attitude as an artist than traditional American contributors to this genre.’ Given that Fred Eaglesmith is Canadian, I think that’s an interesting quote from him, but also I was wondering, you arrived in the US as an Australian, you are living in Nashville now – what do you feel your ‘different perspective’ is to that particular genre of music?
Yeah, I always think Australians and Europeans and non-American people see the American music more clearly and honestly because we don’t grow up with it. So, you come to it because you are truly attracted to it, not because you’ve been brought up with it and it’s just very familiar. So, I think we bring a freshness to the music, because a lot of Americans kind of get my songwriting, but they get it because they can see that I have a great respect for the tradition of American music and they understand the references that I think sometimes Australians don’t. I think it can tend towards the cabaret a little bit here and I tend towards the more hardcore.
[Laughs] I always think it must be so daunting, in a way, to arrive somewhere like Nashville and not really know anyone and have your guitar and have your songs behind you, and have your voice and try to make relationships and try to even get a gig. So, how do you go about that?
Well, I actually first landed in California and I went there in 2003 when I was married and I lived there for about three years in Northern California and discovered a community of people, radio promoters and fans who really dug acoustic music. There they sort of call it folk music, which means something very different in America to Australia. I’ve always perceived it as being big hairy men of Anglo origin, doing gigs – do you know what I mean?
[Laughs] I think that’s right.
Yeah. Well, you go to America and it’s contemporary and it’s diverse and it’s about acoustic music, it’s about telling stories, creating a connection with people through acoustic music. That’s more what folk music is – it’s less a genre. I mean, there’s obviously the people who love traditional folk, the Pete Seeger kind of thing. So when I got to California I was very welcomed and embraced into this community, musical community, like I had never experienced in Australia. I always felt on the fringes here and when I went there, they totally got what I was doing because they loved what I did. And they were saying, ‘You’ve got to work with Nina Gerber’, who’s this great guitar player who worked with Kate Wolf for many years. And they really helped me a lot and embraced me into that community, so it made me feel wonderful. I also realised that there are a lot of very talented people in America who were out there touring and they’re not going to become famous, but they’re making a good living out of touring and playing music, and I realised that I had to really pull my socks up and be the best that I could be. So, it was a good kind of kick up the bum to kind of be as good as I could be.
And so, when I got to Nashville three years later, I did actually know quite a few people there prior to going to Nashville, and I’d played there even before I moved to America – I’d played in Nashville a few times. And so I’m very comfortable with what I do and I’ve had songs recorded and sung on the Opry, so I didn’t go there as a complete novice, and I saw, too, that I was just going to take it slowly. We’d bought a house and I could see there were a lot of people who kind of rush in and they want it all to happen immediately, and then they get dejected and disappointed and they slag off Nashville and they move out. And I could see that there’s no rush here: we’ve bought a house, we’re going to stay here, I’m going to take this slowly, I’m going to be open and learn about the commercial country music scene. I went and met with publishers and I did some courses where you learn about what they’re looking for in country songs.
I know my songs are good because people come and hear my shows and they tell me – they respond and they want to buy them. So, I’m not a commercial country songwriter in the Nashville vein. I really want to have those moments like when you get to write ‘Last Seen in Gainesville’, but I’m not going to mess with that. When I say that to a publisher, he’s like, ‘Oh, it’s a bit long’. So that’s fair enough. I mean, they’re very clear about what they want and what they don’t want, and recently I’ve been playing in Nashville because it’s a great place for touring – it’s very central, geographically – instead of doing my five-week tours from California to the rest of America, which is kind of a lot like living in Western Australia and touring Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland. I guess it’s like living in Sydney now, when you can do shorter runs to a lot more places in America, and it’s just filled with musicians. So it’s fantastic, we have the best jam sessions and I’ve met a lot of female musicians – Anne McCue [who sings on the new song ‘Resurrection Moon’] – and it’s been great creatively, very inspiring, even though it’s known for that commercial country stuff, but there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on that’s just fabulous, that’s not country.
When I talk to people about Tamworth I say, ‘Look, it’s not just country music, there’s a whole lot of incredible music going on, it’s just that country music seems to attract really great musicians and, of course, because they’re great musicians, they’re interested in music full stop. It doesn’t matter what the genre is.
So I imagine Nashville is the same.
Oh, yes. I mean, it’s incredible. One of my favourites is Kenny Vaughan, who plays with Marty Stuart’s band and is a wonderful country guitar player, but he could just as easily play jazz, pop, rockabilly. And you go down Broadway and you’ll see him just sitting in with a band on Broadway because he just wants to keep his [skills] up while he’s not on the road and [it’s] just very, very inspiring. People around you, working in the same industry as you and with all their different stories of success and helping each other out, and it’s really cool.
For you as a songwriter, does it feel strange when other people record your songs?
It feels wonderful [laughs]. It’s a great compliment.
So it doesn’t feel like you’ve sent your child off to stay at someone else’s house for a year?
[Laughs] it’s always wonderful to hear how they do it and how they make it their own. One of the greatest achievements or compliments of my life is that a man called Dale Jett, who is the grandson of Sarah and A P Carter, he played one of my songs – it’s called ‘Down in a Hole – he played that in his live show. I’ve heard him do it at a festival with his trio. One time in a show he heard me sing ‘Orphan Song’, which is a Mark Attalla song and right away he was like, ‘I’ve got to have the lyrics’, and he and his band have become friends and they’re very supportive. And that he’s a descendant of the Carter Family, who I completely [laughing] just kneel down to, it’s just wonderful. That means so much more to me than some big Nashville country star doing my song [laughs].
Just to go back to something you said a few minutes ago – you talked about learning how to sing. Your voice sounds very relaxed, as if it’s something quite instinctual for you to sing.
Oh, thank you.
But did you learn, like did you go to lessons to learn how to sing?
Oh, a long time ago. Yeah, I did. Because we all grew up singing, doing the dishes and in the car, travelling as a family. I’ve got three siblings and we just didn’t think about it, we just sang. But when I came to actually getting up on stage and singing, I realised that it’s an instrument and there are things to learn – just technical things. It’s about teeth, tongue and lips. And I had a wonderful teacher called Bob Tasman-Smith, who actually taught Deborah Conway, and he was incredible, just a very practical teacher, and it changed me because I learnt well from him, and it takes you a long time to find your voice. I had in my mind that I could get there, but it takes you time to just get there actually. You hear in your mind how you want to be, but there’s also a lot to undo. I mean, I love Patsy Cline, but I’m not Patsy Cline and I’m not going to sound like her. So you’ve got to let go of all of those influences of people that you’ve copied. You’ve got to undo all of that to kind of find your own voice and I really love singing now, and all that judgment that I used to have about myself is gone, because I’m enjoying what I do and I like what I sound like. And if I’ve got a cold or a rough throat from tiredness, I don’t worry about it, I just kind of go with it and I think well, if Bob Dylan can do it, I can [laughs].
I guess it’s also part of the story on the night. If you’ve got a cold, then that’s part of the story of whatever songs you’re singing.
Yes. Absolutely. I mean, you’ve just got to be who you are, yeah.
And you’re in a genre where you could have this career for another 50 years if you want to, because it’s not a career that – particularly, I think, for women – turns around and says, ‘You’re too old and you’re gone.’ So I think it’s very supportive that way. So, you can have a cold for the next 50 years and still sing.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s cool though. I look at that in people like Emmylou and Buddy Miller and Lucinda [Williams] and, you know, they’re just more revered as they age, and I like that about the country and the Americana and the folk scene – I mean, I love getting older and I think your writing matures, your voice matures and you just become more comfortable with who you are.
And you wrote a song about it, called ‘Forty’.
Yeah. That’ll keep me young forever. [laughs]
The delightful and wonderfully talented Audrey Auld can be found online at audreyauld.com. At her Katoomba show she’ll be playing with recent Jolene interviewee Glen Hannah.