One Sunday afternoon not too long ago I was in a bar in Crows Nest, on Sydney’s lower north shore. It was fairly crowded, and a young woman with a guitar was about to start playing and singing (the microphone suggested that singing would occur). It would have taken quite a bit to penetrate through the loud hum of people talking and laughing. She didn’t seem at all worried about that though. And once she started singing, I wasn’t the only one paying attention.

Some cursory investigations revealed that her name was Anna Weatherup and that she was, in fact, experienced in the ways of country music. Not only that, she had one of those voices that one couldn’t help but notice and listen to with wonder. I approached Anna and asked if I could interview her for the blog, and this is the first part of a later phone conversation. It turns out Anna has been singing professionally for quite a while, and cut her teeth on the country music festival circuit at a young age.

It says on your website Brisbane singer/songwriter. But I know that’s not true any more …

I’ll have to update that [laughs].

So you can start as far back as you like and please tell us about where you come from and what your musical background is.

Okay. I’m from north Queensland originally, from Townsville. Hence why I’ve got a bit of that country influence. It’s definitely there. So I grew up singing – actually I grew up singing in church, first of all, that’s where I started singing every week and then my dad starting taking me around to the country music festivals.

How old were you at that stage?

I was probably about fifteen or sixteen, I’d say. And we went to the Charters Towers, a few of the local festivals around there. I won a few awards. I picked up a couple of awards in the festivals. And then I moved to Brisbane. So I just kept on singing through the years. I started singing professionally in Townsville when I was probably about twenty, twenty-one. And then I moved to Brisbane in 2005 and just kept singing professionally in Brisbane.

So when you say singing professionally, do you mean as in just gigs around the place or singing at events, singing at weddings, things like that?

Both, yeah, a bit of everything. I’ve done a couple of major supports for a few artists. For Colin Hay and Marcia Hines and what’s his name from bloody Men at Work – James Reyne. I think he’s Men at Work. Is he Men at Work?

Australian Crawl.

That’s it! Aussie Crawl. So I’ve done some major supports. I’ve done plenty of weddings. But I just played full time in doing those kinds of things and in pubs as well. So just playing gigs and then a bit of everything else came along with it. I also did a few original – I did some CD launches over the years as well and a couple of albums.

It’s pretty amazing to have a career as a professional singer, I think. I don’t know that there are many people who do it.

Yeah, thank you. Well it’s a hard slog. It becomes work a little bit. It can become tedious if you don’t get out and change your repertoire and constantly update what you’re doing and stay fresh. And that’s the really hard part, keeping it fun. But it has been fun. I’m just now slowly – I moved to Sydney a year and a half ago when I met my now fiancé, Tim. And I just started to get back into gigging just recently in the last couple of months after having about twelve months off.

So you took twelve months off because you were moving and later life things?

Yes, change of lifestyle and just – I was a bit worn out. When I left Brisbane I was definitely burnt out a bit in terms of things. I worked pretty hard up there for a few years, so I just wanted a bit of a break. And when I got here I just sussed the place out. I’m working in a little coffee shop in Chatswood and I’ve met a fair few people working there and it’s been nice just to have a bit of time out and not be totally focused on music all the time. And then you start to miss it and then you go back for the next leg.

So you’re enjoying gigging again?

Yeah, I am. I’ve chosen the right venues too, I think. Small Bar, where we met, that’s just a beautiful venue to play. And then I do little gigs out at Luna Park. So that’s really nice as well. Just really little more intimate, not so late nights and rowdy crowds. I’m choosing more of the singer/songwriter venues.

Better for your voice, I would think, to not be in a rowdy club where you’ve got to keep raising your volume to sing over the top of everyone.

Definitely. Absolutely. And it’s a little bit more of a music-appreciative crowd as well. Although I have had some good nights at pubs and stuff; people are really fun. I just don’t like the late nights too much these days. I’m getting a bit older and [laughs] definitely – I’m definitely not into clubbing any more. It’s not my thing. I don’t really like being there entertaining them either [laughs] unfortunately.

[Laughs] I thought your set list on Sunday was just … every song you I thought, ‘She’s really judged this well’. The selection of songs you had, it was just that right balance of really good female singer/songwriter things with the odd curve ball thrown in but mainly I thought some of it was a bit older and a really good collection for that demographic.

I try and … I guess it’s something you’ve got to try to learn to do, read a crowd. It’s very important. But I enjoy singing those songs and I probably grew up listening to them as well, bar a few. There’s some real oldies that I enjoy singing as well. But that’s stuff that I’d probably like to hear if I went out. Not this stuff, I don’t really do a lot of the later stuff because I don’t really listen to it. I’ll learn it if people really want it.

Like Lady Gaga?

I wonder, actually. I haven’t a request to learn any of her stuff. I could probably give it a go, you could probably come up with some real quirky covers [laughs]. I’m thinking more Adele. I tried to learn some Adele once but they’re big songs. You’d have to be in a really – I think you’d have to be in a pub to belt out one of her songs. I don’t know but you’d really have to build the club up to do an Adele song.

And they’re songs with big instrumentation behind them as well.

That’s right, yeah. Big, big voice [laughs]. Especially with a guitar.

You’ve got a big voice but it’s more that her songs are the event of the instruments and the voice.

Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Totally.

So when you were playing country music festivals as a teenager, was it actually a genre that, at the time, you really loved and you thought, ‘Oh great, I’m playing all this country music.’ Or was it just that that’s where you played?

A bit of both. I can’t say that I was into all the old balladry stuff that we’d have to sing sometimes. But I listened to Shania Twain a fair bit when I was growing up. And I listened to a bit of Gina Jeffreys; a lot of Gina Jeffreys actually. So, yeah, some of it I really enjoyed singing and it was music that I listened to at that age. And then grunge found me [laughs]. And that changed everything. Or I found grunge [laughs]. So, yeah, I did – and I still, actually, enjoy – I loved the Dixie Chicks. I find now that I don’t really enjoy listening to rock much any more. I really love chucking on a country album. So I’d say that would be the music I listen to most of all. It’s just really beautiful. It reminds me that I’m Australian. It just resonates with me a lot.

And for you, as a singer, do you still listen to other singers out of interest. Not necessarily to copy them but just for technique purposes?

Not as much. I don’t really listen to a lot of music now. I don’t know why. Occasionally, if someone recommends someone I’ll go check them out, just to say I’ve had a listen, and sometimes I do. If I do go see a live show I’m definitely taking in inspiration and taking notes. Not out of judgement but out of ‘I’d like to do that’. The only time I listen to music is when I’m in the car and normally I just flog the same old CDs that I’ve been flogging for ages [laughs]. I revisit the 90s a lot [laughs].

[Laughs] Well, it was a good decade.

I love the ’90s music. I just – I love it. Just can’t get over it.

What, in particular?

Tim got me into Toto, so now I’m going through the Toto stage. Hilarious, hey. I just can’t listen to music. It’s really bad. I used to, growing up: Michael Jackson, Prince; I loved those guys. They were a huge inspiration. I used to listen to him and go, ‘I want to be Michael Jackson when I get older’. But then I watched This is It and saw how much work he actually really puts into his career and thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I can do that’ [laughs].

It’s an obsession, I think, a career like that.

Absolute obsession. Yeah. He’s not just a singer/songwriter. He is obsessed and I don’t actually know I’m that obsessed with music [laughs]. And I love music and I love writing when I can plunge out a song, but I’m not obsessed with it. Not much any more, anyway. I used to be a little bit more, I think. I was really driven to be famous and make millions of dollars. Now I still love music and I really want to write quality music but I’m probably not as hard-driven to be famous and be a millionaire [laughs] as much as I used to be.

There’s a price to pay for – if you want to be famous you have to sacrifice something else because that’s just the way the universe works.

Absolutely, absolutely. They do, they sacrifice their lives to a certain degree. They flog it hard. And I enjoy other aspects of life too. I’m actually not that obsessed with music. I enjoy it but I don’t live and breathe it like those guys do. Sometimes that worries me a bit but —

What, in terms of into the future, whether you’re obsessed enough to keep it going?

I think I will always have the drive to want to be a singer. I have had that drive since I was a little girl and since I can remember. I remember wanting to be a singer. But I also have other passions in life, too, that pop up. Music’s always been there and I think will always be there. But I don’t know if I’d put it in front of having a family, for instance, or other things in life that happen. Not saying that people who are famous don’t have all that stuff because they do. But, I don’t know, I’m unsure of my future with music at the moment. I’m in a funny place. Because I’ve been doing it – I’ve been trying so hard and have been in that obsessed state, so it’s always about CDs and writing new albums and getting people to gigs and just totally consumed by it all, and this is the first time in ten or fifteen years that I’ve actually just taken a step back and gone, I’m just going to actually live life for a little bit and enjoy it. See if I can write some more songs and just see where it takes me. I’m actually stepping back a little bit and letting go. Which is the first time I’ve done it and it’s actually quite a nice feeling because I really – it has consumed me and, yeah, just driven me so far all the years and now I’m going, ‘Oh, I still want to be a singer but I don’t know if I’m going to spend my whole life – I think I might actually get a degree like my mother said to in the first place’.

Yeah, right [laughs].

‘You should get something else to fall back on.’ Not to say that I’m not passionate about music or I don’t think I can make it, but I just wouldn’t mind still take a little bit of a breather and seeing where it takes me rather than just being all-consuming, I suppose.

By stepping back a bit you probably create a bit of a vacuum for things to come in. I think that often happens when people clutch on too tightly.

Definitely, definitely. I think I have to, yep. And they say normally when you let go is when it happens and I’m certainly not – that’s just a saying, it may not be true, but it may happen when I can just let go and maybe find some other passions that I have in life. And I’ll still probably play gigs. I’ll definitely still pick up the guitar and try to write music. But I’m not … I don’t know. With the whole social media thing, too, I jumped on that bandwagon for about five years and just sitting in front of the computer trying to flog myself out into the world and flog my music for a while and it just – you go, ‘Wow, what happened to the last five years of my life? I’ve been sitting in front of the computer and I haven’t really lived.’

It’s a lot of extra work, too, I think, for musicians and it’s not necessarily what you’re all good at. What you’re good at is playing music and entertaining.

That’s right, that’s right.

And you’ve now got to do the promotional work that a record company traditionally does.

That’s right. That’s why I need a manager or something [laughs] or a management company, yeah, or a record label to do it.

Part II of this interview will be published very soon.