Interview: Katie O’Donnell (part II)

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This is the second part of an interview with talented new artist Katie O’Donnell. The first part is here.

For you to record this EP, was this a sense you wanting to document what you’ve been doing thus far or you just thought, you know, I want to take my music to more people than just who’s in Perth, for example.
I think it was something – it started out something that I wanted to do for myself.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could write songs that other people could relate to and other people would enjoy, and I wanted to be able, as an artist, to kind of stand up there and put my own thoughts out there and my own material out there and then, you know, obviously going through the process and the feedback that I had from people, I kind of felt that having created that , I owed it to myself then to put it out there and let people hear it and kind of let happen whatever is supposed to happen. So it was a bit of a scary process as well, not having done any songwriting before.  To put some of those lyrics and things like that out there, which obviously, you know, is really personal, but it was all part of the process and I’m still learning.
The songs are not just personal; they’re quite vulnerable. Even though ‘Fireproof’  sounds like it’s a really strong, tough song, the lyrics show that you’re quite vulnerable and so it is brave. Do you still feel a little bit exposed, now that you’re talking about these songs and probably playing them to more people?
 Yeah.  Definitely.  Every time I play it for someone and they listen, you’re kind of waiting and watching for the reaction because it is such a personal thing.  But it’s really refreshing for me; it’s so different from when you’re performing covers and I’m really loving that element of it as well.  But you’re right, when you start to talk about it, I guess, my naive point of view, I didn’t realise that people would actually be so interested in where did the song come from; what’s it about, you know, people have kind of been quite interested in the story behind a lot of it and I probably wasn’t quite as prepared for that as I should have been, but it’s really nice to know that people actually are looking deeper than just the melody and that initial sound.
I guess also for a lot of people, they find something in the songs that means something to them, and that’sone of the great powers of art – whether it’s songs or writing books – is that you can reassure people about their own lives.
Yeah.  And I think that’s why, like, some of the stuff I wrote – I’ve written a couple of songs about my Dad on there and he – he, you know, struggled with alcoholism – and that affected not just me, but my sister and my mum and his family, so you kind of feel cautious about putting that out there, not just for yourself but for them, because it’s not just my story, it’s their story. But at the same time I kind of thought, well, if we’ve gone through it, how many other people have gone through it? And it can only be a good thing to put that out there and probably more people can relate to it thanwhat you realise.
And by talking about it as well. Do you get the chance to play many gigs?  I know you work full time.
 I do work full time.  I do get the opportunity. I just had a little spot at the WA State Theatre on Friday night through Variety.  So through my work, which is Variety, The Children’s Charity, I get to perform at a lot of different corporate and community fundraising events, so I still get to do that and really try and actually build up more of the live gigs, hoping to get over to Tamworth and a few things like that as well, so I’m definitely trying to focus on that at the moment.
In the country music tradition – and you’ve probably seen this yourself when you go to gigs – there’s a lot of storytelling in between songs, like a lot of people say, well, this is the background to the song.  Do you think you’d feel comfortable talking about – particularly the songs that are about your dad that way, or would you rather just let the song speak for itself?
 I think it really just depends on the crowd.  I mean, when we launched it, we did do that and I was surprised at how comfortable I was talking about it; it probably helped that you’re amongst family and friends and some of your really loyal supporters.  The thing I found is when you’re off stage and you’re talking about it, I feel that that’s different to being on stage.  Once I’m kind of on stage and talking about it, I kind of slip into a slightly different mode and I find I’m actually okay singing about, you know, like the song about my dad passing away.  You know, to sing that at home in my bedroom or even in the recording process was a real struggle, but on stage it’s – somehow it’s a lot easier.  I can’t explain it, but I’m quite grateful for that.
You’ve probably reached that point where you’ve become a real performer, that you understand that the song that you’re performing at that time, belongs to the audience that’s there and that they’re with you and that they give you a bit of energy or a bit of a lift to get through it, but i it’s a different song each time, I guess.
Yes.  Yes.  Very true.
And just back on the point of you working full time – and this is something that a lot of artists when they’re starting out in particular, and often throughout their careers manage, this full time work, often songwriting and performing.  It’s not easy, you’ve got to be really devoted to your craft.
Yeah.  It’s really easy to not make time for your art as well, because obviously you’ve got to bring the money in to pay the bills, so it is kind of too easy sometimes to put away – dedicating the time to writing a song or rehearsing and that kind of stuff, but I think you get so much back from it, that’s where the real love lies, so you have to just make time and it’s about you reap what you sow, so you have to make it happen. 
Do you get much time to sleep or have a social life?
 Absolutely.  Socialising, definitely.  And who needs sleep?
Well, that’s right.  You’re young!
I have a really great employer in Variety and I’m very fortunate that with the background that, you know, the Variety Youth Choir; I then went on to work for Variety, so for me getting time off to do the shows, even if they’re during the daytime, to leave early or travelling, things like that, it’s never a problem for me.  I can just duck out and do what I need, so I’m probably a bit lucky there as well.
And you were a finalist for Young Australian of the Year at one stage?
 Last year.  Last year, yeah.
And was that for your work with Variety or something else?
Yeah, a little bit of everything.  For the Variety and singing in the choir and just general involvement in the community, I guess.  That was a bit of a surprise.  I think a few people got together and put that nomination in and I had no idea until it was all announced.

Part III of this interview will be published very soon.

Fireproof by Katie O’Donnell is out now.


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