Interview: Adam Brand

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Adam Brand is one of the most recognisable names in Australian country music, and with good reason: he keeps delivering great music and great shows, all done with a smile and a heart as wide open as the Nullarbor plain he once traversed from his home state of Western Australia to pursue his dreams on the east coast. Adam has a brand new album, My Side of the Street, and a tour to go with it. Recently I spoke to him about both.

What’s on your side of the street, Adam Brand?
Well, you know what – it might not be the flashest, it might not be the sunniest or might not even be the most fashionable, but it’s my side, dammit, and that’s okay with me! I guess that’s indicative of how I feel right now – the journey takes you a whole bunch of different places throughout your life and I’ve arrived at a place where I feel fairly comfortable in my own skin and on my side of the street.
And you are absolutely entitled to feel that way. This is your tenth studio album and – not to put pressure on you – you have five gold albums and three platinum albums, and you have an established following, you play every year in Tamworth to big crowds, you tour around the country, so it must feel as if you can look at this stage of your career and think, Great, I’ve done a lot of hard work and I can invite people to my side of the street but I can also do a bit of what I want to do.
I think when you release music, a lot of times you can second-guess yourself and there’s pressure from outside parties – ‘It’s got to be this successful, it’s got to do that because you did this last time’ and all that kind of stuff. And I really feel that I didn’t want to give in to any of that pressure or even to take any of that pressure on board because at the end of the day you’ve got to feel very happy and comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing yourself. So I went into the studio without any rules – without any thoughts of success or sales or any of that kind of stuff. It was, ‘You know what? I’ve got to be absolutely honest with myself about this music and about these songs and do what’s really in my heart and go by my instincts rather than on commercial reasons or whatever.’ So that’s kind of where I’m coming from on My Side of the Street – this is who I am, this is where I’m at and even if some people don’t like it – even if no one likes it – it’s okay because this is truth and it’s honest. And people – especially country music fans – can spot fake a mile away. If you’re up there singing things because you think it’s going to be a hit or think you’re going to sell a few extra albums if you go with the latest trend or whatever, they’re going to know it’s not really you. So I just wanted to be true to what I felt was right.
And that is true of that audience. But I think it takes a certain act of bravery – probably more bravery at the stage of career you’re at than if you were starting out – to say, ‘This is what’s in my heart and this is what I want to do’, because you do run the risk that you’re letting down tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. So does it feel brave?
Hm … I’m not sure. I’ve never been averse to taking a risk, you know, especially when it involves being honest with yourself about something. And I feel that for people who do follow me or have followed me, if they really do like the way I communicate and like the music that I bring out, then they’ll see this [album] and go, ‘Yeah, that’s really him – he’s being upfront right now. He’s not just trying to remake an old song. He’s not just trying to rehash old things he’s done just because he’s scared of not selling enough albums’. And there’s always going to be people who say, ‘Hey, look, I really like your early stuff or I really like that album or this song’ and that kind of thing – and that’s great, because at least they like something of yours! If they came up and said, ‘I don’t like anything you’ve ever done’ well, then, there’s not much you can do about that. I feel it’s better to have a few people really enjoy and believe in what you’re doing than a lot of people just being blasé about it.
You often wear your heart on your sleeve in your songs, and you have on this album as well – particularly on a couple of songs co-written by Travis Meadows – and that’s a brave thing to do, especially when more and more people know who you are. And you can hear it in your voice – you’re a very honest, direct singer – we can hear emotion in your voice and we can hear that you’re singing the truth. Do you need extra reserves of energy to deal with that?
Yeah, I think you do [laughs]. When you say I wear my heart on my sleeve – you’re right, I do. I’ve never been much good at hiding much at any times, so … [laughs] Maybe I wouldn’t be a good actor. That’s the thing with my music – for some reason I need to be emotionally connected to it, to perform it. In the studio, sure, you can surround yourself with an environment that’s kind of sterile or whatever and record a song. If you’re not feeling it today you can go back tomorrow and do it. But when you’re standing in front of an audience and you’re feeling whatever it is you’re feeling, you can’t switch that off – well, I can’t, anyway. I can’t get onstage and put a mask on and pretend to be something else. So I think being honest, wearing my heart on my sleeve – as you say, maybe it’s brave in some ways but it’s also probably the only way I could ever be because I can’t really market that well! It saves me chopping and changing and thinking, Okay, what am I going to be or how am I going to feel tonight? I am what I am.
From a performance point of view, that’s probably the harder road, though – a lot of performers would put on a mask, essentially, in order to not run themselves down too much. Looking at your tour schedule, you have a lot of dates coming up – Mick Jagger apparently takes up running to get in shape before a tour, to get fit, and I thought, Adam must have some kind of fitness regime in order to do all of this.
Yeah, he eats pasta and pizza [laughs]. I’m not that disciplined to get into the health and fitness. I’m lucky – I don’t really carry too much weight that I have to go on a fitness regime for it. I was the runt of the litter. Honestly, being on tour is a workout itself, in a way – all the time on stage, I’m fairly energetic. [So I] just attack it head on and if I run out of puff, I run out of puff.
Just back to the album – you’ve written some of the songs, some have come from other writers. What was the process like for you, collecting these songs? Because it must take a while to find the right ones.
I had a lot of these songs in my secret file, I guess you could say, or my back pocket, waiting for the right time or the right moment. Some of these songs have been my favourite songs for the last few years and I’ve just been collecting them. And I knew that I was going to record them – I just didn’t know when. So some of these, I’ve been waiting to record them and I’m pretty excited about playing them. I was very excited about going into the studio to play them and record them. It wasn’t a real drawn-out process – it came together quite naturally and organically, and I guess that’s the secret to knowing that you’re on the right path for yourself, for your music, is that it came together fairly … I didn’t have to labour over it and second-guess it and really go, ‘Oh, am I doing the right thing?’ or stress about it. It came together quite nicely and I thought, Yes, this feels right.
You have Jasmine Rae singing with you on one of the tracks. Now there’s a lot of country music talent around – how did you choose Jasmine?
She’s one of the best singers in Australia, I reckon. She sings like an absolute angel. And the last few years I’ve seen her a few times at festivals, I’ve got her up to sing with me for a song here or there, and I’m just really impressed by her. She’s got a great little heart and spirit about her. So it felt right to do a song now and also I’m taking her out on the road, on tour.
Will she be your opening act?
I’ve got Matty Cornell opening and then Jasmine plays and then I’ll play and we’ll do some songs together as well … I think it’s going to be a really good combination of people, of voices, of textures. So I think it’s going to be a really fun tour.
Your voices marry well on the track, so the people going to your show will get at least one duet – and maybe more, by the sound of it.
Yeah, I think they’re going to see a fair bit that they probably may not expect.
And you have one cover song on the album, a Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs number, ‘Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)’. How did you come to choose that?
He was just a legend, you know? And this song’s such an iconic song. I’ve done it before in my shows. I just love it. I just love the song and people sing along with it. And not only that: the title’s quite true. There’s a lot of people who think I’m pretty nuts. It kind of fits.
I wouldn’t have thought that about you – that you’re nuts or that people think you’re nuts – so I find that quite curious.
Oh, no, people think I’m pretty crazy [laughs]. My shows are very spontaneous. Some people have been doing the same show for ten, fifteen years and they don’t change. But I change mine all the time. And if something happens during the show, I just go with it. I’ve been called crazy a lot of times, yeah – I’m surprised you haven’t heard that!
I haven’t, actually, because I have to say my impression of you is one of complete professionalism – you put on these great shows, you get all these albums out, you obviously work very hard. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a bit crazy, but I think it means you also meet your obligations.
Yes, absolutely – I definitely do. But I’m professionally crazy – put it that way.
Maybe that’s the title of your next album …
Could be. ‘Professionally Crazy’ … It’s a good title – a good song title.
So you had My Acoustic Diary out last year, you have the new album out now, and it seemed as if you were recording this album just as My Acoustic Diary was coming out, so you’re really going back to back. Do you have any time for a holiday?
[laughs] Not lately. I recorded Acoustic Diary, that came out, then I was in the studio recording this [new album]. Since then I’ve opened two restaurants [laughs]. See? That’s the crazy part.
I had not heard that at all – two restaurants – so not just one?
I opened a restaurant in Townsville and I’ve just opened the second one in Coffs Harbour. They’re called Brandy’s. I’m a big foodie – love food – so this is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. So I knew I had a gap between recording the album and then releasing it, so I always planned that I was going to start this restaurant. I knew I was going to do one – I didn’t actually know I was going to do two. That was kind of a little surprise packet.
I like the way you say, ‘I had a gap between recording and releasing’ and it sounded like you almost said, ‘So the next logical thing to do was open a restaurant’.
[Laughs] I know. I should have gone on holiday but instead I opened two restaurants. And both of them needed renovating – that’s the part I really loved. I spent six weeks renovating one of them and four weeks renovating the other one. I’m just hands on. I love being busy.
So are they Italian restaurants? I know you have an Italian background.
They predominantly are. There’s a very home-cooked, rustic element to them and an Italian element as well. The one at Coffs Harbour we’ve got things like shanks and big beef ribs, schnitzels and spaghetti. So it’s very home-cooked Italian style.
Now I’ll ask you one last question: how do keep the fire in your belly to keep going with all this – keep going on the road, keep recording, and also, as you’ve just revealed, to have side projects?
The secret to that is that I absolutely love standing in front of people and singing my songs, and having that real-time connection and communication with people. I just love it. And I feel really lucky to be able to do it. I feel blessed. I get to actually sing for my living. And it’s never really grown old on me. I’ve never really got blasé or, like, ‘I don’t really want to go out and do that next week’. It’s always been, ‘Yeah, I’m a lucky man.’ So it’s not hard at all to keep the fire going. 
My Side of the Street is out now through ABC Music/Universal. For full details of Adam’s upcoming tour, go to www.adambrand.com.au.

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