No doubt someone has called Lee Kernaghan ‘the hardest-working man in country music’ – and that would be because it’s true. He’s on tour now with undoubtedly the hardest-working band in country music, the Wolfe Brothers, bringing The Songs & The Stories to towns around Australia. I spoke to Lee a few days ago about his epic end to 2015.
Lee, I’m worried that you’re not working hard enough.
[laughs] It’s a labour of love. I’m lovin’ it.
And it’s a massive tour – you’re going all over the place. This is what you do – you tour a lot – but I’m really curious as to how you keep your energy levels up.
I’ve got a few secrets. I take the Ab Roller out – work on the abs. I go to the gym as much as I can. I have a detox that I take – wellness greens and vitamin C, fibre. I have that every morning. I just try to eat good food as much as I can, drink as much water as I can. And a bit of Fireball whisky to wash it all down at night.
[laughs] And how about your voice? I know some of the advice to singers is ‘don’t talk the day of a gig’ but you’re doing media and all sorts of things. How do you protect your voice?
I try not to do a whole lot of interviews on the day of the gig, so just relax it a bit. And that Fireball whisky does work wonders on the vocal cords.
In this show you’re doing an acoustic first half, so that puts your voice even more on show. This is the first time you’ve done acoustic on a tour like this, so what prompted that decision?
To do something that I haven’t done before. And this whole show really has been a perfect example of heading into the great unknown. I’ve never been as nervous as I was before the first show in Townsville just last week. I had no idea how people would react to the show but it became very evident very fast that we were all a part of something much bigger than us, and it’s been an absolute privilege and an honour to bring these songs and stories to life on stage.
The first half is songs from albums you’ve done that aren’t Spirit of the Anzacs and the second half is Anzacssongs. How do you choose a set list, given that your career has been so extensive?
We just have a bit of a yarn, the boys in the band and I. We knocked it around. We rehearsed for a couple of weeks and then decided which ones we wanted to do live. It’s unplugged and semi-acoustic so the boys all bunch up close together on stage and I’m loving that part of the show. It’s a lot of fun. Christie Lamb joins us as well, singing harmony vocals, mandolin – she’s a brilliant piano player, acoustic guitar player. She stars in the second half of the show as well, doing some solo songs. We’ve also got Jon English’s son – the great rock legend Jon English. His son Jonathan English is in the band. So it’s a brilliant bunch of musicians.
And how are those Wolfe Brothers coping with acoustic?
I don’t think they’ve ever sounded better. It really showcases the boys’ vocals and their musical ability and musicianship. They’re knocking it out of the park.
They’ve possibly surprised themselves with that, because they’re so used to playing loud.
That’s right. We all have. Even for me, I [usually] strap up, turn on and go. And there is that element in the show as well, but there’s a whole lot more to it.
It would be really easy for someone in your position, Lee, to think, What I’ve been doing has been working well so far – I’ll just keep doing it, and you talked about being nervous before that Townsville show. But I get the feeling that you like challenges – you like to keep moving forward as an artist, and that relentless curiosity about what’s next is partly what keeps your audience moving with you.
I think that this show, the fact that everyone involved in it was challenged to take it to the next level, it’s opened up some new doors and set a new template for how I will tour in the future. Using the screen and the theatrical lighting is definitely something I want to continue doing.
And what about the acoustic part of it – will you incorporate more of that in future?
Yes, I really do enjoy getting out there and doing it in that mode. It’s fun and it’s different, but I love plugging in electric and the bigger production stuff that comes in the second half.
How long is this show?
It’s about two and a half hours. The show starts at 8 and ends about 10.30 with a 20-minute intermission.
The reason why I ask is so that people don’t look at the ticket time and think they can stroll in late because the show doesn’t start right then – as can happen!
No, the quality’s on from the word go. There’s no filler [laughs].
Do you keep going back to the same venues on these tours or do you try to pick some different towns?
My management company generally chooses which towns and venues to play. We are limited – we need to have certain capacities in order to cover the cost of taking a production of this size into a town. That’s how it works, although sometimes I think they just stand in front of a map of Australia and throw darts and say, ‘Okay, we’ll do that’ [laughs].
Spirit of the Anzacs is out now.