Chelsea Basham is truly a delight – not only is she a fantastic singer-songwriter but she is great to talk to: bubbly, full of energy for her work and life. Her latest single is ‘One of These Days’ from her latest album, Youngest.
From your Instagram it looks like you had a very busy day yesterday. You went to the Gold Coast, radio shows, Brisbane, radio shows, home.
[Laughs] Yes, fly back to Sydney, drive two hours home in the rain to the Central Coast and flop into bed.
Obviously it’s good to get all that radio but it sounds like you were singing at each appearance – is it hard to keep your voice on an even keel when you’ve got all that?
Funnily enough was in good condition yesterday – surprisingly, because I got no sleep the night before. It was fine. I do [warm-ups] when I’m going up in the lift and away we go. There’s not a whole lot of practice before we go on, but that’s all right.
You’ve done a lot of performing, so you can probably go from a standing start, but it’s a long day, particularly when you are on the Central Coast.
Totally. But it was well worth it – a productive day. And I’m thankful that all of my interviews today are on the phone so I can stay in my pyjamas! [Laughs]
The Central Coast has become a country music hub – do you find that there’s a good, supportive community there?
Absolutely. A lot of the country artists live here and I’m doing a couple of supports for Shane Nicholson, who lives on the coast. There’s a lot of artists here – we haven’t been able to get out to a lot of gigs yet, but it’s just nice knowing that you’re in the right spot.
I keep thinking there should be more venues there, so you can all play on a regular basis.
Luckily there’s this great little venue that’s just started pushing live music, luckily two minutes from my front door, which is awesome, called the Hardys Bay Club and I have a gig there in a couple of weeks, on the 27thof August. They have really great artists – Shane has come through – every weekend. Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
You grew up in Western Australia – in the wheat belt – so how are you finding life on the east coast. There’s different trees and light on the west coast.
It’s completely different but I am absolutely loving where we are. We’re in Pretty Beach and it’s surrounded by the most beautiful rainforest and water everywhere. There’s the river and on the other side of the hill behind us there’s the ocean. So we get to still do bushwalks and hikes and be surrounded by water. It’s so different to WA – it’s just flat, and it has its own beauty in that. But I love it here and I get to go home every couple of mouths and have my West Australia fix. I get to go out on the farm and have a bonfire with the fam and look at the stars, which I do miss because the stars are amazing in WA. And I come back here and it’s another beautiful place in Australia and that’s one of the perks of having a job as a musician: we get to travel a lot and see the diversity of Australia, which I love.
Growing up on a farm, is that where your interest in country music came from?
Yes, totally. It was my brothers who got me into country music. They went through that feral ute stage where they had the mud flaps and the aerials. They grew out of it, bless them, but back then I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and so I wanted to be just like my brothers. They were listening to a lot of Australian country music at the time and so I got into it, then I started songwriting and the first songs I wrote were really country and they were terrible [laughs]. Luckily I got better as I got older. I’ve just fallen into it naturally. But I never wanted to just think of myself as a country artist – I just wanted to write songs and make music, and I guess travelling a lot, travelling the world and listening to a lot of different genres has really influenced my music as well.
You said your first songs were awful – I think everyone’s first everythings are awful but a lot of people don’t admit to it.
It’s like being an athlete – you’re not going to be a great runner for the first track that you run but you get better with practice and warming up and whatnot. I learnt how to write a song after many a terrible song [laughs].
Just thinking in terms of you conceptualising your life – being on a farm in WA, thinking, Music is what I want to do – how do you start to make that plan? Where did you have to go next – to Perth?
I went to Perth for high school and I went to an arts school, which was awesome. I was surrounded by kids who were all very musical – not necessarily into country music. I studied musical theatre there and it was a whole other genre, and I thought, Maybe I want to be a musical theatre artist. I continued my songwriting throughout high school and I thought, No, I want to be a songwriter. I love that aspect of it the most. And literally three days after I graduated high school I moved to the east coast. My mum was devastated but I knew what I had to do – I had to be amongst it. It obviously didn’t happen overnight – it’s been ten years since then [laughs]. It’s just hard work. Nothing comes easy in the music industry and you have to work really hard and put 100 per cent into it. I feel like I’ve done the best I can do in the last ten years and I’m proud of where I am.
Hard work is also taking opportunities when they come and being brave enough to take opportunities – I note that you performed at a show with Keith Urban. Someone else might have thought, I’m too scared!
Absolutely. It was very exciting and the biggest gig I’ve ever played – there were 17 000 people in the audience at the Perth Arena. I was nervous before I had to go on stage but as soon as my foot hit the floor as I was walking onstage all my nerves went and I was just in the zone, absolutely in awe of the whole experience. Standing next to Keith and singing this song and looking at the audience, feeling the energy that the audience gives you, I can see how it would be so addictive and such an adrenaline high for these artists. What an amazing life they live; being able to experience that every night is pretty cool.
I once asked someone if it was scarier playing huge crowds or small shows and she said small shows, because the audience is right there.
Absolutely. These radio tours that I’ve been doing, I’ve been playing for the staff and there’s probably only about 20 people in the room and they’re all staring and it’s broad daylight, there’s no lovely dim lighting or anything like that. So literally it’s in your face and you’re looking at these people, and it is very daunting and intimidating but you just have to go into a zone. I sometimes, in my mind, pretend that I’m playing to thousands of people and that really helps.
Now we’d better talk about the song ‘One of These Days’. My take on it was that it was a song about dreams and disappointed dreams, and also about being able to rely on your mother – if not your father – when those disappointments happen. So what was the spark for you to write that?
I’d been through a total songwriting drought and I was desperate to write a song but nothing would come to me, and the night before I wrote this song my mother-in-law had come over and she had brought her tarot cards, because she knew how much I was struggling with not being able to write a song. She said, ‘Just try these cards, see what you come up with.’ The card that I pulled out of the deck was ‘Ask your creative goddess for inspiration and you shall receive’. I was a bit of a sceptic but I thought, righto, I’ll give it a go. So that night before I went to bed I was, like, Goddess of inspiration, I really need a song. And literally the next morning, which never happens to me, I woke up, ran to my guitar, picked up the guitar, sitting in my undies on my parents’ coach, at 25 years old, and I wrote this song, it just flooded out of me in half an hour. I think the best songs come to you like that and so the goddess of inspiration did a great job.
Have you asked her for help since?
Yes, she’s been neglecting my work. I think this is the song I really needed to inspire the rest of my album, because once I wrote this I was so excited about recording my album because I loved this song and I wanted it to be on it. I’m so glad that it’s a single and it’s really been a fan favourite for a lot of people – they say it’s their favourite song on the album, and I’m so stoked because it’s my favourite too. And I think a lot of people, especially the younger generation – and their parents – can really relate to this song, because the Australian dream of buying your own home in your twenties is receding further and further. It’s a lot harder, it’s a lot more expensive. Even renting on your own is so through the roof these days – so Mum’s couch is looking really good [laughs].
You’re obviously unafraid of work and unafraid of chasing your dreams, so I didn’t think it was autobiographical in that sense.
[Laughs] I’ve had a lot of disappointments and moved home just as many times as I’ve moved out of home. There’s a lot of knockbacks and you have to go through this emotional turmoil every single day of What the hell am I doing with my life?and then you think: Oh, that’s right – I love making music. Then it sits in that area of, How do I make this my living? And you have that conversation with yourself every single day. It’s not an easy one but it’s the passion and the thought of, Well, what else am I going to do? I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life and that’s what drives me to keep doing it and keep making music. And I get a lot of beautiful fan mail from people who tell me that they’ve listened to a lot of my music recently because it’s helping them get through depression or a tough time in their life, and that also really touches me and inspires me to keep going.
Music can bring a lot of joy to people, and one of the great things about country music is how much it can mean to fans. Even a sad song can be a reassurance, although your tone on your album is really upbeat. I found on this song that there was a mix of wistfulness and disappointment, but then there was that bit where you were wisecracking – that acknowledgement that life is both up and down.
Absolutely, and I get a lot of mixed reactions to this song. Some people think it’s hilarious and a great joke in the song, which it is, and then yesterday I was playing the song in a radio station and this lady started crying – she said, ‘I have a seventeen-year-old daughter and I just don’t want her to move out of home’. It affects people in different ways and that is the awesome thing about music – you can interpret it how you want and that’s how it connects with you. I love that.
In terms of making music your career, part of the trick and the challenge for modern artist is that there’s always been that balance of performance with writing and recording, but now with social media and promotion there’s a lot of time that is spent not on music itself. When it comes time to write a new album, do you specially carve out space or do you try to take little creative opportunities when they come up?
I like to carve out space. Usually I’ll go to Nashville for two or three months and just remove myself from my normal, day-to-day life and write. I usually end up with thirty songs that I’ve written and heard a bunch of awesome songs from different songwriters. I go out every single night and listen to music and that is inspiring enough to keep writing. I usually do it every year – this is the first year that I haven’t been to Nashville in five or six years so it’s killing me. But I have been writing at home, which is great and something that I don’t normally do, so I’m loving that too.
Nashville has become a very efficient place for Australian artists to write and record.
That’s what I usually do. I went over last year for a couple of months and wrote the rest of the album, and then Graeme, my producer, flew over at the end of the trip and we came home with an album, which is a really cool experience. It’s amazing, the history in those studios that you’re standing in. I’ve recorded in the studio where Elvis had recorded and Roy Orbison and all these amazing artists, and you’re thinking, This microphone … It is such an incredible experience. The history behind the town is incredible.
Now to the near future: I presume you’re heading for Tamworth.
Yes, and it’s always a highlight for the year. I love performing at the Longyard, that’s my favourite venue. I’m hoping to get back there next year because it’s such a great atmosphere and lots of fun. Then getting around and jumping up with our mates and singing songs with them, and hopefully I’ll get a guest to come and sing with us.
And anything before then?
I’m planning a series of house concerts. The concept is to go into people’s homes and talk about the songs and the songwriting, which we don’t get to do at festival gigs. People can get to know me and I can get to know my fans.
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