Very few Australian country music fans would be unfamiliar with Troy Kemp. Known as a solo artist and as one half of McAlister Kemp, he is a force to be reckoned with – and he’s joining The Wolfe Brothers on their This Crazy Life tour from early October.
You are joining the Wolfe Brothers on tour and they are a relentless touring machine between their dates with Lee Kernaghan and their own tours. What sort of training are you doing to keep up with them?
[Laughs] I’m on a really strict health regime right now of no food, no alcohol, no anything, and I’m just surviving on air and doing as much exercise as I can. [Laughs] No, it’s good. I was in McAlister Kemp for seven years so I know how hard it is – I know a lot about touring and the rigours of the road. But it’s amazing – it’s the best job in the world and it’s good fun. I’m pretty seasoned with that stuff, so I’m excited to get out with the boys and finally do some touring with them because I know they work hard and they deserve this, so it’s going to be great to be out with those guys. They’re not only a great band, they’re good friends, so I’m looking forward to it.
When you’re not on the road, do you get itchy feet?
When you’re having a break – when I’ve had, like, six months off – I just want to get back out there. But when you’re out there, the first little while is the exciting part but as the tour kicks on and gets longer, towards the end of it you’re really starting to hurt a bit, you just feel like being at home and chilling out a bit. It’s just that – you just get tired out there. People always say to me, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ If they knew how hard we work. For the one and half hours on stage you might do on tour, you’re travelling, you’re sitting in airports for the other 23 hours a day. You’re up early, you’re up late. If you do these shows you talk to fans sometimes until one or two in the morning, and then you’re getting back to bed. You get back to a motel and you’ve got six bands hanging around, or god knows how many. There’s all these band guys who just want to kick on and party and I say, ‘I’ve got to rest my voice and take care of myself’, because I know that tomorrow morning we’re up at 7 a.m. to do it all again and go somewhere else. It’s a funny lifestyle. But I’m always keen to get out and tour – I do get itchy feet – and I’m really looking forward to getting out with these guys in October.
I guess when people see you on stage they think that it’s only that period of time that you’re working – but there’s also the amount of energy that goes into being on stage. There’s all that physical preparation – moving from town to town – but there’s also something that’s hard to quantify because you can’t see it: the stuff you need to do to get yourself ready to be on stage. And that’s a lot of effort too.
It really is. The whole thing can be really exhausting, and you have to be careful. Sleep’s the most important thing, I think – you’ve really got to try to get six to eight hours’ sleep. That’s where I work best. As a singer, I need that for my throat just to be able to get through the next night. It is a lot of hard work and staying fit – doing push-ups in your motel room [laughs]. Whatever you can to try to stay alive and make sure you eat well. That’s another thing: eating well on the road. We always end up at McDonald’s.
Probably because it’s open when you need it to be.
Exactly – they’re clever, the old McDonald’s. But there’s a lot of hard work involved: it’s rehearsing, and learning songs, and getting band members organised, trying to organise rehearsals. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. It feels like a 24-hour job. When you live this you just really live it. It’s not like a 9-to-5 where you switch off at five o’clock and go home and watch telly and have dinner. You’re thinking about it until you go to bed, you’re working on it in your bedroom, in your studio – thinking about it and driving your partner crazy because she’s, like, ‘Can you just switch off?’ ‘No, I can’t.’ [laughs]
Are you taking your own band for this tour or are the Wolfes going to be your band?
I’ve been led to believe that there’s a band being organised to play behind. The Wolfe Brothers are going to play on their own and Gord Bamford, I believe, will have the Wolfe Brothers behind him, but I think all the other acts – myself, Caitlyn, Jody Direen, Craig and Christie – I think we’re going to have a house band, so to speak, that they put together for us to use. I don’t actually know at the moment who the guys are but I’m sure it will be a Class A band and I’m looking forward to seeing who I walk into rehearsal with in a couple of weeks. Each artist has been asked to send all their songs to the band and then they’re going to have the painstaking task of having to learn five artists’ songs, and hopefully it all comes together on stage. I’m sure it will – the country music musicians in this country are amazing.
The downside for you, I guess, is that there’s not the flexibility there of changing your set list, as you might with your own band. You have to stick to what you’ve told them.
Exactly. We’re doing five or six songs each a night so once I give the guys my songs, they’re my songs for the tour and that’s what I’ve got to be happy to live with – so I’ve got to make sure I pick the right ones, as will everybody.
When were you asked to join this tour?
I got a call from Steve White [tour manager] about two months ago, and I may have been one of the last to come in. I was really excited to be asked. At the moment I’m out as Troy Kemp solo, representing myself, self managed, I’m my own agent, so I’m constantly trying to get work and picking things up along the way. The back half of this year has been a bit busier for me, which is great, so to get a call from Steve to say, ‘Do you want to be part of this tour with all these great acts?’ was amazing. It’s a chance to be out doing my thing and to be seen to be doing something, and giving me a chance to sell my CDs and merchandise at gigs. I’m really pumped about it. I think we’re doing eight shows.
You mentioned earlier about staying behind and talking to fans, which is such a big part of country music. How important is that to you, that personal connection with fans?
I think it’s one of the most important things in the whole business. The country music fans are so loyal – it feels like one big family. Once you’ve got a country music fan they’re with you for life. No matter what you do they seem to love it, which is lucky and appreciated on our behalf. I think it’s a great thing and you see it more in country music, I think, than any other genre – the artists come out and talk to the fans after the shows and sign things, sign their hats, sign their T-shirts, have photos. It’s just that personal touch that a fan can go home with and say, ‘We had an amazing night and we got to meet the band’. They feel like they know you a little bit, they’ve got a photo to hopefully show off or throw darts at. It just makes for a really good feel.
You’re from the Newcastle area and there is a Newcastle date for the tour – is there a difference playing for a hometown audience.
We’re playing at West New Lambton in Newcastle on the 22ndof October – that’s a Saturday night – and I love playing to a home crowd. I play round the local area a lot – luckily I’ve got a good following. I hope most of those people are going to come out and make for a big night in my home town – hopefully I get the biggest applause that night too [laughs].
Well, those Wolfe Brothers can’t get everything all the time.
They deserve it, they’re amazing. It should be fun. It’s nice to be able to have this show in my home town because it will be great to be seen to part of the show in my home town, for a start, and there’s artists from all over the place in this tour so I’m sure there will be other places we go that will be the home town of someone else in the tour. That’s always going to be a bonus to the show. It’s going to be a great thing. It’s a great idea from Steve White – he’s got seven acts from three countries, they’re promoting it as a mini-festival, hot new wave of country music. I think it’s really cool. There’s a new breed of country music coming through that needs to be heard – it’s had a bit of a stigma about it. You say the words ‘country music’ and people say, ‘I don’t like country and Western’ – but it’s not Western any more. The modern country is almost like pop country, and if people hear it they’ll go, ‘Wow, I like that.’ Modern country is progressive, it’s sounding so cool, it could fit on any commercial radio station these days and people don’t know it. People just think [country] is about the tractor breaking down and the dog dying, that sort of thing. I just hope people get out and support this tour, because there’s a real great new sound in country music that needs to be heard.
Part of my interest in covering country music, which I’ve done for the last five years, is that what I see in Australian country music is an incredible level of professionalism. I put it back to Tamworth existing – when you all go to Tamworth, there are so many artists competing for attention that the standard has become incredibly high. So even someone just starting out knows they have to be extremely good to get anyone to listen to them. What that’s meant is that across the board in Australian country we have this incredible music – people like you who put on a terrific show, put out great albums, you’re total professionals. I hope other people start to recognise that because if you’re someone looking for a night out, going to this tour, the standard is going to be so much better than other things they could see that it would be well worth their time and money.
Exactly. Everything you just said was bang on [laughs].
But it’s true! The standard is so incredibly good in Australia.
It is, and the testament to that is when these big American acts come over for these big CMC Rocks festivals, I sit back and watch it and I can see the Australians holding their own against the big American acts. And I think we do compete with these guys, we are as good as these guys, you know, but we just don’t have the market here that the Americans have got – those big superstars who sell millions of albums. We’ve got a pretty small country music market here … [But] there is a standard now, the bar’s been set really high, everybody’s getting better. The new acts coming through are amazing. As a seasoned artist now I think a lot of us who have been in the industry a while need to watch ourselves, because there’s some young guys coming through who could knock us off the block any old time. That keeps you on your toes as an older artist, and it’s exciting to see the young guys coming through. I always do my best to help those guys and write songs with them, and do whatever I can to help their careers as well.
That’s another aspect of Australian country that I see as being really significant: there is that sense that age doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter – everyone is there because they love music, and that creates this rich pool of songs that come out. Partly why I think a lot of the punters don’t necessarily Australian country music as being good or important is that we still have a bit of a cultural cringe about anything to do with Australia. So I hope that over the next few years, as we start to lose that cultural cringe more, Australian country – which is our national body of song, really – starts to get the attention it deserves.
Exactly. I think it’s moving in the right direction, and I think everyone banding together and helping each other, the whole thing is going to get better. And it’s tours like This Crazy Life are going to start to change the perception of what country music is. And hopefully as the years kick on we can all do better out of it and there’s still a country music audience too.
With my last question I’ll ask you about Tamworth next year – what are your plans?
I’m going to head up on the last weekend. I’m away playing guitar for the Viper Creek Band on an American cruise around Mexico at the start of January, which is going to be amazing. I get back for the second week of Tamworth. I’m going to try to hit the Fanzone on the Thursday or Friday – the 26thor 27th – and I’ve got a midnight show at the Longyard with Christie Lamb, on the Friday night. It will be a two-and-a-half or three-hour show. It’s going to be late but it will be a party. That Friday night on the last weekend in Tamworth is always huge. And hopefully we’ll get a Golden Guitar nomination and go up and cross our fingers.
And the Viper Creek Band are very lucky to have you playing guitar for them, I’d suggest.
Thank you very much. They’re a great band, they’re good friends of mine from Newcastle, and they have a new album out called Just Press Play. We’re excited to get back on that cruise – we did it last year and had such a great time, and it was such a great opportunity to meet some amazing American artists. It’s a good job when it falls the right way – it’s amazing.
THIS CRAZY LIFE TOUR DATES
Friday 7 October 2016 | 8pm
Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, HOBART TAS
Saturday 8 October 2016 | 8pm
Hotel Tasmania, LAUNCESTON TAS
Friday 14 October 2016 | 8.30pm
Kay Street Entertainment Complex, TRARALGON VIC
Saturday 15 October 2016 | 7.30pm
The Palms at Crown, MELBOURNE VIC
Friday 21 October 2016 | 8pm
Evan Theatre, Penrith Panthers, PENRITH NSW
Saturday 22 October 2016 | 8.30pm
Wests New Lambton, NEWCASTLE NSW
Friday 28 October 2016 | 8pm
Twin Towns Services Club, TWEED HEADS NSW
Saturday 29 October 2016 | 8pm
Empire Theatre, TOOWOOMBA QLD