Interview: The Sunny Cowgirls

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The Sunny Cowgirls have already passed a decade spent entertaining Australian country music fans. Their latest album, Here We Go, is a great collection of rollicking tales and heartfelt ballads, delivered in inimitable Sunny Cowgirls style. I spoke to Celeste and Sophie Clabburn – who were on opposite sides of the country – about the album and all sorts of other things.

You’ve kept up a good pace with albums, especially considering that you have a lot of other things going on in your lives. So what is the secret of your productivity?
Celeste: I don’t know … We’ve always got our eyes and our ears open. When we go on the road and things like that, we always meet new people and hear new stories, and we always have new experiences. We try to keep all of our ideas fresh and if we get an idea for a song we make sure we write it down so we don’t forget about it. I think that’s just life. Things happen and we just continue to write songs about our lives.
You said you hear new stories while you’re on the road – do people ever approach you and say, ‘I have this great family story – can you put it in a song?’
Sophie: Yes, that’s happened a few times. Which is always hard, because we tend to write about our own experiences and things that have happened to us. But sometimes we will hear a cracking story like that. Our dad’s given us plenty of stories, growing up, about people he’s worked with or people he knows, and they’ve turned into songs. So if anyone has a good story, send it our way and we’ll see what we can do!
Slim Dusty used to put the call out for songs to come to him – and you’re putting out the call for stories.
Sophie: [laughs] We’re not going to knock them back. We don’t need any for this new album but you never know, for the next one maybe
Given that you live separately, how do you collaborate? Do you Skype and send files back and forth, or do you tend to talk on the phone?
Celeste: We don’t really write our songs together. I’ll write my songs, Soph’ll write her songs, and then when we do finally get together we’ll play them and sing harmonies and stuff. We talk a bit on the phone and send emails but we’re not really into the Facetime sort of thing.
Sophie, does that mean when it comes time to choosing songs for the album there’s ever a tussle over getting an even number?
Sophie: [laughs] Well, there’s been a few tears over the years, but it’s been pretty good. We’ve been pretty lucky on this latest album – we had six [songs] each, so it was split right down the middle and we were happy. And at the end of the day we’re pretty mature about it – we try to do what’s best for the album, so if that means losing one of yours we know the other one’s going to be great.
You’ve already mentioned some inspiration that might come from stories you hear on the road, but you’ve written a lot of songs now            – are there ever days when you think, I have absolutely nothing in the tank here?
Celeste: Oh, totally. Every time we bring out a new album, it’s very daunting to think, We’re going to do another one. We’ve sort of scraped the bottom of the barrel – that’s what we feel like now. But somehow when the time comes around there’s always something new and something fresh in your mind.
Sophie: It has been two years.
Celeste: True. But you do feel like you run out of ideas – but you never do somehow [laughs]. It just sort of happens, which is good.
Sophie, you just said it’s been two years – but when you think about everything that goes on with touring an album as well as writing, recording, sorting all of that out, two years would come around quickly.
Sophie: It does. I can’t believe the last eleven years – which is the amount of time we’ve been doing this – have absolutely flown by. We can’t believe that we’ve done eight albums in that time frame. But we make plenty of time for our personal lives as well. There are always new things going on in our personal lives – I think that’s where the songs come from most of the time.
‘Cowboy’ is the latest single from the album – was it inspired by any real-life events?
[both laugh]
Celeste: I guess it’s half true. Soph did recently get married and my brother does work FIFO. It’s not like my all-time is to meet a cowboy – that’s not really the thing – but, hey, if someone who looked like Chris Hemsworth came along I wouldn’t say ‘No’, you know.
I quite liked the array of potentials you had in the video clip – it must have been an interesting casting day.
Celeste: [laughs] It was good fun. They were lovely blokes and good sports. It was all very funny.
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
Sophie: I haven’t been asked that question yet. I guess ‘Cowboy’ is my favourite at the moment. The clip’s on CMC and I still laugh every time I see it – it’s so silly. But I’ve got another song on the album which is about supporting your partner through times of drought, called ‘I’ve Got Your Back’, and that’s one of my favourites, I’d say.
Celeste: I’m with Soph – I still like ‘Cowboy’ and I was going to mention ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ as well. Another one is ‘Took Me Back’, which is about wishing you could back in time a bit when life was a little less complicated and a little bit more simple and you didn’t have to be so politically correct all the time [laughs]. There’s lots of songs on the album and it will be interesting to see what everybody else thinks of it.
You mentioned being politically correct, but country music is probably one genre where you can test the boundaries of that a little bit.
Celeste: True, we are lucky like that. We get away with it a little bit more in country music.
‘I’ve Got Your Back’ is one of two or three ballads on the album – there’s ‘I Need You’ as well. I love them because your voices really come through in that slower style. Do you like singing ballads?
Sophie: Yes. The majority of our songs are upbeat, uptempo sorts of songs, and they’re the ones that we enjoy singing, that get the crowd going, and they’re more ‘us’, I would say. But it’s really nice to throw in a ballad every now and again because it’s not something that we do very often, but when we do it is nice to break it up. Some ballads we sing terribly but if the song is right it can really work, and it’s a great dynamic in the show as well, to bring it all down every now and then.
‘Those Big Hands’ mentions barra catching and bull roping – it sounds like it could be a Northern Territory story.
Celeste: It is about the Northern Territory. I used to work up there – I did a stint up there one season. My boss had these huge hands and             you’d just hear everything about the Territory, so that’s stuck with me for a few years, and when we were writing this album I thought I’d better write a song about my Northern Territory boss.
The last song on the album is ‘Where I Wanna Be’ so I’d like to ask you both: are you where you want to be?
Celeste: Definitely.
Sophie: The only downfall for me – I love living in Gunnedah but all my family is over in Perth and Celeste is there at the moment as well. She sort of floats around a bit but I hate being that far away from everyone. If everyone could move to Gunnedah that’d be great [laughs].
Celeste: [laughs] Good luck with that, though.
The time difference with Perth can make things tricky, especially once daylight saving starts in the east.
It is hard. I’m lucky in that Soph and I are going on tour next week. I get to see her a lot more than my folks do because of the gigs, but it is a shame. It is a long way away. But who’s to say that I won’t move one day – you never know.
I’ll move on to the mechanics of the album – namely, how you came to choose Matt Fell as your producer.
Celeste: Matt is an amazing producer. We’d never worked with him before but obviously had heard a lot about him and his work. He produced Sara Storer’s album and we’re massive fans of her. So when the chats came around about who we were going to get to produce, Matt was top of our list. When he agreed to do it we were thrilled but when we were actually working with him, he exceeded our expectations so much – he’s a lot more talented than we could even imagine.We think he’s done an amazing job as producer and we hope to work with him again, for sure.
And you had quite a superstar band: Glen Hannah, who’s ubiquitous because he’s really good; Shane Nicholson on guitar; Michele Rose, who plays pedal steel for a lot of people. Was it fun working with those chaps?
Sophie: It’s always fun because they’re our friends as well, so it’s lovely to see them outside of work and when we’re working together, and watching them in the studio doing their thing, it’s mind blowing every time. They’re so talented and lovely blokes. We couldn’t have asked for a better team.
It does beg the question: who is in your touring band?
Celeste: None of those blokes.
Sophie: Unfortunately!
Celeste: They’re all busy.
Sophie: Our guitarist, Rusty Crook, has been with us from pretty much the very beginning – I think he joined our group in 2006, so we like to call him our third Sunny Cowgirl. Every show we’ve ever done, Rusty will be on stage with us. He’s from Goulburn. We have Ben Kant playing drums, from Melbourne, and he’s been with us for a fair few years now as well. So it’s a really good tight little touring band. We’re like a little family, so we get along really well and have lots of fun. We’re also bringing Jemma Beech on the road with us for this tour. She’s an up-and-comer, newbie on the road, so we’re all looking forward to working with her and I reckon the crowds will really go for her.
Because everyone is coming from different places, do you rehearse ahead of a tour or have you been together for so long now that you can go from a standing start?
Sophie: That’s what we should be doing …
Celeste: We’ll have a quick rehearsal, but the boys are so professional and Soph and I have done our homework, so we should be right – fingers crossed.
The tour is really quite extensive and you’re going to a lot of places, so how did you choose your stops?
Sophie: We just wanted to start with the east coast and pick some towns that we haven’t visited for a while, so it’s great to get back to them. We haven’t been up to the top of Queensland for a while so we’re really looking forward to getting up there and seeing all those guys. And then we make our way down to Victoria, which is always a really great spot – really good, loyal fans down there – so it’s always good to get back there. Then hopefully next year we’ll make it across west as well.
And, Sophie, your parents would like it if you could get across west because then you could see them.
Sophie: Yes, I know, I’m surprised we haven’t booked the gigs already.
This current schedule stops in December – but, of course, Tamworth is in January, so do you have Tamworth plans?
Celeste: Yes, we have two shows – at the Longyard Hotel, which will be good fun. We have an up-close-and-personal show and then on Australia Day we have an Australia Day concert, so we thought that would be pretty fitting for us – it’s called the Green and Gold Australia Day Show.
My last question is: eleven years ago, when this adventure started, did you have plans of having a country music career or did you think, Let’s give it a shot and see what happens?
Sophie: Since we were little girls it’s something that we’ve always wanted, and we weren’t sure that it was actually going to happen, but it’s always been our dream to be able to play and record and perform for a living. So when we got that record deal in 2005 we thought, Here’s our chance to make an album and hit the road – we’re living the dream. But I don’t think that either of us really thought that we’d be going for the next eleven years, still going strong and still touring. We’ve been really lucky, and we have been working hard for the last eleven years but we do feel lucky to be able to do this for a living.
And you don’t keep going for that long unless you’re doing something that people love – you’re obviously producing music and putting on shows that your audiences love, and you’ve respected them along the way. Country music audiences can really tell if someone’s heart isn’t in it – or if you’re unprofessional. You’ve done all the right things to make it a career.
Celeste: Thank you – we try. It’s nice to know that people still want to come out to our shows and they still get excited when we bring out an album. We must be doing something right, which is nice.

Here We Go is out now. 
The Sunny Cowgirls are on tour. For dates, go to:

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