After launching their new album, Endless, at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, the McClymonts are about to commence a long tour around Australia. I was able to chat to Samantha McClymont just before Tamworth to find out what they have planned, and about the creation of their album. The full list of tour dates is on their website.
Are you rested and ready for Tamworth?
Yes, we definitely are. Tamworth just comes up so fast, though – you have Christmas and New Year and then it’s, ‘Okay, we’ve got to knuckle down, it’s Tamworth time.’ We’re back into rehearsals again now and getting all the new songs down pat, because it will be the album launch in Tamworth. Playing all the new songs for the very first time, which is always quite daunting, a bit nerve-wracking playing them up on stage first go. But it’s so nice to finally have new music. It’s been two and a half years – nearly three years. So we’re definitely ready to have some new stuff.
As someone who always eagerly anticipates your albums, I was getting a bit shirty that there hadn’t been a new one for a while. But I did feel there were good excuses: a wedding, a baby, that kind of thing.
[Laughs] I know, there was so much going on. We’re lucky, though, that we weren’t being rushed by our label. They said, ‘Whenever you’re ready start songwriting and go into the studio’. And that was nice because we felt like when we had the songs we wanted we could go to record, and that was really cool. We were happy with all the songs because we were in such a good place and we were writing and weren’t rushed. We’re really happy with the songs. Have you seen the video?
I’ve heard the whole album and it’s yet another top-shelf effort. One of the things I love about the band is that the sound of you three singing together is always magic but the songs do evolve. There’s obviously different things going on and different things you want to say. On this album I was wondering what moods were coming through and for me there was quite a bit of contentment but quite a bit of regret and wistfulness, and I don’t know if that’s what you meant to put through.
There was a bit of a mixture. Definitely contentment. It’s hard for us to write really sad songs at the moment because we are happy. But what country songs are about is being truthful. As country songwriters you need to be truthful because an audience can see through it if you’re fake and writing about something that doesn’t relate to you. And we’ve drawn on stories. The song ‘Unsaveable’ is from our friend’s experience – our best friend going through something and we said, ‘Okay, we’ll use that, thank you very much’ [laughs]. Do a bit of a Taylor Swift and just grab bits and pieces from people. And those songs about making relationships work – obviously we are all married and we travel and we’re away, and relationships are tested a lot and we can write about those things. You’ve got to really work hard to make it work and we’re happy to write about those things because that’s what we’re going through.
That balance of work and family and creativity – you’ve all been doing it consistently for over a decade. I certainly find the way you operate individually and as a group inspirational. Do any of your audience members tell you that you inspire them to be creative?
It’s taken us ten years to learn how to do it [laughs]. It wasn’t that way at the start. We’ve always been creative – it doesn’t stop, it’s no nine-to-five. That can sometimes be detrimental because you don’t have an off switch and you just go-go-go and never stop, and we actually found that we had no work-life balance. It wasn’t until Tiggy [Brooke’s daughter] came along four years ago that we had to make time for work-life balance. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to us because if you live a little you have more to write about [laughs]. So we realised that we needed time to ourselves and we needed to have breaks and needed family time and alone time.
In country music shows, so often the artists look like they’re enjoying themselves. I’ve always noticed in your shows you always look like you’re having a great time and it looks genuine. But I guess even on the nights you’re not feeling it, that intention to go out and have a great time carries you through, and I wonder if that’s influenced the longevity of the career.
I think it helps that we have each other as well. I think that’s a big part of it. On the road it could get quite lonely. People think it’s very glamorous, you’re travelling all the time and doing all these amazing things. But if you’re not with your loved ones it could get quite lonely. So I think we’re so lucky that we are family and we are together and it does make it enjoyable. We have slowed things down to two or three shows a week now – once again, that work-life balance. We have Monday to Thursday home and then we’re back out on the road again. That works for us and makes us really happy, and that makes us really love the shows, because we’re ready to get out on the road – we’re excited: ‘It’s Friday! We’re ready to go!’ And I think we’re really pumped for this new tour because we only did the ten shows last year for the ten-year anniversary so it was a very short tour. It’ll be nice to get out there and play a lot more places that we haven’t been to for a long time.
The tour dates have been announced up to April but the press released said more dates will be announced – so will this tour take up most of the year?
We’re actually up to July now. There’s definitely more in there. We’re trying to get all over the place.
Hopefully that rhythm of having the start of the week off will mean you can go for longer because obviously you’re trying to reach as many people as possible – you’re playing some places you haven’t visited before and some you haven’t been to for a while.
Absolutely. And new album – we want to get the music out to as many people as possible, we want people to hear it and play to people who have been following us for ten years. We try to make sure we get around to as many places as possible. Of course we’re going to miss some places but that’s the beauty of music, and if we can continue to do it there will be more places in other years. We’ll try to get around – Australia’s a big place.
And the more albums you release the tougher that set list gets to create. Every show I’ve seen you play something from the first EP – but it must get hard to decide what to sing.
It does. And this has been so hard to put together. The girls and I went back and forth for weeks for this Tamworth show and the tour because we’ve got so many songs, and we want to play the new ones but obviously people don’t want to be flooded with too many at the start of the tour because they might not be familiar with new songs yet. So we went back and forth – ‘I think we have to cut this song’, ‘But it’s my favourite!’ We thought it would get easier the more songs we have but it’s definitely become a lot harder.
If you’d written a whole lot of albums of bad songs, it’d be easier …
[Laughs] Thank you. It’s not a bad problem to have, then.
Talking about the songwriting – what was the first song you ever wrote and what age were you, do you remember?
Yes – they were pretty bad [laughs]. We had songwriting school in Grafton, where we grew up. They’d have these creative weeks the town would put on and you could do anything. People went to singing or whatever and I went to a songwriting workshop. I think I was twelve and I’m pretty sure [the song] was called ‘Wish’ – pretty appropriate for a twelve-year-old to write a song called ‘Wish’. It was pretty terrible but you’ve got to start somewhere.
And by that stage Brooke was probably writing already.
Brooke’s five years older than me. She was definitely leaps and bounds ahead of me at that stage, and that’s probably why I thought mine was so bad.
When did you start writing the songs for this album?
We started writing probably a year after the last album and then we really kicked into gear at the start of last year. We had a bit of a break. We’d do a bit of writing then we’d get busy – Mollie had a baby [laughs]. And then when Ned was a few months old we started again. She’d bring him along to songwriting sessions and we started doing it consistently from that moment, writing a lot and getting together. And even just having discussions about what’s been going on the last few years – what’s the stories that have been happening in our lives – and try to put it together.
Given that Brooke is your older sister, is she more of a boss in the songwriting sessions or is it more egalitarian than that?
Oh, she can be a little bit [laughs] but not in a bad way. Being sisters, we can shut each other down pretty easily. But she generally does have some great ideas or has something in mind that we can really go off. She’s a good bossypants.
I’m curious about the technical details – when you write a song, do you try to sing it at that stage, or do you try to work out bits and pieces on guitar then you put the harmonies together later?
We write it then we put it down as a demo and write a few harmonies on it, but when we’re in the studio, that’s when we really focus on the harmonies and if there are different parts. When we’re doing the song it’s more about the song and the lyrics. It’s all such a different process – every stage of making a record, which is great. Because there’s never a dull moment.
The harmonies sound effortless but I would imagine they are not.
To be honest, it probably is the easiest part for us. We’re lucky in that sense – we’ve been harmonising since we were little girls. But there’s obviously songs where they are a bit harder and it pushes us a bit more because it’s not as straightforward and we have to focus a bit more and get into the theory of music. But it’s very rare. We are lucky. There’s just something very natural about sibling harmonies and it’s definitely the fun side for us.
In country music that relationship with the audience is so important – people will turn up show after show, year after year to see you. When you’re choosing songs for an album do you think about that audience and what they might expect, or is it better to concentrate on the work itself and not worry too much about that?
It definitely comes into play. We do have more songs [than we need] and we put certain songs on the album because we know that the audience will love that song. And there are songs we don’t put on because we say, ‘You know what? I don’t think this is us at the end of the day – this isn’t the McClymonts. It’s a great song but it’s not suited to what we’re about at the moment or our audience.’ So, yes, they play a huge part in it because they are the ones who come out year to year and we want them to love our music. We obviously want to mix up and try to change things a bit but you hope you’ve grown together the last ten years and you know each other. They know our sound and we know them and what they want to hear, and we can continue doing it together and going on this journey together, and pushing each other a little bit. Seeing how far we can go with the music and changing it up a bit. And I think they can see our growth in the music, as well – where we’ve come in the last ten years.
All the great pillars of your sound were there from the start but certainly there’s been progression, and that’s fantastic for any fan, to have that, because obviously you don’t want to buy the same album over and over again.
No, and I think you’re always going to get the McClymonts sound with the harmonies because of our voices. We just hope we’ve grown musically and that our songs have grown and they sound a little bit different. I think the lyric content is a lot stronger because we’re able to get more personal these days, so I think in that sense the songs are a lot stronger.
And one of the great things about your shows is that I’ve seen people there who are eight and I’ve also seen people who are eighty.
I know! And I think that’s because country music is really generational and it’s passed down. So that eight-year-old, their mum’s there and their mum was brought up with country music playing. It’s kind of scary when you have that ten-year-old who says, ‘I have a photo of my first concert – I was just a baby’, and their parents have brought them to every show since and it’s kind of wild. That sometimes makes it hard, because we think, We are playing to every generation, we’ve got to make it acceptable to everyone [laughs]. So we have to be appropriate for an eight-year-old but then still be yourself. It is kind of crazy when we do look out in the crowd and see such a mix. So many women come along to our show dragging their boyfriends. I think the girls seem to relate to our music a lot, which is so nice to see.
One last question: as you look at this tour coming up and you have to keep yourselves in good health, do you have any tips or tricks for your voice to make sure it doesn’t wear out?
Oh yes, as hard as it is, sometimes I just have to not talk. Literally. It gets to that point where I think, I need to shut up. I talk too much. Sing too much. Much as our husbands love it – but I think it’s more annoying because you’re writing notes instead of talking. But lots of rest. Now that the holidays are over I should probably get a bit healthy – but that starts today, right? [laughs]
The Endless tour starts in Sydney on Friday 3 February. For all other dates, visit www.themcclymonts.net.au
Endless is out now through ABC Music/Universal.