Each year television show The Voice uncovers new Australian talent, and the winner this year – not that long ago, in fact, was Queenslander Judah Kelly. Judah was already known within country music circles, though, as he has attended the CMAA Academy – and he’s played at the Gympie Music Muster. I had a chat to Judah a few days after his win about the muster, the academy and other things.
The obvious first thing to say to you is ‘Congratulations’.
[Laughs] Thank you.
How’s your work been?
Ah … quite hectic, to be honest. I won on Sunday night, had a half-hour sleep, then Monday morning I started my interviews. I did 36 interviews on Monday. It’s just been crazy ever since.
And there’s no way to prepare for that, really – it’s such an unusual circumstance. Around an album release you’ll do a bit of press but it can be a bit spaced out, whereas this was that big hit.
That’s right. I thought about what might happen if I would win and I certainly didn’t think it would be quite this crazy.
I imagine you haven’t had a lot of sleep even since Sunday night, so are you feeling almost like you’re in a bizarro world, or is it sinking in now that you’ve won?
Oh no, it’s definitely quite weird. I’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot of hard work, and to finally reap the benefits of all that is quite amazing. I’m the dog that finally caught the car and I have no idea what to do with it. Start chasing the next one.
You performed a lot before you got on The Voice – I’m really curious to know what it’s like to perform live on television as opposed to live at a gig, because at a gig you can see your audience and on TV you can’t.
I think it’s probably a good thing that I couldn’t see the people who were watching. It is quite different. Of course, you have the audience that’s there, which is super awesome, but just knowing that you’re going live to a million people across Australia, it’s ridiculous.
You obviously handled the pressure well, because you won. But I’m going to take you back, because I’m interested in your musical lineage. You’ve been to the CMAA Academy, so there’s obviously a little thread of country music there. What’s the first music you listened to as a child and as you were growing up, what music did you love?
I have a huge love of country music now but it wasn’t always like that. I grew up listening to stuff like The Temptations and Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Then I went to my first country music competition, and this was still when I didn’t even like country music – it was just something to do this weekend. And I went along and I met a lady who is now one of my best friends, and she showed me the music of Vince Gill, and it was literally from that moment I just fell in love. And the love for country has grown ever since.
Where was that competition?
In Sarina, just south of Mackay [Queensland].
If you love singing, there’s a lot of flexibility within the country music genre, and if you love storytelling, that’s there.
That’s right. And that’s what I love about it mostly. They’re songs with meaning and thought really put into it to create something that makes people feel something and that’s what’s most important to me.
After you’d have your Vince Gill moment what artists did you find your way to?
Merle Haggard, I love Merle. George Strait, I love. I love all that older country, and then along the way I fell in love with outlaw country – Waylon Jennings and all that kind of stuff.
So you went to the CMAA Academy – when was that and how did you find that experience?
I went once as a junior, in 2011, once as a singer and once as a band member when they started the instrumental course. I think it would have been 2014 and 2015 for the last two. And they were quite amazing experiences. I was thinking about this the other day – it helped a lot with what I’m doing now. I did my first big photo shoot the other day and shooting a video for the single today. We start work on the album tomorrow. And that’s all stuff we went through at the academy. I think it would have been a lot more overwhelming if I hadn’t gone through that before.
Do you like being a member of a band as much as you like being the singer?
That’s a tough one. I’ve not really been a singer for long. Once I left high school I just needed something to pay the rent and bills, doing session work and just playing for people. And it got to a point where I didn’t want to any more. If that’s what you want to do, that’s cool – there’s nothing wrong with it at all – but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. Which is why I ended up auditioning for The Voice, because I wanted to change that. I didn’t want to just play for other people any more.
That’s really interesting, that auditioning for The Voice came out of a desire to have a change. It’s a big thing to do, it’s a big gesture to make.
I got comfortable just playing for people and I got comfortable being in the background even though I wanted to sing, which put me in a weird situation, because I felt uncomfortable being in front of people but wanting to be there. And I thought to myself, I want to sing more than I want to stay comfortable, so I gave it a go. And thankfully I did.
Speaking of being out the front, you are going to perform at the Gympie Muster. You have played the muster before as a backing musician. Now that you have established yourself as a singer, are you feeling relaxed about being out the front of a band?
Absolutely. The Voicewas quite amazing with that. I just have a new belief in my own talent, and I know that the boys who are playing with me are super tight – they’re excited, I’m excited, and I’ve spent a lot of time seeing crowds’ reactions for people I was playing for, and now to know that that’s going to happen for me this time, I’m really excited.
How many shows will you have at the muster?
I have two.
What are you looking forward to experiencing again?
The crowd. The crowd is always the best part. Once they’re pumping and just that energy – that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.
How long ago did you sign on?
Not very long ago – a month, maybe.
They would be loving themselves`sick about that, then, given what happened on Sunday night.
Given that the muster is in Gympie and you are a Queenslander, is it fair to ask you if Queensland audiences are better?
Of course – isn’t everything better in Queensland?
You mentioned you have a video to film today, and the live performances for The Voice all happen in a bit of a run, even though the auditions take place months before. How do you take care of your voice?
That’s the thing. Normally it’s fine but I just happened to get laryngitis in the last couple of weeks and haven’t exactly had time to let it heal properly. Delta [Goodrem, his coach on The Voice] is the best ever – she set me up an appointment with her doctor during the show, so that kind of kept me together as well as possible, and then today I’m going to see another doctor again just to have a check over. It’s kind of hard because I need rest, but also there is no time to rest at the moment. And that’s part of this career and part of doing this. So we get through it and do the best we can.
This album you’re recording – you probably have a whole lot of songs that you’re recording quickly. But down the track are you looking forward to writing your own songs? Or have you written some songs for this album?
The song list isn’t really final until the album’s printed, but at the moment a co-write has made the cut, which is really exciting. One we wrote on Tuesday [this interview happened on a Thursday]. I’m grateful to Universal [his record company]. I’m not much of a writer but they’re excited to get co-writes happening and help me improve on that.
After the album’s released I imagine you’ll be on tour – are you looking forward to that? Or perhaps you need to rest that voice a little bit first.
Nah, who needs rest? Rest is for the wicked [laughs]. We’ll just get the album done. It is very early days. The planning is there, it’s just making it all happen now and that takes a little bit of time. But the plan definitely is to do a tour.
What are the Queensland destinations that will be a priority when you do that tour?
The priority is everywhere and anywhere. I’m a big believer in just hitting the road and playing everywhere that someone will listen.
That’s a country music thing, too, to really want to connect with the audience. So even though you can obviously a variety of styles I think maybe in your soul, Judah, you are country music.
So does that mean we’ll see you in Tamworth?
At the moment, yes. We’re planning to get there and Universal are happy for me to be there, I really want to be there, it’s just trying to make that happen in such a busy schedule – but it is a priority.
Judah Kelly will be performing at Gympie Music Muster, held from 24 to 27 August at Amamoor Creek State Forest. For further info check out www.muster.com.au
Find Judah on Facebook: www.facebook.com/judahkellymusic