Eleven years ago Australian country music duo The Audreys released their first album, Between Last Night & Us. Despite intentions to do a ten-year anniversary tour, they are now on the road one year late – but, of course, for their fans, any time is the right time. The album won an ARIA, and there were other successful albums after that. Yet it’s back to this first landmark album they’ll go for this tour – and I spoke to one half of the band, Taasha Coates, about it.
How did The Audreys form all those years ago?
It was 2004. Tristan and I were playing together doing mostly covers but in our own style – slowed-down versions of pop songs and stuff – and we wanted a band name. We were just calling ourselves Taasha and Tristan, and we wanted a band name. And we started a competition. The winner – the person who came up with the band name that we chose – got a $50 drink voucher at one of our gigs. We got so many suggestions – pages and pages of suggestions. At one point after we’d chosen the name, we threw the pages away in frustration because we were so sick of looking at them, and I’ve regretted that so many times because I’ve had friends trying to name bands. But in the end it was actually me who came up with [the name]. I said, ‘It’s a shame there’s already a band called The Audreys because that would be really cool.’ And Tristan said, ‘I’ve never heard of a band called that.’ It’s just a nice reference to something old fashioned and I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan, and Hank Williams’s wife was called Audrey. So it has a few little tie-ins. And then we started writing, and recorded our first record in 2005 and it came out in 2006, and that’s this record that we’re touring now.
Did you give yourself the $50 drink voucher?
Yes, I got drunk at my own gig – it was awesome.
Listening to this album, it doesn’t sound like a debut album – which makes sense, because you were obviously playing for a long time together before that. You’d reached a point of maturity in your playing. But to you, listening back, does it sound like a really developed work?
I haven’t listened to it in years [laughs]. I guess I probably should before the tour. It’s very hard to listen to your own stuff objectively. I’ll just hear, ‘Oh my god, I sound so young’. I’m sure my voice is quite different now, eleven years on.
I don’t know about that – haven’t listened to your solo work, I don’t think your voice sounds much different. Perhaps that’s also because your voice was really developed by the time of that first album too. It sounded like you had arrived on that album ready, and therefore it doesn’t surprise me that that voice has sustained itself through the years because it’s not like you needed to do a lot of development.
Oh, that’s nice – thank you. I did actually study voice at university. I did a music degree. But that was the first time I’d recorded – it was my first time in a studio.
Even studying music at university wouldn’t necessarily prepare you for that.
No, no, because I was studying jazz. Which I kind of can’t stand [laughs] and I don’t think I was very good at. But it certainly helped me develop my instrument – as in, develop my voice – and I was using it all the time. We had been gigging for about eighteen months when we recorded. And it’s one of the nice things about being from Adelaide: no one else was really doing what we were doing, so there was nothing we were judging ourselves against, it was just very much [that] we were making our own sound and doing our own thing. So I didn’t go in the studio worried about what people were going to think of it. I thought we’d make a thousand copies at most and sell them at gigs. I wasn’t thinking of this as some grand debut – it was just doing the best that we could and trying to make a sound that we were happy with.
Has the way you and Tristan make music together changed over the years?
Actually, not really. He’s more involved in the lyrics than he was early on – we write the lyrics together now. But we’re not tech heads – we don’t demo stuff extensively òn our laptops or anything like that. We sit in a room together, with a guitar and piece of paper. And that’s how we’ve always done it.
The tools of a piece of paper and a pencil are really easy – as a piece of technology, a piece of paper works really well.
That’s very true. And then we’ll record them on voice memo or something. Early on, before that was a feature, we had a little digital Dictaphone. If we got what we thought was a basic verse-chorus kind of idea, we’d record it a snatch of it, then we’d go down the pub with our pen and paper and headphones and just listen to it over and over again, and pass the pad and paper back between each other and each have a turn writing a line. Pages and pages. There was one bar we used to go to a lot that was near our house – the staff would come over and we’d say, ‘So what rhymes with blah-blah-blah?’ and they’d all come up with different ideas about rhymes. So they felt they were involved. It was great.
I’ve never heard of a songwriting process like that.
It was good. We used to write over a week, so we’d get up and first thing in the morning is good because you’re often really fresh, and we would just bust out until we got an idea that we thought was worthwhile. Then you’re sick of your space – you’re frustrated, you need to move, you need to get out, so you go down the pub. Especially if you’re in the Adelaide Hills and a glass of wine is $4.50 [laughs]. You probably have to search a bit harder for that nowadays. We did write some of our second record in New York, but again the same process.
Now that you have done your solo album, do you prefer the process as a duo?
Yes, I found that pretty lonely, actually, pretty hard. Also it’s quite a personal record. It was me really reflecting on the year I’d had. So I was digging into some painful feelings. I wrote that record over five weeks. I did one gig every week for five weeks and the first gig I had, I think, five and a bit songs, then by the fifth week I had fourteen. So I was writing them through that whole process. But I was also working and a single mother with two young children, so it was full on. At the end of the five weeks, a couple of days after that fifth gig, I was in the studio. So it was all a bit brutal.
It also sounds like you work really well within structure – the way you work with Tristan has its own structure, and then you structured that solo process. It sounds like you looked at it and thought, By the end of these five weeks I will have written this album.
Exactly. And you have to have faith in yourself that writing is a skill you haven’t lost. I actually did quite a lot of writing this year. I went to Austin I did a songwriting exchange. Wrote a bunch of songs over there with some Austin songwriters. I also did one of those song hub things that APRA run, where you write three songs over three days. So I’ve been writing a lot. And if you said to me, ‘You’re going to be in the studio a year from today,’ I would write everything in the last month. So I have spurts of writing and then I’ll have spurts of being a mum and a touring musician and a wife and whatever else. I’m not someone who feels like I have to write every week.
When you do write like that, once you have that collection of songs, do you put them aside and let them marinate for a bit? Actually, no, you just told me you didn’t do that!
Although I did have those gigs. The songs I’d written for the first gig, by the fifth gig were a lot more developed. So there was that month process there. I’d probably do that again. I liked that process. I think next time Tristan and I write me might book ourselves a month of shows. Because it was pretty fun.
It also sounds like you could get on a wave, then – the creative momentum was there but it was also balanced, because there was performance as well as that interior life of writing.
Yes, and they were pretty low-key gigs. I wasn’t afraid to say, ‘I just wrote this this morning.’ But there were lots of people who came to a couple of the shows and really felt like they were involved in the process and would come up and say, ‘I love what you’ve done with that song’, and, ‘This is my favourite’. It was really good. It was really fun.
It must be hugely gratifying to feel that you’re not writing or performing into the void – it is that storyteller exchange. The audience is there and you’re meeting them.
Exactly. And I think I really wanted that with the solo record because, first of all, I didn’t have Audreys gigs to try them out on, and secondly it was a new voice for me, so I think I wanted a bit of feedback.
Earlier you mentioned that with the tour coming up you might have to go back and listen to the first album. Are you and Tristan going to need much rehearsal time, or are you going to fit back together like puzzle pieces?
A lot of these songs we’ve been doing the whole time, but there are some that I’ll definitely have to go back and listen to [laughs] and make some notes about. But, also, Tristan’s brother Cam is playing with us on this tour, and he was on that first record. And he hasn’t played with us since. He’s an actor. But he’s having a break from acting at the moment, so he’s doing this tour with us. Apart from getting up as a special guest here and there over the last ten years, he’s not actually toured with us. It will be great fun having him on stage but it will mean a little bit of ‘Okay, so who plays what here?’
So he’s the one who needs rehearsal time.
Probably. But no, he’s a great musician so I’m sure at our first rehearsal everyone will have learnt their parts. That’s how the pros are meant to do it anyway [laughs].
Looking at the list of venues, are you going back to old favourites or visiting new ones?
Mostly old favourites. Where are you?
I’m in Sydney.
So Leadbelly [in Sydney’s Newtown] used to be called The Vanguard, and we played there on our first tour, I reckon. If not second. We’ve been playing there for ten years.
I can’t see country towns – well, there’s one. So you’re tending to stick to cities?
At the moment. We do regional touring. But it’s hard. I live in Adelaide, Tristan lives in Melbourne, Cam lives in Sydney. Regional touring takes a lot more time. But we’re playing down south in Victoria, we’re playing Newcastle, we’re playing Wollongong.
Are you going to change the set list each night?
Well, this is our tour where we’re playing that record. And then we’ll come back on stage and play some favourites of ours from our other records, and if people want to request stuff, totally. I might play a few things off my solo record. We might do some wacky covers.
It sounds like you won’t have time for a support act, then?
No, we do have a support act. Dylan Menzie, he’s a Canadian singer-songwriter.
Over your years of touring, what have been the best gigs?
That’s a tough one, because they can be so different. There’s something really great about a listening room, where people are there to hear the music. But there’s also something really fun about getting on a big festival stage and playing to people who haven’t heard of you, if you’re overseas or something. It’s much more challenging, but it can be really great fun and rewarding. So I like both ends of that spectrum. One thing I love about festivals is that for me, as a touring musician and also a mum, it can be hard to get out and see other bands. So if I’m at a festival, I get to see other bands. It’s so fun.
Are there any bad gigs that stick in your memory?
Oh my god, yes! [laughs] I think my worst one still stands out as … oh look, it’s probably a tie between a whole bunch of shitty ones. We played one year at the Gympie Muster and there was really bad feedback on stage, through the whole gig, and we decided it sounded like two whales having sex. And so, instead of actually mixing the gig, the sound engineer spent the entire time trying to work out where the feedback was coming from. It was a nightmare. Bad sound always does it for me. Bad sound makes a bad gig.
One last question: on the song ‘Banjo and Violin’, you said, ‘I used to be rock ’n’ roll’, and I’m wondering how you’d classify yourself now.
I say. ‘I’ve gone a bit country since I met you, baby, I used to be so rock ’n’ roll’. So Tristan and I, when we met, we were university students. He was in a rock band. He had long hair. He played electric guitar. And we started playing country music together. So it’s a reference to our evolution. I was studying jazz, so I wasn’t particularly rock ’n’ roll, so it’s a reference to Tristan. And now I’m probably a bit more rock ’n’ roll now. I wear black skinny jeans and there’s some pretty rocky songs on my solo record.
So you’re a mix. We’ll call you country rock, how about that?
Country rock – I love that! When I was doing interviews for my solo record and someone said, ‘Where do you see yourself with this record?’ I said, ‘I want to be the dirty old granny of Australian country music’ [laughs].
I look forward to seeing you become that dirty old granny.
Thank you! I do too.
Saturday 4th November 2017 | 3pm
The Milk Factory, BRISBANE QLD
Saturday 4th November 2017 | 8pm
The Milk Factory, BRISBANE QLD
Sunday 5th November 2017 | 7.30pm
The Gov, ADELAIDE SA
Wednesday 8th November 2017 | 6pm
Lizottes, NEWCASTLE NSW
Thursday 9th November 2017 | 7pm
The Brass Monkey, CRONULLA NSW
Friday 10th November 2017 | 7pm
Heritage Hotel, BULLI NSW
Saturday 11th November 2017 | 6pm
Leadbelly, NEWTOWN NSW
Sunday 12th November 2017 | 12.30pm
Leadbelly, NEWTOWN NSW
Friday 24th November 2017 | 8pm
Meeniyan Hall, MEENIYAN VIC
Saturday 25th November 2017 | 7.30pm
Memo Music Hall, ST KILDA VIC