Multiple Golden Guitar Award nominee Paul Costa is always a crowd favourite at the Tamworth Country Music Festival – so much so that for the next festival, in January 2019, he’s playing two headlining shows. Paul Costa and Friends will be at the Capitol Theatre on 19 and 26 January, I spoke to Paul recently about those shows and about his latest single, ‘Road Train’.
What is special about the Tamworth Country Music Festival?
It’s one of the biggest country music festivals in the world and we’re so lucky to have it here, accessible to us. For me, it’s helped my career a hell of a lot, building up a fan base. You’ve got country music fans coming from all over Australia. I started as a young fella playing in the street then progressed to my own shows, and now I’ve got two shows at the Capitol Theatre next year, so it’s been a continual ride. I guess I’d have to the festival a big salute for helping me get where I am.
Everyone who has visited the festival knows that there’s a lot of talent on Peel Street, and the performers aren’t just playing one show – they’re there day after day.
It is amazing you get caught up in the excitement and the atmosphere. I’ve always said that the atmosphere is electric. There are people who want to hear music, and sometimes they dance along to your music. But it can be fairly taxing [laughs].
Also, you’re outside and it’s a very warm time of year.
Definitely. But with the atmosphere your adrenaline starts pumping and you do it. When you’ve got the fans there who want to hear what you do, as a performer you find a way to do it.
The audience is never as close again as when they’re watching you on Peel Street. So many great artists, like you, start on Peel Street and I guess you learn so much about how to connect with an audience when they’re right in front of you like that.
It’s a great research and development thing [laughs]. Honing your skills as an artist. A lot of artists – Troy Cassar-Daley, Felicity Urquhart, Keith Urban – played on the street in Tamworth. Just to hold an audience is an art in itself, so without even thinking you do pick up those skills as you go along and they stick with you and become part of your style.
As you said, you’re playing at the Capitol Theatre and you have two shows, and I’ve noticed that you’ve spaced them really well so there’s one on each of the weekends, therefore capturing people who aren’t necessarily there the whole time.
Yes, that was the plan [laughs]. We normally spend the whole ten days there doing interviews and all the rest of it and that was always the build-up to the show. For the last seven years I’ve had my Capitol Theatre show on the last Saturday. And a lot of people I speak to say, ‘We’re only here for the first weekend’ or ‘We’re only here till Tuesday’. So we thought let’s try a show on the first Saturday, get everyone who wants to come on the first weekend as well as the last weekend, and we’ll see how we go. It seems to be shifting from where it used to be a build-up [towards the last weekend]. Because of school holidays I think the festival’s moved slightly later and holidays cut out towards the end of the festival now, so you get a lot of people who seem to be going just for the first weekend. So this is the first year doing two and we’ll let you know how it goes at the end [laughs].
Beccy Cole’s done both Fridays for a long time.
I think Adam Harvey’s another one who’s played two shows for as long as I can remember.
The show is Paul Costa and friends – can you reveal who the friends are yet?
Some of them are surprises and some of them want to be surprises. I can tell you that Ben Ransom – who opened the show for me last year – is going to be back opening the show on the last Saturday. He does a great job – he’s a great artist in his own right, doing very well on radio channels and that type of thing, so I’m happy to have him on board. But we like to keep the surprise guests a surprise otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise [laughs]. In the past I’ve had Amber Lawrence, Aleyce Simmonds, Graeme Connors, James Blundell sang a couple of songs with me last year. So we always get some great artists and friends of mine.
It’s one of the really special elements of Tamworth that you have all these artists in the one place but also part of the country music industry is that you’re all so willing to collaborate and perform with each other. It makes it so special for the audience.
It does. It’s a funny thing – someone’s doing a show, but as soon as another artist comes up and joins them, the whole atmosphere lifts and the cameras come out. People want to capture that special little moment and that interaction. It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect but just the way two, or three, artists interact makes it a little bit different and a little bit special.
Because you are there for the whole festival, and I know you’ll be doing media and other things because it does get very busy for the performers, is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?
I’m always there for the opening concert – I always like that. It’s a great to kick off the festival. I just like getting around. We haven’t filled our calendar yet for where we’re playing, so once that’s locked in I’ll check out what else is available. But I love to see as much music as I can. The Pickers’ Night is always a big, big plus. I love Lee Kernaghan and James Blundell, Amber Lawrence and Aleyce Simmonds – all people I know but I’m also fans of their music and how talented they are. I’ll see as many shows as I can.
You’ve also released a new single off the album, and that is ‘Road Train’, which is named after a person you met. After you met him and he told you his name and a bit of his story, did you make notes straightaway, thinking you might write a song?
When he stuck his hand out and said, ‘G’day, they call me Road Train’, I said back to him – without even saying hello yet – ‘Wow, that’s a great idea for a song’ [laughs]. He looked at me funny and then we shook hands. I got his phone number, and the idea stuck with me because you know when something will work. I got together with Drew McAlister, because I always figured it would be a contemporary rock song, and who better to write something like that with than Drew? While we were writing it we rang Road Train and started talking about his story. He was just a character. Some of the things he said, as they came out of his mouth we were writing them down. There’s a line about hauling cattle that’s precisely how he said it. He grew up on a farm but that wasn’t the life for him, he wanted life on the road. The album’s been out for a while but it’s one of those songs that almost every reviewer and a lot of fans mention as their favourite. So I thought if we were going to release another single, heading up to Tamworth, that would be a good one.
After I met Road Train, I was invited back to the same event, the Gattan Festival, twelve months later. I’d written the song and we played the song. Road Train was there and so was all of his family. And given that it was a song about trucks at a truck show, you couldn’t really go wrong. He loved it and the reaction was great, so that made it really special – and that’s even before we made the album. So Road Train was pretty happy.
When you have a song you know your audiences love, do you put it in the main set list or are you tempted to keep it for an encore? Keep them waiting for it.
It all depends. You always like to have a couple up your sleeve, and given that it’s a kickarse song, I always like to finish the set with high energy. It leaves people feeling pretty good.
The idea for this song stayed with you for a while. Before you write songs do you let ideas sit in your head and see which of them stay?
When I come up with the idea the challenge is writing it down. Even if I’m driving somewhere and I come up with an idea – a feel for it, or a melody – I’ll record that on my phone so I’ve got it for reference down the track. Plenty of times that’s happened. And once you’ve got it down and you go back to it, that will turn into a song.
Earlier in the year you were a nominee at the CMC Awards. How important has CMC become for artists and country music in general?
Very important. It’s one of our main outlets to get our film clips out so people can see them. Especially now they have the awards – it was a big thrill to be named as a finalist in the Male Artist category. There were some massive names in there, and some massive names missed out on it, so I felt very fortunate to be part of that, be invited and do the red carpet. Not to mention the CMC Rocks show – if you’re reading this, Tim Daley, I wouldn’t mind being on that show! [Laughs] Any time you like! It’s an international showcase at the highest level. So CMC is a big part of our industry now.
Obviously Tamworth is sorted, but after that, what are you up to in 2019?
Starting to work on new music at the moment. I was actually speaking to my producer, Matt Fell, only yesterday to let him know that we’ve started the process. It will be a little while before we head to the studio – the best work you can do is make sure you have your songs right and up to standard. I’m really getting that itch now to start to produce new music and get it out there.
There will be some touring. We’ve got a Rail and Sail holiday happening shortly through Tamworth Travel and they’re keen to do more, so hosting holidays might be part of it later on next year.
Look at all the places country music takes you – it’s wonderful.
It’s incredible, really. It’s taken me all over Australia and different parts of the world. I just came back from a three-week tour of New Zealand, and that was magnificent. We did eleven shows over three weekends, North and South Islands. I’m very fortunate.
Paul Costa’s latest album is Whisper in the Crowd.
TAMWORTH COUNTRY MUSIC FESTIVAL SHOWS
Saturday 19 January 2019, 10 a.m.
Capitol Theatre, Tamworth Country Music Festival, NSW
Saturday 26 January 11 a.m.
Capitol Theatre, Tamworth Country Music Festival, NSW