Tania Kernaghan has been in constant musical motion, it seems, since the release of her first album, December Moon, in the 1990s. She is a fixture of the Australian country music scene but that doesn’t mean she’s rusted on – rather, it means she’s ‘better worn in’, as her latest single attests. It’s a tribute to feeling comfortable in your own skin, and it was a great pleasure to talk to Tania about it recently. Then again, it’s always a pleasure talking to Tania as she’s thoughtful, interesting and passionate about her music, and the many other elements of her life.
Congratulations on the new single. It’s wonderful to have new music from you. Is it the first single from a forthcoming album or is it a standalone release?
It actually is from an album, and my plan this year is to drop out new singles for radio and video clips and then they’ll go towards a body of work for a full album for next year.
Is that a way you’ve done it before, where you’ve recorded singles and then gone on to put them on an album or normally do you record the whole album and then do the singles?
In the past I’ve done the whole albums and then we drop out singles. But I think there’s no real formula anymore these days with music. I think people’s attention span is pretty small as far as they get new music and then it’s kind of old after a week or two. So I think people just want to be having something new all the time and doing it this way I’ll be able to bring out more music more regularly. So it’s a little bit different to what I’ve done in the past, but I think that it’ll be a good, positive way to go.
And seeing you on Instagram, you’re great at building excitement around the single. You were talking about the song and then talking about the video a lot and doing little snippets. You’ve obviously learned to use social media really well to get that message out that you have new music.
That’s really great you say that because I think I’m a tech nerd when it comes to social media. I’m pretty hopeless with stuff like that. I put it out there and I think, Is that really bad?Or, Is that too self-promoting?Or, Is that kind of naff?So it’s a bit nerdy, the way I do my social media stuff, but then again it’s kind of who I am. And that’s the whole thing about the ‘Better Worn In’ song and this time in my life. That’s about embracing who you are and being comfortable in your own skin and this is how it is, guys. And I think the more real you can be – and I hate using the word ‘authentic’ all the time, but the more real you can be, the better it is in the long run.
The refrain of the song is that ‘life’s like your best pair of boots, better worn in’. But I’m wondering if you had times in life when you didn’t feel like your boots fit comfortably, shall we say?
Oh, absolutely. Especially when I was younger. You know, I was so worried about are they high enough, are they square enough, are they shiny enough, are they cool enough and are they the right colour? You drive yourself crazy when you’re younger worrying about what everybody else thinks. Trying to be as good as the next person or just trying to be better. And if only you could go back and say, ‘Just don’t try so hard. Just chill and relax and enjoy every moment.’ Gosh, I would do it differently. But I suppose without all of those experiences, without those uncomfortable feelings and those twists and turns that you take in life, it wouldn’t have gotten me to where I am today. And where I am right now, I don’t look back and have regrets. There are things I probably would have done a little bit differently, but what the heck, I’m pretty happy about it all at the end of the day.
Do you think it was a gradual realisation that you’d entered that phase of feeling better worn in? Or was it like a lightbulb moment where one day you thought, Oh yeah, now I am really past all of that?
In my thirties, I thought I was feeling pretty cool and comfortable, but it was probably my early forties that I thought, You just to take a step back now and do things a bit differently and not worry so much about the past or what the future’s going to hold, or try to compare yourself with the next person.Because we’re all so different, you know, everybody’s individual and I think that spirit within you, that’s your shining light, and if you can get in touch with that and really let that come out then that makes you different, that makes you unique. And it’s not about the clothes you wear or how much make-up you’ve got on or anything about the material stuff that we put around ourselves. It’s getting in touch with the heart and soul of who you are and letting that come out and embracing that. And that’s where you’ll be the point of difference to anybody else.
There are many cultural messages targeted at women in particular, around aging and also around not being comfortable with yourself. Some industries benefit from women not being comfortable with themselves. Did you ever have to consciously recondition your thoughts around self-acceptance to do with getting older?
I probably used to, coming into it. I’m not knocking anybody [who] might go and have fillers and Botox or facelifts or anything like that. Everybody’s doing their own thing that makes them feel good within themselves. But I don’t feel the need to do that. I feel like, nah, I’m happy. Every line on my face tells a story and there’s a lot of laugh lines – I’ve laughed a lot. There’s been some major stresses and some boyfriends that I could truly have done without. But I’ll look in the mirror and I see those lines and realise those things happened in your life because this is where you are right now. And I can see clearly why those things have happened and now I can sing about it, and talk about things that have happened in my past career. Once upon a time I would just run for the hills and didn’t want anybody to know about some of the heartaches and some of the rough patches that I’ve had. But now I can get up on a stage or speak and think, No, those things happened and this is why I am like I am today.So embracing the negative as well, it’s not such a bad thing.
You wrote this song with Nick Wolfe after you were the celebrant at his wedding. You were also the celebrant for Beccy Cole and Libby O’Donovan. So now I’m wondering how many country music artists you’ve married.
[Laughs] My sister Fiona also co-wrote the song. We went down to Tassie for three or four days and wrote with Nick sitting at his kitchen table with our laptops and guitars and threw some ideas around. Then when I asked Nick to produce the track as well, he said yes. So he’s been saying yes to me for a long time now. I’m just a bit worried about what I’m going to ask him next because I know he’ll say yes [laughs]. I don’t know about marrying too many other artists. I usually marry my mates, so that’s kind of cool. But marrying Beccy and Libby was fantastic. It was a beautiful wedding and the first same sex marriage that I had conducted and been a part of. They’re good mates, you know. Love is love. Doesn’t matter which form it comes in and it’s different for everybody.
I was at the Tamworth show that you organised earlier this year [with Beccy Cole, Gina Jeffreys and Lyn Bowtell]. So I know that it was at that wedding that you got the idea for that show.
Yes. I’ve got the napkin where I wrote the contract at the restaurant the night before [the wedding]. I’ve still got that. We were sitting around the table and I said to the girls, ‘We should do a show’, wrote down the bit of the contract, got the girls to sign it and then a few months passed and I’ve made the call and said, ‘Hey, do you want to be serious about it?’ And all the girls were right into it. So it was a great concert and a lot of fun. And I reckon that was typical of four girls up there just doing their thing and this is how it is, feeling very comfortable with our past and we’ve got together to celebrate it together.
It was a really great show, and I loved the way you structured it, sitting down for the first part telling stories and singing, then the second half was performance. I actually got the feeling that I wasn’t alone in the audience wishing that it could just keep going for at least another hour. It was such a great night. Do you think you’re going to add organising shows to your resume? It was a real success. I hope you repeat it with other things.
I’d love to do it again. And there’s been talk about it. It’s just that everybody’s so busy with their individual careers, it’s something you probably need to plan two years ahead, I think. But we were all very pumped and from something that was just over a glass of wine and a few friends catching up over dinner, to jotting down a few notes on a napkin at a restaurant, to that show. From the very get-go it was done with the right intention and the right heart. And there was no ‘what we’re going to make out of it’ or ‘I hope we get a big crowd’ or anything like that. It was just, ‘Let’s just do it because we’ve got a lot to say.’ And we’d all been friends for over 20 years. So it was time we all got together and we had the runs on the board, I guess you could say, to be able to get up there and do it. So to answer your question in a roundabout way, I would truly love to do it again with the girls, but we’ll just have to watch this space.
The next day I was in the tiny Red Cross Hall and there was a walk-up performance thing and someone sang a song you’d sung at that show. I thought, Tania is everywhere in Tamworth!
Was it ‘Tenterfield Saddler’?
No, it was ‘A Bushman Can’t Survive’.
John Williamson wrote that song back in the 70s and when I was making my first record, December Moon, back in 1996 I had all my songs ready for the album and I just needed one more song. I was going through cassettes on my bedroom floor in Albury, where I grew up, listening to songs, thinking, Maybe there’s a cover I can do of something.And I heard ‘A Bushman Can’t Survive’ and John’s version of it and thought, This needs to be sung from a woman’s point of view.So I went into the studio with Garth Porter, who produced that record, and Lee [Kernaghan] happened to come in and he said, ‘Hey, I reckon we should do it like a duet.’ So it was not planned. We just went in there, recorded it as a duet, and that was back in 1996. So that’s how long we’ve been singing it. And I wish I had written the song, but that’s just testament to John Williamson and there’s someone walking up at the Red Cross Hall in Tamworth, and anybody can sing a great song. There’s no doubt about that.
I also think it’s a testament to you as a performer that it felt so much like it was from you –written by you. But I’ll go back to your new song and also to the Nick Wolfe connection. Nick has, of course, spent many years touring with Lee [as part of the Wolfe Brothers]. How did you come to form your connection with Nick?
A couple of years ago I was out on Lee’s tour for about a year and [the Wolfes and I] were playing together night after night, and then Nick and Toni asked me if I’d marry them, and we developed a friendship. Nick’s a bit of a musical genius, I reckon, because not only did he co-write the song but he produced the track, played a lot of the instruments on the track and did the backing vocals. Nick’s just started to scratch the surface. Watch him in the next few years, as time unfolds. There’s nothing that guy won’t be able to do. So I’m just glad I got in early while he was cheap [laughs].
Given that he was a co-writer of the song while he was producing it, did he, did he have some strong opinions about how things would go recording that song?
He had some great ideas and there’s one thing that I really probably lacked in previous albums – because I’ve always written with my sister and a lot of female writers, having Nick on board, particularly for ‘Better Worn In’, was great because it’s not just about the girls getting older, it’s about the guys too, and feeling good in their own skin and feeling comfortable as they’re getting older and a bit more rugged. Men seem to get better with age, I reckon. And it was good having Nick’s input musically and lyrically because it gave it a little less female and a little bit more male in there as well.
So as you’re going into this run now of producing some singles. Will you keep writing with Fiona? Have you already established how you’re going to write these songs or do you just take it as it comes creatively?
I’ve got a swag of ideas. I’ve got lots of wobbly kind of musical ideas recorded on my fine. It sounds like I’m travelling an outback road going along corrugated dirt roads, travelling over cattle grids. It’s pretty rough [laughs]. But when I get home and listen to them and I think, Yeah, that’s a pretty great idea, that’s when I bring in Fion and people like Nick and say, ‘Look, this is the idea, this is what I feel connected to’. Because it’s important that when you do write a song that you can sit around a campfire with an acoustic guitar and sing it and it connects with people. You don’t necessarily have to have all the drums and the fiddles and the pianos and all that gear. It’s got to work just in a paddock with an acoustic guitar. Like ‘A Bushman Can’t Survive’ – you could just sing the lyrics and that song would still work. So that’s what I’m trying to do with each song that I write now. It touches people in a way. It connects with people. And I think for the next few songs and the next project ahead, I’ll definitely use Fion and work with Nick again because of it was a great collaboration and we all had great ideas, but we also gave each other the respect and the space that we needed. And we’d say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s okay, but maybe do it this way, and this way’, and we have a respect for each other. That really works.
And it has worked very, very, very well on this song. You mentioned some country roads and cattle grids –I noticed you have a few shows around the place coming up, listed on your website. Have you locked in your shows for the rest of the year or might you add some?
Oh, definitely adding some every week, there’s more shows coming to the website and for the year. I haven’t even started to scratch the surface. I’ve got a few things happening in July and then for the rest of the year, but there’ll definitely be more tour dates. So I’ll put them up on the website and keep it fresh, put it out there on social media in my kind of clumsy naff way [laughs].
You’re talking about adding tour dates, but you are a celebrant, as we’ve discussed, you do some speaking, you’re an MC, you work with Riding for the Disabled and other organisations. When it comes to that creative time writing songs, do you have to schedule that really tightly or do you tend to just try to slot it in wherever it appears as an opportunity?
Generally I’ve got the ideas coming all the time, as I said I put them in my phone or write them down. Then I need to say, okay, in July, the first two weeks of July, let’s block it out for songwriting. And I can’t think about, Oh, I’ll write a song this morning, but I’m getting on a plane this afternoon– I’m not one of those kinds of people. I might come up with an idea on a plane or sitting in a departure lounge, but to actually put it all down and get it finished and how I would like it, I need that complete focus.
For Tania’s tour dates and other information, go to: