Queensland-based artist Brook Chivell is such a dynamic performer that he keeps being invited to festivals around Australia. His energetic country rock style is paired with an incredibly impressive voice, so it’s no surprise that his fan base has been growing. Chivell recently released an album, Fearless Rider, although you won’t yet be able to find it on streaming services – you can, however, buy it at one of shows, including Tamworth Country Music Festival shows on Thursday 23 January at 7.00 p.m. at Moonshiners Bar with Natalie Pearson and Liam Brew, and Friday 24 January at 9.30 a.m. at the Hopscotch Café Songwriters in the Round. Brisbanites can also see Chivell with Andrew Swift, Jade Holland and Natalie Pearson on Saturday 15th February from 11.30 a.m. on the Riverfest Country Cruise.
Chivell has been involved in music since he was young – partly influenced by his parents’ taste in music.
‘My mum and dad’s record collection stops in about 1967, I reckon,’ he says with a laugh. ‘But on the upside it does include the Folsom Prison album and there’s quite a few Johnny Cash albums in there.
‘My favorite was always Buddy Holly. Dad was a big Buddy Holly fan. That’s why I play generally Fender guitars – but not always. But that was the initial spark. We had a keyboard at home and I used to muck around. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just was picking out tunes by ear. And as it turns out that was good training for me for later on. I did keyboards in high school as well.
‘I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 17, in study week of Year Twelve, which is probably not the ideal time to get obsessed with an instrument, but I did. I had a really old acoustic guitar that my parents had bought me – the strings were five centimetres off the frets. Or maybe not, maybe more like five millimetres! But it was a long way. One of the tuning pegs had fallen off so you had to tune all the other strings to that string. It was not ideal. But I literally played until my fingers bled. I was obsessed. And in my uni years I played guitar all the way through. Ten hours a day was nothing for me.’
As a child Chivell sang in a couple of choirs here and there, he says – until his voice broke.
‘I think I had a really good voice before my voice broke and then I had to pick up the pieces of what was left of it, because I went from a boy soprano to a bass baritone,’ he says, laughing, and acknowledging that the change was a shock. ‘Any girl song I could sing, big female songs, I could sing all of them as a kid. And then literally when my voice broke I could sing Hootie and the Blowfish. That was my range. That’s what I had.’
Thereafter, Chivell set about rebuilding his voice.
‘I really had to work on range especially because I just didn’t have any, everything I had was really low. And a good thing about country music is you can do that and that’s acceptable. In pop and rock music it’s not acceptable to have a low voice. It’s unusual.’
He eventually worked his way back to a higher range, saying, ‘It took a long time to realise how I could get a higher voice. I didn’t have lessons, it was just me struggling away trying to figure out how to make my voice higher because all of the ease had disappeared. It took a really long time. From my voice breaking to me singing on stage was probably a good 15 years.’
When he started performing, though, it wasn’t with the intention of being a lead singer. He was playing guitar in cover bands in Melbourne, ‘and a lot of the singers I was playing in bands with were unreliable, so I was kind of forced into it, to be honest,’ he says with a laughs. ‘It got to the point where I thought, I’m relying on this guy who might turn up, and I just can’t.’ I was playing in working bands – we were doing three, four or five nights a week. So I just couldn’t afford to be onstage thinking, Where is the singer right now? Which didn’t happen that often, but it was often enough for me to think, I’m just going to do it myself.‘
Eventually the Brook Chivell Band came into existence, and it only ended when Chivell moved to Queensland from Melbourne.
‘It got to the point where we weren’t rehearsing,’ he says, ‘and there was no way that we possibly could. So I thought, I want to keep going, and those guys were all busy doing other stuff anyway, so we just parted ways. If I get back down to Melbourne, I still catch up with them whenever I can.’
Chivell is not the only artist relocating to the Gold Coast – in recent years it’s developed its own country music community, and Chivell says that every time he talks to a country artist who even slightly considering moving to the Gold Coast, ‘I say, “Get up here.” It’s definitely the place to be. We’ve got a little community. I’m going to hang with Casey Barnes and Matt Cornell today, and Nat Pearson. Just catching up for coffee. And there’s a lot of work outside of country music. A lot of the guys that play country are supporting themselves with cover gigs. There’s heaps of that here, which is amazing, because in Melbourne it was two months of the year.’
Groundwater Music Festival seems to be changing the musical culture of the Gold Coast, which Chivell acknowledges.
‘I moved up here five years ago and I guess Groundwater did their 10-year anniversary [in 2019]. It went from being a pretty small festival 10 years ago – I think the first one I went to was 8 years ago – and it’s definitely at least tripled in size. And I talking to Mark Duckworth, the guy that runs the festival, at Gympie and he was saying it’s getting there … Initially [the attitude was], “They’re doing Broadbeach Country Music Festival” and people on the Gold Coast would say, “I’m not going to that, I don’t like country music.” And now they go to it.
‘In no way, shape or form dissing old country, because obviously it got us to where we are now … bu I say I do country music just to friends and family or people that I work with, and they say, “What – like Slim Dusty?” And I say, “No, not like Slim Dusty! Like me.” If you listen to the radio or a country music song in the last 10 years it’s not Slim Dusty any more. And like I said, all props to the guys that came before us because they deserve all best things that we can say about them, but it’s not what we’re doing now.’
Chivell’s new album, Fearless Rider, has a title track that came into existence not long before the album’s release – and, it turns out, the album itself had a different title until quite recently. It was going to be called Fingerprints, which is the title of a previously released single.
‘But Rod McCormack released an album called Fingerprints,’ says Chivell. ‘I wrote that song maybe eight years ago, and it was always going to be the title track of the album literally right up until we had artwork with fingerprints on it. And then I did a radio interview with a guy and he said, “Oh, so like the Rod McCormack album?” And I said, ‘No, like my album.” And he said, “He just released an album about two weeks ago called Fingerprints.” So then there was a mad rush to see what else fits.’
The song ‘Fearless Rider’ was written ahead of Chivell’s appearances at PBR events in late 2019. (For the uninitiated, the PBR is Australia’s largest bull-riding organisation.)
‘We wrote “Fearless Rider” because I wanted to have a song – well, obviously it’s not just about bull riding, it’s about life versus bull riding and the similarities. And those [bullriders] have a special mindset, but everyone gets smashed every day by different things and we just keep pushing, we keep going. Especially, I find that people that have a dream or something that they’re pushing towards – by rights I should have quit doing music years ago but it’s in my blood and I can’t stop. So I just keep going. And every time I hit a setback, I just got all, well, it is what it is and just keep pushing. see what happens.’
Not that Chivell is now tempted to get on a bull himself: ‘Hell, no!’ he says. ‘Not a chance in the world. Those guys are some of the toughest guys I’ve ever seen. They get absolutely smashed. I do 40 minutes on a treadmill and I feel smashed.’
He mentions that while talking to someone from the PBR people he said he could never do what the bullriders do.
‘And they said, “Yeah, but they couldn’t do what you do either.” I was standing in the middle of the stadium with 6000 people with a microphone. That’s it. Nothing else. And I just accepted that that was what it was. And I’m a guitar player as well so it was a little alien for me to not have a guitar on, but I thought, Well this is what it is and I’m out here and I’m going to do the best job that I can.‘
Doing the best job he can extends, of course, to making sure the album is as good as it can be. He’s taken his time, making sure the right songs are there – including the late addition of the title track. Other songs have taken years, with a couple recorded four years ago and, he says, drums for all the songs apart from ‘Fearless Rider’ recorded eight years ago.
‘As time went on, I just continued finishing songs and finishing songs so that I could release them as singles and that’s still going to happen now off the album,’ he says.
The decision to not release the album on Spotify or other streaming services is a pragmatic one motivated by how those services operate and their significance to how listeners find new music.
‘The way Spotify runs at the moment, you can’t pitch a song to a playlist if it’s already online,’ Chivell explains.’ So I have to wait to put the songs up so that I can pitch them to the playlists and then, fingers crossed, get onto the playlists. Because that’s what artists are living and dying by at the moment.’
Not that he was reluctant to produce CDs – he has found, as so many country artists have, that the audience still loves CDs, and still wants to have their CDs signed after a show. Chivell says he loves doing signings.
‘Some of my favourite things happen when you’re doing a signing,’ he says, adding that the country music audience definitely shows a cross section of people.
‘I toured with a guy years ago who was one of these Australian Idol people and we were doing in stores at JB Hi Fi out the front and that kind of thing, and there’d be 2000 people there and it would be 12- to 15-year-old girls and their mums standing out the back. You do a country gig and there’s everything from a 10-year-old kid with his dad or her dad all way through to granddad who might be sitting up the back enjoying the music as well.’
Country music is also not just played on one type of radio station – and a career highlight for Chivell takes a somewhat unexpected form.
‘My dad used to listen to 3LO in Melbourne, which is ABC radio now,’ he says. ‘My goal was always to have a song that could get played on normal radio and on there because they always played really old songs. And I’ve been on ABC radio. I said to the announcer, “This is one of my life goals. You don’t understand.” They said, “Really?” And I said, “My dad listened to ABC radio all the time when I was a kid and I wanted to get a song on there because those are all the songs that have really made it.”‘
With that goal accomplished, though, there is at least one thing he’d still like to achieve. When he first had singing lessons, about 15 years ago, he discovered that ‘my voice was really suited for stage stuff, musical theatre. I listened to a lot of musical theatre as a kid. I never ever did any. That’s on my bucket list.’
Given his popularity as a country music artist, though, it could be a long while before his fans allow him to contemplate doing anything else.
To order the album, go to www.brookchivellofficial.com
For Brook Chivell’s singles, listen on: