Last year Blue Mountains band Copperline released their debut album, Rusty Fords and Weatherboards – and this year they make their debut as a band at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, playing:
Saturday 18 January – Post Office Hotel
Sunday 19 January – Tamworth City Bowling Club
Sunday 26 January – Toyota Fanzone Stage
It’s not the first Tamworth for singer and guitarist Brad Christmas, though.
‘I’ve been to Tamworth before and I’ve played with different projects,’ he says, ‘but this is the first time Copperline’s played at Tamworth. So we’re really excited about our Tamworth debut and sharing all these songs with the Tamworth crowd. I’m just really looking forward to seeing how people react. The biggest thrill about this whole project is that it’s such a long journey from when you write songs and record them to you actually getting out there and play them, so I love that moment when you first play a song and you see what people’s reactions are. And I’m looking forward to catching up with his friends who are playing and seeing their shows and just being part of it. Tamworth feels like a big family get-together.’
And even though ‘debut’ implies that the band is a relatively new entity, they’re not.
‘We’ve actually been been playing together for a long time – 10 or 15 years,’ says Christmas. ‘We’ve been in cover bands and event bands, and we’ve even got a little side project as a kids band that we do from time to time. For age we’d been talking about doing a new original country project. We were really waiting for the right time, till everyone could really throw themselves into it, writing and recording an album and touring. Last year ended up being the right time. We had a bunch of songs that we’ve been putting together over a number of years and we really wanted to work with Shane Nicholson, and we found a time that he was available and keen to get us up to the studio. So it all came together around that.’
While they were writing the album Christmas wrote a list of producers he’d really love to work with. Nicholson’s name was at the top.
‘Then I thought, We might end up at number four or five on the list before we get a call back. But luckily Shane came straight back to me and was keen to work with us and available. So that was a thrill.’
During the writing of the album, ‘everyone brought stuff to the table,’ says Christmas. ‘I think I had more stuff floating around. We’re actually midway through the point of working on the second album and it’s evened out a lot more. People will bring a half-finished idea to rehearsal and we’ll flesh it out. So we’re doing a lot more collaborative songwriting and people are getting the confidence, I guess, to bring all sorts of different ideas to the table. So our process is definitely evolving over time, becoming a lot more collaborative.’
For the kids band, Christmas says, ‘It’s a very different thing and we write a bit differently for that. We’ll be putting together a show, so you’ll have quite a particular brief for a song – we’ll need a song about farmyard animals or something. So you start with the idea and work backwards, and the music’s obviously quite different as well. So it’s quite a different process. I think with that we tend to go away and work individually a bit more as well. It’s a bit less collaborative, I guess, than Copperline.
‘I think one things about kids music that we’ve kind of learned is that it’s like really, really boiled-down pop songwriting. The same elements of a good kids song make a good pop song: you’ve got to have heaps of hooks really quickly, you can’t have any fat on the songs – they’ve got to be all killer, no filler. So you’ve got to be really disciplined and … I don’t know what the word is. Kind of brutal, I guess, with the way you edit down songs. You get used to sort of packing in heaps of really catchy, hooky parts to a song.’
Christmas began his musical life as many musicians seem to: ‘We had a piano in our home when we were growing up and lots of musicians in the family. Both of my grandmothers played piano really well and I had an uncle in a band who encouraged me to start playing. So I had piano lessons as a kid and had a brilliant, brilliant piano teacher. She was a classical piano teacher and she was really passionate about music and really fostered a passion for music in me. Even though she had a classical background, she was tuned into what I was interested in. And if she worked out I was interested in particular stuff she’d go and find that – if she worked out I was getting into blues, she’d go and find a whole heap of blues sheet music and teach me that. So I started on the piano and then I grew up in nineties indie bands. There weren’t many keyboard players so I learned to play guitar as well. Lots of noisy guitar bands. Not much call for piano players … [But] I got heaps of gigs because there was no one else. If you needed a guitar player there were 4000 people all wanting the gig, but if someone wanted a piano player there were about three of us.’
Songs are written roughly half on guitar and half on piano. ‘I write on the guitar a lot because it’s a bit more portable than the piano and the keyboard, and often I’m writing on the road – you get a couple of free hours so you can sit down and work on something. But if I’m in a place where there is a piano, I gravitate to the piano. I think it’s really good to not just write on one instrument. Just playing a different instrument can open your mind a little bit. Even if it’s the same chords, just playing them on piano rather than guitar or picking up a banjo rather than a guitar – the different sound of it and the different resonances can push your kind of creativity in different directions. Whereas if you just sit at the same instrument all the time, you can end up following familiar grooves all the time.’
The longevity of the band members’ relationships with each other meant that during the process of creating the album ‘we had an understanding and that flows through into the way that we play. We’re so used to playing with each other and you develop a bit of a language, I think, when you do that, in a way of relating to each other. So it was really nice to fall back on that rapport.
‘I know a lot of people could get really control-freaky around their songs and things. But I think once you let go of that and you invite input from other people, you see that the end product’s always better. And that that includes the band, but also when you go and work with a really good producer, when you trust in their skills and their understanding and let them contribute to the song and make it the best it can be, take something that you’ve created and make it bigger and better than you could have even imagined.’
Each of the members has, Christmas says, quite diverse tastes in music.
‘We all like some of the same things,’ he explains, ‘but everyone’s got little guilty pleasures of things that they like and surprising genres of music they listen to and influences they’re playing. So I think that definitely kind of contributes to something that’s greater and more interesting. When you’re just writing by yourself, you end up falling into habits in your own ways of writing and playing. I really like being challenged by other people and the challenge of responding to a different idea that they have or a different way of playing. I think it keeps things exciting and interesting.’
When pressed on what his guilty music pleasures might be, Christmas laughs and says, ‘I did cop a bit of grief for going by myself – because no one would come with me – to see Dolly Parton a few years ago. She’s one of my heroes. It was really funny – I was asking people if they wanted to go and everyone was kind of laughing at me. And so I thought, Stuff you all, I’m going by myself! And it was amazing. A friend of mine – thirty-something, now forty-year-old man, massive Taylor Swift fan, was going to Taylor Swift by himself. So I said, “Look, I’ll take one for the team and come with you.” And I must admit I really enjoyed that show.’
Over the years Copperline have played in many different types of venues – including on the back of flat-bed trucks. When asked if he’d recommend that kind of stage, Christmas laughs and says, ‘Well, we’ve done it a few times and I would say it’s great fun, but the last time we did it we were on a farm and there was a stampede of sheep. It was at nighttime so we couldn’t see it coming, but we could hear this thunder of hooves coming down, which was kind of scary when we had all our gear. They came running around the truck. They nearly knocked a whole pile of gear off the truck and there was this cloud of dust that came with them. So we were all covered in dust – all our gear’s covered in dust – and we were hanging onto guitars and speakers and stuff to stop them falling onto the stage. So it’s great fun, but it’s not without its dangers, let’s put it that way.’
While there are no plans yet for shows on trucks in 2020, the band will devote part of the year to a new album ‘and we’re booking some shows for the rest of the year. We’ve been doing a fair bit of playing around Canberra and that area, so we’re heading back out to Queanbeyan on the 8th of February, to the Tourist Hotel, and then we’re playing back in Sydney on the 16th of February at Yulli’s Brewhouse. So we’re just going to keep going and pack in as many gigs as we can.’
The band has already played a couple of great festivals, he says, but there are two on his wishlist: the Deni Ute Muster and the Gympie Music Muster. Whichever festivals they’re in, though, he says they want to ‘travel a bit further afield this year, travel interstate a bit more. And then obviously once we record the new album, we’ll set up a bit of a tour off the back of that.’
Listen to Rusty Fords and Weatherboards on: