Gold Coast-based singer-songwriter Brook Chivell is known for his high-energy live shows and his powerful country rock sound – but he’s always had a musical and lyrical balance within his music, and his latest single, ‘In My Life’ is a heartfelt ballad that become his new single for a very good reason: his fans asked for it.
‘It was the one my hardcore fans kind of chose, really,’ says Chivell. ‘I listen to what they say. If they say, “I really love that song”, and I hear it enough times, I think I’ll put that one out next.
‘The first single that I ever released was chosen by people I knew. I didn’t have any fans at the time but they chose the song, because I like what I like for different reasons, other people like what they like for different reasons, but when a bunch of people say it, that’s something to listen to.’
The McClymonts’ song ‘Forever Begins Tonight’ has become a wedding song staple, and ‘In My Life’ would be a good candidate for that too. When that idea is put to Chivell, he says, ‘I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of songs that have been seen that way. One in particular – I did a duet on my first album called “Always You”, and it’s a waltz, in three/four time, and I know that’s been used in a few weddings. It’s an easy waltz and the topic’s nice as well.
‘Any time that people use one of my songs for any reason that’s big in their life – even when people say, “That song really got me out of a hard time” – those things really mean a lot because it means that your lyrics have connected and resonated with somebody. That’s huge to me, because that connection is what it’s all about.
‘If it’s a song I’ve written by myself it’s nice for me because I can realise I’m not the only person going through this. A lot of times you write songs because it’s a bit of therapy. Sometimes you do think, I’m the only person who’s ever been through this, and that’s part of the human condition, I guess. There’s a lot of people out there feeling pretty horrible because they think they’re the only people. But I don’t think anyone’s been through anything new in a really long time.’
‘In My Life’ appears on Chivell’s most recent album, Fearless Rider, which he released on CD last year. It’s not yet available on streaming services because, as he explains, ‘of the way that Spotify is now – you can’t pitch a playlist if the song’s already on Spotify – so I’ve had to release the songs from the album one at a time and hopefully I can group them together at the end.’
Music streaming services can not only affect how recorded music is released – they can have an impact on the music itself, with artists having to think about songs on an album as entities within themselves, rather than focusing on the album overall.
‘In general I see an album as a snapshot in time,’ says Chivell. ‘An album is where you’re at when you recorded those songs, and in ten years’ time you look back and think, Wow, I’ve really changed since then.
‘We’re kind of back in the fifties now. I had an ad come up on Spotify yesterday for a band, and I’ll very often click through and see what they’re like. The song came on, I thought, That’s pretty cool – I wonder what else they’ve got. Nothing. Literally nothing. Not another song. All this promo went into their first single – and I get that, that’s awesome, I wish I had the money to do that as well. And I don’t know if those guys were with a record company or not, but the way it works these days is that if your first single doesn’t work you get dropped. There are bands out there that are huge – massive, enormous rock bands that everybody knows – and their first two albums were flops. They didn’t do anything until the third, fourth album. A record company would give you time to do that. And I guess a flop in those days, in the States, was a couple of hundred thousand copies, so they probably made their money back.
‘These days a flop is zero,’ he says with a laugh.
‘There’d be so many songs these days that don’t ever see the light of day because whoever wrote it thinks, Nah. I was watching a video the other day of Bachman Turner Overdrive – that song “Taking Care of Business”, which was their biggest hit, was just a muck-around track that they were never going to do anything with.’
Given that ‘In My Life’ does have a different sound to a lot of his other songs, did Chivell have any doubts about releasing it?
‘Every single that I release I have doubts about,’ he says, but the doubts are perhaps not as great as they once were. ‘I guess over the years what I thought has changed. At the start I thought, I’ve got to put songs out that will relate to people, and I think that are maybe what’s going on at the time. And I’ve changed to, I’m just going to do me. And if people like it they do, and if they don’t, bad luck. I’m chasing my crowd, not the crowd.’
Still, it’s tempting to look at what the music industry seems to want to deliver to audiences and try to fit into that model.
‘It’s a trap that’s pretty easy to fall into,’ Chivell agrees. ‘I see what’s going on and I’m not that. I see what’s getting support through the industry and I’m definitely not that. This song maybe has a loop in it, which is unusual for me – normally I don’t do the drum loop thing – but that’s such a thing at the moment. I like real drums. I like having a drummer.’
It’s also difficult when country music clearly has a large audience in Australia but its representation on radio and elsewhere doesn’t seem commensurate with that popularity.
‘I think if you look at just the festivals and you compare that to standard gigs, CMC is the festival that does the best as far as”‘city folk” go,’ says Chivell. ‘It’s what’s big, and what’s big isn’t necessarily what the industry thinks should be big, I guess. It’s a difficult one because there’s a real push in the country music industry that seems to be heading towards alt-country. That’s what seems to be pushed by the heavy hitters. When I watch and listen that’s what it seems. When you look at who’s on festivals. There’s obviously big-name not-alt-country acts who are getting onto those things: Trav Collins, Wolfe Brothers, McClymonts. But from a grassroots level it seems like there’s more of a push to get the alt-country through as opposed to the other side. Which is weird to me, because if you look at the American scene, yeah, there’s an alt-country scene but it’s the alt-country scene, not the country scene.
‘The country scene’s weird because there are so many sides to country,’ he continues. ‘There’s bush balladeers. There’s one or two Golden Guitars dedicated to that. Now there’s an Alt Country Album of the Year and a Contemporary Country Album of the Year. These are obviously things that the industry’s trying to push otherwise they wouldn’t have separate awards for them. I’ve just got to the point now that I don’t label anything. Whatever comes out of me comes out of me. Some songs are going to be rock songs, some songs are going to be ballads, some songs are going to be a lot more country. But my country influence is always going to show.
‘I like to say my country petticoat’s always going to slip out because I love country,’ he says, laughing.
Still, he says, he’s not worried about the category any more: ‘I’m worried about doing me and then whatever people categorise that as is what it is.
‘My first album was me trying to cover all the bases. “I’m going to need the rock song, I’m going to need the uptempo thing, need the ballad, need the God song.” I had all that on my first album. And it was all part of me and it did pretty well for a first album – and I didn’t realise at the time that your first album is pretty much throwaway because nobody knows who you are, you needed to have all the contacts. I recorded an album and had not one contact in the country music scene.’
There’s a line in ‘In My Life’ where Chivell says of relationships, ‘Every one is worth the pain’. It is, of course, something that can be applied to other aspects of life.
‘Everything that we’ve gone through has led us to where we are right now,’ he says. ‘You can take things in multiple different ways – if something happens to you, you can it as the end of the world or you can take it as, “Well, that’s another learning experience.” And it’s the same with relationships. “I went through all these things, so I could find you” – that’s what the line means. And I think everybody has. I remember my dad a long time ago talking about a friend of his, saying, “He’s started dating this new girl but she’s got a bunch of baggage”, and I said, “Dad, we’re in our thirties – everyone’s got baggage!”‘
The music industry has undergone significant and steep change since lockdown measures came into place. Many artists have been playing live to their fans on social media, especially Facebook. Chivell does this too, on Tuesdays at 6.45 p.m. – except he’s been doing it for three and a half years.
‘I got in on the front end of that whole thing,’ he says. ‘Every Tuesday night at 6.45 I switch my phone on, or whatever I’m recording with, and I go live. Sometimes I sit there and talk, other times I play songs. It just depends how I feel.
A good mate of mine, Adam Brand, about a year ago said, “I notice that you always sing on your Facebook lives. You don’t need to do that, you know.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “People know you can sing – it’s not about that. People want to know who you are.” And that’s the whole reason I started doing it in the first place.
‘I did StarMaker in 2017, I think, and one of the comments made in the interviews was, “We don’t know who you are, because of your social media.” Yes, I was a bit old school – I was trying to keep a separation between who I am and the persona I put out online, et cetera, because I’m a bit of a dag and I just didn’t want everyone to know that I’m a bit of a dag.
‘As it turns out,’ he says with a laugh, ‘that’s what they really wanted to know.’
‘Most of the artists I grew up loving I had no access to apart from the odd magazine interview or radio interview, or MTV. I had no idea who they were as people. And I thought that’s what you do. That’s what’s supposed to happen. But I guess in these changing times people need to resonate with you. Which is weird, because there’s plenty of people who were massive rock stars who were pretty horrendous people – not that I’m saying I am! – and their art stands because it was amazing music.’
Playing for his fans on Facebook is a way for Chivell to keep performing – but it’s nothing like his usual pace, and returning to full-time gigging will require some preparation.
‘There is 100 per cent match fitness in music,’ he says. ‘I play standard gigs around town, around Brissy, and if I go back to doing five nights a week, like I was before, I’ll probably lose my voice in the first couple of weeks. It will take time to get back to where I was before. The other thing is when you’ve had a big rest your voice feels really good, so you go out and smash yourself, then the next day you wonder why you did that.
‘It’s like when you go on holidays – it doesn’t take very long for it to happen. There was a band I was in in Melbourne and every time we came back from holidays the singer would lose his voice. We knew that was going to happen so everybody else got a few songs ready to sing before we went on holidays, so that when we came back we could cover him when he lost his voice. We were playing six nights a week, so it’s understandable.’
One gig Chivell will be more than ready for is the river cruise planned for 12 September, which will see him, Natalie Pearson, Hayley Marsten and Drew McAlister entertaining a crowd of potentially 115 people, should the social distancing regulations allow. Tickets are on sale, and if the cruise is as popular as the inaugural event last year, they’ll sell out.
In the meantime, you can find Chivell playing live on Tuesday nights at 6.45 p.m on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/brookchivellofficial
To buy Fearless Rider, go to www.brookchivellofficial.com