Singer-songwriter Catherine Britt has built a career and fan base by consistently producing exceptional music, mostly under her own name, although has last album was as Catherine Britt and the Cold, Cold Hearts. New release Home Truths is her first album since then and her first as a completely independent artist. It’s a collection of instantly memorable songs – something that Britt specialises in, and the result of her ability to write great melodies as well as lyrics that lodge in the brain and heart. Each album is an evolution, though, and on Home Truths we can hear a change in how Britt sings – in the delivery of the songs she sounds more emotionally vulnerable than she has in the past, even though she’s always been an honest songwriter. There’s also so much strength in that vulnerability, and in the songs.
When asked if she’s feeling stronger than ever, Britt says, ‘Going independent has made me feel a lot more empowered than I probably ever have in my career. I feel completely in charge and totally at the forefront of all decision-making and we produced the album ourselves. I wrote all the songs, I own the album and, you know, we did it.
‘The crowdfunding really made me feel really empowered and strong, just watching the support roll in for that just made me feel that, Oh my gosh, I had no idea people cared so much, and you actually don’t know that until you do something like that. Like how much people really do care and really are invested in your career. And it was just a really amazing journey for me to go through from start to like the whole process was really eye-opening and I feel stronger than ever.
‘I live a country song. My life is always crazy, but I do feel in my mid thirties, I’m a mum now, I feel like I’m really on track with what I’m supposed to be doing. And musically as well, my career has totally taken a totally different turn with this album but it feels that the right time to do it. I don’t know if I could have done it a year ago even.
‘It just feels like now’s the time to John Butler the hell out of it,’ she says with a laugh, ‘and embrace the independent side. And it’s scary, but it’s really cool so far, I feel great about it and really excited.’
Because the creation of the album was crowdfunded, Britt now, of course, knows the names of her fans in a way she couldn’t have before, because they’ve put those names to their funding.
‘I do know a lot of names, yes,’ she says, laughing. ‘Because I’ve packaged everything up, I’ve posted it myself. I went through everyone specifically and saw all the people so that was really cool, getting to know them a little bit better. I mean, I see them here in comments on Facebook or Instagram or whatever when I check that stuff. I don’t always look into it too much, but every now and again I’ll read the comments or whatever, and I do see the same names popping up and it’s great to know that those people are there for me and really have my back …
‘They genuinely care and they genuinely are on my side, no matter what. There’s a song on the album about it, “Country Fan”. And it’s really about that. It’s really shockingly surprising to me how much these people care. I remember when I played it to Lee [Kernaghan] I said, “I know you’ll get this”, because he’s been around for a long time. He’s really cares about his fans. We’ve had a very sort of similar sort of ride, I guess, as far as being able to still do what we do, you know? And I knew he’d get it. It’s a special group of people. And I get that and I know how lucky I am, for sure.’
That dedication from fans stems, in great part, from the fact that Britt keeps showing up for them by producing songs from the heart – she keeps being honest with her fans and giving them the opportunity to have the emotions and experiences in her songs, and in exchange they show up for her. So while Britt may say it’s luck, she has actually created this relationship with her fans over the past few years by keeping faith with them, and in return they keep faith with her.
‘I’ve always tried to definitely be honest with my lyrics,’ she says, ‘but there’s actually a line in that “Country Fan” song that says, “You’ve read my secret diary, read it page by page, you know my whole story and love me anyway”. And that to me sums it up. I’ve never been more honest with anyone than I have in my music. And I’ve said this my whole career: if you want to get to know me listen to my songs. Like I, I lay it all out there. I’m pretty fricking honest, I don’t thing I’ve really held back and they still love me.’
Britt had written several of the songs on the album by the end of 2019 then recorded six of them after Tamworth last year.
‘I think it was about half the album,’ she says, which was “I am a Country Song, “Fav’rit Song”, all the ones I knew were going to be singles, I got all them done. And then I went on tour and then COVID hit. So my crowdfunding finished right as COVID hit, which was just so crazy, timing wise. And I was able to come home and make a record, you know? So I came home and finished the writing. I had a bunch of stuff ready to go. I just hadn’t actually sat down and had the time to actually write it. But I knew what I was going to write, had all the ideas – even the new single, “Me”, I had that melody, I had the whole idea in my head, what I wanted to say. And I knew I wanted to write it with somebody like Katrina [Burgoyne].
‘Because of COVID we were able to really get online and I was able to cowrite heaps with a bunch of people. It really worked well because everyone was so bored,’ she says, laughing, ‘and at home and able to write. So I wrote with a bunch of people I haven’t ever written with, like Andrew Swift, which was really cool. I didn’t know how that would go but it went right. We’ve got a great song on the record called “Make a Diamond”. I love that song and that was just a surprise to get such a gem with him and he sings on it as well, which is really special. So I got to do a bunch of stuff I hadn’t done before and I love that. I love cowriting. I love writing by myself. There’s plenty of those on the record, but you know, there are lots of great little cowrites which I’ve never done before too, which was a lot of fun.’
That particular song has lyrics about toughness, which is different to strength. When asked if she’s had to lose toughness in order to find strength, Britt says, ‘I think they go hand in hand a little bit, though, as well. I’m discovering all this stuff again now because I’m starting to work on my biography with a writer, Stuart Coupe, one of my favourite Australian writers. So I’m working with him on my book, which will take years, but I’m discovering all this stuff, looking back, and all the things I’ve been through and how I really did have to learn to be tough, even from a young age, being the youngest of four and being the only girl, you just have to harden up real quick or my brothers would have just walked all over me.
‘So it’s been a crazy life that has resulted in me being this really strong, independent woman that I’m really proud of. But I do need to be aware of my soft side at times. I do find myself having to pull myself up and go, Where’s that soft side? To allow that to come through because that’s also beautiful and you need to allow that. You don’t always have to be strong and you don’t always have to be in control of everything, which is hard as a woman to accept and let go. But I’m definitely trying to be better at all that stuff.’
The latest single is ‘Me’, and the lyrics are about being true to oneself – which can be difficult when you’re a person who has a public profile, which means people writing about them in the press or on social media. It must be hard to not lose sight of who you are when so many opinions are being offered, but Britt says, ‘I try not to read a lot of it, to be honest. I think I’ve watched some of my favourite artists disappear into believing their own publicity. People I really love, that I thought were really genuine and amazing, have just sort of become what they were written about or something. And I see it happen all the time and I think, Oh god, I hate that. I can see right through it. I can see that they’re now being overly genuine because they’ve been explained in interviews as a genuine person. And you can kind of see their brain ticking and working as they do things or interviews or whatever. And I’m really conscious of that. I really don’t want to ever come across as fake or I’m not a hundred per cent authentic.
‘I think you’ve got to be careful too. You can’t be too full-on or real with people either because you do have to keep some part of you that is private. But I try my best to just lay it all out there. And even if it offends or makes people uncomfortable, I still can sleep at night knowing I was me. And that’s important to me now, for sure. I’ve realised that a lot more in the last few years, how important that is …
‘I think that’s something you just unconsciously do over time, is just be aware of saying everything, but also holding back a little and allowing yourself to still be yourself in private. But you know, I don’t think there’s much of me that isn’t revealed, unfortunately! It’s pretty much all out there. There are some things, but I’m pretty honest and I like it that way. I’d like to keep it like that.’
Given that the title of the album is Home Truths, it’s only natural to wonder which home truths Britt has learnt – especially from her parents, who separately feature in lyrics of songs on the album.
‘My childhood was really quite simple, which I’m grateful for,’ says Britt, ‘but I think it was simple because my parents created it that way. I don’t think their lives was simple and I don’t think anybody’s life is simple, but I think they just made our childhood as easy as they could for us. And I’m realising, now that I have children, how important that is just to keep their life as steady as possible. But I’m also realising that you have to be honest.
‘I discovered all this stuff as I got older from my parents and I’m, like, “Why didn’t you just tell me when I was a kid?” And they say, “Well, we were protecting you.” And I said, “Yes, but I now feel you kind of lied to me about this. I wish you’d just told me.” My auntie got sick at one point and they didn’t tell me because they were protecting me and I’ve said, no, I should have been told that was my auntie.
‘Things like that have really hit me hard now that I’m a mum. I’m saying, “I’m not doing it that way.” There’s so much I will take from what they did, but there’s other things [where] I’m like, no, I’m going to be honest. I’m going to be real with my kids. And they’re not going to go into the world thinking it’s not messy or scary.
‘They’re going to be like prepared. I’m going to prepare them,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I was so naive when I went to Nashville, got out. I just had no idea. And I was so young. I don’t want them being in that situation where they have no idea.’
One of the songs on Home Truths is ‘Mother’, in which Britt sings about her mother and being a mother. When asked if her mother was supportive of her musical career, Britt says, ‘Early on she was confused, I think, by it. I don’t think she quite understood why I was so adamant about being a singer and about country music. She tried to understand, but I don’t think she really understood properly like my dad did. My dad really had my back, and really got it. And it wasn’t until later my mum actually said to me, after I moved to Nashville and all that happened, “Oh, I get it now. I get why you wanted to do it. You you really believed and you wanted to make it happen.” And it took her a bit to get her head around it.
‘I think that was a protective thing. She wanted me to finish school and a real job and all that stuff, and she didn’t understand why I would want to chase a dream that is often unrealised for a lot of people. So she was protecting me in a way, I think, but it wasn’t really until later that my mum and I just developed a really strong bond. I would call her one of my besties now, but when we were kids, you’ve got that mother-daughter thing that is a real disconnect. You don’t really talk like humans, but as you get older you actually get to know them and realise how special they are.
‘I didn’t get to spend Mother’s Day with her, because of COVID we were staying away obviously to take care of them. And I was really sad about it and really down about everything, I felt a real loss of identity during COVID. I didn’t know when things were going to get back to normal, I didn’t what to plan or how to plan. And that was just a really awful feeling. A lot of emotions hit me during that time. And that song just fell out of me one day and I sent it to her on Mother’s Day and said, “This is your Mother’s Day present. I’m sorry, I can’t be with you.”
‘She obviously just died a little bit inside,’ Britt says, laughing. ‘If I got that song from my kid, I’d think, Oh my god, I’ve done everything right in life!‘
Britt’s father was, she says, a big musical influence early on.
‘He showed me a lot of music and there was a lot of stuff he played I didn’t get, though, until I was older. He played The Beatles and The Beach Boys and all that stuff as well and I was not into any of that until much later in life. And even to this day he’ll still show me music. He’s just such a fan of music, he just lives for it and totally inspires me. So he had a big influence, but also the Chambers did too. Bill, especially, when I was little really influenced me and introduced me to a lot of music and showed me a lot of stuff. And when I was living over in Nashville, Ashley Monroe and I used to share a lot of music together and discover a lot of stuff together.
‘So there’s been these different directions and changes throughout my whole life. And I’m constantly discovering. Now Melody [Moko]’s my new musical muse. She sends me stuff all the time and “Hey, have you heard this girl?” She’s my new music nut friend. It’s kind of cool. I’ve always had those people around me, which is good, which is what “Fav’rit Song” is about. I’ve always had those relationships through music and sharing music with people. And that’s how I get to know them or have a deep bond with them. So it’s important to me to have that with people, for sure. And it’s been my whole life like that.’
Another family member who has popped up in song – in ‘I’m Your Biggest Fan’, from the 2012 album Always Never Enough – is Britt’s brother Adam, who joined her band for a few shows earlier this year.
‘It’s been great,’ says Britt of sharing the stage with him. ‘He’s wonderful. He’s such a beautiful human being. I I’m so honoured to have him as my brother. He just is so kind and so wonderful and so clever. But he has a million things happening too. He was in the band temporarily during COVID and he’s actually a school teacher full time and he plays cricket for Australia. He’s very busy and he’s got five kids. So he can’t obviously be with me long term, which I would have loved, and I get it though but it was so fun to play with him in that short time … I’m sure we’ll do the odd thing here and there around Newcastle, but he’s too busy for me, unfortunately!’
Quite a few of the songs on Home Truths are about the nature of family members, family relationships and motherhood. ‘Gonna Be Mumma’ is frank about the decisions Britt makes as a working mother, and when asked if she’s still trying to ‘do it all’, she says, ‘I really struggled with that, for sure. It really is just such a balance every day. I’ve struggled with it. I’ve got so much going on at the moment. So many interviews and all this stuff happening with the album and I’ve got the kids and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve been on plenty of live national shows and ABC and things like that and the kids that are screaming in the background, I’m saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m also a mum and there’s nothing I can do about my child screaming in the background right now.” And they just think it’s funny. But this is my way of balancing and coping.
‘I just have to figure out a way to do both, because I realised during COVID, I’m not just a mum and that’s not who I am. I’m not okay with that. I’m not okay with just settling into a stay-at-home mum role or being that person. And I respect when I have friends that do that and do it so well. They’ve given their life to being a mum and that’s their job essentially, you know, they’ve taken that on and that’s fantastic. I wish that made me happy, you know, just to be a mum, but for me to be the best mum I can be I really need that other thing that drives me, and I don’t think I’ll ever not love music and ever not want to do that. And I think it makes me a better mum doing it too, you know? So it’s a real balancing act, for sure. One that I don’t know that I’ll ever perfect. When they start school it just gets tricky again. So it’s always going to be a struggle, but it’s the best struggle I’ve ever had. They’re amazing. And I’m so lucky to have two beautiful, healthy, intelligent, clever little boys that inspire me every day, as much as music does.’
In turn, Britt’s music inspires her fans every day, as great art always does. And while her fans no doubt have their favourite songs from albums past, there is absolutely no doubt that they will already have favourites from Home Truths. Britt is yet to release an album that does not contain songs that work as great tunes as well as collections of thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics, and Home Truths is no exception.
Catherine Britt is currently on tour with Amber Lawrence, throughout several states. Tour dates here: https://catherinebritt.com/tour-dates
Buy the CD of Home Truths from https://catherinebritt.com/store