To paraphrase the Rolling Stones: “What a drag it is getting sold.” Yeah, things are different today. You can’t simply be a talented songwriter with a unique perspective and a voice like an angel, and expect anyone past a couple of friends and the denizens of your local bar to notice that you exist. To curry favor with the fickle publics of the “aught” decade, ya gotta be totally hot—the next big thing, the dark iconoclast, the people’s storyteller, or [here’s where you fill in you favorite tortured-artiste cliché].
Kasey Chambers is none of these things, and she’s also all of these things. And even though a fair sampling of the music media has proclaimed her as something so wonderful that it stretches your capacity to believe, she is the real deal—a talent who has all the image and press elements required to top the charts, but who also chooses to write solely for herself, rather than craft obvious pop hits.
Armed with a De Gruchy acoustic from her native Australia—and the support of her father, Bill, on guitar and her brother, Nash, as producer—the 27-year-old country-and-roots-rock singer/songwriter delivers her mini dramas of life and love with a sincerity that’s as candid as a French independent film. For Chambers’ latest album, Wayward Angel [Warner Bros.], Nash upped the aural dramatics by giving his sister’s road band a rest and using session pros—including roots-guitar wizard Steuart Smith—to support her voice with deeper, more expansive shades of sound. But, whatever the backing, the foundation of everything is a song that typically erupts from Chambers like automatic writing.
“When I sit down to write a song, it almost always comes out pretty much finished, and I just trust that that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” she says. “It’s very instinctual, and I do not argue with my instincts. Most of the time, the lyrics and the melody reveal themselves simultaneously, and I’ll write a song from start to finish in one sitting. The downside is that I never write down lyrics beforehand, I don’t write every day, and I don’t have songs constantly running around in my head. I live my life, and then I sit down with a guitar. A lot of times, there’s nothing there—which is why it takes me three years to do an album [laughs].”
Of course, writing about your private life for strangers is one thing, having to unveil the messy stuff in the studio in front of your brother and father—who are likely aware of what’s fact and what’s fiction—is another.
“I guess it is a little strange,” Chambers admits. “But I never think about playing my songs for somebody when I write them, because that would hold me back from saying what I want to say. When I finally get in the studio, it actually helps to have my family there. In fact, I’ve never worked in the studio without them. It’s important that the people who hear my songs know where to take them, because I don’t do elaborate demos or a lot of pre-
production. I just play my versions of the songs on acoustic guitar, and that’s how everyone hears them. My brother never asks questions, but he knows where I’m coming from—and what I’m going through—and that helps him produce the songs in a way where the sounds match the emotions. So I feel a lot more comfortable playing my songs for my family than I would entrusting a complete stranger to bring each song to life.” •