“I didn’t set out with big dreams to ride the charts or play to packed venues or anything like that. I thought even if I just get to play my music in little pubs my whole life – I’ll be really happy”.
Recently dubbed the freshest young voice in American roots music by US Rollingstone, the 26 year old singer/songwriter is now a long way from the small town stages she once graced alongside her father, brother and mother in the award winning all family country act The Dead Ringer Band. The group cut three records during a decade long tenure which prepared each family member for their respective roles in Kasey’s burgeoning solo career. Kasey’s older brother Nash produced both her albums, her father Bill is the lead guitarist in her band and mother Dianne manages the merchandising operation on the road.
'It makes me feel a lot more comfortable having my family so closely related to it. I don’t think I’ll ever make an album where they won’t be involved in some way'.
Chambers debut solo album The Captain released in 1999 to an ocean of international accolades and critical acclaim. Britain’s reputable Q magazine declared “this is the work of a new world pop star in the making” while US Rollingstone named it one of the top 50 albums of 2000. Music icons like Lucinda Williams, Paul Kelly, Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakum gasped for superlatives whenever publicly describing her talent while Chambers covered hundreds of thousands of kilometres taking “The Captain” around Australia, Europe and the US.
She effortlessly charmed the likes of David Letterman and became the first non-American to headline the highly revered Austin City Limits program in the show’s 26-year history. And then there was that Aria for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2000. No one seemed more surprised than Chambers herself that a country singer who had scarcely been heard on commercial radio could be awarded such an honour over infinitely more radio friendly potentials like Kylie and Vanessa.
It was the biggest shock of my life. I looked at the person sitting next to me and said ‘oh my God – did they just call my name’!
Three years after the release of her double platinum debut, (which also sold 100 000 copies in the US), Kasey Chambers launched her highly anticipated follow up Barricades and Brickwalls” in late 2001. ‘The Captain’ was like the first 21 years of my life crammed into 42 minutes whereas Barricades is more about who I am right now and where I’m going. I’ve grown up a lot and I feel like I’m saying things much more how I like to say them.
Barricades and Brickwalls explores a vaster emotional and musical landscape than it’s predecessor. During the gutsy opening title track, Chambers declares with sexually charged self-assurance that I’ll be dammed if you’re not my man before the sun goes down. In complete contrast, she delivers heart-tugging ballads like This Mountain and The Nullarbor Song” with inimitable vocal fragility. One minute she’s doing the best rock romping of her career with The Living End on Crossfire, the next minute she’s broken spiritedly asking, am I not pretty enough? Ironically it was this ode to all the radio stations that play Britney Spears and not me that finally broke Kasey Chambers through to commercial mainstream radio and delivered her first Australian #1 hit.
The double platinum single Not Pretty Enough spent 5 weeks as the nation’s #1 single and boosted overall album sales to well over quadruple platinum. The song has recently been added to mainstream AC radio networks in New York and Seattle and was the most added song on alternative contemporary radio in the States during the week of its February release. The success has made Chambers a household name in Australia and introduced her genre defying music to a significantly wider demographic of listeners.
I really don’t consider myself to be a cross over artist because the way I approach music hasn’t really changed. When you think about it it’s the audiences who are crossing over.
The point could not have been demonstrated more eloquently than at Sydney’s 2001 Homebake Music Festival. Sharing the bill with alternate rock/pop bands like Shihad, Grinspoon and You Am I, Chambers braved the most contemporary audience of her career. I walked out on stage thinking ‘these people soooo didn’t come here to hear country music’! I just figured, if they throw rotten tomatoes at me I won’t come back next year!
Chambers’ eclectic repertoire was received as enthusiastically by the savvy urban crowd as it was by the 15 000 punters in Tamworth who witnessed the artist’s open air free concert during January’s Country Music Festival. I really wanted to do something for those pure country fans that have been supporting us from the start. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today
A Million Tears is the fourth single to be released off Barricades and Brickwalls.
It’s the most personal song I’ve written. I’m almost too embarrassed to sing some of the lyrics on stage. It’s Chambers trademark ability to match the break in her voice with the heartbreak in her lyrics that enhances the emotional potency of unashamedly candid admissions like I’m having trouble breathing since you walked in. Infact, A Million Tears will feature in a poignant romantic sequence of the 100th episode of the top rating US program Dawson’s Creek later this year. It’s all part of the swell that will almost inevitably result in Chambers becoming Australia’s brightest and most significant musical export.
With worldwide album sales of over 600 000, an increasingly hectic international touring career, collaborators and fans like Lucinda Williams and Paul Kelly, # 1 hit singles, commercial radio airplay both at home and in the States and countless rave reviews from the world’s harshest critics, the girl who grew up fox hunting on the Nullarbor Plains has already lived an extraordinary life. But perhaps the most captivating aspect of the story of Kasey Chambers is that it’s only just beginning.