Kasey Chambers – Don’t take it personal
Perhaps the most radical and risky aspect of Chambers’ approach to Carnival was her willingness to tinker with her songwriting. “I actually wrote three songs while I was in the studio, which is just really different for me,” she says. “‘Nothing At All’ [the sprightly, stream-of-consciousness first single], ‘Don’t Look So Sad’ and ‘Surrender’ were all written in the last two days of recording and recorded on the day they were written.”
Carnival songs also reflect Chambers’ first forays into pretending. “This record isn’t like three years of therapy for me,” she says. “I look back on Barricades and I can hear every moment in there of those three years prior to bringing that record out — that struggle of getting through that time, and that happiness of having that baby and all of those sorts of things. That’s what all my records are. And I just didn’t want to do that with this record.
“I just thought, you know what? It doesn’t matter if they’re not about me, or it doesn’t matter if every line doesn’t depict some life-changing moment for me or some emotional breakdown or something. I just went, ‘Let’s just see what song falls out,’ and I only went ahead and worked with the ones I really loved.
“There are a couple different ones. ‘Sign On The Door’ [loaded with religious references to signify redemption] is specifically about me being in love. ‘Don’t Look So Sad’ is a song that I wrote for a friend of mine who was going through a really hard time at that point. But generally the record is songs that just fell out. I’m only beginning to analyze them now, what they’re about.”
It’s not that Chambers didn’t have truer stories to tell. She had already generated more than an album’s worth of songs based on painful recent events in her life. As a first-tier celebrity in Australia, her private life is an open book, so the disintegration of her 2002 marriage to actor Cori Hopper, with whom she has a four-year-old son, was a very public one.
But, Chambers explains, “By the time I made this record, I was in love again and I was married [in December 2005], and I have a great relationship with my ex. I just didn’t want to go back and have this album be the big heartbreak album. I know that’s what everyone was expecting here in Australia, but…I wanted this record to show a little bit more of my contentment of where I am now as a person. You know, I’m married, I’m a mother, I’m over 30, and I have a successful business. I’m just a more content person than I was on the last record [2004’s Wayward Angel].”
Chambers’ unique upbringing no doubt influences her resilience through life’s ups and downs. It probably also explains some of her present contentment with being settled in. She grew up with the galaxy for her bedroom ceiling as her father supported the family by fox hunting in Australia’s vast Nullarbor Plain (Nullarbor means “no trees”). For seven months each year, from the time she was an infant until she was 10, the family moved nightly in search of foxes, living mostly on whatever water and game the land provided. As a youngster, Chambers helped hunt rabbits and turkeys, and says she’s still fond of kangaroo meat.
Mother Diane gave Kasey and her brother Nash the nomadic equivalent of “home-schooling.” For entertainment, father Bill played guitar and the family sang together around the evening campfire. The repertoire included hymns and Australian “bush ballads,” but it leaned more heavily toward American country and folk music, from Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams to Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt.
The family eventually settled in a southern coastal town, where Nash and Kasey attended traditional high school and their father earned a living as a commercial fisherman. But music was still central to their lives and they were soon camping under the stars again, performing on the road as the Dead Ringer Band. They released their first EP in 1992 and followed with four full-length releases, the last in 1998.
By that time, Kasey had become the undisputed star of the Dead Ringer Band, and EMI signed her in Australia as a solo artist, releasing her debut, The Captain, in 1999. It won an ARIA award, the Australian equivalent of a Grammy, for Best Country Album, and launched her career in the United States when Warner Bros. picked it up. Barricades And Brickwalls, released in 2001, won ARIAs for Best Country Album, Best Female Artist and Album Of The Year. Chambers again won the Best Female Artist ARIA in 2004 for Wayward Angel, and she’s been nominated for the same award for Carnival, which is already double-platinum in Australia.
As much as things have changed, in some ways they remain the same: Chambers is still on the road with the family. Nash engineers her sound; Diane handles the merchandise; Bill is her touring guitarist. “I still love going on the road…because all of the guys in my band and all the people I work with; it is like a big family,” she says. “I take my son with me and my husband opens up my shows for me. My son actually loves coming on tour with me. In about a year and a half he’ll start going to school, so we probably won’t travel as much as we have been.”
Even now, she says, “I don’t tour quite as much, but that’s mainly because I just enjoy being at home a little bit more. I have a house that I love being in and I just like that whole lifestyle a little bit more than I used to.”
Still, she’s seen enough to know she hasn’t seen it all. “The thing is, no one ever goes through life without dramas,” she says. “I’m sure more dramas are going to happen and I’m sure I’ll go through another ‘therapy’ album yet.
“But at this point, I just want every album to reflect sort of where I am. This one definitely does.”
ND contributing editor Linda Ray lives in the Arizona Outback, eschewing jackrabbit, javelina and rattlesnake meat.