An Interview with Adam Brand

Adam Brand’s careers spans close to 20 years, with multiple ARIA Award nominations, Golden Guitar wins and half a million CD and DVD sales, he’s one of Australia’s most successful and highly respected singer-songwriters. His recent feel good release pushes the boundaries in the country music genre, touching on elements of pop and rock, and encouraging people to Get On Your Feet.

The new album Get On Your Feet has been out for about a week now. What’s the response been like?

It started with a few people [saying], “it’s a bit poppy” but it seems to have all been turned around. Maybe people are surprised by the new sound, I don’t know, but it’s been overwhelming. A lot of good vibes out there; people enjoying the new sounds.

I guess I’m pushing the boundaries a bit, pushing the genre a bit, much as the way they are doing in the States. Am I the first one to do it here? I don’t know. For me, it’s just music. I’m singing the songs I’m loving at the moment. I’m recording the songs that feel right to me. I’m staying true to my heart, following my heart on it, and I think that’s anyone can expect of anyone really.

Certainly anyone who has followed your career would already know that you’ve always pushed the boundaries – from the lively intro in Dirt Track Cowboys off your debut album to the reggae influences on the 2013 release of The Acoustic Diaries, for example.

Yeah, I do. When my fourth album Get Loud came out, while I don’t think it was a huge departure [from my original releases], I definitely had some people in the industry go “wow, this is too rock and roll!” She’s Country and Get Loud were on there – I was busting loose and rocking out a bit on them!

But I guess I’ve coped that a fair bit my whole career. The thing that’s helped me sustain the career is not being scared to evolve, change and to stay inside a little box. I’ve toured with people like Jimmy Barnes, Daryl Braithwaite and played to their crowds. Some have become fans probably because the music was a little more accessible and a bit different to what they expected from country.

A lot of the backlash steamed from people wanting you to go back to your original sound, and there is a clear difference in the sound of your debut album compared to Get On Your Feet. But if you brought out the blue album now, I don’t think it would do as well.

Me neither. There were some songs on there that gave me my career – Grandpa’s Piano, Last Man Standing and Dirt Track Cowboys – but those songs were right for the time and right for me [then]. They probably wouldn’t be right for this time – who knows?

I guess there is always going to be that debate as to what is it that defines country music. If you take a song like Get On Your Feet, for example, and were to record three separate versions – 1 as is, the 2nd with references to the outback/bush, and the 3rd with traditionally country instrumental sounds – everyone is going to have a different opinion in what sounds the most country and what sounds best.

Absolutely! The worst thing they did to music was put labels on it. Does a country song have to have a peddle steel or a fiddle in it? Does it have to be about a specific topic? I can’t give you a clear answer on that because I don’t believe there is one.

There are some definite ideals that certainly come into it that puts country songs into the country genre, but the lyric on this song is nothing different to a lot of other songs. It’s “get on your feet, stand on your seat, raise your glasses in the air, wave your arms around, put your arms around somebody, we’ve got a lot of the night left, there’s shots we haven’t done yet, no ones called the cops yet, so let’s just keep partying” – if that’s not a country party then I don’t know what is?!

What makes it a country song? What doesn’t make it one? I don’t know. It’s my country song and that’s enough! (laughs) I’m making music that hopefully people will like regardless of what label they think is on top of it or what section of the CD shop it’s under. To find my CD you’ve got to look under the country section – it’s just music – shouldn’t you look under A for Adam Brand? I understand that people have to categorise, but I hope the music’s not judged because of the label.

I’m feeling in a really positive place in life and that’s permeating in my music and in everything I do, so I’m wanting to keep fresh, wanting to keep pushing myself. I’m in a real productive place, so I’m wanting my music to reflect that as well. When you’re not feeling productive or positive you fall back on what’s tried and tested – I don’t want to be in that space and I’m not in that space. This album is certainly a reflection of that.

Recently we’re seen Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum make their way onto commercial radio stations that don’t typically play country artists.  Taking into account the new sound, was there intent to get played on the radio?

Not specifically with this album as such, but it’s always been my intent to get played on radio, because it’s always been something that has annoyed and bugged me, because radio is a very narrow door to get through. In the past, that door has been about who you are, rather than the song and the music. Being a musician and a songwriter, I’ve always thought the music should speak for itself. In the past years, I’ve had people in radio say, “This song sounds great! We think it’ll fit with our play list but we can’t play it because you’re country.” I thought, “Hang on a minute – it’s about the music, isn’t it? Not about the label on the music?”

It’s been great to watch radio’s attitude change a little bit, the doors are opening, the walls are starting to crumble down. Get On Your Feet has been added to Gold FM on the Gold Coast and to the Triple M network on light rotation so it’s certainly opening some doors that otherwise I wouldn’t have had opened. It’s nice that they’re actually looking at the music, and going, “if the music fits then maybe we should play it.”

It’s not just about me getting my own song played; it’s about the record company and the Australian people who are employed there. It’s about my band members who are all employed here and got families and mortgages. It’s a whole flow effect that when they support Australian musicians, they’re supporting the Australian industry, which is supporting Australia.

As well as the genre, the thing I picked when listening to the album is it showcases a side of your voice I don’t recall hearing on previous releases – especially on Around a Campfire and Rent Money.

I used different producers on this album. I’ve co-produced or produced most of my albums in the last ten years, so it was a case of stepping back and handing the reigns over. As a bloke, it shouldn’t be, but it’s quite scary to hand the reigns of production to two female producers. Girls are more sensitive and you think they’re going to take a softer approach to the music, [but] my songs are about racing cars, chasing girls, drinking and all that kind of stuff (laughs), but they pushed me and took this album to places where I never would have thought.

The song selections they were throwing up at me were pushing my boundaries. As you said, Rent Money and Why Can’t Love Be Easy, the lyrical style, metering and the verses are something I’ve never done before! But it’s because of their influence that pushed me in that direction and I’m grateful to it because otherwise I would have just done what I normally do or fallen back into what was safe, what I know – that’s where the freshness of this album is coming from. It’s coming from a place of where I was ready to be pushed in a different direction. I was ready to trust someone else’s ears.

This is also the first release where you haven’t written or co-written any of the tracks. Did the album take longer to complete because you decided to do it this way?

No, I don’t think it had to. I started compiling songs and started that process a lot earlier than I would have other years. I was thinking about music way before I was ready to record, way before the Outlaws album was even recorded [and] I was thinking about my next album after My Side of the Street got released. The songs I put on this album, I wanted to be really in love with. I wanted them to be different and I wanted to know them really well before I went into the studio. I spent 12 months driving around in the car listening to these songs to be comfortable with them.

[Song selection] whittled down from 100 or so and when I heard a good song, I’d stick it on the play list and as I got bored with it, I’d delete it. Some songs lasted two days, some lasted two months, and some lasted ten months. The songs I ended up with were the songs I whittled down for something in the lyric, something in the sing-along nature of it, something where I just enjoyed singing it – they were songs I didn’t want to delete, wanted to sing along to and press repeat on.

Do you have a favourite track off the album?

One of my favs is definitely If Heaven Has a Soundtrack. I love that song! I find that if I explain [the song before I sing it], it cuts really deep and people get emotional about it. A couple of the interviews I’ve done this week, I’ve talked about the song and when I do the DJs basically well up in tears, but if they play it without that introduction they don’t quite get that depth of it. It’s catchy but it’s not until I really explain it – “you’ve lost someone really close to ya, these were our songs.” Unless you listen close to that first verse lyric, it’s difficult to catch that first listen.

 What songs are fans responding to the most?

I am starting to get a little bit of a gauge on that. Get On Your Feet, obviously. Why Can’t Love Be Easy, If Heaven Has A Soundtrack, Drunk

Speaking of Drunk, who are the people doing the shouting on the track?

They’re some Aussie guys who actually live in Nashville that the producers knew and said, “alright, you guys are Aussies, come and be Aussie for me, will ya?!” (laughs).

You’re hitting in the road in a couple of weeks on your mammoth Get On Your Feet tour. What can you tell me about it?

It’s always exciting to start a tour. We all hang out. I’ve got some new band members and new songs, and I’ve changed the set around a fair bit. I’m doing some different old songs, just to change it up. We always look forward to getting the band really tight because you enjoy it [more] when the band knows everything they’re doing.

Matt Cornell and Gemma Kirby are opening the show. They’re both going to hit the stage at the same time with the full band. They’re gonna do that front spot together, trading songs, song for song, singing and playing for each other. [It is going] to be a really cool way to start the concert.

Matt Cornell has played in your band for years – he’s your Outlaw brother and talented musician in your own right – but few people may not have heard of Gemma Kirby. What was it about her that made you want to bring her on the road with you?

I met her at Tamworth last year, and thought she had something. She’s got a great story – 25 years old, drives huge big trucks up in the mines and travels around the country singing on her days and weeks off. She’s certainly got some go in her and I respect that. She’s a great girl, really digging her and all the boys have fallen in love with her as well. She’s become part of the family. I also think if we’re somewhere with the van and trailer, and we’re trying to reverse she’ll be getting the keys! (laughs) She might be more blokey than the rest of us! She might have more talent.


For more on Adam, please go to: www.facebook.com/AdamBrandOfficial
For more on Matt Cornell, go to: www.mattcornellmusic.com.au
For more on Gemma Kirby, go to: http://gkofficial.com

[Originally posted on the AU Review]

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