Splitting from his band and relocating interstate has helped define Brook Chivell as an up-and-coming solo artist to watch. After making the finals of Toyota Starmaker in 2017, he toured nationally with fellow country artist Natalie Pearson, as well as releasing his first solo single and its follow up Outta My Song last month. I spoke with Brook about upcoming music, getting dirty and being a fan boy in his own industry.
You were formally the frontman and driving force behind The Brook Chivell Band, releasing singles Drive On, Thrills N Spills and Let’s Stay In around six years ago. What was the reason behind parting as a band and how has that impacted on you as a solo artist? Because even being in the industry for ten years or so now, it must feel a little like starting over?
The main reason for the split was that I moved to Queensland. The distance made it really hard. The band all live in Melbourne and they’ve all got families. For a while we kept it together but it was getting difficult to get everyone together to play gigs. It’s easier for me to do a support gig as a solo artist, purely because I can get up there with a guitar. There’s a great, vibrant country music scene up here. Whereas in Melbourne every time you say ‘country’ it was a dirty word; up here, people love it.
When I did Toyota Starmaker at the start of last year, it was the perfect opportunity to get out by myself. It feels like starting from the start again a little bit, but I enjoy that. Before I had to work within the dynamic of the band and now I get to play whatever I want, so it sounds more like me than opposed to five guys.
Last month you released Outta My Song, your second single as a solo artist. What were its sound influences and where did the song came from? Also – are the lyrics penned on a true story?
Totally! I wrote the guitar riffs first so that was where the song came from. Musically, the song is influenced by a mix of Rolling Stones and Black Crowes and that groovy, southern-rock vibe. A lot of people are saying it is Brothers Osborne-y, which is cool. It’s nice to have something else that’s in the same vein but still completely different.
My writing partner, Anthony Emery came in one day and I’m like, “I’ve written all these songs about this particular girl and I’ve just gotta get her out of my songs!” He said, “That’s a great title for a song!” In fact, there’s a line in there Anthony said about the girl I was dating: he said, “A quarter of her is one of my favourite people, but the rest of her, I don’t like very much!” I wrote the song years ago. It was a couple of girlfriends ago, but it could be about any of my ex girlfriends! (laughs)
The song is defined as a ‘dirt-country-meets-rock anthem of good riddance of an unwanted muse’ in its YouTube description. I’d never heard the term dirt-country before – can you explain what that means?
Dirt country is country that’s mixed up with other stuff – it’s not straight country by any means. It definitely shows a lot of my outside influences, including my country influences as well. I like music that grooves because it’s got a grind to it, to me that brings the whole dirty thing to mind. It’s got a dirty element – the guitars are dirty, my voice is not super clean – it’s not pristine and pretty like some of the stuff that’s out there now.
Outta My Song, as well as the first single Hot Country Girl, conveys that unpolished, dirty-rock sound. However when listening to your self-titled album, although those influences do come through, the sounds are quite enigmatic and varied. Is this new sound an evolution of you as an artist?
The album is a limited run reprint of the old Brook Chivell album with two extra songs put on it. The thing is, it’s varied because I didn’t really know who I was as a country music artist, so I tried to cover all the bases. I had the heartfelt ballad, the duet, the upbeat rock song, the full-on beat country song, and the song about God etc.
I wrote all of them so obviously they are definitely all part of me, but I didn’t know who I was as far as being a country artist. That’s changed. I know exactly who I am now, exactly what style of music I want to be doing and I’m not worried about trying to please everybody. I record stuff I would like to listen to and hopefully other people do as well.
You’re heading to the country music capital of the world and music city next year to work on your next release. What are your plans for Nashville? Can we expect dirt country to heavily feature or will the release be as varied?
Not exactly the same, but fairly similar because it’s what I enjoy. I like to record my own guitars, and even if they’re not as good as a Nashville player can do, it’s me. I think people hear the authenticity. If you don’t vibe with a song and it’s not you, people pick that up pretty quickly. They’ll be ballads and a couple of things that’ll be a little more poppy. In general, the rocky stuff will sound like that, because it’s my vibe. It’s just what comes out of me. I don’t worry about what other people are doing.
Natalie Pearson won the Gympie Muster Talent Search so she got a free ticket. We’re going to have a look around, do some writing sessions in Nashville, do the Calgary Stampede a month later and then come home.
You toured nationally with Natalie late last year and appeared in her Mr Wrong music video, and she appeared in your continuation for Hot Country Girl. Fans are guessing what happens next. Can we soon expect to anticipate no more?
We’re in the middle of recording a duet at the moment, written by Nick Wolfe [of the Wolfe Brothers] and Kaylee Bell. It’ll be out in January. It’s an upbeat, feel good song. This is the second duet we’ve recorded. The other one is a ballad and won’t be released until at least mid next year.
Apart from Flame Trees which obviously is a direct cover, it’s the first song I’ve ever done that I didn’t write. I’ve never recorded an unreleased song before by another writer, so it’s something different.
Every week on Tuesdays at approximately 6.45pm, you interact with fans via Facebook. Natalie often joins you. I imagine it’s a big commitment to continuously go live when there’s things going on in your life. With social media now being such a large part of your brand, why is it so important to you?
The whole thing about music is connecting with people. Every time I do one of those Facebook live videos, I know people are tuning in because they want to see what’s going on with my life, hear some songs and sometimes take the piss out of me (laughs). It’s a fun, little family. Often they’ll be chatting amongst themselves – people who have never met before, they’re all having this group chat about whatever happened, and sometimes totally unrelated to me. I find it hilarious; it’s awesome!
I hate using the word fans – it doesn’t feel right, it feels impersonal – because most of the people I have a personal relationship with. I’ve got a group called Brook’s Buddies as well and I like to give them something no one else has got, because if that was me in that position, I’d be like, “That’s awesome! I’ve got a song no one else in the world has except for these other people in this group!” It’s about giving back.
Something I have witnessed in the genre, no matter how big or small they are a part of the country music scene, is how gracious artists are with their time, how they continuously inspire, and are genuine they are to other artists. Are you as excited when an artist replies to you as fans are when you reply to them?
I remember being at an after party at the Golden Guitars. Troy Kemp, I’d never met him before, walked straight up to me, he’s a monster, he’s huge, stuck his hand out and said, “Brook Chivell, how you doing? I’ve got your album, man, and it’s awesome!” Troy Cassar-Daley, he came over too. I’m just Brook. I’m just a normal dude. This is bizarre! How do these people even know who I am?! I don’t even think about it like that. But the more I get to know people I really look up to in the scene, the more I realise they’re just normal people as well.
But as a star struck guy, god forbid I ever meet Keith Urban! I’d probably turn into a puddle on the floor! I saw him on a TV show playing an instrumental called Clutterbilly, and I was like, “He can shred! I gotta get that album!” He was the reason I got into country in the first place. I bought his first album 1991 on cassette when it first came out. I didn’t hate country music but country music was my Dad’s music; as a kid you want to rebel and have your own thing. He was the only country I kept up with until I discovered Faith Hill, then Tim McGraw and all of a sudden, I’m listening to exclusively country. I don’t know how that happened but it just did.