Multi-Golden Guitar nominated singer-songwriter Paul Costa makes a much-anticipated return with a new single Road Train off his firth studio album, Whisper in the Crowd, in the lead up to two very special shows at the 2019 Tamworth Country Music Festival. I recently spoke with the Australian country music fan-favourite about how he spends his holidays, plans for Tamworth and finding inspiration in unexpected places.
I wanted to kick off with something different before we get into touring and recording. Your birthday is fast approaching at the end of November. What do birthdays mean to you and how will you be celebrating it?
I like to spend it with my family. I don’t go overboard; it’s fairly low key. We might go out for tea or just cut a cake. A lot of people are working in one place, getting away is their holiday. For me, it’s completely the opposite – I’m away so much; being home is my holiday. There’s still work to do when you’re home, as there’s stuff that goes on behind the scenes, so I can’t afford to relax too much but I am relaxed so far as being in one on my favourite places to be.
Then, of course, comes Christmas and then arguably the most exciting time in Australian country music, with the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Golden Guitar Awards, of which you’ve been nominated three times for previous years. Next year, you’re doing two shows over both Saturdays in the Capitol Theatre, joined by special guests you’re yet to announce. How will you be spending Tamworth in 2019?
I’ll be there for the whole festival. I like to take in as many shows as I can. It’s always a busy but exciting time for me. The beauty of Tamworth is there are so many artists in town, so anytime you’ve got a show on and you break up the show, it adds more variety, flavour and makes it a better show. It just seems to work. The people who come to see me really appreciate it when they get a bonus by seeing another one of their favourite artists, or if they’ve never seen that artist, sing all together.
I have shows on the 19th and 26th – I’d love to see as many people coming along! I think it’s the best venue in town. It is a beautiful, air-conditioned facility, the seats are really comfortable, the sound of the room is incredible, and it feels like a high class place to see a show. Over the years we’ve had some really fantastic guests – Amber Lawrence, Aleyce Simmonds, Graeme Connors … Last year we had James Blundell drop in and that was fantastic! We have a great time – It’s always a fun show with surprises!
Held every year in January in Tamworth, New South Wales, the ten day festival is a celebration of country music culture and heritage. Celebrating its 47th year in 2019, for someone who has never attended the iconic event before, what’s the festival like?
There are so many things going on. There’s thousands and thousands of people in town any day of the festival so there’s a big audience out there. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle, so there’s a fair bit going on as a far as everyone moving around and seeing different shows. The main street, Peel Street, they block off three city blocks and it’s a sea of people for ten days. It’s incredible! It’s a really festive get together of people that love country music with an electric atmosphere. I’ve always said that. You don’t feel like going to sleep in Tamworth because you worry you might miss out on something (laughs)
Tamworth draws a large demographic – from 8 to 80! It’s that varied – from performers on the street who are just starting out busking, to bush ballads and all the way to full on country rock shows! Viper Creek Band, Lee Kernaghan, Kasey Chambers, Amber Lawrence, Travis Collins and everything in between! If you love country music and you go to Tamworth and you don’t find what you like there, it might be you haven’t looked hard enough or you don’t like country music (laughs). You’ll definitely find the artist you love to watch in Tamworth, easily!
If country music is as varied as you say at Tamworth, and we’ve certainly seeing that in artists making big mainstream waves on commercial radio as well as the growing popularity of the bro-country sub-genre; how would you define country music? What do you think is its common link?
Personally, and something I like to do, it’s about the content. It’s real and it’s about a story. For me, it’s about something I’ve experienced or strongly believe in. How I define it might not be the way another artist or a fan defines it, but, at the end of the day, it’s music and if you like it, you like it and if you don’t particularly go for it, there’s a lot more out there that you probably do like.
I’ve had so many people say to me, I don’t like country music but I like what you do. So, they’re contradicting themselves, because what I do is country music. I think a lot of people’s idea of Australian country music is bush ballads, which are fantastic, but it’s a lot broader than that. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, whereas you might hear someone that’s more contemporary country and actually love it. That old saying: don’t tell them it’s country and they’ll love it, especially in Australia, seems to be the case.
Tamworth sees 2,800+ free and ticketed shows at over 120 venues. Considering the plethora of artists at Tamworth, do you find it a hub of creativity and inspiration?
Definitely inspires you! When you go somewhere and see as much activity, atmosphere and diversity of artists, and obviously the fans and their enthusiasm that come along, creativity builds from there. You feel like you want to go back there with something new and present that at your shows. I don’t think you ever stop working on your next project. It’s a continuous stream of ideas, so there might be some new stuff [at Tamworth next year].
You said before that you like to take in as many shows as possible, and you will be attending the whole festival. Can you walk around unnoticed or are you constantly getting stopped and recognised on the streets of Tamworth?
Tamworth, you can’t take two steps. Most people are there because they’re a country fan, and most country fans would know who I am at this stage. It’s nice to be recognised. In everyday life, that does happen. You might be walking around, you could be anywhere – driving around on the highway, stopped at a service station and someone says, “G’day, I saw you at a festival or something like that.”
I feel no matter how far into their career an artist is they always have interesting and/or crazy fan stories they’re able to recall. What story comes to mind for you?
It’s not a crazy story, but it’s interesting. One time we had somebody new move in next door. We hadn’t met yet, I don’t even know if they knew who I was, but next minute I hear one of my songs playing on their sound system. That was pretty weird and exciting!
You recently released your new single Road Train off your current album, Whisper In the Crowd. Co-written with Drew McAlister and based on a true story, what was it about the man and his story that inspired you to write the song?
I was heading back to the signing tent to greet some fans after performing at the Gatton Lights on the Hill Trucking Memorial Show. I was stopped by a guy in a hat who said, “G’day Paul. I loved your set”, then put his hand out and said, “They call me Road Train.” I replied right there and then and I said, “That’s a great idea for a song!” There’s been many songs written by trucks and road trains – but it’s always been about the truck. This idea was about a person, it’s his nickname, so that was a light bulb moment of a really good angle. He’s a character. He’s got a great personality in the way he boldly introduced himself. I was booked two years at the same event, and the next year I went back and played the song for Road Train and his family. He loved the song and I sent him a copywhen it was recorded.
I always thought the song would have a contemporary country rock feel, and if you’re gonna write with people you want to write with people who have the same style of that particular track. I got together sometime later with Drew McAlister and went in with the ideas, the title and the feels that I wanted. While we were writing, I rang Road Train and we dug deeper into his life story. That was very interesting – starting on the family farm he didn’t feel like that was the right feel for him; it was life on the road he wanted. A lot of the stuff he was saying was straight to the point and almost went down very similar to how he was telling the story, so it wrote itself really quickly. I’ve written quite a few songs with Drew; we bounce off each other really well.
I really enjoyed working with [producer of Love Hz Studios in Sydney] Matt Fell on the music too. He definitely helped give me the sound, taken the songs to somewhere where I wanted to go and given me even more of a contemporary, cutting edge sound. [Whisper in the Crowd]’s got a lot of great songs and depth to it. The more time goes on, the more I get the urge to bring out something new. I’m always analysing my work, my lyrics, my singing, the production, and working out different ideas or ways to improve and evolve.
You’ve travelled extensively, playing to and meeting fans from all over the world, so it’s very interesting how one person from a small town in South East Queensland can inspire a song, and now a single. Is that common for your songwriting?
There are random things that spark it off. When it does happen, it’s so profound. There’s a song [on Whisper In The Crowd] inspired by my son, was four at the time. He was trying to connect the dots about how everyone was related. With a puzzled look on his face, says, “Where’s your Daddy, Daddy?” He caught me by surprise, because my dad passed away and he’d never met him. I didn’t know what to say. I was choking up. I was a bit emotional. I changed the subject and I thought that was the end of that. About five weeks later, we were going for a walk, he started again. I said, “My Daddy is in heaven.” He said, “Let’s walk there because I want to go and see him.” I said, “We can’t walk to heaven, because it’s too far.” He said, “Let’s go home, get the car and we’ll drive to heaven.” As soon as he said “Drive to Heaven”, bang, that was the title of the song. I knew it at the time. It’s like; I’ve got to write that song. That song means a lot to me.
See Paul Costa and Friends performing at the Tamworth Country Music Festival:
Saturday 19th January 10am
Paul Costa and Friends
Capitol Theatre, Tamworth Country Music Festival, NSW
Saturday 26th January 11am
Paul Costa and Friends
Capitol Theatre, Tamworth Country Music Festival, NSW