Bluesfest Interview: Kim Churchill

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Kim Churchill on the Woodford Stage, photo and interview by KT Bell

Here at Timber and Steel, we’ve developed a bit of a crush on Kim Churchill and we’re always keen to see what’s next on his agenda. Since we caught him side of stage at Woodford, he’s flitted through the US and Europe, so we couldn’t resit the opportunity to catch up with him properly after his Bluesfest sets.

KT Bell: I’m sitting here, drinking Scotch with Kim Churchill, because that’s what you do on the last day of Bluesfest!
Kim Churchill: That is! The interview’s started well. [laughs]

KT: The last time we saw you was side of stage at Woodford and you were about to disappear off to Peats Ridge.
KC: Oh yes!
KT:You were doing that crazy 2 festivals in 2 days thing. And you’ve done 2 shows here at Bluesfest, how have they been?
KC: I guess probably what every artist would say after playing a set at Bluesfest is they’ve been amazing and that is kind of the only thing that a show at Bluesfest can be. It’s one of those festivals that has created over the course of 22 years or however long long they’ve been running, similar to Woodford, they’re the gigs you live for as a musician, they’re the ones that you play all the other shit gigs, not that there’s many shit gigs, but you work through whatever tough times we have, be them small tough times or large tough times, you work through those to get to the sets at Bluesfest and stuff like that.
KT: I’m glad you had lots of adoring fans to see you and the Mojo Stage must have been great.
KC: I don’t know if they were my adoring fans, but I stole a few off Dylan.

KT: Excellent! Now, you’re just back from touring overseas, Europe and America, how was all of that?
KC: Intense! For me, the transition between being an adolescent living out of the back of a van, busking and doing small pub gigs, the transition came a lot quicker than I thought it would. All of a sudden, we’re living out of hotel rooms and planes and the whole thing was pretty intense to be honest. I don’t look back on it with complete happiness and lovely nostalgic feelings, it was hard work. But, an amazing experience, one of the most amazing I ever had and we’ll be touring Canada and America and Europe for the rest of this year, so it’ll be a chance for me to find my comfort over there more than anything. Because, to this point, I’ve sort of, especially with no surf, it bloody hurts. Like, we got to LA and had a couple of days where the booking agent, he said we were gonna go surfing and it rained, and if it rains in LA, all the poo and crap comes out of the rivers and you can’t surf in the water because it’s too dirty. So we just had to watch these perfect waves breaking off Venice Beach boarwalk. But anyway, I mean, I’ve hardly got anything to complain about.

KT: You played South by SouthWest (SxSW), how was that?
KC: Yeah, no surf there! Kind of in general, I think ridiculously overwhelming to the point where I have very little to say about the whole experience [laughs].
KT: Lot’s of gigs in a few days?
KC: Oh yeah, the gigs, SxSW is, every gig is amazing. The whole vibe of the festival is kind of like “Who are we going to find? What are we going to stumble across?” So as an artist, who, your biggest goal is to be that person that somebody stumbles across. It’s a nice situation to be in because you’re kind of handed everything on a plate, and all you have to do is deliver and then there’s always going to be a couple of thousand people that are going to wander past your set wherever it might be and they will either stop and be intrigued or continue walking. So, in that sense, it was kind of easy, and fun for that reason. I would say playing a wedding 2 years ago was a lot harder. SxSW, at the end of the day, it was a lot of fun, I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody to go there to be ‘discovered’ because there’s 120,000 people and maybe 5,000 are good for doing something in terms of helping you break America and the odds are that they’re probably doing something terribly wrong on the 20th floor of a hotel at any given time. [laughs] But it’s a festival at the end of the day, so you see a lot of amazing bands and you have great gigs.

KT: How does the music and festival scene overseas differ or compare to Australia?
KC: It’s larger, definitely larger. It’s more intense, kind of you have to, I find with festivals in Australia, it’s quite easy to wake up early in the morning and go for a surf and have a bacon and egg roll at the surf club and there’s that kind of relaxed element that only Australia offers. Whereas, overseas, bam! 9 o’clock starts and there’s interviews and there’s breakfast and there’s coffee with this person and you’re in the middle of this city and there’s thousands of people watching shows and you’re watching shows with them. The whole thing is just more intense. At the same token, you get that kick from it, being at those kinds of festivals, you sort of get the kick out of masses of people and the animosity of the whole event. But I feel a lot less at home, naturally.

Kim Churchill on the Mojo Stage big screen at Bluesfest.
Photo Courtesy of Tao Jones

KT: So have you been writing much while you’ve been on the road, or have you just been too busy playing?
KC: No, the more busy I am, for some reason the more I write! As soon as I stop, and I have time to write songs, I can’t f*cking write one! [laughs] It’s a pain in the arse. So, say when we were touring in Europe, it was one of the most thick, dense periods of songwriting I’ve ever had. I feel like there’s so much new stuff to write and record now that I’m a bit lost as to where to go in the future with my music. I’ve been writing a lot of very heavy  stuff on electric guitar and stuff that would probably suit a band, and then lot’s of calm and pretty folk stuff that’s finger-picking on acoustic guitar, and then everything in between. So, writing a ridiculous amount of music and now just kind of trying to process how to find the best stuff from that and create an album that isn’t half a heavy metal album and half a folk album [laughs], something in between.
KT: So, Folk Metal?
KC: Folk Metal! Yeah!
KT: Kim Churchill shall master Folk Metal.
KC: [laughs] I like Folk Metal!

KT: When we spoke at Woodford, you said that you were on track for recording later this year, is that still  on the cards or is it pushed back a bit?
KC: Oh no, it’s been happening, we’re just waiting to pull the right things out. We did quite a bit of recording at Sun Records in Memphis, which was amazing! We got to record though the mike that Elvis sung through for the first time. And, that was amazing. We’ve recorded quite a bit in Byron and we recorded  in Canada as well. Just waiting to grab the songs in the right way I guess. It’s been quite a complicated process and it’s taken longer than I thought it would, to reach something that I want to release. Probably now there’s about twenty songs that we could release and we could put two albums out or two singles and an album, or two EPs and an album or something. But, it’s not right yet.  So, recording will continue until the stage where it’s right enough.

KT: At Timber and Steel, as you know, we spotlight artists who we see are coming up and we think we should support.
KC: You do an amazing job too, I’ve got the mailing list.
KT: Thank you. And we try and cover as much of the Australian scene as we can and I actually interviewed Ash Grunwald earlier this weekend and asked him one of the things we ask a lot of established artists, which is who to watch out for and who is coming through on the scene who we should follow, and he said instantly, without batting an eyelid, Kim Churchill.
KC: [laughs] He’s a legend
KT: And he did tell me that you toured with him, you supported him a few years ago
KC: Yeah man! you know what, I actually , I pushed that guy and he proved himself as an amazingly nice person. I was 18 or something and that was when I was trying to get a gig, at a wedding, busking at market, you know, whatever! And, I saw he was playing this venue about half an hour away that some acts used to tour through, and he could pull a big crowd there, sort of five or six hundred people. I begged him, I found his number personally, Ash Grunwald’s number and I called him and I said “please let me play’. And he did, and I’ve had the utmost respect for that guy since then, he’s an amazing person, so I’m quite honoured to be the person that he mentioned.
KT: He just had such great things to say about you, so I wanted to make sure you heard that one from me!
KC: Oh, good on him! Man, I saw a bunch of his music on a Hollywood movie, the other day.
KT: Yeah, he was saying, Limitless.
KC: Yeah, the amount of work that guy has done, and the element of old blues  he brings in to a very new sort of rock music style, he deserves everything he gets. He blows my mind, that guy.

KT: He’s one of the legends here this weekend, and you jumped up with Micahel Franti on Thursday, because you’ve been touring with Michael Franti, which must be amazing.
KC: It has been amazing!
KT: Jaunting back to Sydney in the middle of the weekend for gigs with him, that must have been a bit mind blowing. So with all these legends in Bluesfest, are there any musicians that you haven’t played with yet and you have an absolute burning desire to meet, play with, jam with, any of that?
KC: Oh man, there are so many names that I would want to say, and the first names I would want to say, this Bluesfest has given me the opportunity to see some of my favourite acts from previous tours and stuff, the Hussy Hicks, A French Butler Called Smith, The Mojo Bluesmen, Transvaal Diamond Syndicate, all those acts, they’re the acts you see at festivals all the time and you go “they should be playing the big festivals, they should be doing the big stages”, and that’s what Peter Noble [Bluesfest’s Creative Director] I think has nailed, as he gets everything from them to Dylan to Elvis Costello, to BB King to Wolfmother! Like, he gets it all. The act that I would most like to write, record, meet, everything with is Dylan, and it always will be, so that is my answer to the question is, Bob Dylan. Whether that will ever happen is something that we will wait to find out about and we shall see.

KT: Like I said, we ask who to listen too and people have said you, so I’m asking you who to listen to, who we should check out.
KC: Alright, at this festival, everybody should go check out Mavis Staples, she is brilliant, she blew my mind, Trombone Shorty, in the Australian scene, the Hussy Hicks, A French Butler Called Smith and the busking comp winner Minnie Marks, she plays guitar like nothing I’ve ever seen before, she sings like Janis Joplin, she’s 17 and she’s going to blow the world apart.

KT: Thank you so much for your time Kim, pleasure again, see you again soon. Thanks for the Scotch!
KC: Thank you, cheers. Oh, you’re welcome!

Bluesfest: First Impressions

Photo by KT Bell

Now, I used to live in close proximity to Byron Bay for most of my teenage life but never went to the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, it just never interested me. But as I traversed my twenties, I discovered this brilliant music style and cursed that I’d never taken advantage of being just down the road from the festival. Finally, at age thirty, I’ve made it to Bluesfest!

Having now been to a couple of major festivals, I had started to develop some ideas as to what to expect. The drive from Sydney on Thursday had a bigger toll on me than I thought and I found myself unable to face the festival that night. A friend who attended told stories of the long wait to get in to the festival, of the need to wash festival mud from her hair and the necessity of Gumboots – however her description of Ben Harper and Michael Franti’s sets, complete with guest appearance by Kim Churchill, did leave me a light shade of envy green. Gladly I had packed my trusty gumboots which have seen Peats Ridge and Woodford, so I felt well equipped. Bright and early Friday morning, I drove the last 40mins to the blues Mecca of northern NSW, Tyagarah. I thought for sure the traffic would be heavy and that the back roads would be the smartest. Surprisingly, the traffic was easy and my trip in to the site quite pleasant and quick.

Festivals like this require a lot of man power, and the only way to get such assistance is through volunteers. I have to say Bluesfest has done a sterling job of finding volunteers. They were plentiful, helpful and generally cheerful in guiding the constant flow of cars in to the site (here’s a tip, it’s polite to thank your volunteers – they make more things happen than  you ever realise). Getting through the gates was an equally easy task, a benefit of arriving at the start of the day no doubt. The new site, in it’s second year of festivalling, is nothing short of fabulous.

It feels purpose built, open and easy to navigate and very sensible in it’s layout. The mud was apparent but not overwhelming and people flowed freely between stages with no real hassles. A quick survey of the stalls showed a bunch of delicious food tempting me – clearly the diet is off this weekend – from gozleme to crepes, churros and waffles to organic doughnuts filled with your choice of dark chocolate or Blackberry Jam, food is most definitely covered here.

The crowds were thin at the start of the day but even as dusk settled and the crowds were swelling, the site never felt too full and getting around was not a problem. I had a chat to a lady in the waffles line (told you, diet is off) and she commented this year will probably be her last as the festival had grown too big and lost it’s vibe. Sadly it is the way of many festivals that become so popular – but it is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different appeal.

So for those wondering if Bluesfest is your thing – if neat, ordered camping and parking, excellently laid out and easy to navigate site and large but not obnoxious crowds plus an unfalteringly brilliant line up year after year is your thing – you can already buy pre-earlybird tickets for the 2012 at the gate 😉

You know you want to, BB King endorses it


Photo by KT Bell

Bob Dylan Bluesfest Sideshows Announced

Bob Dylan

If you’re not going to be able to make either the West Coast or East Coast Blues and Roots festivals this year don’t fret: Bob Dylan has just announced that he will be performing four sideshows around the country. And if you’re in South Australia you’re in for an even bigger treat with BB King confirmed as Dylan’s special guest at the Adelaide show. Tickets for the sideshows go on sale on the 31st January. Full dates are below:

Tuesday 19th April – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide (with BB King)
Wednesday 20th April – Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Saturday 23rd April – WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
Wednesday 27th April – Entertainment Centre, Sydney

2011 Bluesfest Lineup Announced

Bob Dylan

I need to just come right out and say it:

BOB DYLAN IS HEADLINING BLUESFEST!!!!! WAHOOO!!!!

Achem. Sorry about that. Hype aside the above is true – the grandfather of contemporary folk, Mr Bob Dylan, has just been announced as the headliner for next year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest, but the excitement doesn’t stop there. The first artist announcement also includes the likes of B.B. King, Ben Harper & Relentless 7, Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Michael Franti & Spearhead, The Cat Empire, Blind Boys of Alabama, Fistful of Mercy, Xavier Rudd, Kate Miller-Heidke, Ash Grunwald and C.W. Stoneking. it’s going to be an absolute killer festival.

The full lineup announced so far is:

Bob Dylan
B.B. King
Ben Harper & Relentless 7
Elvis Costello & the Imposters
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Rodrigo y Gabriela
The Cat Empire
Blind Boys of Alabama featuring Aaron Neville
Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band
Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Fistful of Mercy
Mavis Staples
Xavier Rudd
Trinity Roots
Little Bushmen
Tony Joe White
Indigo Girls
Kate Miller-Heidke
Eric Bibb
Washington
Ash Grunwald
Ruthie Foster
C.W. Stoneking
Jeff Lang
Saltwater Band
RocKwiz Live

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