National Folk Festival Interview: Mustered Courage

Mustered Courage
Image Courtesy of Mustered Courage

Melbourne based new-grass band Mustered Courage have had a massive couple of months, touring the US, picking up a Golden Guitar at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and spending time in the studio recording their epic new album. With an appearance at this weekend’s National Folk Festival we sat down with Mustered Courage’s banjo player and lead vocalist Nick Keeling to reflect on the past few months and look forward to the year ahead.

Gareth Hugh Evans: First of all congratulations on the Golden Guitar win this year! That must be pretty exciting for you.

Nick Keeling: Yeah. It was a pretty good night there. Tamworth can be a bit of a hard slog – we played like 10 gigs this year in a row. So on the last day to win a little bit of a shiny thing, it’s nice. And then the phone rings a little bit so that’s good to.

GHE: Yeah, I imagine that suddenly there are a few people who’ve never heard of Mustered Courage who are now paying you a little bit of attention.

NK: Mustered Courage kind of sits in between a couple of different genres and different music scenes and the country scene is definitely one of them. If we can make inroads into the folk scene, the country scene, the roots scene, the indie scene – we just want to be everywhere.

GHE: I feel like the Australian country scene can be a little bit closed at times – its very hard for bands to break into. But maybe that’s going away a little bit?

NK: I feel like it’s just about participation. I don’t think there’s any kind of clique or wall. Just get up there and do it! I keep urging bands that I’ve seen at one Tamworth and then I don’t see the next to say “why didn’t you come back?”. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve just got to keep chipping away. It’s basically an open door policy as far as I’m concerned – you want to play in the country scene, then play in the country scene. The only thing stopping you is your own desire or intent to do it.

GHE: How were the audiences in Tamworth?

NK: I really did feel like the audiences are changing a little bit. It’s getting younger, the next generation of country music listeners is intact. Hopefully that will then encourage more bands that are maybe in the scene to go up there. We had the Green Mohair Suits in Tamworth for two years in a row, Little Bastard came back, Wagons came back. I look first to our closest peers – you kind of need an army to lead the movement, you can’t do it by yourself.

GHE: You guys are heading to The National Folk Festival this year, which will be your second time there. What’s drawn you back to The National?

NK: I think it’s one of the greatest folk festivals in the country by far. I’ve been to dozens of festivals, I think they do it really well. I lived in Canberra for a long time, Julian [Abrahams] our guitarist is a Canberra boy, so it’s a bit of a homecoming in that regard. The best thing about The National for me is almost every concert I ever went to there is packed. Some people might get a little bit grumpy when they have that sign out the front that says “Venue Full” but you just learn to get in a little bit earlier and then you know the vibe’s going to be good. Some festivals, without naming any names of course, may spread themselves too thin on some shows. I think the beauty is in the programing and size management. When you go and see a show half of what you want is atmosphere and if a festival works hard to make sure that atmosphere is good for the band and the audience then there is no excuses.

GHE: And the audience that goes to The National are genuine music lovers.

NK: You go and you know there’s going to be a great camaraderie at The National as well. The session bar after hours, that’s the best musicians get together and party that I’ve ever experienced.

GHE: I don’t think there’s anything quite like the session bar. It’s one of those places where you can jam with your musical heroes. Where else does that happen?

NK: No where! I’ve been to a lot of back stage picks but this is just anyone. It’s really cool. From a personal perspective I’m gonna know about a hundred people up in there so it’s a good party.

GHE: I know people who pay for a season ticket and then spend their entire time in the session bar. They don’t go and see any of the programmed music, they just wait for the music to come to them.

NK: That happens at a lot of the great festivals of the world where people don’t leave the parking lot. That’s one of the great things about festivals, it’s a lot more than just going to see the bands. There’s a lot of stuff to do.

GHE: So you’ve been in the studio recently?

NK: Yeah, we’re just putting the finishing touches on the mixes now.

GHE: I saw crazy photos on your Facebook page of timpani and orchestral percussion. Is this a “big sound” Mustered Courage?

NK: It’s a big sound. We’ve kept the bluegrass thing at its core for sure – every track is acoustic guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro. But then we built more around that which was one of the visions that we had for a long time, to orchestrate things a lot more. There is timpani, tubular bells, marimba, horns, organ, electric pianos, electric guitars and some other exotic instruments. Oh, and drums! I forgot – when you get too deep into the bluegrass scene people are like “drums?” but then the moment you stick you’re head out everyone’s like “of course you have drums. Bands have drums”. It’s definitely the next evolution of the sound – I would describe it as bluegrass with indie/Americana/folk/rock stuff that we don’t know has been done before, but it’s worth a try.

GHE: Sounds like you guys are really pushing the boundary of what Mustered Courage is.

NK: It’s still the same at the core. We try to write good songs. The vocal harmonies that we’ve really focused on for the past four years are still the main feature and the picking is still underneath and in the breaks to tantalise the ears. There’s just a lot more textures.

GHE: Did I see that you guys are heading back over to The States again this year as well?

NK: Yeah, we’re leaving in about seven weeks now. I feel like we just got back. The last tour was three months, no less than, no days off. Any day that was considered a day off was a couple of interviews and a 12 hour drive. We still played 50-something shows, nearly killed each other a few times, killed a few vehicles and we drove 27,000 miles. And we’re doing it again! We’ve got some good festivals lined up in the summer of bluegrass scene.

GHE: Is it important for you guys to chip away at the American scene while still maintaining your base in Australia?

NK: Yeah. It’s expensive for us to get over there but as far as the audience goes, we’re trying to build an audience for this kind of stuff here but over there there’s a ready made one. Our management and agencies don’t want us to lose any of the ground that we’ve got from going last time. We’ve managed to get on some really, really good festivals. One is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival – it’s kind of little bit of a dream festival for us. It’s the place where new-grass all started. Just to be a part of that makes this trip worth going and it makes the last trip worth it to because obviously we made an impression enough to get noticed by the people that you want to [notice you].

It’s tough because sometimes the tours feel like they have no rhyme or reason to them. They’re just town to town to town to town to town to town and you’re like “how can we even start to make a fanbase in these towns if we just play one little show and leave”. It’s a good thing we have some people driving this train that know what they’re doing because a lot of it has to do with trying to create hype with publicity. Basically the words “publicity tour” were important in what we did last time.

GHE: Well I’m glad you’re heading back there but I’m also glad I’m going to be able to catch you at The National Folk Festival first.

NK: Thanks mate – see you there.

Spotlight On: Mardi Pannan

Image Courtesy of Mardi Pannan

One of the things I love about my day job is that I get to seek out and book acts of all genres. In focussing on the local area and using all manner of online resources, like Triple J Unearthed, I have found a vast array of acts that I can not only book, but also feature here on Timber and Steel. One such singer/ songwriter I discovered late last year is the delightful Mardi Pannan. Now, I’ve been keeping her all to myself and listening to her self titled EP, but now is the time to share her with you all in readiness for the launch of her new single “Tattooed” this Thursday.

Writing since she was 18, Mardi achieves a certain delicacy in her music, that balance of innocence, experience, pain and joy all in delightful packages of rich sound. It’s no wonder she’s been a Music Oz finalist twice and has won the Lighthouse songwriting award at the Port Fairy Folk Festival. With other festivals including Woodford, Falls and Tamworth Country Music Festival under her belt, it’s testament to the calibre of her music and style. Having seen her live, she is an unassuming performer who plays for the audience, clearly wanting to please them with the best set possible. Her career has taken a slower pace than most musicians try to push for, however, she has collected fans across her home town of Sydney and is now set to expand her fan base throughout Australia.

With her latest single “Tattooed” set for launch at El Rocco Room in Sydney’s Kings Cross tomorrow night (Thursday 12 May), we can only assume that her air play will begin to rise and many of you will be in the ‘I knew about her first’ category. Her soft and folky voice is an absolute pleasure and her EP is one of those recordings you just want to wrap yourself up in and have a cup of tea. With diverse themes to each track on her EP, you’ll find something for every mood, including a couple of nice summery numbers to while away the cold winter days.

Tickets are still available for her single launch tomorrow night, doors open at 8pm with support by Hello Vera and Caitlin Harnett, all for the princly sum of $10. Who said Sydney’s music scene is dead?

Country of origin: Australia (Sydney)
File Under: Alt-Folk, Pop-Folk, Acoustic
Sounds like: Julia Stone and Lisa Mitchell
Myspace: myspace.com/mardipannan
Official:
 mardipannan.com

Kasey Chambers Up for Seven Golden Guitars

Kasey Chambers
Image Courtesy of Kasey Chambers

Country darling Kasey Chambers walked away with seven Golden Guitar nominations today including Album of the Year for Little Bird. The nominations were held in Sydney and also saw nods to The McClymonts and Lee Kernaghan. The full list of nominations is below:

Album of the Year
Keep Breathing – Dianna Corcoran
Little Bird – Kasey Chambers
Planet Country – Lee Kernaghan
Still Walking – Graeme Connors
Wrapped Up Good – The McClymonts

Male Artist of the Year
Luke Austen – She’s So You
Adam Brand – It’s Gonna Be OK
Graeme Connors – A Good Life
Lee Kernaghan – Planet Country
Markus Meier – A Different Land

Female Artist of the Year
Catherine Britt – Can’t Change A Thing
Kasey Chambers – Little Bird
Dianna Corcoran – Thank You For Cheating On Me
Tracy Killeen – Brave
Melinda Schneider – The Deadwood Stage

Maton New Talent of the Year
Luke Austen – She’s So You
Tracy Killeen – Brave
McAlister Kemp – All Kinds Of Tough
Markus Meier – A Different Land
Peter McWhirter – I Will Stand By You

Group or Duo of the Year
The Bostocks – Not By A Long Shot
Jonah’s Road – End Of The World
McAlister Kemp – All Kinds Of Tough
The McClymonts – Wrapped Up Good
The Sunny Cowgirls – Summer

Vocal Collaboration of the Year
“Both Sides Now” – Adam Harvey & The McClymonts
“Here We Are” – Anne Kirkpatrick & Bill Chambers
“Love Like A Hurricane” – Kasey Chambers & Kevin Bennett
“Seven Spanish Angels” – Adam Harvey & Troy Cassar-Daley
“Sing Me Home” – McAlister Kemp & Adam Brand

Toyota Heritage Song of the Year
“Angels Without Halos” – written & recorded by Graham Rodger
“Australian Boy” – written by Lee Kernaghan, Col Buchanan & Garth Porter, recorded by Lee Kernaghan
“Children Of The Gurindji” – written by Sara Storer, recorded by Sara Storer & Kev Carmody
“Nullabor (The Biggest Backyard)” – written & recorded by Kasey Chambers
“Sacred Bones” – written by Luke Austen & Troy Cassar-Daley, recorded by Luke Austen

Fender Instrumental of the Year
“Badl Bounce” – Steve Passfield
“Dixie Breakdown” – Ian Simpson & John Kane
“Optimystical” – Michael Fix
“Pronto Tonto” – Brendan Radford
“Run And Hide” – The Bostocks

APRA Song of the Year
“All The Money’s Gone” – written by Graeme Connors
“Better Than This” – written by Rod McCormack & Adam Harvey
“It Don’t Buy You Love” – written by Drew McAlister & Mike Carr
“Little Bird” – written by Kasey Chambers
“Planet Country” – written by Lee Kernaghan, Matt Scullion, Garth Porter, Colin Buchanan

Video Clip of the Year
“Australian Boy” – Lee Kernaghan, directed by Jesse Frazer
“Calling Me Home” – Sara Storer, directed by Duncan Toombs
“Girl In The Mall” – Felicity Urquhart, directed by Erica Davis
“Little Bird” – Kasey Chambers, directed by Gemma Lee, Blackeberry Films
“Wrapped Up Good” – The McClymonts, directed by Conti Brothers

Single of the Year
“A Beach House in the Blue Mountains” – Graeme Connors
“Little Bird” – Kasey Chambers
“Planet Country” – Lee Kernaghan
“Thank You For Cheating On Me” – Dianna Corcoran
“Wrapped Up Good” – The McClymonts

Bush Ballad of the Year
“The Battered Billy Tin” – written by Shaza Leigh & Ben Jacobs, recorded by Brian Letton
“The Cooper Coming Down” – written & recorded by Graham Rodger
“Every Time He Travels Through Cloncurry” – written by Peter Denahy, recorded by Luke Austen
“Kings Without A Crown” – written by Ray Rose, recorded by Tom Maxwell
“Say G’Day From Me” – written & recorded Ian Quinn

Timber and Steel’s Guide to Summer Festivals

Woodford Folk Festival

As the the sun begins to break through the clouds and folkies everywhere crawl out of hibernation it’s time to start planning how best to spend your summer months. And luckily for you Timber and Steel has decided (after some prompting on our facebook page) to give you a guide to the best folk/roots/acoustic/indie festivals happening around the country this season. And remember, if this summer is looking expensive on the festival front, most of these events offer free tickets and camping in exchange for volunteer hours – check the festival web sites for details.

Kim Churchill Great Southern Blues Festival, Batemans Bay, NSW1st, 2nd & 3rd October
Don’t be fooled by the name, the Great Southern Blues Festival offers a lot more than just blues with roots and folk acts like Ben Kweller, Kim Churchill (left) and the The Travelers taking to the stage. Sadly the Court Yard Hounds have pulled out this year but it’s still a very impressive lineup.

Mama Kin One Movement Music Festival, Perth, WA8th, 9th & 10th October
Perth manages to pull out one of the best local and international lineups for this year’s One Movement Music Festival. Catch the likes of Paul Kelly, Mama Kin (right), Xavier Rudd, Sally Seltmann, Boy & Bear, Georgia Fair, Passenger and Ben Kweller. Maybe they should name this festival “Timber and Steel’s Featured Artists”?

The Lurkers Fleurieu Folk Festival, Willunga. SA22nd, 23rd & 24th October
South Australia gets it’s own taste of folk with the Fleurieu Folk Festival in beautiful Willunga. Some of the best folk festival acts going around make an appearance this year including Danny Spooner, The Lurkers (left), String Theory and more.

Wheeze and Suck Band Folk in Broke, Hunter Valley, NSW5th, 6th & 7th November
What is the perfect way to watch folk music? Why with a glass of wine in hand of course! And when that wine comes from the Hunter Valley’s Nightingale Wines you can’t go far wrong. We can doubly recommend Folk in Broke as it’s Takadami’s first gig in a very long time and these guys are amazing. Other feature artists include Paul Robert Burton, FIG and The Wheeze and Suck Band (right).

Jeff Lang Adelaide International Guitar Festival, Adelaide, SA25th, 26th, 27th & 28th November
Celebrating all things guitar related the Adelaide International Guitar Festival has been building a reputation as one of the top events on the Australian musical calendar. This year’s festival features the likes of Jeff Lang (left), Lisa Miller and more.

The Dirty Three Meredith Music Festival, Meredith, Vic10th, 11th & 12th December
The Meredith Music Festival scored quite a coup when they enlisted The Dirty Three (right) as the headline act for their 20th anniversary. It’s probably one of the reasons the event has already sold out. That and they have a massive lineup including Little Red, Neil Finn, C.W. Stoneking, Sally Seltmann and more.

Mal Webb Woodford Folk Festival, Woodford, Qld27th, 28th, 29th, 30th & 31st December & 1st January
Despite the fact that the Woodford Folk Festival is yet to announce it’s 2010/11 lineup it still has to be the highlight of any folky’s summer. Mal Webb (left) has already let slip that he and Totally Gourgeous are appearing so expect to see a lot of your favourite acts. Hopefully we’ll get a confirmed lineup shortly.

Boy & Bear Falls Music and Arts Festival, Lorne, Vic and Marion Bay, Tas28th, 29th, 30th & 31st December & 1st January
A New Year’s Eve institution, the Falls Festival just gets bigger and bigger each year. This year’s lineup includes Angus and Julia Stone, Boy & Bear (right), JUNIP, Sally Seltmann and Paul Kelly.

The Audreys Peats Ridge Music Festival, Glenworth Valley, NSW29th, 30th & 31st December & 1st January
The rock music festival with the heart of a folk festival, Peats Ridge is as much about the environment and sustainability as it is about the music. It’s also one of the most relaxing ways to spend New Year’s Eve. The first lineup is massive and includes the likes of Angus and Julia Stone (these guys get around), The Audreys (left), Cloud Control, Kim Churchill, The Seabellies and more.

Wongawilli Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW13th, 14th, 15th & 16th January
Easily one of our favourite small folk festivals in the country, the Illawarra Folk Festival is held in historic Bulli just a couple of hours south of Sydney and has a real community atmosphere. No word on the lineup yet but they usually have a number of the larger folk acts in attendance. Definitely worth the train trip down from the big smoke if just to have a beer at the Heritage Hotel.

Golden Guitar Tamworth Country Music Festival, Tamworth, NSW14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd & 23rd January
The top event on the country music calendar, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is an absolute institution. Tickets for the festival go on sale (internet only) on the 1st of October. If you’re keen you should be booking your accommodation now to avoid disappointment.

Liz Frencham Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy, Vic11th, 12th, 13th & 14th March
One of the “big three” Australian folk festivals (along with Woodford and The National), Port Fairy has been adding a larger amount of nu-folk and acoustic-rock acts to their lineup in recent years. Definitely a top destination for the folk faithful and folk curious alike, Port Fairy also has the advantage of being in one of the most beautiful locations in the country.

WOMADelaide WOMADelaide, Adelaide, SA11th, 12th, 13th & 14th March
In this time of musical awareness and diversity does the term “world music” mean anything any more? Probably not, but the best way to find out will be to head to Adelaide for the annual WOMADelaide festival. The artist lineup is due to hit the interwebs this November so we’re sure to keep you posted.

Blue Mountains Folk and Roots Blue Mountains Folk & Roots, Katoomba, NSW18th, 19th and 20th March
Always a fantastic mix of the very best contemporary artists along with the cream of folk scene the Blue Mountains Folk & Roots Festival is one of the best around. Tickets sell out really quickly (probably due to its proximity to Sydney) but is definitely worth the effort.

And that’s it for the summer. Worn out yet? Well better get some rest, because Easter and The National are just around the corner…

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