Casey Donovan says: "The one thing I wanted to do with this new EP was remove my face. Remove the 'celebrity', and focus on the music." Our interview with one of Australia's most diverse performers
Casey Donovan entered the Australian music industry as an unassuming 16 year old in 2004 when she first auditioned for what was then a very popular star search show, Australian Idol. By the end of that second season, she ended up being crowned the winner as each performance over the course of the series reaffirmed to Australians that Casey had absolute star power. With an incredible voice and disposition that could deliver anything from dark gothic ballads to folk songs to pop bangers and more, Casey demonstrated an emotional intelligence and attachment to a diverse range of popular songs. Indeed this power of connection with audience and repertoire is the reason Casey is still around thirteen years later. Since then, Casey must have performed hundreds of cover songs. And while she has written, recorded and released original music, Casey's musical career has been filled with rendition after rendition of everything from Adele to Queen on platforms from RSL clubs to YouTube screens to theatre stages all over the country. And she's so dang good at it.
Yet last year, Casey decided it was time to go back to the studio and create some new original works. The result? An introspective and musically diverse - and theatrical in parts - six track EP called Off The Grid and Somewhere in Between. While many noted that 2016 and 2017 saw Casey in a Coles advertisement, performing a main character role in the popular stage show We Will Rock You and being the first woman to win popular reality television show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Casey was also conjuring up some of her most intimate and telling recordings to date - and working as an Uber driver and raising funds through Kickstarter - to fund it. She has released two singles already. Lonely and The Villain are two reflective, and at times heavy, numbers performed with her familiar emotive and impressive voice paired with a message of empathy for those who want to be loved and those who are anxious.
The balance between Showbiz Queen and Vulnerable Artist is a fine line to walk but one that Casey does very well. She took some time to chat with Music Love's Julie Kerr all about the tension between being an entertainer and introspective music maker. Her new EP with a tour to follow is out this Friday.
JK: Congratulations on the new EP Off The Grid & Somewhere In Between! How long has it been in the works?
CD: We started doing the EP in December last year. I started it off with [crowd fundraising body] Kickstarter. I raised the funds to cover the cost of production. I wanted to start all over again. I've been singing covers for so long that I lost the love that I had for writing original music. Once the Kickstarter came through I came straight into the studio. It was full on to go in dry and think about what I wanted to write and at the end of the day we came up with six full on funky songs. I wanted to make things sound the same, but opened up myself to different things and depending on what I was feeling on the day - that impacted the songwriting. We've got everything from country to pop to singer/songwriter to R&B. And as far as the writing process - it took us about a month to settle in to what we wanted. Then I went away to the Jungle which put a stop to a few things (laughs). But all up, it took us about two and half months to complete writing which is a good amount of time.
JK: I find it quite introspective lyrically, and vulnerable, also. And musically, I find it a little theatrical.
CD: I would say it's very vulnerable. And the one thing I loved about this recording is that I had no one telling me what to do..... I kept reminding my producer, "We don't have to answer to anyone here. We don't have to conform to anything. We've got no one telling us anything." And the theatrical stuff - we'd sit there and write and I'd be like, what if we did this? And we'd sit there and say "wow." So it is vulnerable in some aspects. But I also wanted to have a fun country song. I love to sing [Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse hit] Valerie at shows. And I wanted to have my own pop song.
JK: How do you look after your voice?
CD: I do everything a singer shouldn't. After coming out of the jungle I quit smoking so that's a bonus, a very big plus. And I can really hear that in the performance. It's changed my tone and my pitch and the way I place things in my mouth. It's a very big thing to take away from my voice as I was a smoker before a professional singer. Warming up and warming down - things singers should do and must do to give you longevity. Your voice is always changing. It also depends what mood you're in. I can never do anything half-arsed when it comes to singing. I'm either in it or I'm not.
JK: I noticed that. I wanted to talk about musical theatre. I was looking at some of your performances from We Will Rock You. I was watching a video from The Morning Show and half way through Another One Bites the Dust I noticed there was no band there but it took me so long to realise that. You captured my attention completely. Tell me what you love about musical theatre.
CD: I love musical theatre for the fact that I get to be a character and portray someone else instead of being just Casey. There's a total different experience and anxiety that comes with musical theatre. You can't just go willy nilly whenever you want. You've got guidelines you have to stick by, and words [you are given] and you are told where to stand. There are a lot of things that go into musical theatre that challenge me in a lot of ways and it's really exciting. I Iove performing. I love that musical theatre has given me another avenue to walk down and challenge myself. Getting to play a character like the Killer Queen [in We Will Rock You] was absolutely amazing. I'd never played the villain before. I'd always played the nice character or the funny character. She was funny but she had balls. And singing [songs from] Queen night after night was amazing.
JK: How do you manage to balance the tension between show business and art? Not many people can do both.
CD: It's such a tricky line to walk. Being the artist - the one thing I wanted to do with this new EP was remove my face. Remove the "celebrity", and I wanted to focus on the music. I don't want to be in any of the film clips. I don't my face to be attached to the music. I just want people to hear it instead of being blind sided by, "Oh that's the Coles lady, it's the Jungle Lady, oh its the Idol lady." So when I do get to do the show biz stuff, that's what where the "celebrity" can come in. It's tricky being the chameleon. I'm always having this inner battle - is it alright if I do this? And it's always that thought process of, "Who am I gonna annoy by doing this?" It's trying to make the lines clear. OK, This is Casey as the singer, the performer, as the show biz woman. So I wake up saying, what am I doing today? Where's the coffee? (Laughs)
JK: You've done many different things over the years. You've been in the Coles ad, You've been a YouTuber, obviously winning the television show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, you've crowd funded your music, even been an Uber driver. Artists have always had to have a portfolio to make their life work. How much of these things have been a necessity and how many have been something you've wanted to do?
CD: They've all been a necessity in my life. I've been in this industry for thirteen years, and at the end of the day. I love getting to perform. There are things along the way you have to do. Not everything you do is given to you on a silver platter. You've got to go to the auditions. You don't have to be an uber driver, but it's a way of learning about life and hearing about people's experiences. In [doing so] I hear people's stories. And that's where I can get more inspiration from. I like to work hard to get to where I need to be. They're all very much necessities of life.
JK: Have any of those experiences or people's opinions of you doing different things ever got you down? Or are you optimistic?
CD: You take it in your stride. The way that the world has changed in the last thirteen years with social media and getting yourself out there - I like to call it 'whoring everything'... There's always gonna be people out there trying to put you down and being negative but it's how you overcome that. You know we're confronted with people like that every day. If it's something I can control I'll go on to social media and delete it and block people from certain things. I don't need to waste my time on negative people. I'd rather be spending my time liking comments and replying when I get the opportunity and making people's day. There's way too much negativity in the world today. People just need to smile.
JK: Well you definitely make people smile. Who are your favourite women in music?
CD: I take my hat off to all women in the industry. In music, arts, whatever. It is hard..... The music industry in Australia [for women] is f***ing hard.... It's tricky. I've just stuck to [being] me. I've moulded into a woman over many years.... If I could give any advice I would say, keep at it. Don't change for people. Be true to you. Because at the end of the day they're gonna like you or they're not. And there's no in between so just make sure you're looking after you.
Casey Donovan's brand new EP Off The Grid and Somewhere in Between is out this Friday. Follow Casey on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
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