Branded on my DNA: Kathy McCabe's love affair with music

Kathy McCabe, image courtesy of Women In Music, Sydney

Kathy McCabe, image courtesy of Women In Music, Sydney

Kathy McCabe is one of Australia's premier music writers and a gift to the music industry worldwide. She recently opened up about her life in music at a Women in Music networking event in Sydney, and Fenella Henderson-Zuel was there to capture this wonderful, illuminating conversation. 

Silence meant something bad was going to happen [but] if there was music it was going to be alright.
— Kathy McCabe, music journalist

Our favourite music is often intrinsically linked to memorable periods in our lives, or perhaps these moments are made more memorable thanks to their soundtrack.

This has certainly been the case for Kathy McCabe, a 25 year veteran of the Australia music business as an award winning journalist, one-time A&R manager and favoured confidant musicians around the world. Speaking at a packed Women In Music event last week, News Corp Australia’s National Music Writer talked about her lifelong love affair with music and her best loved songs and artists.

Describing it as being “branded on my DNA”, music was “omnipresent” in the McCabe household during Kathy’s childhood, with a stereo in every room and fights regularly breaking out over who would get creative control.

“Silence meant something bad was going to happen [but] if there was music it was going to be alright.”

One song that stood out from these early years was Stevie Wright’s Evie Part 1, on a compilation album which was the first record Kathy’s parents bought her. Infatuated, she ended up playing the album “literally to death” and it became the initial spark for a career in music journalism.

“The drama of it, the story of it, just sucked me in.”

Starting out as a court reporter, Kathy eventually managed to move into music writing but found it difficult working alongside a “legendary” and “scary as f***” fellow arts critic who, apparently seeing her younger colleague as “an enemy” put Kathy into situations where she would have to fight hard for assignments.

Although it shaped her into the journalist she is today, by forcing her to continually improve her work, Kathy describes this older colleague as having made her life “horrible for a long time”.

As Kathy established herself, that competition disappeared and music journalism became more of a labour of love. She connects this period with her love for Australian band, The Cruel Sea, fronted by Tex Perkins, and their song, The Honeymoon Is Over.

When assigned to interview bass guitarist Ken Gormly, Kathy remembers feeling distinctly starstruck at the idea of interacting with a band that “represented the unattainable” by appearing smarter and cooler than anyone else the young journalist had previously had access to.

Running into Ken at the ARIA Awards later that year, Kathy congratulated the band on their nomination. Ken responded by thanking her for her article, telling her “My mother still has your story on her fridge.”

I wish Patti Smith would write something every day of the week.
— kathy MCcabe, Music journalist

The interview ended up being a personal turning point for Kathy, who realised “I’m not sh** at this.”

Kathy’s status as one of Australia’s premier music critics suggests that she is indeed not sh** at this. She has “been lucky enough to meet most of my heroes”, from interviewing U2 and David Bowie to spending five days in London with P!nk, who Kathy describes as the “most unfiltered, human artist”.

Some of her most rewarding interviews have been with Australian women.

“Every conversation with Bertie Blackman, Megan Washington, Jessica Mauboy and Kasey Chambers is amazing and the best.”

Kathy is now in the enviable position of being able to choose who to interview and which releases to review, asking herself “has it got a beautiful story that needs to be told?” But in a changing media landscape, she is aware of the importance of her choices given the limited space, especially with News Corp recently removing the entertainment lift out from its national newspapers.

With so little space to work in, Kathy says that “50 per cent of my day is saying no”, but there are some things she would say yes to immediately. On her bucket list are Patti Smith (“I wish Patti Smith would write something every day of the week”), Troye Sivan and Bruce Springsteen.

“[Bruce] I will get you if it kills me”.

Follow Kathy McCabe on Twitter and sign up for Women in Music Sydney networking events via their Facebook page.