Kasey Chambers' new album Campfire could be her most important life work. "I've always known that I would make this album."
It was a hot autumn afternoon when Kasey Chambers sat in front of her phone to film a video of herself announcing a new album. She tried to remain cool but the project was far too meaningful, and far too personal, it was all Chambers could do but stay inside her excited bronzed skin as she blurted out, “I was trying to act really cool there for a minute but I really can’t because I’m just really excited to tell you all my big news. I have a brand new album coming out on April 27 and I’m so excited to share it with you! …. It’s called Campfire…. It’s an album that’s been in my heart and soul for my whole life!”
An album announcement is always an exciting endeavour for any artist, and usually a moment that has been planned months and months in advance with music videos, tours and publicity dates in mind. Not so, this.
Campfire by Kasey Chambers has come about at a very busy time, perhaps an inconvenient time. In fact, Chambers was in the midst of her album tour for the multi-award winning record Dragonfly when the announcement took place.
She recalls that day with affection in a phone call a month later. “This album has been in the back of my mind for many years, like a really long time, and I've always known that I would make this album. I even knew what it was going to be called… I would just know when the time was right. I can honestly say I did not know that the time was right until about August . And I wasn't thinking about a new album, I mean I only had just brought out Dragonfly a few months earlier.”
Despite her especially busy year, the time to work on this special life project that had been in her heart for many, many years, was now. Like not knowing when a woman will go into labour to birth a child, when the time came, the time was right.
“When I told my manager and record label that I have another album they were like, ‘What? You're still on the Dragonfly tour!’ And I'm like, ‘I know’, but I just ... I don't know, it just felt right.”
The Dragonfly tour was lengthy and included multiple trips to the United States. “I toured all through Australia doing the Dragonfly tour, which was awesome. I also did four trips to America last year... I've never done that in my life. Not that many times. I usually go once or twice. Then we also did a trip to Africa, which was amazing, and then I also did a lot of promotional touring throughout Australia as well, in between all of the actual gig touring. I have three kids, and it was just crazy. It was a really crazy year and I know it sounds like I'm creating more work for myself by putting out another album, but it was almost the opposite of that, to be honest.”
2017 for Kasey Chambers was indeed a very demanding and eventful year, but the country star says it was also a time filled with reminders to be present.
“It was more about re-centering myself and going, ‘Hey, things are going crazy in your life right now, which is awesome, and you love it’ – I love travelling and all that. ‘But don't forget to live in that moment and enjoy it as well, don't get carried away with it all…’ We’d just had a number one record, which was exciting.
“I was over in Africa, with all the kids and that was amazing, but I was like, ‘Don't forget that where you are standing in the road right now, and don't forget about enjoying that next week when you're standing there. Don't let it all swallow you up, and just remember who you are, and what you're doing.’ Sometimes I'll forget to enjoy what I'm doing because I'm thinking about my schedule next week. I'm thinking about getting the kids to swimming lessons, and touring to Nashville tomorrow, do you know what I mean? I forget to actually enjoy this moment that I'm standing in right now. And this Campfire album just started pouring out of me. And it wasn't pouring out from a career move point of view, it was just…. ready. You can't decide when you're gonna go into labour!”
When the moment finally struck, Chambers started working on the album with an intimate team consisting of Brandon Dodd – who has toured with Chambers for the past three years - Alan Pigram – long-time family friend and Indigenous elder from Broome - and her father Bill Chambers. Together the three make up The Fireside Disciples. Kasey Chambers and The Fireside Disciples started recording the songs that will take her fans back to her roots, her country, and her time growing up on the road around the campfire.
“I wrote a lot with my Dad, and my guitar player, Brandon Dodd as well, so we just fed off each other and it just came to life really naturally.”
Chambers drew upon her life on the road and four different regions that have impacted her personally – Australia, Africa, Norfolk Island and the United States.
“From my early years of my family drawing from the Aboriginal way of life in the outback of Australia to experiencing the African culture and immediately connecting with it, living the seaside lifestyle in Southend, South Australia and later on, my time living on Norfolk Island to then many years of touring throughout America and being inspired by their musical culture, I have taken all of those experiences and put them into the songs and sounds for Campfire.”
Chambers’ childhood was very different to the life her three children lead. She says she keeps the memories alive by talking to her kids about the way she grew up - a time of living in the remote outback of Australia being home schooled and hunting for food.
"I talk about it with my kids a lot…. It was a different sort of lifestyle. It's still really present in my life. I would like to think I carried over a lot of the values and morals that I learnt in those days, and even though my kids have a very different lifestyle to what I had, I'd like to think that they're still getting a lot of those same values and morals that my parents instilled into me. I'd like to think it's a daily thing…. I do feel really lucky, because sometimes I talk about my early days, and I talk about how we didn't have anything that my kids have now, we didn't have iPods and iPads, we didn't have TV, we didn't have radio. When I was on the Nullarbor, we didn't even have a house – we literally lived in our car. We cooked everything on the open fire… my dad had to hunt all of our food. My mum taught my brother and I all of our schooling around a campfire, we played songs around the campfire 'cause we didn't have any other way of getting any sort of entertainment alternatively, so I'd play songs.”
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While the cuts on Dragonfly were perhaps Chambers’ most modern sounding work to date, the songs on Campfire are very traditional sounding country songs.
“I am about to bring out this record which is the most traditional record I've ever made in my life, it's being brought out after the most opposite of that record…. Dragonfly, I think, was more diverse than any record I've ever made and I actually dabbled in more genres on that record than I ever have, and now I feel like that's just as me as this record... I just always try and do what's true to me with still respecting the traditions of music.”
Such artistic choices are delicate matters for country artists in 2018. With the rise of more pop-sounding country music in the mainstream than ever before, Chambers is very passionate about respecting the traditions of country music while embracing change.
“I wanna respect where country music came from. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the pioneers in country music, both in America and in Australia. Or anywhere in the world, really. So I respect that I would not be doing the job that I'm doing and I wouldn't have the voice that I have or have the career that I have or the songs that I do, without Hank Williams, without Slim Dusty, without all of the tradition country music has – where it came from and why it's the way that it is, but I do think we need to embrace change as well because that's how the world works. Without that we can't experience some of the beautiful things that come out of change as well. I also wanna be true to myself and I wanna sound the way that I feel like I sound deep inside my heart and soul, with still respecting the traditions of where it came from. And that is what I try to do, that is what I will continue to do, and that's what I think is possible.”
It is fitting then, that Chambers’ invited her long time hero Emmylou Harris to make an appearance on Campfire singing the delightfully warm and haunting ballad The Harvest and The Seed.
“When we were sitting around the campfire in those early years of my life, her voice was the main voice that I heard more than any other, my dad played so much Emmylou Harris. Sitting around that campfire, I would listen to that voice and I would sing her songs and then now she's on this record, it's just so special and beautiful. I couldn't have planned it any better.”
Emmylou Harris' cameo on this track is evidence that Kasey Chambers has embraced and enhanced all facets of what country music has been, and will be. Dragonfly and Campfire are the old and the new side by side, released within eighteen months of each other. Two very different offerings, and proof that a country music artist can successfully take on many different forms.
“I know a lot of people are on an extreme level, with this argument about where country music is headed, and I feel people are either, 'Well it's all f**ked, and nothing sounds like country music anymore, and we blew everything and the bush ballad years are the only ones that are truly country.’ There's that argument. And then there's the argument way, way, way on the other side, where people are like, ‘Well if we don't change things, country music will die, and no-one will ever wanna listen to it, because it's too far, we're hanging onto it too much. And I get it, I get both of those arguments, and I'm in no way a fence-sitter, because I'm very outspoken about it, but I do think there's a balance.
“I think there is a way that we can embrace change… we have to encourage it, but I think that we do have to remind ourselves about where it came from and we need to respect tradition. And there's a way of doing both of those things where you don't have to give up where it came from and what it sounded like and why country is the way that it is, and how it got there. I think there's a way we can do both, and I would like to think that I'm living proof of that.”
Campfire is out Friday