Kasey Chambers is no stranger to the spotlight. Music is a family affair for the 12-time ARIA Award winner, yet there have been times when she’s wanted to walk away from it all.
In the first of a ten-part content series , I chat to Kasey artist about how music can sustainably coincide with other areas of life.
In an industry where expression collides with business, how do you keep the passion to play/write music alive?
I keep creative and career very separate. When I am writing songs or recording albums, I do not think about my career. I just concentrate on expressing myself the best way I can through music and I try not to think about what the listener/audience expects from me.
It’s almost as if it’s just a personal journey that doesn’t really have anything to do with my career. I find the less I think of the listener when writing songs, the braver my songwriting gets.
In saying all that, the moment the album is finished and the creative side is done, I automatically click straight into business/career mode and I can’t wait to get onto photo shoots and album covers and promoting the songs to share them with the listener and then tour! I love writing songs at home in my bedroom, but I would never be happy with not having the chance to share them with people. I love all the sides of music but it’s important that I only concentrate on one at a time.
Have you ever come close to leaving music? If so, what prompted it and what inspired you to stay?
I have wanted to give up music twice in my life… I’ve had other times of needing to get away from it for a while just for a break too.
Both times have been a build up of the pressure of trying to hold it all together for those around me. Pressure that I put on myself rather than have put on me by others. Sometimes a little self-doubt can push you to want to be better and is not always a bad thing, but it can take over and be so overwhelming that you can never live up to the expectation you put on yourself.
I learnt a while ago that if you don’t allow yourself to have some bad days every now and then, they catch up with you and become bigger than they are. Not trying to be perfect all the time and being real instead has been the key for me. Realising it’s ok to admit your downfalls, accepting that some days are fucking hard when you’re trying to hold together a career, a family, friends or whatever your life needs and that’s it’s ok if some days you end up rocking back and forth, feeling like you’re going crazy!
Just give yourself those crazy days and get up the next day and try to make it better.
Ironically it has always been music that has brought me back to wanting to play music again. Getting back to the basics of songs and artists and musicians that inspire me. Reminding me of the beautiful things about being a part of this industry. There are a lot of beautiful things about it.
How do you stay true to your vision, in an industry that is filled with opinion?
I do my own thing. I’ve been very lucky in the industry to have had some incredible labels, collaborations, amazing people in general to work with. I feel very much a part of the Australian music industry, which I love, but when it comes to working my career I just do my own thing in my own way.
My managers/family and I have always just liked finding our own path that works for us. It may not always be right and not even always successful – we’ve made many mistakes along the way – but it feels right to me. I’m not interested in doing things because other people are [doing] or tell me that’s how it has to be done.
The music that I make is unique – as is everyone’s when they are being true to themselves – and I think it’s needs to be on a unique journey. I honestly think a lot of people worry too much about what everyone else is doing in the industry and feel like it’s a competition. There’s room for everybody if everyone is just being themselves. No one can ever compete with being you, so why bother competing with being anyone else? You already have your place if you are just being you.
What does the day of a gig right up until stepping on stage look like?
Kinda depends on where or what tour really. If I have my kids on tour which I do a lot, it’s normal mum stuff all day really. Getting woken up too early, giving them food to keep them quiet, finding the best skate parks in regional towns, playgrounds, travelling to the next town – with a few hundred pee breaks along the way! Sometimes long drives or flights, soundcheck, bathing the kids – this one is optional if I’m feeling lazy – dinnertime, getting the kids set-up with lots of bad parenting bribes backstage so they hopefully don’t annoy me too much while I’m on stage… this one is never guaranteed…!
Then an hour and a half of peace and quiet while I do a gig! Then, pack it all up and take the kids back to a hotel where they always end up in my bed with their feet in my face, and then we get up and do it all again!
But I wouldn’t change it! I love having them on tour. I work well with chaos; I like it. My family is also on the road – my dad is in my band, my mum sells the merch, all my band and crew are like family to me, so we all throw in and help each other out and love the craziness.
What tips do you have in balancing family with music life?
Embrace the chaos. Let yourself fall apart sometimes but always pick yourself back up.
I do realise I am luckier than most in the way that I get to tour and have so much help with people around me, but I’ve also created that for myself so that I can have a family and a career at the same time.
There are ways to make things happen if you want to live out your dreams. Don’t get me wrong, things don’t always work out perfectly. Sometimes I miss the Mother’s Day stall at school because I’m on tour and sometimes I have to turn down tours because it’s more important to be at the footy carnival and sometimes I go to bed at night wondering how many mistakes I made that day, but that’s real life.
And for the most part the balance is working. My kids seem ‘fairly’ well-adjusted, and are getting to live a ‘normal’ kind of life at home, going to a local public school and also getting to experience a different side of life on the road where I think they are learning just as much about the real world. They seem to enjoy both sides. I do too!
What do you do to stay physically and mentally balanced? (on and off the road if you are a touring artist)
Physically I run around after three kids and am always running in airports late for flights *laughs*. I eat very healthy on the road, which is much easier these days than it used to be. Even when we tour America it’s much easier to find healthy food around. Sometimes I do a big cook-up before tour and take food with me on the road for the band and crew as well.
I also don’t drink much. Never been much of a drinker on the road. I like to have a very clear mind when I’m gigging – and always really. Except coffee, that is my addiction. Oh, and shopping!
How do you carry out the roles of a performing artist during times when you’re feeling sub-par? Be it unwell or emotionally unstable.
You know I think I have the perfect job for my personality because I love people. I love being around people all the time. I get bored being on my own, unless I’m in writing mode. I’m very much an extrovert.
Sometimes when I am not feeling myself and out of balance the best remedy is doing a gig. I feel so at home on stage; I feel so ‘me’ when I’m out there performing that it refills my heart and soul. I like to give a lot of myself at a gig or a day of promo. I like being me… the real me. Being real is what brings me back into balance and I’m very lucky that I have a job where I get to be me all the time.
What epiphany(s) has altered your approach to music/life?
I wrote a song a few years ago called ‘Ain’t No Little Girl’. I didn’t play it or take much notice of it for over a year. I realise now I wasn’t strong enough within myself both musically or personally to really connect to the song.
But after a whole lot of personal growth and change I started growing into this song. It was as if the song was writing me instead of the other way around. I started performing it live and owning it, and connecting with it more and more that it soon became an anthem for my life. Both the strong and weak sides of who I am. It is now the glue that holds the Dragonfly album together. I have never had a song connect with an audience like this song. I think it’s the most important song I’ve ever written in my life.
Have you ever experienced anxiety/depression/nervousness around a tour? If so, what are (were) the triggers and how do (did) you manage it?
Around the time of turning 30 I had made an album called Carnival. An album I didn’t really connect with personally. I was exhausted by putting so much of myself into all my songs and albums feeling so much like therapy.
So I made this album wanting to try a new approach to songwriting. Detaching myself from songs. I was also in a place personally where I had felt like I’d lost a sense of who I was throughout my career and was not in control of my own self and worth. This developed into an eating disorder. I was very underweight but became obsessed with what I ate and losing weight. Not in an image way – I knew I was too skinny and didn’t like looking in the mirror or people commenting on how much weight I’d lost – but I felt like it one one aspect of my life I had complete control over and it snowballed from there.
I was trying to juggle a career and motherhood and keep everyone happy around me at the same time. The album debuted at number 1 in Australia, I was out on the road doing a sold out tour playing all these songs I felt no connection with, and I was starving myself at the same time. I felt so disconnected from who I was as a person that I just wanted to give up music all together. I felt like I had a poison inside me that was eating away the person who I once was.
The person who I once liked being and no longer knew. It took a year of therapy, a lot of self-realisation and getting away from my career for a while to start to find myself again. I’m glad now I went through it to have come out of it a better person, but at the time I was very lost. I learnt a lot of important lessons through it that I still use every day now. I never ever play any songs from that record and (not surprising) no one ever requests any of them.
Can you trace your current successes back to any big risks or leaps? If so, what were they?
All of my successes have been from big risks. I think most peoples are. Musically I like to go against the grain – I try to step outside the box and challenge myself. Being yourself, truly being yourself, is a massive risk I know. But it’s worth it. Always worth it.
Help those who are falling and relay an experience you’ve had that landed you flat on your face.
I sang a duet with Tim Rogers and You Am I once at Homebake Festival, ‘Heavy Heart’. A beautiful song. I was really nervous about it. I’d never sung it before and it was very early days of my career and I didn’t know Tim or the band that well.
I learnt the song back to front but my nerves got the better of me and I fucked the whole thing up. I was terrible – messed up the words, sang badly, I was all out of time. It was like I was singing a completely different song than the rest of the band! After that experience I decided I needed a new approach to nerves. Fucking up like that just cannot be an option anymore. Otherwise I’ll have to get a day job. Simple as that.
What is your philosophy on fear? How do you deal with it?
I think it’s healthy to have a little bit of fear I guess, to make you care enough about outcomes and be conscientious enough to try hard. But then when I’ve done all I can to be prepared, I like to try to let go and just let it be what it will be. Failure may happen and has) but fearing it is a waste of time, and I’m a big believer of ‘what you fear you create’ so I just try to think positive going into everything.
If you were to wave a magic wand, how would you like to spend your time in the future?
Pretty much what I’m doing now. Actually I’d probably add a few extra hours into every day. For more sleep.
Are there any other wisdoms you’d like to share?
I think it’s important to remind ourselves that there’s a way to be a part of this industry with a strong sense of character, self-worth and strong opinions without being an arsehole!
You can be kind and supportive and encouraging of others, but not get walked all over. Be true to who you are. If you get off track like I do sometimes, just do what you can to find your way back. Write great songs and don’t wait for things to happen. Make it happen.