Following on from last year’s Q+A’s I am kicking off this year’s version with new artists – starting with Katie Noonan. I was first drawn to Katie because we are both artist’s that don’t fit a particular “mould” in the industry and we also have a certain level of public awareness related to our name’s and our experience’s, that don’t necessarily represent our art now. While I am often referenced through to my childhood experiences and Katie through her success with duo ‘George’ – our past’s can be a positive thing but can also be a hindrance when trying to create something new.
Katie discusses all things working in the music industry at the same time as going through post-natal depression and exhaustion, working with her good friend Sia, tour routines, philosophies on fear… and so much more.
I can’t thank you enough for opening up with some real personal info, I find this one really inspirational.
Love ya, Nathan.
Katie Noonan – Singer / Songwriter
In an industry where expression collides with business, how do you keep the passion to play/write music alive?
I cannot imagine my life without music, and it is an essential part of my well-being and mental health as a human. I am an avid collaborator, so I guess that is the main way I keep the passion alive, by collaborating with creatives from different walks of life who all have something to teach me. At the moment I am on tour with incredible writer/philosopher/artist Michael Leunig and that has been a beautiful opportunity to learn from an elder who has lived more life than me and has the ability to articulate those experiences through his words/lyrics so very beautifully. Every collaborator has something they are better at than you, and I relish the opportunity to face my weaknesses and try and improve as an artist. I will be a student of music until my last breath.
Have you ever come close to leaving music? If so, what prompted it and what inspired you to stay?
Yes – often!!! When I went from being in my first band George to trying to go solo it was very challenging as I felt that true heart/non-commercial collaborating was finished! I moved to Sydney and suddenly I had to pay people to rehearse my songs rather than just jam together for the sake of making music -it really was quite heartbreaking. I also was in the throes of new motherhood and going through post-natal exhaustion/depression, all while still trying to provide for my family and find my new path as a solo artist. I remember being sent on a writing trip overseas and was under so much pressure to come up with the goods with total strangers in a room and my heart found it very hard.
I eventually reached out to a friend in LA on our way back to OZ and she graciously put us up in her house and we ended up writing a song together called ‘Sweet One’ that made me realise there were still beautiful people I could collaborate with that were doing it for the same reasons as me. We were both pretty disillusioned with the industry as neither of us fit the traditional mould of a ‘pop’ singer (whatever that is!). This lovely lady is now one of the most successful artists in our global industry and is a great example of a true artist sticking to their vision with great tenacity (Sia).
How do you stay true to your creative vision, when “success” depends so heavily on how it’s received by the industry and public?
I am my own worst critic, so success for me is a multi-faceted thing. Firstly, if I am proud of my work, I feel I have succeeded. My second main judge, and the only person whose opinion I really trust, is my hubby Zac. If he likes it then I am happy and feel I have succeeded.
If a person comes up to me/messages me and tells me a song means something in their life than I really feel I have really succeeded.
If I manage to get enough people to come to a gig so that I don’t lose money and can pay my band/collaborators well than I feel I have succeeded.
If I make an independent album and release it on my label than I feel I have succeeded.
IF I chose to measure myself by sales, charts, radio airplay or pictures on a red carpet at some event… then I would feel deeply unsuccessful!
It is a very difficult time currently as the ability to monetise the ‘product’ (i.e. an album) of our business has declined very rapidly. People don’t pay for recorded music much anymore (if at all) and we still have a commercial radio and television industry that is not interested in prioritising Australian music properly, so it’s extremely hard. Albums still cost a lot of money to make, but the ability to recoup those costs is declining at an alarming rate.
Thankfully the power of a live show will never go away so true musicians will always have that to fall back on. Then it is a matter of balancing time way from your home/family with being on the road and trying to make it work as best you can!
I think another difficult conundrum has been the advent of reality tv music ‘artists’. A perfect storm of the familiarity of glorified karaoke and the recent cultural phenomenon of reality tv voyeurism has seen a slew of people come in and saturate the market and be given promotional opportunities that would have once been given to industry musicians/artists.
From the moment you wake till the moment you sleep, what does the day of a gig look like for you?
Let’s take this weekend:
Got into Melbourne fairly late Thursday night and settled into hotel, did work emails and settled in for the night. With my first night away from my family/home I never seem to sleep well, so only had about 6 hours sleep.
Woke up Friday to do morning promo – I had a couple of Tardis interviews at the ABC for upcoming shows in Hobart and Canberra. I am presenting the majority of the shows on my current tour (i.e. my risk) so there is additional financial pressure to try and ensure these shows don’t lose me money! Then did the conversation hour live chat and performance 11-12pm on Melbourne ABC.
Ran back to the hotel, had some lunch and prepped for rehearsals with the new orchestra ahead of tonight’s show.
Had a 3-hour rehearsal/sound check with the orchestra and my band elixir and Michael Leunig.
Had a quick dinner backstage, a 10-minute lie down and then a shower and got ready for show.
2 x 1 hour sets at the Melbourne Recital Centre – beautiful gig!
Finished gig and signed CDs for about 45 mins, caught up with some friends and drove home to hotel. Got in about 1.30am and tried to wind down for sleep.
So, it’s been a 17-hour day but the 2 hours of music on stage made it all worthwhile!
Sat got up to do it all over again.
Had a morning breakfast with some muso mates and a young musician I have been asked to mentor, drove 2 hours to gig, load in, soundcheck etc. Had dinner, little lie down. Did gig, signed CDs and drive back to Melbourne. Got in at 1.30am and asleep by 3am.
Sunday did it all over again 😉
But this time I had a lovely sleep in as the gig was only 1.5 hours away this time! Drove to venue, load in, soundcheck, gig, signing etc.
Had a lovely dinner and then drove for about 2 hours through a massive storm to the airport hotel – checked in at about midnight to wind down and try to get to sleep. Got to sleep at about 2.30am and up at 8.30am.
Missing my family and home like crazy.
Life on the road can challenge us both mentally and physically. How do you stay anchored during times when you’re feeling emotionally or physically sub-par, or when your fundamental needs aren’t being met? E.g. sleep, food, schedule.
Hmm I think my description of my last few days above is a fairly good example of the challenges, I guess!
I think just focusing on gratitude and the extraordinary fact that I am able to make a living from my art and that my music means something to someone is key to my survival. It is a continuous battle between heart and head though – and must admit today my heart is heavy and I am pretty wiped out but cuddles with my family soon will fix that!
How much of an influence does money have over the means in which you create and release? Do you choose to invest as if it’s your last creation? Or do you invest in a way that is sustainable long term?
Yup I guess I invest as if it’s my last creation – I invest to do the very best job I can – with the understanding that this hard cost investment will probably never recoup from sales. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of music sales in Australia. But a body of work like an album is many things but now it is primarily a means for touring.
Have you ever experienced anxiety, depression or nervousness around a tour? If so, what were the triggers and how did you manage it?
Yes – all the time and I am genuinely stressing re my current tour to be honest!
I guess I just try and focus on the goodness of the music and try to manage the risk as best I can alongside my awesome management team and ultimately follow my gut instincts. My instincts have served me well for 20 years in the industry, so I just try to keep listening to them as best I can.
What is your philosophy on fear? How do you deal with it?
Face it head on and listen to your gut instincts.
Can you trace your current successes back to any big risks or leaps? If so, what were they?
I think my career has been a wonderful series of happy accidents based on my ability to trust my gut instinct and deliver through on my artistic vision with conviction. I absolutely believe in the necessity of music/art in everyone’s life, I believe everyone deserves access to meaningful live performances and I vehemently believe in the need for music education for all – and these ideals drive most of my work.
From a business point of view, today, what is the one thing that every independent artist needs in order to give their music the best chance of being heard? Assuming the artist and songs translate.
An exceptional work ethic.
If you were to wave a magic wand, how would you like to spend your time in the future?
Continuing to be able to make my art, dream big and deliver meaningful works for my community and provide for my family.
On a light note… Can you name one guilty pleasure?
Staffy doggy cuddles and Sara Lee French vanilla ice-cream – preferably at the same time 😉
I also upload weekly vlogs on my YouTube Channel