When Kasey Chambers wrote ‘Ain’t No Little Girl’, she didn’t realise it would change her life. But the song, which captures the singer’s journey from turmoil to triumph with equal doses of soul and swagger, is not only connecting with audiences like never before – it has become an essential part of Chambers’ empowered new self.
It has been a rough couple of years for the Central Coast country music star and mother-of-three.
In 2013 she split from her husband of eight years, Shane Nicholson, with whom she has two children and an impressive back catalogue of award-winning music, which they wrote together.
The turmoil continued in 2015 when Chambers temporarily put her career on hold to go under the surgeon’s knife, removing the nodules and cyst from her throat that had been placing a massive strain on her vocal cords for years.
But as the saying goes ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ – and that certainly has been the case for Chambers, who was back on stage just eight weeks after surgery, released her 11th studio album, Dragonfly, earlier this year and feels creatively and personally stronger than ever.
It’s a lot to sum up in a few short lines of a song.
“That song is just a massive part of who I am. I feel like that song wrote me instead of me writing it,” Chambers said.
“It just fell out one day, I didn’t really think much of it at the time, it wasn’t like I felt like it was a life-changing song - but it has been a life-changing song for me and it’s really something that has helped me to become that song.
“It helped me personally way more than if I look at it as a career move or an album move or for its song writing craft or anything like that, it just helped me so much in my personal life.
“It’s funny because I’ve never had a song go over to an audience as well as that song has. I’m sure it’s because I am so connected to the song that it makes other people connect to it, even if they’re not going through the same things, it’s still just a connection on some level and that’s not something you can fake or pretend or force either.
“I believe I am writing my best songs right now and making my best music now. I think I probably am just more tapped into who I am personally and it’s coming out on this record and I think that’s really connecting with people.
“I don’t think it’s something you can really plan, it is or it isn’t, you’re sort of there, or you’re not. But I’m still like any normal woman. Some days I wake up and feel like I could take on the world and then sometimes I still wake up and look in the mirror and feel not pretty enough and those sorts of things that I used to feel. Depends what day you get me on.”
While Chambers may not have immediately understood the power of ‘Ain’t No Little Girl’, it’s clear it resonated from the first hearing with Australian music luminary and the co-producer of Chamber’s new album, Paul Kelly.
While Chambers had been asking Kelly for years to take the reins on one of her albums, it wasn’t until this song came along that Kelly finally felt the time was right.
“I had asked him a few times if he would produce something for me and he’s like ‘Oh yeah maybe one day’, and the timing just hadn’t been right,” she said.
“Then he came to one of my gigs when I tried out ‘Ain’t No Little Girl’ as a new song, I hadn’t recorded it yet, and it was that song that he said ‘Ok, yep, we need to work together because I really want to produce that song’, so it kind of just clicked.
“I’ve known Paul for a long time and worked with him on different levels before. We’re really the complete opposite personalities. He’s just that person that sits back and doesn’t say things unless things need to be said, and everything he says is very profound and inspiring, while I’m just filling in the silence here (laughs). So we’re really different personalities, but we work so well together in the studio.
“We have a lot of the same outlooks on music and recording, which is good. We worked really well together, and he’s just a really awesome, inspiring person to be around, he’s been a huge influence on me, and I respect him so much - to be in the studio with someone you respect so much, it’s what it’s all about, I love it.”
Chambers originally thought she would record “four or five” songs with Kelly in Melbourne’s Sing Sing Recording Studios, and the same again with her long-time producer (and brother) Nash at their recording studio at Wollombi.
But the success of both sessions saw Chambers put out a double album packed with an impressive song list – and an even more impressive list of guest singers, including everyone from Australian music stalwarts Keith Urban, Vika and Linda Bull and Kelly himself, to one of the most popular singers on the planet right now, Ed Sheeran.
“I didn’t plan on doing a double album. I had all the songs, but I just thought we would do four or five with Paul, and I’d do four or five with my brother Nash, and we’d just add them together and make one record,” she said.
“But at both of the sessions we ended up with twice as many songs as that, and I just got really attached to them and didn’t want to let any go. So we just ended up with a double album, which I’m happy about now although at the time it didn’t really even enter my head.”
Since its release in January, Dragonfly has become Chamber’s fifth album to hit #1 on the Australian ARIA charts.
Sporting a roots-influenced country sound and a new depth in both her vocal abilities and her song writing skills, it has received rave reviews and critical acclaim, with many calling it her best album to date.
Chambers puts part of its success down to the new lease on life she gained on and off the stage following throat surgery in 2015, and her journey through the turmoil that came before that.
"[My voice] did sound a little bit different. Obviously, it’s got more power and more strength, even more volume - all of those things that you would expect."
All photos by Penny Lane
“But this album, Dragonfly, was the first album that I made, the first recording after the surgery and I think it changed my writing as well actually because I was able to sort of find this different voice within myself that I didn’t even know I had,” she said.
“I think there’s a lot bigger vocals on this new record and even with my new show. I’ll play a few songs from Dragonfly, but I mostly go back and play all the old ones anyway. I still love playing ‘The Captain’ and ‘Barricades and Brickwalls’ and songs like that, I think they still sound the same after the surgery, but there’s definitely a depth there that wasn’t there before in my voice, which is great.
“I feel like I have the best of both worlds now because I get to sing the old songs but I get this new side of my voice as well where I get to do some bigger, soul kind of vibe songs.
“I love it; it’s made me step outside the box a little bit writing wise.
“I think a lot of it is that it was almost like a personal thing that clicked in me. Even though my voice now just sounds a bit stronger, I don’t think I realised how much stress I had on my voice before, just singing through nodules for 20 years.
“It was also at a time that was not long after my divorce, and I was discovering all these different sides of myself, being a single parent after ten years of being in a relationship and all of that, finding this different side of myself that I didn’t know that I really had.
“I think I found a new strength within myself that the surgery certainly added to and all of these things just happened at the one time.
“Then I turned 40 and I found this new lease on life, I think, where I was discovering who I really was. I think we all like to think we’re discovering that all the time and I think that’s a good thing, the more that you grow into yourself, and I think this album reflects that more than any other album ever has and maybe that’s why it’s connecting so well.”
Chambers has had plenty of chances to connect in person with her fans this year as well, with a string of tour dates in Australia and the USA keeping her busy for most of 2017.
She is about to launch into the final phase of touring for her Dragonfly album this month, with a run of 14 shows throughout NSW, Queensland and Victoria that will kick off on September 28 at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre.
Chambers will follow this up with shows at Club Maitland City (September 29) and Wests New Lambton (September 30), making the start of the tour a virtual home town run for the Central Coast-based singer.
“We’ve been out on tour for most of the year, but we’re just having a little break at the moment and getting back into it soon,” she said.
“I needed to come home and see what my kids looked like and rest my voice a bit. I had my kids on tour for half of it anyway, but maybe see what it’s like to be a normal mum for a bit.
“This last couple of weeks have just been swimming lessons, footy training, homework, school lunches, all those glamorous things us mums have to do. A reality check, that’s basically what this last couple of weeks have been; it’s good. Actually, I like it.
“This bunch of gigs that we’re doing coming up next are, as much as we’re technically ‘on tour’, we’re not going that far from home, so that makes them a little bit easier.
"It kind of does [feel like a home town gig]. I played on and off around Newcastle area for most of my life, and I’ve gotten to play lots of great venues and lots of great towns surrounding it, which is obviously what we’re doing this time."
“It is good because I get to have a lot of friends and family come along to the gigs, the guest list is usually a little bit higher on these gigs, it’s good to have some familiar faces out there.
“We always have a really big following around there as well.
“I technically haven’t played there for a little while, even though I’m around that area all the time. I jam with my dad a lot, and it feels like I’m always around, but I haven’t done any proper gigs of mine (in Newcastle) for a little while, so I’m looking forward to that, it’ll be great.”
Of course, if you miss her this time around you won’t have that long to wait to hear her again, with Chambers named on the all-star line-up for next year’s Crossroads in the Vines festival being held at Roche Estate.
A new addition to the Hunter’s burgeoning music festival line-up, it will bring together the biggest names in country and blues for two massive dates of premium music, food and entertainment.
US country legend Billy Ray Cyrus will headline the Crossroads Country in the Vines event on Saturday, March 24, supported by an impressive cast of Australian country music royalty including Chambers, Lee Kernaghan, John Williamson, The McClymonts, Sara Storer, Adam Harvey and Beccy Cole. Chambers said she was looking forward to the event and the chance to share the bill with so many other great artists.
“I’m looking forward to that; it’s kind of local for us so that’s a bonus and it’s a great place to play, it’ll be fun,” she said.
“I love playing festivals - it’s good because when you’ve finished your set, you get to go and watch everyone else play.”
Tickets for Chambers’ Dragonfly Tour are on sale now – check out www.kaseychambers.com for the full details. Fans can also secure their tickets for Crossroads Country in the Vines now via Oztix.