There’s a moment in most artists’ young lives when they realise music will shape their future and define who they are. Kasey Chambers didn’t have to wait for that moment to arrive. Music is part of her DNA.
Born in Mt Gambier in South Australia, Kasey grew up in a home environment where listening to and performing country and roots music was a way of life. It had to rub off _and it did _ just as in later years, living on the Nullarbor Plain and travelling all over Australia with her family, the young Kasey got an education like no other.
She spent her childhood absorbing the music of Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and other country greats loved by her parents. It was in the family’s revered Dead Ringer Band with dad Bill, mum Di and older brother Nash that 10-year-old Kasey got her first real taste of being on stage. By the time she was in her late teens she was fronting the band and writing some of the songs.
A change came in 1998 when Kasey, at the age of 22, travelled overseas on a rites-of-passage voyage of discovery. She came back ready to start her solo career. The resultant album, The Captain (1999) remains one of the most extraordinary and lauded debuts by an Australian artist in any genre. Songs such as the title track, ‘Cry Like a Baby’ and ‘These Pines’ boast a maturity beyond her years and a wealth of Americana-styled musical influences, yet the album has Australia and family at its core, ingredients that have been a staple of Kasey’s song-writing ever since then.
The critics and the public saw The Captain for what it was, a blast of fresh air in the local country scene. Kasey was on her way and picked up her first ARIA Awards, for best country album and best female artist. Greater success was to follow.
Barricades & Brickwalls (2001), Kasey’s second album, broke more ground, winning best album at the 2002 ARIAs and landing her at the top of the pop charts in Australia with the classic single Not Pretty Enough, ironically a song about not fitting into the standard pop mould. Kasey was the first Aussie country artist to have a single and album at No.1 simultaneously. America was also paying attention. The Captain reached the Billboard top 50 not long before Barricades & Brickwalls was released and Kasey built a fan base across the US touring on her own and with US artists such as Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen. She has maintained a loyal following in the US and tours there regularly.
The hits kept coming throughout the 2000s. In between albums Kasey became a mum for the first time with the birth of her son Talon. The third album, Wayward Angel (2004) was another monster success, going straight to No.1 in Australia and producing a string of singles including Pony, Saturated and Hollywood. The album, produced by her brother Nash, won best country album at the ARIAs in 2004 and earned Kasey her second best female artist ARIA.
The Chambers clan, now based on the NSW Central Coast, were and still are closely involved in Kasey’s career – Bill as a multi-instrumentalist and occasional co-writer, Nash as producer, tour sound man and her manager and Di taking care of merchandise. Nash was at the controls again for Kasey’s fourth album, Carnival, which debuted at No.1 in August 2006. The album features the top 10 single Nothing At All.
In 2005 Kasey married fellow musician and songwriter Shane Nicholson and this partnership would form the basis of her next success. Kasey has sung with an eclectic bunch of singers over the years, from Paul Kelly, Tim Rogers and Bernard Fanning to Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin, but she has been less keen to write with other artists. With Nicholson, however, a chemistry and empathy emerged. Their debut as a duo, Rattlin’ Bones (2008), was a step up for Kasey, for Shane and for Australian country music as a whole. Rattlin’ Bones was another No.1 debut on the album charts and won best country album at the ARIAs in 2008. The album was nominated for two Americana Music Awards.
In 2009 family was, once again, a big influence on Kasey’s music, but this time the kids took on a leading role. The album Kasey Chambers, Poppa Bill and the Little Hillbillies features Kasey and her dad performing alongside six of the Chambers brood, including Talon and Kasey’s second child, Arlo. The album won best independent country album at the AIR Awards in 2010.
By now Kasey was well into one of the most productive periods of her career. The next vehicle for her broad talent as a singer and songwriter was her fifth solo album, Little Bird. Released in September 2010 and produced by Nash, the album peaked at No.3. The album included two singles, ‘Little Bird‘ and ‘Beautiful Mess‘, the latter winning the Grand Prize at the International Songwriting Competition.
The following year saw Kasey take a break from the road while expecting her third child, Poet. It was a time for reflection, captured in an album, Storybook, with Kasey performing some of her favourite songs by other artists, including Lucinda Williams’ Happy Woman Blues, Gram Parsons’ Return of the Grievous Angel and, with Paul Kelly, a beautiful reading of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.
In October 2012 Kasey and Shane released their second album collaboration, Wreck & Ruin, which again attracted rave reviews, debuted at No.6 on the ARIA chart and won them the best duo or group Golden Guitar at the annual Country Music Awards of Australia in Tamworth in 2013. Sadly, a few months later Kasey and Shane announced their separation.
After a hard yet productive year Kasey is optimistic about the future. We might see a different side to her in 2014.
I want to challenge myself and I want to be excited. I feel like I am at a turning point, not just in my career but in my life. I think 2014 is going to be a great new chapter in my career and I want to approach the next album in that way.
We should hear that album sometime this year. Just exactly what approach Kasey takes we’ll have to wait and see, but few would doubt that whatever this queen of country music does it will be marked by the exquisite song-writing and irresistible voice of one of Australia’s most gifted and enduring talents.
I want to have an experience making a record that I have never had before,” she says.
Clearly, this is going to be a year of living dangerously for Kasey. It should be quite an adventure.
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