A new songwriting method, a new producer, a huge sounding new album called Boneshaker, marriage, relocation to America … it’s all happening for Catherine Britt. AM’s Greg Phillips investigates.
There comes a point in a songwriter’s career, the ones who are serious about developing as an artist anyway, that a decision needs to be made. Do they continue down the same path which has served them well for so long or venture into new territory, take risks and be prepared to accept whatever the consequences might be for their actions? For Australian country/folk singer, songwriter Catherine Britt, her latest and sixth album Boneshaker is one of those watershed moments.
On the advice of her longtime producer Bill Chambers, Britt sought to work for the first time with a new producer, someone she didn’t really know other than his impressive credentials. Ryan Hadlock was the go-to guy, not noted for his work in the country music genre but acclaimed more for his production in the rock field, with acts such as Foo Fighters, The Gossip and The Lumineers. The songwriting process is very personal for Britt and to hand her sonic babies over to someone she hadn’t collaborated with before took a leap of faith.
“It’s interesting in the studio because you go in with this thing you have created. It means a lot to you and comes from a place that is very personal and very honest and real,” she explains. “You go in and say, this is what I hear. I did a lot of these songs in my home studio and got them to a certain point, guitar and vocal wise. I knew what I was going in for and I wanted to be prepared because working with Ryan for the first time was incredibly intimidating and scary and really outside my comfort zone. I really had to go into that knowing who I was as an artist and being strong and knowing where I wanted the songs to go because that could have gone really badly if it was the wrong producer. That was a risk I was willing to take. Thankfully Ryan and I were on the same page and it worked so well but I didn’t know that, so I over-prepared. I spent a long time getting this album written and ready and as perfect as I could get it in my eyes.”
Hadlock’s production style was very different to that of her regular studio partner Bill Chambers and took some getting used to but once the artist and producer gelled, the results began to speak for themselves.
“Bill is one of my best friends in the world and I have known him for my whole life almost,” says Catherine glowingly of Bill. “I have worked with him pretty much my entire career. We have an understanding that is unspoken and it is easy and in the studio it just works, there’s not a lot of talk. There doesn’t need to be. I will always work with Bill in some capacity. It’s an agreement we made very early on in my career and shook on it that we would always work together. But it was Bill who suggested that I try something new production-wise on this record and I wanted to try something new too, so it kinda worked out. Ryan comes from a different background. Bill, at the end of the day is a total hillbilly, which I love. Ryan comes from a more folk-rock, pop background and had these ideas that I would never think of. He did things in a way I never knew you could do things. I’ve been loving the sound on some records for years and wondering how they did it and now I know. But he was so different and it was something I had to get used to.”
For Hadlock, the respect was mutual. “Working with Catherine on her album was one the most fun recording experiences I have had. Her songs each tell a story you can’t help but be drawn into. As a producer it’s import to be inspired by the artist and songs. Catherine really delivers on her new album.”
It wasn’t just the production and studio selection which varied from past album experiences for Catherine, the manner in which she wrote some of the songs differed too. With half of the album’s tunes in the bag, Britt headed to a yurt (a portable, round tent covered with skins or felt used as a dwelling by nomads) in upstate New York to alienate herself from the rest of the world in order to dedicate quality time to the task. “I went to a yurt, felt like a total hippie in the woods near Woodstock in upstate New York and bunkered down and wrote the rest of the record,” she tells me. “I forgot how being an adult is just so hard sometimes. We’re so busy. You can’t feel good about being creative when you’ve got washing to do and plates dirty in the sink. It sucks and you can’t allow that comfortably to go on and let yourself go, but you can if you go somewhere else where there are no distractions to take away from the creativity. It was just amazing. Within half a day I was writing immensely. I got so much out of it and probably won’t do it any differently in the future.”
Boneshaker features a horde of beautifully sculptured and warm fretted instrument tones. American guitarist Jeff Fielder, who also played on Vance Joy’s current album, was responsible for much of the textural guitar landscape of Boneshaker and Britt credits him for shaping much of the sonic flavour of the album. “He’s an amazing guitar player'” she gloats. “His sound is such a part of what the record is. The core band changed at times but Jeff played on everything. He really does get sounds I have never heard before and he plays like I have never heard before. There is one song where he plays almost like David Rawlings, really obscure intricate picking. I have never heard anyone other than David Rawlings play like that.”
Britt played the rhythm guitar parts and took her favourite guitars to record with. “I only took over two guitars'” she says. “I took my Gibson J200 which is my touring guitar and I did that because it is really well worn in and I am very comfortable on it. I have only started playing guitar on my records the last two or three albums. I mean really playing the rhythm guitar as opposed to playing on a song here and there. It was important for me to be comfortable in that. The other one I took was my Guild (USA F47RCE), which is probably one of the best sounding Guilds I’ve ever heard and I have had lots of money offered for it by other musicians.”
One of the highlights of the album is the track You and Me Against the World, a heart-felt duet with alt-country music legend Steve Earle. An original plan to have Earle come into the studio and sit beside Britt for the recording didn’t eventuate, however Catherine is more than happy with the result of the recording. “I met Steve at this songwriting camp and got his number so I text him and asked him if he wanted to be on the record. He was planning on flying in for the day but he was on tour at the time, had two days off and was going through his 8th divorce or something and couldn’t come. He’s based in New York and we just shot him the track. I recorded it live with the guys, just double bass and violin. Us three stood in a circle in the studio and recorded it live and we overdubbed his parts. He sent his part back within a couple of hours, recorded in a little studio in New York where he records all the time. Bit of a bummer he couldn’t be there but what he gave back was so perfect, so I didn’t care really.”
Boneshaker is released today, May 1st. Britt is currently on tour in Australia through to October and then she steps off the tour bus long enough to get married, followed by a well-deserved break and honeymoon throughout Europe. Upon return she will then relocate once again to Nashville and begin the assault on the American market. “I am moving back to Nashville early next year and we’ll buy a house over there,” she explains. “I am signed to the Lost Highway label worldwide, so the hope is that the Nashville branch of Universal Music get the record and want to do something with it. That’s the next step. ”
BONESHAKER TOUR DATES
Friday May 1 – Rooty Hill RSL Club (NSW)
Saturday May 2 – Kidgeeridge Music Festival (Milton – NSW)
Friday May 8 – Sawtell RSL Club (NSW)
Saturday May 9 – Casino RSM Club (QLD)
Sunday May 10 – Inverell RSM Club (NSW)
Friday May 15 – Club Old Bar (NSW)
Saturday May 16 – Grafton District Services Club (NSW)
Sunday May 17 – City Golf Club – Toowoomba (QLD)
Friday June 19 – Broadbeach Country Music Festival (QLD)
Saturday June 20 – Broadbeach Country Music Festival (QLD)
Wednesday June 24 – Capella Cultural Centre (QLD)
Thursday June 25 – Proserpine Entertainment Centre (QLD)
Friday June 26 – Burdekin Theatre – Ayr (QLD)
Saturday June 27 – The Dalrymple Hotel – Townsville (QLD)
More dates to come
PLUS special night in Sydney
Wednesday May 20th at THE BASEMENT, Sydney
LOST HIGHWAY RECORDS AUSTRALIA winds its way back to THE BASEMENT for the second
‘COUNTRY & INNER WESTERN’ night
Live sets from Amber Rae Slade & The Mighty Big Noise, Kate Brianna and Catherine Britt