Interview: Catherine Britt (Australia) talks recording her new album while pregnant

Since her last release Boneshaker in 2015, Catherine Britt has gotten married, given birth to her first child, won a battle with breast cancer and released her seventh studio album, Catherine Britt and the Cold Cold Hearts, alongside Michael Muchow and Andy Toombs. Recorded in her own backyard studio with engineer Jeff McCormack, this release, she says, makes a new chapter and return to her organic, country roots.

Firstly, congratulations on your new album Catherine Britt and the Cold Cold Hearts! What is the concept behind the collaboration between you, Michael Muchow and Andy Toombs?

The concept behind the band is basically like Ryan Adams and the Cardinals or Bob Dylan and the band; not a side project but like an extension of themselves. They’re doing their songs with a specific band that they record with and then tour with. We’ve already started the tour and the boys will be with me the whole way through. We did the record together, we produced it together, we worked out all the parts, harmonies and instrumentation as a team, like a real band, and now we get to tour it as well.

At the end of the day, it’s still my songs [and] I’m still the artist, but they’re just a bigger part of the project than just going in and using a studio or a band – and that was the idea behind it. This being album #7, it’s nice to try something a little bit off kilter and try something a little different [laughs]. Not that I’ve ever really made the same album twice, but I’ve always wanted to do that band concept and it felt like the right time.

You recorded the album yourself in your own backyard studio, dubbed the Beverley Hillbilly Studios. Have you recorded there previously or was this something new?

I have recorded in there before. I’ve started doing a fair bit of producing for young, up-and-coming artists, so I’ve done one or two projects in there before mine; but this was the first when the studio was complete and finished. I wasn’t still building it or whatever, which I did with the other ones [laughs].

It was pretty special. I was really pregnant at the time too, so I was happy to be at home, have the band rock up at my house, have a coffee, walk out the back and record a song or two, come in, make everyone some lunch. It was really chilled and laid back, which was exactly the vibe I wanted for this record. I was in the good part of my pregnancy when we recorded the album. And then we finished it off, literally, like, I was ready to pop. We finished it that week and I went into labour that weekend. It was pretty close to the wire. I finished it – I went and made one baby and then I went and had another one. It was perfect timing!

You’ve said this is your most organic and most country album. What did you mean by that and how is that reflected in the overall sound of the album?

Over the last three years, all the changes in my life, the highs, the lows that I’ve encountered, it all really changes a person. My life is quite different now than it was three years ago when I made [2015’s studio release] Boneshaker. I think there’s a reflection of that on the record. It was a little bit about rediscovering what it is I love about music and that is those early records, real hillbilly country stuff. That’s always been who I am and it’s always been at the core of everything I’ve ever done. I noticed when I started writing these songs that’s the way they went because that was what I was listening to again and I was really re-inspired by. It came out really organically in my songs. Maybe it was the timing and all the stars aligning to make a pretty damn country record. Boneshaker has elements of a real country, but it was quite a rock record. I love that too. I love all types of music but I think this is a reflection of the time. I wanted to get back to that organic sound.

They say music has healing qualities. Is that what got you through those hard times?

Yes and no. I think music definitely does help for sure, and that’s always been a friend to me. But more than anything my strength, my family and my friends got me through the hard times. We really had to band together and pull our socks up. There’s no easy way of getting through some of those things. It was a really, really difficult time in my life. There’s not much you can change about that, that’s just life – hard times and good times. Within those three years I got married and I had a baby – there are so many positive things as well. It was such a roller-coaster ride for me, but it’s such a life changing thing to go from who I was at 29 to who I am at 33. [I’m] a totally different person. I’m sure it is for everyone but I think my last three years have been a little bit fucking out there!

I imagine song writing then to be quite the therapeutic tool in one way because you’re able to express all your thoughts and feelings out, like a life journal or diary. But then it must be difficult to them go out, sing those songs have to then get into the head space of those bad times again. Is that a daunting process for you?

It’s really confronting, for sure. When you’re doing it it feels really good, but then sometimes when I’m singing some of these songs on stage, I feel very vulnerable. I feel quite confronted with laying it all out there. I’m a very honest person but with my closest friends, but naturally in song writing you lay it all out there for the world to know. It’s a very revealing, sometimes awkward feeling to have that much of yourself out there. I think that’s who I am though. I feel natural being honest and real. Hiding all the bad, just showing all the good; I think that’s bullshit! It’s human. I want to be that artist that is a real person and maybe in your face a little bit sometimes.

I think you can always relate back to [songs] in some way because you felt it at one time or another. I listen back to stuff I wrote when I was a kid – a break up song or a love song – and I was so in the moment when I wrote it. I look back and giggle because it’s not a feeling I have anymore but it was about capturing that moment and that feeling.

All my song writing is like my personal diary entries and that’s my way of expressing my feelings. It’s my way of getting through stuff. I write a song about it and I can, not essentially move on, but, I’ve addressed it and it it’s like an acceptance of that feeling and being able to move forward with it. Music is totally that for me. Song writing is just cheap therapy, really.

It’s one of those things, song writing is great as you can express those feelings but it’s a different thing when you have it out there for people to hear and think, was she going through those feels? Is that a scary thing?

It’s really confronting, for sure. When you’re doing it it feels really good but then sometimes when I’m actually thinking some of these songs on stage, I feel very like vulnerable. I feel quite confronted with laying it all out there. I’m a very honest person but with my closest friends, but naturally in song writing you lay it all out there for the world to know and it’s a very revealing, sometimes awkward feeling to have that much of yourself out there and I think that’s just who I am though. I feel natural being honest and real or not hiding all the bad. Just showing all the good; I think that’s bullshit. It’s human. I want to be that artist that is a real person, that’s honest and maybe in your face a little bit sometimes.

I guess that’s a better way to also connect with people because they’ll listen they’ll be like oh she went through this she’s more approachable. She’s just like me; that can only be a good thing.

When I listen to albums, I really like what I like about them is their vulnerability to be real and honest and when I when I see that in an artist, and they’re not afraid but put it all out there, no holds barge, just to be honest, I find that really attractive as an artist. I think naturally you try to be the artist you look up to. I think in any profession, you have your heroes and you strive to be like them. So I think that’s naturally what I try and do, because I really find it appealing myself.

When you look back at this album in years to come what do you hope to get out of listening to it? Do you want to remember those bad times or take more pride or accomplishment in the fact that you went through something and survived it?

It’s tricky because it’s a bit of both. It’s a part of my life and there’s not much I can do about that. Sometimes I’m very proud and sometimes I just don’t want to talk about it. It’s human nature to want to shut down when it comes to hard things, but I think when I do think about it, I am very proud of getting through that and I’m proud of where I’m at now.

The album Catherine Britt and The Cold Cold Hearts is a very, very positive record. It’s very much where I am at right now and the space I’m in – thinking very positively and thinking from a different head space. I would always look back on that with pride. It is hard to think back on when I was going through chemo and it’s not a fun memory – there’s nothing about it that would be enjoyable – but I made it through it, so I came out the other side a better person.

Another side to consider is that you son will be able to hear the story of your life told through music as well as he grows up, which is not something every child gets to do.   

Yeah, I’ve lived so much life before I had him. That’s always going to be hard to portray to them – this whole life was lived before they even existed. I think about my parents, for me they didn’t have a life before I was born. You just think it all began when you were here. My Mum was 30 when she had me [so] she had a whole life before I came along and that’s crazy to me! I think my kids will be the same. Until they’re older, I don’t think they’ll even acknowledge or understand.

I’ve got a little radiation tattoo on my chest and I feel like maybe one day one of my kid’s will go, “What’s that?” or “What’s the scar under your arm?” and that’s a conversation to have. I’ll be really proud to tell them the struggles that we went through and how we ended up here with them. There’s going to be a time for it for sure but it will be very strange because there’s been such a hectic life before I even had him so I can’t imagine trying to explain that.

Is he showing an interest in music?

He loves it. I got pregnant on tour, spent the whole pregnancy on the road and then made the album. I was writing the album, I recorded the album, like I said, all up until he came out. I sing to him now and he giggles and shakes his head, and he thinks it’s wonderful. I can see him being really into music. I brought him up on stage the other night and he grabbed the mic and was making noises. He’s already got instinctual things. I want him to do what makes him happy.

That’s incredibly adorable and what an extra special moment the audience experiences when coming to see you on the road! What can we expect on the rest of the Catherine Britt and The Cold Cold Hearts tour?

We’ve got Melody Moko, who is Michael’s wife, on the road with us. We produced her debut album so she’s out there with us well performing and selling that record. Then I go on and do a bunch of old stuff and a bunch of new stuff off the new record with the boys.

It’s very intimate. There’s no drums, so it’s a lot of stomping, a lot of fun, there’s lots of stories and it’s quite stripped back to just harmonies and those real acoustic instrumentations: the mandolin, the stomp and the bass and the acoustic guitar. You get to hear some of the old stuff stripped back to that element as well which is quite different. We’ve been having a ball! The crowds have been amazing. We haven’t done a shit gig yet [laughs]. I’m stroked, so hopefully it keeps going.

Catherine Britt and The Cold Cold Hearts is out now.