Interview: Vanessa Amorosi (AUS) on growing up in the spotlight, her music hiatus, motherhood and her return.

Australian pop icon, Vanessa Amorosi, was launched into fame as a teenager with her debut album, The Power, which featured hits such as “Have A Look” and “Absolutely Everybody”. After a decade in the spotlight, Vanessa took a music hiatus to Los Angeles where she worked tirelessly breaking into a new gospel scene, starting a family and working on her upcoming studio album.

Currently in the country touring with the Red Hot Summer Tour, and just dropping a new single, “Heavy Lies The Head”, Vanessa gave up a moment of her time to fill us in on where she’s been for the past eight years and what to expect in her near future.

Hey Vanessa, how are you? Where are you right now?

I’m in Melbourne and I’m going great.

Beautiful! And you’re in the middle of touring with the Red Hot Summer festival, I see. What a quintessential Australian line-up!

It’s incredible, and the great thing about it is I’ve been on the road with the boys before so it’s kind of been a bit of a family reunion. It’s been lovely.

That’s so sweet because you’ve got John Farnham, Daryl Braithwaite… Thirsty Merc’s in there – that sounds like a party! And then after that you’re back on the road for your “Heavy Lies the Head” tour in May. Are you excited?

Super excited because this is just a chance for me to reconnect with everybody. I feel like I’ve really grown up with a lot of my audience and a lot of things have changed, obviously, because I’ve been away making music. It’s crazy coming home even with the Red Hot Summer Tour, literally watching the crowd and then recognising faces. It brings back childhood memories a lot of it, and a lot of the people I grew up with now have families, so it’s been such an experience. It’s been kind of emotional!

Yeah, I can imagine. That would be crazy looking out into a crowd and seeing your long-time fans still sticking by your side. And I read it’s nearly been ten years since your last solo tour?

Yeah, I finished touring in 2011 and then I just went off on a mission, so these have been the first shows back after all that time.

How’s it feel to be back on the stage? Does it give you a thrill?

It’s incredible. I’m kind of shocked that I was able to leave it for as long as I have. I mean I think because I was just so heavily involved in other projects and just working towards something, time flew by really quickly. But I didn’t really come to that reality until stepping on the stage and thinking, ‘Oh my god! How did I leave this for such a long time?’ Because, it really is the reward of working so hard towards songs and you finally get on that stage and people are singing them back at you and I don’t know. It’s such a feeling that you can’t replace.

Yeah, and I guess it’s almost the immediacy of seeing the reaction to your music as well because it’s so easy just to, you know… You can see a song out there and it’s doing well but to have the fans actually singing it back to you is when you really reap the rewards, hey.

Yeah! It’s like it’s gone off and lived its own journey and that’s what kind of brings everyone back together. It’s really incredible.

You’ve got an incredible career I’d really like to cover quickly. So, let’s talk your debut album, The Power, which you released in 2000. How old were you then?

I don’t know, very young. I think it becomes a blur, it’s all the beginning of my life because before I even had that song come out, “Have A Look” in 1999, when that came out. It could have been 1998, I don’t know… But before any of that even happened, I was working in a club as a Top 40 singer, baby-age, and I was also working in a studio helping the engineer, and I was getting paid by readily playing with the equipment after-hours to write those songs.

So, I’d already felt like I’d spent five, six years – which felt like an eternity as a kid – putting these songs together before anything even took off. So, it’s really bizarre when I think back to that first record. That first record lived such a long time with me before anybody had even heard it, but it was such a blur you know when anything really did happen.

I also guess that with young artists, lots of people think that they just launch on to the scene, but really, they’ve had years in the preparation and teams behind them. But at that age, what was that experience like, because you would have been a teenager back then and that would have been insane to be thrusted into that spotlight? I mean, “Absolutely Everybody” went double platinum and charted for six months…

It was incredible, but it didn’t feel like much had changed because I was doing music everyday as a kid and still going to school and then when I had success, I was still doing music every day and still going to school. The only thing I thought that might have changed is, yeah, I was always that weird kid at school and I thought maybe once I started doing Hey Hey It’s Saturday and once my music got out there, maybe then I would be accepted and wouldn’t be such an outcast. But if anything, it made it way worse. That’s the only thing I remember. I thought, ‘Well, maybe now I kind of fit in here,’ but it actually did the opposite.

It alienated you, how strange. But I guess you were living out these experiences that your classmates wouldn’t have had, like, I don’t know, doing the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics, you know! They were pretty big things that you were doing.

Yeah, it’s amazing when I look back on that stuff. I’m a very patriotic Australian so even to be included in such a historical moment as an artist it’s like, I don’t even know how that happened but thank god it did! I don’t have any memorabilia, like I don’t put any of my plaques or anything in my house because I feel like that’s kind like you’re looking at yourself. But, the only thing I do have in my house is the opening ceremony where the horses run out, I was given this massive picture as a kid of the first person who came out on the horse that ends up rearing up, and that’s the only picture I have in my house of anything I’ve ever done which is so bizarre!

Well that would have been such a massive moment as well, because you have four billion people across the globe listening to you and that would have really launched you internationally as well, I’d imagine. It’s quite a defining moment.

I mean, I’d love to be able to say it broke me internationally, but it doesn’t. It’s an introduction, it’s a great introduction, but there’s a lot more work that goes behind the scenes to breaking Europe. It took many years of running around that countryside and singing and proving that I was a live singer. So, there was a lot of work in that but to be included in that special moment is incredible and I think I survived it just because I was young and I think I didn’t really understand what it was because you can’t really take into… I don’t know, you’re young so you don’t get it. I think if I was offered that opportunity, I’d be freaking out!

It’s a blessing in disguise the naivety in that sense, hey.

Big time!

So, in 2011, you moved to LA for a little music hiatus – a getting-back-to-your-roots sort of break. Tell me about your time in the States.

Well I started writing the record in 2011 and it just wasn’t exciting, and so I ended up landing an opportunity to go the States and I started working in and out of gospel churches and writing gospel arrangements. It came at the right time for me because it took me to another world that has nothing to do with the world that I was in and I really had to climb the ladder again, I had to prove myself being worthy to be able to do that sort of stuff. And when I first got offered the opportunity, I thought well this will be a couple of months’ adventure, but no. It was a few years of proving myself and even having the privilege to do that stuff, it’s like you have to start again. It taught me a lot, it taught me what it is that I bring to the table and yeah, I don’t know. It took the goggles off me because also as a vocalist, I’d spent a lot of time singing pop music and I didn’t venture out of that much and suddenly when you’re in the gospel world of arranging and stuff like that, now you really have to use your range and use your chops and bring it every damn day.

I guess it’s like an actor going back to theatre after doing film for a while, you really have to stretch your muscles. And I read that you were writing all different styles of music in your hiatus – what sound or sounds can we expect on your fifth studio album coming up?

This next record will be very edgy-pop and there will be some songs that – how do I explain it – I haven’t gone back and rewritten lyrics to try and fit it into a format. I’ve literally left it the bare thought of what it was versus going back and re-glamorising things or trying to make it work for radio, so I try to make the production completely different. I just kept it with the idea that made me excited from the beginning. But in saying that, I have a gospel-soul record that’s ready to go as well. I also did a lot of writing in the country scene and working with Tony Joe White, so I have a few things in store for everybody.

Is it nerve-racking coming back to the music scene in this sense? Has there been any apprehensions in the lead up to dropping your latest single, “Heavy Lies the Head”, which is awesome by the way?

Thank you! It’s been exciting. There are moments for me that are scary because it’s taking a risk. Before I left for the States, I really thought there was a formula, a format, and I didn’t really understand who I was as an intelligent artist, and now I’m coming back and hoping people can follow me as an artist and appreciate the fact that I do do a bunch of different things in the music industry – I’m not a one trick kind of pony. I get very bored of doing the one thing over and over again. That stuff’s been a little nerve-racking but it’s all sorts of exciting. It’s nice to be back home and it’s nice to be doing my thing and reliving those moments with people.

Exactly, and we’re super excited to have you back on the scene. Before I let you go, I also want to quickly ask you about an Internet rumour I also read – did you turned down the opportunity to tour with The Rolling Stones. Is that a thing?

I had to because I ended up falling pregnant and I disappeared a little bit in the LA scene just because I was trying to prepare myself for motherhood and a part of this was like, ‘Oh, well, I’m going to have a baby, I’ve got to now lead another life. It has to be the structured life that most people live’ and blah blah blah. So, it was just having a moment of certainty of having to be a mother and having juggle being in the music industry because there’s a part of the music industry that’s fairly unhealthy for a kid to be around. So, I disappeared and then I ended up getting a phone call – literally I was due any day – and I get a phone call from Dave saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? I haven’t seen you in a while!’ and I was like, ‘Oh, you know, I’ve been travelling, I’ve been doing stuff.’ And he said, ‘Well listen, Mick’s going to be heading on the road and I played him a few of the gospel songs and he wanted to know if you wanted to join him on the road in Brazil next week.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, yeah sure, I’ll go!’

But you know, I’ve never had a kid before. I didn’t quite realise what exactly goes into a newborn. So for that whole day, I was trying to create a plan with hubby on how I would have bubba, leave bubba with him, I’d go do this tour, I’d come back for week, I’d go off again – I’d be gone for about twelve months. And then obviously the more we thought about it, the two of us thinking, ‘Oh this is a good idea,’ then I ended up speaking to some mothers and they brought me to the reality. You don’t realise once you have a kid, you’re not going to want to leave because that instinct as a woman kicks in, as a mother, and then you understand that your job is to protect the kid and you’re actually not going to be able to do that. So yeah, I had to knock the tour back and thank god I did because nothing can prepare you for a newborn! It’s not as easy as sticking them in a little backpack.

I feel like you’d have to be absolutely Superwoman to go on tour and have a newborn, particularly bouncing straight back and on the road the next week – that’s hectic!

We definitely entertained it for a while, but when we really looked into it the kid doesn’t have an immune system or injections, then you’re taking it to a foreign country and what if you need a doctor, where do you find that doctor? And you’re on the road – it’s a different lifestyle, so you can’t have the normal system that women would have. So, it was very delusional of myself. But it all played out fine.

Yeah but you’ve got to entertain it. Well, congratulations on the new single, “Heavy Lies the Head”, best of luck with your tour and I hope we’ll get to chat to you again soon. Thank you so much for your time, Vanessa, I really appreciate it!

No problem, thank you!

See Vanessa Amorosi on her VA Solo Tour throughout May. For more information and tickets, head to her website.

May 9 | Evans Theatre | Penrith, NSW
May 10 | Revesby Workers Club | Sydney, NSW
May 11 | Pittwater RSL | Sydney, NSW
May 12 | Beresford Hotel | Surry Hills, NSW
May 16 | York on Lilydale | Mount Evelyn, VIC
May 17 | Chelsea Heights Hotel | Aspendale Gardens, VIC
May 18 | Doncaster Shoppingtown Hotel | Doncaster, VIC

Tait McGregor