Jody Direen is making big waves in Australia. The New Zealand country music singer/songwriter, who just recently toured with The Wolfe Brothers, moved to Australia and released her third studio album; sat down to talk about touring, lyrics and the importance of fashion.
You were born and raised in New Zealand but recently made the move over to Australia. Welcome to our amazing country. Why the move?
Basically, career opportunities … also the weather. (Laughs) It’s obviously the next step for me. I’ve been based in New Zealand for the last ten years of my career and I feel like I’ve achieved most of what I’ve wanted to achieve there. The next step was to come over here and things started happening over here, doors started being opened; I started getting some festival spots and then, obviously, when I signed with ABC, it was kind of a no-brainer.
I feel very at home here now. I’m based in Brisbane at the moment, but I’m thinking of moving to New South Wales next year. I’m loving Australia; everyone’s so friendly and helps each other out from what I’ve seen so far anyway.
What’s the country music scene like in New Zealand?
There is definitely not as much of an industry in New Zealand as there is in Australia. We don’t have the big festivals you can play at [or] any country music specific industry people to reach out to. Country music definitely doesn’t have the best rep in New Zealand, so, artists – they’re very much on their own. They’re starting to realise there’s a market for it, and there is, it’s just quite small compared to Australia.
I’ve made a nearly-ten year career before I came here and I just did it myself, pretty much. Saying that, I did open for Kenny Rogers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’m opening for Leann Rimes next year over in New Zealand, so I had some really cool opportunities. [But] it’s nice, as a kiwi artist, to be welcomed into the Australian country music industry and get opportunities over here as well, because there is only so far you can go in New Zealand, because it is so small.
You recently toured with The Wolfe Brothers’ on their This Crazy Life mini-festival tour along with a number of other talented musicians. What are you most going to miss most about no longer touring with the band?
The people I was on tour with for sure would definitely be the main thing [I will miss]! We just all got on so – there was no tension or competitiveness. We spent a lot of time together so I feel like I’ve made lifelong friends – Christie [Lamb], Caitlyn [Shadbolt] and I got on so well.
The other thing [I will miss] would be the crowd, because every show the fans were just awesome – really into it, totally energetic and responsive, which I love performing to, because I move around a lot on stage and if the crowd aren’t responding to that, it’s kind of awkward. (Laughs) I just loved being on tour [and] being able to see new areas of Australia that I’d never been to; I’d never been to Tasmania before [and] I’d hardly spent any time in Melbourne, so it was really cool.
The concept of the tour was such a unique one, being so many different artists, each with their own special sound and style of country music. To be part of that must have been an amazing experience?
Yeah, it was very unique in that way. It was great because country music is such a broad genre now. All the artists who were on that tour, we all did have our own kind of sound and style of country music. Christie is your real powerhouse country rock, Caitlyn’s probably a little bit more country pop [and] I’m both a bit of country rock and country pop. Then you’ve got The Wolfe Brothers, who have that epic Nashville country rock kind of sound. Troy [Kemp]’s slightly more traditional, but still country rock and Gord [Bamford], from Canada, obviously brought that classic Canadian country drawl to it. (Laughs) We were all so [full of] high energy, so party and upbeat. I feel like it kept the crowd really interested throughout the entire show. I would love to do that tour again – so much! I would love to see it go to New Zealand – it would go off!
Fashion really seems to play such a prominent role in the new branding, I guess you could say, of country music. It’s definitely no longer so clichéd and it’s very much less on the daggy side. How important is fashion to you?
I really try and stay away from that clichéd country thing. I want people to view my music as music. I mean, I am a country singer, I always will be, that’s who I am more than anything; but when it comes to my music, I want people just to take it however they take it. I don’t want them to judge me before they listen to my music. If I walked out there in cowboy boots and a flannel shirt right away, people get a perception in their mind. I’d rather just wear what I want to wear and not put myself in that box.
I work with a stylist in New Zealand and she’s amazing. She keeps me in the loop with current fashions and that kind of thing. I think it really is an important part of it and part of the entertainment is loving what you wear; not getting up on stage and wearing something day to day. (Laughs) Stepping it up on stage is really important, I think. I love shopping for stage clothes.
You recently realised your third studio album, Shake Up, early November. How does it feel to have the album out?
It’s a relief finally because I’ve been wanting to show people since I came out of the studio, so it’s been a wee bit of a wait. (Laughs) I’m so excited to have it out. I definitely think it’s my best work yet. As an artist, I’m pushing my own boundaries and for country music. It’s a lot more contemporary country, which I love and it’s what I set out to do.
I worked with a Brisbane-based producer Stuart Stuart, who produced The Veronicas and many other well-known pop acts. He’s a pop producer but he’s got this secret love for country music. He’s always wanted to sink his teeth into a country music project so we worked really well together as a team and we created something quite unique. [The album is] definitely influenced by American country, what’s happening in Nashville at the moment, but with my own spin on it.
Who are your musical inspirations?
My initial inspiration, when I was a lot younger, was my grandma [who] taught me how to play Johnny Cash songs, for example, so I started off with a traditional country influence in my life. Then the Dixie Chicks, then it was Shania Twain – she had a massive impact on my brain! (laughs). Since then, I’ve definitely broadened my horizons. I love pop music. I love rock music. I love all types of music honestly.
But in terms of country, I really respect Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban. Especially Keith because he’s actually a Kiwi as well and he’s really worked his arse off to get to where he is. I’m loving Kip Moore at the moment. Chris Stapleton [too], he’s a lot more rootsy and traditional but I love the soul in his voice and what he does. [And] Taylor Swift is actually a huge inspiration of mine; I have so much respect for that girl …
It’s funny you mention Taylor because she had the single called “Shake It Off” and your album is similarly titled “Shake Up”. Was that a nod to Taylor in any way?
No, not at all. “Shake Up” is pulled from a lyric in “Spitfire”. I call things, sort of, what I want to happen. (Laughs) My last album was called Breaks Out; this album, I want it to shake people up. I want people to listen to it and be like, ‘Whoa, who is this girl? What is this? This is great!’ That’s what I strived for in this album. Also “Shake Up”, I just thought it was a great name and puts out that party vibe as well, which is what I do.
You mentioned on your Facebook that this album is very much a personal account of what has happened professionally and personally in the past year of your life. Will you find it hard emotionally to sing those songs live?
I think if it did, I wouldn’t be a singer songwriter. I want to be able to share my stories with people because if it can help other people then that really makes me happy. People don’t know the gritty details, they can just see that I’ve gone through a hard time; they’ll hear the emotion in my voice, because it will be there for sure, and it’ll bring them closer to the song if anything, which is what I want. It honestly doesn’t bother me; when I started out – I kind of just accepted that. You just basically share a part of you with everybody. I know it would bother a lot of people, but I’ve never even given it a second thought.
So let’s talk about the lyrics for a second – how do the songs reflect the stories?
“Spitfire”, I wrote that after I got home from an air show in my hometown called Warbirds over Wanaka. They had a lot of spitfires flying around, so I got home, I had a few wines, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna write a song called “Spitfire”.’ I wrote it in two hours and it just turned out [to be] epic!
“Fight” was about relationship that I’m not in anymore. It really tested me. I won’t go into the details but basically, it was a pretty rough time. I found myself in a relationship where I loved the guy, but I knew he wasn’t good for me. There’s always that time you go through of where should I stay or should I go kind of thing. A lot of people get into that situation, whether you’re a male or female, so I wanted to write a song about it because a) it helped relieve a lot of the pain I was feeling at the time and b) I think it’s a great song. It is relatable to a lot of people who are on that journey to find that one special person they want to spend the rest of their lives with, if that’s what they’re out to do, so that’s all about that.
“Made to Fly”, also really strikes a chord with me because I’m a free-spirit. I’m always on the go. I’m always on the move. I’m not settled at all. It was like don’t get involved with me because you’re gonna get hurt. A lot of my relationships, not that I’ve had many, my career’s definitely been hard on them. It’s the lifestyle that I choose, but I really connect with that song.
In terms of “Bad Girl Waiting to Happen”, I wrote it because it’s got attitude. When [people are] out partying, they’re listening to that song, they’re singing the song, in a way they go into a different world. They forget about their problems. [It’s] not a super personal song; I’m actually not a bad girl, and I’m not about to be a bad girl, but I think it’s just a really cool song. (Laughs)
[In] “Unbroken” I’m singing it about a relationship, which I can also relate to, but when I hear that song, it also gets me motivation towards my career as well – nothing’s gonna break me. I’m just gonna keep going. I feel like many people can relate to that in many areas of their lives.
“1+1”, I started writing when I started dating the guy I broke up with so it shows the start and the end [of a relationship]. “Dirt Rich” is about living off the land and not putting so much value on being financially rich. They’re dirt rich basically – they live off the land and they’re happy. I’m a country girl at heart. I studied Agriculture. I’ve worked on farms, so I get that lifestyle. I think it’s a great lifestyle [and] I want people to celebrate it.
“Gimme the Beat”, “Top Off” and “Somethin’ bout the Summertime”, are all summer, beer drinking songs; good party songs that are a little bit flirtatious, a little bit sexy, a little bit cheeky and a little bit summertime; they’re still personal, because they reflect my personality. I love to party, myself. I love the summer. I love being flirtatious. I love being cheeky. It’s all part of who I am. I always try and release music that is fun – I never try to have more than two down-tempo songs on an album. I love to be up-tempo and party!
Shake Up is out now.