SXSW Interview: Aussie country star Catherine Britt on how America has shaped her as a songwriter

Aussie Country star Catherine Britt has spent a lot of time in the USA over the years, but last month marked her first ever appearance at the iconic SXSW conference in Austin, Texas. While at Australia House, I sat down with Catherine to talk about playing the event, her experiences in the USA and what we can expect from the artist in the year ahead.

How does Austin during SXSW compare to when you’ve been here other times?

Well, totally different. Austin normally is pretty chilled, and the music scene’s great here. I’ve actually made an album in Austin, so I really love the whole music scene here. Yeah, this is just a total different world. They take over the town, don’t they? It’s so big.

There’s no other event like it on the planet.

I’ve been to a million festivals over the 20 years I’ve been doing this, and you’re right. It’s not really comparable to anything else, so yeah, it’s pretty cool to be here.

You’re doing a tour around SXSW as well, so how are the shows going, and how’s SXSW been going from you performative wise?

Well, I’ve only done one show so far, I’ve got two showcases to come, but the little show I just did now was amazing.

On the front lawn of The Aussie BBQ here at Australia House.

Exactly. You never know. Those things can go either way. They can be really awful, and no one listens, or they can be amazing. It was amazing, so I’m really stoked for that. And yeah, our tour’s been incredible. We’ve been playing amazing venues, and really great music-loving venues where people who want to come and listen a good singer-songwriter, come and listen. It’s been really cool, and the venues we’ve got in front of us for the next two weeks are some of the best in America. We finish up in New York, and have a week off there, and then go back to Australia and get back on the road there.

I know you’ve lived here on and off over the last 20 years. Does America feel like home for you now?

Yeah. To me it feels like I’ve gone to my second house, like on holidays or something, but yeah, it’s a very familiar place, and in a lot of ways, I’ve lived here for six years, and that’s a big part of my life.

You were based in Nashville.

I was based in Nashville, travelled all over, almost moved to Austin once actually. But I just love it …

Everybody seems to works the other way around now! (Moving from Austin to Nashville)

True, true. I loved it so much, I was just really young, I moved here at 17, and left at 23, and ever since then I’ve just been coming back and forth, but basing myself more in Australia, but yeah, I still spend a lot of time here, so it does feel like my other home.

As a songwriter, what are the main differences between a city like Nashville and a city like Brisbane, or Sydney, or even Tamworth?

I think the thing I notice the most, playing in two different countries, I feel like here, you’re instantly understood, for me anyway, because I grew up on hillbilly music, and mountain music, and old folk songs. So that’s how I’ve got my sound, and went from there, so when I come here, it’s like I’m singing their music to them. They’re not really ever shocked or surprised or they have to get their head around it. Whereas in Australia, and I’ve been really lucky that people do get it now, but it took me a long time to penetrate the understanding of what I was trying to do I guess, in Australia.

Plus, the music scene there is so much smaller, and it’s very unique in that way, that we have a really wonderful fan base for country and folk and blues in Australia. But here it’s just crazy. Country music is the mecca of America, totally different country music to what I do, but still, there’s a huge fan base in America, so it’s like a whole different ball game when you come here.

When you’re in a place like Nashville, and you’ve got venues like the Bluebird, and all these opportunities, it feels very welcoming for collaboration, and have you found that?

Definitely. I didn’t co-write until I came to America. I learned a lot from doing that. I’ve gone back to writing a lot mostly by myself again, but there’s so much you can get out of collaborating, and I’ve done a lot of that throughout my career. I had a band for a while, The Hillbilly Killers, and I love to work with other people because you learn, and you grow from what they’ve experiences are, and stuff like that.

You were doing that for such formative years, as well.

Yeah, well I guess only now I’m classified as getting old. I don’t know. Is 34 old, I don’t know. I feel old.

You shouldn’t. Well though, I’m not far behind you, and this festival, this makes me feel old.

Well, I’m also three months pregnant, so maybe it’s that, that’s making me feel it… and I just had a baby not long ago. I’m in that phase of my life too, so kind of changes things again. It makes everything even more wonderful.

How are you feeling?

I feel really good. I’m not a whinger. I’ve got a really hearty tummy and I don’t get sick, I rarely get sick even when I’m not pregnant, but I’m a good pregnant woman. I’m just tired, and the normal. That’s really the only thing I notice, but I can’t tell if that’s jet lag or pregnancy, so I’m just pretending it’s not happening basically.

Is it a similar experience so far to the first time around?

Yeah, it is, which I wonder if that means I’m having another boy. I don’t know, but it’s very similar, very much the same. So who knows?

Hopefully it’s a predicable part then, so there’s no unfriendly surprises.

Because that was an easy birth. Well, as easy as a birth can be.

Was there any time that you took off in that period when you were pregnant? 

Not really. We finished my latest album, Catherine Britt and the Cold Cold Hearts, literally the week before I went into labour. I’m just too ADD to just take time off.

It’s a job like any other after all.

Exactly, it’s my living, I pay my mortgage, my bills are all paid from making music, so if I was to stop, we’d be screwed. Or my husband would have to get a job, I guess. That’s another option, but we love all being together and travelling as a family.

He comes on the road?

Yeah, mostly, yeah. And we’d like to keep doing that for as long as we can, but we’ll see.

That’s what it’s all about. Fanny Lumsden too, her and Dan… I don’t know if they took the day off outside one a day, or in a hospital.

Honestly, I know. They’re just as nuts as us *laughs*. That’s why they’re such good friends. We get each other.

And like you said, you’re just doing your job.

Living life to the fullest, too.

You must be creating such incredible experiences as a family, being be able to travel and see the world.

Absolutely.

What a unique perspective.

That’s right, and I don’t know many people that get to do that with their kids, and we’ve started a map of Australia, and now America, where he’s been, and he’ll have that when he’s older and be like, “Wow, look what I did before I was two.”

“I don’t remember any of it damn it!”

Yeah, screw you, mom and dad. But no, I think that’s a cool way to grow up.

Absolutely, absolutely. I was similar growing up, and it was like I could never stop travelling now.

There you go. Maybe we’re creating a little traveller kid. It makes me sad. He’ll go away from me.

That’s not a bad thing. We’re very lucky to live in this time. I mean here we are in a room full of Australians at SXSW. 20 years ago, that would not have been feasible for most people in this room.

I totally agree. I look at everything that way too. With a positive attitude. I think everybody gets really down on … even the music business, “Oh, everything’s going to shit, and oh, we don’t make money any more.” It’s like, “No, you’ve just got to come up with new ways to make money.” There’s so many ways around all this stuff, and you’re right, we can go anywhere in the world for a reasonable price now. It’s the best way to live. I don’t want to settle down.

And then you come all the way to Austin just to hang out with the Aussies *laughs*. What does it mean to be part of the Aussie BBQ? Have you done one before at Americana (in Nashville)?

Yeah, I did the Americana one, a few years in a row actually, and it’s great. The big crowds are always really great, and I think people use it as a really great tool to come and see Aussies. If they’re not showcasing elsewhere, sometimes they do put them on these things as well, so it’s a really great opportunity, and they’re so supportive of me, so I’m always really grateful.

What’s next for you? As you mentioned, you had the album come out last year, beautiful record.

Thank you.

So you’re still in the album cycle for that, really.

Yeah, we’re about to release a new single from that in the next couple weeks. We just shot a video just outside of Melbourne in the country with a lady called Sian Darling. She just shot a music video for Paul Kelly, she’s Paul Kelly’s partner. I saw her and I was like “Dude, that’s awesome. Can you do my video?” Yeah, I was really lucky. She did our video as well. That’ll be out soon. Yeah.

What’s the rest of the year holding for you? Touring, single, obviously there’s …

A new baby will come out at some point.

The sequel.

*laughs* Yes, the sequel! But we make a new album too, I’m pretty inspired at the moment, and got lots of stuff going around in my head. So I’ll probably sit down and write a record pretty soon and get another one out. Maybe early next year.

Then the cycle continues.

Yeah man, absolutely.

Catherine Britt is touring Australia in July and August. For more details about the tour, head to her official website. 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

Tags: ,