On the road This Crazy Life tour – I spoke with Tom Wolfe who is headlining with his band The Wolfe Brothers, with the release of their self-titled ARIA-nominated album and Troy Kemp (one half of the award-winning duo, McAlister Kemp and now making a name for himself with his recently released debut solo album, Against the Grain) about the tour, what defines country music nowadays and the comradery between Australian country music artists.
You’re on the road on the This Crazy Life tour, with artists Gord Bamford, Caitlyn Shadbolt, Christie Lamb, Craig Heath and Jody Direen. What can you tell me about this unique tour?
Troy: It’s seven acts from three different countries all touring together as a mini festival, on the road, kind of thing. Each artist comes out and showcases about four or five songs a night because there’s seven acts to get through, so it’s going to be a lot of different acts and a lot of variation for the crowd.
In Australia, there’s a real stigma around what country music is. A lot of people will just think it’s all dinky and traditional – but there’s a modern wave of country music that’s coming through that’s really rocky and poppy and [country music is] becoming really diverse.
Tom: A lot of people we talk tom they still think it’s Slim Dusty, so the whole concept of this tour is to try and bring people up to speed [about] what country music’s about in 2016. We talked about what we could do for this tour [and] what we wanted to do; we really wanted to do something big, something different and get into some bigger venues and showcase what country music is about. That’s exactly what we’re doing!
Troy: If a lot of younger people heard what country music sounds like now, they’d go, “That’s actually pretty cool!”. The whole emphasis of the show is trying to bring that awareness and sound out.
Tom: Hopefully they’ll discover some new music as well. We’re trying to change the mindsets of certain people. We’d really love people to come to this tour that have no idea what country music is about and change their perception of it.
What do you think defines country music?
Tom: If it’s true and from the heart, that’s what country music has always been about and will always be about. It’s just a genre. We don’t get too bogged down – it is what it is. It’s music. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. And if not, people will listen to something else. It’s pretty simple. [Laughs]
Troy: I think the common thread in country music is the lyric. The styles [are] so diverse – I do a rocky style of country, there’s a poppy style of country, and some of the country is even starting to sound a bit R&B! There’s dance beats starting to happen in country music which is so far removed from what Johnny Cash ever was, or Willie Nelson, or any of these legends!
Lyrically, there’s people still singing about, not so much about the tractor breaking down or the dog running away, but there’s a lot of party stuff; dancing on the tailgate, dixie cups, and raise your glass. There’s still a lot of real life story stuff that happens in country music now and [that’s] still the thing that defines what country music is.
As an artist, you’ve got to be aware of that and make sure that you keep those stories real so people aren’t getting confused by what you’re putting out there. I think, just throw some banjos in the background, it’s still some kind of country. [Laughs]
It must be a great time to be a part of the country music scene then?
Troy: Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s good to be part of the new movement – and that’s what the whole idea of this tour is. It is going to be a bit of an eye opener for country music fans.
It’s definitely getting more energetic and there’s a whole fun vibe about it, which I really like. As an artist, it’s really good to go and play these festivals, rodeos and outdoor events where [fans are] pumped, throwing their hands into the air and going for it. It’s better than sitting on your seat and looking at your feet all night, you know what I mean?
Are there any chances of collaborating – either on stage or song writing – with any of the artists during the tour?
Troy: Oh yeah, there will probably be some song writing done if we’re all just kicking around doing nothing in hotel rooms during the days; but I’m hoping, as the show rolls on, that we all get on stage and do a couple of songs together. Who knows, by the last show in Toowoomba it could just be an all in jam! At this stage, it’s a very structured animal, but it’s going to be fun from the word go!
Tom: You never know what’s going to happen on the tour. You start at night one [and] by the time you get to the last show, it’s completely changed, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it grows. Who knows what will come out of this!
Have you toured with any of the acts before?
Troy: I’ve done shows with Christie Lamb before, and I’ve seen these guys perform at festivals, but none of us have really toured together as such. I’m a big fan of the Wolfe Brothers – they’re good mates of mine and I’ve known those guys for years. I’ll be hanging with the Wolfies, jamming, playing guitars, probably eating the wrong foods, and having too much fun!
Tom: We’ve toured with Christie before. Christie’s got some really good songs happening and I think she’s going to be a superstar, that girl! I hope she remembers me when she’s the next Carrie Underwood. [Laughs]
Troy: And the Wolfe Brothers are essentially going to be the backing band for everybody, and Christie Lamb’s partner Jonathan is going to play guitar as well.
Tom: Being a band, we can double up and do both. So we thought, let’s play these guys songs and then it plays into our tour as well. We learnt pretty early on that if you don’t help and work with each other you’re never going to go anywhere yourself. We try and work with lots of artists [and] be supportive of everyone – if you put that out there; you’re going to get that back. That’s been our thoughts since day one and it seems to be working so far.
Tom, Lee Kernaghan was really the first artist to take you on the road – do you accredit Lee for a lot of your successes?
Tom: Working with Lee and touring with Lee, it’s like the best apprenticeship we’ve ever got. You learn so much. He really is this talented guy, and it’s an honour to play with him on stage every night. We’re a team – we’ve got his back. He’s just asked us to record his next album so that’s really excited for us as well.
Lee took us when we were on Australia’s Got Talent but really, we were just a bar band who’d been doing rodeos and BNS balls, so he took a bit of a risk and worked with us to make sure we were able to do it. It’s worked out so good and now it’s the same thing. There’s guys on this tour, no one would have seen before; but seeing them live, they’re fucking great! I’m excited to take these guys out to the fans and show them what they’re about!
Troy, you started your career as one half of McAlister Kemp, alongside Drew McAlister, with the help of Adam Brand. Is part of this tour also to help mentor these new and upcoming artists like Adam did for you?
Troy: Definitely. There’s definitely a comradery within the industry and everyone helps everyone. We were lucky, early days, with Adam to get his help and he took us out on the road for about a year. We played as the opening act to his fans, he helped created a profile for McAlister Kemp and helped us get a record deal.
Not that I’m a veteran of it, but we had a 6-7 great years with McAlister Kemp, so I’ve been through a lot of great experiences, had a lot of wins and it’s really cool – [so it’s] nice to see young guys coming in, like Craig Heath and other young acts, that you can take under your own wing now and help try and nurture their talents, and give them the same experiences.
You don’t see it as much in different genres, but I really enjoy that part of the business. They say [country music is] like a big family, but it really is. Everyone really looks out for each other.
And you brought a bit of that into your next music video as well, is that correct?
Troy: Yeah, “A Little More Country”. I’ve had a lot of different country acts film themselves on their phones singing a line of my song, so I’ve joined them together and I’m going to put this video out soon as my new video clip. I think country fans are really going to dig seeing a Troy Kemp video that’s full of all the other country acts as well.
I put the feelers out to a whole bunch of people – some got back to me, some were too busy, and some I didn’t even hear from at all – but I ended up with people like Luke O’Shea, Jasmine Rae, Christie Lamb, the Wolfe Brothers, Damien Baguley from The Viper Creek Band, Jayne Denham, Simply Bushed and a whole bunch of acts! Liam Brew, Iain Archibald Band, Chelsea Basham – it’s really cool.
Do people ask you to play your old McAlister Kemp songs on the road?
Troy: They do. I still throw in “Hell Yeah”, “Harder to Tame” and “Cold Beer, Hot Women”, but I’m mixing it up with a bunch of my new songs off my new album, Against the Grain, as well as throwing in a couple of old country classics like, “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere”, “Friends in Low Places” and “Sweet Home Alabama” if I need to – it’s a mixed up show, but there’s a little bit for everybody!
I’ll definitely keep throwing the McAlister Kemp stuff in there because obviously it’s my past and I don’t want to ignore it, but for this tour, I’m just going to stick to Troy Kemp stuff [and] promote my new album.
“It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” is one of the songs that Adam Brand and the Outlaws sing, which Drew is a part of, that’s so controversial! Are you upset that Adam chose Drew to be a member and not you?
Troy: [Laughs] I’m totally cool with it. I’m going to put together another couple of bunch of mates and we’ll get our own band going – yeah, me, Morgan Evans, Damien Baguley, and a couple of boys out of the Wolfe brothers, and we’ll call ourselves The Inlaws. It should be fun, what do you reckon?
I think you’re on to a winner! There’s always a chance of you and Drew running into each other at a gig – is there a chance of you reforming, if only for one song?
Troy: I’m totally open to it, as long as he was. You’re right; we are always going to bump into each other around the place. I really enjoyed the McAlister Kemp project, and I’m sure he did as well [but] we got to a point where we needed have a break and we both wanted to do some solo stuff. I like to think moving forward, we can possibly get back together and do some one off shows. I can’t promise anything, but you never know what could happen.
Tom, so, do you think you have a crazy life?
Tom: Oh yeah! Absolutely. [Laughs] This year we spent almost four months in America, home to do the Gympie Muster, home for three days after that and then were back to America to finish the tour. It is an absolutely crazy life! It’s pretty appropriate for everything that’s been happening in our life right now! We wouldn’t have it any other way though!
How was America? How’d the Americans take to you?
Tom: They loved it. We were actually really surprised at how well it went over. It was testing new waters for us to see whether they enjoyed it. [We did] lots of different things – opening shows with Big and Rich, Dustin Lynch, Eli Young Band, Chris Janson, [and] LoCash.
We did a big festival with Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and then we did some of our own shows in theatres, pubs and venues. It was a real mixed bag. We’re kind of starting again over there. What we have done in this country definitely helps us out a bit over there. It was really good and our songs went over great. That was the thing we were most happy with. They really dug the music.
Do American audiences act differently to Australian audiences?
Tom: Oh, they’re into it! Australians can be sometimes a little reserved in crowds. But [the American audiences] just went crazy! We did our own show on a Tuesday night we had 500 come and they were just wild. [Laughs] But in all honesty, pretty similar. They love their country music. They love beer. They love going out and having a good time – so it wasn’t too different for us.
So, what is next upcoming?
Tom: We’re doing Tamworth with [Shannon Noll]. He’s a great bloke. We thought, “Australia Day Eve, there’s not much more Australian than Shannon Noll so let’s do a show with Nollsie.” He cops a bit of flack from people every now and then. He came into our house and played this song he wrote for us and it blew us away!
We’re going to be back on the road with Lee [and] we might try and hit the road with Nollsie a bit. We’d like to do some more Crazy Life tour stuff and then we’ll probably be back to America next summer. It’s go, go, go. Busy, busy, busy. We don’t really stop for too long. We might get Christmas off this year – that’s our plan.
Troy: November, I’m playing a big festival called ‘Country at the Camp’. And other than that, I’m just trying to fill a few holes through December, and then we do Tamworth next year. 2017 hits and we start it all over again – hit the road and get more gigs, put out new songs and hopefully a new album – so always busy, but best job in the world so can’t complain!
Friday 14 October 2016 | 8.30pm
Kay Street Entertainment Complex, TRARALGON VIC
(03) 5176 0463 | www.kayst.oztix.com.au
Saturday 15 October 2016 | 7.30pm
The Palms at Crown, MELBOURNE VIC
136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au
Friday 21 October 2016 | 8pm
Evan Theatre, Penrith Panthers, PENRITH NSW
(02) 4720 5555 | www.penrith.panthers.com.au
Saturday 22 October 2016 | 8.30pm
Wests New Lambton, NEWCASTLE NSW
(02) 4935 1200 | www.westsnewcastle.com.au
Friday 28 October 2016 | 8pm
Twin Towns Services Club, TWEED HEADS NSW
1800 014 014 | www.twintowns.com.au
Saturday 29 October 2016 | 8pm
Empire Theatre, TOOWOOMBA QLD
1300 655 299 | www.empiretheatre.com.au