Kasey Chambers Biography
Kasey Chambers has gleefully broken all three rules on her fourth album, Carnival. Not only does she look directly into the camera on the album’s cover, she admits that not every song is written about her own experience, and most shocking, there’s not an acoustic guitar to be heard. Yes this is the same critically acclaimed, award-winning singer-songwriter who built a stellar reputation as the Australian queen of alt-country on three bittersweetly personal albums: 1999’s The Captain, 2001’s Barricades and Brickwalls, and 2004’s Wayward Angel. Chambers, recently married and the mother of a young son, is just in a different state of mind, one that has allowed her to grow and evolve, and step outside the musical borders that she felt defined who she was as an artist.
“I just had to admit that I'm not that little girl looking lost on the cover of my albums anymore,” says Chambers, who turned 30 in June. “I’m incredibly content with my life, and becoming less and less like that girl all the time. So I thought maybe this record could be different. Maybe it doesn't have to be about following the rules. Musically, I’ve always tended to stay within certain boundaries, because that’s all I knew. This time I let myself step outside the lines. Hopefully, for the fans, it’s not about what instruments are played, but more about my voice connected with the songs that matters.”
Carnival (so named because Chambers felt like she was in the middle of a whirling, colorful Mardi Gras while it was being recorded) explores grungy, full-on rock and roll (“I Got You Now,” a duet with You Am I frontman Tim Rogers), upbeat pop (the deliriously happy love song “Sign on the Door”), blues-rock (the feline, groovy “Light Up a Candle”), and even club-friendly dance pop (the skittering, atmospheric “Surrender”).
The changes come partially at the urging of her brother and long-time producer Nash Chambers, who suggested two new players join the studio band alongside (longtime bassist Jeff McCormack and Guitarist Mark Punch): Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie on electric guitar and keyboards, and The John Butler Trio’s Michael Barker on drums. Both musicians brought a fresh perspective to the recording process, with Moginie supplying alternate instrumentation where an acoustic guitar would have sufficed in the past, and Barker busting out the slinkiest rhythms ever heard on a Kasey Chambers record. For the singer — who grew up on a strict diet of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash as a child growing up in the Australian outback, roaming the continent’s vast Nullarbor Plain with her mother, brother, and guitar player father, Bill — breaking free from her comfort zone led to new inspiration.
“I would get up really early, before everyone else went to the studio, and write a couple of songs and bring them in and we’d record them that day,” Chambers says. “I’d never done anything like that before.” Those tracks include the album’s first single “Nothing At All,” a playful, nonsensical countdown about a break-up, but significantly, not one of her break-ups. In fact, several songs — including the regretful “Colour of a Carnival,” “Hard Road,” a resolute, weary duet with Powderfinger singer Bernard Fanning, and the brokenhearted ballad “Dangerous” — “are totally about putting myself in someone else’s position as a writer,” she says. “They’re inspired by what I know about how it feels to end a relationship, but I felt free to explore other voices and personalities than I have in the past.”
What’s uncanny about Carnival, is that despite its new path musically and emotionally, the album is still quintessentially Kasey. The warm crackle of her girlish voice and the unpretentious, homespun quality to her songwriting are still present, anchoring the singer’s past to her future. “You know when I used to listen to music, if I didn’t hear any influence of Hank Williams, I wasn’t interested,” she says. “I was so closed-minded. This time, I wanted to be really open about where my record could go. And as much as it sounds different from the other albums, I don’t think there’s one song that doesn’t sound like me. I wrote them. I’m not trying to be somewhere I don’t belong. It’s just a step, a progression in making records for me, but it still sounds like Kasey Chambers.”