Interview by Dominic Feain
It’s been an extraordinary few years for Australian singer/songwriter Kim Churchill. Headline tours through Canada, the UK and Europe, signing a worldwide publishing deal with Sony ATV, opened for Billy Bragg, travel adventures and an upcoming Australian tour! Our Dominic Feain chats with Kim Churchill.
G’day Kim, so you’re just back from Canada?
Yeah yeah, I’ve been touring Canada for the last month and a bit.
So you’re in Sydney?
How was the Canada tour?
Yeah it was brilliant. It was a little bit scary going into it because we really chose some quite big rooms to play and you always kind of wonder when you pick those bigger venues whether you’re going to fill them. But it was great, every show a kinda shocking amount of people came so it was good to see that the album ‘Silence/Win’ had caught on so well.
I guess you’re at that point in your career where you’re in transition between the smaller more intimate venues, the really comfortable folky sort of places, and your audiences are demanding bigger venues now. How are you finding that and filling that space with your sound?
I’ve been really enjoying that process of really kinda figuring out how to fill those bigger shows because it’s totally different live and as much as it’s nice to think “oh, I just do what I do and people come if they like it”, for me it’s more about being like “no no, I want to do a good job” and I’m always doing the best I can. It’s some journey just figuring out how to put on the sort of concert that you do for those big rooms and I’m happily up to the challenge.
Yeah, I suppose you really have to depend on your sound guys and your foldbacks as opposed to a smaller venue where you’re hearing more of what the audience will hear… how are you coping with that?
I’ve moved up to using in-ear monitors so that’s kind of cool. That gets rid of a whole bunch of problems and then we have some audience microphones so I can hear that… sometimes those in-ear monitors can make you feel very insular which is not the best mood to be in when you’re about to go on stage and perform. The audience mics work perfectly and it has allowed me to really step everything up musically a lot, not having to rely on foldback speakers or anything like that.
As in PA and sound wise?
Yeah, the in-ear monitors allow me to hear everything so clearly you know. I can sing a lot better, I can work on each different aspect of what I’m doing and I can hear it so clearly that I can understand ways I can improve.
Does it change your songs or arrangements?
Yeah because I play on my own they’re not strict arrangements by any degree but in general I keep looking for ways to improve the song and make each piece of art more appealing and more enjoyable for the listener.
I saw M. Ward play some years back at The Zoo but I was really impressed with how much he filled the place with just an acoustic guitar… that’s really your forte too isn’t it?
(laughs) Yeah, there’s a style of playing, obviously it’s got a lot to do with the sound guy, but it’s also in the personality of how the instrument is played… whether or not it can do the job of a band on its own, or needs a band around it.
With your albums, I’ve just been listening to your new single that’s been getting a lot of airplay on Triple J …
Yeah, yeah it’s wonderful
Did you bring other musos in to help work on the album or did you fill the parts yourself?
We went to this tiny little recording studio out on Vancouver Island right up in the north-western corner in a town called Ucluelet and I played all the tracks/songs myself… all my different guitar lines along with the stomp box, harmonica and my vocals and then we went back to Warne Livesey, his studio in Vancouver and started laying down the other bits and pieces . For ‘Single Spark’ we got a rhythm section, bass and drums to come in and lay down some quite simple things to help elevate the songs we felt deserved to have a bit more behind them.
Yeah right, because they’re not the kind of songs you’d be wanting to put on beats or electronic equipment really is it?
Probably not, no. I think the most recent album, I have signed a publishing deal with Sony ATV and they are quite interested in taking some of the tracks into the EDM world in Europe and places like that and I’m interested to see what they do, but in general for me, and how I play them live, I don’t quite feel the need for the electronic stuff to come in. Although you know I would love to do it in future.
Yeah. That would be very interesting. I look forward to hearing that. So, you’re about to embark on a big Australian Tour?
Yeah, thank goodness, I’m looking forward to a tour where I can see all my friends again.
Yeah, exactly. When was your last Aussie Tour?
I came over to do the Album launch tour in April. We did Bluesfest and then did the launch but it was quite quick. I was only in the country for about five weeks and it was non-stop. I signed a deal with Warner Music and they’ve obviously had lots for me to do and it was non stop work. At the same time I got quite sick and so I did the whole thing in this kind of perpetual cold that wouldn’t go away.
A flu stupor?
Exactly, the whole thing was done in kind of a flu stupor. It wasn’t the best chance to catch up with my mates and see what they’ve been up to or travel around the country, so I’m looking forward to being back. I’m back here now until the tour finishes in February.
Have you been homesick? Obviously you get a lot of attention overseas, particularly Canada and the States and so forth, so have you been homesick?
Yeah definitely. I’m definitely a traveler at heart and I love travel, especially for my age at a time when you really want to go all over the place and discover all the places you can, I love it, but there are times when it doesn’t stop. You’ve been going for so long and it’s in those moments you start thinking about moving back home and it was high time I came back here. Especially to have a little time off and see friends, actually see them rather than have a quick dinner between sound checks.
Looks like a pretty jam packed tour. Are you going to get any time off?
Yeah, I’ve got a few days at Christmas and I’ve actually got a few days starting tomorrow as well. I’ve got a pretty quiet December. I’ve got a couple of gigs here and there and a brief tour of New Caledonia.
Wow, tell me about that. What inspired New Caledonia?
Well, I’ve done a few tours there and we’ve got a nice following over there, so we like to go back every couple of years. It’s mainly a couple of shows in Noumea and we might go up North and do a few shows in the smaller towns.
Your album ‘Silence/Win’ is out now. Is this a big step forward from your third album?
I think so, yeah. With the album before, I signed a record deal over in Montreal in Canada and there was a lot of potential and I think a lot of people were very interested in whether or not it was gonna be a hit album. And it’s interesting, when it didn’t really take off I think I got a little bit disappointed and down about the whole thing. But a wonderful thing that came out of that. I was getting a little bit like… Oh man why isn’t it happening like I thought it was going to do? But the great thing about it was that what blossomed out of that was this feeling of, well you know what, I’m actually really happy about everything that’s going on in my life and with being an artist and playing my music and that people care and I’m not going to worry about what happens. I don’t really mind and it was that train of mind and it’s quite liberating. To be free of the desire to become famous or whatever. It was that liberation that helped shape the next album which did a lot better truly because of that liberation. So a little bit of a backhanded paradox there but it worked out quite well.
Your second album ‘Detail Of Distance’, that would have helped grow your fan base, so did that free you to move onto your third?
Yeah, it kept happening quite underground and organically and I think with the second album I had this expectation nearly that there was gonna be some kind of pay off, you know. Like radio was going to come on board and everything was going to become a lot easier and that didn’t happen. So what I’m discovering about myself and my art in particular, that even though now you know Triple J has really come on board and there are a lot of radio stations in England and in Europe that are starting to come on board as well. I feel like for me it’s always going to be this nice sort of chugging along in the right direction kind of career and I really like that you know? If things explode at any point then great that would be nice, but in the mean time I have great relationships with people that like what I do in each town and we’re doing shows all over the world and that’s great.
That’s a great attitude. You’re picking up your followers in Australia almost after the fact, was that something that bothered you? You know, you went overseas to sort of get started? Or was that just where you were travelling and that’s how it played out?
I think it was probably of my own doing really. I mean I could have stayed in Australia and really focused on building an enormous fan base here before I went and tried to do anything overseas, but I’m young and I’m excited about the idea of travelling. It was three of four years ago when I started to do the overseas stuff so I was quite happy with the way it turned out and I still feel blessed to have a quite nice healthy fan base all over the world which allows me to continue travelling. It gives me the chance to get work in all these places and see more and live that nomadic life that I was so excited about.
What was it like touring with Billy Bragg, and how did that happen?
Oh, it was brilliant. I think I learnt more from him when I was on tour than anybody else or anything else in the music industry. He was just such an inspiring guy to be around. Such a gentleman. I think more than anything I really learnt how pro he treats and handles his staff, crew, his fan base, his band and how he treats and handles himself each day. I met his tour manager and were having a bit of a chat and he said ‘Yeah, I’ll check out your set’ and he came and watched my set and then he wanted us to come over to the States and then when that went well he extended the invitation to the UK and Europe bits as well.
How long did that tour go for?
The North American one was long. It must have been probably two months.
Yeah, and I suppose that was fairly grueling, or was it an initiation?
It was good fun, but it was grueling. There was a point there where there was seven, no eight shows in a row and it went, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, got straight on an international flight to Australia, played two shows at Bluesfest, straight on an international flight back to Portland. Played Portland that night. Drove up to Vancouver, played Vancouver, drove to Victoria. Played Victoria and then drove through the Rockies to play Nelson that night, have the transmission fall out of my van and hitchhiked to Nelson, through the Rockies with my guitar. It was that kind of tour you know, it was bonkers, but in a sense it was a bit of an initiation into exactly how grueling touring North America can be. I still had a blast and I love telling the stories and how crazy it was.
You’re pretty young and you’re pretty healthy and you’re probably not doing the old rock and roll style of touring, so what do you do to survive these tours? Have you got a sort of regime?
I do. I love being in countries where I can surf. Surfing’s a great balancing act. It helps keep me balanced and keeps me feeling healthy and strong. When I’m overseas I do a lot of yoga. I find that’s a really good one just to keep my head straight and stay healthy. I mean, I have times partying a lot, but at the moment I’m much more of a cup of tea and a good book person.
So what do you do when you land in a foreign town with an unfamiliar break, do you find a local? Because I’m always nervous when I go surfing at places I’ve never surfed before, to go by myself, you might get caught in some rip the locals only know about….
Yeah. I often find a local or I just pick a place initially that kind of looks pretty user friendly, and then eventually start branching out. But I do feel lucky that most places I arrive, I have a mate or somebody that knows that I’m coming there for gigs, who’s like ‘Hey I wanna show you the local breaks or something’, so I normally get really lucky.
Many thanks for you time there Kim. So what are you hoping to achieve on this tour or what’s the thing you’re most excited about coming home?
I think in the last seven or eight months I’ve really stepped up my life in a big way, so I’m proud of it and excited to bring that home and bring the new performances of all the songs off the album back to the people here. So I think more than anything that I’m just very hopeful that I can keep stepping it up as well and give people a show that’s better than anything they’ve seen in the past.
Interview by Dominic Feain
Photo by Sam Atkinson
KIM CHURCHILL – SINGLE SPARK – TOUR DATES 2015
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