Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Interview: Shane Nicholson for Tom Magazine

For TOM Magazine.

Building Bad Machines.

Shane Nicholson is the kind of dad who might carry a crumpled family portrait in his wallet. He’s bursting with cute anecdotes (have you heard the one about the five year-old leading a crowd of 15,000 in an a cappella rendition of ‘Eye of the Tiger’?) and about to embark on a family road-trip when he sits down to chat with Anna Angel. He and his self-professed "travelling circus", which includes wife and Australian country music darling Kasey Chambers, are touring the country following the release of his forth solo record, Bad Machines. He insists it’s going to be "a bit like a holiday", at least in comparison to the six weeks he’s spent away from his brood promoting the album.

"I’m sitting chilling right now, this is as relaxing as it gets," he says, stretching further out on the couch, when the quaint notion of down-time is raised. In fact, he can’t wait to hit the road again. He’ll be co-headlining an extensive regional tour with Chambers, who released Little Bird late last year.

"We orchestrate our time - I’ll drop a record here and you drop one there - so we can tag-team the parent role," he says. "I was kind of finishing my album while she was on the road and I was being Mr Mum, then we swapped. So now when this tour starts it will kind of be back to normal, everyone will be back together."

Their kids come along on tour, and it’s all a "bit Partridge family", Nicholson admits, but it’s how they like it. "It’s quite normal for them. They’ve grown up on tour. I remember putting Arlo to sleep in a guitar case beside the stage so many times while we’re playing," he says.

"They come out on stage and sings songs with us. It depends what mood they’re in, sometimes they’ll come out and want to sing songs, and sometimes they’ll just come out and say, ‘Daddy, I’m thirsty, or, can you make me a sandwich?"

Their performance style is relaxed and intimate, with the naturally introverted Nicholson playing the dry, sarcastic half of the duo.

"It’s almost like sitting in the lounge room, telling stories, jokes, taking the piss out of each other," he says.

"We both like the thought that maybe people can come to a show and go home knowing more about us, not just having heard songs."

Bad Machines began with the intent to involve as many different creative influences as Nicholson could fit into one release, in contrast to the insular nature of 2008’s Familiar Ghosts. Guest spots from the likes of Paul Kelly, Catherine Britt and his wife pepper the record.

"Because the last record was so Shane you know, I wanted this one to have a much richer tapestry of outside personalities," he says.

"It’s a very locally oriented record as well; there’s a lot of singers and artists around where I live on the Central Coast of New South Wales, so I had a whole bunch of friends that we see on a regular basis socially come in and sing, and play something, and just try to enrich the entire project."

If you’re listening to the record for the first or second time, you’re probably not too far behind Nicholson himself, who says some final versions had only been heard once before recording.

"Even though I wrote on the linear notes that Nash [Chambers] and I produced the album, we didn’t really. I just let the band play. The irony is though that of all the records I’ve made it probably got the closest to my goal of what I wanted it to be."

"It was made so quickly with no demos, no plans, I actually find myself listening to it now and only just discovering things that have happened on the record."

Bad Machines is home to narrative ballads, clever allegory, and fun, whimsical tracks alike. Linking them all together is the simple strength of Nicholson’s writing. While reluctant to call himself a singer, he’s very much at home under the ‘songwriter’ banner.

"I started writing songs, so I started singing them by default, because I wanted to hear them. I only started playing guitar so I could play songs. It’s all in the pursuit of getting your songs out there."

"When I’m sitting in the middle of the song and I know that it’s good and I’m feeling it; that’s when I feel the most at peace with what I do."

Ultimately, music is Nicholson’s creative outlet of choice, whether it be his own, or someone else’s. He’s produced well-received albums for Catherine Britt, Angie Hart, and a handful of other artists, under the moniker Sound Hole Productions. Nicholson has "sacked more producers than he’s worked with" as a musician, so understands the delicacy of the role.

"I love the challenge of crawling inside their brain and figuring out, what they want to do, and how I can make that happen," he says.

Is there more production or collaborations in the works for Nicholson in between tour dates?

"There’s always a handful of projects on the go, it’s just hard to make the days last long enough," he says, adding finally, "you still want to be a dad, and be home and fix the gate if it breaks, clean the pool and be normal."

Bad Machines is out now through Essence/Liberation.

By Anna Angel

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