On May 17, 1999, Kasey Chambers released her debut album The Captain.
"I'd like to convert some people with this record. I think it has the potential to prove that country music has a lot more depth and soul," she was reported as saying at the time.
Of the album's song of the same name, the 22-year-old singer and songwriter had this to say: "The Captain is a song that I sing through the eyes of myself 20 years on from now ... It's my most personal song on the album. It's very close to the heart."
And then there was this: "When I was a kid singing around the campfire with my family on the Nullarbor I remember feeling truly fulfilled. Although I still have a lot more to say, having completed this record has given me that same sense of fulfillment. Everything from now on is a bonus."
Fast forward 20 years and The Captain is still regarded as having changed Australia's country music landscape. Chambers herself was a much-needed breath of fresh country air - and not just because of her voice. Songs Cry Like A Baby and These Pines signalled the arrival of an artist with maturity beyond her years; of Americana-style musical influences that merged seamlessly with recognisably Australian themes, sounds and references. At its core, the music was a celebration of family. Her family.
Chambers recorded The Captain in an old homestead on Norfolk Island with her brother Nash on rhythm guitar, her father Bill on lead guitar, Jeff McCormack on bass and BJ Barker on drums. The majority of the album was recorded live, with Buddy and Julie Miller adding vocals and guitar to four tracks in a Nashville studio.
"I was with family and surrounded by so much of me, you know? I felt so safe and secure," she explains when Weekender calls.
"There were a lot of songs influenced by Norfolk Island, a lot of songs influenced by my first-ever trip to Africa, songs about my home town, songs about my life at that time.
"That album is still very much part of who I am. For 20 years I feel like I have been living those songs and learning from those songs. It's a beautiful journey that still feels very current."
Chambers has recorded 11 chart-topping albums since The Captain and last year became the youngest female ever to be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
"It's funny because in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday and then in other ways I think it feels like 50 years ago. So much has happened in that time, and that's crazy, but in a lot of ways I can still stand on stage and play The Captain and get lost in it like I wrote it yesterday."
Admitting that the song "has kind of got all these mixed feelings for me", Chambers says it is also the only song she could ever sing or perform every day of her life.
"What I thought when I wrote it, that is how I feel now. This song is still very current for me," she continues.
"I never, ever, get sick of this song. If I had to sing only one song again every night for the rest of my life there is no question it would be The Captain. I'm not kidding. Sometimes at home when I'm sitting by myself, I will just pick up a guitar and jam The Captain.
"I feel just as connected to that song as I did 20 years ago and I still find comfort in that song like no other."
This is, perhaps, a good time to make an observation about Chambers. She is a delight to talk to: warm, funny, giving and real. She's also an enthusiastic being. Get her talking about something close to her heart or that tickles her funny bone and she's off and racing, a mile a minute.
There are no airs and graces here. What you see is what you get - something so refreshing in an industry plagued by egos.
Still musing on songs she has written that are close to her heart, Chambers continues. Ain't No Little Girl, she says, is "a massive part of me and it's gotten me through a lot of things in my life and I feel powerful and strong when I sing that song". Not Pretty Enough is also special to her "on a number of levels". But it always comes back to The Captain.
"That song is just me. Absolutely, 100 per cent, every single day. It's me," she says.
"I remember a few years ago doing an album launch, it was for Little Bird I think, and I was playing only new songs from the new album. But at the end of the night I was like 'I'm going to sing The Captain now. I know it's not on the new album but it would be weird if I didn't play it'. For myself, more than anything. I feel I have to play that song every night, and if people don't want to hear it, too bad [laughs]."
So, there's no cringe factor when she listens to album number one?
Chambers laughs again.
"Look, don't get me wrong, I certainly listen to some of the lyrics on that record and I cringe a bit, but I'm never embarrassed about it. I'll listen and think 'Geez, I wouldn't write that line now if I wrote that song again' but I know that's who I was and what I wanted to say at the time."
One thing that has changed in the 20 years since Chambers released The Captain is her understanding of the music industry. Recording The Captain and then Not Pretty Enough was an eye-opener.
"It was the first time I had been exposed to the actual industry that was music. I'd grown up living around a campfire and travelling around playing music with my family, the Dead Ringer Band, we did our own thing. We didn't really know how you were meant to do things and about record labels.
"I felt really out of place. I was learning that there was this whole side of the industry that was quite superficial.
"I'd come from this world where music was just music. It wasn't about selling records or number one singles. It wasn't about radio airplay. I was all of sudden learning that there was this whole other side of the musical industry, the business and money side of things, and it did not sit well with me. I just wanted to be creative."
Over the years, though, she figured out how to work with the industry on her own terms.
"I have learned not to be discouraged by it and not be swallowed up by it. To not be driven by the money and the singles. I used to think 'Holy shit, if you want to be successful you have to conform and go along with everything'. It made me want to go into my little bubble.
"But over the years I have realised that you don't have to conform; you don't have to be driven by money and singles. You can be a part of this industry and you can even be inspired by it and you can still do your own thing and be true to yourself, to your creativity, and set your own path.
"You don't have to do all those things that people tell you you have to do. Discovering that has been a really beautiful thing.
"Sometimes I get a bit confused but overall I have found my own way to deal with it in a way that works for me."
Her father's sage advice - "don't be a dickhead" - no doubt played a part.
"Oh, absolutely. You know what? I think that helped me in music but I think it helped me even more as a person. You don't have to be an arsehole to people, you don't have to treat people like shit and you don't have to compete.
"I don't believe in competition in a creative field. I've never competed with anyone in this industry. It just doesn't have to be like that. Being competitive is not something that you have to do in order to be successful in a creative field.
"My parents were never like that. They were never competitive and were never about keeping up with the Joneses. That is how I look at life and how I teach my kids.
"Even my son Talon, who is 16 and absolutely obsessed with AFL footy. He wants to be a professional footy player and you could argue that is a competitive field. I get it, the games are competitive, but I don't want him to fulfill his dream by dragging other people down.
"You don't have to compete with and try to be better than other people, you just have to do the best that you can, dig deep and be the best person you can be. Be the best in your field within yourself."
She's not competitive but Chambers has "won" so many awards and industry applause. How, then, does she reconcile her non-competitive stance with the reality that she is selling a lot of records, making money and receiving radio airplay?
"It's a funny one. I don't know if I believe in luck but I do believe that you make your own luck. Yes, I've won awards but I've also lost a lot of awards," she replies.
"I think it's really important not to believe your own publicity.
"I have had this rule for about 10 years now - I don't read anything about myself, I don't watch anything back. If you put a review in front of me I will not sit there and read it. I know the publicity has been mostly positive in my life - people have told me - but I think that reading positive things about yourself all the time is just as harmful as reading negative things. I really do.
"I just don't think that other peoples' perceptions of me and what I am doing in my creative field is really that helpful to my creative process. It's not why I do it and I certainly don't want how I make my next record to reflect on what someone else thought of my last one.
"I'm really careful to make sure I separate myself from that.
"I want to do what feels right for me. I'm not making records to make other people happy although I'm glad that people do connect with it.
"But I think people connect to it because I am just being true to myself. I don't think it's because I'm better than anyone else or I have done it better than anyone else; I think it's just because I'm doing what feels right for me.
"I'm true to myself. I don't always get it right and I've made mistakes along the way as well but it's always from a very real place.
"I just want to keep doing that as long as I can."
- Kasey Chambers brings her The Captain 20th Anniversary Tour to NEX Newcastle on Saturday, October 26. Tickets are on sale now.
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