THERE was a time when Katie Brianna gave a toss what other people thought.
Of course, like most musicians, she pretended in media interviews that she didn't.
But across her acclaimed first two albums Dark Side Of The Morning (2013) and Victim Or The Heroine (2016) the Newcastle-bred singer-songwriter felt she was restraining her self-expression.
At times, she was doing what others expected from her. Towing the line of what alt-country is supposed to be.
"Music has definitely made me more open and honest and not giving a damn what anyone thinks anymore," Brianna says. "I'm gonna let it all out and you either like it or you don't."
Five years on from Victim Or The Heroine, which was nominated for best alternative-country album at the 2017 Golden Guitars, Brianna has returned with her third album This Way Or Some Other.
It marks a turning point in the Sydney-based musician's career. She's expanded her sound to incorporate elements of rock, and even power-pop, to her alt-country foundation.
The first single Boots, which was written even before Victim Or The Heroine, would not sound out of place in the set of an Australian early 2000s pop-rock band.
You Only Come To See Me In The Dark also ditchs the country twang for a twinkling guitar riff and fragile melody, which is custom-made for a late-night waltz.
"Even before the last record my music tastes had diversified into a lot of great singer-songwriters like Aimee Mann and Ron Sexsmith and then even power-pop stuff," she says.
"It's not really a decision, it's a natural progression. I still love country and everything to do with it, it's just what's coming out of me musically."
This Way Or Some Other was recorded at Marrickville's Golden Retriever Studios in 2019 and produced by Brianna's Stanley Records labelmate Adam Young, from Big Heavy Stuff.
The album also features a star-studded backing band of Ken Gormly (The Cruel Sea) on bass, Ben Nightingale (The Clouds) on guitar, Michael Ward on drums, Matt Allison (Spurs For Jesus) on guitar and Bowden Campbell (Front End Loader) and Caitlin Harnett on backing vocals.
Yet it's the brutal honesty of Brianna's lyrics which land the biggest feels. Especially the single Wedding Ring where Brianna reveals the doubts that even the happiest of married couples can relate to.
In the chorus she sings, "Was it ever meant to go some way or other/ I thought by now I'd be a mother/ I'd have my shit together now/ I don't know what to do about us."
"It's even more personal than a lot of my other songs, but it's not too dissimilar," she says. "I am used to just blurting it all out there. I don't see a reason to hide.
"It's not everyone's cup of tea, is it? But it's therapeutic for me."
I'm gonna let it all out and you either like it or you don't.Katie Brianna
Brianna says at 32 she's "old enough, tired, rejected and weathered enough" to do whatever she wanted and was unafraid to remove that barrier between her feelings and the audience.
"Everyone always says, 'no I'm just doing my thing', but even subconsciously we all do it," she says of previously holding back.
"It's built into us and it's something that takes time to break away from, that little voice in the background that says, 'you can't say that'.
"I think that's where true art comes from, when you can let go of that and say whatever."
It's been a long journey for Brianna to reach that point in her life and career.
Brianna's bio famously reads that she was discovered at 15 by Paul Kelly when she was still living at her family's Elermore Vale home. Kelly recruited her to sing backing vocals on the soundtrack of the 2006 film Jindabyne, upon hearing voice her voice on her debut EP.
By 18 Brianna had left Newcastle and moved to the Blue Mountains with her boyfriend, but she admits it was a difficult adjustment as she struggled with depression and anxiety.
Brianna believes it's the source of the brooding darkness that's regularly inhabits her songwriting.
"I have two sides to me," she says. "I have that serious sensitive side and I experienced depression and anxiety quite a bit in my life.
"It's come and gone since I was a teenager, but some part of it stays with you.
"I have a lot of friends who suffer the same thing, and that's one lens I see life through.
"At the same time I'm silly as well, and that's my release. The other half of me is a goof, but it hasn't come out in my songs yet."
Fans had the opportunity to witness Brianna's sense of humour last year when she hosted the online music talk show Live From The Couch, which featured guests from the Americana scene like CJ Stranger and Newcastle's James Thomson.
Brianna also studied an undergraduate course in animal ecology and joined an online song club as ways to keep herself engaged during an "emotionally" tough break from live performing during COVID-19.
"I had to find other things to do," she says. "That's why I studied, because I couldn't sit around and be miserable for the rest of the year."
Katie Brianna's album This Way Or Some Other is released on Friday.