MELODY Pool struggles to recall the last time she actually performed in front of a live audience.
After a jolt to her memory, the Kurri Kurri singer-songwriter ascertains that it must have been the boutique Bamarang Bush Retreat festival near Nowra in November 2019.
Of course, in the ensuing 18 months Pool has hardly been idle. She was among the first musicians to embrace the live-stream concert format during the COVID-19 pandemic with her The Lounge Room Sessions show last April - filmed from her tractor-shed home - receiving a rave review in the Sydney Morning Herald.
At the time Pool described online streaming as "a dream gig." As someone who's been brutally honest about her battles with anxiety and depression, most famously in an 2017 episode of ABC's Australian Story, the sanctuary of home comforts held obvious appeal.
But the pandemic taught Pool some poignant lessons about herself. Slowly she's regained the hunger for the connection of a live audience.
Next week she'll finally end her absence from the stage when she performs at the Gum Ball at the familiar Dashville in Lower Belford.
"I miss it," Pool says. "It's been weird to have such a long time off. For a while there I was not really sure if I could get back into this and handle the touring, but after a year of COVID it showed me that I really need to and I really want to.
"I miss it finally and it took me a few years to miss it."
For many years hectic touring schedules were part and parcel of Pool's life as she promoted her critically-acclaimed albums The Hurting Scene (2013) and Deep Dark Savage Heart (2016). She performed with the likes of Marlon Williams and William Crighton and once supported The Eagles and Rodriguez.
But with her mental health spiraling out of control she returned home to Kurri from Melbourne in 2017 and took a break from the music industry. In the years since, Pool has still only performed sporadically.
Pool explains the anxiety she experienced when performing in public related to her own expectations for perfection. Self acceptance has helped her overcome that obstacle.
"I don't feel like I have to be on all the time anymore," she says. "I feel like I can say to people, 'Yeah I'll do that show, I might get super anxious before it' and they'll say, 'That's OK'.
"Whereas before I would have been, 'I can do that show and I can do everything' and I'll organise it all and I'll totally overcommit and freak out about it. Now I feel more comfortable stating what I'm comfortable with."
While Pool's shows have been limited, she's been busy making new music over the past three years.
Initially album No.3 promised a new rock sound when she debuted tracks at the 2018 Dashville Skyline with boyfriend Chris Dale, and there was even a brief synth exploration.
Then at The Lounge Room Sessions show Pool unveiled the politically-charged Listen For The Sound and Things Must Change, plus the emotional I Feel Everything about her struggles of touring while battling depression and anxiety.
The album produced by Dale in their tractor shed home studio was nearing completion early last year, but Pool made the decision to scrap the recording once COVID hit. The recording recommenced late last year with a sound closer to the acoustic folk Pool honed on her first two albums.
"At that time [of the first recording] I was writing a lot of political songs because I was getting so frustrated at the state of the government, and that frustration hasn't gone away, but I got my venting out through those songs," she says.
"I still love those songs and they're still on the record and we're working on them, but it's delved into deciphering my own brain.
"My last album was obviously about depression and the one before that was about heartbreak, and this one is more about focusing on me and deciphering what's going on in my head."
I miss it finally and it took me a few years to miss it.Melody Pool
Pool is aiming to have a first single released in the next three to six months.
"For a long time I've kept it really secret because I've wanted it to be perfect all the time," she says.
"I can't release anything until it's absolutely perfect, but I need to remind myself and pull myself in that perfect doesn't actually exist and that it's more important to share and to connect with community."
With Pool settled with Dale in their rented tractor shed on a 160-acre property outside Cessnock, teaching singing to children as a day job and back making music again, she's "a lot better" compared to the bleak period surrounding the writing and release of Deep Dark Savage Heart.
However, it carries a caveat.
"The thing with depression is it doesn't particularly go away, you just manage it in certain ways," Pool says.
"The way I manage it has just changed and evolved over the years.
"Some days are awesome and some weeks I feel just as shit as I did in that second album. The difference now is I understand why.
"Writing these new songs and getting to the core on my shit has really helped that and helped me to be non-judgmental with myself."
Melody Pool plays at the Gum Ball, which returns to Dashville on April 16 to 18.