IT'S been five long years since country star Katrina Burgoyne was last in Australia, and to say plenty has happened since, is the biggest of understatements.
When the former Newcastle singer-songwriter flies out of Nashville next Friday she'll be carrying more than her guitars and luggage.
The 35-year-old will return with a fresh batch of songs, a wedding ring and her and husband Steve Kinney's first child, which is due in April.
"I haven't seen my mum, none of my family's come out, I got married, I lost my grandfather - life has happened," Burgoyne tells Weekender from Nashville.
"When COVID first happened and I couldn't come home for Christmas - as I was intending to in 2020 - I was just devastated and it broke my heart.
"As the years go, I've gotten used to it. But I'm so excited to come home."
Catching up with friends and family in her hometown of Gunnedah will be a major focus of the trip, but Burgoyne is also taking the opportunity to reveal her new music to Australian audiences.
The tour includes shows at the Gunnedah Town Hall (January 6), Lizotte's in Newcastle (January 13) and a Tamworth Country Music Festival gig at Moonshiners Honky Tonk Bar (January 22).
Burgoyne went almost a decade without releasing new material following her two-time Golden Guitar-nominated debut album, White Flag, in 2011.
But the past three years has seen Burgoyne release the EP The Next Big Thing, collaborate with former Newcastle artist Troy Kemp and drop several other singles including the infectious new track Hubby In A Honky Tonk.
The track showcases Burgoyne's new Nashville-style pop-country sound, which she plans to explore on her next album.
Hubby In A Honky Tonk was inspired by how Burgoyne met Kinney in 2018 on a night out along Nashville's famed Broadway strip, which is lined with neon-light lit honky tonk bars.
"You go down Broadway to get drunk and maybe make out with a stranger," Burgoyne laughs. "You don't go down Broadway to find a husband."
Burgoyne played a show at a bar on Broadway and Kinney introduced himself and asked to take her to dinner.
"Men don't ask that anymore, normally it's Netflix and chill," she says. "I liked that and I was hungry, as I was pretty poor at the time, so we went out for dinner and the rest is history."
Burgoyne is especially excited to show her Australian fans how she's developed as a performer during her six years of playing gigs in the cut-throat Nashville music scene.
The last time she played in Newcastle she was "doing pub gigs singing underneath the football on the TV", mostly performing covers.
In Nashville, her sets regularly feature 80 per cent originals.
"You play for tips or tickets out here, so you need to perform and bring people back," she says.
"I learnt to master if I can't get people to buy tickets, I'm gonna get them to tip, but tip me for singing original music."
Burgoyne describes the impending arrival of her first baby as a "blessing", but admits it was a difficult decision to start a family.
"As a female musician, all my life, I was told if you have a kid it's the end of your career," she says.
"It was really great birth control when I was younger.
"But I'm 35 now and I'm not as far long in my career as I thought I would be at 35, but I know I would regret it if I left it too long and couldn't have kids. It's a blessing."
The Australian country music scene is full of successful artists who juggle touring and their children such as Newcastle's Catherine Britt - who just finished her first UK tour - and Fanny Lumsden.
"The Aussies have really embraced it, which I love, and it's really inspiring to see how they've done it and the way they support each other," Burgoyne says.
However, she says the US music industry isn't as accommodating for working mothers.
"Unfortunately in the USA it's still a man's world over here," she says. "There's not a lot of women who rise up through the industry.
"You can end up with it all or end up with nothing, there's no guarantee, so I'm just living life.
As a female musician, all my life, I was told if you have a kid it's the end of your career.- Katrina Burgoyne
"I would love it if the USA could incorporate that type of mentality that Australia have for women in music."
Burgoyne and Kinney are in the process of moving to a new home on six acres 40 minutes outside Nashville.
However, Burgoyne is undecided whether her family will be based in the US permanently or return home to Australia to raise her child.
"I feel blessed we have that option, but we're not sure yet," she says. "I can't commit to either.
"I might come back to Australia and think I need to stay here and come home.
"I'm a mummy's girl and I would love to have my mum involved with our kids, so we're not sure what that looks like."
Katrina Burgoyne plays at Lizotte's on January 13.