Triple ARIA award winning Australian singer-songwriter Shane Nicholson has been a massive part of Australia’s country music scene for over a decade. Recently releasing ‘Safe’, the first offering from his latest album ‘Love and Blood’, the new record follows his award winning LP ‘Hell Breaks Loose’, Shane’s most successful solo album to date which saw him collect an ARIA award in 2015 for Best Country Album and a Golden Guitar award in 2016 for Alternative Country Album of the Year. In recognition of his extraordinary and enduring talent Nicholson has won a total 3 ARIA Awards, 9 Golden Guitars and 2 APRA awards. He has also been nominated twice at the prestigious USA Americana Music Awards. Shane first made waves with Brisbane based rock band Pretty Violet Stain and released his debut solo album ‘It’s A Movie’ in 2002. He enjoyed further success with two critically acclaimed duet albums with Kasey Chambers, including the ARIA #1 and Platinum-selling ‘Rattlin’ Bones’.
Through his work over the years as a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer (Alex Lloyd, Beccy Cole) Nicholson has successfully bridged the gap in the Australian music scene between mainstream and alt-country and will continue to break new ground with the release of ‘Love and Blood’. Our editor Kasey recently caught up with Shane to ask him seven savvy questions about his music career.
MIIO: How did you get your start in the music industry?
Shane: I don’t really remember a specific thing happening, it was always gradual, I never made a decision to make music my career, it was just always what I was going to do. It takes so many years and so much work to get into the industry it’s such a gradual process.
MIIO: Was Tamworth a big part of that?
Shane: Not really, I was working in the industry for 10 years before I had ever been to Tamworth, I didn’t know anything about it until I was short listed at a new talent board and then I found out about the awards and the festival, so I went for my first time, but I’ve now been every year since then, that was 2002, and I haven’t missed a year since.
MIIO: What advice do you have for someone who’s about to head off on their first tour?
Shane: Touring these days is a bit different then it used to be, I remember going on the road and being away for months at a time and not coming back home, and touring isn’t really like that anymore, it seems to be more of a weekend warrior approach, do three of four days away, come back home and repeat. It certainly works better if you’re running a business or have children, when I was younger I remember being out all the time and my main advice is to enjoy it, it’s really hard work. I’ve never been one that loves touring, I love performing, if I could just teleport to the stage every night that would be fantastic! To me, as time goes on the work gets harder so enjoy it and make it fun with your friends and band mates. If you’re not enjoying it then there’s really no point, the biggest reward in music is your own satisfactions, it will always be the biggest currency you see generated from your music.
MIIO: What is the biggest barrier you’ve experienced in your career?
Shane: I’m a pretty harsh critic on myself, I think the harshest condition I’ve had to weather are things that I’ve created myself, or limits I put on myself or expectations I’ve put on myself, which is part of being an artist. This whole thing of suffering for your art is actually a real concept, I don’t think everyone intentionally does it, everyone who’s a true artist they do suffer unto themselves quite a lot, and that’s part of the process and learning to deal with it is an ongoing process. Still now, 25 years of writing and releasing songs, I’m still finding ways to manage that side of my personality that is critical, sceptical, doubtful and undecided, but I think that makes for good songs.
MIIO: What is your advice for emerging artists looking at spending money on a PR campaign?
Shane: The most important thing is what are you promoting? If your music is the main thing, make sure it’s the best it can be, because no PR campaign in the world outside maybe a US presidency can turn something terrible into something great. But as far as spending money, it just is money, it’s going to cost money and it costs more now than it ever did, mainly because our free avenues aren’t there anymore like street press that used to support emerging artists now its pretty much pay for play, and there’s so many people releasing music because it’s so easy to do now because it’s more accessible so the general noise is hard to get above. Bottom line is it’s going to cost money so keep saving. It’s a catch 22, you save up and want to spend as much money on making the music because that’s the main point of what you’re doing but then at the end of the day if you’ve totally bankrupt yourself you have no money to sell it and promote. The life of an independent artist is very difficult these days, it’s a two pronged approach you put everything into making the music, because it all comes back to the quality of the music but it’s only going to be as visible of what you make it once it’s finished but that will take money. I think it’s about going into your project knowing that from the start and allocating your funds, always making it finite and not digging yourself into a hole. So I think that’s the trick, make it finite, keep it small and keep your expectations low, and keep making music trying to create longevity.
MIIO: In your opinion, what is the most important issue facing the music industry right now?
Shane: I think it’s the fact that music is one small part of the entertainment spectrum, our lives are surrounded by music all the time, it’s in every TV ad and show, it’s in every cafe you walk into, but the difference is that we’re just saturated in music right now the people spending money to go and watch live music and buy music and people aren’t prepared to do that so much, we’re swamped with so much accessibility that it makes it difficult for an industry that relies on people investing their time and money to go and see shows. That’s obviously changing, the live industry is getting tougher, people certainly aren’t committing to things too early, that idea of keeping your social calendar open so people aren’t purchasing pre-sale tickets, there’s so much entertainment going on in our lives that going and seeing a live act isn’t a big deal. Almost everyone is either in a band or knows someone in a band so it’s not as special as it used to be. There’s so much going on, we’re competing with so many other forms of entertainment, but it’s important to remember that’s not why we started playing music, we started it for ourselves and we wrote songs because I enjoyed doing it and taking it out on to the road and playing it to people is a by-product of what I do, it’s not the reason I do what I do. I think the thing that we’re facing is because music technology is so accessible now everyone can record an album in their home, we’re all on an even playing field, you can put your music up on YouTube and Soundcloud, but it does mean that there’s a lot of noise out there and no quality control, how can you be heard over all that noise? The industry is changing, peoples wants and needs are changing, we’re slowly moving into the non-physical world, people don’t seem to want to have a wall of collected music anymore, I used to take much pride in my racks and shelves of vinyl and CD’s, it was this huge asset you had, there was something cool rifling through a shelf for your favourite CD instead of through your phone. We’re changing and moving and some people really love the old days, there’s a real resurgence in Vinyl, people are loving and buying that thing again. We have to adapt as an industry, and remember the reason we did it in the first place is because we love it and we find a way to make the commercial side work.
MIIO: What songwriting challenges have you faced and what methods do you use to get around it?
Shane: The biggest one I find is I have too much music going on, with being a producer I make a lot of albums, I work 12-14 hours a day in a studio, so the biggest thing that is a roadblock for me is I do that 5-6 days a week, so in my downtime when I’m meant to be writing a song I’m all music-ed out. So at night I’ll put random sounds on like a talk back television just to occupy my brain in a different space. So when I was writing my new album I had to find somewhere neutral which I’ve often done in the past, a new place where I could go and write, so I took my favourite albums and was re-inspired as a listener again. I have to consciously force myself to create time to listen and appreciate music.
MIIO: You would have ear fatigue as well after listening to and mixing so much music.
Shane: Oh definitely! You just want a change of scenery and want a different audio environment, it’s not like you finish mixing a song all day and go upstairs and put on an album. It took me a while to realise last year, after I made about a dozen albums for other people, I wasn’t really listening to music all year and I realised that when I went to write that I wasn’t inspired and actively listening to music. I need to listen to music that I love to write and feel creative.
MIIO: Do you have anything special planned for your Broadbeach Country Music Festival set?
Shane: It’s the first time I’m taking my studio band out on to the road, the band that made my record who are all producers themselves they don’t really tour very often because they’re all like me, they’ll make records and they’re older with kids now so they don’t really tour that much. So I’m bringing them up to Broadbeach and it’s the first time I’ve had them out of Sydney, so I’m looking forward to having my A team at the game, that’s something special that doesn’t happen often, and probably won’t happen again. Obviously we’ll have the new songs and we’ll be launching that day since the record comes out the day before so it will be our first live show, but I won’t be taking the band all that way without playing some of my back catalogue either.
You can listen to Shane’s new album LOVE AND BLOOD right HERE
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