What’s your earliest memory of growing up in the outback?
We lived 70 miles north of Broken Hill in New South Wales at a research station called Fowlers Gap, and when my grandparents would come to visit from Barham – a very long way away – I would sit on the fence all day and watch for their car to come over the hill. I would eventually be rewarded with a cloud of dust in the distance, it was very exciting!
It’s hard to imagine you used to sing country songs in bars in those early days. Who were your favourite artists to cover?
Well, we always sang Charlie Pride songs, and Merle Haggard was another favourite. And of course Slim Dusty!
When did you first become interested in funk?
When I lived in India (’80–’82), I went to a friend’s house who was African and they were having a dance party and listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. I think I discovered Donna Summer at that point too and drove my parents crazy with it! ’70s disco stuff was just irresistible. I think it’s the bass that does it for me.
Does your Samoan heritage factor into your music at all?
Well, only in the fact that I have the gift of singing. My influences came from my parents’ record collection earlier, and then from friends. Because I wasn’t brought up around Samoans and only met all my cousins at age 18.
When you moved to Melbourne, were you able to make a living through music right away or did you have to pay your dues by enduring some awful job?
Not many people make a living through music – when people ask me how I get by on music I just say “I have a husband”! He’s a hard worker and supports my dream! I have done a lot of bar work and house cleaning and working on telephones. Right now I have a lovely job in a jewellery store two days a week with friends so that’s just perfect! Music is definitely a love job – for me anyway.
How did you first become involved with The Bamboos?
Lance and I were in a band, Polyester, together a few years ago. I heard he’d put The Bamboos together but they were mainly instrumental. Then eventually he asked me to sing three songs with them at a festival and it went from there. Now I’m singing 12 songs with them and recording albums, which is a buzz!
Do you feel that the Australian funk scene has become a lot more prominent over the last 5 years?
Well, I think it’s definitely a style at the moment and lots of people are very good at it. Ella Thompson is the young up and comer who you should definitely Google! Carmen Hendrix is another fantastic singer on the scene. That’s just Melbourne. I don’t get around the country to gigs much so I’m not really up on who’s who really. Jade McCrae I love, but I think maybe she’s a little more pop.
Were you surprised by the reaction that Just Say received in Australia? Or around the world?
Very much so! The world is such a village now. I would say I get a lot more attention overseas than here, which is what musicians have always said. Australians generally speaking don’t like to go outside the square with their music!
Made Of Stone is coming out very soon after Just Say – are some of these songs ones you’ve been working on for years or did inspiration just hit you in a big way?
Lance hit me with the working stick in a big way!! He’s very prolific in his songwriting so he had so many ideas and gave me a deadline and we just worked away until we got it all together. They were all new ideas, but the time was right and somehow I got some lyrics together!
You’ve described the new album as bigger and bolder than Just Say – did you go into the album a lot more confident in yourself as a songwriter?
I guess so. I hadn’t really thought about that but yes, when you have some proof under your belt that you can do something then it’s not an unclimbable wall! As I mentioned, having Lance as a guide really gives me confidence.
Were there many significant changes in personnel on this new album?
Not really. Anton Delecca, the flute and sax player, was overseas when we recorded so we used Carlo Barbaro. And the string players were different but still fantastic. And the keyboard player from Just Say, Ben Grayson, is now in Germany so we have Dustin Mclean on keys. But John Castle and Lance Ferguson’s sound and production were still on board and that’s the main flavour.
As well as its big, bold party tunes, the album also has a very personal slant to it, such as the song you’ve written for your two sons, ‘I Will’. Can you tell us the story behind that one?
We wanted a kind of ’60s–’70s hippy sound to the lyrics, and it’s about not wanting to be away from them, and about how they’ve heard the sounds their whole life because I sang right through both my pregnancies – with Reggie I was on stage on my due date! I did have to sit on a stool though. They’re both musical too.
I read that ‘Rosy’ was written in honour of someone close to you who passed away. Is that a difficult one to perform, or do you feel a connection with that person when you sing it?
It is difficult to sing and to listen to because Rosy was one of my favourite people in the world. There’s a line at the end of the song that refers to a birthday card she sent me, where she told me that if she could give me the moon she would, and anyway nobody owns it so let’s just say I did! She was so fun and funny and I miss her all the time.
Which of the new songs is the biggest joy to perform?
I really like ‘Kiss & Tell’. It’s kind of laidback and cool. Acoustically, I really enjoy ‘One Goodbye’.
Can you tell us a bit about the cover art?
Kano Hollamby designed it. He’s never done a bad cover! He traced my face and then used colours that are reminiscent of the ’70s but also very new and fashionable now. Then he added symbols to represent all parts of my life, which I thought was lovely. When I first brought a copy of the CD home I took it out of my bag (having received it at a gig the night before) and thought I’d got beer all over it, then realised that it’s part of the pattern! Kano wanted it to look like a watermark all the way round like old LPs!!
You’ve recorded a song for the upcoming Tru Thoughts covers compilation to celebrate the label’s 10th birthday. Can you tells us about the song you’ve chosen? Why you picked it and what it means to you?
We chose ‘Everybody Here Wants You’ by Jeff Buckley because his music is awesome and this song reminds me of the day after he died – my neighbour played it for 24 hours and I didn’t complain!!
Would you ever consider covering a track by the other Kylie? I can definitely hear you doing a brilliant cover of ‘Step Back In Time’! I’d buy it.
Well, we would have to lower the key I’m sure but yeah, definitely! Kylie rocks!
You’re currently working on the next Bamboos album – what’s the extent of your involvement? Is the album going to be more vocal than the last?
I’ve written a few lyrics on a couple of songs and I’m singing on most tracks. I think that, yes, there are a few more vocal tracks than on Side-Stepper, but still some brilliant new instrumental stuff – that is their forte after all. I think it’s out in about 6 months but one can never be sure.
Lastly, what’s the best thing about living in Australia?
The best thing about living in Australia is being Australian! We have a lovely lifestyle, great beaches and a sense of humour.
And the worst?
There’s no worst thing, but probably being so far from anywhere can be annoying if you don’t really like flying!! Oh, and the spiders and snakes and crocodiles and sharks…nah, it’s great!
Made Of Stone is released through TruThoughts on August 10. Hear three tracks from the album over on her Myspace. She’ll be in the UK in September.