by Jenna Bonavita.
Katie Noonan began her career at age eighteen when her band George first appeared on the music scene back in the ‘90s. With hits such as The Special Ones, Time To Begin, Snapshot, Breathe In Now and Page One under her belt, the classically-trained Katie went on to perform with trio Elixir, The Captains and an A-list of world-class musicians including Paul Grabowski, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Ron Carter and classical guitarist Karen Schaupp.
On the eve of the East Coast leg of her Transmutant tour, we speak with Katie who begins by discussing the balance of family life and touring.
“That’s the worst part of the job, being away from home, but this week I’m actually going to take my youngest, Jonah, with me. We’ll get to hang out on the drive.”
How do you keep yourself physically and vocally fit when on tour?
“Yeah, that’s the trickiest thing. Singers are always paranoid the minute anyone coughs. My best friend is the hand sanitiser. You know, no dairy and limited alcohol, and make sure you’re not talking too much and just be aware that your instrument is part of your body and susceptible to fatigue. I always warm up in the shower because steam and the heat is perfect for the voice. The voice likes to be kept moist and lubricated. Lots of water, try to keep well on the road, try to keep exercise up.”
You’ve been a musician for many years, so that builds up a rapport and respect with the audience.
“I tend to do a lot of different things so they can come to a gig and know that it will be potentially quite different to the previous gig. For example I haven’t performed with the band, The Captains band-mates Declan Kelly (drums/vocals) and Stu Hunter (keyboards/bass/vocals), and newcomer Peter Koopman (guitar) for five years – which I am loving – so this Vanguard tour and the Transmutant album is quite a different thing again.”
Do you think that it’s the fusion of all of these different styles that keeps you so motivated and passionate?
“Yeah, I get scared of the word fusion [laughs] but I am absolutely into blurring the boundaries. I actually don’t care about genre really at all, I just like music that’s honest and from the heart and non-pretentious, and unashamedly earnest. I love all sorts of music regardless of genre just as long as it’s coming from a place of honesty.
“MKO-SUN, the girl who is touring with me is amazing! So I’m excited for people to hear and discover her. Her EP, which is out in November, has very beautiful, exposed lyrics but kind of in this gorgeous, hard to describe style, which is great. She’s badass.”
With Transmutant being the sixth Indie album and her 17th studio record we ask what are some of the important elements of recording and touch on the dangers of technology.
“I really do try to make stuff that’s not from a point of ego as much as possible. For example, with In The Name Of The Father, I just knew that I didn’t want my voice to be in the whole thing so I wanted to have a male voice to juxtapose against my point of view. It gave it a totally different colour but also it really opened up the song, to hear it from the male point of view.
“It’s just important to make sure that you are the master of your technology and not the other way around. I’m ultimately an analogue girl in terms of recording. My favourite way of recording is in a room live to 2 inch tape. I’m all about less is more, keeping the warts and all, and keeping it about the performance and the essence of it and the emotion of it, and not so much the perfection of the note. I’d much prefer to hear a note crack, and hearing someone gasp for breath, to feel that humanity in it. Whereas so much digital music nowadays is just so homogenised ans kind of not human, and I have no connection with it at all.”
You’ve collaborated with many people over the years. Do you feel this is an integral component of your work or do you draw inspiration from everyday encounters? Or both?
“Yeah, both. I like to play with musicians who have strengths that I can learn from and draw upon; every musician has something to teach me. In terms of my inspiration for song-writing, I’m just constantly observing the world, observing my friends. The album title Transmutants reflected the theme of the record, which is to just transform and to change from one form to another and come through that stronger on the other side. I’m totally into co-writing and it’s something I’ve been exploring more in the last 10 years.”
We discuss some memorable connections with talented musicians on tour, her most recent being with Elbow’s Guy Garvey.
“I absolutely adore Elbow. Just hanging out and going ‘yeah, we’re all just people’. We all shit, we all fart [laughs], we’re all just humans. At the end of the day we still just put the voices in our head to sleep, go to bed, and get up and find our reason for being in the world.”
It must have been very exciting to collaborate with Ron Carter and John Scofield on the Blackbird album. How did that come about? Did you seek them, or was it just one of those chance meetings?
“I met Joe Lovano at the Sydney Festival and we just really connected. I asked him if he would produce the record with me and then, obviously having someone of his stature, that means you can open doors and ask people like Scofield and Ron Carter to play on my record.
“I was actually terrified on the first rehearsal that they’d kind of go, ‘Who is this honkey [laughs]? She shouldn’t be here’. But thankfully they all had a good time and we had an amazing time and it was an incredible experience, yeah magical. I still can’t really believe it happened in a way [more laughs].”
Elixir did a version of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 5/4. Did you consciously try to play with time signatures and styles and explore to see where it led, or did it simply come about naturally from the jam sessions?
“I just started jamming it, because I prefer to do tributes rather than covers. The original is so good, so why would you do it the same? It’s always going to pale in comparison, so try to make it your own and make it different.”
With the pre-production process of Transmutant, did you find it differed a lot from what you’d been rehearsing, and did the songs morph into something unexpected during the recording process?
“Yeah, always. I write songs with people and then give them a bit of a general direction but then I just let the musicians do their ‘thing’. That’s the beauty of playing with great musicians that you know and trust; the language is unspoken. It is kind of a band record but, to be honest, I played a lot of the parts on this album; keys, bass, and even drums and guitar. This record is more kind of me taking the role of the producer.”
What was the most fun element of the recording?
”Oh, God it’s all fun. The one very special thing was the album was crowd funded and I thought about what would I want from my heroes? The ultimate would be to sing with them. So, I invited ten people to come and sing with me on the record as a choir. They sang their hearts out and that made the track. It was beautiful to share that with them.
“What I also did was have a fly on the wall option where people could just come and hang out in the studio and see what a day in the studio is like, so that was really fun to let them into my world a little, and I think they all had a ball.”
You’ve got a fairly strong connection to art on the album cover with John Olsen’s Five Bells painting.
“I love Olsen. I’d seen Five Bells in the Art Gallery of N.S.W. and I just felt that it was the perfect album cover… but figured I’d never be able to use it. Still, I emailed his management on Friday night, and by Saturday morning I had an email saying that they’d love for me to use it. The fact that Olsen was open to the idea of being associated with my music was incredible. I was extremely honoured.”
When artists get it, that’s that connection isn’t it? Yo-Yo Ma did a project a few years ago where he interpreted Bach’s work in all manner of different ways.
“Yeah, someone said to me the other day who would be the ultimate person to collaborate with and I said probably Bach – that would be crazy amazing.”
Katie Noonan’s Vanguard performs Transmutant at Governor Hindmarsh Hotel from 8.30pm on Thu 29 Oct with special guest MKO-SUN. Doors open from 7.30pm.
Book at The Gov on thegov.oztix.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Image courtesy of ©Cybele Malinowski