Campfire Tales: Audrey Auld interviewed
Audrey Auld is quite unique. She’s a Tasmanian living in Nashville, making music, like so many others these days, but not doing it for the cold hard cash or fame. “I’m not in it for the money. I think I’m just at a different point in my life. I’m a bit older and have a lovely husband, and I see more clearly what my priorities are. Being true to my art, and my heart!”
That last line might sounds a bit of artist bullshit, and laughing as she says it it sounds like Audrey is having the same thought. When you spend time talking to her though, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t filter her answers. For example, when talking about the reaction to her latest album Tonk “I haven’t read any bad reviews!" She thinks for a few seconds. "A lot of people don’t like the song ‘Rack Off’, the original is obviously ‘Fuck Off’, which I didn’t put on there because I want people to put in on with their kids in the car! My dad didn’t like that song, but of course my dad doesn’t want his daughter saying this, I completely understand that. But I think that when a lot of men don’t like that song, or say it’s vulgar, I wonder if a man did it if they would perceive it differently. To me I think, number 1: it’s funny, and number 2: it’s a feeling that we all feel, everybody wants to say that. Whether they just say it inside their head they still say it, it’s part of how we are as humans. I’m just more honest than a lot of people, and people don’t want that. They don’t want to acknowledge that sometimes you just want to say “oh fuck off”. At which point she laughs again.
One of the things that we talk at length about is Audrey’s work with inmates at San Quentin prison in California. She started working with them doing adhoc workshops when she lived there but has continued on a more irregular basis since her move to Nashville. “It’s a songwriting workshop, and I have my regulars. I’ve been going in since 2006. It might only be twice a year but there’s a real thread that continues and I might see them six months later and they might reference something I said before. It’s a different kind of relationship and they really love that I keep coming back.”
Audrey sees part of her role there as inspiring the people she works with, or helping them find something different. “Truly I want them to feel that they have something of value to offer, that they’re not all bad and wretched. A friend pointed out that some of them will never have been given any positive feedback. We can take that for granted with our lovely upbringings. Their stories are life experiences that I could never imagine, then over time I think their friends and family probably look me up on YouTube and say 'Look! There’s your name on a song that she’s singing.' That’s a good thing.”
And so despite her reluctance to co-write in Nashville itself (“I’m not a co-writer, I live in Nashville, everybody here co-writes, but they’re all doing it because they wanna network or they want to get a hit record. I write because I have to. I don't care about money when it comes to the creation of art.”) She’s happy to share the credit with some of her ‘students’. “Some songs are co-writes and they’re pretty profound songs, they come from a dark life experience. Some people enjoy hearing that and getting a glimpse into the truth of the human experience from another person’s point of view. As one of the guys said it’s our words and your voice. I provide the melody and bits and pieces that will make it work as a song. The latest one is called ‘I Am Not What I Have Done’. It’s amazing.”
Talk moves on to Audrey’s latest album, the fun and loose Tonk. “I just wanted to make a country album with Kenny Vaughan. It’s fun [to listen to because it was fun to make. We had two days with the band and we put down 15 songs. I’ve never had so much fun recording before, because they were just so great! I’d gone over the songs with Kenny as part of song selection, but the band write up the chart as you're singing it and then we just all get together and play it until it felt right.”
With the sessions being recorded live fluidity was key to the sound of the album. “I wrote the lyrics and the melody, except the two songs that are cover songs. I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of the history of Nashville, just because I love reading about the earlier days of Nashville and the musicians and I know the way they work. These guys know how to render country music properly, in that old style way, and that’s why I wanted to work with Marty Stuart’s band. When I played them a song, they’d know how to play it. It’s just a country song, it’s no great musical arrangement. Saying that, only people that get country music would know how to play that song.” Like bluesmen get the blues? “That’s right, exactly. Whereas there are songs like ‘Nashville No.1’ which I always think of having a kind of Elvis Presley jungle room kind of beat. Harry Stinson the drummer, he’s very creative so he was like 'You just suggested that from the way that you played it on guitar” but I was never imagined that in my mind. ‘Siren Song’ he just played the drums with his hands which gives it a different vibe; there’s something more personal when it’s skin on skin."
The people of Nashville were a big influence on the recording of the album, how about the town itself? Its history? “Anywhere I live influences me, especially since living in America, it’s a big entity in the world. So I know when I moved here ten years ago the focus of my writing shifted from my internal stories and landscapes to what was going on around me. When I lived in California I wrote ‘Bolinas’, I wrote songs about where I was. I’ve been in Nashville about six years and it’s a powerful place on the planet if you’re a musician, there’s a lot that you learn about yourself and who you are as an artist. And what’s important and what’s not.”
The ‘scene’ itself doesn’t hold Audrey in its thrall, in fact she could have ended up in another music city. “The reason we’re here is because my husband wanted to buy a house and I wanted to live in a music town. I’d said to him well Nashville or Austin, and honestly I would have preferred Austin!” Essentially, Audrey doesn’t seem to conform to type. “I don’t work the scene here because I’m not that kind of artist. I appreciate that there’s a lot of money to be made and it’s lovely to get songs recorded and I’ve had that done, it’s nice. I’m essentially not a brown-nosing kind of person and I think that’s what’s needed. I’ve played songs to publishers here; I played them a song and they said “You can’t use the word universe” and this song gets played at weddings, it’s a beautiful love song, and that’s their analytical response. Or 'That’s a lovely song but it’s too long.' They’re called the gatekeepers, and the gates are narrow but there’s a lot of money to be had on the other side of those gates so they’re very careful about what they let through and I kind of think that shows. I’m not moved by commercial country radio… it just makes me feel sick to be honest…”
And there you have it, plain speaking to the end. Audrey Auld has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them, she’s passionate and isn’t afraid to show it.
Audrey’s touring the UK in May, a full list of dates is available on her website.