"I sometimes throw on a wig that I had custom made by a drag queen in the States who does a lot of the wigs for RuPaul’s Drag Race" We chat with Tami Neilson
Considering we're in a lockdown, Tami Neilson is particularly busy right now. With a new album not long out, a weekly YouTube show three weeks old, and looking after her two children, we prised her away from all that to speak about everything that's going on right now.
Hey Tami, how’s your day going?
It’s a crisp, sunny fall day in New Zealand and I’ve just returned home from taking the kids for our daily outing to run around outside and play soccer in an empty field. The silver lining to all of this is having this precious time with my boys.
So, where are you right now?
I’m out on 10 acres in the country in Waimauku, New Zealand, which is about 35 minutes from the city centre of Auckland.
How’s COVID-19 made a difference to what you’d usually be doing about now?
I was supposed to be on a world tour, promoting my new album CHICKABOOM!. We would’ve done the US and Europe by now and this week was going to be Australia.
Can you introduce yourself to our lovely readers?
Kia Ora, as we say in NZ! My name is Tami Neilson and I’m a singer/songwriter who grew up in Canada touring with my family band, “The Neilsons”, but fell in love with a Kiwi, married him and moved across the world 15 years ago.
Tell us a bit about you, what do you do for fun?
Well, we’ve been in lockdown for almost two months now, my husband is an essential worker, so I am solo parenting our two little boys aged 5 and 8 during the week, so, doing ANYTHING outside of being home sounds like great fun at the moment!
Your beehive is gaining in fame, how much work is it to keep up?
It only takes me about 20 min nowadays (You can watch it for yourself, I have a video tutorial on my YouTube channel), but, when it’s too much of a pain, I throw on a wig that I had custom made by a drag queen in the States who does a lot of the wigs for RuPaul’s Drag Race.
You’re doing a new show, ‘The TAMI Show’, tell me about that.
I was trying to think of a way to stay connected to my fans now that I can’t perform live. It seems that the internet is flooded with live stream concerts, but, I live out in the country and my wifi is so rubbish, it runs on a tin can and a string. So, that wasn’t really an option for me, along with having my little ones 24/7. I decided to create a weekly 20 min show that premieres on my YouTube channel while I live chat with fans and has everything from live performances and collaborations to beehive demonstrations and a peek in my closet where I talk about my stage outfits and showcase the designers who created them.
How did the first episode go?
It was so incredibly special to have hundreds of people from all around the world tune in and live chat during the Watch Party, sitting on my couch with my kids and a cup of tea, talking to fans from Denmark, UK, Spain, US, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Canada and NZ. It really felt like a real community, which is exactly what I had hoped for when I created the show with my brother and co-producer Jay (who lives in Toronto, Canada). It’s a heck of a lot of work to film, edit and produce those 15-20 minutes each week, but, it’s been a wonderful, positive thing to focus on and the feedback of the joy that it brings to others is so rewarding.
Just before the world went crazy you released a new album, CHICKABOOM!, what can you tell me about the album in two sentences?
I wanted the album to feel like it had been unearthed in Memphis from the Sun Records vault, a raw, bare-bones band of guitar, bass and drums that buzzed with live energy and showcased the voice and the songs.
What’s the story behind ‘Hey, Bus Driver!’?
That song captures the feeling of being on tour and away from home too much. Ah, the good old days! I wrote this one with my brother Jay and just found out today that it’s been nominated for “Best Country Song” at the NZ Music Awards!
‘16 Miles Of Chain’ has a foreboding sound, tell me about that song.
I wrote that song with my friend and co-producer Delaney Davidson, we wanted to write a murder ballad mixed with spooky folklore and a twist of Kill Bill jangly guitars.
If I only had three minutes, what song should I listen to from your album?
My favourite song to perform is 'You Were Mine'. It’s a torchy blues belter and I always close my shows with it because once I’ve sung it, it’s game over! I leave it all on the stage with that one.
What’s the key to writing a damn good song?
Usually any key but the Key of L...unless you want it to sound like L. (Did I mention that lockdown has seriously compromised my sense of humour and made Dad Jokes seem incredibly hilarious?)
I usually ask, what have you got planned for the rest of 2020, but I’m not sure any of us know… so, what’s the thing you’re looking forward to doing most when things settle down?
Seeing my family in Canada again and performing live with my brother Jay standing next to me in front of a live audience.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
I’ve written entire songs and albums about my experiences as a woman in the music industry because I feel it’s important to keep those conversations going for any change to eventuate. 'Queenie, Queenie' is the most recent, which touches on the subject of women not being played on country radio in the US.
Have you noticed a difference at all in the last couple of years?
I’ve noticed that mainstream media have picked up on many of the issues, bringing awareness that there is a huge disparity in equality, which is a starting point. There are amazing female researchers like Jada Watson of the University of Ottawa, whose research on country radio and billboard charts has been published in the headlines of national papers and Rolling Stone, that are fighting tirelessly on behalf of female artists, but we have a very long way to go.
Can you give us a taste of the kind of music you listen to in your spare time?
Mavis Staples, Patsy Cline, Brittany Howard, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Tank & the Bangas and Hank Williams have all been on high rotation on the record player the past two months.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
Sierra Ferrell is one to watch. She doesn’t even have an album out yet on Rounder Records, whom she’s signed with, but her live clips on YouTube are out of this world. Check out her version of 'Before I Met You'. I was doing a festival where we were on the same bill and all of us artists had a morning radio promo where we each played a song to plug the festival. She opened her mouth and sang that in the green room and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. She is like a modern day Loretta Lynn and I adore her voice.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I don’t. I’m a die-hard tea drinker!