Kasey Chambers: Hot but Not Bothered

Australian Singer-Songwriter Releases New Album in U.S.

Despite being filmed on a hot day in Australia, Kasey Chambers’ newest music video, “Like a River,” put a damper on things — literally. While almost everybody else in the cast was equipped with umbrellas, Chambers pretty much stood there getting soaked.

“It was actually nice to be out in the rain all day,” she says, “but it was quite annoying, because I had to keep having my hair and makeup done all day. I don’t mind all that sort of stuff, and I know that hair and makeup is all part of it, but not nine times in one day!” She bursts out laughing. “I was just over that!”

Visiting with Chambers is as easy as striking up a conversation with the upbeat girl standing next to you, waiting to get into the music festival. She’s attentive, charming and giggles more than your average 28-year-old. Though she’s pals with Lucinda Williams, praised by Steve Earle and participated in last year’s Dolly Parton tribute album, Chambers and her fierce twang are relatively unknown in the U.S., and she’s all right with that.

“I love being on tour over there [the U.S.],” she says. “The difference between playing here and playing there is I’m playing to people who generally are into the same sort of music I am, over there. People who know who Patty Griffin and John Prine and Fred Eaglesmith are.”

When the subject turns to Griffin, Chambers is downright enthusiastic. She counts Griffin’s Flaming Red as one of her three favorites albums of all time.

“She’s one of the most inspiring artists I’ve ever heard in my life,” Chambers says. She even had plans to cut Griffin’s song “Top of the World” for her new album, Wayward Angel, before the Dixie Chicks beat her to it. “I’ve never seen Patty play live, and it’s one of my dreams,” she adds. “Before I die, I just want to see Patty and John Prine play live.”

For the first nine years of her life, Chambers traveled with her father, mother and brother throughout the Nullabor Plain in Australia as the family tracked foxes and rabbits. When night fell, everybody sang around the campfire. With family harmonies to rely on, her parents decided to resume their music careers and formed the Dead Ringer Band. Their brand of country music developed a strong following in Australia and won several music awards.

However, her parents eventually separated, leading Kasey to release a heartfelt solo debut, 2000’s The Captain. One lyric from that album is particularly telling: “I’m not much like my generation /Their music only hurts my ears.” The album sold well in Australia while establishing her as a force in the alt.country circuit in the United States. (She even showed up at Fan Fair in 2000 but barely attracted any attention.) A year later, the radio-friendly hit, “Not Pretty Enough,” catapulted her to superstardom in her homeland, bringing with it all the attention of celebrity.

“Here in Australia, my career is at a different point than where it is over there,” she says. “I do spend a lot of time signing autographs whenever I go out of my house, and I don’t have that in America. And it’s really great, you know? Like, I’m not going to sit here and say, ’Oh, it’s so hard.’ It’s not! It’s pretty cool most of the time, I’ve got to say.”

She giggles, then continues, “I don’t get mobbed in airports or anything like that, and I don’t have paparazzi following me around. It’s not quite like that. We don’t really have that here in Australia very much, but I do get recognized everywhere I go.”

Yes, everywhere. For example, “For Sale” — from Wayward Angel — was inspired by a recent hospital stay and still finding herself unable to escape her celebrity image.

“I was just at this really weird point, just emotional and crying and everything, and this lady comes up and says, ’Oh my God! You’re Kasey Chambers! I just love you! Can I get your autograph?’ That was just that one moment of weakness when I was like, ’I don’t want to be this person right now. I want to be that sick person,'” Chambers says, now laughing about it. “It was all fine and I signed the autograph, but the next day, I went home and wrote that song.”

Much of Wayward Angel considers the challenges of balancing a public and private life — much harder now that Chambers and her boyfriend welcomed a son, Talon, a little over two years ago. At one point, she has to put the phone down because he’s done eating breakfast and wants out of his highchair. Kasey’s brother Nash, who produces her albums and manages her finances, has a 1½ -year-old son, so priorities have certainly changed since 2002’s album Barricades & Brickwalls.

“It’s easier now for us to say no to things than it was before,” she says. “That’s probably the biggest thing I learned, that it’s OK to say no, because I have so many other big things to think about now, rather than career. And I love my career, and it’s a major, major part of my life, but nothing compares to having a baby.”

She adds that her dad recently had a baby with his girlfriend, so she also has a 1-year-old brother. “That’s been a real spinner,” she says. “That’s just been really different to see my dad in that role, looking after a baby. It’s been really strange but really good.”

However, Chambers says the babies probably won’t be coming along on her U.S. tour which kicks off Nov. 3 in San Francisco. Her voice races with excitement just talking about renting the tour bus. Most nights, she says she doesn’t even go into the hotel rooms, except for a shower. “I know there are a lot of people who dread that, who can’t imagine anything worse than being stuck on a bus with 10 other people,” she says, “but I love that.”