Looking at Kasey Chambers’ past album covers, you might consider her a very subdued individual. So far, her Australian releases have found her photographed in the following positions: sitting on a sidewalk with her head tilted in her hands and frowning, sitting in a car looking longingly out the windshield; and sitting in front of a house amid fallen leaves gazing blankly at nothing in particular.
This time around, she’s striking a much different pose.
For her latest album, Carnival, she says, “I’m actually sitting on a red velvet chair, but in the background is all clouds. We put the chair outside and it just looks very weird. But the colors are very deep red colors, and I’m looking at the camera and I’ve got a smirk on my face — rather than looking away, looking lost.”
She cracks up laughing, as she does throughout the conversation, then adds, “I’ve said I always try to look like, ’Oh, I can’t have too much makeup on because singer-songwriters can’t do that.’ But I’m a girl! And I like wearing makeup, and I wear it all the time. It’s OK to look like I do!”
Before gathering Carnival’s visual elements, including artwork, photos and videos, Chambers made it clear that she has grown up since her 1999 debut album, The Captain, was released in Australia.
“I had a few people say, ’But don’t you think that’s what appeals to people about you?’ And I said, ’I think what appeals to people about me is that I’m always honest about who I am with each record.’ I’m different now. I’m 30. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I have a successful business. I’m not that vulnerable, lost little person anymore, so I don’t want to keep pretending that I am.”
As life stories go, Chambers has one of the unusual backgrounds in music. Her mother and father raised Kasey and older brother Nash in Australia’s Nullarbor Plain, hunting foxes for a living. Around a campfire each evening, they sang Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers songs, which is partly why Chambers’ voice has such a melancholy twang to it.
“That just comes from my dad playing Hank Williams to me for 10 years, and this is the only way I can get out of that now,” she says, laughing again. “Because no matter how happy I am, they’re still going to sound sad.”
In 1986, the nightly family singalong evolved into the award-winning Dead Ringer Band. After her parents separated and the band dissolved in 1998, Chambers stepped out as a solo artist. Nash produced her albums, her father Bill played guitar in her band and her mother Diane worked the merchandise table. With its heartfelt singing and descriptive songwriting, The Captain brought international praise. In 2002, her hit single, “Not Pretty Enough,” helped her follow-up album sell 500,000 copies — seven-times platinum in Australia.
Two years and countless concerts later, her next album, Wayward Angel, weighed the advantages of fame while leaning closer to a rock sound. But by the end of 2002, she and her boyfriend of four years, Cori Hopper, split up. Naturally, her fans expected Carnival to dwell on the details of the crumbled relationship.
Except that Chambers then fell in love with musician Shane Nicholson. They married in their backyard in late 2005, although stunned guests thought they were merely attending an engagement party. Chambers catered the event herself and baked her own cake. “It was really casual,” she says. “I wore jeans and a Bob Dylan T-shirt — but it was white.”
After a rough patch, she has also reconnected with Hopper, noting that they now see each other every day and hang out with their 4-year-old son together. With the pendulum swinging back into positive territory, Chambers shelved all the heartbreak songs she had written, booked some studio time and came up with a batch of new songs without being too influenced by all the drama.
“I was like, ’I don’t really want to go over all of that stuff every time I hear my song on the radio and think about how depressed I was.’ I don’t want to go back to that place, and I don’t think he would like that, either. … I’m in this really exciting time in my life when I feel as content as I’ve ever felt. I don’t want to bring out a record that sounds like I’m as bad and depressed as I’ve ever been,” she says with a hearty laugh.
While Carnival is not as confessional as her past albums, Chambers does admit that some of the songs came about by trying to work through her issues. In particular, “The Rain” offers a list of all the things she’d like to do better, from breaking bad habits, facing her fears and trying “to take anything you can throw at me.”
But is she good at maintaining balance in her own life?
“I’d like to say, ’Yeah! I’m great at that,’ and I think I am to a certain extent,” she says. “I have my moments though and usually in those moments, I write a song. Yeah, I think I am a pretty balanced kind of person, especially now. I spend so much time at home now. I’m not on the road as much as I used to be. My whole life isn’t about music and career and all that, as much as it used to be. I have a 4-year-old son, and there’s nothing like that to balance your life out. There’s nothing like changing nappies for a couple of years and all those things that come along with being a mother. And I’m a wife now. I have a house to look after. I love all that. I just really enjoy that whole balance.”