Kasey Chambers’ new album, Bittersweet, delivers a dozen vivid vignettes both earthy (“Oh Grace”) and ethereal (“Is God Real?”).
CMT.com recently spoke with the celebrated Australian singer-songwriter about life changes, evolving as a songwriter and the seamless new collection.
“It was a bit different process for me,” Chambers says. “I’ve always worked with a lot of the same people like my brother (Nash Chambers) on the production side. I just had this bunch of songs that I approached a different way, even with the songwriting process.”
CMT: It was your decision to use a different producer?
Chambers: It was actually my brother who suggested that maybe I should use a different producer. He suggested Nick DiDia because he knew his work and thought it would be a good combination. I’ve also been through all these life changes with divorce and the birth of my first daughter — my third child but first daughter. I had this whole new approach to life, and that made me want to approach making a record in a different way. When I met with Nick, we just clicked and I fell in love with the way he works and thinks about music.
Does the title Bittersweet represent the life changes you’re talking about?
Absolutely. I’m a fairly positive person and generally happy most of the time, but in any life, you go through hard times. You have to go through those to get to the good times and you learn from them. I’m like everyone. The difference is I write songs about it. (laughs)
Tell the story behind writing “Oh Grace.”
I wrote a lot of these songs on the banjo, and I’m a terrible banjo player. (laughs) I love the sound of the banjo even though I only know a few chords. I just wanted to approach songwriting with different instruments. There are a few personal songs on the record but some I completely stepped outside and became a different character. That song is a typical example where it’s a very character-driven song. I wrote probably two-thirds of the songs on the banjo, but they didn’t let me play the banjo on every song. They weren’t that stupid. (laughs)
Describe how these songs represent your evolution as a songwriter.
I like to think that I bring a little bit more to every album as far as songwriting goes. I guess, in some ways, I look at it as there’s more of me in this record. In some ways, there’s more of me as a songwriter stepping outside of my personal life, as well. I try to do that a little bit on every record to a certain extent. I just try to think of everything for the sake of the song, really.
Talk specifically about your growth as a lyricist.
When I think about my approach to songwriting, I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle because some of the lines are the deepest, darkest secrets I’ve ever written and some lines are in there just because they rhyme. (laughs) I just write the best possible song I can at the time. Sometimes that means putting every single part of yourself into a song. Sometimes it means stepping outside of yourself. I feel like I just want to balance that and not go too far either way.
Do you find it difficult to step outside of yourself?
It’s not as difficult now. I reckon the Rattlin’ Bones album I made with my ex-husband (Shane Nicholson) was the transition for me. All my older records were pretty much autobiographical and there’s a lot more of me in them. I started writing with Shane, and I hadn’t really co-written a whole lot. He opened my eyes a lot more to the craft of songwriting. I learned a lot from him, and I think I’ve found a way to meld those things together a whole lot now. I think I enjoy it more now. Also, no one’s life is interesting enough that you can write about yourself forever. I’d be writing about dirty diapers and taking kids to swimming lessons, and that’s just boring. (laughs)
Come on, that’s pretty exciting.
Yeah, it might be exciting to do, but I don’t know if it’s exciting to listen to on a record. If you want to write songs for your whole life, you need to find a balance, or you’re just gonna write the same song over and over. And I felt like that’s what I was starting to do. I’d finish a song and even though I liked it, I still felt like I’d written it before. So I stepped outside a bit and feel like I got as much out of it as from some of my deepest, darkest songs. Even a week and a-half ago, I wrote a song that was a total therapy song. I totally needed to write that song in order to get through the next few months.
Explain how “Is God Real?” came to you.
That was inspired by my 13-year-old son. I wrote that song a few years ago. Ever since he was 2, he’s lived half the time at his dad’s place and half the time at mine. I was brought up in a fairly religious Seventh Day Adventist family. Talon’s dad Cory is full-on atheist, so I thought maybe I should have a conversation with Talon about it. I said, “You could be getting confused about whether you believe in God or not when you go between Dad’s place and my place.” He said, “No, I’m not confused at all. When I’m at your place, I believe in God. and when I’m at my dad’s, I don’t.” Made perfect sense to him.
How did you feel?
At first, I kind of … “Oh, my god. That’s terrible. He’s so confused.” Then I realized, he’s not confused at all. He’s just figuring out what works for him. He was totally OK with it. I figured if he’s OK with it, it’s not my place or anyone’s place to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t believe. Whatever works for you and gets you through the day and become the best person you can be, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, not even his mother’s. I can tell him what I think, but it’s up to him.