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INTERVIEW: Tami Neilson

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THE LIFE OF A BIG BOSS MAMA

The Australian market is becoming more of a priority for Tami Neilson, she’s was recently here in May for the Blues On Broadbeach Music Festival and now she’s set to return for the Dashville Skyline and Out On The Weekend festivals. Chris Familton gets the lowdown on all the other happenings in her life as a professional soul and country songstress.

“I’ve always been an album a year kind of girl,” says Tami Neilson, from her home in Auckland, New Zealand. It’s been nearly 12 months since Sassafrass! was released and in timely fashion she reveals that she’s just finished recording her next album. “Because I tour and play live a lot I want to always keep it fresh for my fans and for myself, introducing new material every time I tour which I do regularly.”

With the amount of international touring she’s been clocking up in recent years it begs the question as to when she gets to set aside the time to write for each new album. “I was continually on tour for the year before Sassafrass! and the only block of time I had was sitting on my arse in a van for eight hours a day driving across Germany. I took my noise cancelling headphones and notebook and bunkered down in the front seat and just became very anti-social but got an album done. My writing process tends to be that I collect this treasure trove of melodies and lyrics and titles and keep my little arsenal of ideas and then I book studio time and that’s it, my deadline that makes me knuckle down and cook it all up,” she explains.

Recently, on International Women’s Day we got a first taste of the next album with the release of the bold and beautiful new song Big Boss Mama that proudly flies the flag for the importance of powerful women in society. It’s a characteristically colourful, holler and stomp rockabilly soul track in the tradition of her songs such as Stay Outta My Business and Bananas and for the most part the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “I love hearing stories, especially from parents with young kids, girls especially, who say that they love the music,” says Neilson. “I like that, with the fun packaging, it’s really connecting, but not just the music, the lyrics too. Hearing feedback like that as a musician, when it’s sometimes a hard road to travel, really makes it worthwhile and you realise yes, it is connecting and it is going to hopefully make a difference with the next generation coming up.”

Neilson grew up as a country singer with her family band in Canada and though she’s always loved and listened to soul music, it has taken her a bit longer to blend and incorporate those influences as strongly as she has over her last few albums. “That’s always what I’ve written, the songs that I was writing back early on still had a soul, gospel, rockabilly sound but Dynamite! was the first album where I went into the studio with a full band. I’d never had a full band before and I’d never had studio time like that. Out of necessity and finance I’d always done it with my brother and dad and mostly acoustic,” Neilson explains. “Dynamite! was the first album I could actually hire a studio and musicians! Those things enabled me to develop my sound more. I’d also grown in confidence and knew the direction I wanted to go and what kind of artist I wanted to be”

Before returning to Australia, Neilson opened for her hero Mavis Staples for the second time, which had her bursting with excitement. “I thought last time that it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and now it’s happening again and it’s just amazing. Only days before that she also attended New Zealand’s prestigious Taite Music Prize as a finalist for Sassafrass! Then it was off to the Northern Hemisphere for a German tour, more shows in New Zealand, a Canadian tour and a showcase at the Americana Festival in Nashville. 

With Australia only a three hour flight from Auckland, I question why we didn’t previously see her touring here on a more regular basis. The good news is she intends to be visiting our shores a lot more. “I self-manage in New Zealand and my international management think more about Europe and America and they forget about Australia a bit. The intention and investment from them in Australia hasn’t been a priority and so I’ll be running more of that myself and getting over there more,” she reveals. “The audiences are so wonderful and they get my music and they get me. They’re a bit more boisterous and out-going and I really connect with that so you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me!”

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