Clare Bowditch

A New Hat For Clare Bowditch

Singer, songwriter, storyteller, actor, radio host, mother and workshop facilitator… regardless of which hat Clare Bowditch is wearing, she is both humble and inspiring. She will be firmly wearing her singer/songwriter hat when she brings her ‘family’ band to Cairns this weekend – a trip that has been a long time coming but one worth the wait. As Clare explained to Jade Kennedy, she has been busy working on a new hat she will proudly wear from October this year: ‘author.’

I heard you’re heading north to Cairns for the first time in – how long? Seven years or something?
“Well we were actually chatting about that, because it feels like yesterday to us because it’s still so fresh in our minds. I remember the last time we were there it was cooking inside the Tank Arts, and it was the music and also the weather, but we were just so relieved to be breathing the Cairns air! (Laughs)
But we’ve got a few different players – a few extra players – this time, so everyone is very excited about being back. What we remember is how much fun we had there, how hospitable everyone was, how welcoming everyone was, and you know, that makes for a cranking show. 
This show particularly, it is the ‘Woman’ launch, but it’s also a different kind of a show – we’re playing two sets, and a really big part of the show is we’ve always had enormously satisfying banter with our audience and participation with our audience, but we’ll be cranking that up a level for this one. We really want to ask people about their dreams, and give them a little nudge in the direction of their dreams because, well, (laughs) that’s really what a vast majority of my songs seem to be about!”

Oh lovely, so who are you bringing with you this time?
“So we’ve got Xani Colac, who is an extraordinary violinist and singer/songwriter in her own right, and we’ve got Andre Warhurst on guitar, then myself, and Warren Bloomer as usual on bass, and Marty Brown on drums. So some new faces and yeah, it’s going to be a great time.”

Be honest though – is this show in some degree a ploy to get away from the Melbourne weather?
“Yes! (Laughs) That’s exactly why! It gets biting this time of year, like absolutely biting. We’ve all been sick actually, it’s a small miracle I get to be up there at all actually, I lost my voice quite severely about four weeks ago and we wondered if we were going to have to cancel the tour, but we’ve recovered just in the nick of time.”

Now as you mentioned before, you do have a new song out called ‘Woman’ – tell me a bit more about it.
“So on a cheeky Tuesday night – I think it was a Tuesday night, it was a weekday night – me and the gals, a couple of years back… it was 2014 or 2015 (laughs) we’ve got this debate going, but it was when our kids were really little and in primary school… we went out for a cheeky mid-week drink and I had all of these things on my mind and my heart, I was really jammed in at work at the time and just noticed that the way were speaking about that to each other was we were kind of coaching each other, and I could tell them things I was struggling to tell myself. I remember I walked in very anxious and I just walked out feeling very inspired – and probably a little tipsy on the shandies – and I sat down at the piano and this song ‘Woman’ just came tumbling out. It was before the Me Too movement, it was just the conversation that we as working women had been having for all of our lives, really, about our privilege and what do we do with it, and this feeling of not enough-ness but just getting up and doing the work anyway.”

How do you think it translates now post-Me Too?
“Well I think it’s obviously a concurrent conversation, so it’s probably the right time for the song to appear. I think it might have come a little out of the blue if it had popped out fully formed and we’d had the time to release it four years ago when it was written, but I think what’s happened is that people feel good and safe about responding enthusiastically to a message like this now, and I think from the feedback that we’ve got is it’s just encouraging to them.”

There have been a lot of women in the music industry particularly, calling out punters at shows for inappropriate behaviour lately. How do you feel about that?
“Well look I think we’ve always kind of done that… One of the terribly fortunate things about our career is that for whatever reason we’ve not been commercial artists; we’ve attracted a hard core community, and it’s that community that has been with us through these 15 years now of making songs and making a living as a family, as a band and as a community. We’ve always fostered that and we have quite close conversations with those guys. In summer, for example, I said, “I’m on holidays for four weeks, does anybody want to shoot me an email?” I got a thousand emails and I’d promised to reply to every one of them (laughs) so I’m still doing that right now. Which is ridiculous! (Laughs) But what I’ve noticed is our audience police that on our behalf, and if they don’t they let us know. And it’s so important, that communication, to just call it out. I think one of the wonderful things now is there are multiple venues who are making it clear with signage, that behalf of the punters themselves they want to have a safe community environment and if they see anything going on to let them know. So there’s more openness now I guess, and I welcome that. I welcome also legislation change, and I welcome everyone getting on board with that.”

Oh absolutely, it’s so important! In terms of music though – new song out – does that mean a new album on the way?
“Yes! Absolutely! So we’ve had a busy few years and can’t really explain why we’ve had to wait so long to finish the album (laughs) so we needed to get some songs out, it was just time. But the actual album itself won’t be out until April 2020 through Universal Music. That’s largely because I have a book coming out at the end of October, the 29th, through Allen & Unwin. It’s a memoir of my formative years, so the most difficult years of my life, particularly my early 20s. It’s really about the stories we tell ourselves and what happens when we believe them. It’s named after a song – it’s called ‘Your Own Kind of Girl’ – and we will be playing ‘Your Own Kind of Girl’ at the show, and talking a little bit about that. I guess there’s just two main projects on the horizon for the next 12 months, one’s an album and one’s a book.”

Oh, amazing! So how the hell do you manage to juggle all of this and family life and your master classes and speaking engagements and everything?
“Oh, you know! (Laughs) Look, everything that I do really comes from the same source, which is that I come alive when I have creative outlets. I’m a better person for it; I need it. And I’ve always needed to be useful in some way, I thrive on that. So really it’s been seven years between major projects… I mean we’ve done Big Hearted Business, that was a major project, that was the love project… and I’ve had those years on radio, but it’s really been ages, so if you look at it, I’m quite slow. (Laughs) But I do get there, and I reckon that’s one of my only tricks is that even though I take my time I do get there!”

Well perfection takes time, right?
“(Laughs) I wouldn’t know! I’ve always thought that perfection is the enemy of done, you know? (Laughs) But I must say, drafting this book has been very different to music. Music comes quite intuitively, and I’ve realised how naturally music comes and how much I’m looking forward to getting back on that stage, because it just has been too long and we so, so love it.”

Obviously writing the book would be quite an introspective journey and a very solo one, without the support of the band helping you write it – so how did you find that?
“(Laughs) I’m laughing because I remember Kasey Chambers looking at me when I told her that I was writing a book and her going, “Oh f*** you’re in trouble, let me tell you this is not going to be easy,” and she was right! What I do have in my court, my publisher. I don’t know how it happened but my publisher fought very, very hard to get this manuscript – there were eight publishers who wanted it, which was extraordinary, just ridiculous. I had written half the book and given it to people to read. She fought really hard for it, her name is Kelly, and she has supported me incredibly closely throughout it. So I haven’t been all on my own, but there have been some hard nights; just me and a glass of Hendricks with cucumber, wondering if I’m ever going to finish this bloody book! (Laughs)”

So have you called Kasey yet and told her she was right?
“(Laughs) Yeah I can’t even talk to her; I can’t believe she let me do it! She knew what I was going to go through! (Laughs) No, but I will! As she said – and as everyone said – it’s difficult but you’ll never regret it. At the moment my mum’s reading the manuscript, and I’m sure she will have a few comments about things that I got wrong. So yeah, it’s been excruciating but I’m closing in on it.”

Going back to the mention of your master classes, you talk a lot about singing and courage. What is your secret to mastering courage?
“So what I acknowledged really early on – because I have had clear-cut, hard core anxiety most of my life – is it very nearly toppled all of my dreams, particularly in my 20s, and I was very fortunate to have a difficult experience. So difficult that I learnt how to live with my anxiety and to accept that voice and to keep counting myself in. So I named my inner critic Frank, and I tell Frank to F-off. (Laughs) It’s that survival voice that we all have, the one that says, ‘Play it safe; play small; don’t be stupid; don’t dream that big.’ So I learnt that it’s never going away, and we’re going to find ways to deal with it. So the way that we deal with it is to get in conversation with it. So if you see me side of stage before the show, I’ll be pacing, I might throw up – I’m always almost sick with nerves – and it goes within about a minute and a half of being on stage. I guess to sum up the trick is to feel the fear and do it anyway.”

So how do you think you’ll go stepping back on stage after so long?
“Ah! We have been rehearsing for months, and the shows in Sydney and Melbourne went beautifully, so we’re very, very excited to get back out there. The band are extraordinary, and I know our audience is going to be extraordinary – they always bring it in Cairns.”

Jade Kennedy

Clare Bowditch plays The Tanks Arts Centre on Saturday the 8th of June.

Tickets available through Ticketlink

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