Graham Reid | | 6 min read
Now in a sense we have passed this way before with Auckland singer-songwriter Kendall Elise.
Three years ago we interviewed her when she released her debut album Red Dirt.
Her tour supports for the likes of Tami Neilson, Larkin Poe, Gin Wigmore and Bic Runga tell you something about where she is on the musical spectrum: intelligent story-telling country-kissed songs which on that album were very personal.
Now she has a new album Let the Night In . . . (the first single Between Hello and Goodbye a finalist in the 2021 Apra Country Music awards) and so . . . speaking of the personal, time to ask her some highly personal questions to get the backstory . . .
Where did you grow up, and with who?
I grew up in Papakura, South Auckland with my Mum, two brothers and my Dad (Step-Dad).
Was music an important part of your childhood?
It was, though no one else in my family is very musical they are real appreciators of music so some of my earliest memories have soundtracks to them. Singing was something I seemed to naturally gravitate toward, and my parents often say I could sing before I could talk.
What are your earliest childhood memories of music which really affected you . . .
Spending time at my Nana Lorraine’s house and listening to her collection of Neil Diamond records. She cared very well for her records and my siblings, cousins and I were never allowed to cue them up with our grubby little fingers – Which I am grateful for because now I own her well cared for collection.
My Dad used to play a game where he would randomly say the words “ I beg your pardon…” and I would have to quickly jump in with the rest of the sentence “I never promised you a rose garden…”, we would alternate until we had recited the whole chorus of the Lynn Anderson song. It was a little while later that I actually heard the song and realised what he was referencing!
At primary school I remember sitting on the mat in Mrs Irvine’s class with her playing guitar and leading us all in singing The Carpenters – ‘Top Of The World’. I sang it at the top of my lungs - and a boy that I had a big crush on told me I sound like Alanis Morrisette. Still one of my career highlights to date.
Another fond memory is crashing around the lounge with my brothers to Daft Punk’s ‘Around The World’ in the 70’s styled lounge room of a rental we lived in on Valentine Street in Papakura. That and Green Jelly's album Cereal Killer. Imagine my joy when I got the chance to meet the producer of Cereal Killer - Sylvia Massy (!) a couple of years back at a Roundhead Producer Series seminar!
Was there a time when you felt it was going to be music and nothing else?
From my teens I had to spend a lot of time and energy on just getting by so only really started to pursue it as a career in my late twenties. Even now I still work a full-time job to support myself and my music. So might be a little while yet.
When you started on your music career were people around you supportive or did you have to find those people?
My Mum has always been very supportive of my creativity and whenever she had the means would take me to auditions for talent shows, even signing me up to a talent agency when I was younger.
I always had wonderful teachers at school that provided different opportunities with music.
But looking back I see that growing up in a difficult environment meant I always just sort of had to take life day by day and there were quite a few barriers to having a career in music. I left home at 17 and managed to put myself through the end of high school and a university degree by working so always struggled to have energy left over to create. I was also in several unhealthy relationships with people who did not actively support my musical path.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I decided to pursue music as a career, after I had lost my job and began working part time. Before that I played in bands with some really wonderful people but never really thought it was a viable career option.
It was my partner Chris who gave me that extra push and encouraged me to see what I am capable of. I had always thought it would be nice to release some original music before I turned 30, which ended up being the first musical goal I achieved, with his support, and he has been walking beside me ever since. We now play music with a band of extremely dedicated and talented people who also record and tour with us, called The Belgraves that I am so grateful to have found.
The first song of yours which you really felt proud of was . . .? And why that one?
I think that would be the very first song I ever released as a single – ‘Heart Full Of Dirt’. It was recorded at Roundhead Studios, my first ever session at a professional studio. It was the first song I ever had a music video for, and went on to be a finalist for APRA Best Country Song in 2017 as well as being licenced for the second season of a web-based comedy series called ‘Friday Night Bites’.
It was mind-blowing that something I could create could have so much potential!
Any one person you'd call a mentor, angel on your shoulder or invaluable fellow traveller?
My partner Chris Kemp. He’s the first person to hear new songs I have written, he is there playing drums on my recordings, he is beside me on adventures to the Country Music Awards, with me when I listen to first mixes and masters and pressings and has helped me book tours. He is all three of those things to me, and it is a real privilege to share this journey with him.
Where and when was the first time you went on stage as a paid performer?
I think it had to be during high school in fourth or fifth form – I would have been around 15, I sang as part of a three-part harmony group that was invited to sing at a wedding for two of our school teachers on Waiheke Island. Although it could have been earlier than that, as I was often asked by friends and family to perform for weddings and special occasions.
Ever had stage fright or just a serious failure of nerve before going on stage?
I have always suffered from stage fright, to the point where I have begun researching the psychology behind it and techniques to overcome it. Most people say that I never look like I am afraid while performing which is a small relief. I am beginning to understand the underlying feelings that contribute to it and am more confident that I have gained some tools on how to overcome it, so I think eventually I won’t experience it so intensely.
As a songwriter, do you carry a notebook or have a phone right there constantly to grab ideas they come? Or is your method something different?
I tend to create in phases, if I am in a song writing phase in preparation for recording, I will set aside specific time for writing where I will record voice memos on a phone and write lyrics in a journal specific to that project. During that time, I tend to be more receptive to inspiration so I will make sure I have some way of capturing ideas close by before it runs away.
What unfashionable album do you love as a guilty pleasure?
I don’t associate musical pleasure with guilt! But an album that people might find unfashionable is Counting Crows – August and Everything After. I came across a CD copy of it at home when I was quite young, maybe 12? and after reading the lyric booklet decided to listen. There were quite a few songs that caught me. I find it quite emotive and the vocal melodies are challenging and enjoyable to sing along to.
Any piece of advice you were given which you look back on which really meant something?
A simple two word sentence – Have Courage.
It's after a performance/concert and you are in a hotel room or back at home, what happens then?
After unloading the car Chris and I usually have a debrief about the show and pick out our favourite moments. It can take a while for me to wind down after a show but I’ll usually end up crashing out with my makeup still on! If it’s a final show of a run of shows sometimes I will take the opportunity to let my hair down and we will celebrate in some way or another!
Is there any fellow artist you admire for professional and/or personal reasons?
I really admire Bic Runga, I am blown away by her song writing and production ability and have been from a young age. On a personal level I really admire her kindness and openness, she has been so generous to me with opportunities and her time and advice and I am so grateful for that.
And finally, where to from here for you do you think?
After learning so much about production and engineering during this last album, I really want to focus on building on that knowledge and experience with another project. I also want to really work on refining my live performance.
My band and I had booked a tour of Europe that was supposed to take place in 2020, so picking up those touring plans in the future again would be nice. We’ll see!
Tour plans scheduled for September and October are currently on hold