The Sunny Cowgirls What We Do Interview

The Sunny Cowgirls What We Do Interview

The Sunny Cowgirls What We Do Interview

The new album by sister act The Sunny Cowgirls is the perfect representation of what country music is all about. "We've never done anything we didn't want to do and this album is no exception," declares Celeste Clabburn, one half of The Sunny Cowgirls. The duo's latest album, What We Do, is a powerful and engaging testament to the grit, talent and determination of Celeste and sibling Sophie.

The 14 songs on the album - all originals - find The Sunny Cowgirls reaffirming and extending their reputation for delivering hook-laden country songs shot through with emotion, instantly memorable imagery and wry humour. Recorded in Nashville, Perth and Sydney, What We Do finds the Clabburn sisters in mature and confident mode - with an approach to songwriting and performance that will invite rave reviews.

"Soph and I had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted this album to be," says Celeste. "I think we've both grown up in the past few years, and it shows in our song-writing and the content of our songs. We wanted this album to be real, organic, natural and true to us. We wanted great players and amazing musicianship, but at the same time we didn't want a sparkly, shiny Nashville-sounding record."

It is a mark of the Clabburn sisters' determination that in What We Do they have achieved exactly that. Despite being joined in the Fool On The Hill studio by some of Nashville's finest talents - such as dobroplayer Dan Dugmore (James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt) and drummer Shawn Fichter (Peter Frampton) - the new album is as dinkum Aussie as its first single, Green & Gold, suggests. The idea of recording in the USA came from The Sunny Cowgirls' producer, Australian studio legend Sam Hawksley (The Whitlams, John Farnham, Adam Brand). At first, Sophie and Celeste were not at all keen on the idea.

"Sam's a great friend of ours and just brilliant at what he does," says Sophie. "We've always been big fans, but never thought in a million years we'd be recording an album with him in Nashville! We actually laughed at the idea when he first suggested it, because Nashville isn't really what we're about. We've always recorded here in Australia. We were worried that our Aussie sound might get lost in a big American studio."

Those fears proved unfounded, however, in part because the stellar American talents who joined Sam and the sisters in the studio were balanced by an equally stellar Australian contingent, including bluegrass guitarist Jedd Hughes (Patty Loveless, Sarah Buxton) and, later, keyboardist Matt Fell (Tim Freedman, Sara Storer). The sisters' down-to-earth no-nonsense attitude was more than matched by the businesslike approach of their American collaborators.

"We recorded 14 tracks in two days!" says Sophie. "Actually, not even - they were only six-hour days, so 12 hours all up. They don't muck around over there." Once the music recording was completed The Sunny Cowgirls left Nashville and flew to Perth - where they spent their childhoods - and laid down vocals under the guidance of band manager Mark Donohoe. Backing vocals were provided by former Australian Idol heavyweight, Courtney Murphy. The final elements - including a toy piano - were added at Sydney's Love HZ studio, under the watchful eye of Matt Fell.

And thus, more than two years after the first songs for it were written in 2010, What We Do is finally ready for release. The immediate success of the first single Green & Gold suggests the collection will be an early, strong contender for many awards. In the minds of the Clabburn sisters, however, it is already a triumph - of the will. "This is the first album we have released independently," said Sophie. "There is no record company calling the shots. We really took control of this record and made the album we wanted to make." And rightly so… after all, it's what they do.

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Interview with Celeste Clabburn

Question: What inspired Green and Gold, the love song to Australia?

Celeste Clabburn: Soph actually wrote Green and Gold and the main inspiration came when we were flying over Broome, WA and we'd just been overseas. Soph was inspired by looking down onto the white sand, blue water and thinking about the colours of Australia. We've always been very passionate about living in this country and the song came naturally to her.

Question: What did you think when Sophie first played you Green and Gold?

Celeste Clabburn: When Sophie played the demo, I loved the song straight away. I remember the wow moment, I was blown away and I honestly believe it is one of the best songs she has ever written; I am very proud of my sister.

Question: Tell us about What We Do?

Celeste Clabburn: Our fifth album, What We Do is the first time we've gone to Nashville to record an album and it's something different, for us. Going to Nashville was out of our comfort zone and that was a good, we used a different producer and musicians that we'd never met. It was scary to hand our songs over but it was a good move for us and we came back and recorded a lot of music in Australia for the album, too. This album is our most honest album yet and we've spent a lot of time writing all the songs ourselves to make sure they're as good as possible. It is all very exciting.

Question: Was there a reason why you decided to record in Nashville?

Celeste Clabburn: Not really, we hadn't planned it and we were trying to lock in a producer and studio but nothing was falling into place in Australia and nothing felt right which is why we explored our options and Nashville seemed like the answer, at the time. It was a spontaneous decision and I think it was good to do that because it took us out of our comfort zone and we tried new things. It all just happened.

Question: What's your inspiration when writing?

Celeste Clabburn: When I write songs I try to be as honest as I can and I write about my life and things that I've been through. I live and work on a farm so I know what it is like to be a farmer and live off the land which is why people on the land can relate to my songs. I am your everyday farm girl and I write honestly.

Question: What are the pros and cons of working with your sister?

Celeste Clabburn: It's mainly good working with my sister because Soph and I are best mates which make it easy; I'd hate to do it by myself. We're sisters so we do fight every now and then (laughs) but it's never anything major, it is typical sister bickering. We enjoy a break from each other but we always love to catch up as well.

Question: What music/artists do you listen to when you are not playing your own?

Celeste Clabburn: I listen to a lot of everything. At the moment I am listening to Alison Krauss, Nora Jones and old favourites such as The Eagles and Johnny Cash. I listen to whatever I feel like.

Question: Was there a moment you contemplated throwing in the towel?

Celeste Clabburn: No, not a big point. There have obviously been hard times but I feel so lucky to be able to do this, for a living and I enjoy my lifestyle and I want to keep going, for as long as I possibly can. That's not to say there aren't highs and lows; however the highs always outweigh the lows.

Question: Do you prefer performing live or recording?

Celeste Clabburn: I'd have to say recording, I love it, I love being in the studio - I love writing a song and then going into the studio to record it and making it into something you want it to be, it is incredible. Recording is my favourite part of the whole job but performing live is always great fun, too.

Question: What/who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?

Celeste Clabburn: We grew up around country music and ever since I can remember, as little girls, we wanted to play country music, it was our childhood dream. I don't know where the dream came from but it was what we always wanted to do.

Question: What is the biggest challenge you have faced along the way to your musical success?

Celeste Clabburn: The biggest challenge has been the pressure to bring out albums and the pressure to make the new album better than the last. As we write all our own songs there are 12 songs on each album and we've had five albums now and we always think 'how will we write another 12 songs?' It always feels impossible to write again but you push through and somehow you think of new ideas and are inspired by new things. Writing an album is always very intense but it seems to be very rewarding.

Question: What's a typical day like?

Celeste Clabburn: Every day is different for me because we spend a lot of time on the road, travelling. We'll wake up in a motel room and travel to another town and play a gig. When I'm at home, I'm on the farm and we have sheep dogs and I may be on the tractor or rounding up a mob. Every day is different which is interesting.

Question: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?

Celeste Clabburn: Wow, that's a good question! I'd love to do something with John Williamson; I think that would be amazing. My all-time favourite would be John Mayer, that would be the ultimate, but I won't hold my breathe…

Interview by Brooke Hunter