KATIE NOONAN INTERVIEW – Liam Auliciems
This interview was a long time coming to say the least. In the weeks previous I was quite nervous as to whether it’d even go ahead! I really admire Katie and all her achievements, and would’ve hated to see the opportunity to have a chat with her go by. Big thanks to Katie as I think that this interview was one of the best I’ve ever done, as we discussed Katie’s upbringing, her adventures and her future endeavours.
Hey Katie! Hope you’re doing well! So first question, how do you think music first entered your life?
Oh wow… Well, I can never remember music not being around in my life. My mum was an opera singer and my dad was really into Jazz and my brother liked some really great music when I was growing up, so my family was always musical. Funny actually, when I was in my mums tummy she went to see the Australian Opera and also went to see ABBA! I love classical and pop music, and you can’t really get much better than those two groups. I always wonder if those two concerts while I was in utero affected my music tastes. Mum was always learning music and growing with her talents when I was young, so music was always around. Our house had instruments everywhere.
So what inspired you to want to play music as a profession?
Well early on I could really see the escapism that was involved with music. My mum was an opera singer like I said before, so in the day she’d be in an apron making me school lunch, and then in the night she’d be up on stage doing her opera singing, and I could really see the magic that was involved, the real magic of music. I could see how music could transport you to wonderful places and I think that’s really integral in society.
After you left school you formed the band george with your brother, Tyrone. Did you have an idea about what you wanted the band to be before you started?
No, it was very take it as it comes. It was just one big accident really (laughs). I was living in a flat in Bardon and the flat was known for being a party house for musicians and artists. I was living with a fella named Jim Stewart and his twin brother Nick Stewart, and my brother had just come back from Europe and we all just started jamming. It all started with two sets of siblings just jamming together. Nick entered us into a band comp through his University without actually having a band! We were all rushing to actually have something to play! Imagine our surprise when we won! After that we all really sensed that we had something. We started taking it a lot more seriously. We were a lot more focused and we all were into doing it properly.
In 2002 your debut release Polyserena went to #1 on the ARIAS chart. Did it feel like a really quick succession to the top? Like you got instant success?
Well it’s funny. We were kind of like a 6-year overnight success. We’d been touring our butts off with our previous three EPs. Triple JJJ and community radio stations really helped us out and after we did the album, it was like all the ground swell from our previous efforts and events we’d done in those last few years all came bursting out. I was completely flabbergasted. I never ever thought that I’d ever have a #1 song, you know? Never! It was great to do it on our own terms as well. Throughout out career we had a pretty fierce control over the band and the way things ran. There were a lot of people who wanted to change us over the years, but we stayed strong and kept it true to ourselves.
You formed a jazzier trio Elixir as well and debuted in 2003. Do you purposely explore different genres and ideas, or does it come naturally when you play?
I think it’s a combo. I’ve always loved having a bit of a challenge with my music. I think that’s where the best, most interesting music is made. I always try to keep myself open and not get stuck into a mould. Even with my recent solo stuff, that’s been such a challenge and it’s really challenged me as an artist. So yeah, I’m always trying to challenge myself as a musician.
Speaking of going solo, you’ve gone solo mainly in recent years. Is going solo different to being in a band? Would you say it’s any harder? I remember John Lennon always said he felt sorry for Elvis because he felt he never had anybody else to share the highs or lows with. Would you agree with that? How do you think it’s different?
Yeah, it’s way harder! With solo stuff there’s really nowhere to hide. You’re always 100% involved with the music and the lyric is also really important because there’s nothing else there except you! You can never sit back and listen to a solo or an instrumental break from the other members… But with this album and tour I usually have a lovely grand piano, and that helps me out a bit. With my solo stuff, it’s really great but I love having a band with me. I’m looking forward to playing and writing with my band The Captains and Elixir again. I love collaborating and I think that’s where my best music comes from. Other musicians always have something to teach you and they’ll always be someone better than you, who you can play and learn from.
Speaking of John Lennon, you released an album called Blackbird, which comprised of Lennon & McCartney covers. As a Beatle fan myself I’m interested in what made you want to make that album? Are The Beatles one of your main influences? Do you hold them in high regard?
Well… The Beatles are just the greatest ever! I don’t think anybody can come close to them. That album came about because at that time I had a really great opportunity to play with some great Jazz artists. With jazz a really typical tradition is to do covers in your own style from artists that you admire. It’s like the biggest compliment you can give. Usually when jazz people do that, they do old jazz standards, but I wanted to try to do some old pop standards in a jazz style. Die-hard Beatle fans will probably hate the album (laughs), but I really tried to do some exploration. It proved how great they are as well because even after stripping those songs totally apart, they still held up. They’re such masterpieces!
I have to ask this question, but who’s your favourite Beatle?
(Laughs) That’s such a hard question! I really love Yesterday. I think that’s the best song ever written! I love Paul’s writing and I love what he’s doing now. But then I think Something is the best song ever. I love George’s solo on that song and the depth he creates. In My Life is also the best song ever! I love Lennon too! It’s too hard to say who my favourite is. They’re all brilliant. Ringo’s a great drummer too! (Laughs) I haven’t really listened too much of his stuff, but his drumming is really underrated and it’s just genius!
With you’re most recent efforts, you’re on tour at the moment with your new album Songbook. Have you changed the way you do things for this album?
Well, every gig is totally different. I’ve got 5 new songs on this album, so they’re all completely new. I really tried to present all the songs in a new style and the way the audience reacts and the different venues, makes all the shows different. I think the great thing about Jazz is that artists are always really innovative. Jazz players are always aware about how much better they can be. They’re always dying to improve and to explore. This is a massive generalisation, but I think some pop artists are quite happy to get to a point and just stay where they are. They’re comfortable and they’re not moving or exploring. Jazz’s ethos is “I can always get better”. They never rest on their laurels.
It was quite an experience getting the chance to talk to Katie and I thank her immensely for stopping by. For all things Katie Noonan, follow the links below!
Katie Noonan is on tour now with her new solo album Songbook. All dates can be found on her website.