Seriously, Felicity Urquhart, what have you been up to for 10 years instead of putting out another record? Talk about slack.
“It’s disgusting, it’s terrible,” admits Urquhart, collapsing before the righteous questioning as she attempts to launch her album Frozen Rabbit, a record which reminds us that when it comes to making Australian country music without the hoary clichés or cheap stunts, few have done it as well as Urquhart.
Ok, sure, getting married (to guitarist and co-producer Glen Hannah), raising a couple of kids (two girls, aged six and eight), a radio career (hosting ABC’s Saturday Night Country), collaborations including last year’s trio album with Kevin Bennett and Lyn Bowtell (under the genius name of Bennett Bowtell and Urquhart) took some time. But still …
“I can’t believe 10 years has just gone like that though,” she says. “But I did love all of it. And I think it was healthy for my own subconscious journey back into music when I had to listen to a lot of music, some which I didn’t like, and I think that all affected this album.”
Hearing the good and not so good, watching from a distance as new careers rose and some older ones foundered, left her with at least one firm conviction: do this for your reasons, not someone else’s.
So a song about the town her mother grew up in, which touches on the Great War, drought, childhood and hints at a greater sadness, can share space with songs where folk and rock’s influence is as strong as music of the Kentucky hills. And if she wanted the middle of the album to have a gentle, sweet-natured ballad which doesn’t try for heartbreak when wistfulness is better, that’s what she did.
“If I have to record things, more than ever now, if I’m not happy to sing it then what’s the point? It’s not like back in the day when I was trying to please other people because I was young and thinking, how much are they spending on me?”
What’s interesting about this approach is that she is within the biggest record company in the world, Universal Music (who distribute the ABC Country label), but approaches everything as if she was an independent artist. In other words, like most good country artists in Australia have to live, day to day.
Well, with one condition that still hasn’t settled comfortably on the woman who released her first album in 1992 when social media meant giving free drinks to freeloading journalists.
“I was even brought into the roundtable discussion [at the label] where they said, ‘we need to talk to you about your social presence’, and I was like what? I don’t even have one. ‘Yes, that’s what me mean.’,” Urquhart says with a rueful shake of her head. “So they said if we can do this, you have to be on board with everything.”
She is on board, but it’s fair to say you’re not likely to find Urquhart searching for memes, getting into spats with some right-wing trolls, or deferring the kids’ dinner so she can read one more take on Game Of Thrones. Though she is open to my suggestion that she hire her kids – who appear on the last track of the new record and have aspirations to musical careers like mum and dad - to run her socials. As long as they never post that pic of her in her dressing gown and slippers.
They’d never do that Felicity. Never. Hmm, I can see her thinking, I don’t know about that. Then again that’s about as dark as Urquhart gets, seemingly.
A doggedly positive outlook to life generally, an album which begins with pure happiness in New Harmony (the unlikely but true story of a road trip to the little town of New Harmony in Georgia, which goes awry but still ends with Hannah proposing to her) and finishes with the jaunty bluegrass farewell, Strawberry Footprints, where she sings of “running down to the water to wash my hands and feet, of the worries and the heartache that I’ve held”, suggest sunniness is fixed.
“It’s my mum and dad’s fault,” she laughs. “They named me Felicity and that set a certain tone. They named me happiness, so how could I not live like that? Even if I have a dark day, it doesn’t last that long and it’s back to that smile again.”
However, it’s not that straightforward, as the Bennett Bowtell & Urquhart album, which featured songs on the treatment of indigenous Australians and refugees, showed. Or the fact that among Urquhart’s co-writers are people like Mark Seymour, once of Hunters & Collectors, who helped write the album’s title track.
There are several songs on the album that, like Urquhart‘s taste in music, are more shaded, more complex, reflecting not just personal circumstances of illness and deaths in the family, but also the state of the community around her.
“You can dig as deep as you want in some of those lines,” she says. “KB’s been an influence, Lynn’s been another. Just hanging out in a tour bus together, reflecting on something that had been in the news and a common thread of just be kind to one another.”
There are worse sentiments than that after 10 years away, or for that matter ahead of the next three years for this country, don’t you think?
Frozen Rabbit is out now.
Felicity Urquhart will play
May 25 - The Music Lounge Wollongong with Brad Butcher
May 31 – Hardy’s Bay Community Club Hardy’s Bay with Brad Butcher
June 1 - Acoustic Picnic Dee Why with Brad Butcher
June 22 – Corowa RSL Corowa – free show with Brad Butcher
June 23 – Carrum Downs House Concert with Brad Butcher
July 13 - The Pub Tamworth with Brad Butcher
July 19 - Milton Theatre with Brad Butcher
July 26-28 – Groundwater Music Festival – Broadbeach
August 22-25 – Gympie Muster