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AWAY IN A MANGER WITH DEVILS TO FEED – AT HOME WITH CLAIRE ANNE TAYLOR



ALL OF US ARE from somewhere, but only a few of us are of somewhere, deep in our bones. Claire Anne Taylor definitely, decidedly, definitively, is of Tasmania.


The singer/songwriter who straddles a slew of roots styles lives in the state where she was born and grew up, and still likes to call the non-Tasmanian bits of this country, “the Big Island”. And while she lived in Sydney when she was studying, and further north Taylor isn’t in a hurry to move to the Big Island. Ever.


“We live in the Huon Valley and it’s a unique and beautiful spot and I seem to be at my most creative and on fire when I’m in the bush, surrounded by all that beauty, says Taylor.” And there’s something I love about the cold too: I’m more inclined to write when it’s cold.”


Because it’s better being indoors doing something than outside being nature girl and freezing your bits off?


“When I was living around the northern rivers and the temperature is always this kind of sluggish warm heat, it’s like you are not on the edge of something when you’re in that sort of paradise. When I’m in Tasmania I feel as if I’m on the edge, like that struggle is what’s inspiring,” she says. “The extreme of having to live through that winter, there’s something about feeling alive in the elements, or when we have a big storm or in the rain, I tend to write more.”


Possibly a stupid, city dweller question here, but is it too much to draw a line from the earthiness of her music to the relative closeness to nature in which she lives?


“I think there is a connection there,” says Taylor. “I think it is influenced by being in a slower pace. The organic approach that I like to take with a recording, that environment has leached its way into the songs.”


How organic? Ooh boy. Very.


“I was born in a barn my parents built in north-west Tasmania, in the bush, so I had a very grounded upbringing. Very humble upbringing, and I wanted to keep the music so that you could hear that it was very real and organic,” she says. “If that means the odd vocal mishap or whatever, that’s fine with me because I wanted to keep the performance and the soul of it very real and very true.”



Sorry, back up a bit: she was born in a barn? What, with animals watching on as she lay in a manger and three wise men turned up at the door in north-west Tasmania?


“It’s not the first time I’ve been compared to Jesus, as a joke,” she laughs. “I had these legend hippie parents who built this big old barn in the bush and I think they were intending to grow vegetables and they grew a big tribe [of children] instead. And plenty of vegetables.”


What kind of legend hippie parents you may be wondering. The full-on kind.


“I still remember as a kid my mum had this old Datto [for non NW Tassie folk, that’s an old Datsun] and we would pick up roadkill, wallabies, off the road on the way home from school – because there is a lot of that in Tassie, roadkill – and we’d hurl it in the back of the Datto and then we’d get home and throw it under the barn because we had this family of Tassie devils living under there, and they would just have this feeding frenzy and love the fact that we were feeding them off roadkill.”


Don’t know about you, but listening this, I have to remind myself to close my gawping city boy mouth lest I look like an idiot, or start questioning the veracity of her story.


“I talk to people about that and think, actually that was quite a unique way to grow up, but as a kid it was just the norm,” she insists, before conceding that “even by Tasmanian standards that’s unusual.”


(Claire Anne Taylor and band. Roadkill not pictured.)


Tasmanian devil’s feeding on roadkill supplied by the people living above them on the Tasmanian devil’s territory: that’s some modern circle of life there. Hmm, “even by Tasmanian standards that’s unusual”. Uh-huh.


Really, how could you live through that childhood and not be a poet, a songwriter or a weirdo? Or maybe all three.


“Well, I’m claiming all three titles,” Taylor says. “It was an incredible way to grow up. I’ve got all the stories about us as teenagers who’d hang out and have these parties in caves of a weekend. But hey, it’s what you do when you grow up in the remote Tasmanian bush.”


Hey, you make your own fun, find your own venues. Is that where she started performing, in the caves?


“Absolutely, yeah. There were a lot of times, just plucking up the courage to sing in front of people and then finding the courage to do in front of your peers at school.”


We have to assume to that that voice of hers, a husky, honey and rust instrument that was there even when she was a teenager, is as natural as the Tasmanian wilderness.


“I still remember as a kid I always had this smokiness and huskiness to my speaking voice, and I remember being teased for it because kids would say ‘why do you sound like you’re sick?’ and I was like, I dunno it’s just my voice,” Taylor says. “I was kind of embarrassed by it for a long time but it’s always been this way and I can’t change that.


“Years later, when I was around mid 20s, I had a close call with a vocal injury, after getting laryngitis and touring crazy amounts, and I was like, I think I’ve damaged something. I ended up going to this vocal place to get everything scoped and to see what was happening and they said, look you’ve done some minor damage but if you stop and rest now you’ll be fine. What was really interesting was they said you’ve got a really unusually shaped larynx.



“When most larynxes are symmetrical, mine is kind of wonky and this wonky larynx means that when I sing, there is a tiny pocket that never closes, so there is this breath that never fully is able to be eliminated in my vocal delivery. This for me was an incredible thing to find out, because after years of singing and people saying ‘can’t you sing without the breathiness, can’t you sing it with this pure note’, I’ve now really embraced that and it’s a relief to know that these are the pipes I was born with. It’s a kind of freedom.”


Though she has been described in the past as a folk artist, at least on her new album, Giving It Away, you’re more likely to think Bonnie Raitt and Lowell George than Bushwackers or Shirley Collins. With that kind of voice, not singing blues might be considered at the very least a waste if not a crime against nature.


“I’m inclined to agree,” Taylor says. “I just sing what I love. I grew up with some old soul influences and some amazing old school rock ‘n’ roll and I tend towards those sort of blues and soulful approaches to singing.


“I certainly borrow from the storytelling traditions of folk. Some people tend to be more obscure or poetic in the way they write; I think I love a good story song. But sonically, I wouldn’t say it’s folk: it’s more in the soul, rock ‘n’ roll at times, and blues categories. But I’ve never been too worried about trying to pigeonhole myself any one genre: there is a freedom in not worrying about that.”


Ah, yes, freedom. It’s a Tassie thing. We might never understand it. But that’s ok, we’re not alone. After uni, Taylor did a gap year in Central and South America and they struggled to get their heads around the reality of a Tasmanian upbringing.


“I was explaining to them how these Tasmania demonios lived under our house and once you start saying that demons are living under your house, people are like what the hell? This woman is nuts. It was very lost in translation.”


So she speaks Spanish? “Un poco. Yeah, a little. I don’t even know why I did this bachelor of international and global studies and I majored in anthropology, and one of my minors was Spanish. It was such a strange thing for a kid out of Tassie to move to Sydney and study, but I wanted to take a big bite out of life. So I did.”


Strange to study anthropology and Spanish? After the stories she’s been telling of her Tasmanian childhood, nothing is going to sound strange anyway, but zoology or anthropology actually makes sense.


“I hadn’t really considered it in the context of my upbringing, but yeah, I always had this dream of marrying anthropology and my love of music. Who knows, maybe I will one day. Maybe I should be documenting this whole tour with a little more detail.”


It’s written in the bones after all.


 

Giving It Away is out now. Claire Anne Taylor plays:

MAR 16 - SANDY POINT COMMUNITY CENTRE

MAR 17 - THE OLD GAOL, BEECHWORTH  

MAR 22 - TOMERONG HALL

MAR 23 - FRANK'S WILD YEARS, THIRROUL

MAR 24 - PETERSHAM BOWLS CLUB

MAR 30- APRIL 1 - NATIONAL FOLK FESTIVAL,CANBERRA

APRIL 18 - UPPER LANSDOWNE HALL

APRIL 20 - LOWANNA COMMUNITY HALL

APRIL 26 - 28 - THE GUM BALL FESTIVAL, BELFORD

MAY 3 - JETTY THEATRE, COFFS HARBOUR

MAY 4 - BRUNSWICK PICTURE HOUSE, BRUNSWICK HEADS

MAY 5 - DUST TEMPLE, CURRUMBIN

MAY 10 - THE CITADEL, MURWILLUMBAH

MAY 11 - IT’S STILL A SECRET, BRISBANE  

MAY 12 - THE MAJESTIC THEATRE, POMONA

 

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